For writer/artist Jamaica Dyer, her original graphic novel Fox Head Stew has been a long time coming. The story started as a continuation of her highly acclaimed web series Weird Fishes, then grew into its own project… And years later, its finally going to be finished, serialized here on MTV Geek! To find out more about the project – and what advice Dyer has for artists who also find themselves years deep in a project – read on:
MTV Geek: For those not in the know, can you give a brief rundown of what Fox Head Stew is about?
Jamaica Dyer: Fox Head Stew is a comic about psychedelic daydreams, glam rock and self-discovery through art classes, guitar lust, booze, and one-night-stands. It follows two characters: Sam (Bunny Boy) finds an escape from his depression by playing music, while Dee tries to hide her strange inner self and fit into the college scene by going to parties, kissing girls, finding the perfect major. It’s drawn in pen and ink washes and bright watercolors, daily life gets distorted with lucid fantasies, strange creatures and vivid music.
Geek: Interestingly, it’s a continuation of the story you started in Weird Fishes – but thematically, it almost seems to have the opposite trajectory of that book… Meaning rather than getting older means giving up your fantasies, in Fox Head Stew it seems to be about re-embracing them.
JD: Yes, we have come full-circle. The characters are in their early twenties, a time when you start out taking yourself so damn seriously, you think you understand the world, and there are a dozen different choices to make while growing up. The parallel journeys of Dee and Bunny Boy involve different methods of figuring yourself out, be it hack-and-slash throwing yourself at parties and love, or delicate and internal self-discovery. If you connect back to the center, you tend to find that person you were as a kid, all your childhood interests and weirdness, was just hanging out underneath all the other emotions.
…And then you need to re-embrace them again. Running from them gets you nowhere!
JD: Dee’s isolated herself throughout high school, and decides that college is a time to re-build herself. She moves from her family home in the woods to an all-boy college party house right off campus. While she’s timid about all the social craziness at first, her shyness goes away as soon as she starts drinking. She finds a new part of herself within the college lifestyle, and she throws herself at new experiences, whether it’s finding a label for her uniqueness or a passionate change of majors in college, she’s trying to fit into the world and keep her inner self behind closed doors. She still daydreams a lot, but it’s more controlled with age.
Geek: How about Bunny Boy?
JD: While Dee’s been proactive about making a change in her life, Bunny Boy’s stayed back in his home town, and feels pensive about the world in general. He tends to have a moody cat around with him at all times, the perpetual cloud of depression. But whether he likes it or not, the universe has other plans, and a guitar falls into his life that opens new doors for him. He discovers that he loves to play music and he joins a punk glam rock band.
Geek: What new characters are we going to meet in Dee’s College Adventure?
Bunny Boy had a bunch of new faces in his band: Blake is the lead singer who is driven and charismatic, androgynous and glam, and a little manipulative. Lucy is their drummer, a young fashionista who’s become one of my favorite characters to draw. Hareem is their strong, silent bassist. Blossom is the local barista who has a love/hate thing going on with Bunny Boy, but he’s not really aware of it.
Geek: How did your experiences with college influence this book?
JD: Quite a bit. I mean… not at all!
Geek: One interesting thread running through this is, I think, finding your muse (or refinding it as the case may be)… What’s your take on that? Does everybody have “something” they’re meant for? Or do you not have to decide?
JD: I think most people have that something, but it can be as big or little as you can imagine. Not everyone’s going to become completely enveloped by an instrument or create giant monsters in the sky when they get upset, sometimes it involves cooking really good omelets or taking pictures with your iPhone. I think the important thing is that there’s something that brings you joy, something that you want to spend your saturday afternoon with, and you allow yourself to love it. I’ve seen cab drivers who are so enthusiastic and passionate about driving their cab, and they’ll tell you their life story and it’s totally engrossing. They’re doing what they love.
The most unhappy people I know are people who won’t spend time to get lost in their passion, or people who are trying to hard to make something happen that isn’t genuine.
