Collins: On the other hand, your dream journal comics, though they utilize simple four-panel grid, have a similar sense of danger and dread to that of “His Face All Red” and “The Hare’s Bride”. Here it seems the formal challenge was to pare the complex narrative disconnects of a dream or a nightmare down to four representative panels. Did you ever want to depict one of these dreams at greater length?
Carroll: I’ve tried actually! And I ended up scrapping the comic (after heaps of frustration) just because I wasn’t sure how to all fit it together in a way that worked for me. I might revisit it one day and cut it down to something more manageable though, because it was a dream that really shook me up when I had it, which is maybe why I tried to force a comic out of it afterward (a lot of the dream comics have been nightmares, and for me it’s soothing to tell someone else about a nightmare after the fact—that’s usually when you realize how goofy it sounds). One of the main reasons I made the dream comics into four panels each was because dreams can just meander forever and ever, and the length of them doesn’t necessarily result in any sort of satisfactory conclusion. That, and I was also very conscious of the fact that people can get really bored listening to other people’s dreams, and the same could very well be true of reading about them, despite the addition of art.
Besides, it’s fun to edit them down! It makes me have to figure out which aspects or images of the dream had the most impact on me (y’know, so I can have all the fun of analyzing myself later).
Collins: I realized I never asked you the basic process question, and what you said about not being in a “pages” mindset made me wonder: What are you drawing with?
Carroll: Nothing all that fancy! I draw on smooth Bristol with a regular mechanical pencil, and ink with a nib pen that my girlfriend got several of back in college. I use drybrush a little, which is to say I dip my badly damaged brushes into ink and sorta push them about until I get a texture I’m happy with. The rest is all Photoshop. And some comics, like “The Hare’s Bride”, or the one I did in The Anthology Project Vol. 2, are completely done in Photoshop—but those were also some of the earlier comics I did, and I’ve sorta moved away from that now.
Collins: Color clearly matters a great deal in your work. You seem able to bounce pretty effortlessly between a rich, soft, naturalistic palette and bright, primary colors used for emphasis and emotional effect. I have to admit that color considerations are frequently afterthoughts to me; it’s difficult for me to think of color as a primary tool the way that, say, line or dialogue would be. How do you see it?
Carroll: I actually recently finished a mini-comic series that is entirely in black and white, and it was very much a challenge to communicate the things I wanted to without having color to rely on for once. But having made it, it’s built to be in black and white, and I wouldn’t ever want to go back and color it at this point. I love using color though, and it’s definitely something I think of really early on in the process, and something that I really enjoy deciding when it comes to characters especially. It can have such an impact on atmosphere and mood, even if it’s not immediately obvious.
I do confess to being overly fond of red and using red color casts though, especially big jolts of bright red (ha ha, which might be pretty evident).
Collins: You’ve posted a lot of stand-alone illustrations, pin-ups, and fan art, and in terms of sheer style, that’s where I locate your work—in this world of abundantly talented illustrators who post sexy, elegant, funny, frequently nerd-centric pieces online. I don’t mean to demean the level of craft that goes into doing that sort of thing well, because it’s considerable, but one of the things I find so refreshing about your work is that you don’t coast on that craft, if you will—you’ve pushed yourself into doing formally innovative comics whose emotional effects are frequently darker than the “Aww!/Ooh!/LOL!” trifecta of a lot of internet illustrations. In terms of your peers and your influences, who do you feel has pushed you to working the way that you do, or does it work that way at all?
Carroll: I’ve think of the stuff I post on the internet as just stuff I’m doing for fun, so I do what I’m interested in and what I’ll have a good time doing. I like trying out different things and seeing where it goes (whether it be something like a mode of coloring, or whether it be something like comics), but I generally don’t have an end goal in mind.
And of course it’s really great to have people online whose work you’re excited about, and who inspire you to do more work yourself. I feel really fortunate to have met so many people over the internet who make me feel excited about making stuff, and to sort of be contributing to this group creativity, if that makes any sense. Plus I also have an amazing girlfriend [now fiancée; congratulations!—STC], Kate Craig, who draws and creates in the same way that I do, and is interested in stories and characters in the same way I am, so I think it really helps to have her here to keep me nerding out about all this stuff, ha ha.
