More than two thousand years ago, as the ancient historians write, a slave may have won his freedom with his storytelling. These tales he told were not long in length but each contained a powerful moral lesson. The slave was Aesop and his stories are called fables.
Many fables use animals as characters helping readers to see faults or imperfections which may or may not be a part of their life choices or personality. These short instructions have been a part of our literary history for so long; they have been assimilated into our everyday lives. With the success of Nursery Rhyme Comics: 50 Timeless Rhymes from 50 Celebrated Cartoonists (First Second, October 11, 2011) and Fairy Tale Comics: Classic Tales Told by Extraordinary Cartoonists (First Second, September 24, 2013) First Second brings to readers another timeless treasury, Fable Comics edited by Chris Duffy (September 22, 2015).
Twenty-eight fables are portrayed through the artistic interpretations of twenty-five graphic artists and authors. Each brings their signature talent to the page in a colorful depiction sure to entertain (you will find yourself laughing out loud more than once) as well as educate. Most use a series of panels with speech bubble conversations to convey the narrative but one uses five full-page spreads to tell the story. Some in the tradition of classic fables include the lesson at the end.
As one of the bloggers celebrating the publication of this title, I was thrilled to have been selected to focus on The Dog And His Reflection by Graham Chaffee. In this fable a dog sees a chance to acquire a bone by stealth. He trots away carrying his prize, only to discover what he believes is another dog with another bone. Using a full-color palette with a series of varied layouts, Graham Chaffee presents the original fable without words set among conversations between humans and the landscape of the human condition. Below you will find my questions and Graham Chaffee's answers relative to his perspective on this classic tale.
In your website biography you note attending and graduating from Art Center College. Students will want to know what inspired the shift from freelance illustrating, teaching illustrations and writing and illustrating graphic novels to becoming a tattooist as your main artistic form of expression. Would you please tell us?
I was getting a lot of tattoos at the time (early 90s) and fell in love with the folk-art quality of traditional American tattooing---illustration was barely paying the bills, and tattoo seemed like a decent way to make a living as an artist---still does ☺
Did you study to become a tattooist? How does the process for creating a tattoo differ from creating a print illustration? Are your steps different?
I am largely self-taught---got my equipment from a mail-order catalog and practiced on myself and a few of my dumber friends until I had enough pictures to build a little portfolio and find a shop.
Tattoos are made in much the same way as any graphic artwork. You begin with a line-drawing and gradually add black shading and color. The tools and canvas are different but the overall process is the same. The biggest difference is the technical difficulty inherent in the craft. Simple things like circles or parallel lines, which are no big deal on paper, can be a real challenge on the skin---you can't use a ruler for one thing, and skin is an unpredictable surface to work on. Being able to control the quality of your linework involves years of practice---solid color is a technical triumph---stuff a conventional artist takes for granted, becomes a real obstacle course for a tattooist. Also, you're hurting people and they tend to wiggle around, which can dramatically affect the quality of the tattoo...
Could you briefly tell us the process for illustrating The Dog And His Reflection? Do you design thumbnail sketches first? Do you storyboard?
I drew layouts in a sketchbook---rough pencil things to get the panels in the right order, but nothing too elaborate---most of the art was developed right on the page.
What medium did you use to make these visuals? Do you work traditionally or digitally?
I use a 2h pencil to draw everything, a 00 brush for inking (Higgs Black Magic) and Dr Martins dyes for the color---I have a little kid's watercolor palette to mix my colors in and a cup of tap water for diluting the hues---I do use the internet as a giant reference file for pictures of factories and telephone booths, so that part is digital ☺
You tell the fable without an actual narrative. The panels with humans appear to be a commentary on the moral of the story. I think this will make for great discussions. Why did you decide to add the human component?
I never use narration boxes in a story---show it, don't tell it is my motto---so I had to build a (very human) narrative environment of materialistic achievement around this animal. America is the land of "more is better" and seemed like a natural fit for this particular fable---it's a super American story, all the way from ancient Greece...
In several of your other graphic novels dogs are featured. Do you have a dog? If you do would you tell us the breed and name?
I had a dog years ago---Sophie, a pound-rescue mutt---but my current living circumstances make pet ownership problematic. If I ever get into a proper house with a yard, I shall certainly get a dog to go with it. ☺
Thank you Mr. Chaffee for stopping by the blog today and answering these questions. It was a pleasure to learn more about you and your work. If you desire to know more about Graham Chaffee please follow the links attached to his name to access his website and additional pages there.
At the publisher's website you can see eight interior images from this title including one of Graham Chaffee's images. At this School Library Journal site dedicated to comics Chris Duffy speak about this book plus there are interior pictures. Gina Gagliano of First Second has included lots of visuals of this in her blog post. At the end of the title Chris Duffy offers commentary and there are short paragraphs about each of the artists.
To visit other blogs and their featured artists follow the list below.