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Vertical's Steven T. Seagle and Mike Allred: Q&A
Posted: Tuesday, December 23
Posted By: Tim O'Shea
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As the year draws to a close, Vertigo is wrapping up its 10-year anniversary celebration. One sign of this is the release on Christmas Eve of Steven T. Seagle and Mike Allred’s Vertical. As described by Vertigo: “It's half the width of a normal comic, but double the excitement in Vertical, the final special format book in Vertigo's 10th anniversary. Brando is a handsome 21-year-old daredevil riddled with cuts and bruises, and a mysterious past that compels him to leap off the world's tallest structures. Zilly Kane is a young, white-haired fashionista climbing the ladder of 1960s Manhattan to find fame and fortune. Will Brando pull Zilly down as he falls toward his fate, or will Zilly lift Brando up as she ascends to hers?” To find out more about this project, SBC caught up with writer Seagle and artist Allred in separate e-mail interviews. Given the distinctive nature of this work, SBC is forgoing the standard solo Q&A format and combining the two interviews in one. Consider it an early Christmas present from us to you.
Steven T. Seagle
Tim O’Shea: This is clearly a personal work for you to a certain extent, as one learns when reading this Vertigo essay, where at one point you recount a harrowing plane flight: "Then...the plane leveled off and we flew on to Tennessee to make our connection. But our connection was already made. Years later. We still hate to fly, and we're still grasping each other. Tightly." Not everybody can give their partner a comic book created for them for the holidays, but are you getting a kick out of the fact this book will be released on Christmas Eve?
Steven T. Seagle: One of the most interesting aspects of writing is that sometimes things become clear to you after they're completed. This story came to me all at once and I wrote it, but it wasn't until I was finished that I realized what had inspired the key elements of the story. I definitely was aware of the relations between falling and falling in love, but I didn't connect the dots back to my own life until after I sat down and read Vertical back through.
TO: This is far from your first collaboration with artist Mike Allred. Could this project have worked with any other artist? What is it about Allred's work that makes him such a success from your perspective?
STS: This project couldn't have existed in this form with any other artist because it was my familiarity with Mike and his particular set of strengths and interests that led to this particular story. Mike is a unique talent, and he has an infectious, seemingly unsurpassed energy about comic books. When my editor Shelly Bond - a piece of pop art herself - recommended Mike for a tall, thin comic, I immediately thought about what makes Mike Mike - that pop sensibility, themes of love and afterlife, and his wife Laura's masterful use of color, and Vertical evolved out of those specific strengths.
TO: Vertical serves as the final special format book in Vertigo's 10th anniversary observance. How flattering was it for the work to benefit from this distinction. And what impact has the 10 years of Vertigo had on your career?
STS: I was very flattered to be included in the special 10-year books. Karen, Shelly, Will, Mariah, and lately Pornsak have been great editors to work with and making the short list of special projects was quite an honor. Vertigo has had a tremendous effect on my career. I've been allowed to do books there that I don't think would have emerged from any other publisher. Both Vertical, and my upcoming Vertigo Superman hardcover It's A Bird... really speak to that fact.
TO: What attracted you to using Andy Warhol's Factory in 1965 as the setting for the story? Are there real life counterparts to characters such as Kerr and Nishita? Who's idea was it to have Andy appear (albeit briefly in the book), but to never show his face? According to IMDB, Warhol made around 14 films in 1965, do any of them influence the story in Vertical?
STS: The Factory and Warhol are iconic to the time period of the story - 1965 - in the same way that fame and Hollywood are iconic to this time period. Since this story is very much about desires I wanted the characters, Brando and Zilly - who don't represent any specific historical figures from Warhol's Factory so much as archetypes - to be in a position of being in an environment where their desires were laid out for all (and each other) to see. I think people behave very differently when they're around something they really want. As for Warhol - he's a God figure and everyone is looking for him in the story, but whether you think he's been found or not depends on your personal interpretation of things.
TO: In writing for the Vertical medium, were there any logistical challenges from your end of the creative process? Are there any scenes that were more frustrating to work out than you had expected?
STS: Vertical was nothing but logistical challenges. That's why I agreed to do it. I love structurally based writing and it's rare that you get so clear a challenge in mainstream comics. When Shelly Bond came to me with the idea of this format I thought it was cool, but I couldn't think of a reason to have a vertically opening comic. Luckily she ran it by me again some time later and I had devised a way to use the falling action of the reading system thematically. I think that's what makes Vertical cool, it's not just a novelty format, it's a story that needs the novelty format.
