Nolan Explores "Astro City" and the "Sunshine State"

A comics veteran of over two decades, Graham Nolan is perhaps best known for his collaborations with writer Chuck Dixon, including a long run on "Detective Comics" during which time the pair co-created one of the biggest villains in Batman's rogues gallery, Bane. In recent years, Nolan has spent much of his time and energy working in the pages of the newspaper comics, where he drew "Rex Morgan, M.D." for fourteen years and spent a few more on the "Phantom" Sunday strip a taking a renewed focus on comic books.

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Among the first big gigs Nolan has undertaken is a fill-in issue for Brent Anderson in the latest issue of "Astro City," teaming with Kurt Busiek to tell the story of the Gentleman Bandit. We spoke with Nolan about being the first artist other than Anderson to tackle interiors for the Eisner-winning series, his next collaboration with Dixon on the IDW title "Joe Frankenstein," and Nolan's own comic strip, "Sunshine State."

CBR News: "Astro City" has been, from the very beginning, a personal piece of work for Kurt Busiek, Brent Anderson and Alex Ross. How did you end up working on the title?

Graham Nolan: Kurt and I were looking to do something together and "Astro City" was going monthly, so he suggested me to his then editor (and my former "Detective Comics" editor) Scott Peterson. They were thinking Brent was going to be needing a break now and then with the increased monthly workload.

The visual style of the book is so well established -- does that make it easier or harder to come in as a guest artist?

Brent and I have very different styles. There was no point trying to emulate his, because fans would hate it as a watered down version of Brent. I decided to approach it my own way and let the fans decide if they like it based on its own merits.

What was the process like working on the book? Was there a lot of back and forth?

Because "Astro City" takes place in an already established "real" world, there was a lot of reference needed. Not just location and characters that had already been established by Kurt and Brent, but stuff that takes place in this particular story. Period costumes, antique typewriters, shoe store interiors, a taylor's shop, etc. That was the toughest part of working on the book. Working with Kurt was great. He's such a talented writer and made me feel very welcome in his playground. There wasn't a lot of "back and forth" because "Astro City" is Kurt's baby. I pretty much gave him whatever he asked for.

There are plenty of differences between strips and books -- after working on comic strips for so long, did you have do anything differently, to readjust your habits for comics?

Not really. The biggest difference working in a newspaper strip format is the size and panel restrictions. It was easier to transition back to comic book style than it was to go the other way, to a strip style.

In a certain sense, was there a little relief in working on a comics page again vs a strip, just because you have space -- both literally and metaphorically.

Working on comic pages is so much more freeing than the constrained strip sizes. Sunday strips have to have panels break in certain spots so that newspapers have the flexibility to run it in different formats.

You maintained a foot in comics, even while you were working on the strips, but how do you think the industry and the market has changed since you took a step back to focus on comic strips?

The comic business has always been cyclical. There are creative as well as financial ups and downs. Right now, the business appears healthier than it's been in a while. New readers and new talent are coming in and energizing it. 

I know you're working on "Joe Frankenstein," a new project with Chuck Dixon. What can you tell us about it?

"Joe Frankenstein" will be a four issue -- 37 pages each -- series published by IDW. Chuck and I plot the series together, then I break it down into its visual form and add suggested dialogue. Chuck polishes it up, then it comes back to me for final editing. Sort of the old Marvel method, except Kirby never got final say.

The basic story is about a boy, Joe Pratt, who discovers his true heritage, the hard way. When the Frankenstein monster saves him from a vampire coven, he finds out he is really Joe Frankenstein and that the Monster has watched over him his entire life, protecting him from the evil forces that are after his blood. Blood that is encoded with the secret of eternal life.

Does the book have a release date?

No release date, yet. I am halfway through the second issue, and I'd like to get three done before we solicit. The reason being, I have to work on it between paying jobs, and I don't want to leave any retailers holding the bag for a project of mine that ships late. I want to make sure it arrives in stores when we say it will.

You've also been working on a comic strip, "Sunshine State," for a while now. I know you have some news about it.

"Sunshine State" is probably the least profitable project of my career, and yet it is also the closest to my heart. A labor of love. It's a humor strip that started out on the web, about two best friends (an alligator named Mel and a pelican named Dink) with two very different personalities. The humor is derived from situations and personalities rather than a "joke of the day." The characters explore whimsical journeys and flights of fancy while trying to navigate the encroachment of 21st Century technology.

"Sunshine State" was recently picked up to run on Universal Press's GoComics site. The strip will run every Monday and Friday starting June 2.

We should also mention that "Sunshine State" has a manatee as well. Because everybody likes manatees.

That's true! Ray the manatee is the owner of Ray's Tiki Bar, the local watering hole in the strip.

Where did "Sunshine State" come from? I ask, because I know you live up near Buffalo. Was this how you got through the winter?

I grew up in Indian Harbour Beach, Florida, and before that I was three blocks from the beach in Long Beach, Long Island. I love the Western New York area, but I missed the sun and the surf of Florida, so "Sunshine State" was a cathartic outlet for me.

When "Sunshine State" shifts to GoComics, will it feature new strips?

In the beginning, I will be running archived strips, but when they run out, new strips will then appear.

What else are you working on right now?

I just finished a variant "Aquaman" cover for DC and also a big project for Graphics India that was written by Chuck. I have some other irons in the fire as well, that I can't talk about just yet.

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