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Baker's Dozen
Original short interviews with notable, rising or overlooked
figures from comics or the larger entertainment field by Bill Baker.

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BAKER'S DOZEN for 11/03/2004
Here There Be Dragons...and More!
Jerry Carr on Cryptozoo Crew

I was first exposed to the wondrously strange world of the Cryptozoo Crew during the 2003 edition of Roger Price's unfailingly fine Mid-Ohio-Con, and have only grown more fond of these characters and their world since. A large part of that feeling, with all due respect and real praise for Al Gross' considerable skills as a scribe, is directly attributable to artist Jerry Carr's inestimable skill for creating inherently humorous character designs and illustrations. I clearly remember how mightily impressed with the ashcans Jerry handed to me last year...and that his studio mate Mark Wheatley watched me take those book with a knowing smile, while also admonishing me to, "Watch out Bill, that stuff's addictive!" But, just as Caesar ignored the dire predictions of that ancient seer to "beware the Ides of March," I foolishly laughed off Mark's remark only to discover that he spoke the whole truth.

I've since read and reread and re-reread those slim volumes introducing the Cryptozoo Crew and the online strips innumerable times over the past year, and ended up laughing like a loon each and every time, thoroughly enjoying the experience despite the nagging concern in the back of my mind..."When can I expect some new comic book tales to ease my Cryptozoo Crew cravings?"

So it's with some real and rising excitement that I learned that soon everyone can get a regular dose of the this fine comic. As Jerry Carr explains, soon we'll all be able to experience the intoxicating thrill of the experienced cryptozoologist's hunt for the elusive beasts of legend--regularly. And, like a kid trying to get to sleep quickly so that Christmas morn comes that much quicker, I can hardly wait.

Just remember that this book is highly addictive--in all the best senses of the word. You have been warned.

CryptoZoo Crew 2

Tara Bill Baker: Not to take any of the fun out of it, but would it be fair to say that this comic's basic theme is as much about the divide, real or imagined, between humanity's two sexes as it is about the search for elusive flora and fauna?

Jerry Carr: What divide between the sexes? [General laughter]

But seriously folks, Cryptozoo Crew has evolved quite a bit since its inception. I originally envisioned it as a simple action/adventure strip--sort of a Tarzan meets Crocodile Hunter meets Kolchak the Night Stalker. I drew up some character designs and Allan Gross began building these wonderful little stories involving various cryptids (hidden or undiscovered animals) from around the world. So, Tork Darwyn came first, as our intrepid explorer. We actually debated his marital status--would he be the James Bond of the Cryptozoology world, or would he have a more substantial relationship? However, when we re-wrote the final version of the first story, "Clan of the Cave Monkeys", it became obvious that Tork had to be married to make the story work. You'll see what I mean in the first issue!

Also, as Allan and I are both married, and we've male-bonded a great deal over the differences between our wives and us, we agreed that it would be interesting to include some of the hazards of marriage into the strip--and hence Tara Darwyn was born. After that, Cryptozoo Crew really crystallized. We realized Tara was the "real hero"! Or at least that she was the catalyst in the stories. And once the formula came together, her character blossomed. And the rest was history--or "her" story.

So, to answer your question in a less long-winded way--"yes". In other words, Cryptozoo Crew is an adventure strip, in which our intrepid couple travels the globe, trying to discover and help cryptids. It works on that level as a fun romp, but it's also about relationships, and the different ways that men and women communicate. That's been the part the women readers have really loved. So, within a fast paced simple structure, it has a little something for everyone--action, adventure, relationships, humor, cryptids, and yes, monkeys--because everyone loves monkeys.

CryptoZoo

BB: I gotta ask: How, exactly, does someone become a cryptozoologist...and even more importantly, do all cryptozoologists get to hang out with women like Tara?

JC: Cryptozoology is a real science, although one cannot go to college and get a degree in it. A cryptozoologist needs expertise in various doctrines--biology, archaeology, paleontology, anatomy, botany, and perhaps a bit of veterinary medicine. Of course, if you're involved in the kind of fieldwork that Tork and Tara take part in, it doesn't hurt to have prodigious strength and a working knowledge of self-defense. The pay isn't great, and the hours suck, but it's greatly rewarding work. These days, there are some remarkable tools at the cryptozoologist's disposal. We've found the Internet and the Discovery Channel to be indispensable to the research process.