Collins: I read in the Fabler’s profile of you that you only started doing comics in May 2010, which is pretty amazing to me. What had you been doing before then, artistically? What was your background? What do you feel equipped you to jump into comics?
Carroll: Cartoons! Just cartoons, and fan art, and the stand-alone sort of drawings you mentioned above. Again, all just for fun and to sometimes share with folks who might be into the same things I’m into. I think I started posting art online in high school, and was encouraged and inspired by the artists I met through that, who were also just having a good time making art and sharing it.
I went to college for animation (the old timey hand drawn kind—which I didn’t especially excel at really), and there I met one of my closest friends, Steve Wolfhard, who in addition to being massively talented has been one of my biggest supporters for getting into comics. I’m not sure I would be even doing them if it wasn’t for Steve, and I definitely know I wouldn’t have received the same attention and readership if it wasn’t for him passing on my links.
Before I started in comics though, I wrote a lot (for fun, and in things like NaNoWriMo each year), and read a lot, and I’ve done a lot of world-building and storytelling with friends through role-playing games and the like, so I’ve always been interested in telling stories through one medium or another. It took me so long to get into comics because for some reason I thought there were all these strict rules for doing them “properly,” and that I’d never be good enough to tell the stories I wanted to tell anyway—which was just me being ridiculous. Comics can be so many things, and take so many forms, and I’m really looking forward to exploring more of what I can do with them.
Collins: With your background in animation and illustration, were there comics you were reading before you considered trying your hand at the form that ended up inspiring or informing your work once you got started? I’m trying to figure out where you’re coming from by who you’re looking at, basically.
Carroll: Oh, well, when I was a kid I read things like Archie, Richie Rich, Uncle Scrooge, anything with Catwoman in it, and a couple times ventured into my brother’s collection of Spider-Man stuff. When I reached high school I was introduced to Japanese comics, and became a pretty huge fan of Rumiko Takahashi, primarily through Ranma 1/2 (which I was really, really influenced by at the time). I also read the Sandman series, which really had a big impact on me when it came to making up my own characters and storylines (even though most of these never left my sketchbook, and the ones that did were just fodder for the role-playing games my very patient friends let me run for them). In college I read stuff like Preacher, Transmetropolitan, Madman, Blade of the Immortal, and probably a lot of others I’m forgetting.
These days the comics I’m most influenced by are things like the stories and artwork of Gipi (They Found the Car is one of my favorite comics ever), the Dungeon series (particularly the “Early Years”), and probably Junji Ito’s short stories, which make me really excited about exploring horror themes myself. I think when it comes to outright influences in my own comics though, I’m a lot more influenced by children’s books and fairy tales, not necessarily just other comics.
Collins: I wanted to go back to the notion you advance of “group creativity” online. I take it you feel that there’s more to it than simply a network of people sharing work and encouragement—that there’s a cumulative effect that’s greater than the sum of its parts? And on the flip side, have you ever felt any kind of effects, good or ill, from pursuing something the group was maybe not so wild about?
Carroll: I mean that it’s not just the people I know and speak with who inspire me to do new work, it’s people from all over, putting up artwork of their own and trying out new things, that make me think, “Yeah, I want to make stuff too!” It’s not so much that they’re outright encouraging me specifically, but more that I find other people’s enthusiasm and dedication to creativity very inspiring, whether I know them or not.
As for effects for good or ill, no, I don’t think I’ve really encountered anything like that. That might be because I don’t usually talk about what I’m pursuing or making before it’s out there though—I don’t want to give myself opportunity to be discouraged, ha ha.
Collins: Judging from your fan art, you’re a gamer. Have video games influenced you beyond simply giving you cool stuff to draw? Do you feel you’ve incorporated that influence in any more formal or fundamental way?
Carroll: Not in the way I’d like, no — not yet at least. I’d like to really play around more with game-inspired storytelling (involving the reader in a more active way, maybe with branching storylines, etc.) but I haven’t quite gotten there yet. One day maybe!