Troy Little worked in animation for years before he turned his attention to comics. His self-published series "Chiaroscuro," for which he received a 2001 Xeric grant, was released as a hardcover collection by IDW Publishing in 2007. Two more volumes of "Chiaroscuro" are planned, but in the interim Little set to work on "Angora Napkin," a lighter book about a bubblegum pop trio that he also created an animated pilot for, which will appear on Canada's Teletoon later this year.
"Angora Napkin" was released by IDW at the end of January, and Little took the time out to talk to CBR News about his latest, very different project.
CBR: In terms of your artistic ambition and your career, which came first: comics or animation?
Troy Little: At first my goal was to become an animator. I went to Sheridan College and studied Illustration to give myself a solid foundation in various media. I figured once I finished I'd go back and take the animation course, but I decided against that once I graduated.
A few years later I found myself in Ottawa working the graveyard shift at a frequently robbed gas station (oddly enough, situated next door to a beer store), thinking I really should do something with my artistic skills. I solicited a few animation studios in town, one of which decided to give me a shot as a background artist. I got my foot in the door and self taught myself all the stuff I didn't know about animation so as to keep employed.
Over time, I found working in the television animation industry creatively stifling and thought maybe comic books would be a better outlet for my ideas. I've been a lifelong reader and I often fooled around with making comics or comic strips so it wasn't really out of the blue. Once I started doing it professionally, I felt like I'd finally found the medium that appeals to me most to work with.
What is "Angora Napkin" and where did the idea come from?
Angora Napkin began as an idea for a cartoon series early on in my animation career. My friend Nick Cross and I wanted to make a show that appealed to our strange sense of humor that would also encompass a number of things we felt were missing from modern cartoons. Inspired by the bands like Cub and Shonen Knife alongside an affection for campy classic cartoons, we came up with Angora Napkin: a trio of girls in a bubblegum pop band that can't see the dark side of things but continually find themselves wrapped up in the macabre. For lack of a better coupling, think "Nightmare on Elm St." meets "Hello Kitty."
Why did you develop the noticeably different illustration style for "Angora Napkin?"
The roots of "Angora Napkin" stemmed from an idea for a wacky retro cartoon, so it was only natural that the style carried over when I decided to make a comic out of it. Also, I had spent the better part of five years cross-hatching myself blind on "Chiaroscuro" that I wanted to do something fun and loose as a bit of a break.
I like trying different things all the time; it keeps things interesting and fresh for me. I don't think I'd be content locked into a particular "style;" I'm more apt to tailor my visuals to the particular needs of the story being told.
"Angora Napkin" has a more cartoony style, but there's still a precision to the illustration; the way each character has a slightly different way of speaking, different body language. Is that easier or harder in a more cartoony style like "Angora Napkin" than in "Chiaroscuro?"
"Angora Napkin" is much easier. It's the antithesis to my "Chiaroscuro" side. I still put the same kind of care into all the stages of layout, but "Angora Napkin" is a much more organic type of cartooning and lends well to fun and absurd drawings. "Chiaroscuro" has a touch of exaggeration to it as well, but more in line with the somber tone of the story.
Were there any particular influences on "Agora Napkin?"
Nick and I have affection for old cartoons, B-movies and classic literature, and that sort of stuff weaves nicely into the world of "Angora Napkin." We drop them into Kafka's "The Trial" in one script and have them stuck in the Battle of Trafalgar the next. They're so much fun to play with.
You're working on an animated version of "Angora Napkin." Are their elements in the book that you had to drop or change for the cartoon?
We've had an incredible amount of control over the cartoon and are doing a lot of the work ourselves. It's meant for late night adult programming and in fact the broadcaster asked us if we could make it more adult!
The cartoon and the graphic novel are different. We didn't want to just adapt the book to animation. We'd rather create something new. The pilot is split into two shorts that Nick and I wrote together and we are each directing one. The cool thing about that is we are each bringing our own style and sensibilities to our own episode, kind of like the old Looney Tunes days where Bob Clampett's take on Daffy Duck looks and feels very different from Chuck Jones'. It's not going to be like anything you see on TV nowadays.
Does the show have an airdate yet?
I think it's supposed to be on air in March (man, I better get to work!), but I haven't heard anything lately. I suppose I should look into that....
How did you end up connecting with IDW for "Chiaroscuro" and now "Angora Napkin?"
Blind luck, in my opinion. I had managed to self-publish seven issues of "Chiaroscuro" thanks to a Xeric grant before the book went on hiatus. Eventually, I managed to finish the first book and I did a small print-on-demand run of the collected work, which I sent around to reviewers, publishers and industry folk. Dave Sim of "Cerebus" fame wrote a very positive review on his blog about my book. Shortly after, I was contacted by IDW Publishing and within a year the hardcover edition of "Chiaroscuro" was on shelves! I can't thank Dave enough for his support and inspiration.
Once I had begun my working relationship with IDW, I pitched them the "Angora Napkin" graphic novel that I had underway and they were very enthusiastic about it. A few months later and Teletoon Canada had picked it up to develop as a cartoon pilot, so the project has come full circle a mere decade later!
To return to "Chiaroscuro," which is a much bigger project, the volume just released in trade paperback is only the first. How long have you been working on it and how has it changed over time?
It's been a long slow haul. It will be 10 years since I stared that book this fall. That's the problem with needing a day job and supporting a family, my comic time is limited to when I can squeeze it in.
It's pretty obvious how much my skill level evolved during the five years it took to create that first book. I'm learning on the page and it's an interesting progression from the front cover to the back. The story itself has been written long ago (in my head at least) and I've had plenty of time to fine tune ideas that have yet to be drawn.
What are the plans for "Chiaroscuro" going forward?
I think the days of serialization are behind me, so in favor of original graphic novels there will be two more books to complete the "Chiaroscuro" storyline.
I'm very much looking forward to starting work on the next book this spring. "Angora Napkin" was meant to be a short break between "Chiaroscuro" volumes that grew bigger than I had anticipated (I'm not in the least complaining, mind you!). It'll be weird to shift gears back into that dark, densely cross-hatched world but it'll be exciting to continue the story and see how it evolves.
You mentioned there are two more books planned for "Chiaroscuro." When you started working on the story, did you know roughly how it would end or what kind of changes have been made along the way?
The entire story has been planned out since the beginning. The ending has remained fixed and specific scenes are very clear but there's lots of room left for a natural flow to happen. I want to keep things lose enough for the story to breath and some nice little tangents to occur but the overall direction has been the same since I started.
Any advice for the younger pre-Xeric Grant Troy Little who wanted to be an artist and was struggling to find some financial and creative success?
Do work that you believe in and give that work proper attention. Be critical of your work and strive to improve, but always move forward. Clarity would be the biggest thing I would try to impress on anyone, clarity in storytelling, layout and execution. Tiny lettered and messy voice balloons are a sign of not paying attention. Confusing panel or dialogue layout is another. The fundamentals are more important than the polish. Drawing skills will improve with time and practice but the invisible art of design will go a long way to improving your overall storytelling ability.