Cartoonist Joey Weiser’s latest work, Mermin Vol. 1: Out of Water, is about as close to a literal fish-out-of-water story as one would probably want to encounter in a comic book. After the title character, a young mer-boy, rescues a young surface-dweller boy from a shark, he’s invited to stay with the boy’s family and attend his grade school. Mermin must try to fit in despite his funny looks, super-strength and curious aversion to water, all while dodging the attention of some other, nastier fish-people.
Weiser had previously published original graphic novels The Ride Home and Cavemen In Space through AdHouse Books, but in 2010 he started self-publishing chapters of Mermin as homemade black-and-white mini-comics, each a handsome little package with a sticker of the title character the focus of each cover.
Oni Press has just collected and published the entire effort so far, in a full-color graphic novel. I took the opportunity to speak to Weiser about that particular publishing strategy, and what’s next for him and his mer-man.
GC4K: So, how do you pronounce your title character’s name; is it pronounced exactly as it looks, “mer-MIN,” or is it “mer-MEN” or “mer-MAN”…?
Joey Weiser: Mer-MIN is a young mer-MAN, who escaped from a kingdom of mer-MEN.
GC4K: Can you tell us a little bit about the genesis of this particular story and this particular character?
Weiser: When my previous graphic novel, Cavemen In Space, was nearing completion, I was toying around with using some young monster characters that I called “The Late-Night Gang.” After doing a few stories with them I wasn’t feeling that excited about it, but I did really like the character that was like a young Creature From The Black Lagoon. So, I used that sort of young mer-boy idea as a point of inspiration.
GC4K: Having previously read your long-form comics The Ride Home and Cavemen In Space, I was somewhat struck by how much more straightforward this particular story was. That is, it takes fewer sentences to describe the basic premise.
I was wondering if that was the result of a conscious effort on your part—were you striving to make something a little more commercial, or is that perhaps simply the way things turned out?
Weiser: Each book I do is a reaction to the one before it. They use things I’ve learned from the previous experience, building on positives and negatives that I see when analyzing the book I just completed. Maybe this refining of my writing over several projects has produced something that appears more straightforward and commercial. Hard to say, but interesting thought!
What led you to that particular strategy? Were you planning on publishing it through Oni at the end, or were you working under the assumption that some publisher somewhere would publish the final results?
Weiser: There were a number of reasons why I decided to serialize Mermin as mini-comic issues. A big thing that I did when creating the initial concept and how I would approach it was that I took a look at the works that I really enjoy, and tried to figure out what they had in common and what I liked about them. I had put a lot of focus on the idea of a graphic novel, but when I looked books from Jeff Smith’s Bone to practically every manga to Acme Novelty Library, I realized that while we do end up reading the collected work as “novels,” it was all serialized initially.
I serialized Mermin without a publisher attached or even in mind. Around the second issue, I think, Chris Schweizer was looking at what I was working on and liked it enough to recommend it to his editors at Oni. Oni and I stayed in touch, through my editor Jill Beaton, but nothing was set in stone until some time after I finished the final issue.
GC4K: Now that you’re on the other end of it, how do you evaluate that particular strategy? Was it useful to you to be able to get feedback, or even just to know people were looking at parts of the story, while it was in progress, rather than releasing it all at once?
Weiser: I really loved it. Making mini-comics is sort of a pain, but it was great to put out little bits of the story to build up interest, and hear people’s reactions to it as I was still working on what would eventually be Volume 1. I offered subscriptions, and people really enjoyed getting them in the mail, I think. It was also really nice to have something new at almost every convention I went to.
GC4K: Did the format dictate particular plot points or story beats for you, the way that serialized, 20-22 page comic books tend to dictate the pacing of graphic novels, with recaps and cliffhangers having to come every so often?
Weiser: This is the other big reason why I wanted to serialize the story. I really wanted to focus on giving every 20 pages or so enough meat to be worth reading on its own, and then the idea is that the collected volume would be even stronger that way. That was something major that I took from my analysis of other serialized-works-turned-graphic-novels.
GC4K: Do you think you’ll pursue that strategy for your next long-form comics work?
Weiser: I am not going to be releasing any more mini-comics issues for Mermin, outside of one-shot stories like Mermin Theatre. However, I have maintained the practice of writing ‘issues’ and just convert them to ‘chapters’ within the book.
GC4K: Those mini-comics chapters were all done in black and white, whereas this book is in color. Did you handle the coloring yourself, or did you work with a colorist?
Wieser: I did all the coloring myself. My wife, Michele Chidester, and I do freelance coloring for comics like Secret Science Alliance and the Lunch Lady series. When we work for other people like that, we do figure out some templates and ideas of what they want, and then we can really get rolling. However, since this was my own thing, and I was still discovering what I wanted with it, I just did it all myself.
GC4K: Given that the story appeared in black-and-white and color now, I’m wondering how you “saw” it when you were creating it. Did you envision it in color all along, or did you have to sort of re-see it and decide on details, like, say, what color skins the guys from Mer who come to retrieve Mermin had, or what color his human friends’ hair was, and so on?
Weiser: Volume 1 of Mermin was drawn with the intent of producing it in black and white. I’ve never been confident enough to draw a graphic novel meant to be in color, because that can be very costly. It was my editor Jill who suggested I do some color samples. I was so happy when Oni agreed to do the book in color. I’ve always thought my work looked best in color, but haven’t had a lot of opportunities for it to appear that way in print.
As far as character colors, I think I do “see” color images when I’m imagining the stories. It can be frustrating because I’ll think I know exactly what they look like, but then I realize I don’t know what color some detail is. But more-or-less I have an idea.
GC4K: There’s a “Volume 1″ in the title of this, and you’ve mentioned future Mermin comics; so there’s more to come, right? How big a story do you envision Mermin eventually being, and how much of it is already planned out, even if only in your head…?
Weiser: There certainly is more to come! I have a several-volume arc planned, which I have discussed with Oni. I feel bad for people who have been following Mermin since the mini-comics issues and have to wait a bit more for the story to continue, but it won’t be much longer, I promise! Volume 2 is quite far along and soon I’m going to have to sit down and get Volume 3 ready to go!
GC4K: Is this going to be what you’re devoting yourself to for the foreseeable future, or do you imagine you’ll got back and forth between Mermin comics and other stuff?
Weiser: Mermin is going to be the main focus of my work for the next few years for sure. I continue to work on some other projects like coloring books for Jarrett Krosoczka (Lunch Lady, Platypus Police Squad) and doing various work for SpongeBob Comics (mostly writing, but this year will see stories that I wrote, drew, and colored as well!). And I still do occasional short stories in things like the FLUKE anthology or Bezoar (a mini-comics anthology featuring the insanely solid pool of cartoonists in Athens, GA). Unfortunately, my webcomic Monster Isle had to be put on hold to accommodate for this other work increasing. It’s too bad, but it just means that more and more of my work will be available elsewhere.
This year Oni is also publishing a Free Comic Book Day issue that contains a new Mermin story, and like I said, Volume 2 will be here in no time!