It may have hit comics shops last month, just before Old Man Winter kick started his blanketing of the Midwest and beyond, but the second volume of Matthew Loux's Oni Press series "Salt Water Taffy: The Seaside Adventures of Jack and Benny" is primed to drop a hilarious dose of summer adventure on readers young and old. CBR News spoke with Loux about the new book.
Following the misadventures of its titular team of elementary-aged brothers on summer vacation in the peculiar Maine cove of Chowder Bay, the series' first volume "The Legend of Old Salty" gained quick praise for its kid-friendly comedy chops.
As the series goes along, Jack, Benny and their sage-like crusty seaman Angus face off against oddball New England threats including giant lobsters and covert seagulls. Although in the just-released volume "A Climb Up Mt. Barnabas," it's the boys' usually quiet father who gets them rolling on a cliffhanging adventure to best a giant eagle and a clever coyote.
"It's funny, because that's the story where I don't remember where I came up with it," Loux told CBR of the latest installment's origins. "The first one, I remember where I was, but the second one -- I just had the idea of them climbing up a treacherous mountain. I liked the idea of Angus going on with these really wild, imaginative stories that the kids just loved, and then Jack and Benny's father tries to do the same thing but they're not impressed at all. It makes him feel pretty sad, so he gets into this big, elaborate story that results in the climb up the mountain.
"The parent characters are background characters to a certain extent. When you have kids, they have to have a reason to be at a place. You have to have parents so it's not an 'Oliver Twist' kind of situation, but at the same time they've got to have some character and a purpose."
But keeping the kids front and center remains key in crafting stories for young readers, which Loux has become more adept at since his first solo graphic novel - the teenage highjinks-fueled "Sidescrollers" - won the American Library Association's "10 Best Graphic Novels for Teens" honor for 2006.
Of course, "Salt Water Taffy" spins stories with a bit less swearing and a bit more action so anyone could pick up the series. "I wrote it aimed to kids, but so that it would be enjoyable to anyone in the way that a Carl Barks Donald Duck story would be," Loux explained. "The big thing that people say about those stories is that they're written for kids, but they don't talk down to kids. They're very readable by anybody. I read them now, and I very much wanted to take a cue from that where it's the type of thing that anyone can enjoy and bring adults back into that mind frame of when they were kids and everything is an adventure to a certain extent.
"I always think if you're trying to write something for kids, then it feels like you're trying too hard. Just write something for yourself and stay away from harsh language. People generally like adventure stories anyway, so it all falls into place."
And in Jack and Benny, Loux doesn't just build up basic 11-year-old archetypes. The artist said that to a large extent, the bickering brother team draws their roots from his own home life, right down to the costal vacations. "There's a fair amount that's actually taken from reality to a certain extent. "The characters are loosely based on me and my older brother from that time when we were kids. We used to do a lot of local vacations, a lot of New England vacations and several in Maine. The character archetypes are a little based on us where my older brother would be Jack who was always a little more dynamic and adventuresome. It's just a starting point though. I think they get along better than my brother and I did back then. That's the fantasy in it."
The fantasy world of "Salt Water Taffy" also extends to the seaside landscape where the boys face off against their giant animal adversaries. Each volume of the series contains a map of the fictional Chowder Bay, complete with locations ranging from the already explored dock Angus calls home to the ominous-sounding Stormy Rock, and Loux promised that many of the locations already have their stories waiting to be told.
"When I came up with these ideas and especially when we started talking about making this a series, I knew I wanted to do the map," Loux said. "The first three locations were there with where they live, where Angus lives and where the town is. Then of course, there was Mount Barnabas, and in the third book there's going to be the bottle dump and a few other locations on the map they go to. I've got a couple other ideas, but a lot of it was just throwing what might be an interesting location. It was just my interest in maps and going, 'Okay, there's got to be an island with a lighthouse on it. That'll be a story pretty far down the line.'
"With any kind of story like this, you have a lot of random ideas that don't really add up to a story, but they could at some point. And I'd like to say that I planned everything completely, but that's never true, and anybody who says that is lying."
As for the future, Loux plans to continue on with "Salt Water Taffy" into a third volume, with further books a strong possibility, although don't expect new stories to follow on each others' heals quite as closely as parts one and two. "I definitely wasn't quick. We finished the first 'Salt Water Taffy' almost five months before we ended up printing it," Loux revealed. "The idea was to get them out close to each other, so by the time the first one came out, I think I'd been working on the second one through about page 30. I did the rest over the summer, and it was finished about a month ago and went right to print. That's not going to happen again though. I don't even have a complete script for the third one."
Matthew Loux promises the next adventure for Jack and Benny shouldn't have to wait until the weather outside his window matches the books he's drawing. "I find that I always end up doing a lot of work over the summer, and hopefully this year I can break that. The past two books, I did most of the work over the summer. With 'Sidescrollers,' I did the bulk of the book over the course of a summer. Usually, toward the end of each book is when I start getting serious and start slowing speeding up. It's always slow at the beginning, but as I get the momentum going, by the end I'm working much harder."
Either way, readers who enjoy Loux's work from "Sidescrollers" to "Salt Water Taffy" won't have to worry about the artist running out of steam any time soon. "I have several other stories I'd like to start, and I want to do another 'Sidescrollers' at some point," he said. "But I definitely want to keep doing 'Salt Water Taffy.' I've got about six stories already mapped out, so there will be a lot of fun stories as time goes on and the potential of many other places on the map to explore."
"Salt Water Taffy, Vol. 2: A Climb Up Mt. Barnabas" is on sale now from Oni Press.