Eisner Award-winning artist Mark Buckingham talks about his work on Dead Boy Detectives as well as what he's been able to achieve so far on Fables and looking back at what his favorite stories and characters.
Charlie Chang: Let’s jump right into Dead Boy Detectives. There was quite a bit of buzz when this book was announced last year and the art and characters are very interesting. Do you have a favorite issue or favorite panel?
Mark Buckingham: To be honest, my favorites are issues #5 and #6, The Halfway House. I think that’s partly because we brought a new artist into the fold, Russ Braun, who’s one of the guys I’ve worked with a lot on Fables. He helped me to really push us into the type of storytelling I wanted to do. It’s much richer in terms of the art style, of the fact that I’ve been able to explore different types of storytelling approaches and art styles within it. We have things like “The seven rules of being a ghost” which is done as sort of a Manga kids cartoon. We have a Victorian style newspaper comic strip called The Dark Mirror and all of these things we’re folding into the Dead Boys world which is fleshing things out and opening all these avenues for us in terms of storytelling approaches and possibilities. For me, that first story was important, it grounded us, it showed us who the boys are and where they came from. We took them back to St. Hilarions, we had that opportunity to meet Crystal Palace and she’s turned their world upside down so that’s been really positive. Also, that first story was sort of a love letter from me to Neil Gaiman and Matt Wagner because it was very much me homaging and showing my affection for the original Sandman 25 story where those boys appeared. Now, with the stories that are coming afterward we’re definitely reaching out beyond that and developing the world that the boys live in and bringing in other creators to work with Toby and I to explore that world.
CC: It’s a very cool and unique book with interesting characters. How would you describe the way that the art plays on the themes? There’s a murder mystery aspect and a bit of a thriller theme, what does the art do best as far as drawing out those themes?
MB: I think what I’ve tried to do with Dead Boys is to bring in a level of flexibility that maybe with Fables these days, it’s found it’s voice and it’s approach. I find these days that if I deviate too far it just doesn’t feel right. With Dead Boys, it’s a blank sheet and a new world. I’ve used a style that’s a little bit lighter and more open than I had on Fables which I think has allowed me to go from moments where it’s really quite dark and intense where I up the ante with the blacks but there are other times it can have that cartoon bounce that seems to fit perfectly with thirteen year old boys and capers and adventures. I think that’s really an important part of what I’ve tried to achieve with the art. Of course, the other thing that’s been very nice for me is that I’m also doing the covers for the series as well and with those I’ve tried to create another level again, which is something that’s more realistic and more evocative that’s using watercolor and grey tone washes in order to create a more sensitive and delicate atmosphere that’s sort of spooky and a little unsettling but at the same time I hope quite beautiful. There are all these different levels of operation going on within the book.
CC: Moving onto Fables which has been going on strong for quite a while now.
MB: We are in our 12th year right now and it’ll be 13 when it finally ends.
CC: It’s been very exciting and before we talk about some other books, do you have a favorite story arc or favorite characters that you look back on fondly?
MB: To be quite honest with you, it’s almost everything in Fables I have a huge affection for. There’s a little bit of me or people around me invested in all the characters but as far favorite characters, Flycatcher, the frog prince. I’ve always identified with him and saved him from being killed by Bill earlier on in the series. I feel like I championed him and he went on to do great things so it was well done on my part. Rose Red, I’ve always had a huge soft spot for to the extent that her likeness is basically my wife Irma so I feel for her and it worries me whenever Bill puts her in jeopardy. When I started on Fables, the very first story that I did was The Animal Farm and it’s always been the animal characters that have been a huge part of my affection for the series. I’m looking forward to exploring them further and give them their final farewell as we finish the series. As far as my favorite arc, I think, as I said the The Flycatcher is my favorite so The Good Prince is my favorite of all the volumes.
CC: Like you were saying the series has been running for over a decade now. What is your answer when people ask you now about character designs and ideas that you came up with over ten years ago?
MB: To be honest with you, I’m sort of the continuity librarian of all things Fables. I’m the one who has to remind Bill of what’s happening with certain character and where we’re going next with the stories. As I said, I’ve always found myself so invested in the materials and I’ve gone to a lot of trouble of document everything we’re doing and where the books are going. I actually relish people asking all those types of questions. The big problem for me will actually be when Fables ends. I’m going to have to do this massive mental info dump and maybe then I’ll start remember things I ought to remember like where the electric meter in the house is or what the names of my friends are because I must admit there isn’t much room for that stuff anymore.
CC: That’s going to be encyclopedia part 2.
MB: Yeah exactly, well we’ve got a Fables companion coming up to coincide with the end of the series so people will have that nice volume that gives them that guide to everything we’ve been through on the journey. I think the longevity of the series is a testament to the loyalty and support of the fan base that we’ve built up along the way. One of the things that means a great deal to me is that we’ve got so many female readers and also that so many of them are women who hadn’t read a comic book until they found Fables and that Fables has been their entry into this medium. That is so important to me, I’ve always been wanting to outreach beyond our existing readership and find new readers for all types of comic books. The fact that we’ve been able to do that means a great deal to me.
This interview was conducted and transcibed by Kindle Comics expert Charlie Chang. Interested in comics and graphic novels? Sign up for Comics Delivers, a weekly email featuring the best in comics each week - from weekly booklists to deals and exclusive content from creators.