Interviews with readers and creators

08

Mar 2015

Creator Spotlight: Andy Purviance

Posted by / in Spotlight Interviews / 6 comments

Today’s spotlight interview is with Andy Purviance, creator of the comic I, Mummy, which I recently reviewed.

I-Mummy_Banner1

 

D: Tell me a bit about yourself, the man behind the art.

A: I’m not an outgoing or adventurous person by nature, but the first 40 years of my life so far has been a bit unusual. I was raised on the largest hippie commune in the US, called “The Farm” in rural Tennessee. During that time my parents dragged the family to Bangladesh for a few years as part of a poverty relief project setting up an orphanage with Dr. Jack Preger (the inspiration for the movie “City of Joy”). There I picked up a Manchester accent by hanging around the Preger kids and learned fluent Bengali from the locals, neither of which have been retained. Since leaving the commune in the mid-80s I’ve lived in several other states including Montana, Florida, attended MICA in Baltimore (where I met my wife), and moved to California to make video games.

After graduating college I got a job in downtown San Francisco designing and prototyping games for 4-8 year old kids at Living Books, a Broderbund company. I logged a dozen years at different companies in and around the Bay Area picking up a lot of second-hand skills from many talented animators and programmers. I’ve worked on almost twenty published PC and GameBoy titles, including Rugrats Adventure Game, Arthur’s Reading Race, Bear in the Big Blue House online, The Cat in the Hat, Bernstein Bears Get in a Fight, Batman Toxic Chill, Blues Clues, Myst: Riven, Charlotte’s Web (the movie), Matchbox, Petz, the Living Books series, and many others.

We now live in Oregon with our two adult sons, a pair of goats, ducks, chickens, dogs and a cat. My current job involves software interface design and project management, so for the last seven years I did not have many opportunities to draw or illustrate in the traditional sense. Photography was my creative outlet for a while. But, after reaching a plateau and losing interest in that medium I took up comics as a way to recapture lost drawing skills. It been like jumping in the deep end of the pool, because I’d never attempted to write long form fiction before now. How hard could it be, right? Hard.

D: Wow, sounds like you had a very interesting childhood! Any fun stories to share from life at the Farm, or in Bangladesh, etc?

A: Growing up on the Farm was a unique experience, but only in hindsight. At the time it was life as normal for me. Imagine living in the woods with up to 2,000 hillbillies, but replace hicks with hippies and you get the picture. Most houses were either old busses with built on additions, or huge two-story houses holding several families. Doing the dishes took FOREVER. One of my more unusual chores as a kid was to burn the paper trash in a big barrel.

Us kids were not well supervised, so there are way too many stories to share. Like the time me, my sister, brother and a fried took (stole) some thick sheets of Styrofoam from a construction site and rafted down the swollen muddy creek for several miles and had to walk back barefoot through the woods. In 5th grade we’d play soccer at school until it got too dark to see. The best soccer player was José, who was a bit older, but couldn’t walk. So, he’d balance on two crutches while playing and would “accidentally” nail you in the shin with them. After soccer I’d walk home alone in pitch blackness through the woods, finding the path by the sound of crunching leaves.

Bicycles were a big thing for us farmmie kids. We had a free community DIY bike shop (shack) were you could swap parts and trick out your banana seat cruiser. And of course everyone had long hair, so when we’d go “off the Farm” the locals refused to believe some of us were boys. One time, in an effort to impress the stinky hippies, the sheriff or DEA landed a helicopter in the school yard and let the kids climb all over it. It was quite impressive, but I wonder how long it took them to notice all the little “fuck you pigs” and similar graffiti that mysteriously appeared on the fuselage. Of course, it was not all fun and games. There was poverty, drug abuse and sexual predators, but I somehow managed to avoid the darker things there.

More about the Farm on Wikipedia:

Staying in Bangladesh for two years is mostly a blur, but it’s where I saw Star Wars for the first time, in a movie theater—Darth Vader was so frightening I hid behind the seat. Once my sister and I made counterfeit coins out of paper and tried to buy candy with them. The vendor must have thought we were too cute because it worked. Of course we thought we were criminal masterminds.

D: That’s so cool that you did video games! Were you doing the art, the story, programming, what? Good stories worth sharing?

