David Petersen: Cory, I really appreciate you doing a story for Legends of the Guard and for doing this interview. Let’s start with your background in art. Are you one of those people that started drawing before they could walk? Did you have an artistic family member? Were you enrolled in art classes? Did you go on to college or art school for it?
Cory Godbey: Hey, it's my pleasure! Yeah, my background's not all that interesting. It's true I was one of those kids. I just liked to draw. One story that I've told before is from Kindergarten when I was five. I remember we had to draw what we wanted to be when we grew up. I had no idea (since Super Mario was probably out) so I just drew a policeman. I gave him one of those old time-y cop hats, you know, with the badge on the front, and I vividly remember sitting there thinking, "Hey, that looks pretty good."
I didn't go to art school, exactly, but I majored in art in college. I feel largely self taught; I saw the work I wanted to do and pursued that learning from everyone I could find. From my own friends to Peter de Sève and Carter Goodrich, to the Golden Age Illustrators, to Maurice Sendak, I couldn't get enough.
David: You were headed on a more illustration type trajectory and started dabbling in comics. Can you talk about the Flight anthologies and your involvement and stories? Were those your first comics?
Cory: Sure, I think that's what lends my comics work some of it's interest. Or maybe another way to put it is that's when people comment on my comics work that's what they notice. My background is illustration, especially fantasy illustration, and that's always been my passion. I love drawing and painting. I love creating a series of pieces that tell a story or give people an imaginative springboard to spark their own ideas. I'm drawn to that field because it marries together so many of the things that I prize: draftsmanship, creativity, imagination, storytelling, all that. And comics are great because naturally they do the same. I feel right at home. It can be tough for me sometimes to spread all the energy over the course of so many pages and panels (rather than pouring everything into single images) but I enjoy the challenge.
My involvement with Flight stemmed directly from my personal work and my love of picture books. I completed my first serious personal project, Ticket in 2008. I had met Kazu Kibuishi in 2005 at BookExpo in NYC (Flight was in it's second volume at the time). We talked a bit and he was just really kind, generous. He told me that when I felt I had something to show to feel free to send it his way. Once I had finished Ticket I thought, ok, I finally have something to show for myself. I wanted to send it to Kazu just to say thanks. We hadn't kept in touch since 2005 but I reached out in 2008 and told him that I was going to be at San Diego Comic-Con and I wanted to drop by and give him a copy. Next thing I knew Kazu was introducing me to the Flight crew saying I would join the sixth volume.
Beyond any comics I made in grade school, yeah, my work in Flight was my first comic. The sequential nature of Ticket (and picture books in general) was good preparation for it.
(Speaking of Ticket, on a whim I sent one to the Queen of England. She got the impression that I was a girl and addressed the response to a "Miss Cory Godbey.")
David: Well, "Miss Cory Godbey" (If that's what the queen calls you, why should I differ?)...When thinking about a short story for comics like your Flight stories or your Legends of the Guard story, how do you start? Do you start sketching, note taking? script writing?
Cory: I draw my stories out in words first. My notes sprawl across pages and pages. It's a mess. It's almost indecipherable. Then I do pretty rough thumbnails based on all the notes. I work to find the panels and pacing. From there it's usually a digital rough (meaning I scan the thumbnails and do a quick digital pass to strengthen them).
David: When you turned in your original draft/rough for your Legends story is was something like 18 pages, and you told me that you had over-shot on page count with your Flight stories too. Do you find this method of overtelling the rough helps you trim and cut the story into shape? or do you see it as a troubling process of making tough edits.
Cory: Ha ha, yeah, my first Flight story, Walters, was exactly 60 pages. I was excited at the chance and wanted to show off a lot of huge illustrations, lots of single page pieces, several double page spreads. It just wasn't necessary. I edited that down to 40. It made the story tighter and it read much better. It was absolutely the right call on Kazu's part.
It's interesting (to me at least) because I think coming from illustration I want to tell the story in a single image and so to rethink that impulse and tell the story sequentially is a slight gear change. In writing, I've found that I just prefer to stretch out completely and write it (and thumbnail) exactly how I mean to then take stock and edit. It does help me decide what's most important and what could go. And to think, for my most recent Labyrinth comic (released on Free Comic Book Day) I was given four pages.
David: Your Legends story is a retelling of an existing folktale. Talk about that story, why you chose it and what Godbey-esque changes you made in the adaptation.
Cory: Like most people, I think, I've always been drawn to fairy tales. Adapting a story like "The Four Clever Brothers" let me play with a collection of mice and explore their personalities through the skills they acquired. Illustrating that particular fairy tale has just always been something I wanted to do. Legends was the perfect excuse to do just that. Plus, dragon. Or beast. Or massive princess snatching creature, whatever you'd like to call it.
David: When it’s time to do the final art for the story, what is your process? What are the steps you take and with what materials?
