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Seth Fisher: Head Case

A comics interview article by: Mike Jozic

"I love comics. I love art. I love to learn. More than that, I just like making stuff." That is how Seth Fisher describes himself on his website, Lllama Land, and if there is a more appropriate way to portray the eccentric and fantastical artist of Happydale and Willworld, I am at a loss as to what it would be. Never to be trapped in one place creatively, Seth has done illustration work for video game companies, children's magazines, DC Comics and Heavy Metal. Whether he is illustrating superheroes, wild fantasy worlds, or even the most "banal" settings - everyday life - he always injects his work with a sense of wonder, sophistication and the fantastical that recalls, and pays homage to, the work of the great European and Japanese comic artists.

His latest project with Marc DeMatteis - who you may or may not remember from Justice League, Moonshadow, Dr. Fate and the latest incarnation of The Spectre - promises to redefine the origin of DC's most popular Green Lantern, Hal Jordan, and does so in a most colourful and mind altering way. Willworld is a little Yellow Submarine mixed with some Terry Gilliam, Lewis Carrol and L. Frank Baum for good measure. Throw in some floating heads, angels and the Green Lantern Corps and you may have some idea of what to expect from the story these two gentlemen have cooked up.

The following is an interview I conducted with Seth by e-mail, discussing his various projects, past, present and future.

Mike Jozic: Let's start with how you got involved with Willworld. Was this yours and Marc's project from the very beginning, or were you brought in sometime after Marc got involved?

Seth Fisher: Actually, I came first. Willworld was conceived after I pitched a story idea with art samples to Joey Cavaleri at DC. We brainstormed and decided to use the art style as a starting point for a Hal Jordan story. I wanted a writer that would shrug off some of the spandex cliches that I was worried could limit my art, but still tackle the fantastic. I wanted it to be both surreal and yet grounded at the same time. Joey suggested Marc, and we were off and running.

Originally the idea was presented as a 48 page book, but I guess they liked the idea so much they wanted a full 96 pages.

Jozic: What was the original story idea you pitched to Joey, if you don't mind me asking?

Fisher: I'd rather not comment on that. I am actually re-vamping that pitch and I plan to do it again, so it's still kind of in the works. It's a very big, very cool project.

Jozic: So you pitched this other idea and ended up with a 96 page Green Lantern project. What was the actual process of getting from the pitch with Joey, to Hal Jordan and the Land of Odd?

Fisher: It was pretty uneventful. Give a story idea with penciled design work to Joey at a Con. He takes it home. He calls me a month later and says, "how would you like to do this kind of art, but with Green Lantern instead." I say, "oh, I hadn't though of that. Ok."

Very low key.

Jozic: What has been your experience working with DeMatteis on this story? Was it a close collaboration with the two of you?

Fisher: The collaboration was a close as you can have living on different coasts and dealing with deadlines. Marc is a great scripter. He is careful to keep the scenes fresh and the pace rolling. Often times I find writers get dragged down by their dialogue but Marc is very aware what it takes to keep a page interesting, not only the for reader but for the artist too. His subtle word play is wonderful too.

Jozic: Was Marc's current status as Hal Jordan's caretaker at DC a factor in his getting put on the project?

Fisher: That's a good question. I really don't know. I'm sure that was a major part of it, [but] it was never presented to me that way.

Jozic: Was Green Lantern, or Hal Jordan more specifically, a character you had always wanted to do a story with, or did Hal just fit the profile of the kind of qualities that were needed by your protagonist?

Fisher: I am really not a big superhero comic reader. I have enjoyed certain superhero comics a lot in the past - JLA, Doom Patrol, [and others] - but I am a little detached from that world. I don't really aspire to draw any particular character. I didn't choose Hal, Hal chose me. I think DC was unsure how I would deal with a superhero character, and they figured that Green Lantern was one that would be pretty flexible. There is a playfulness to Green Lantern that appeals to my sensibilities. Batman and Superman just take everything so seriously. I don't think they could handle Willworld.

Jozic: How much influence did you have in the development of the project, and the overall telling of the story?

Fisher: I had tremendous freedom to interpret the story, but I tried to stay true to Marc's writing. I guess I try to use what is written in the script as a starting point for drawing the page rather than the goal. It definitely keeps everyone on their toes, and does cause me a few re-draws now and then, but I think the end result is worth it. My work shines more if I get more input into the story telling process, so we scripted it very loosely. I got page-by-page descriptions of what happened, though I don't think there was even any panel counts in the script, just a rough flow of action and some possible dialogue. That really let me play with whatever ideas emerged from the page as I was drawing. Marc did the dialogue after I finished the pencils (in what I think is called "Marvel Style").

