Today I’m posting an interview (transcribed from the audio recording) with Chris Schweizer, creator of the The Crogan Adventures series (available from Oni Press). This was originally recorded on Saturday June 5 at Heroes Con in Charlotte, NC. This is part of a series of interviews with kids’ comic creators.
GCFK: What’s your background, how did you get started in comics?
Chris: I’ve drawn comics since I was a little kid to some degree or another. In college I hopped around a lot. I was an English major, I was an art major, I was a theatre major, I was a film major, I was a history major [laughs] and eventually I discovered comics… primarily from Seth, a Canadian cartoonist published by Drawn and Quarterly. I fell in love with his work and decided that was, to some degree, what I wanted to do. Not necessarily comics, but illustration in that style or something like that. I ended up graduating with an art major. It wasn’t until graphic novels really hit bookstores proper pretty heavily that I realized that there was a potential for making comics for a living and making the kinds of comics I wanted to make. I always thought that I’d want to do newspaper comics. I sent off one pitch and it got rejected when I was about 20 and I thought, “Well, that’s that.” It wasn’t until I saw that you could do newspaper comics style books—meaning that I could write them and draw them and they could be about any subject—that I got really excited about the possibility of doing it as a career and started pursuing it whole heartedly.
GCFK: What are some of your comic influences? You said that you’ve always been a newspaper comic person…
Chris: My biggest influences are newspaper comic strips, notably Calvin and Hobbes [by Bill Watterson], Foxtrot [by Bill Amend], Pogo [by Walt Kelly] and Peanuts [by Charles Schultz]. Any time I could get my hands on adventure strips as a kid, such as Terry and the Pirates [by Milton Caniff], Wash Tubbs [by Roy Crane], or Dick Tracy [created by Chester Gould], I always jumped at those. I think of those, Terry and the Pirates and Wash Tubbs are more visible in my work in terms of subject matter.
GCFK: So were those adventure comics the inspiration behind your Crogan Adventures series?
Chris: To some degree. The inspiration behind Crogan actually comes more from the majority of comics I read as a kid, which were comic adaptation of classics, especially adventure classics. Some were Classics Illustrated, more were from a smaller company that I’ve tried to track details of but have yet to succeed, called Pocket Classics. They were little two dollar black and white paperbacks that you could get at the drug store in a bin. It makes me sound like I’m 112! [laughs] My dad got me lots and lots of these. These versions of Three Musketeers, Billy Budd, and Prisoner of Zenda and stuff like that got me so excited about that sort of period adventure stories. That was always what I gravitated towards, when I shifted to novels, when I watched films. Those always tend to be my favorite subjects. So when I was going to do comics that was where I wanted to go.
GCFK: How did you come up with the idea for the Crogan Family Tree and using those family members to tell a serial story?
Chris: I wish I could remember in detail. I was regularly drawing the Flying Ace character and I think I was thinking about how I’d like to do some sort of historical series. At this point, I wasn’t sure if it would be comics, young adult novels, animation or what. I just knew I wanted to do something involved with narrative. I did figure out the whole family tree in one day, with the exception of two who weren’t included until later because I didn’t know what happened during those time periods and I had to go back and research them. I sat down with a calculator and figured out, “Well, if this person is this age and he had a kid, then he would be this age when this happens. And I want there to be a cowboy, so what year would that be?” I think that probably the [family tree] sprang from me having that Flying Ace character and then doing the pirate or the gun slinger and thinking that they looked alike and rather than changing the character designs, figuring out how to make them related.
Chris: I’m planning on doing at least one book for every person. There is the chance that some of the characters might merit more than one. The gunslinger might be a slightly younger man during the Civil War; the Rough Rider is the right age to, a couple of years earlier, have been involved in the Boxer Rebellion and then fifteen years later be a mercenary fighting for Pancho Villa. So there’s a lot of potential for other stories. Basically whichever stories are of the most interest to me, I’ll do that. The third book will be the first time I depart from the years stated on the family tree. For the American Revolution book, on the family tree it shows [the brothers] in 1776, but I plan on making the book take place in 1779 or early 1780.
GCFK: Are you working on any other projects besides the Crogan books?
Chris: I am writing a line of young reader choose-your-adventure type books like the Twisted Journeys books for Lerner’s Graphic Universe imprint. They aren’t in the Twisted Journeys series because those were thought to be a little too scary for first, second, graders. I finished the first one of those this last week and I’m writing six of those. In addition to Crogan stuff, I’m also teaching [at Savannah College of Art and Design’s Atlanta location]. But aside from a couple of anthologies I’m going to be contributing to, Crogan is taking the majority of my attention. That and teaching.
GCFK: Do you have any advice for teachers, librarians, parents, people who are working with kids who love comics?
Chris: I would suggest flipping through them. One of the best things about comics is how, in the last 20, 30 years, they’ve grown from being a very limited medium to being able to handle any range of subjects. But with that comes the potential for books to be inappropriate for younger readers. I would suggest that parents and teachers simply flip through them. Usually you can get a good sense of the appropriateness of a comic book just by flipping through it and giving it a cursory look. Also, kids are really smart. Don’t feel like that just because something isn’t written specifically for a fourth-grader that they can’t enjoy it. With comics, the context between the dialogue and the pictures—the body language, the facial expressions, what’s going on in the scene—creates a context that allows for reader comprehension that I feel is much greater than prose. So long as there isn’t stuff that will get you in trouble for letting the kids read it, I think that using the ages dictated by the publisher does a disservice a lot of times to the kids. They can usually figure things out.
GCFK: Do you have any advice for young comic creators?
Chris: I would suggest reading as much as possible, all different things. Read what you like and find subjects peripherally associated with what you like and read those as well. If you really like Twilight, read Dracula, read Sweet Valley High. Read different things that somehow relate to what you like and those will open you up to more things you might like and then from there you’ll find even more. The more informed you are, the better storyteller you’ll eventually be. It will also give you a good sense of what you want to do, if you want to get into cartooning or writing or medicine or any number of other things. The more that you know the world around you and the more you ingest about it, the better suited you’ll be to make those decisions.