Interview: Tom Neely Pt. 3 [of 4]

Categories:  Interviews


In this third part of our interview we discuss animation, an absence of dialog, and The Wolf soundtrack that never was.

[Part One][Part Two]

Your two books are largely wordless. Are you put off by dialog?

It’s about however the story seems to work. I’m working on one right now—I’ve got the story for my next graphic novel all written, and right now there’s dialog in it, but I’m not sure how much of that will stay, in the end. I’m not opposed to it, and I’ve been writing some very different stuff that all uses dialog. And my comic strip poems, they all had words. I’m not totally opposed to it—I didn’t think The Wolf needed words. And with The Blot, I specifically wanted only one character to have words. Whatever seems to work.

You’ve done a lot of music stuff. You did the Melvins book.


And you worked on the Glenn and Henry book. Obviously The Blot and The Wolf aren’t about specific musicians in the way those are, but are the books equally influenced by music?

Yeah. I think everything I do has some music influence. Both The Wolf and The Blot had some of that, especially when you’re dealing with wordless comics. You need some structure and flow, and I definitely think about how instrumental music works, when I’m working on something like The Wolf. I listen to a lot more classical and jazz or experimental music. You don’t really have lyrics to hold on to, so what is the thread that pulls you through?

I think about that when I’m trying to structure The Wolf, because I want there to be a thread that pulls you through and a flow and different tempos and rhythms throughout the story as you read through it, rather than just being completely abstract and not giving anybody something to hold onto. I think a lot about music when I’m thinking that way. It’s an influence.

The Wolf originally was going to have a soundtrack by a friend of mine, Aaron Turner. We were talking about it, about a year ago, and it just didn’t seem to make sense anymore. Our individual parts of the project became a lot more personally attached. The Wolf became a lot more of a personal story to me, and I think he became a lot more attached to his music, so I think it made a lot more sense for them to be separate entities than for them to be linked together. So that didn’t work out.

Does his piece exist in the world now?

I have copies of it. But I think he has a new album coming out with his band, House of Low Culture, and I think he may have used elements of that in the new work, and I think he may have used elements of that piece. But it’s not in any way related to my book at this point. But I did here what he was working on during the process, before we ended the collaboration, and I like it.

It was really interesting, but at the same time I always had in mind that some people wouldn’t necessarily care for the music, or even listen to it. So I wanted the book to hold up without the soundtrack. We just kind of wanted to work together because we’re friends, and we thought it would be a fun project. But neither piece really relied on each other, so it wasn’t that difficult to let the idea of a soundtrack go, when they didn’t work together anymore.

It seems like a great idea, but I’m wondering how these two things can really work together, without it being like one of those books you’d read along to a tape as a kid.

With the little, “beep, turn the page.”

Either that or Peter and the Wolf.


How could you make these two pieces in very different mediums work together?

That was one of the hurdles. The book was separated into four chapters, and there were four songs, so that was going to be one indicator. And I think he at one point was talking about something where he structured the length of the songs by assigning a length of time to each page. But in the end, one of the songs he did was 10 minutes long and the chapter is 25 pages, wordless. And some people aren’t going to spend that amount of time with the pages.

That’s actually one of the original reasons I had a soundtrack, because so many people just breeze through wordless books, and I wanted to give some way to get people some way to slow down, and I thought that giving it a soundtrack would help people slow down. But even then you can’t dictate that, unless I’m going to just stand over the shoulders of everyone reading the book and say, “no, you’re not done reading that.” But that would be really creepy.

And I’m sure you’re too busy to do that.

Yeah [laughs].

So am I wrong in having imagined an instrumental metal soundtrack?

What he was working on was a lot more experimental and abstract. He’s in some metal bands, and there’s probably a little bit of that in there, but it was a lot more instrumental noise music than anything else. The other thing is that the original art show with the wolf paintings, I recorded the soundtrack myself. I put out a preview video of the first part of The Wolf on YouTube, and I used a part of a song from my own recordings, ad I realized that I’d actually almost written a perfect soundtrack for my book already. So it actually kind of worked, because that song itself is 25 minutes long, and I’ve read through the whole book with it, and it actually works kind of well.

That one is weird, because it actually goes between black metal and then folky banjo stuff and then just weird ethereal noise. The third aspect of the soundtrack for The Wolf is that I’m actually putting together an afterthought, which is a bunch of musicians on a compilation CD of various artists making music inspired by The Wolf. That so far includes a weird jazz band and a black metal band and a weird punk band and my brother who does a lot of music for film and TV, so it will be modern classical. That thing will be all over the place.

I actually specifically want it to be as diverse musically as I can manage, just dealing with friends. I like all kinds of music, but I think, just because of The Melvins and the artwork that I’ve done for metal bands—but I like all kinds of music.

It seems like you would get some of the same benefits with metal as you would with modern jazz—a lot of signature changes, which probably work well with the book.

Mm hm.

Hearing you talk about this book with a soundtrack almost sounds like you’re flirting with the idea of animation.

Well, I work in animation. I’ve been a freelance animator for ten years now. I always enjoy doing that stuff, but I do it so much in my day job, that when it comes to doing a more personal creative project, the last thing I want to do is animate. I enjoy drawing up paper with a brush.

But I do love the idea of animation and how those things work and melding art forms. So I’m not opposed to that idea.

If someone who you trusted wanted to adapt the book, you might consider it.

If it was the right person, maybe. But then again, when those things happen, sometimes I feel like I’m the only one who can do it. I get very protective of my personal projects. Once other people get involved, it doesn’t often work out.

You micromanage.

I don’t want to be too controlling when it comes to other artists. Having worked in Hollywood for ten years, you just see everything get fucked up. It just makes me dig my heels in even further about relinquishing my art. But yeah, if the right person came along, I think it could be really interesting. And I still want to do more Henry and Glenn animation.

[Concluded in Part Three]

–Brian Heater

One Comment to “Interview: Tom Neely Pt. 3 [of 4]”

  1. tello | August 23rd, 2011 at 1:17 pm

    “do it by yourself, together” hyuk.

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