The great thing is that getting back the lettered art to ink allowed me one last chance to tweak every panel. In fact I think I went back in to re-draw quite a few panels too, just because the expressions weren't right, or the composition wasn't working with the lettering. I volunteered to completely re-draw a few other pages too because they just weren't telling the story right. I am a pretty picky dude.

Jozic: How would you say that Willworld differs from Happydale or your work on Myst 3?

Fisher: Well, any project I do, I want to be a learning experience, so I always want to add some new element or technique or something into the mix. I need to do that because I have no desire to tell the same story twice. With Willworld I really tried to tighten up the pencils, and at the same time relax and be more playful with the inks. I think that was really successful. As far as Myst 3, that was a totally different process. It was pure design, and that was very liberating. I just draw things from simple easy to understand angles. No worry about dynamic poses, or figure drawing, or crazy perspective. Of course it has it's own set of problems. I remember designing a neat looking door with an overhang, and it was halfway modeled before we realized the door couldn't open all the way because it intersected with the overhang a bit. In comics your allowed to fake it.

Jozic: Do you feel that Willworld will be compared - perhaps unfairly - to Happydale?

Fisher: Oh I don't care about that. I think they are both unique and interesting books for totally different reasons. If it gets compared to Happydale at least it means people have read both books.

Jozic: It looks like you have some strong European influences in your artwork. The level of detail reminds me a bit of Darrow, and the overall atmosphere of the story seems to recall the work of Moebius. Am I off base, or am I pretty much hitting the nail on the head?

Fisher: Well, Moebius is a key influence in my art. He really exemplifies what I think an artist should strive for in his work. Technical mastery, consistency, style and freedom. Seeing his work showed me that art is about learning what is possible, and then pushing that boundry. Trying to control your work too much jeopardizes that, so you try to gain as much technique as possible and then just let go.

As for Geoff, I have always had great respect for his work, and I guess it is an influence, but I try not to let in affect me directly. Geoff's art often taunts the reader to try and spot everything on the page, and at some point I think it stops serving the story. Besides, I can't compete with Geoff for detail. He would beat me every time. Nevertheless I do hear comparisons to Geoff a lot so I was very deliberate about coloring the book in a very distinct way. I worked pretty closely with the colorist Chris Chuckery who is just a masochist for taking this job. I think he was determined to show me he knew more about coloring than I did after I hassled him on a few things, and he certainly convinced me.

I have big influences from Japan too. Otomo (Akira) and Shirow (Appleseed) are really powerful role models. I should also mention that at the time I got the job, I was just finishing up conceptual design work on Myst 3. I had worked with several extremely talented designers there and seeing their approaches to design had a pretty major effect on my art and this story. (Note: I actually got to design the environment that ended up on the cover of the box of the game!)

Jozic: After reading the black and white preview, I'm still at a bit of a loss to describe the book. Could you give your concept, or explanation, of what Willworld is about?

Fisher: It's kind of hard for me to do that because that is a big element of the story itself. What is going on in this place is a question that takes almost the entire 96 pages to answer? Imagine that one day you wake up inside your dream. Slowly you become more self-aware. As you start to see patterns emerging from the random chaos of the world around you, you sense that there must be something more deliberate going on in this place. But what? Who is controlling this madness, and where are you going to go to look for answers when any stove or cabinet might lead to another reality?

Willworld is not a traditional type story, so I'm not sure how to sell it in a high-concept sort of way. It is however a pretty fundamental piece of the origin of Hal Jordan, so I think that fans could get a new insight into what made him (some say) the greatest Green Lantern ever. It is also a unique book.

Jozic: If Willworld will be fundamental to the origin of Hal Jordan, does that mean the book is no longer going to be released as an Elseworlds story? I guess it may never have been intended as one, but I ask because I saw you sitting on the Elseworlds panel in San Diego last year.

Fisher: Yeah, I was a bit puzzled that they put me on the Elseworlds panel, but I think that since the story is so non-traditional they weren't sure where else to put it. I believe that it is not an Elseworlds book. It shouldn't be, because it fits perfectly into the continuity.

Jozic: Willworld has a very strong visual style to it. What was your approach to designing the aliens and environments for the story? Was J.M. involved in that process?

Fisher: Our conceptual starting point was Little Nemo meets Green Lantern. I tried to really tone down the crazy angles and such and present the strangeness of the world as matter-of-factly as possible to make the world more accessible. In the end I'm not sure too may people will see that Little Nemo look in it, but it is there.

Marc's imagination, and my imagination work pretty differently. Marc tended to work by juxtaposing historic elements in odd situations, while I tend to go straight for the surreal. Drawing the book was a ping-pong match between those two approaches. I also had a whole pile of sketchbooks full cool designs and creatures I wanted to draw someday. Usually that kind of stuff is pretty hard to work into a story, but Willworld allowed me to just pick interesting styles and images and piece them together. The hardest part was keeping it all consistent. At one point I was frustrated with trying to fit together my ideas and Marc's ideas and all these different themes and styles, so I called Joey and was like: "What in Crom's name is going to unify all these different elements?", and Joey was like: "Your style." I kinda reflected on that, and was like, oh, yeah...I guess that might just do it. Oddly, it gave me a lot of confidence.

