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Dan James: Q&A

Posted: Thursday, January 29, 2004
Posted By: Tim O'Shea

According to Dan James, he is “a freelance illustrator/ bachelor. He is ridiculously wealthy due to his affiliation with world famous creative power house GHOSTSHRIMP, so he basically does whatever he wants. Usually this includes impulsive decisions, misting his frogs several times a day, and drawing everything he ever thinks of. For more of Dan's info and work, please visit his website. To commemorate the recent release of The Octopi & The Ocean (Top Shelf), SBC interviewed him. The Octopi & The Ocean is about a “small boy finds himself deep within the timeless ocean, directly between a pack of artifact guarding sharks and a manipulative civilization of marriage seeking octopi. Throw in selfish parents, the postal system, and a cockroach tree and you've got the premier epic story from New Hampshire's most eligible bachelor, Dan James. This largely wordless narrative is only matched in elegance by the strikingly stylistic use of brush line and solid mass to seal the fate of one spineless, yet resilient child.” What follows is a somewhat intentionally comical interview and had this e-mail interviewer been more on his toes, he would have come up with more comical answers, but alas I chose the less funny route. Fortunately, James took the other route.

Tim O’Shea: I'm curious about the significance of on the front page of your website it says "ADHD since 1980." I know the clinical term you're referring to (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder), but what's the significance of its placement as one of the first things visitors see?

Dan James: It's funny...I think? ADHD is the best thing that's even happened to me. A lot of people look at ADHD as a disability, like dying or intitalitus (reference to HBO's Mr. Show), and I guess it can be if you don't know what to do with it. But put a purpose in a room of ADHD and things will get done. That's actually the first Ghostshrimp Law of Ghostativity. ADHD + PURPOSE = GHOSTSHRIMP. The second law is "Ghostshrimp cannot be created or destroyed". I'm actually not even really sure what Ghostshrimp is, or who they are, but I heard they invented the awesome, so I signed up.

TO: Why did you choose to convey the story of The Octopi & The Ocean as "largely wordless narrative"?

DJ: I really like the idea of telling picture stories cause there is no language barrier issues involved. The only reason the Octopi has any text at all is because it's really two stories, or a story wrapped in a story, like the double tacos at Taco Bell (product endorsement). One story is the well-known legend of the battle for oceanic supremacy between the sharks and the octopi. The second story is about what it is to be a child in a world run by adults. The two stories overlap when the child, our very own comic book kid, is abducted by an octopi and brought into the ocean for some meaty deluxe comic goodness.

TO: How long have you been working on The Octopi & The Ocean?

DJ: I worked on the Octopi as a sort side project last year. It's actually the fastest thing I've ever done, other than some stuff I did faster. I did most of it on and off for two months, and then when top shelf picked it up I added a few extra pages to smooth out the storyline.

TO: How did the project find itself at Top Shelf?

DJ: It was actually pretty tough. Those guys at top shelf drive a hard bargain. I had heard about them from my uncle, the notoriously birdlike Steve Lafler (mastermind behind the popular Bughouse series). My book was already done, and I knew if I could get them to read it they would love it. So one night I rode my bike down to the top shelf mini mansion, where Chris "Neck Fist" Staros and Brett "Wild Bill" Warnock live in solitude. Most people don't make it past the shark fire moat of fire, but I had a different approach. Over a six-month period, I invested in several hundred feet of fireproof billboard space all along their moatfront property. I then plastered up huge pictures of super hotties holding my book along the billboards knowing that both Chris and Brett are severe bachelors. One low key business meeting later, Chris and Brett had subconsciously associated my book with major hotties, and they agreed to pick it up. Some people just mail their books in, but I like to mix it up a little, for the children's sake.

TO: Is this your first major published work, if not what else have you worked on?

DJ: I've been trying to make stories since the long lost year of 2000 when I lived in Brooklyn. Back then I contributed to the now famously famous STATIC FISH, and then became co-editor with a kid named Joe Comeau who fled the country but still claimed credit abroad. I'm actually trying to kill him now. When I left Brooklyn and the Static Fish behind, I bundled the stories I made there into my first book, "a study of forward motion" which was a huge success prophylactically speaking. The stories all center around our comic book kid, who is the star of The Octopi And The Ocean. It's sort of his, "Before they were famous" book.

TO: Would you say your art style is unique and without any noticeable influences? Or are you greatly influenced by certain storytellers?

DJ: I am majorly influenced, I look at tons of other people's work every day. Dave Cooper's comics make me barf so good, and Jim Woodring's Frank was a major influence for me to go with visual storytelling in my book. I love the short stories of H.P. Lovecraft, and Jorge Luis Borges and I definitely try to steal some of that fantastic strangeness from them.

TO: Were there any particular story elements that were quite challenging to layout and that underwent several revisions?

DJ: This story surprisingly came together pretty easily. I was involved in a lot of projects right then, so it was easy to get in the zone and just draw. When I make stories I know the beginning and the end, but I pretty much wing the events page to page to keep it fresh. If I laugh out loud when I get an idea I know it's good and I just try to keep drawing. The octopi was actually only going to be a 4 page story, but I just kept laughing.

TO: Is there any one scene that you consider your best or that was your favorite to create?

DJ: My favorite page/part is when the octopus, disguised as a school bus driver, pulls in to pick up the kid at the bus stop. It just came out really right. This page is in the preview of the book on

TO: In the creative process, do you have your contemporaries at Ghostshrimp review your work, or do you work solo, without an editor or some kind of sanity check/sounding

DJ: I always run the stories by my friends and fellow shrimpos. Sometimes I can't see that my idea is not coming across the way I intended it to. Telling stories without words is a real challenge in clear communication. I still have a long way to go, but I feel like the octopi is a step in the right direction.

TO: What do you hope to achieve creatively with The Octopi and the Ocean?

DJ: Inspiration is like an a-sexual organism. You put a book alone in a room, and the next day there's three more books in the room, (and the original one wasn't pregnant when you put it in, or was it?). I hope that people will think it's funny and inspiring. To me, and everybody here at Ghostshrimp, the first and foremost reason for doing what we do is to inspire others in the field of creative exploration. Reading other people's books made me want to make my own, so hopefully someone will make a book because they read the Octopi. But they shouldn't make a book called, I Hated The Octopi So Much I Wrote This Book About Hating It, ‘cause I would try to kill them.

TO: Anything else on the creative horizon for 2004?

DJ: Maybe. Fantagraphics just picked up an awesome new quarterly anthology put together by Chris Polkki called Blood Orange, and I have a story in the first two issues. I'm really excited about that that. I'm planning on re-retiring when the Octopi comes out in January, so I'll have a lot of free time to draw. I'll probably make something awesome every day. When I was purposely peeing in the public pool the other day I heard I might even be making a sequel to The Octopi and the Ocean. That could be pretty good. the best way to keep up with what I'm doing is to check out the website. It's updated every minute and it has tons of sweet stuff on it every day.

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