Writer Steven T. Seagle and artist Teddy Kristiansen seem to have one of those relationships where language barriers and distance don’t matter. Their first collaboration, the eerie “House of Secrets,” was released in 1996 through Vertigo and set a tone for the lush, detailed storytelling we’ve come to see from the pair. In 2004, they brought us “It’s a Bird,” an autobiographical book about Seagle’s family history of Huntington’s disease woven into the Superman mythology. Kristiansen’s exquisite artwork in “It’s a Bird” won an Eisner Award in 2005. Their most recent graphic novel, “Genius,” is described by Seagle as a semi-autobiographical successor to “It’s a Bird” and features a quantum physicist struggling with scientific integrity.
Last year, Seagle and Kristiansen took their collaboration in an interesting direction with “The Re[a]d Diary.” Kristiansen originally published the graphic novel in Europe and Seagle, who was inspired by the book’s artwork, decided to translate it from French and Danish to English. Bold choice, considering Seagle neither speaks French or Danish. Instead, he wrote his own story to accompany the art resulting in a two-stories/one book reading experience that becomes a fascinating experiment in artistic interpretation, and a unique exploration of the way words and pictures work together.
Their newest book, tentatively titled “Mercury,” builds on their creative process from “The Re[a]d Diary” while also knocking it on its ass. Kristiansen draws pages and panels based on whatever comes into his head and presents the pages to Seagle as he goes. Seagle may or may not reorder the pages and panels, and has no idea if Kristiansen is even sending them in a particular order. Once the artwork is finished and ordered, Seagle will write the script. Neither creator will know the story until it’s actually finished, essentially inverting the traditional creative process.
After their panel at Comic-Con International in San Diego, Comic Book Resources sat down with Seagle to find out more about “Mercury” and how he and Kristiansen keep surprising and pushing each other even after 18 years of friendship and collaboration.
CBR News: Since you don’t know what the book is about yet, how did you land on the working title of “Mercury?”
Steven T. Seagle: The book is mercurial, but it’s not why we named it that. At first, there was an image Teddy gave me of a cryptic looking superhero and I just thought, “That must be Mercury.” As we started evolving the process, this idea of mercurial creation seemed to have predestined the idea that it must be called “Mercury.”
How far along in the process are you?
There are 40 pages done, and by that I mean there are 40 pages worth of panels done, but they may get combined into 40 different pages in the future. The working method is Teddy draws whatever he wants based on an idea he had but didn’t tell me, I take all of those images, suss out what the idea must’ve been, I sequence the images, I combine them into pages, I write a script, and once the script is done, we’ll know what it’s about.
That sounds fascinating. How does this book relate to what you and Teddy have done in the past with “The Re[a]d Diary,” which was also quite experimental?
“Mercury” is another step of evolution between Teddy and I. We toggle back and forth between slice of life real world comics that are fairly straightforward narratives written in a full-script traditional fashion, and these hyper-experimental projects where we really take the form and mechanics of story telling and play with them. Not in a cavalier way; we’re really trying to use the toolbox that’s available for comics in every conceivable way. It’s more us flexing out muscles differently with the creative components of comics.
After knowing each other for 18 years, do you feel the need to set limits on how you work? Do you feel the need to change your style to keep from being too predictable to Teddy?
I think the limits we impose on ourselves are more creative limits. I trust Teddy implicitly. When “Genius” started getting produced, I had in my mind what it would look like and when the pages came in, they looked very different than what I had envisioned for the book. They were very gray; there was no color to be seen in the first 14 pages I looked at. Then the next set of pages came in and there was still no color. I really wanted to pick up the phone and ask Teddy what he was doing, but I decided to wait it out and see where we went.
When the book as completed, it was clear that Teddy had a great idea about how color would function thematically in the book. When color does show up it’s both thematically tied and very important. The key sequence of the book uses all the color that’s missing from the book the rest of the time. Comics are a very micro-managing pursuit with a lot of chefs in the kitchen overcooking stuff. Now that we’re down to just Teddy and I — and Image [Comics] is sweet enough to publish whatever we do, and [“Genius” publisher] First Second is very hands-off to a great degree — it’s just nice to trust each other and assume it will work out.
Stay tuned to CBR News for more on “Mercury” and the continuation of Seagle and Kristiansen’s experiments.