The Maxx creator Sam Kieth's When The Chickens Revolt "should read like poetry"
You probably know who Sam Kieth is, from his work on The Maxx and Zero Girl. You may even know who Jonathan Wayshak is from his work as a freelance illustrator based in California. But you probably don’t know, the way out there project the two are collaborating on, When The Chickens Revolt. The stream of consciousness web comic is painted, watercolored, and inked rather than done digitally – and not only that, the two are creating the whole thing on the front cover of brown ledger books. Then putting the new pieces online, one every Monday.
To find out more about this fascinating project – and where it’s going (hint: anywhere it wants) – we chatted with Kieth and Wayshak:
MTV Geek: I was reading through the process of how you guys are putting this together, and nearly every part seems to be purposely working against the speed and efficiency of webcomics (and I mean this in a nice way)… Could you talk about how you decided to approach the project the way you have; and is this, kind of, the anti-web-comic web-comic?
Sam Kieth: I guess that's true if digital is supposed to be speedier, but is it? It seems the erosion of print means there really are no rules anymore, just whatever suits each artist. I can't speak for Jon but while we both tend towards hand painted work, there's really no agenda of digital vs. hand painted… Just two idiots trying to goof around.
Jonathan Wayshak: Really, there's nothing purposeful about it. We draw and paint. This is how we normally do things and there's nothing premeditated about it. If by speed and efficiency you mean digital media, that's a mistruth. It is not typically faster to do things digitally. I think a lot of people who believe this to be true are not very proficient with ink and paint.
I don't really think of our project as an "anti-webcomic." There is no such thing as "webcomics," they're all just comics, and that's what we do and love. It might be a little different or somewhat agitated or more frenetic than the typical thing you'll see in the digital world, but it's still a comic strip. We're just not interested in doing anything "common."
Geek: Makes sense to me… I was fascinated to see that you’re actually painting on the covers of books, which again, seems to indicate this is something that will eventually have more of a place in a gallery, than online, or in a published collection. Can you talk about what its like to work in this, er, medium?
Jon: That's more of Sam's doing. Sam loves to draw in these brown paper sketchbooks. So for the sake of keeping some kind of consistency with the art, I got one of these books to do my pages as well. Sam also decorates his books, so I felt obligated to do so as well. What is kind of nice about it is that it is turning into a unique book or art. It's something original that even if published, will not have the unique soul of the original. The goal is to present this experiment in a digital format that is available to everyone, but the physical sketchbooks will always be our own.
Sam: I couldn't agree more with Jon on this point! If it gets published later, cool. But for us this way to communicate, in this case, web comic, is just easier and more direct. If it pleases us cool. Other like it, or we roll a few extra fans in the other one's direction, great too. But there's so little expectation, so freeing... it's more just a way to amp the other up into doing something they wouldn't normally do. Like basketball or something.
Sam: If I played basketball... which I don't.
Jon: I like baseball.
Geek: What’s it like collaborating together? Do you find you’ve changed your style(s) at all when working on the other person’s art?
Sam: It's been a blast doing something with Jon. We talked about a gallery show or doing a print comic, but both seemed to have so much overhead. It's an uphill battle in print for creator owned, so Jon was the one who proposed it. When I saw his page which followed my first, I was determined to get more on the ball, surprise him.
Jon: We were already working on some paintings together, but I really wanted to do some kind of comic with Sam. The comic industry, as well as the publishing industry, is a lot more conservative than this country's religious right. I knew no publisher was going to let us cut loose and give us the freedom we needed to experiment and explore. Digital seemed like the best way to go.
Sam: Far as working together, it's started to get interesting now that some paintings we've exchanged are worked into the story. It's how I work anyways, but yeah, for example, Jon had a scene where he was going to sorta re-cap what's happened to try to get it back to a linear plot, and I was planning the same thing, so I asked him to do a background i could draw some panels over that do that. Seeing his background and a few panels he drew in, change what and how I'll do it now.
Jon: Yeah, I figured there would be some surprises, but Sam throws me some major f**king curveballs from outer space or something. I thought I was surprising him, but he outclassed me in that category.
Geek: The first page – relatively speaking – seems to start traditionally, and then very quickly goes off the rails, both in art and story, becoming rapidly more abstract.
Sam: GOOD!! That's going exactly as planned then. Totally de-railed!
Jon: Exactly. It should read like poetry.
Geek: Well, then do you see it returning to a more traditional narrative format at some point? Or is it “too late”?
Jon: We passed the "too late" stage. We're at more of the "oh sh*t" stage right now.
Geek: Ha! Okay, in a way I imagine its rather freeing to NOT worry about narrative, or what Editors and fans think, and just rely on the stream of consciousness – is that fair to say? And in the long and short run, what do you think the challenges are for working without a safety net?
Sam: When doing The Maxx I had the same issues, meaning just enough creative rope to hang yourself. I hope both Jon and I have on eye on reeling it back in, but part of the fun is seeing how far it can go... Like one of those old Heavy Metal or Epic stories from the 70s.
Jon: Well, it's all about the narrative, otherwise it wouldn't be a comic. The problem is with a majority of the comic viewing audience, if you break format or proceed in a direction that is a lot more surreal or nonlinear, they instantly dismiss the project as not having a narrative. I don't worry about this kind of thing. You can create a narrative with the "stream of consciousness" type of approach. It's like jamming with a band. This project, like anything else will run it's course, and it's life will be finite, whether it lasts for 6 months or 6 years, we'll continue to do this thing as long as it stays fresh.
Geek: Are there are comics – web or otherwise – that you’ve looked to for inspiration for this series?
Sam: Jon and I are both fans of the Barron Storey illustrators pool; Stray Toasters seems a meeting point we both mention a lot, though that's a high water mark.
Jon: Yeah, for this project, those two are basically it for our conscious influences. The unconscious ones are too many to name. Actually, I just remembered, Frank Zappa is coming up a lot as well.
Geek: Is it even fair to call it a comic?
Sam: Yeah, it's totally unfair to call it one. It's cruel to do it. Besides, it's landscape, so it's already the wrong proportion, eh?
Jon: I call it Arthur.
Geek: What makes something a comic (sorry, Arthur), anyway, you guys (we’re getting really abstract now)?
Jon: Wouldn't Scott McCloud say something like it's a juxtaposition of images that form a narrative or something like that? Ask him, he knows.
Geek: Sadly, Scott won’t return my calls after the “incident.” Where (if anywhere) do you see this story going? Or is the open road and improvisation too much a part of the project to even think about that?
Jon: If it is not an improvisation, it defeats the purpose of the project. We might as well make an outline, breakdown the book, do lunch, talk to publishers, have slumber parties, etc. We'd have to leave the house, and that's the last thing we want to do. Thinking always gets you into trouble.
Geek: Lastly, anything else you guys want to plug, either together or individually?
Sam: Just check my blog, that's the best way to catch up on my crap. I'd just add that at the risk of embarrassing Jon, it's exactly because I respect the hell out of Jon's comics and paintings that I wanted to try this. It may work, may not.
Sam: Hell, I may never do anything like this again with somebody else, but I think it's a wonderfully foolish experiment. In this doom and gloom time, we just wanted to have some FUN dammit. Even if it sucks... Or we crash and burn, it should be interesting to watch the flames as we go down, eh?
Jon: Yeah, I'm loving this project. It's more than a thrill for me. Imagine, the little kid sitting at a McDonald's, staring at a Wolverine drawing in the comics preview newspaper, gets to work with one of the big influences on his art. Failure is not an option...it's the road less traveled, and we're out of gas.
You can check out new pages of “When The Chickens Revolt” every Monday.