Jesse Moynihan: A Personal Mythology

A comics interview article by: Jason Sacks

Jesse Moynihan's The Forming was a thrilling, mythological, absurdist free-for-all that made many Top 10 lists for Best Graphic Novel in 2013. Now, on the eve of the release of Forming II from Nobrow Press, Comics Bulletin Publisher Jason Sacks got on skype with Jesse to discuss mythology, coloring, Adventure Time, the Wi-Fi situation in Los Angeles and much, much more.


Jason Sacks for Comics Bulletin: I mean, I read the reaction at TCAF to Forming II, and it was fantastic.

Jesse Moynihan: Oh, was there a reaction? That's good. I didn't see it, because we only had like, sixteen books there.

CB: I got a digital copy of it. And I really, it definitely provides another level of depth to the story that you've created.

Moynihan: Oh cool. Thanks, man. I was worried that it would just be all action, and people were gonna check out. [Laughs] Because there's a lot more fighting.

CB: Yeah, but there's a lot more philosophy, too.

Moynihan: Okay, that's good. I tried to keep that stuff in there.

CB: [laughs] Do you try to keep it balanced? I mean, the story's gotta tell itself, too in a way, right?

Moynihan: Yeah, but there's an intentionality to keep it balanced because I think sometimes I can just fetishize drawing fight sequences, because it's so, so fun. It's so fun to draw muscle-y bodies hitting each other.

CB: Well there's plenty of that in volume two.

Moynihan: Yeah. If I could just do that, without any story, uh, maybe I would do that. I've definitely fantasized about writing movies that were all just one single fight scene, and stuff like that.  

CB and Moynihan: [laughs]

CB: It's graphic novels; you can do anything you want.

Moynihan: That's true, but I feel like I would be ripping people off if there was nothing to track. Like no story, or character insight. So I put all that other stuff in there.

CB: I'm laughing because there's all this subtext in these books - and so much psychological going on, like people contacting God. There's all this stuff with ego and identity, and family relationships, and ambition, and I'm laughing because it's like, yeah the fight's in there, but there's so much else going on also, though.

Moynihan: Well I'm glad that that reads.

CB: So I think you're being a little facetious, Jesse, when you're saying that?

Moynihan: Oh. Yeah, I am. Maybe. I don't know.

CB and Moynihan: [laughs]

CB: You're talking about balance. Is that one of the things that you tried to approach the book with?

Moynihan: The first book set up all these dominoes, right? So, then, the second book is just a lot of tipping those dominoes over and watching them fall, you know? And seeing all the destruction. So it's easy just to take what I established in the first book and then just watch those dominoes falling. And it takes a certain amount of effort as an author to also be still blossoming those new ideas, not just tracking the results of what you built in the first act, or whatever. So I think, I don't know what to compare it to. But I guess a lot of movies, like if you compare Alien to Aliens. Aliens is an action movie, just a lot of stuff blowin' up, you know? And the first one is a psychological horror movie...I don't know if that relates.

CB and Moynihan: [laughs]

CB: I mean, you're the creator. If it relates to you, if that's how you think of your work, then that's interesting.

Moynihan: It wasn't an intentional thing, it's just that it's easy. Because the first one, I was building the world, establishing the characters, and then setting up scenarios where something had to happen. So in the second one there's a lot of cathartic events, as a result of what I set up in the first book. So it could be easy if I were coasting, I would just track that stuff. You know – this guy dies, this thing starts, you know, the city blows up, or whatever I do, and without enriching it with new ideas and new characters and stuff. I could have just tracked all that stuff. So you have to put out this certain amount of effort to keep the world fresh and unpredictable, you know? And also, contributing insight into the world.

CB: So you're implying that you have things planned out sort of loosely, but you're allowing the story to take its own shape, also.

Moynihan: Yeah, since the beginning I've had a loose series of notes about where things are supposed to go, like what's supposed to happen, but as I write it I'm always digging for new ideas and changing things if I feel like it's gonna be better if I do it a different way, or also adding things I hadn't thought of. You know, it has to be, as I'm writing it and drawing it, it has to be this malleable thing that can surprise me as a writer, as I'm writing and drawing it.

