Barbra J. Dillon, Fanboy Comics Managing Editor: What inspired you to create the fantastical world found in The Creature Department, and what do you hope that readers will find most intriguing about the tale?
Robert Paul Weston: There are too many inspirations to name! Some characters were inspired by strangers I sat beside on the bus. Other concepts came from reading scientific journals at the British Library. My favorite ideas in the book, however, are pure flights of imagination. For example, the Abstractory came from a question I have always wondered about: What would an intangible idea look like if you could see and touch it? Or, to put it another way, what would a bottle of justice look like? Or a bottle of friendship? Or perhaps something a bit more creaturely . . .
BD: The Creature Department is a uniquely collaborative novel, as you partnered with artist Zack Lydon of Academy Award-winning special effects studio Framestore to compile a book that contains not only an amazing story but stunning Illustrations, animations, and sketches of the creatures and their inventions. How did this partnership come about, and how would you describe the shared creative process?
RPW: It was my publisher, Razorbill/Penguin, who had the idea of partnering me with Framestore. Ben Schrank, who runs things at Razorbill, met with some of the artists and producers from Framestore with the idea of doing a book together. When he asked about putting my name forward, I jumped at the opportunity. He sent Framestore a couple of my earlier books, they liked them, and agreed it would be fun to work together, and a couple years later . . . The Creature Department emerged from its secret underground lair!
As for the process, working with an illustrator right from the start (especially someone as talented as Zack), was a great thrill. Usually, the manuscript is finished before I see illustrations, if any. But, with The Creature Department, I could pitch visual ideas and see sketches almost right away. It struck me as closer to the process of storyboarding a film. Best of all, it was very gratifying, not to mention very surreal, seeing characters that were only in my head come to life—quite literally, moving and speaking—before my eyes.
BD: Many of your previous works, including Zorgamazoo and Dust City, are geared towards younger audiences. What intrigues you most about writing children’s and young adult literature, and do you feel that writing for these age ranges provides you with specific tools as a storyteller?
RPW: While I do publish short stories for adults now and again, what I enjoy about writing for youth is the creative freedom of doing so, first in terms of content, which is wide open, and second with respect to the leaps you can make from book to book. Writing wouldn't be writing if I couldn't surprise my readers (and myself).
BD: Zack, what interested you most about working on The Creature Department, and did you enjoy creating illustrations for a younger audience compared to your work with Audible.com and Wikileaks?
Zack Lydon: The Creature Department was a very special project to contribute to, and there were many, many things that I found interesting about it. What I found particularly interesting was the spirit of liberty and collaboration that I felt as I was making the illustrations. I was almost completely unfettered by constraints, there was no leering presence instructing me how to make things look. And, best of all, if there was anything that I wished to add to the characters, I was free to do so. For example, it felt right to me that Harrumphrey should always be carrying a petit cup of tea. Everything about Harrumphrey’s natural appearance screams hairy, primitive beast, and so the poor fellow clings onto any bit of sophistication he can get his tail on. The glasses and the bowtie were Rob’s ideas, and the tea cup is my happy contribution.
It’s funny, while I was working on The Creature Department, I never felt like I was making illustrations for a younger audience. Drawing all of the characters felt very natural. I think that there is an inherent silliness to my nature that children just so happen to find agreeable.
BD: Did you have an idea in mind for the art style of the book when you first read the story, or did the artwork develop as you collaborated with Robert Paul Weston on the project?
ZL: I would have to say that it was a combination of the two. Stylistically, there were many things that I wanted to experiment with from the get go- things that I thought would fit well in a book and could feel unique to The Creature Department; however, it wasn’t until I had read through one of the first finished drafts of the book that I started to develop the style. After reading through the story, it became obvious to me that this book was enthusiastically wacky, and that my illustrations would have to match Rob’s energy and his humor.
BD: As an artist, do you prefer working with a specific artistic medium (i.e.: pencils and ink, paint, charcoal, etc.), and what can you tell us about your artistic process for The Creature Department?
ZL: I am most experienced working digitally, and for a project like The Creature Department, digital presents a lot of benefits: it is a very forgiving medium for making changes, experimenting quickly, and sharing work.
Everything I completed for The Creature Department started out as an embarrassingly sloppy thumbnail sketch. These are completed very quickly, they are crudely drawn, and they probably make very little sense to anyone other than myself. For every chapter, I would make as many of these sketches as it took until I created something that I felt could work as a strong composition. Once all of the shapes are sketched out, I begin blocking in the values, keeping light sources in mind, trying to make the composition feel as dynamic as possible. The last step for me is adding in detail, line work, and texture.
BD: Are there any upcoming projects on which you are currently working that you would like to share with our readers?
RPW: At the moment, I'm hard at work on a sequel to the first Creature Department book, as well as the (very) long-term project of a sequel to my first book, Zorgamazoo. The latter is a strictly metered verse novel, a very labour intensive way to write, so it's taking time. It's something I hope to have more time to work on . . . eventually! I'm also working on some new books for older readers.
ZL: It’s a very exciting time for me at Framestore. Most recently, I’ve completed an animated trailer to The Creature Department, and I’ve been working on the cover to the sequel of The Creature Department, as well. Additionally, this past summer, two of my favorite people have joined me in the wonderful design department at Framestore New York. Their names are Alexandra Barsky and Dan Solomon, and we have just finished collaborating on an animated introduction to the Ciclope arts festival in Berlin. The three of us hope to collaborate on many more projects. We call ourselves SLUG.
BD: Lastly, what is the best way for our readers to find more information about The Creature Department and your other work?
RPW: For me, it's the usual places on the web. First and foremost, there's www.TheCreatureDepartment.com and my personal website, www.RobertPaulWeston.com. On Twitter, you can follow us at @CreatureDept, @RPWeston, and @Framestore.
ZL: Of course, there’s www.TheCreatureDepartment.com, where you can learn more about The Creature Department. Additionally, Alex Dan and I are setting up a website for SLUG! There, you’ll be able to see all of our past and current projects. Our blog should be live very soon. If you’d like, check out our projects at www.sluuug.com! If it's not live by the time you read this interview, be sure to check back in another week or so.