TO: The work deals partially with race, but also an element of religion towards the end. Why did you make a choice to inject religion with seemingly a tossaway line?
STS: Religion is in play throughout the story. Zilly is highly afraid of God, and Brando has all but given up on God. That difference informed the two characters greatly and really is the point from which I began building their relationship. While this separation about faith isn't mentioned directly until the end of the story, it's most definitely in the subtext of their dealings with one another throughout.
TO: Would you like to explore the opposite of Vertical, with a three-panel horizontal book format at some point, or is the appeal of this work the fact that Vertical format compliments the whole "falling" theme for the story?
STS: I definitely have Horizontal in mind. Let's hope I'm around to do it for the Vertigo 20-year anniversary with Mike and Laura and Shelly!
TO: Is there anything about Vertical that you'd like to discuss that has not been addressed?
STS: I hope the vocal crowd that is always campaigning for "something different" and "more personal stories from the big two" pick up a book that is actually both. I think it's great that Vertigo took the plunge on a project like this and hope readers will make the leap as well.
TO: Were you at all nervous about tackling such a unique format with Vertical?
Mike Allred: Nope. Steve and I have been knocking around playing with format for years--literally YEARS. So when Steve suggested this one with the concept, everything worked and I was excited to get going.
TO: Were there any scenes in particular that you think really "clicked" because of the freedom you were afforded with the page size/layout?
MA: Oh yeah. It all has a mercurial feeling the way it all feels pulled down by gravity--but the full top to bottom spreads were a real kick to do and seemed to work beautifully.
TO: Were there some scenes that had proved more challenging to lay out because of the format?
MA: No, not really. It really did flow.
TO: Did you modify your art style in any way to evoke a Warhol vibe to the book, or did you think that Warhol could best be evoked through Laura Allred's coloring?
MA: Well, I based the character designs on Warholian character types and knew we'd have several chances to play with style. Also, Shelly's (Our revved up editor's) fella, Philip Bond was on board to ink it all up and he had the perfect touch for capturing everything we were going for. And , of course, Laura iced up a batch of colorful frosting to spread on top.
TO: Given that at your website you acknowledge that various aspects of pop culture influence your work, did you watch any of Warhol's films from that era while working on the project?
MA: Not during. But I'm well versed in the style and fashion.
TO: Or were there pop culture influences other than Warhol that had a bearing on this work?
MA: No, I tried to just stick with Andy's world, or at least an idealized version of it.
TO: I found it interesting that The Dandy Warhols (far from Andy, I realize) get mentioned on your musical influence page.
MA: Funny, I thought they had such a great name for a band--and while they kind of live that 60's bo-ho style, Their music is simply the best stuff being made today. It somehow manages to be retro, rockin', poppy, and progressive all at the same time
TO: How would you describe the collaborative process with Seagle on this project?
MA: He write words--me draw pictures.
TO: After doing a book like this, would you consider doing more experimentations with size and format down the road?
TO: Do you fear some people will get bogged down in analyzing the format of the book and therefore forget to just enjoy the story from the sheer entertainment perspective?
MA: Nope. I always hope there's enough substance to dominate the style.
TO: Did you know from the moment the project started that Vertical would serve as the final special format book in Vertigo's 10th anniversary observance?
MA: No. We've been knocking this around for so long-- It was actually the clock ticking on the anniversary and being the last event that threw us into overdrive and gave the project such energy. It was a great incentive.
TO: If not, when did you find out and how flattered were you to have your work get such distinction?
MA: It's fun , isn't it? And it gives the project a little extra push from the promotional dept, eh?
TO: While perusing your message board, I ran across the following insight about yourself: "Comics were a big part of my childhood and my closest bond with my big brother Lee, who is an award-winning science fiction writer." Have the two of you ever collaborated on a comic book or considered it?
MA: We ALWAYS consider it. It just never seems to happen though. I hope it does. He's the tops! He's a full-on genius.
TO: When working on a project of this nature--a one-shot where you focus mainly on two characters through the bulk of the book, but periodically have them interact with supporting characters--do you ever find yourself wishing you could get more time drawing or working with one of the supporting characters?
MA: Oh yeah. There's a real desire to kind of take a left turn and follow one of the other characters and see what they are all about. That's how rich Steve's writing is--he can flesh something out with just a taste and your brain fills in the rest of the world he's building.
TO: Is there anything about Vertical that you'd like to discuss that we haven't addressed?
MA: Only the pure unbridled talent (and unsurpassed humility) of that Allred fella--but who has that kind of time?
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