Welcome to the CBR SUNDAY CONVERSATION, a weekly feature where we speak in-depth — and at-length — with some of the most interesting members of the comic book community. These discussions run the gamut in terms of topics, from current projects to classic stories, talking trends, tastes and wherever else the conversations lead.
Though he would gladly trade visions of sugarplums for balletic pizza, artist Skottie Young brings childlike exuberance and seasoned skill to the drawing table. Whether in illustrating Neil Gaiman’s raucous new children’s book “Fortunately, the Milk” or devising the latest in a teetering stack of baby variant covers for Marvel Comics, Young caters to mirth and merriment all year ’round.
CBR News took the opportunity to chat with Young about favorite animated specials from seasons past, sharing new all-ages favorites, and a timeless bond over molten cheese and sausage.
CBR News: What was your be-all, end-all Christmas special as a kid?
Skottie Young: I mean, I loved “How the Grinch Stole Christmas” and that poetry, but it felt like it was over in an instant. It really went quick.
Right? It’s only 26 minutes long.
So, I don’t know if that took my top spot, even though I love the art of it. “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” was probably the one that I looked forward to most each year. All of those Rankin & Bass specials. I really had an affinity for those stories where a kid would go off into a strange land, like “The Neverending Story” and “Labyrinth.” All the other Christmas movies were just Christmas movies. Then Rudolph goes off to these weird lands like the Island of Misfit Toys.
It really is a sprawling mythology, isn’t it?
It’s this journey fantasy. You think you’re gonna get wrapped up in Santa and all of his business, but then here comes this elf who wants to be a dentist, and we’re off on this Frodo-like journey with weird creatures and scary toys. It doesn’t entirely make sense. That’s the one that ranks highest for me.
I started reading “Fortunately, the Milk” today. Seeing your work in black and white, all line, took me back to those Shel Silverstein books like “The Light in the Attic.” Was he a touchstone for you?
You know what’s funny? I would say no, but I can’t say it wasn’t stuck somewhere in my head. We all read that so much as kids that I think some of those things are in me, and I don’t know where they came from. I used to say that about Sam Keith. I read “The Maxx” when it first came out and I was in high school. I remember copying drawings of his, including the time when he was drawing “Wolverine.” But then the schedule fell off on “The Maxx” and, for whatever reason, time and moving, I just forgot about it. Then around 2010 when I got an iPad and I was reading some of that old stuff, flipping through those pages, I discovered this hidden, suppressed thing in me that I hadn’t known existed. I saw so much of what I do in those pages. I had soaked in techniques, like the way he does grass or frayed cloth, these weird foam-cored curly-cues. The math started coming together. This is where it came from.
Shel Silverstein might be a bit of that same thing. Guys like him and Dr. Seuss and Quentin Blake drew all those books from our childhood. I can’t help but have all of that inside me even if I’m not going to them for reference. These guys taught me how to draw.
There are far worse models out there.
Now that you’re talking about it, I’m just flipping through images online, and [Laughs] I think you’re right. Maybe that is where a lot of this comes from. Lots of clutter and stacks of things. I see a lot of the way I drew Oz in that image of “Where the Sidewalk Ends.”
We have another mutual favorite. Let’s talk about this book, “Three Shadows” by Cyril Pedrosa. Nobody else really is. I think you’d agree that that’s beyond criminal.
Oh yeah, for sure. I literally have it on my table at all times, so it’s right here.
How did it earn that place? How did it affect you?
Well, first of all, it’s fantastic when you discover a book. Working in comics now, it’s very hard to discover things. While everyone’s talking about, say, “Infinity,” it’s tough because I know Jonathan [Hickman]. When everyone’s talking about what happened in “Superior Spider-Man” as it’s coming out and the buzz is going on, I watched Ryan [Stegman] draw those pages on Skype. [Laughs] Seeing the sausage made, it’s tough to discover things like when you walked into the comic shop as a kid and went, “What’s this? What’s this book?” You’d take it home and it’d blow your mind and all of a sudden you’d have this new love.
I went to speak at SCAD — Savannah College of Art and Design — in Atlanta, and Chris Schweizer was working there at the time. He and Shawn Crystal were the department heads. We were in their office, just chatting, and I looked over and went, “What’s this book?” So I did this quick flip-through of “Three Shadows.” I already had some of Pedrosa’s Italian albums, which I obviously can’t read, but I loved the art. So, on my phone in his office, I just ordered it right then and there, so it was waiting for me when I got home. I had just had my son just four or five months before this, so I was a new dad. Reading this story about a dad who’s trying to protect his son from–
Everything, yeah. Everything and the worse things. Taking him on this journey. It was pretty fresh. It hit me really hard. It’s one of those times where you’re glad you’re into comics. You got to experience this thing that some people don’t get to experience. They’re not aware that comics do this. I’m watching this cartoonist who’s manipulating shape and line so beautifully, in such abstract ways, but it all makes sense. In our world we talk about “cartoony” a lot. “This guy’s too cartoony.”
I wish I could convey, in text, what your voice just did when you said “cartoony.” I almost want to change the font. You just did the Tim Curry Grinch face when you had to say that.
This book and this story, had it not looked the way that it does, a lot of that emotion wouldn’t have come across in the light moments and even the heavier moments. So, I think being a new dad and this being such a book about parents as protectors, it really hit hard. It was pretty hardcore.
Did having your son change the way you looked at comics and what stories you think should be out there?
