Since 2007, Meredith Gran has charted the complicated lives of Brooklynites Eve and Hanna in "Octopus Pie,". Filled with fully-formed characters, Gran has been just as interested in exploring the struggles of being in your twenties as she is at making jokes and crafting absurd stories. In recent years, the strip has not only changed in color and shape, it's matured alongside the characters, resulting in an emotional and very natural journey.
At last year's Small Press Expo, Gran received the 2014 Ignatz Award for Outstanding Story for her "Octopus Pie" story arc "Brownout Biscuit." Additionally, BOOM! Studios is currently publishing a new "Adventure Time" miniseries that she wrote, "Marceline Gone Adrift." After returning from Denmark, where she taught a comics workshop, she spoke with CBR News about the way the strip, its characters and her process have changed over the years.
CBR News: "Octopus Pie" has gone through a few changes over the years. The storylines have tended to be less comedic and more dramatic than in past years. Was this something that you were conscious of? Is this something that you were building towards?
Meredith Gran: I think, as the story has progressed and the characters have aged, the stakes have gotten higher. Eve's crappy job is now a drain on her life. Marigold's fragile emotional state is spurring big changes. Hanna's silly drug habit is an existential crisis. As they've gotten older, life problems have replaced the sitcom aspect. I think this has been a necessary change for me, to bring the comic along as I edge into new stages of life.
I guess it's a permanent shift, but I'm hoping to make it funny where I can. At this point, I'm working toward the comic's finale. There are still fun moments to be had, but it's tough tying up loose ends without getting to the meat of the story -- and the meat tends to be bloody.
The passage of time in comics is something that's very flexible and it seems that everyone has their own approach. Do you think of them as aging? How much time has played out?
The characters are all still in their twenties, but they're older. The way a person changes in their twenties is so dramatic, and I love to illustrate that, though I'd feel weird assigning specific years to it. The comic has probably taken place over four years.
Did changing the dimensions of the strip affect how you worked or how you thought about the page at all?
Yes, I went from a horizontal to vertical format in 2012 and have stayed there since. I'm much more comfortable with what you can reveal in a vertical page and how the action unfolds. In a horizontal page, it feels like the reader gives everything a once-over right away, and it's harder to surprise them. The reader's eye can't drop down sharply even if the author wants it to. Horizontal also doesn't lend itself to full-body shots as well. The long page is the standard for good reason.
I am curious about your experience with the crowdfunding platform Patreon. What has the response been like?
It has generated a substantial part of my income and eliminated the need to do emergency store sales or commissions to scrape together money. I've been able to hire a colorist and an assistant. It feels like I'm in a good rhythm with it, productively, drawing 10 pages per month.
The response has been positive, but the real challenge is seeing if it can be sustained. People do decrease their pledges often, when money or interest wavers. They also forget to update their billing information, so the pledge amount is never exactly what the public sees. On top of that, I lose a huge chunk to fees -- hundreds of dollars per month. It's a flawed system that's not as transparent as everyone would like it to be.
Why did you decide to make "Octopus Pie" in color and how did you connect with Sloane Leong, who's coloring the strip?
It's something I've wanted to try for a while. I've known Sloane online for a little while and have admired her work.
You made the strip without color for so long. Do you still think of the comic as "finished" when you're done with it even though it's going to be colored?
Yeah, it definitely feels abrupt to quit after the line art. I try to make the black-white balance acceptable on its own, but it does sorta feel like cheating to send the finishing work off to someone else. It's not cheating, though. It's division of labor, a treasured hallmark of our capitalist society.
What is the collaboration like? Was there a lot of talk at the beginning about how things should look? Are you hands-off as far as how it looks?
The look is important to me, and I've been pretty hands-on with it. At the beginning, I gave Sloane a ton of notes and edits, but it's gotten breezier as she gets a feel for what I'm looking for.
Sloane is currently on a travel break and I'm working with Valerie Halla; the process has been similar. After a few sessions of heavy notes, we start to see eye-to-eye more often and the edits get easier. In the beginning, I only knew what I liked -- not necessarily what I wanted -- and I've become more aware of the latter.
A little while back, you spent some time working on "Adventure Time: Marceline and the Scream Queens." How did that end up happening and what was the experience like?
It was fun and labor-intensive! A lot of people still tell me they like that comic, so I'm glad I did it. It happened the way any of these projects happen: I was asked and I said yes!
You're writing another "Adventure Time" miniseries now, "Marceline Gone Adrift." What was the impetus between doing another series? Why did you decide to just write it as opposed to writing and drawing it?
I've never worked with an artist before, and it seemed like a fun, new exercise in productivity. Obviously, writing takes way less time than drawing, so I can make new comics without committing my -- very slow -- drawing abilities to them. Fortunately, Carey Pietsch is pouring her heart into "Gone Adrift," and the art looks brilliant. I'd like to write more for artists!
You've been teaching in recent years at SVA and you were just in Denmark doing a workshop. Do you enjoy teaching?
I love teaching. It's so fun to explore comics intellectually. Teaching in Denmark has been very intensive -- 30+ hours a week -- and it's a lot of problem solving with the students. They'll have an idea fully formed (or so they believe) in their heads but aren't always ready to communicate it clearly.
Back home, the workshop is less intensive. I only have 3 hours per week to nail something useful into the students' heads, and results may vary. I'd love to teach a longer class.
Congrats on winning an Ignatz Award. Besides getting a brick, what was it like?
It's nice to win an award.