“A Fantasy I Can Get Lost In”: Farel Dalrymple Discusses Proxima Centauri & It Will All Hurt

by Hannah Means Shannon

Farel Dalrymple’s art style is so distinctive that you’d probably recognize it within viewing a single panel or even part of a panel, but the contents of his storytelling are actually just as distinctive. It’s that unusual blend of personal vision in concept and execution that has actually made him a great fit for Image Comics, who serialized his Pop Gun War’s second series and collected it, and now will be releasing new series Proxima Centauri as well as a collection of his webcomic brought to print collection, It Will All Hurt, in June.

A blend of science fiction, young adult themes, and pretty deeply universal ideas of personal agency tend to pop up in Dalrymple’s work, set against wildly imaginative backdrops. His use of language ranges from the sophisticated to the off-hand, slangish, and conversational, undercutting any possibility of pretentiousness in his comics. All these features tend to propel the reader forward and encourage participation in his storytelling. The worlds that he creates are unlike anything else you’ll find in comics, and that seems like part of the point, reminding us that comics can continually be unlike anything else that has previously been created.

Farel Dalrymple, however, is very low-key about his achievements, and also very honest about his struggles in this interview appearing on the site today.

Hannah Means-Shannon: How do you see or define the appeal of science fiction generally, or in the context of your work?

Farel Dalrymple: It’s mostly the escapist aspect I would say. I’m not an expert or all that well-versed on the genre, but I enjoy a lot of different types of science fiction. But it all really comes down to being in this other place in my head where I don’t have time to think about all the horrible things going on all the time in the real world. I don’t have that helpless feeling of not knowing how to change anything, because there is a fantasy I can get lost in.

HMS: What do you think has influenced the way in which you handle the placement and interaction of speech on the page? How did you come to side-step more limiting “mainstream” use of speech bubbles?

FD: I grew up reading Marvel comics and get a lot of my visual vocabulary and comics craft knowledge from John Buscema and Walt Simonson, but when I first began producing comics, I didn’t think the traditional comics style of lettering  seemed appropriate for the types of story I wanted to tell. There was also the eye-catching aspect of something not looking like everything else. I noticed early on that the simpler the cover, the more negative space you have on it, the more it will stand out on the comic shelf.

In the same way I think the hand lettered comics have personality in a sea of computer fonts. I’m also inspired by children’s books and other types of art and comic books beyond the mainstream superhero stuff. I like to incorporate all those outside interests into this thing I am passionate about. As a teenager, the Moebius and Stan Lee Silver Surfer parable book and the essay in the back had an impact on me, solidifying in myself the importance of a comic artist doing their own lettering. Since then, I have tried to make sure I get to do my own letters on any project. People have seemed to respond positively to it for the most part ,and it sort of stuck as part of my style or signature look or something.

HMS: What’s the most “out there” work you’ve ever produced, in terms of being furthest from your comfort zone or furthest from what you think of as the core body of your work?

FD: Funnily enough, I think it might be the book I made with MK Reed, Palefire by Secret Acres because there is no fantasy or otherworldly aspect to it, just relatively normal teenagers hanging out. Omega the Unknown was out there for a Marvel book for sure, but pretty in line with stuff that the author Jonathan Lethem and I do in our non-collaborative work. Both projects had their own challenges that I whined about, but overall were pretty positive experiences that I think helped make me a better artist.

HMS: How much comic work do you generally need to do in a day or week in order to feel happy with the outcome, in terms of time spent or number of pages?

FD: It’s never enough and I’m never happy about my output. I am not great at time management and have to keep setting unrealistic goals and resetting my own personal deadlines so I don’t miss the ones that really count. When I am really underway on a comic project, I like to have a goal of 4 pages a week, at least, but I end up getting in a mode of pencilling, or inking, or coloring a bunch of pages at a time and ignoring everything else, and every other aspect of my life, like relationships and personal grooming.

HMS: Can you talk about a time when you had a problem with the development of a story or a page—something that just wasn’t working—and how you resolved it?

FD: Ha ha, that is currently going on right now with me trying to finish the last issue of Proxima Centauri. There’s some storytelling stuff that I am trying to get right, even this late in the game. I don’t know how to solve it other than thinking about it all the time and waiting for that glorious “aha!” moment. It Will All Hurt was easy for the most part because I was making it up as I went along, until the last chapter which I had to figure an ending for. I don’t know if I really solved that one, but I am pretty satisfied with how it all came out.

