Interview Archive

We occasionally do interviews with creators, especially those involved in some of the Kickstarter campaigns you'll hear about in between segments of the show. Transcripts are posted here.

Cartozia Tales - an interview with Isaac Cates

I love the fact that you are each writing/drawing one another's characters/contributions to the world, and discovering things as you go. It's almost like a "choose your own adventure" writing exercise. Have there been any surprises approaching the process this way?
I think EVERY issue has surprises of this sort, at least for the creators. In the second issue, Tom Motley does something with the story Mike and I told in the first issue that really surprised me — basically he creates an occasion for Jasom, the ruff crow, to tell the story of how he met Minnaig, and there's one panel where he swipes a drawing I did of Jasom telling the story, but ... how to explain this? Right outside of the area you can see in MY drawing, he has menacing hands grabbing Jasom and compelling him to tell the story. 
 There's a way in which what we're doing owes more to comics jams and the "exquisite corpse" art-salon game than it does to "choose your own adventure" — I mean, the decisions aren't limited to a couple of choices. To tell you the truth, when I'm planning a story, I think it feels a lot like playing a game, but maybe sort of somewhere between those story-passing parlor games and RPGs like Dungeons & Dragons on the other hand: there's an existing story, and I get to extend it, but it wouldn't be fair play to unwrite or reject what someone had done before me. 
For the reader, I hope each new story will feel surprising when he or she is reading, then predictable in retrospect, sort of like "I guess I should have imagined that it would go that way." We're all familiar with that feeling from watching serialized television shows: events on Mad Men or Parks & Rec surprise you when they happen, but seem to make sense in retrospect.
The way you define "all-ages" in the video is so spot on - you're clearly not trying to dumb things down just because some readers might be younger, and the stories and art will be appealing to adults as well. Can you talk a little bit about this choice? It's one near and dear to my heart (and my soapbox) because I believe there is a serious lack of quality all-ages material in the comics industry. 
In a nutshell, here's what I think: kids and adults respond to the same basic things in stories. The wonder of exploration, the thrill of a mystery, the sting of betrayal, the warmth of returned affection—those things all make sense to readers of any age. And kids are surprisingly able to rise to a challenge in terms of vocabulary or narrative complexity. (Where else will they learn big words and advanced storytelling tricks, if not from the things they read?)
You won't see bloody eviscerations, pin-up cheesecake, or curse words in Cartozia Tales, but I don't think anyone will miss them. That's not what makes a story good, even when it's a story intended for a solely adult audience.
How did some of your other collaborators get involved? I don't have Jen or Sarah's contact information, but I'm familiar with their work. Has the core group worked together before? And I guess this dovetails into the notion of how you decided to approach this project as an anthology.
Actually, I deliberately tried to gather a core group of cartoonists that had NOT worked together much in the past. (Mike and I count as one cartoonist for the purposes of this answer.) I mean, I've collaborated in very small ways with Tom and Lupi before, and I have been friends with Shawn for more than a decade, and with Sarah for a long time too.
But I wanted everyone in that core group  to be coming together from different sub-communities, and bringing in different aesthetics and approaches. I was careful to invite people whose sensibilities would mesh well, but whose skills and worldviews didn't overlap entirely. 
At one point we were emailing each other about the influences we wanted to feel in Cartozia, and I don't think any of us even had the same list of formative childhood reading. We're different ages; we live in different towns; we learned cartooning under different circumstances. But one thing we share is a real generosity in our responses to each other about this world we're creating. 
(I wish you could be a fly on the wall for these email conversations we've had. With maybe the exception of the oddball magic system in Cartozia, we've all always been saying "yes, so cool, and also" to each other, building new complexity and fun on the foundations laid by our collaborators.)
Why fantasy?
I wanted the map to be able to contain a lot of tonal variation, and a lot of imaginative variety. Setting the book in Baltimore or Houston wouldn't have allowed that (as much); interstellar science fiction might have made the map unnecessary or useless.
Who hasn't pored over a fantasy map, wondering what other stories are happening in this corner of Rohan or that outer edge of Munchkin Country? 
What was one of your favorite stories (or comics) to read as a kid? What was one of the most influential stories (or comics) you point to as a writer?
Well, this is a big question for me to answer fairly, because I've been a serious reader for a long time, and I've got a Ph.D. in literature. But as a kid I loved reading books of mythology, and the Xanth novels, and A Wrinkle in Time, as well as a stack of Kirby Fourth-World comics (plus Kamandi andThe Demon) that had been given to me by a friend of the family. Those are all bound to figure inCartozia Tales to some extent. I also read (but didn't play through) a lot of D&D modules, which became clear to me as an important influence after I read Dylan Horrocks's "Perfect Planet" essay.
But geez I have read a lot of stuff since then. And I have this training that sort of forces me to think about things like story structure when I'm watching TV or reading even a crummy old superhero comic. So I don't think I can point to single influences, though I could probably make a list of fifty of them. 
For more information about Cartozia Tales, check out their Kickstarter project page here. 

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