CB: That's a thing that struck me as I was rereading both books back to back, it's got this very improvisational feel to it, but there's also a sense that characters are definitely moving through their arcs. Michael and Noah and Gaia are all moving through their different storylines, and they're all logical, they all fit, but you, because of the approach that you take with it, it's never quite predictable in the way that, like, someone who plotted a book out on a long sheet of paper with lines and a Gantt Chart, or something, would have it.

Moynihan: Yeah, I do, I have their arcs semi-mapped out. I've got notebooks filled with character sheets and stuff like that, of how they're supposed to play out. But I also have lots of stuff crossed out, and new notes written in, as I'm writing it. Because I'll change stuff if I feel like I come across a more powerful idea. So you're always, as you're sort of drawing or writing, you're always searching for more powerful ideas. I think the first, initial idea isn't always the best one. As you're experiencing the story, as you're writing it, you're gonna come across things that set off a trigger in your head, and oh, this is better, this is a better idea. So you have to go with that. You can't be precious about your first idea.

CB: Otherwise it can get a bit plot-hammery, too: I need to get from point A to point C, and it has to go through point B when point B may not make sense when you've seen where all the other crosscurrents are.

Moynihan: Yeah. That whole, like, going from plot point A to point B plot mechanic stuff really bothers me. I don't, I get super bored if I feel like someone is doing that. Which is why I really don't like the endings to most of those Marvel movies,

Because the new Captain America movie? The first three-quarters of it was so fun, and exciting, and you didn't know what was gonna happen. It was really unpredictable, and the action scenes had a lot of psychological stuff going on in them, as far as the motivations, and then the end sequence, where they had to take down the huge ship, it just turns into plot mechanics, and you can see them trying like, well we have to get the Hawk guy through this building, and we have to get Captain America on this thing to take out the chip, and it's just, it turns into a really tedious  exercise, and you know how it's all gonna play out anyway so you just fall asleep.

CB: Sure, and the movie gets praise for being original because the first two-thirds of it are unique.

Moynihan: Yeah. The first two-thirds are great entertainment. I love the first two-thirds of that movie.

CB: But you don't do that. I was continually like, well there was no way to set expectations with Forming, I guess. I was just enjoying how the character arcs played out and I thought that was fascinating. I mean, like, Michael journeying to see God, well it's not God, it's the in between—

Moynihan: Yeah.

CB: Like this cosmic being and all this, is all this stuff I could never have expected to see.

Moynihan: Yeah, I think a lot of that is stuff I don't expect to see, so that's good that it gets translated. [Laughs]

CB: But at the same time it's got this kind of mythological, resonance, to it. Have you read a lot of Greek and Roman mythology? That's something Rob Clough called out in his review in The Comics Journal.

Moynihan: Yeah. I wouldn't say a lot, but a fair amount. I try to, it's sort of like, I guess you would say selective reading, where if I see a connection, across whatever myth platforms, then that strikes my interest, and then I'll try to see what I can mine there that's universal. A lot of it comes down to when I worked at a video store years and years ago. We had the Joseph Campbell myth video series, with him and Bill Moyers. I remember watching those videos. I used to just sit and watch all of them over and over again.

And man, I found that stuff so fascinating, and that sort of triggered my journey into understanding, or trying to understand that monomyth idea. And reading whatever I could about where Christianity came from, where the idea of the son of God came from, or why those archetypes keep appearing in different forms. Everything from floods, to, to basically everything.

It all has different incarnations, different avatars, in different cultures, stemming back to whenever we could first draw a picture on a cave wall. So to me, when I first heard that idea, is struck a chord with me as far as my personal search for meaning. So, then I felt like before I started The Forming, when I was trying to think of what book I would do, what kind of story I would do, I was like, well I have to do the thing about the thing I'm most interested in. That seemed to be it.

That idea of what's the source, why do we come up with these stories. How much of it is based on a real experience and then mixing what is real enough an idea to be real, you know? Which is sort of how I feel, that's sort of my personal philosophy. I feel like, if you think it's real, then it's real. That's sort of how I try to live my life.

