Five Questions for Shaenon Garrity

Shaenon Garrity shows a breadth of talent that is unusual in today’s segmented comics market: She is a writer, artist, and editor of webcomics, manga, and superhero comics. Her day job is as a freelance manga editor for Viz, but she has also written for Marvel. She is the editor-in-chief of Modern Tales, but print manga readers know her chiefly for her hilarious Overlooked Manga Festival postings on her LJ.

Garrity is also one of the busiest people in the webcomics community; she always seems to have several projects going at once. She writes Smithson, a supernatural comedy set at a small liberal arts college, which has recently gone on hiatus, and Li’l Mell, the adventures of an irascible first-grader. She was both writer and artist for Narbonic, an off-the-wall comedy about a mad scientist, which is complete. And her newest project is Skin Horse, which draws by herself and co-writes with Jeffrey Channing Wells. It would spoil the fun to describe it here; check below for Shaenon’s explanation.

Digital Strips: Smithson has just gone on hiatus for a while, leaving many plot threads dangling. What are your plans for that?

Shaenon Garrity: I’m not sure yet. I’ve had to put Smithson on hiatus because the artist, Brian Moore, is expecting a baby with his wife and needs to focus on work that actually pays. I can’t argue with that, but I really like Brian’s art on Smithson and I’m not sure if I want to replace him with another artist. Also, I’ve been writing Smithson for years now, but it’s never attracted a big audience and it’s certainly never made any money, and I have to question whether I want to keep devoting time, effort and bandwidth to it. I’m personally very proud of it and I wish I could keep telling the story, but I’m not sure if it’s worth the personal investment.

And it’s a long story. I mean, really long. It’s been running for about four years now, and I’m not yet finished with Part One. There’s so much crazy stuff I have plotted out for the future.

DS: Meanwhile, you’ve started a new comic, Skin Horse. Can you give us a quick roundup of that one?

SG: Skin Horse is my new daily strip. It involves a secret government agency, kind of like the X-Files, but a lot more cheaply and shoddily run. Project Skin Horse is dedicated to aiding the country’s population of nonhuman sapients: robots, zombies, genetic experiments, and other oddballs mostly created by mad scientists and shadowy laboratories of various descriptions. There are five staff members, although so far we’ve only met three: Sweetheart, a talking dog; Unity, an undead assassin; and Tip, a thoroughly human transvestite psychologist. They try to help.

The strip is drawn by me and cowritten by me and the very talented Jeffrey Wells.sh071231tip_wore_white.jpg

DS: Several of the comics you write, such as Smithson and Li’l Mell, have changed artists during their runs. Do you find that your writing changes when the art shifts?

SG: I try to write toward an artist’s strengths, although I’ve been lucky enough to have some great artists who can draw just about anything. Some of the best collaborations, of course, are the ones where the artist takes my scripts and improves on them through his or her interpretation. Any time I’ve worked with Roger Langridge, for instance, he’s made my work much better than I could possibly have imagined. On the other hand, it’s also great when I feel like my
collaborator and I are on the same track, and we have a kind of Vulcan mind-meld; I feel like I’ve got that going on with Jeffrey on Skin Horse, and working with Brian on Smithson was like that a lot of the time.

Each Li’l Mell storyline is drawn by a different artist (including, at one point, me), and I try to find an artist who’s appropriate for each storyline. I’ve really lucked out with the Li’l Mell artists so far; they’re all top-notch (again, with the probable exception of me).

SmithsonDS: Rereading Smithson from start to finish, it struck me that there were references early on that made more sense when things were revealed later in the comic. Do you plot the story out in detail before you start, or do things just snowball as you go?

SG: Smithson is a story I’ve been working on since college, so I’ve had a lot of it plotted out for a while. On the other hand, I don’t have all the details worked out even now, and I didn’t script it as far ahead of schedule as I did, say, Narbonic. But I do know enough about what’s going to happen that I can insert plenty of foreshadowing. Darryl O’Doyle the commissured poet, the a capella coven 23 Skidoo, the bio major with the roomful of hairy fish, the mysterious feminine figure advising the campus superhero, Mr. Gallant and the Cult of Six Lions, the girl outside Selena’s window…it’ll all come together eventually, or will if I ever manage to actuall finish Smithson.

I should’ve started the lesbian romantic tension earlier. That’s my problem.

DS: You handle both writing and art on different comics, but you almost always work with a collaborator. Why do you prefer to work that way, rather than going solo?

SG: I did Narbonic solo, and that’s a lot of solo. I guess I hadn’t realized how much stuff I do in collaboration. It does give me a little more freedom to work on multiple projects. I like working on solo comics, too, though. I didn’t intend for Skin Horse to be a collaboration, but I really wanted to work with Jeffrey and he had a lot of great ideas for the comic.

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