[Outside the Frame] Interview with “Tails” creator Ethan Young
Ethan Young, whose comic Tails I reviewed in my last column, is a Chinese-American artist born and raised in NYC. He’s worked on a wide array of illustration projects, including: comics books, storyboards, t-shirt designs, video games, character designs, print ads, book covers, album covers, logos, and much more. Thought there are similarities between himself and his cartoon namesake “Ethan” – who takes his work at an animal shelter, relationship troubles, and veganism from Young’s own background – the two are different enough that you can’t know the artist simply from reading his work.
Young was kind enough to sit down and answer a few of my questions via email…
Carrie Cuinn: What tools do you use to create Tails? Are you strictly pen and ink, do you create the images digitally, or is it a mix of both?
Ethan Young: For the interior pages of Tails, it’s all hand-done and traditional, right down to filling all the borders with black ink. I’m very strict when it comes to how the original art is presented. I want it to resemble the final product as much as possible. There’s a somewhat romantic appeal to the traditional way of creating comic pages, a hand-crafted appeal.
CC: Did you use a different technique to create your cover and logo, which are in color?
EY: Covers are a different story, so yes, I used a different approach. All of the drawing is still traditional, but the colors are all digital. I see the cover more as a product, so I don’t feel as emotionally or quixotically attached to it’s overall outcome, outside of a commercial sense. A cover is not meant to be as intimate as the interior story, so I’m more relaxed with using non-traditional methods.
CC: Who does the site management for http://tailscomic.com?
EY: Outside of hiring the occasional freelance programmer to do updates, I do all the content management for my website.
CC: You post new pages to the site every Monday. About how long does it take you to create a single page?
EY: It really depends on how consistent I am on any given month. I prefer to compartmentalize in scenes rather than pages. If my freelance workload isn’t too heavy, then I can finish a 6 – 8 page scene in a month. During busier months, I’m lucky to finish a 4 page scene. I’m very methodical when it comes to my pages, hence the prolonged turnaround time. It’s a good thing I’ve finished so many pages ahead of time.
CC: The current iteration of your comic is based on a small collection you first published in 2006. What has changed from the original story to this one?
EY: If we’re talking about plot-points or technicalities, then the biggest difference is that the real-world cats don’t ‘talk’, and Ethan’s relationships are portrayed differently. For instance, he doesn’t hold imaginary arguments with his brother anymore (who was originally a quasi-straw-man). Also, my mother wasn’t a big part of the original comic; call it bad storytelling on my part to exclude a key figure in my life. At any rate, I decided to make my mother a more central moral compass for Cartoon Ethan in the revamped version of Tails, which also meant that I’d have to talk about her illness, M.S.
In the original comic, I explained my mom’s condition with a car accident, which was mainly to avoid embarrassment for her. She’s a very prideful woman and doesn’t want her disease to define her. But ultimately, it’s an essential struggle in her life (both good and bad), and makes her a stronger woman in the end, so I decided to portray my mother the way I truly see her.
CC: What is different about the style you used to draw the comic?
EY: My style has taken a natural progression from a stiffer, meticulous line to a looser line. I use more cross-hatching now, and more black for contrast. It was nothing that I consciously set out to do, but I’ve exposed myself to a more artistic diversity over the years, which has contributed to the style you see today.
CC: Has the scope of the story changed since you decided to expand it?
EY: Nope. I’ve always envisioned Tails to be a very grand story with humble beginnings; something with the smallest, most mundane setting expanding into an epic story of the human condition. At least, that’s what I think it is in my head…
CC: Hermes Press, the publisher for the new Tails graphic novel, is known for publishing collections of vintage comics like Buck Rogers, The Phantom and Dark Shadows. Why did you make the choice to publish with them?
EY: Hermes Press was looking for new material and decided to take a chance with me, so I thank them dearly for that. They’ve also proven that they simply LOVE putting out good books with good, quality content. I wanted to be associated with that.
CC: You went from publishing the first comic in a limited way, to reinventing Tails as a webcomic, to seeing it in print as a creator-owned publication of a small but well-known publishing house. How has the evolution of your method of publishing affected the way your work is perceived by the public? By friends and family?
EY: Simply put, seeing your book on Amazon and larger book-chain stores validates you to certain folks. It’s strange, because some of those venues are not as difficult to trespass as they used to be, but it still lends a certain grain of credibility to an otherwise unknown commodity such as myself.
CC: If you had to start over and draw the whole thing over again now, would you do anything differently?
EY: That’s a very hard question to answer. Deep down inside, yes, you want every line to be perfect and every caption to be spot-on. There’s a lot of stuff that 29-year-old me would do differently than 22-year-old me. But in the end, I’m extremely proud of the book I have. So the final answer would be ‘no’ with a small asterisk.
CC: What other comic books have most influenced you as a creator?
EY: In terms of overall storytellers, Dave Cooper’s work is a huge influence; his exquisite line-work and his perfect pacing are simply remarkable. He knows how to tell a story, and tell it well. I also love Joe Matt’s comics which are hilarious, sad, intimate, disgusting, and brilliant. Bill Watterson, how could you not love his work? Derek Kirk Kim, Daniel Clowes, Alex Robinson, Chris Ware, to name a few more. In terms of pure visual aesthetics, I’m just going to throw out some names: Moebius, Miyazaki, Otomo, Toriyama, Bruce Timm, Arthur Adams, Juanjo Guarnido, Frank Quitely, Chris Bachelo, Jamie Hewlett (which is not to say that those guys aren’t great writers as well). That list goes on and on, so I’ll leave it at that for now.
Next time: Richard Sala’s 4 issue mini series, Delphine.
Want me to review your work? I’m primarily looking for comics with a speculative fiction element, in keeping with the theme of SF Signal, but if your comic is fantasy, science fiction, horror, weird, magic realism, or some other style of “strange”, let me know! You can reach me at email@example.com, or leave a comment below.
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