CB: That's one of the things about both of these books, is that characters are all at different levels of reality.

Moynihan: Yeah, in there I, and maybe in the third book, you'll see sort of more contradictory realities butting up against each other. To me, that's part of the tapestry. I don't have a problem with conflicting world views. I think that all those things can be valid.

CB: I think  that's what's sharp about the book, and I guess in a way it also feeds into the arc that you draw for it, is that a lot of it is created in this subjective way? From the world as people see themselves, there's a lot of people muttering to themselves about their own perceptions of the world. But at the same time, you're throwing these people together and showing their own unique views of the world, which is the way we see the world in general anyway, right? All we can see is through our own two eyes.

Moynihan: Right. And there's so much subjectively “objective” observations going on that we don't even recognize now. Like just the way our reality now, every time someone says something or makes some absolute statement on Twitter or whatever about how government should be, or how religious organizations should behave, or how information should be passed along,

I'm like, this all feels so temporary. None of this feels permanent. I can't believe that people don't recognize that all this stuff will be so -- everything that we think now, in fifty years will be so passé. You gotta bend with that stuff and realize there's a certain sense of humor you've gotta have about perspective, 'cause it's so unreliable, it's like that Rashamon thing, you know?

CB: Absolutely. That feeds into why your characters are so down-to-earth, too. There's fucking, and there's peeing in the river, and there's all that, very human thing. These may be Gods, or God-like creatures, but they're also very down-to-earth.

Moynihan: Yeah, that's just a matter of, I think early on when I first started it, I knew I was tackling all this epic sci-fi stuff, and I knew I wasn't a good enough writer to be able to write it in a serious tone and not have it come off, hacky? I think that there's only a handful of sci-fi writers who can tackle that stuff with a straight face, and you read it and you're like man, this is bad ass. [Laughs]

CB: Yeah. It doesn't read like Frank Herbert or Neil Gaiman, or someone.

Moynihan: Right, yeah. So everything else that you read, comes off real hacky. So I was coming out of Indie comics, and was doing sort of personal auto-bio stuff, and in order to make that transition into doing whatever genre work, in order for me to feel like I wasn't jumping the shark in my life as an artist, or whatever, as a writer, I had to ground it somehow to something that I could relate to, so out of that auto-bio surreal world, there needed to be a smooth transition, so I could feel comfortable writing in that genre environment. I think that's the reason why I did that. If I was writing all these sci-fi platitudes all the time, I really, I probably would lose interest. I wouldn't be able to finish the book.

CB: Yeah. Well I don't think myself or any of my friends I've talked with about The Forming would respond to the same way, either. It's totally your take on these ideas. At the beginning of the first book, you have Adam and Eve, and you have the aliens, and I'm expecting the book to go in one direction and it goes completely different directions. Like Noah, in particular, is completely different from any perceptions I had of him, which is awesome, like, I'm completely thrown off of my game as a reader.

Moynihan: Oh, cool. Thanks, man.

CB: It just feels like that's what you want to put on the paper. It's not beholden to anything, other than maybe, the Campbell myth and its implications, but no cataclysmology.  

Moynihan: Yeah. You don't wanna be completely beholden to what's come before. You've got to put your own read on it. Which was, well, no, I'm not gonna get into talking about that new Noah movie.

CB and Moynihan: [laughs]

CB: Yeah, we don't need to discuss that. You can talk about Jodorowsky's Dune if you've seen it. I've heard amazing things about that, I haven't seen it myself.

Moynihan: Oh, I saw it, yeah. It's great. And he was murdering that text. But it's one of those things, like maybe the idea of it is better than what it would have been. Sorta like the Beach Boys Smile album, or whatever, where the legend of it is bigger than maybe the thing could ever have been.

Not that I don't think he could have made something awesome, I mean, I love all his movies, but the level at which they were trying to produce this thing was so insane. The whole time I was watching that movie I was like, there is no way, you guys are crazy, this movie never would have been made. But it would have been beautiful if it had been. But yeah, he was totally disregarding the text. I don't think he read the book. So he was just taking the ideas and transforming it into what he wanted it to be. Which is cool – I think that's awesome.

