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How Song Can Complete the Page: Music and Stories of ‘Love & Monsters’

There are images and sounds that immediately recall memories of one another. You see a black-and-white photo of a baseball mid flight, soaring out of the park, while a half-twisted Babe Ruth has yet to drop his bat and CRACK!, that noise of leather and wood embracing and separating at once springs to mind. You hear a song that played during a climactic point in a film, and you’re suddenly envisioning it in your mind, possibly still wondering why Chewie got shafted out of a medal at the end of A New Hope. The combination of sight and sound is ageless, but, in print, it is much less frequent. Unless animated, the written word, with or without illustrations, rarely gets a soundtrack. The most recent combination that springs to mind is the album Haunted by songstress Poe that was developed as a companion piece to the surreal book House of Leaves written by her brother Mark Z. Danielewski. That was in 2000. Nothing else is jumping out at me. That is until Love & Monsters jumped into to my line of sight.

This project is being produced by a group that sounds like a perfect villain for Aquaman. ApocaLobster. Made up of 4 comic artists (Shawn Atkins, Jared Catherine, Cynthia Lee, and Virginia Shields) and 3 musicians (Nik Furious, Jesse Spillane, and Sam Star), they came together to see what could come from the symbiotic relationship of two mediums. The anthology’s theme is Love & Monsters. The comic artists interpreted it as they wanted. The musicians chose what stories they wanted to write songs for. The final product is a 70+ page book and a digital album about 8 songs long. A Kickstarter is currently running to help produce the final project, which you can check out here. But I wanted to find out how they got to this point, so I spoke with co-collaborator Cynthia Lee about the process of working on a project like this, where they got started, and where they see mixed media going.

J.C. Ciesielski, Fanboy Comics Contributor: Your collective, ApocaLobster, formed a little over a year ago. How did you all find one another and decide to work on this collaboration?

Cynthia Lee:  Shawn, Virginia, Jared, and Nick already knew each other for a long time. They tabled together at cons, did podcasts, drew at coffee shops, and went to each other’s weddings. Nick moved to California, but you can tell there’s a lot of love for him because of how warmly people talk about him. 

I know Jesse and Sam. Jesse and I are housemates. All of the housemates refer to the house as Skydome, because we have an awesome view. Sam is a friend from college. In the first few weeks of college, I was led through a grave and up a hill and heard him and his friends sing around a fire. 

Shawn and I met at a group interview at the Pittsburgh Children’s Museum. Neither of us got the job, but we mentioned that we liked comics during the interview, so we chatted afterwards. I had copies of Green Stripe, a publication I ran at Allegheny College, and he had a copy of the first volume of Explorers of the Unknown, one of his webcomics. The people I haven’t met prior to this project have been vouched for by someone already involved and we went from there.
We decided to work on this collaboration, because we wanted to make an anthology that we would like to read. The comic artists discussed what they wanted to draw and chose monsters! We also wanted the stories to be at least 10 pages each, so we could really delve into the characters and care about them. Shawn has always wanted a soundtrack to his comics, so we asked our musician friends to collaborate.

J.C.: How does the collaboration between writers and musicians work? Does one send the other a completed project, or do you go back and forth?

CL: When we started, they would get a skeleton of the story and some character sketches, and we’d go from there. What a lot of the musicians are doing now is they made a song with the skeleton of the story, and now as the stories are ending completion, they’re making another song. The first song set sort of the mood of the story or the main character, and, with the endings, the second songs are taking little moments and making little tributes of that.

With Jesse and me, since we live in the same house, he would make a song after I tell him about the stuff, and then I’d say, “I really like these parts, I think these parts really hit the mood, but these parts don’t really hit,” and then he would write them over, and we’d talk about it and go back and forth.

J.C.: Are the songs meant to be played while you’re reading the comic?

CL: I think that’s up to the reader. I don’t think that’s meant to be exact panel for panel. It’s more of artists responding to each other and you’re able to look at both of the works. So, it’s like separate jazz improvisations, you take elements from one and you see how a different medium takes the same kind of material.

J.C.: You work as a freelance illustrator, and Jesse is in the band Eighth Whale. What other projects or jobs do the rest of the team have going on, and how does that affect you working together?

CL: The group’s various jobs range from retail to paper pushing to programming to receptionist work. Three of the comic artists have ongoing webcomics. Having jobs makes it harder to meet up physically, but we have phone conferences or Skype meetings. Because we all have other creative projects, it was really important to give everyone enough time to comfortably work on their stories. 

J.C.: What becomes of the project if your Kickstarter goal isn’t met? How do you proceed from there?
CL: If our Kickstarter goal isn’t met, which hurts my heart, I’ll have to discuss it with the group, because this just isn’t my baby. If it isn’t met, we won’t have the funds to print the book. I really think we have a good project, and so I know eventually we’re going to print the book, because it will be a gorgeous book. I love books, and it would be great to have something physical that people can turn and read, to have people reach out and have something to hold. We might release only digital copies of the work, or try another Kickstarter campaign in the future. I hope not, because running a Kickstarter is exhausting. I hope we can make books, because the page turn is a powerful device in comics storytelling. There’s a satisfying energy in flipping the page to see what happens next. I’ve seen some artists pull it off digitally, but I still think it’s magical. When I read Nextwaveby Warren Ellis and Stuart Immonen, I was euphoric afterwards, because the page turns were sooooo awesome! 

J.C.: What’s the experience been like getting to work on one project with so many people? How was it figured out which artist and musician would work the best with one another?

CL: It’s been inspiring to see the work unfold. In the very beginning, we were just chatting about ideas, and now there are so many gorgeous pieces of art. When a song finally matches the mood and character of a story, it’s a thrilling moment. It’s emotional resonance to a powerful degree when another creative person expresses the essence of your creative work. It’s hard to work with so many people, especially when everyone has a say in the decision making, but I also think we made stronger work because of it. 

Since the comic artists chose the subject matter, the musicians got to choose which stories they wanted to make songs for.

J.C.: As far as the project is concerned, is everything done?

CL: No, not everything is done, but pretty close to done. Some of them still need to be polished. There needs to be some spelling checks, and there still needs to be some coloring, but most of the pages are done.
J.C.: Which format, digital or print, do you feel fans are leaning towards these days?

CL: I think that people prefer digital if they’re unsure. There’s no financial risk when reading a free webcomic, and digital comics are much cheaper than books and take no physical space up.  I think people prefer books when they love the characters/ stories or if the book is beautiful. A well-made book is both a wonderful story to read and a nice artifact to have.

J.C.: Finally, is there a difference between comics and graphic novels?

CL: I see graphic novels as a form of comics. To me, comics are any form of sequential art. The emergency pamphlets on airplanes are comics. Max Ernst’s A Week of Kindness is a comic. The Lady and the Unicorn is a comic. Krazy Kat is a comic. Graphic novels are just a form of comics that fits specific criteria. The difference is that graphic novels are a subset of comics. 

When talking about a project with this many fingers in the pie, it’s refreshing to hear blood hasn’t spilled and hair remained attached to the heads of all involved. To get a taste of how people can work together and still have their individual voices ring clear, check out their Kickstarter page, see what you think, and if you’d be up for donating.

You can thank me later.

J.C. Ciesielski, Fanbase Press Contributor



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