MoCCA Presents: Hamilton and Cavallaro on Graphic Novel adaptations

At the Museum of Comic and Cartoon Art last week, Tim Hamilton ["Treasure Island," "Mr. Moto"] and Michael Cavallaro ["The Wizard of Oz," "66,000 MPH"] were highlighted in the Cartoonists Alliance's monthly round-table discussion. They talked about their adventures with Penguin Books line of graphic novel adaptations, Puffin Graphics, and the process of adapting a classic prose novel into a graphic novel. Hamilton adapted Robert L. Stevenson's "Treasure Island" for the Classics Illustrated line, while Cavallaro adapted L. Frank Baum's "The Wizard of Oz." In subsequent interviews, both also discussed what they liked about comics and their careers.

"Penguin did use my cover, but I did about 10 rounds of revisions after they had approved the layout, which is usually hammered out during the pencil stage. Editors are under the impression that Photoshop makes any revision possible at any stage," said Cavallaro. "When I used to paint by hand, editors were more communicative about what they wanted before hand and less casual about sending an artist back into a finished piece for revisions."

The actual cover design, with logo, was done by one of the staff designers at Byron Preiss Visual Publications, the packagers for the Puffin Graphics line.

Hamilton said, "Trying to fit a prose novel into a 144-page graphic novel can be challenging and I may have deleted a minor character or two, and after I altered some of the dialogue, I was told I wasn't supposed to. So, they changed it back to the original dialogue, which was fine with me because I always like to keep it as faithful to the book as possible anyway."

Hamilton and Cavallaro met at the annual MoCCA Art Festival in 2004 through Byron Preiss , president of BPVP, who hired both of them for work on the Classics Illustrated line. April Isaacs, an assistant editor, purchased a copy of Cavallaro's self-published comic, "66 Thousand Miles Per Hour," and showed it to Preiss.

"I had worked in comics and animation in NYC since 1991 by this point, so I had heard of Byron many times. Byron had his share of detractors, but his enthusiasm for comics as a medium was thrilling to be around and exactly what I had been looking for over the years," said Cavallaro.

After Preiss died in a traffic accident last July, BPVP filed for bankruptcy and Penguin eventually discontinued the Classics line. Hamilton was working on an adaptation of Ray Bradbury's "Farenheit 451," while Cavallaro was adapting "Alice in Wonderland" for Penguin.

"I plotted the whole adaptation for 'Alice' and drew a cover and 52 pages of pencils, 16 of which were inked by Gideon Kendall," said Cavallaro. "We weren't paid for anything and we can't collect because of the filing, but nobody really did anything to us on purpose. Nobody planned Byron's accident. Our payment was really nothing in comparison."

Hamilton did get paid for work on "Farenheit 451" because though it was the same packager, a different publisher was involved.

"I'm just waiting for the bankruptcy proceedings to finalize for somebody to buy the contract on 'Farenheit 451,'" said Hamilton.

Cavallaro said that part of the problem with book publishers is their business model, which doesn't really work for graphic novels.

"When my editor at BPVP told me how much I'd get paid for adapting 'Oz,' I was forced to point out that it worked out to be less than minimum wage," said Cavallaro. "He said what Penguin payed per page is actually very good starting pay for a first time author. But that model doesn't convert very well when you're talking about plotting, penciling, lettering and inking a comic page. For all that, I was paid about $30-a-page before taxes, which is, what I think, Neal Adams was making when he started at DC."

"They came to me with [Treasure Island], but I was happy to do it," said Hamilton. "I like illustrating from history. I tend to lose interest in the superhero stuff, but if someone had a great project that involved superheroes, I'd do it. I like variety."

"If a good writer is involved and the story is interesting, it doesn't matter what genre it is," said Cavallaro.

Cavallaro prefers graphic novels to the "pamphlet" format most widely used in the direct market.

"I had already done a few issues of my own comic by the time I read 'Miller/Eisner,' which discusses some of the very same problems I encountered," said Cavallaro. "I could really relate to the ideas they expressed about working long-form and how it allows scenes and sequences to breathe and flow naturally. I had always felt I could write better dialogue than I was doing, but trying to keep it within a 32-page format made it impossible for me to capture the voices of my characters the way I heard them in my head."

Cavallaro started working in animation about eight years ago and has done a bunch of storyboard work for MTV Animation and The Cartoon Network, as well as backgrounds on all six seasons of the Cartoon Network's "Codename: Kids Next Door" and some work on the pilot episode of "The Venture Brothers."

"One job just sort of leads to another and I've stayed in it, but really, my heart is and will always be in comics," said Cavallaro.

Before getting into animation, he spent five years at the Jim Shooter published Valiant in the early '90s. He also worked in DC Comics' licensing department at one time.

Cavallaro said, "I was a dishwasher when Bob Layton hired me, so I was thrilled. We painted everything in watercolor by hand. No one was using Photoshop at this point, although we experimented with some of the first attempts to blend handpainted work with digital elements. But I felt fortunate to have one of the last opportunities to work in an old-style bullpen with a bunch of other artists penciling, lettering, inking and painting by hand. Unfortunately, Valiant could veer dangerously close to operating like a sweatshop. There were some miserable times as well, a lot of personality clashes, a lot of pressure and a lot of explosive episodes as a result. What the grueling workload of the Kubert School hadn't already prepared me for, Valiant took care of. No job I've ever had since has been as difficult."

Jim Shooter followed up Valiant with Defiant Comics and Broadway Comics in 1993 and 1995 respectively, both of which Hamilton worked for.

"I have no horror stories to tell, because I didn't work in the office, but from what I understand it was a hectic place to work for. The work I did for them never saw print, including 'Makeshift' for Broadway, about a tough NYC detective who transforms into a female warrior," said Hamilton.

Tiring of the storyboard work for MTV Animation, which amounted to stacks and stacks of drawings, Cavallaro wanted to create a comic for himself.

"When MTV Animation shut down its NYC studio to outsource our jobs to overseas sweatshops, I felt really burned, and so did everyone else I worked with," said Cavallaro. "I had been kicking around the themes and the premise of '66MPH' for years and I decided to sit down and do it. It was my response to what had just happened at the studio. I did the best I could, since I do the book mostly at night after working all day for MTV, or Cartoon Network, or whatever. I feel each issue has been getting better."

Aside from self-publishing "66 Thousand Miles Per Hour" through True Believers Press, he recently completed some work on "Planetary Brigade" Origins #2" for Boom Studios, with J.M. DeMatteis and Keith Giffen. "That was one of the best work experiences I've ever had. Marc DeMatteis is a great boss and an amazing gentleman," said Cavallaro.

Hamilton is also working on a project for Boom Studios called "Dominion" and the upcoming "Cthulu Tales: The Rising." He also freelances for a number of clients, including Nickelodeon Magazine's comics section doing humorous strips like "Comics for all pet lovers."

Denise Ozker organizes the round-table discussions for the Cartoonists Alliance, which started out as part of the NY Chapter of the Graphic Artists Guild, and holds monthly discussions with a variety of artists at the Museum of Comic and Cartoon Art in New York City.

"The great thing about organizing something like this is, when you meet someone interesting, you have an instant reason to be in contact and see them again," said Ozker. "'I run a committee for cartoonists and we'd love to have you as a guest,' and in a few months you get to see people encounter each other, find things out, see new work and make contact."

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