CB: That's probably better than the, well, I shouldn't say better – I'm a big fan of the David Lynch Dune movie.

Moynihan: Oh, I love the David Lynch Dune movie. I forever support that movie.

CB: I think it's massively underrated.

Moynihan: Oh yeah. For sure. I think it's a beautiful movie. I love that movie.  

CB: But that's one thing. Like, in movies, you're constrained by all these limits. Really, in comics, you're only concerned with lack of background music, or motion, that sort of thing. And you're still able to convey motion in different ways. I mean, there's a sequence in book two that's almost like video game scenes. Obviously you enjoy having the freedom to do something big. I know you also do work in animation; are you able to do more in comics, or do you approach it differently in comics?

Moynihan: Comics is sort of more like a free-for-all. Anything goes. I don't think about three act structure with my comics, whereas on TV I have to think about really explaining everything, and story structure really is pretty strict. You have to tie all this stuff together, make sure all the through-lines are working.

Even on Adventure Time, where it keeps getting looser and looser and I keep getting more freedom so now the two things are starting to merge a little bit, so it's hard to make a distinction now. Because I've been allotted so much storytelling freedom on Adventure Time, but early on there was a distinct difference. I had to learn all this stuff about communicating to an audience, and being really clear to the most, sort of, clueless viewer. Everything has to be spelled out.

The idea of story through-lines and character through-lines actually sort of helped me in my comics. I started thinking about that stuff more, about tighter story, and communicating motivations in a clearer way. Because I think my early stuff is very vague, very personal, and almost like I'm talking to myself or something, and I'm not really talking to the audience. As I've gotten older and learned more about story mechanics, I think I've gotten better at communicating with an audience. More like reaching out to an audience and allowing them a window or an access point. And I think that's important – or, I've learned to think that that's important.

CB: That's an interesting part of Adventure Time, because the interaction is so much a part of Adventure Time. There's just something about the way that show is created that people love to create their own versions of the characters. I can't remember a cartoon that had so much spin-off material that's fan-created. It feels a little revolutionary at this point.

Moynihan: Doesn't that culture kind of exist in anime?

CB: I think so, but it's in a way more derivative, I think? In that, they like to draw these characters having the same adventures, or these characters in their specific worlds. Maybe it's the fact that Adventure Time is so open, and you can really do so much with it.

Moynihan: Right. You can sort of pick any inanimate object, or type of food, and make it into a character.

CB and Moynihan: [laughs]

CB: Yeah. Which is a special concept, but it feels like the next phase of evolution for that medium, which is exciting.

Moynihan: Right. Adventure Time was the first western cartoon that I think really reached out to online audiences and really engaged them and encouraged them to create their own thing in reaction to the show, and encourage that fan art, and that discussion, and access to production stuff.

Fred Seibert, I'm pretty sure he's the one who created that way of interacting with audience. Because everything before that was so secretive. Animation production was so secretive, and Adventure Time was super open about their production, and who works on the show, and blah. I think beforehand, productions were really tight-lipped and I don't know why. We're in the age of sharing now.

Everything's gotta be -- your process and everything -- has gotta be on the web. And I like that, because I get really lonely working on stuff, so it's cool to be able to share whatever kind of scraps or drawings I have around the house, and have people who are interested in following that stuff. 

CB: Yeah, I know you're a big Twitter user, which I find to be a little bit like smoking crack sometimes.

Moynihan: Yeah. I definitely feel like I'm smoking crack sometimes.

CB and Moynihan: [laughs]

CB: Oh, I said something funny! Okay! How many retweets do I have? How many favorites do I have? Oh my god! Only five for this one!

Moynihan: Yeah. I've thought about quitting Twitter because of that.

CB: Oh, it's the worst. I have a day job, where I have real responsibilities, and have to specifically force myself not to go on Twitter during the day not matter what, because I know it's just a black hole and I'll get sucked in to conversation, and topics, and links, and before I know it, there'll have been an hour gone by, and I haven't gotten anything done.