A: All of the above. I got a job right out of college as an R&D prototyper; designing, illustrating, animating and mocking up interactive versions of game ideas. At first, most of my art and crappy voiceover was placeholder to see if the ideas were engaging. Eventually I was making some art for final products.

Many of the excellent folks I worked with already had great histories in the entertainment industry, like blocking out the lightsabers in Star Wars, working on the old Atari games, or animating Disney’s Sleeping Beauty.

Let’s see, interesting stories? Back in the early 1990s Marc Brown, author of the “Arthur” books, was computer illiterate, so I had to record the games onto VHS tape for his approval. Many of the CDs included secret silly Easter eggs in them, but the only ones I can be blamed for are adding a Jingle-bells mode to “Pin the Tail on the Donkey” in “Arthur’s Birthday”, and putting photos of the development team members as a secret sticker set in “Arthur’s Computer Adventure.” Our PC versions of Arthur influenced the PBS show quite a bit. The original voice of Buster Bunny was the lead programmer, who now programs machines to cut out intricate pieces of wood that can be assembled into domes, which he sets up at Burning Man.

I think the highlight of working in games was visiting the Nickeledeon offices of the Paramount building in NYC. We were there to record Blue’s Clues vloiceover, and I got to meet many of the head folks involved, and see the workstations where some of the little felt and paper objects used in the show were assembled. No touching!

D: That’s quite a menagerie you have at home! Hopefully you have a good sized yard and aren’t in an apartment like my family ;)

A: Yep, we’ve got 2.5 acres of field and forest in the more rural part of town. The local wildlife includes a pack of coyotes we hear but never see, and two resident owls. So, we lock up the animals at night.

D: Tell us about your creative projects.

A: I love playing around with interesting project ideas, using them as mental exercises and usually abandoning each one before getting very far. Which is fine, it keeps the noggin from getting rusty and some things are way too much work for one person with other commitments. My current back-burner is an randomly generated multiplayer text adventure game under the working title of “Mines and Monsters” (MaM), a spoof of “Tunnels and Trolls”. So far I’ve gotten a web page to behave like a console, but it doesn’t really do much and I’m currently stuck finding a good JS library to translate user input commands like “throw baby”. If anyone wants to help out on this let me know. Part of the design includes templates so non-technical writers could contribute descriptive content for NPCs, objects and scenery.

Other personal projects:

D: Those are some interesting sounding projects! What are your long term goals with them?

A: Sometimes an idea will stick and can’t put it down. But most of the time these little side projects don’t get too much further than proof-of-concept stage. For example, I just learned about MUDs (multi-user dungeons), which does exactly what I was trying to build. Duh. So, I’ll only continue that project only if I can think of something interesting that hasn’t been done before.

D: Tell those unfamiliar with your work more about I, Mummy. What its it about, what are your plans for it, etc?

A: “I, Mummy” is about an impulsive teenager turned mummy who investigates her own murder with the assistance of a cantankerous ghost. The story takes place in a future based on predictions from the late 1800s—a future where everyone can fly and there’s no such thing as wi-fi. So, steampunk-lite.

Or, as Melaredblu put it so well, “It was a seemingly ordinary day in the 22nd century. The carnival is in town and Jane Webb and her friend decide to skip school to visit. Who would have guessed their attempt at free admittance would land them in the middle of a crypt deep underground? And what harm is there in doing a little grave-robbing in the process? Jane and friend leave the crypt behind with a new necklace in tow, thinking they got off scot-free.

The next thing Jane knows, she’s woken up to a world where she’s three years behind. Her friends have grown up and everyone she knew is different. Also, she’s a mummy now. But Jane isn’t going to let little details like that get her down—she’s got questions and she won’t give up until she finds answers. Who tried to kill her? Why? And just what is she going to do when she finds out?”

The main character is inspired by the real Jane C. (Webb) Loudon, who wrote “The Mummy” back in 1827 when she was 18 years old. She’s also the grandmother of modern gardening, popularizing the hobby with her extensive illustrated books on the subject.

I’d been dabbling in short gag comics and wanted to try something challenging, like you know learn how to write and comic and draw people all at the same time. Oh boy. Discovering the Webcomic Underdog group really helped. Knowing this was going to be hard I broke the story into self-contained graphic novels. The first volume “Grand Opening Day” is complete (92 pages), and I’m currently in the middle of drawing the second one “Terror in the Streets”—using all the skills I learned the first time around and making it even better. The script is written, and it chokes me up each time I re-read it. I just hope my art skills can do it justice.