No. You know, the older I get, kid or no kid, I’ve stopped worrying about what should be out there and what shouldn’t. I worry about what I want to be out there, as a fan, but I don’t know that it does any good for us to get too wrapped up in what the “industry” should be doing. It does make you think about all-ages material in some ways, but I feel like every time the discussion comes up, people spend a lot of time talking about what Marvel and DC should be doing. Shouldn’t the conversation be about how fun it is to create all-ages content and then you, in turn, inspire others to create that kind of content? I literally cannot effect change to those corporations. It’s impossible. So, no matter what my crazy predictions are, or assumptions or dreams are, it will never happen. I do have the ear of people who could potentially create the books I think should be out there. That’s what will bring more, is people making more. That’s a weird tangent, I guess.
Not really. While your name is always going to come up in that conversation because of your style and because of recent projects like the “Oz” books, I don’t think it comes across as your cause, necessarily. It just happens to mesh with the kinds of stories you personally enjoy.
Yeah, the comic book causes are odd to me. They always seem to be centered around the Big Two.
The industry instead of the medium.
Right. Whether it’s on podcasts or interviews with big creators bad-mouthing Marvel or DC and what they should be doing differently. What’s your goal here? They are immovable. We have such an ability to inspire others to make the stuff. Instead of being mad that Group A doesn’t make the stuff, go and inspire Group B to make the stuff. That’s better than railing at things. I’ve never viewed all-ages or kids’ comics as needing anybody to take to the streets. I think there’s a ton of stuff being made for kids out there in all different forms from all different publishers. Me being a parent didn’t affect me all that much as a comic creator because I already liked a lot of that stuff. It definitely put more of it in my house though.
That probably provided more avenues for inspiration. Does anything jump out, maybe even in how they’re delivered?
There’s this Kickstarter book, “The Spider King” by this guy Josh Vann from Australia. It has this cool kind of fantasy viking vibe, a little like “Zelda.”
Yeah! It’s amazing. I’m so glad it got funded because I’m going to have this in my hands one day. I like that we have this venue now, because I know how hard it is for publishers to put something like this in retailers’ hands, because I know how hard it is for the retailers themselves to take a chance on something like this. There’s no one to blame and no one to point fingers at, but it is hard to take chances on unproven properties that don’t look like the things we know do sell. Going back to being a parent. I have this four-year-old who eats the same five things, day-in and day-out. It drives me crazy, but he’s a creature of habit and if it doesn’t look like what he’s used to, he doesn’t try it. This kid will not try pizza.
I’ve heard rumors about this condition, but I’ve never met anyone personally who–
I’m trying to tell him it’s the best thing on the planet, he will love it and become overweight like I am because he’ll love it so much. He wants no part of that strange looking food. It looks crazy. I understand that concept as it applies to comics as well. I like that we’re finding new ways for those kinds of properties to find an audience, even on a smaller scale, for a couple hundred people, a couple thousand people. That’s at least something to start snowballing the process.
We’re seeing a little of that creep into the mainstream too. When I opened up an issue of “Captain Marvel” and saw Felipe Andrade pencils in traditional super hero book–
How fantastic is he? Yeah, man, he’s awesome. There’s a few artists I’d love to write something for in the coming years, and he’s definitely one of them. His look is so funky. The way he does faces and hair. He’s a great example of all this, of the range that’s out there now. I think it’s a fun time for comics.
What do you want for Christmas?
I’m looking at my Amazon wish list. I don’t know how I don’t own this, but the complete “Batman: The Animated Series” set. The “Spy vs. Spy” omnibus because I’m a “MAD Magazine” junky. A lot of Will Eisner stuff. It’s always going to be books. All I ever want is art books. I’ve always been familiar with Eisner, but I’m nowhere near as familiar with his work as I feel I need to be.
No Peace on Earth? It’s probably past the shipping deadline anyway.
I just want some art books.
How about New Year’s resolutions?
I’m going straight up cliche. I need to lose some weight.
How are you going to do it?
By not being dumb, not eating like a 16-year-old. Going to the gym. I’m 35, but I make decisions like I am 16. The plan is to just not be a stupid-head.
If the two of us quit pizza in 2014, we’d cripple that industry. There’s a responsibility there. Pizza needs us.
You’re going to make someone jealous. I have a pizza husband. And his name is Phil Noto.
[Laughs] What’s does it mean to be a pizza husband?
I was in Germany with Phil last month. His wife was there and we were at dinner one night with a great group of people from the shop we were signing at. We decided to go around the table with our death row meals. “If you had to order your last meal, what would it be?” Mine was, of course, pizza. And Phil’s was also pizza. I said, “Oh, my god. You’re the first person in a long time I’ve met who likes pizza as much as I do.” He’s like, “It’s amazing!” I said, “Yes! It’s the best thing ever!”
Do you have it down to the specific kind of pizza, where you’d want it from?
Yeah. It’d be Chicago. It’s called Chicago Pizza. They had a chef’s special, and it was just pepperoni and sausage, but the ingredients were just [inaudible]. It was fantastic. They delivered until 4:00 in the morning. All through my 20s, Casey would get home, Greg Titus would be there, all of us drawing together, and we’d say, “Let’s order Chicago.”
Pizza brings people together.
Now Phil and I have declared ourselves pizza husbands. We bonded together in pizza matrimony. We found some good pizzas in Germany. I will tell you, Phil Noto can house some food. First off, we’re hilarious together. I’m 6’4″ and he’s about 4’6″. We’re the exact opposites. It’s the movie “Twins.” Except I’m tall and fat and he’s short and somehow — somehow — skinny.
Are you sure he’s not just doing the Cookie Monster thing where he just shovels it in, but it all just ends up in tiny pieces on the floor.
[Laughs] No, it’s gone. It’s gone. Anyway, we were pizza husbands. But you can join us in some kind of freaky–
Yeah, pizza adultery.
For more on Skottie Young follow him on twitter at @skottieyoung.