The following is an interview with award-winning cartoonist and illustrator Matthew Foltz-Gray, creator of the recently released graphic novel, Tap Water and Tuna Party, through Karate Petshop. In this interview, Fanbase Press Editor-in-Chief Barbra Dillon chats with Foltz-Gray about how he adapted his cartoon newspaper strip into a graphic novel, the bonus material that will be available to readers with the printed version, where he would like to take the property next, and more!
Barbra Dillon, Fanbase Press Editor-in-Chief: Your award-winning comic strip, Spirit of the Staircase, has been running in the Knoxville Mercury since 2015. What inspired this comic strip, and how would you describe its premise?
Matthew Foltz-Gray: The inspiration for Spirit of the Staircase started as a child when I realized that there were actual people creating the comic strips and cartoons that I loved! I was always enamored with the idea of creating a character that eventually would develop its own personality and was always curious to know what might happen if I gave my own characters a voice.
Spirit of the Staircase is a comic based in Knoxville, TN, and rooted in Magical Realism as well as many Southern Gothic themes. Matt, a down and out character, has his mundane life interrupted by the meeting of Mumford, a peculiar and innocent creature, who takes it upon himself to enter Matt’s life and apartment.
Mumford and Matt are a pair that I would often draw in sketchbooks, particularly while I was in college. I was homesick, lonely, and school was tough. Matt started out as a caricature of how I was feeling at the time. He’s someone that perpetually needs a “Win” and his imagination often gets the better of him. Matt’s barely able to take care of himself, but takes the role of guardian and parental figure to Mumford.
Mumford is Matt’s champion and number one fan. No one knows what he is or where he came from, but most everyone has a secret in Matt’s neighborhood, so no one asks. He’s positive to an incredible degree, he has his own particular and innocent view on the world, and he takes friendship as well as corndogs seriously.
BD: The comic strip will soon be released on October 10th through GoComics.com and as a collected volume through all-ages publisher Karate Petshop (as Tap Water and Tuna Party). What can you tell us about your experience in having your work published through new mediums and finding an even larger audience?
MFG: It’s incredibly exciting! I think as you continue work with the same characters over time, they begin to become a part of your life. You give them life and you care for them, want to protect them, and put them in the best possible light you can. To know that these characters are reaching new audiences and gaining attention feels a bit like what I’d imagine it feels like for a parent to send their child off to college. I’m extremely excited and proud of them, but I also have a degree of protective parent in me. Will they be okay? Who’s going to troll them on the internet? Are they ready?
BD: Will the collected volume contain new or updated content for fans who may already be following your series?
MFG: It will! One of my favorite aspects of comic strip collections is getting a chance to hear from the artist and see new artwork outside of the regular comic format. Karate Petshop thought I should do that as well, so we went for a little of both!
On most of the pages, I’ve added some artwork that gives the reader an extra moment in the strips world. Almost like deleted scenes.
Along with the extra artwork, I went through and briefly talk or ramble about each strip. Some thoughts offer insight into how I approach Spirit of the Staircase or events that inspired a certain idea. Other times, I stay focused on the characters and their motives.
BD: What makes GoComics and Karate Petshop the perfect homes for Spirit of the Staircase?
MFG: Karate Petshop, first and foremost, has been a champion for Spirit all along. I worked with them on Rikki, a graphic novel adaptation of “Rikki-Tikki-Tavi” by Rudyard Kipling and adapted by Norm Harper, before we worked together on this book. They have always made the process extremely comforting and easy for me.
GoComics is especially exciting to be a part of because of the roster of comics that they already represent and the history that precedes them. GoComics is a brilliant model for comic strips trying to gain a foothold in the digital world while also allowing the opportunity for artist to support themselves through their work.
BD: Do you feel that there is another medium to which you would like to adapt your work, if given the opportunity?
MFG: At this point, I’d only love to see Spirit in more newspapers. I feel like that’s the battle cry of every comic strip artist, but I certainly understand the reason. The idea of a syndicated daily cartoon in multiple newspapers feels like my Mount Everest.
Beyond that, I haven’t thought much about other adaptations. I’d be willing to consider it if the time comes, but for now I’m really focused and eager to learn more about the medium I’m in.
BD: Are there any upcoming projects on which you are currently working that you would like to share with our readers?
MFG: Lately, I have been so focused on Spirit of the Staircase and getting the materials for the book along with GoComics together that I haven’t had much time to do anything else. I HAVE been working on a few pitch pages for a comic titled The Arts. The concept was created and written by the immensely talented Deniz Camp, and it’s been so terrific to be a part of. I don’t want to give too much away but its one part Harry Potter, one part Kafka. Keep an eye out!
BD: Lastly, what is the best way for our readers to find more information about your work and purchase copies of Tap Water and Tuna Party?
MFG: To order a copy of Tap Water and Tuna Party, you can visit KaratePetshop.com. They go on sale October 10th. The GoComics premiere will also be on October 10th, and you can catch up on all the Spirit’s there!