D: Do you have an “end” in mind for I, Mummy, or will you keep drawing it forever?

A: The finale of the second volume will wrap things up nicely in a ‘happily ever after’ fashion (and a very silly epilogue). But, I’ve still got ideas about how the cursed necklace REALLY works and a desire to skip a decade or two into the future and show what has become of Jane and her world. Unless real life intervenes there will probably be a third volume.

D: What are some lessons you’ve learned by working on your comic?

A: That the indie comics community such a fantastic, diverse and friendly group of freaks. I love them! In just this last year I’ve met so many wonderful people from all walks of life, social, geographic and economic backgrounds. All struggling with the same obsession: making comics. I never would have expected it and it makes going to comic conventions that much more delightful.

From a practical perspective, this has involved a lot of figuring out the mechanics of writing fiction and visual story telling. I don’t think I really appreciated HOW MUCH TIME it takes to lay out and render one comic page. 8 hours for me, and I think that’s probably faster than most comics.

Like physical exercise, there are ways of thinking that just take practice – tracking all the props in a scene, how to draw hands, how to lead the reader around a page, reviewing your own work to make sure it all makes sense. With varying success.

And then there’s the promotion side. It takes time to gather an audience. Slowly, over time. It was hard to ignore the success stories and just put in the effort without getting discouraged. Better to try to figure out what other people are doing well and try to make it your own.

D: If you had to start over, would you do anything different?

A: I like to think I’d do a short off-shoot comic to iron out the visual and written characterizations before jumping into the main story. But, that’s the practical approach, and learning by flailing and sputtering is more fun.

And print out a huge poster with the saying, “If you’re bored your readers will be bored. Make it better!”

D: I’m giving you a soapbox here. Anything you’d like to talk about?

A: There are so many folks I’d like to think, but a big shout-out goes to Marisa and Michael, the founders of “Comic Underdogs” (formally Webcomic Underdogs). Without that resource and community this whole enterprise would have been a LOT harder and lonelier. I don’t know if they really realize just what a special thing they’ve made.

Also, a big thank you to Charlie Wise, creator of the Groovy, Kinda webcomic. He’s kickstarted the success of a lot of comics and encourages many struggling creators. Plus, I’ve found a lot of the comics I enjoy through his recommendations.

D: I’ve also benefited a lot from both the Underdogs and from Charlie. Awesome people all around.

Thanks so much Andy for sharing your thoughts!  If any readers have questions for him you can either leave them below or contact him via his website :D

  • Charlie

    Aw, you guys are the best. Thank you. I’m just sharing the comics I love with my readers, is all.
    Andy is one of my Facebook chums, and I’m always impressed and entertained by the depth and breadth of his interests. Plus, he’s very funny. I love his posts, and he’s so much fun to banter with (we’ll do that road trip someday).
    He’s also one of the most patient and supportive members of the Comic Underdogs. Whenever I see a post that Andy starts (“What are you afraid of?” “Does this webcomic make me look fat?” “Where did my keys get to now?”) I know it’s going to be a good one.
    Oh yeah, and “I, Mummy” is one of the greats. I believed we discussed that in another post.

    • “Does this webcomic make me look fat?” Haha. Funny you should mention that–I realize I need to change up the body types that appear in the comic. I’m gonna start a forum thread on that and take all the credit! :P

  • Delta-v

    No experience is wasted, whether you use it or not. Your whole life becomes the window through which you see the world. Some people have plain glass, some have stained glass, and you……I’m thinking kaleidoscope, here, since your viewpoint seems more dynamic than static. I think you’ve developed quite a talent for storytelling and character creation, and I like what you do. :)

    • Kaleidoscope, I like it. Thanks, Delta-V.
      Mummy is my first attempt at writing long fiction and it’s been a great learning experience. I don’t know how other authors do this without a webcomic audience. Having people point out things you’ve forgotten (coughcough) really pushed me to grow quickly. :)

  • Neil Kapit

    I think I played at least one of those games growing up, but I’m so glad you chose comics as your creative outlet instead. Those GameBoy licensers weep at what they’re missing (if any of them are still in business)

    • That’s cool, Neil. If you remember which one I’d love to know. I raised my own son on “X-Wing Vs. Tie-Fighter”. “W” is for Weapons. “S” is for Shields.