To kick off my new series of interviews with authors, artists, and creators, I want to introduce you to Seth Greenwood and Angela Zhang. I have been following their work for a couple of years now, and find the story intriguing and the artwork incredible.
1) Please discuss your creative background. Who are you, and how did you get involved with your art?
SG: I would love to tell you some quirky little story of how I got involved in writing comics. But I am afraid the answer is very simple. I was a dreamer, a poet, and a blogger when I traveled to South Korea to live for a year. One of my co-workers kept telling me about all of these ideas he wanted to make into comics. At that time I was 27 or so and I didn’t know the first thing about comics, and to be honest I had never even read my first comic book. I was always into reading novels and watching films. You might even say that I was disinterested but I believe I finally decided to do it because a friend needed my help and I felt I had the ability to make it happen. Stories are stories, right? So when I said yes, I jumped into research head first. I learned how to write, and format scripts. I started reading many comics from the past and present, and ultimately I started writing my first script for a P.A. piece called “Covenant”.
AZ: While I didn’t realize it back then, I was making wordless comics on the back of my mom’s PhD thesis drafts since I was 7 years old. When I grew up, I thought academia and teaching were the only viable career paths for artists. So I ended up going to art school and then completed a master’s in Art History. I realized that reading theory and writing about art really wasn’t my thing. I ended up working in administration full time for a while. It was during this time that I discovered there are people who will pay you to draw if you were good enough. So I kept working on my art on the side. (I spent a whole year waking up at 5AM before work to practice drawing and I am NOT a morning person hahaha!) In 2014, I quit my job to pursue freelance illustration. It’s been hard, to say the least, but no doubt creatively rewarding. So far I’ve done storyboards, concept art, architecture illustration, product design, book covers and of course comics!
2) How did you two meet and collaborate on the Gale Project?
SG: Long story short? “Covenant” never happened. I decided to try my hand at screenwriting since I had such a bad first experience. I realized quickly that even with the best of friends, partnerships can be very difficult to maintain. One night I posted a snippet from one of my screenplays on a blog and tweeted the link. I never expected to get a reaction but that script reeled in one of my favorite artists to this day! Angela Zhang tweeted me and said that she liked my style and to contact her if I ever wanted to do a noir style comic. I didn’t know if this was an empty gesture, but I immediately replied that I knew just the story for us. The rest is history. Angela and I have known each other for a little over 3 years now and we have been moonlighting Gale ever since.
AZ: My big dream has been to make a long-running comic series. But I’m not a writer. As an adult, I really got into comics through the works of Craig Thompson (Blankets) and independent creators like Rich Barrett (Nathan Sorry), Lora Innes (The Dreamer) and Jason Brubaker (reMIND). The first comic that I posted online was a realistic, drama that focused on character acting, mood and atmosphere. I didn’t think anyone else would be into this kind of story until I came across Seth’s writing online. He has a knack for natural dialogue and I can imagine his character’s emotions through their words. I honestly didn’t think anything would come out of our tweets. But it was his persistence and speed that convinced me, yes, this guy wants to make a comic as much as I do.
3) What is the inspiration for Gale?
SG: Oh wow! A lot! The idea of Gale, whether I knew it or not, first started to form in 10th grade when I wrote a free verse poem about a man at his father’s funeral who had obviously been murdered for some mysterious reason. The rest of the story comes from my experience with the world that I grew up in. The things I noticed that were beautiful on the outside were actually rotting on the inside. I started writing about those things you don’t introduce yourself with and immediately start talking about. Politics, civil rights, class consciousness, you name it. It’s all in Gale, in a quasi-dystopian alternate reality. I don’t intend to present my solution to these issues in Gale. In the end, it is a fictional story that will hopefully both entertain and inspire.
AZ: In terms of art, Seth and I met over Skype where he would describe his vision. Gale’s world is a mix of the old and new in American culture. The vehicles and architecture are based on 1940s design and they coexist with our everyday technology, like cell phones and laptops. When we visit Ned Norman’s mansion, there’s a touch of gothic horror. I researched Hollywood movies between the 1930s and 1950s. My library has a collection of classic films. I would rent Hitchcock and Dracula to see how directors in those days composed dramatic shots, knowing that the output would be in black and white.
