Jamaica Dyer on "Wine Hobo's" MySpace Dark Horse Debut

We all know the childhood taunt, "If you love ____ so much, why don't you marry it?"

In the December issue of MySpace Dark Horse Presents, writer/artist Jamaica Dyer explores the consequences of such hasty marriages in "The Nightmare of the Wine Hobo." CBR News chatted with Dyer about the strip as well as her popular webcomic "Weird Fishes."

"Nightmare of the Wine Hobo," Dyer's unusual MySpace Dark Horse Presents strip, evolved from an earlier project while studying at San Jose State University. "One of my senior animation projects before graduation was to create storyboards inspired by a piece of music by Beethoven and set in Vienna during his lifetime," the cartoonist told CBR News. "After an array of failed serious stories, I decided to adapt a silly story that had been floating around my favorite bar about this giant bottle of liquor they kept in the window, something that my boyfriend wanted to turn into a short film but I grabbed it out of his hands. It was fun doing the storyboards (and seeing the varied reactions from my teachers and fellow students), but I really wanted to do a series of watercolor paintings for the story and never got around to it.

"When it came time to pitch stories for my Dark Horse Presents submission, I was still attached to the Wine Hobo and felt I could do more with it, so I threw in the storyboards along with a handful of other ideas. Adapting the Wine Hobo to comics was really easy; I had all my shots already drawn out, and the new format allowed me to elaborate on the story. Some of the ideas, like having the Wine Hobo and Wine Bottle get married and have kids was just too odd to portray clearly in storyboards. With an extended ending and a chance to finally do the watercolor pieces I had originally imagined, this comic feels like the perfect extension for the silly story I'd written a year earlier."

"Weird Fishes," which Dyer began publishing earlier this year to quite a lot of attention in the web comics community, stemmed from the artist's need to tell new stories and "try to capture this feeling of wonder and change in these young impressionable characters. All I had when I started was the scene with Dee playing with the giant duck, and I worked on those pieces during spring break and started my last semester with all these penciled pages, and I'd color them on my laptop while in class. I was trying to focus my energy on a single project, and those pages quickly became the best things I was creating my senior year. When one of the pages got accepted in the Society of Illustrator's Annual Scholarship Gallery (and they don't usually accept comics), I realized it was probably something worth continuing. I wanted to get the pages out there and allow a wide range of people to see it, so I started publishing it as a webcomic.

"The story itself is centered around a girl who's caught up in her imagination and is starting to get to the age where it isn't charming to be talking to invisible animals anymore, and her friend who never really cared what people thought of him until one day when it suddenly hits him that he wants to be cool," Dyer continued. "While the girl decides to embrace her oddity and gets drawn further into a darker and maturing fantasy life that becomes increasingly real, the boy goes after love, popularity and fashion. There's hallucinations, first-time drinking, the ghost of a grumpy goldfish, a world-changing fantastic event, and lots of awkwardness and experimentation.

"I knew it wasn't really like anything out there, and Dee and the Bunny Boy weren't really humorous, but I started contacting all my favorite webcomic artists and word seemed to get around. Warren Ellis was an early supporter of 'Weird Fishes' and 'The Wine Hobo,' and has been a huge boost as well as totally flattering. Plus webcomics stars like Erika Moen, R Stevens and Danielle Corsetto throw me links and that makes for something pretty awesome. And, you know, I Twitter."

In addition to her webcomics fame, Dyer also works in animation. She suggests the two media represent complementary skills. "All of my time drawing comics as a teenager led to visual storytelling in animation being very natural," Dyer explained. "Aesthetically. I love to see a story flow on a page and how comics allow you to go at your own pace, but seeing something come to life and move on screen is just amazing. I did a bunch of hand-drawn animation and after spending days straight drawing a simple walk cycle, you really learn to appreciate the simplicity of comics. When drawing storyboards for animation, you have to worry about lining up action so the eye follows what's going on, everything has to be super clean and fast-reading. I love all the tricks you can get away with in comics, your characters can change dramatically from panel to panel and the reader will (I hope!) follow along, backgrounds can be impossible to build, you can play with layouts and complexity in any range of styles in a single story, stuff like that would make you sick to watch on a screen."

But, Dyer said, the collaborative process of animation requires some flexibility in artistic style. "Right now I'm doing animation clean-up over at Ghostbot, and it's the completely opposite of my comic drawing style. With Ghostbot, I'm creating these super-clean, flat, stylish graphic images in Flash that are sent off to the animation crew, really nice commercial work. In contrast, I jump into watercolors and messy paints to get as much hand-drawn lines, paint and texture into my comics and personal work as possible."

Dyer's watercolor style, she revealed, has evolved considerably from those 'zines she first distributed at conventions. "If you'd seen my drawings as a teenager it was all very Tim Burton and Jhonen Vasquez inspired," she said. "My education at San Jose State broke me out of my style and got me into formal illustration and painting. I was constantly worried that I'd lost my style while I was studying, but now I'm extremely happy my style isn't tracked back to a single artist. I love Arthur Rackham and Ronald Searle, I get a huge kick out of vintage illustration, classic Disney concept art and I take a lot from Impressionist paintings. Two of my favorite contemporary artists are James Jean and Paul Pope, both of their art books and wide array of projects blew my mind. And recently I was introduced to Gipi's work by a friend and wow! I'd say he's a big influence if I hadn't just discovered his work.

"Pop art, fashion illustration, and film all go into my inspiration folder, I browse a lot of blogs and photo groups. One of the best things I learned in school is to draw inspiration from everything you can find outside of your field and then bring it in to your medium."

Jamaica Dyer's interest in comics began taking shape when she found a Catwoman figure on a playground. "That led me to watch 'Batman Begins' and start buying Batman comics, and then on to an array of strong, dark female characters titles like Catwoman, Witchblade, Tomb Raider, Xena," she said. "I read those until I got old enough to look at the indie comics rack, and stuff like 'Blue Monday,' 'Kabuki,' and 'Johnny The Homicidal Maniac' made me want to make my own comics. I made up stories, drew my comics, printed them at Kinko's, handed them at conventions and loved it. I've been hitting APE every year since I was16, often at a table with friend but something just wandering the floors, meeting awesome people and being inspired to do a new comic each year.

"Also, I started working at Atlantis Fantasyworld in Santa Cruz, where I built a strong connection to the comics community, and it's such a fantastic comic store that I still work there in between projects," she continued. "I think I was 18 when local comic artist Jon Hastings put me in the 'Spark Generators II' graphic novel he was editing, and the thrill of seeing my work in print, not just something I printed myself but in a real, bound book, never left me. I've been printed in a handful of Bay Area magazines and queer anthologies, took a few years off to earn my animation degree, and now hitting comics as hard as I can.

"Nothing seems to change, I'm loving Batman comics more than ever and always have an eye out for the latest great indie comics. I'm completely happy to be making comics, reading comics and getting some new exposure and I'm really excited to see what happens in the upcoming year!"

Jaimaica Dyer's "The Nightmare of the Wine Hobo" can be read now at MySpace Dark Horse Presents. "Weird Fishes" can be read here.

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