Jozic: Was Marc's previous experience with telling a sophisticated fable like Moonshadow a great asset to the execution of Willworld?

Fisher: Oh man, that stuff is so different to this that I just put it out of my head. I loved Blood: A Tale too. I suppose that must have had an effect, but I didn't sense it.

Jozic: If your art was the glue that held it all together, what is your opinion of the final product? Do you think all the elements were successfully combined?

Fisher: I am extremely pleased with the way it came together. It looks nothing like I had imagined it would when I started the book, but the finished product is very cool. Every person who worked on the book [really] invested themselves in the project, which is a pretty rare event for me. I frikkin love it.

Jozic: You've had great luck with colourists. Laura Allred's work on Happydale was fantastic and from what I've seen of Chris Chuckery's work on Willworld, you've got another winner on your hands. Did you have any say in the selection of Chris or Laura?

Fisher: Isn't that the truth! Man, coloring is really, really important for my stuff. Since I don't usually use blacks on my page, people always tell me it looks like a coloring book. The colorist makes or breaks my art. The trick is finding a style to color my work in that allows a colorist to do it and keep their sanity. Even coloring my own work is a pain in the arse. I didn't choose the colorists by name, but I sent samples of colored pages to my editors and told them the feel I wanted. Then they found people that could
match that. With Chuckery though, he just went way beyond what I was expecting. He is awesome.

Jozic: Who would be on your dream list of collaborators for future projects?

Fisher: I like Grant Morrison's writing quite a bit. Also Neil Gaiman and Peter Milligan are really cool writers. I'd enjoy working with any of those guys, but I'll work with anyone that has a good story.

Jozic: So was game design where you actually get your start illustrating professionally?

Fisher: Not really. After I finished Happydale, (which was done completely on spec when I was living in Japan and then sold to DC after it was finished) I putzed around Italy trying to learn how to paint better. I had interviewed with a game company in San Diego the year before, and had wanted to try that field. They called me and said if I was moving back to the US, would I want to work on a really big project? I said sure, and went to work for them on Myst 3. It was a pretty amazing experience working with so many people that were in the top of their field. Drawing comics is so solitary, that you start to believe that you are the last artist left on earth, so seeing other artists and collaborating was fresh. I designed the puzzles and environments for two of the worlds in the game and then I left to do Willworld. I would certainly consider doing game work again, it was a great opportunity to learn.

Jozic: But your comic book career began with your Heavy Metal work?

Fisher: Yeah, I guess that is right. I got work in Heavy Metal in maybe 1997. I think we were working out the concept for Happydale at that time too. It was very exciting to get published in a magazine that I idolized as a kid. I think I had done a few other short stories to show at the San Diego Con before that, but nothing that was published.

Jozic: Along with Heavy Metal, I've read that you've also done work for Cricket, the children's magazine. I can't think of two magazines that are farther apart in tone and/or content. Was that just how the work showed up for you at the time, or do you purposely seek out such diverse projects?

Fisher: Sure that is true. They are worlds apart, but I am a wanderer and I just can't stick in one place too long. Actually I got work in Cricket before I got my Heavy Metal gig. That was wild because as a kid I had sent in art to a contest in Cricket once and gotten honorable mention. To finally get published as an illustrator there was a nice evolution.

Jozic: What's it like going from a children's magazine (and collaborating with Neil Gaiman, if I'm not mistaken), to an adult sci-fi/fantasy forum like Heavy Metal?

Fisher: I wouldn't call it collaborating with Neil. I just illustrated his story through the magazine. I think they bought the rights through his agent and chose their own artist (me). But it was nice to get to illustrate such a great writer. As far as Heavy Metal is concerned I tend more towards the 'sci-fi' and less toward the 'adult' so it's not that big a stretch. The problem I have with illustration is that sometimes the most fitting image for a story is pretty simple, but editors aren't used to guys like me that draw complex environments, so they really want to get their moneys worth and tend to push me towards the detailed side of my art. There are a lot of tricks to getting the sketches you want approved though.

Jozic: Is fantasy a genre that you're pretty much attached to, or are you interested in trying out different styles of storytelling in the future?

Fisher: I have always loved Fantasy and Sci-fi but I knew from the start it would be dangerous for me drift off too far into that genre since most books take place in the real world. I had drawn Happydale set in a totally modern realistic setting thinking it would give me a strong foundation for reality in my work to come, even though I really wanted to do a more futuristic story. Having paid my dues drawing reality, I though I could reward myself with a little fantasy with Willworld. Eventually I will need to swing the other way again, so I am working on a project set in modern Tokyo. I am all about variety. I certainly hope to tell a lot of totally different stories in totally different ways in the future.