4) Please describe the visualization process from script to screen. How do you imagine it as a writer, and how do you imagine it as an illustrator?
SG: Would it sound too unreal if a lot of what Angela does is almost exactly how I see it in my head. It’s almost as if she downloaded my brain onto a Wacom Tablet. But the process is much harder than that! It’s why I am the writer and she is the artist. Every once in a while she will suggest something and most of the time it makes it better or translates better to the comic medium. One thing that I had a problem doing at first, was getting out of the habit of writing scenes and getting into the habit of writing still panels. Angela did a wonderful job showing movement and expression.
AZ: I’m grateful that Seth trusts me and gives me a lot of creative freedom to put his words into comic form. We have over 50 posts on our Patreon blog detailing the process from script to panel (collecting reference, thumbnailing, layout, word bubbles etc.) To be honest, these days I don’t even think about my process, because drawing Gale has become more intuitive for me. I think what lead to this magical understanding between Seth and I is that we’ve built a solid friendship. If you get to know Seth, you will see that he’s truly caring and generous. We chat almost every day. Seth sends me photos, writing and videos related to Gale and we talk about life too. The more that I think about it, our conversations allow me to have a better understanding of where Seth is coming from and deeper insight into the characters and the world of Gale.
5) Talk about the heart of Gale’s storyline. What challenges does it face?
SG: Angela may want to elaborate, but I believe this sums up the storyline.:
Gale is a drama, mystery and suspense story that draws inspiration from film noir. Rookie attorney Gale Norman is determined to seek out the truth behind his father’s mysterious death. As Gale’s suspicions grow, buried memories of his mother’s disappearance resurface and he refuses to hide from his dark past. With the help of his childhood friend, Laurie Gambill, Gale attempts to solve a seemingly ordinary mystery that may eventually lead him in a downward spiral. Will he uncover the truth to his parent’s demise or will he become further entangled in a web of lies?
As far as challenges? Well here recently my life has been unpredictable. Being a full-time soldier in the US Army and trying to write, update social media and maintain a valuable connection with our audience has been hard to say the very least. We have had to try to remain very flexible. I have had to re-dedicate myself over and over again. It’s something that plagues me but at the same time it is something I can’t and won’t leave.
AZ: Making the characters relatable is one of the challenges that Seth and I are always thinking about. At first, I had a hard time describing Gale to people because the story has many layers. Gale also comes from a wealthy upbringing which is pivotal to the story but I can’t relate to it. After I completed the scene where Gale kisses his childhood friend Laurie, I started relating to them in a real way. I thought about how the 20s is an interesting period to explore the loss of innocence. Unlike adolescence, the loss is more of intellectual awakening. In Gale’s case, it’s about dealing with death, discovering the truth about his past, getting friend-zoned by the only one he trusts and feeling alone in the world. As the series progresses, Gale gets caught up in more and more unbelievable situations. I think as long as we’re grounding the story in an emotional truth we’ll overcome the challenge of making the characters relatable.
6) What are some difficulties you have experienced with the project and how did you overcome them?
SG: I’m glad you said “some”! Let’s see here. The decision to publish Gale independently was not always considered. We did that when we realized the publisher would really not have much more to offer us and we wanted complete freedom for the project.
Angela had issues with me not being patient and almost jumping the gun a couple of times before we were ready. That is just me. I am a little too ambitious at times. She was always the voice of reason when it came to the business side of things. A lot of times she had to pull my head out of the clouds.
We have had to push back launch dates because of our day jobs and we have had to cancel convention appearances for the same thing. The way we overcome obstacles is to keep pressing on, remain flexible, and continue to create this wonderful story that’s brought so many people together. It’s persistence, more than anything, it is always persistence.