Moynihan: Yeah, well I had to block 4CHAN because of that. Do you know 4CHAN?

CB: Yeah, yeah. I do, yeah.

Moynihan: Yeah, I had to block it on all my browsers. But I haven't figured out how to block it on my phone, so I can still look at it on my phone.

CB: Right, and you know that trick. So you know if you're sitting there and you have a moment where you're like bored or something, oh I'll just pull out my phone and, before you know it your battery's all the way down, right?

Moynihan: Right, yeah. AND you're in a bad mood.

CB and Moynihan: [laughs]

CB: Well that's the other thing, too. Once you're on the high, how do you get down from it? How do you get back to just sitting there and drawing your storyboards, in your case, or do my project managements, in my case.

Moynihan: Yeah. What I like to do is go to cafes where I get bad phone reception, and they don't have Wi-Fi.

CB: There's still cafes like that?

Moynihan: Yeah. There's a cafe in LA, Intelligentsia. Wait, no, they have Wi-Fi, but it never works.

CB: Ah, even better.

Moynihan: Yeah. And I don't get a very good phone signal there. So it takes forever to load a page, so it's not even worth looking at the internet, so I can just hang out there, and work, and not be distracted.

 

CB: You've got me thinking, actually, because one of the things about Forming, is there's something that happens, really on every page. There really is no downtime. In a weird way, it's like, it's a strange analogy I know, but it's a lot like the stimulation you get from a social network.

Moynihan: Well I think that comes from, like that thing where I was posting it on the web, so that changes the dynamic of comic storytelling a little bit, when you're making a web comic. I found that when I was just writing books, without thinking about posting one page at a time, there was more space to sort of spread out, and you didn't have to make every page super entertaining. But when you're posting on the web, you're waiting on reactions from people. So you're getting this immediate audience response, so you want every page to be awesome.

CB: If you had done this just for print, that you would have approached it differently?

Moynihan: Oh yeah. It would have been totally different. Posting on the web requires that, psychologically, there's this need to please the audience, immediately, with every page. Because you want those comments. It's like, a psychological – it's like Twitter!

So the web definitely affected me, because I'm a people-pleaser. Art… since I was young I've made art, to please other people. I mean, it's also a thing I have to do myself, but I remember when I was young I was like, oh shit! I can draw Ninja Turtles, and girls like me because I can draw Ninja Turtles. So pretty girls would come up to me and be like, can you draw me Michelangelo? And I'd be like, yeah, of course I'll draw, I'll do anything for you.

So I feel like that still carries weight today, that the artist wants to please. I mean, I think there's two aspects. One is, the artist will always create regardless. That's something where, they feel good inside. I don't know where it comes from, you just want to make stuff. You want to be creative. And once you know you can create things, then you can't stop. But the other thing is communication.

I think for artists and storytellers, if there's no audience, then part of that motivation is gone. You want to communicate an idea to people. I mean, I think we're a collective species. There are these modes of connecting with people. It's showing your work. It's pleasing other people with your stories, and stuff.

CB: Art is a dialogue between the creator and the audience.

Moynihan: Yeah. You want that dialogue. So then we have comment sections on our websites. But if you're just creating in a bubble, right? Which is what I was doing with my early books, I didn't have much web presence, so my early books have much more sort of, a meditative pace. And the Forming are sort of more, jam-packed, with content and action and stuff. And jokes.

CB: Lots of jokes, Lots and lots of jokes. But yeah, that's something I was thinking about, because another book I have on my desk to read and review is the new Gene Luen Yang book, The Shadow Hero.

Moynihan: Oh, I don't know about that.

CB: I don't know if you know his earlier work. He did Boxers and Saints a couple years ago.

Moynihan: I haven't read it, no.

CB: He's a very good cartoonist, and he did this book strictly for print, with artist Sonny Liew, and so the book has a completely different pace. Now, of course, he's a completely different artist than you, as well, and his approach is different.

Moynihan: And he was doing web stuff before?

