Spotlight on Legends of the Guard creator: Karl Kerschl:
David Petersen: Karl, I discovered your work through your web comic The Abominable Charles Christopher, but you have a wider audience through your work for DC like the Flash for Wednesday Comics. Was working on a Legends of the Guard story more like the work-for-hire jobs or more like your creator owned strip? or was it somewhere between?
Karl Kerschl: I guess it was somewhere in between. It's strange, but I rarely think of drawing comics (of any sort) as 'work'. That's not to say that it isn't difficult, or that I sometimes wouldn't rather be doing something else, but rather that each story requires some investment of my energy in a way that's more social than laborious. In order to craft a convincing story, the characters require personal attention; if I don't treat them as real beings then they won't feel real to anyone else. So in the case of the 'Legends' story, my part in it was really just to spend some time with Sadie and see what she was interested in. Superman or The Flash or Charles Christopher all require the same kind of attention. They just have different personalities.
David: I set out a few rules for the creators, and one was to not use existing main characters in their legend stories. You asked to use Sadie and showed me how the story wouldn’t upset any continuity plans I have with her as a character. What was it about Sadie that drew you to a tale of hers?
Karl: When I was reading through the Mouse Guard books I found myself constantly wondering about Sadie's state of mind whenever she was in the scene. She's very quiet. She's obviously brave and capable, but there's something beneath the surface of her character that always seems to be asking a question, and I was interested in what that question might be. I thought of her as a very reflective, almost meditative character and it occurred to me that her time in Frostic, in complete isolation, might have been an important time for her, spiritually.
David: When discussing the project you mentioned Northern Ontario being inspiration for the setting. Is there any place in particular? It also feels like the same woods that Charles Christopher tromps around in...did you set your webstrip there too?
Karl: Not consciously, but I'm sure it influences most of my woodland settings. I grew up in Southern Ontario - almost as far south as one can get in Canada - and it was a rural area with a forest behind the house where we would go for long walks. My family also spent a lot of time up north at my uncle's cottage, and it's one of my favourite settings, geographically speaking. I love the rocky Canadian Shield coasts and the mossy forests.
David: The story you described to me on the phone went into Sadie’s feelings, mental state, motivations, etc....however, the story ended up being wordless (other than sound effects). Why did you feel the story worked better this way (and I think it does!)?
Karl: We talked about adding narration of some sort, but I don't think it would have played very well. The idea was really to accentuate the loneliness and quietude of Sadie's time at the Frostic outpost and to suggest that perhaps that extended period of solitude had affected her state of mind - cleared here head, so to speak. Adding words would have amounted to mental chatter, which is in direct opposition to the meditative state I was hoping to convey. I also like the way the sounds of nature build to a crescendo with the rumbling of the caribou herd, and adding narration to those moments would have been redundant.
Daivd: Speaking of sound, what do you listen to while working? music? audiobooks? your studio mates? podcasts?
Karl: When I'm writing, or just trying to imagine scenes, which is basically the same as writing, I listen to a lot of soundtrack music from films. Anything wordless, really. Unless I have a very specific emotional idea in mind for the scene, for which I'll play appropriate lyrical songs. Sigur Ros and Aimee Mann got a lot of play for some of the scenes in The Abominable Charles Christopher. The 'Legends' story was all about ambient music. I liked listening to 'Joga' by Bjork because of all the cracking ice sounds.
When I'm just inking or colouring and I don't need to concentrate on mood, I listen to podcasts. Mostly tech and video game news.
David: As for process, how did you take your story idea and pace it into your 5 pages?
Karl: I think 5 pages may actually have been too short for what I had in mind here, but I think it still works. I just loosely mapped out the arc of the story in my head and jotted down certain moments in the margins of the pages that I wanted to see, knowing that it needed to culminate in a stampede by page 4. If I'd had more time and space I would have liked to start the story with Sadie inside the outpost, making herself some tea before going out.
David: In terms of format, you seem to work in opposite layouts, either more vertical with your mainstream work, or horizontal for your Abominable Charles Christopher strip. This project had you splitting the difference with a perfect square. Was there any difference to your storytelling or layouts in the format?
Karl: It definitely forced me to think about my layouts differently. I like to use a lot of 'widescreen' panels when possible - page-wide panels that allow for landscapes and long pauses in reading. But with this square format it was tough to do that while still being economic with the space. I wanted to stick to the aesthetic you'd already established, otherwise I might have used more inset panels here and there. But I like that the end result is clean and uses the whole page in a very even, geometric way.
David: With a layout ready, how to you move on to the final artwork?
Karl: I kind of blur the line between layouts and finished art. The pencils on the page serve as my layouts and are very rough. Sometimes I'll ink panels or pages before I even know what I'm going to draw on the following page, which is not something I'd recommend to anybody. :)
David: What size did you do the final art? And using what supplies?
Karl: These were 12" by 12" on Strathmore Bristol. I used a blue pencil to do my drawing and inked everything with a Staedtler pigment liner and a Pentel Brush Pen.
David: The colors on Charles Christopher is all done in a pale green/grey tone, so even though I shouldn’t have been, I was surprised when you turned in your colored Legends pages as they were full color. Did you ever consider using a limited palate? or has this project made you think about introducing color ever to Charles’ neck of the woods?
Karl: This story was a bit of an experiment for me in that I could see what Charles Christopher might look like if I were to colour it with a more diverse palette. It's something I couldn't and wouldn't do in the strip because A) I don't have enough time to do it weekly, and B) it's no longer appropriate. I think the limited palette on Charles Christopher gives a dreamy, otherworldly felling to the comic that full colour would take away. Everything would seem too 'literal'. But it was fun to do here.
David: What process do you use to color? Are you a tablet guy?
Karl: Yeah, I do all my colouring in Photoshop using a Wacom tablet I recently bought a Cintiq tablet so I'm eager to see how my process changes now that I can draw directly on the screen. I also use WAY too many layers.
David: Where can people find out more about Karl Kerschl and your work?
Karl: I have a blog and gallery at karlkerschl.com, but most of my online presence is centred around The Abominable Charles Christopher, which updates weekly at http://www.abominable.cc/.
Karl's Story "Bowen's Tale" is in Issue 4 of Legends of the Guard and collected in the recently released Hardcover collecting all 4 issues.