AZ: I think Seth and I have an interesting dynamic that I’ve come to appreciate. In the beginning, we had a bit of friction because we didn’t understand our working styles. I have to think things through from all sides, create a plan and put a process in place to execute. Seth, on the other hand, will act immediately when he gets an idea. I don’t think Gale would have the following it does today without Seth’s fearlessness, tenacity and enthusiasm to try new things. However, self-publishing a comic to our standards of quality has a lot of finer details that require time and planning. What I love about Seth is that he’s open to feedback, he’s always willing to improve and that inspires me to do the same.
On a personal side, I was very slow at drawing Gale pages in the beginning. It would take me a month to finish a page. Seth probably worried at some point whether I was cut out for this job and he’s been really flexible and patient with the project. Some people told me I should simplify my art for comics. But I pushed myself to keep going in the style I have for Gale and I reinvented my process along the way. I’ve learned that just because you have an ounce of talent, it doesn’t entitle you to anything except hard work. Now I can produce 3-4 pages a month alongside my full-time work.
7) Please discuss your creative process. Do you follow a schedule? Set deadlines? How do you get the creative juices flowing for your project?
SG: I am chaotic! Ask my wife. Despite my military experience, I can be somewhat all over the place. The reason why Angela is much more than the artist and she carries the title co-creator is because she keeps me on point. She keeps us on schedule. I write when I am inspired, I send notes to Angela and forget to save them in the shared file so she does it for me. If it was not for her I wouldn’t have come this far. No other artist would have taught me how to maintain good order in this line of work. As for creative juices? I read books, watch some character driven NETFLIX shows, and study people and cultures. I love Sociology, Anthropology, and Psychology. One thing that is most important in this process, however, is reading. To be a great writer, you have to be a reader first!
AZ: I actually have a militaristic approach when it comes to creativity. If you’ve ever read The War of Art by Steven Pressfield, you’ll get where I’m coming from. In the past, I’ve struggled with time management and it has a lot to do with fear and procrastination. I now manage and track my creative time through a pomodoro app. It’s basically an interval timer that alternates between a work and break period. When that whistle sounds for the work interval I’m not checking email or rummaging through social media. The app allows you to export an excel spreadsheet so you can see how long you spent on a task or project. I base my schedule and deadlines around the data and strive to be more efficient over time.
On the other end of the spectrum, I think it’s important for artists to recharge their creative juices to prevent burnout. Although I’m rigid and structured during projects, I’m the complete opposite when it comes to downtime. I like going for aimless walks, cooking, watching movies, reading manga, and comics and playing video games with my fiancé (who by the way has been super supportive of Gale).
8) What is in store for Gale? When will it be released?
SG: I don’t want to steal Angela’s thunder. Most of this is her brilliance. I will let you take the reigns for this, co-creator!
AZ: As Seth mentioned, we’re going the self-publishing route and playing the long game of making a series one page at a time. Instead of releasing Gale when it’s all done, we’re inviting people to follow our journey of making comics by sharing the process, what we’ve learned through trial and error and how we’re constantly striving to improve. I think that’s more fulfilling for us creators to relate to readers every step of the way then just popping up one day and saying ‘hey here’s our product, buy it.’
Last fall we completed Chapter 1: The Calm and launched it on Webtoon and we’re also currently posting it panel by panel on Instagram. We’re halfway through Chapter 2: Storm Chaser and aiming to finish it by the end of this year. Next year, we’re going to explore Kickstarter as well as comic book conventions.
9) Do you have anything you would like to add to the article?
AZ: I want to thank anyone who took the time to read our interview. Although we’re small and at the beginning of our journey, I’m super grateful and touched by all the support that Gale has received. I also want to give huge thanks to the Savannah Quill for having us and putting all of this together. I deeply appreciate this opportunity to share our thoughts and process
SG: Same as Angela, thanks! Also, look out for Gale on Webtoon and make sure you stay tuned for a short we have contributed to Red Stylo Media’s newest upcoming anthology; a collaboration of artists and writers paying tribute to the band, Forence + The Machine entitled “Cosmic Love”. The Kickstarter for the main print run will launch sometime this Fall. Just look for the announcement on IG “Stories” or on Twitter!
©2019 Adam Messer. All Rights Reserved.