Author Interview: Dave Roman

“Dave Roman is the author/illustrator of the Astronaut Academy series and writer of the graphic novels Teen Boat! and Agnes Quill: An Anthology of Mystery. He has contributed stories to Explorer: The Mystery Boxes, Nursery Rhyme Comics, and is the co-author of two New York Times bestselling graphic novels, X-Men: Misfits and The Last Airbender: Zuko’s Story. Roman is a graduate of the School of Visual Arts and worked as a comics editor for the groundbreaking Nickelodeon Magazine from 1998 to 2009. He lives in Astoria, NY with his wife, and fellow comic artist, Raina Telgemeier.” – [X]

Confession: I took too long to post my review of Agnes Quill and I had agonized for an inappropriate amount of time over my questions. But! Dave Roman, being the awesome person that he is, got back to me just in time! So, happy Halloween, my lovelies! I hope you enjoy the interview.

Agnes Quill is easily one of my favourite heroines. She is dark and funny and complex, just like the world you have created for her. How exactly did you come to create the brave Ms. Quill? Was she a product of the world she lived in, or did Legerdemain come second? 

Agnes Quill is someone who would be a loner, except she can never be alone. She’s always surrounded by chatty ghosts and attracting oddball characters into her life. So she tries to make the best of her unique situation (seeing/communicating with the dead), rather than letting it drive her crazy. Which, as a person who can never retreat from the voices in his own head, I completely relate to.

The idea for Agnes began while I was a student at The School of Visual Arts in the mid 90s. I wanted to create an adventure character that felt like they had existed for a long time, and had many iterations–like Batman or Sherlock Holmes, who take on new life with each artist’s interpretation. I had befriended artists Jason Ho and Jeff Zornow, who I enjoyed collaborating with and seeing how each interpreted my ideas through their own distinct art styles. Jason’s interpretation of Agnes was more creepy and weird, while Jeff brought a dynamic action/horror vibe. The city of Legerdemain also came from mixing the old with the new. I hadn’t yet learned the phrase “steampunk,” but I was similarly fusing Victorian Gothic, Art Deco and Futurism into the crumbling, congested mess that is Agnes’ city. A melting pot of creative influences  with a giant graveyard at its center, labyrinth-like alleyways, and endless dark corners for a teen detective to navigate through.

So, you’ve worked on a whole range of solo works of art and fiction. However, you have also participated in a wide variety of collaborative projects: Agnes Quill, Jax Epoch and the Quicken Forbidden, X-Men: Misfits, as well as additional materials for The Last Airbender. What do you feel is the merit (or challenge) of being a collaborative, social artist?

I’ve always enjoyed seeing what comes from mixing and matching creative minds and abilities. I like your phrase “social artist,” because  making comics has always been one of the main ways I interact with other people. Starting when I was a kid, all the way through college and beyond, I’ve  always made comics alongside my sister, cousins, or friends. I’ve met most of my closest friends and even my wife through various comic conventions and comics-related message boards. Our shared interest in telling stories through visual art brings us all together and we get to continually inspire and feed off each other. So even if we are at our solitary drawing desks, we know we are never alone.

I am thrilled to see on your website’s FAQ section that there will be more Agnes Quill to look forward to! Is there anything you could share with me our readers about this upcoming project?

I relaunched the Agnes Quill website on October 1st, so we could serialize new stories as they are being produced. The first chapter, illustrated by Jason Ho, is called “Left Behind,” and finds Agnes on holiday, visiting her hometown for the first time since her parents died. It starts off a bit quieter and more sentimental than the usual Agnes adventure, but grows increasingly creepier. Total spoiler: the climax involves a giant living tree that eats children and keeps their toys hidden within its roots.

More Agnes Quill means, well, more Agnes. But it also means that you be plunging into the sometimes horrific oddities of Legerdemain once more. What is it about the horror/gothic genre that delights or captivates you?

Horror is all about mood and atmosphere, transporting us to worlds that are similar to our own but with distinctly different rules. In real life, dead is dead, which is obviously boring. Whereas in horror stories, death can be just the beginning. I’m currently writing an Agnes story involving vampires, which have been done a million different ways, yet still manage to be compelling because they are such emotional and sensual monsters. Agnes is a confident, no nonsense detective and usually not the type to be taken in by vampire charms and trickery. So it’s fun to see  her temporarily lower her guard and get swept off her feet (walking right into a trap). It’s a classic element of horror stories, watching people make bad decisions, so we can yell at them and feel temporarily smarter & safer.

With the National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) coming up, it is perhaps a good idea to ask what is your advice for people with writer’s/artist’s block? (You could, of course, opt to agree with Philip Pullman and tell us that there is no such thing.) 

The main advice I would share is to ideally have an A project (the one closest to your heart, that is perhaps spiralling out of control) and a B project (one that is less precious and perhaps shorter/easier to complete). If  you get stuck on your A project, then you have something that you can switch gears to and still be productive as a writer. If the B project is something you can get out into the world faster,  you can use any feedback you get to inform what you are doing with the A project.  Procrastination has always been more of a problem for me than writer’s block. Even when I have a ton of ideas,  the physical act of writing has always overwhelmed me. And when you are sitting at the computer, it’s too easy to get distracted by emails, Facebook, Twitter, etc. It’s like I’m sitting there waiting for a decent rabbit hole to go down to distract me. Other authors have suggested hiding away somewhere without any access to the Internet, so I may be forced to try that soon.

Bonus Question! What graphic novel would you recommend for this year’s All Hallow’s Read

I recently read the Cursed Pirate Girl by Jeremy Bastian, a lovingly produced book that feels like an artifact from a bygone era. It’s got beautifully rendered versions of hideous creatures in all shapes and sizes. And the new hardcover color editions of the Courtney Crumrin series by Ted Naifeh are fantastic reads, pitch perfect for getting into the Halloween spirit.

To follow Dave’s marvellous and myriad projects, check out his website, or stalk him (politely?) at other locations. Whatever you do, be sure to keep posted on more Agnes Quill!

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