Cory: Once I finish the digital roughs and assemble the story into a PDF and it's approved I'll begin the actual illustrations. I struggle with forcing myself to draw in comic panels, everything collected and arranged on a single page. I dislike drawing small, I want room to stretch out in a drawing. Usually, I draw all the panels separately and assemble the page after the fact. I think with this story it was about half and half. Some pages I drew in panels, the other half I drew on their own and assembled, digitally.
It's only a problem for the collector, at the point, I suppose. I like having original pages but when I feel like I'm compromising the quality of the drawing because I feel cramped in panels that when I work large. The paper I draw on is a type of printmaking paper. I've been hooked on it for the last ten years or more. Here's a sad story about that paper, though: it's just recently been discontinued and I'm going to have to migrate paper affinities elsewhere.
David: Did the digital aspect grow out of wanting a quicker easier way to color than traditional materials? or do you find a creative benefit from your digital colors?
Cory: I like to tinker with colors. I almost never know where I'm heading when I start painting. I usually find my palette by playing (as they say, you don't wait for ideas, you get ideas by working). All of my drawing work is traditional, I really dislike drawing digitally. After the drawings are done though, it'll be a mix. Sometimes watercolor, sometimes watercolor and digital, sometimes just digital. Depends on the needs of the project and schedule.
David: Who would you cite as creative influences (feel free to venture outside the realm of illustrators or 2D artists into directors, sculptors, etc.)
Cory: The progression of artists I've followed over the years follows along these lines: Peter de Sève, Carter Goodrich, H.B. Lewis, C.F. Payne.
At the same time I stumbled into picture books, the king of which I discovered to be Maurice Sendak. I also followed David Wiesner and Chris Van Allsburg. I love the works of Trina Schart Hyman.
Golden Age heroes include Arthur Rackham, Edmund Dulac, John Bauer. Studying those artists led me to follow Tony DiTerlizzi, Charles Vess, Brian Froud, J. B. Monge, Paul Bonner, and Petar Meseldžija.
Other favorites are James Jean, Sam Weber, Sam Bosma, Kazu Kibuishi, and you know what, yourself too, Mr. Petersen.
David: Awww, thanks Cory. Every year you do a ‘personal project’ which is then published as a nice thick sketchbook with an overarching theme (past years include The Hidden People & Menagerie) Each one has the sense that what you show is a very rich portion of a much larger world. Do you have plans to ever delve deeper into those subjects, or do you feel that the books represent what you had to artistically say about them and leaving the audience wanting more is a good place to leave it?
Cory: Ha ha! I know what answer you're looking for, David. Let's see if I can make this satisfying. Yes, every year I do one big personal project, one big new series of work. I've done this for the last six years. In my experience I haven't found anything that has benefited my career, portfolio, and reputation quite like creating yearly series of personal work. I work on it in and amongst my client work: plan a new series and work on it over several months. The next step is then to collect the work in a sketchbook, usually. And the fact is, it's been my personal work that's generated most of client work over the last few years. So in that regard, making the time for my personal work is just as important as my regular client work. I can trace a direct line from my very first personal project Ticket, 2008 to the Labyrinth project from Archaia and the Jim Henson Co.
From concentrated personal development to a yearly portfolio refresh to new work (prints, sketchbooks, originals) to sell and promote your work, pushing yourself this way lends a lot of benefits. In fact, together with The Lamp Post Guild, we've put together an online art education course called The Art of Personal Work. It'll be available soon. http://www.lamppostguild.com
Ok, enough of that, here's the answer I think you're looking for: Part of the reason I got on this track was I just wasn't satisfied with my work. I had a bunch of stories I wanted to do but my drawing wasn't up to where my imagination was going. I set all of those aside for the time being and poured everything into bettering myself artistically. It's only been in the last year, really, that I've gotten back into any writing. It's something I love and something I'll always be pursuing but a quote by William-Adolphe Bouguereau expressing the sentiment perfectly, "And can there be such anguish compared to that felt by the artist who sees the realization of his dream compromised by weak execution?"
My most recent personal series is Lyrebird. It's available as a physical book on my etsy site
David: What hobbies do you have when not drawing and telling stories?
Cory: Other than that I ride my bike a lot, travel with my lovely wife Erin, and wrangle our four cats. And the usual I guess, books, movies, and some video games.
David: What projects are coming up next that folks should look out for?
Cory: The next one is great; I've partnered with a writer to illustrate a collection of short stories. If you at all enjoyed my book, The Hidden People, you're going to love this new project.
David: Cory, thanks again for doing the story and interview. Where can people find out more about you and your work?
Cory: Here's a few ways to keep updated:
Twitter: @corygodbey Which, as it turns out, is the best way to reach me.
My "Cory Godbey Illustration" Facebook page
News and new work on my main blog: http://lightnightrains.blogspot.com
Or these portfolio sites: http://tinyurl.com/corygodbey-contact-portfolio
Cory's Story The Thief, the Stargazer, the Hunter, and the Tailor
will appear in Legends of the Guard volume 2 # 3