Geek: Let’s talk about the artistic process… How do you approach the pages in the book?
JD: With this comic I wanted to approach the storytelling in a fluid, organic style. I have sketchbooks that I’d thumbnail ideas in, but that is my only preliminary work. I’d draw my rough pencils right onto the bristol board/watercolor paper that I have around (I get asked about this: I don’t have a favorite brand of paper, and there are probably 10 different types used in this book) and I tend to draw an entire scene out in pencil before going back and inking over the rough pencils (for this I am particular: I use Faber-Castell PITT pens) and I tend to ink really fast, trying to capture the spontaneity of sketches done on the fly. Erase, erase, then I come in with watercolors and gouache for a spontaneous splash of color. Bunny Boy’s scenes tend to be a lot more controlled than Dee’s, and I’ll use grey inkwashes with a little bit of color.
Each page has to be scanned in 3 parts, which is my least favorite stage of the process. I draw on 11×17(ish) paper, and my scanner is letter-sized. I’m trying to keep the Photoshop cleaning process a little more raw with Fox Head Stew, leaving in some of the pencils and odd scanning occurrences.
Geek: I was also reading on your blog where you talked a bit about the difficulties getting motivated to finish this book… What problems did you run into, and any advice for people in the same situation?
JD: Time is my biggest enemy. Comics don’t pay the bills, but social gaming does, so I work as an artist drawing game elements all day, and while I’ve gotten very disciplined at coming home at night and sitting down to draw comics, you can only squeeze so many hours out of the day. I wonder how many months it would have taken to complete a 100-page book if that was the only job I had to do. Anyway, it took two-and-a-half years because I drew it in between everything else.
My advice? Don’t ever make up excuses for why you’re not drawing. I hate hearing it. My most productive friends have the craziest work schedules and they still make time to make art or music. If you find yourself being lazy or just watching dumb things on a screen, at least put a pen in your hand and sketch while you watch. Force yourself into this habit and eventually you’ll be drawing without even knowing it. And then stop sleeping.
Geek: I believe – and correct me if I’m wrong – you had the idea for Fox Head Stew while writing Weird Fishes. Do you have an idea for the third part of Dee’s life? Or is FHS it for right now?
JD: Yes, I definitely found myself thinking about who they would become as they grew up. I was in my last year of college when I wrote Weird Fishes, and by the time it was a published book I was working in an animation studio. I found myself captivated by the idea of writing a college story and exploring some themes that Dee and Bunny Boy seemed like they were ready to go through. My comics are always a bizarro world reflection of what I’m going through in life, and how I’m reflecting on the past and future. While Fox Head Stew is a story contained within itself, it also feels like the first 30-minutes of a movie to me. I’d be interested in developing it as a screenplay perhaps, there’s a lot more storyline for each of the characters that are floating around at the moment.
However, I don’t see a third book anywhere in the near future. I have too many new characters in my head and new storytelling explorations to do!
Geek: For those looking to get into Fox Head Stew, why check it out?
JD: Fox Head Stew has a theme and an art style that you rarely see in comics. This is the sort of story that you could show someone who likes low-budget indie films, listens to bands you’ve never heard of and would rather look at fashion illustrations and graffiti instead of comics. It’s dreamy and romantic and fierce and contemplative. Hard-core comics readers will pick up on the supernatural elements, refreshing sequential storyteling and pop-culture references. I’ve grown up reading comics, but I’ve brought along with me a great amount of other influences into this project.
Plus, it’s free to read on MTV right now, so why not tune in every week? Plus I’ll be running commentary, sketches and videos on my blog to compliment the installments.
Geek: Lastly, what else is coming up for you?
JD: I’ve had this dream of combining a book reading, projected comic art, guest musicians and live art painting into a unique performance, and I’m organizing the first one of these events with Noise Pop in February! Very excited to do this. I’m going to focus on doing some animation, painting and fashion projects in the near future. And then later this year I hope to release the print version of Fox Head Stew.
Fox Head Stew is free to read on MTV Geek right here, right now!