Jozic: You once said that drawing comics is the hardest thing you've ever done. Do you still agree with that assessment, or has the process become easier for you?

Fisher: Drawing comics is so totally stressful for me. I mean, I like the work I do, but it sure is a fight to get it to come out. After I finish a long project I seriously need months to recover. I think I make up for that with speed though, because when I am doing a project I tend to put in 15 hour days and get a lot of work done. The process is most definitely easier now than it used to be, but I am still learning how to enjoy it. I love the finished product, but getting there is hellish. As far as being the hardest thing,
I'm not sure about that anymore. Modeling and creating animation in 3D is pretty challenging. You get to become the complete god of the world.

Jozic: It amazes me that you didn't study illustration in school and were, in fact, a mathematics major in college. Why the sudden change in direction?

Fisher: Well don't be mislead. I have always drawn obsessively. I think the implication is more that I am self-taught rather than school taught. Even to say I was self-taught is a misnomer because I was helped and taught by hundreds of very generous artists and illustrators that I've met through my life. I wanted to study art, but I couldn't stand the art department at my school. They were pretentious and unhelpful when it came to technique. So I went with my second major interest, which was math (and the math department guys were so nice and fun to be around). It was a great decision for me.

Jozic: Does your background in mathematics work into your illustration or story ideas, or do you keep the two pretty much separate?

Fisher: I think my math background affects how I approach all my problems in life: Very methodically and analytically. That approach has served my art too, but as far as being able to solve differential equations and the like, I forgot that long ago. It is more a way of seeing the world.

Jozic: You're also very much into computers, are you not?

Fisher: Oh yeah! I love computers! I was programming on an Apple IIe in high school and I was the bomb! I still get into that. I have a pretty functional Java based game on my new site that I worked on with a programmer I met online. I am working on an even better game with a programmer from Egypt that I hope to finish in a few months. I wish I could show you. It looks so neat. I don't do programming anymore except for editing html and java script for my web pages. I wish I had the time to do get really down a dirty with code again. That would be a fun hobby.

Jozic: Can you talk a bit about your web presence and Lllama Land site?

Fisher: Actually, Langdon Foss (my buddy and fellow artist) is taking over the site as it will become a showcase for just his work in the future. I have a new site www.floweringnose.com that is exclusively mine. As far as the web is concerned it has really been an empowering place. I met Andrew Dabb and collaborated on Happydale on the internet. Having a website is like letting people come over and visit your house whenever they want...and it's always clean.

Jozic: Are you working with A Better Lllama Graphics as well as doing the
comic book and illustration work? If so, is the workload difficult to balance?

Fisher: You should understand that the website and the games and stuff are what I do for fun. That is what I do when I want to chill out. I am also starting a line of clothing called Flowering Nose. That helps me relax. Oh and I am restoring a classic pinball machine to a Magic Egg Girl (one of my Flowering Nose characters) theme. That is a pretty fun project. I hope to have that to show at a group gallery show coming up in San Diego during the Comic Con.

Jozic: Do you believe the internet will play a big role in the future of comic books like some people think?

Fisher: I have to say no, unless you are talking about distribution, in which case I am totally unqualified to answer. The Internet represents the merging of all media, and I think that means comic will be absorbed by everyone else and emerge as a totally distinct art form.

Jozic: You seem to have your finger in a lot of pies at once. What do you find is your favourite genre or medium to work in?

Fisher: Variety is really the key. Whatever I am doing I want to be doing something else. That's not so unusual though, is it? Everybody wants what everybody else has. My idea is to just take everything!

Jozic: Your two big comic book related works have both been special projects, like this 96 page hardcover. Is this how you see your future with the medium, or do you have a desire to do something like a mini-series or a monthly book somewhere down the line? You did say you were fast, after all.

Fisher: All of my stories are pretty special to me, so naturally I would like to get all my books in the nicest format possible so they look good on my shelf. I think eventually I will move to doing regular books, but whichever is fine with me. I should clarify the "fast" thing too: Other people tell me I am fast so I believe them. I actually feel like a giant sloth plodding through never ending pages when I am working.


Jozic: By the way, have you had a chance to check out the Flash animated promo for Willworld on the DC site?

Fisher: Yeah, I liked the flying heads roaming all around. I could watch them all day. I'm going to go watch them now.



For more fun with Seth Fisher, check out his websites, Lllama Land and Floweringnose.com.

Mike Jozic has spent the last several years interviewing comic book creators and other entertainment related personalities for various publications. He has been published both online and in print, with his work appearing in The Comics Journal, FearsMag.com and Silver Bullet Comicbooks. He maintains his own website at www.meanwhile.net and currently serves as the Features Editor for SBC.

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