CB: He's really only pretty much done print-based stuff. And maybe that's the difference, is that. Another book I have on my desk is a collection of Tarzan newspaper strips from the thirties. It's a collection of Burne Hogarth's Tarzan. And maybe your stuff is more like that, where every Sunday, in the old school world, people would need this page of adventure, and you damn well better deliver. 

Moynihan: Yeah, it's the same as strips. Web comics, I think, are very similar to Sunday strips. Where Prince Valiant, or one of those serialized strips, where something has to happen every week. Because if you took Charles Burns's Black Hole and serialized it on the web, one page a week, no one would follow it. But as a book it's great.

CB: As a reader, it's interesting. You can really tell the difference between something that originated on the web, and something that was originated for print. And there's a whole other way to read it. With your stuff I have to force myself to slow down. Because it's just got this kinetic energy that just drags you along.

Moynihan: Yeah. I think that's the energy of wanting every page to be entertaining. That's that Sunday strip/web comics mentality.

CB: Is that why the coloring is so rich on every page, too?

Moynihan: The coloring came out of… well, I had been working in black and white up until Forming. I had never tried to do a color comic.  And I hadn't really approached color since my art school days. I started after art school, I abandoned color, and I was just modeling myself after the 90's underground guys. Like Jim Woodring, and Peter Bagge, so that's how I thought of myself.

And then when I decided to change modes, because I had this long talk with -- do you know Dash Shaw? He gave me this long critique about how I was approaching comics, and so I was like okay, I have to change what I'm doing pretty drastically, I agreed with him, and I decided to start working in color, and discovered I didn't want to just do literal, coloring.

I mean, I do do things like, trees are brown, grass is green, or whatever, but the more I've gotten into coloring the more I've tried to stray slightly away from literal coloring. Like how rocks are gray, I don't know, it's this thing, like, if you're going to work in color, maybe color should have symbolic meaning to it. Color should play into the narrative, and not just be representative of the object.

CB: I had a very similar conversation with Dash Shaw about this topic.

Moynihan: Yeah. Yeah. I mean, Dash Shaw does great stuff with color.

CB: He definitely uses color in a symbolic way.

Moynihan: Yeah yeah. He much more than me.  But I think sort of in this more subtle way I strive for that, where it's like a heightened reality. I want to take that representation and take it into a slightly higher zone of experience. Because when I see coloring that's just, I mean, It can really be really beautiful, and someone's coloring chops can be great, but if there's not this higher level of intention going on, as far as expression and stuff, then to me, it can bring, slightly, maybe I don't respect the colorist quite as much as someone like, say, I really like James Stokoe's coloring, because it's so personal, and, and, insane.

CB: Right. Well the coloring really, it just reflects the story back at you. Almost in a subliminal way for most readers.  

Moynihan: Right. And like Frank Frazetta, I love his coloring. Because it's so lurid, you know? And expressive. It really like, I can't imagine anyone else painting those barbaric scenes, because there's so much life in that color. It's not just representative, like nothing looks like that. It's heightening reality. So I like that stuff.

CB: That's his view of the world, too. I mean, it's filtered through these characters he's drawing, but it's his view of the world, which I also find really interesting.

Moynihan: But on my next book I think I want to push my color even more. I think. Yeah, I'm trying to go further into that expressive abstraction idea of color representation instead.

CB: Do you mean Forming III, or the book that comes after?

Moynihan: Forming III. I've been thinking about it a lot. It's sort of been paralyzing a little bit.

CB: Really?

Moynihan: Yeah, because I'm sort of intimidated by my own ambition, or something. I'm like, oh, it's gotta be the next level, and then I'm like, oh fuck, how am I gonna live up to my own expectations, you know?

CB: Well was that hard? Because you were on a few top ten lists for Forming I. Was that a little intimidating?

Moynihan: Uh, no, it's all internal. It's not based on what anyone else thinks. It's all my own desire to grow and beat myself.

CB: I think you succeeded with volume 2. I mean there's a whole other level of experimentation, and quality to it.

Moynihan: Thanks man, thanks.