Most of my other books came pretty naturally to me and any reworking of story came when I was drawing the pages. Drawing and writing, a lot of the time for me, are inseparable during production. I think that is why it takes me so long to pencil, as opposed to coloring and inking. I erase a bunch, and get really frustrated, and get that imposter syndrome thing. I spent all day yesterday trying to get a facial expression right and just had to say “screw it” and move on. I should have pencilled 5 pages in that amount of time.

So, I just continue to delude myself and say I will pencil and ink 4 pages tomorrow. That’s why it’s nice to work with a writer who has a clear way of relaying exactly what is important. I can shut down that problem-solving part of my brain a bit and just enjoy the drawing. Ultimately though, I would rather write my own stuff, because I get to draw whatever I want.

HMS: In creating It Will All Hurt, how was the process of composing for a webcomic any different from your way of thinking when composing for print? What were the benefits of using that format?

FD: It was my intention to make that comic as fast as possible. And I tried to be aware of the screen size when drawing those pages, breaking up the pages into three separate two-panel tiers. I would draw at least two, sometimes more, panels a day without pencilling anything first. I would just draw with a pen until I had at least six panels and then color all of them on Thursday night before posting them on the Studygroup site. Making a comic like that was very liberating, and also felt good in a productive sense of doing this systematic, consistent, doable dose type of thing. The art definitely looks grittier and looser than my normal stuff, but I think has a nice energy to it.

HMS: For Proxima Centauri, why did you decide to publish this as a comic series vs. a graphic novel? What kind of factors affect this sort of choice for you?

FD: For years now, I have thought it would be fun to create my own series at Image. Plus, while working in relative isolation for years on The Wrenchies I decided I never wanted to work like that again. It was when I was on Prophet and It Will All Hurt that I realized that I really like having that feedback, and consistently having new published work available that I can show off to people.

I’m lucky that I got hooked up with Image Comics; they serialzed Pop Gun War: Chain Letter and hopefully will want to keep publishing my work, but I would keep serializing my comics, on-line or self publishing either way.

HMS: In Proxima Centauri, we meet Sherwood, who seems from your descriptions to have a lot of terrible qualities, and which reminds me of this newish phrase I see sometimes in the news: “affluenza teen”. Is there any hope for him? It seems like being doomed to repeat the same mistakes is a form of hell. 

FD: Yes, exactly, hell is the right word. Sherwood is a tragic figure, as we saw in The Wrenchies, and eventually the cause of the earth’s corruption. Some of the other characters are aware of it, and Sherwood seems to sense that something is wrong, but can’t remember the details of his future that he was shown. Most everyone gives Sherwood a hard time or just tolerates his behavior with an eyeroll. He beats himself up a lot, but isn’t aware of any personal growth or change. I wanted him to feel like a kid who has been given all this power, gifts, and abilities, but takes them for granted.

In the same way, a lot of teenagers and adults even (myself included) seem to whine a lot about their surroundings instead of appreciating all these things they are seeing and doing. In a small way, I am trying to address white privilege and some dirty parts of our humanity and society. There is a lot of my own cruddy personality in Sherwood, but I hope people can relate to him and even empathize with him. Mostly it’s that “nothing’s cool, bored by everything, seen it all, know it all” teenager thing that I find pretty hilarious, or obnoxious depending on my mood.  I like that term “affluenza teen”. I hadn’t heard that before. I’m probably in some particular genre now, like how all this post-apocalyptic young adult fiction kept coming out while I was working on The Wrenchies.

HMS: If you would be a character in one of these two stories (or both) and speak directly to Alemendra or Sherwood, what would you say to them?

FD: That’s a weird thing for me to think about because I am all my characters and they are me. Almendra is a better, heroic version, or rather, what I wish I could be. She’s cool and calm and always does the right thing. So, I would never give her any advice. All of Sherwood’s friends are constantly telling Sherwood to shut up and get over himself, which is pretty much the same thing I would say to him/me, and do.

Thanks to Farel Dalrymple for taking part in this rather ginormous interview and talking so directly about his creative work and life!

Proxima Centauri #1 will be in shops from Image Comics on June 13th, 2018.

It Will All Hurt TP will also be in shops from Image Comics on June 13th, 2018.

Pop Gun War Vol. II: Chain Letter is currently available from Image Comics.

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