CB: You bring the characters to different places. Like I said I was really, I didn't know what to expect. The way the characters evolve was both comfortable, and very surprising at the same time.

Moynihan: Cool. I'm glad it came out that way.

CB: You have a lot of reasons to be happy with this book. And I'm sure Nobrow did as well a job on the production of the second volume as the first.

Moynihan: Oh yeah. I just got my copies yesterday. And they look great. I'm really, really happy with them.

CB: There's one thing I absolutely wanted to ask you about, which is about identity, and the way people look versus the way that they're treated. There's this motif over and over in the book about people's faces changing in some way or other. And I was curious how you saw that, especially in terms of these being the semi-mythological characters who have unfixed identities. It's a little bit of a contradiction.

Moynihan: Uh, yeah. Because to me, a lot of that stuff is instinctual. And it's something that's coming out of me and sometimes I don't even really understand what I'm doing. So, while writing Forming there's a lot of trust going on. Like I just trust that if I sit and meditate, and this image comes to my head, and that's sort of my writing process, is that I sit and I just stare into space, and hope that something happens.

CB: Is this the spiritual practice that you were gonna talk about at Floating World in Portland around the Fourth of July?

Moynihan: Yeah, that's part of it. I think it's, yeah I don't know how to describe that, but there's a trust I have, and I do think that's a higher communication thing. Like I'm tapping into that storystream, or whatever it is. I believe that a lot of the ideas that I'm using, a lot of the visual motifs I'm using, a lot of it comes from research into topics I'm interested in, but some of it comes from this deep digging into my own, sort of dark waters.

So the thing about the people pulling off their faces, and that sort of temporary identity kind of stuff, like the body change, and our forms aren't permanent, there's a lot of that. I keep coming back to it, or resolving certain characters in that way. I think my reading of it would be the same as someone who hadn't written it. I don't think my reading of it is any more valid than someone reading into it.

CB: You're also discovering yourself as you work through this creative process?

Moynihan: Right. So I'm not coming at it with an agenda, right? So it's definitely an exploration exercise.

A lot of it is, I don't have answers for it, but I do this thing where I plant stuff in my stories that are, I call them “Easter Eggs,” and I'll put a character or a visual motif in there because it just appears in my head. Like I get this spark of, oh you gotta put this symbol in here, you gotta put this visual motif in here, or this line of dialogue that has some weight to it. And then, remember it, and then as I'm writing further down the road, there'll be a synchronicity that happens. That always seems to happen.

And I think if you're open to it, then those things start to fall into place. You have to want that kind of thing to happen, and then it starts happening. And then you remember and you're like oh, man! This connects exactly to this thing I did before, and then you use it, you exploit it, and then it finds meaning over time.

CB: Yeah. It's the resonance of these images coming up again and again in different circumstances that gives them the symbolism, or just the deeper meaning to them, right.

Moynihan: Right. You have to have the intention of, this thing means something. You're not just trying to throw random shit in the air.

CB: But what you're talking about is that it's intentional but it's also unintentional at the same time, which is so interesting.  

Moynihan: Yeah, it's the trust where you're trusting whatever that super-consciousness is, that is like, floating through you, or something. So I believe that stuff. I believe that that's what's happening. And then it seems to work, I dunno. It works. It's a weird, impractical thing that for me, has had practical application for storytelling.

CB: I think you're putting your finger on why people are responding to Forming so much. Which is, you did your autobio stuff, and now you move into this material that's very abstracted from your life, but at the same time it's just a different reflection of you, and of the way you see the world.

Moynihan: Right. No, yeah. It's super personal.

CB: Yeah. And yet it's about, things that really have nothing to do with your ordinary life in Los Angeles.

Moynihan: Right sure. But it does, because it's all coming out of that. I mean, a lot of what Forming is, the root material, is sort of my, mundane, existence. My day-to-day thoughts.

CB: I wish I could express my mundane thoughts in the way that you are.


You can read all of The Forming as a webcomic on jessemoynihan.com or order a copy of either collected edition from Nobow, your LCS or your favorite online retailer.

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