The second part of that question is the trickier. Tara is one in a million. Well, one of three of a million--Allan's wife and my wife share that [same] distinction. She has studied multiple forms of the martial arts, and has mastered many of them. Her profession is teaching, but she's a trained researcher and a hearty survivor. The only cryptozoologists who get to hang with women like Tara are the truly lucky ones. Patient fans will be able to read all about how Tork met Tara in future issues.

Basement

BB: So is any of this based on your or your fellow creator's real life experiences, whether it be a dangerous and adventurous encounter in some exotic land with some strange yet enticing species...or perhaps you've met a yeti, raised a gryphon from an egg, or run with some rough centaurs in your wilder days?

JC: Well, I have huge feet and prehensile toes, so I'm pretty sure I'm related to Sasquatch... [General laughter]

Actually, I've been obsessed with cryptids before I even knew there was a name for them. When I was very young, I loved the TV show In Search Of with Leonard Nimoy. My favorite episodes were always the ones that were about the hidden creatures of the world--Bigfoot, Nessie, Lake Champlain's Champ, etc. I remember the Six Million Dollar Man and Bionic Woman crossover with the alien bionic Bigfoot as being the coolest thing I had ever seen. As a matter of fact, my most memorable nightmare is from when I was about 10 years old, and Sasquatch was chasing me through the forest--of course, he was wearing a Dallas Cowboys helmet and driving a front-end loader also--so it wasn't really that scary. I was a fervent believer in all things cryptid--always sure that Nessie's discovery was days away.

As an adult, I've given a lot of thought to what I believe to be real and not, and have gone back and forth over the existence of hidden creatures. I kinda lost that "Wham-o Frisbee" within me for a number of my adult years, thinking that there could be very little left to discover in the world. Then came the Internet, with access to a world of cryptozoological anecdotes. Then came a number of well-researched TV shows that documented evidence of lost or hidden animals. Although the evidence for the existence of many of these hidden creatures is far from indisputable, the possibilities are truly intriguing.

Also, I had 6 wisdom teeth, instead of 4--more evidence that I'm the missing link...

CryptoZoo

BB: How did Cryptozoo Crew, both the concept and the comics, be they printed or virtual formats, come about? What started it all, how was it developed and who was involved? Was this something that you brought to Allan, or perhaps something he created with you, or with your mind? Also, how'd you get caught up with those shady ISG guys, anyway?

JC: Sit back, grab an ice-cold beer and get comfortable, as this one could take some time...

Cryptozoo Crew, as it exists today, is truly the brain-child of both Allan and myself. The earliest incarnation of the strip was an idea of mine. Dark Horse Comics was running a contest a couple of years ago, and I decided to take a shot at it. I was pretty obsessed with two wildly divergent TV shows at the time--The Crocodile Hunter and The X-Files--and those influences kind of percolated in my brain. I sat down with my sketchbook and had the designs for Tork Darwyn and various cryptids worked-out over a weekend. I submitted an 8-page comic strip a month later. Much to my chagrin, I didn't win.

Y'see, I've always fancied myself a bit of a writer--at least my mom always told me I could write. We were both wrong. A couple of months later, I screwed-up the courage to show the strip to Mark Wheatley--who's been a sort of Yoda for me in the comic book world--and he reaffirmed that I couldn't write; however he did think I could draw. He suggested I talk to Allan Gross about the property. Al saw something in it and we set out together to make it something special. Luckily, Al can really write! We've evolved the property over the past couple of years, through a series of ashcans, free web comics, and short stories; and finally, the strip is ready for prime time.

The story of how I came to Insight Studios is like an after-school special gone awry. I've always loved the comic book form, and have tried, on numerous occasions, to enter the field. I met Mark Wheatley years ago at SPX--back when he was publishing his way-cool Radical Dreamer comic. Soon after, I met Frank Cho and Allan Gross--I even joined the Panthans (an organization celebrating the works of Edgar Rice Burroughs) that the Insighters were active in. My artwork wasn't quite mature yet, but I still had aspirations of being an Insighter, so I agreed to take over the ISG webmaster duties, while learning what I could from Mark and the crew. We've become a close-knit group of artists and writers--a very cool studio to be a part of.

CryptoZoo

BB: So why go with NBM? Everything's cool at Insight central, right? Right!?

JC: Everything's right as rain at Insight. Everyone's wrapped-up in their own projects with different publishers, so we don't really have the time to be a publishing house anymore. Mark Wheatley is pretty much the glue that holds us all together, and he's busy with his most recent property--the funky cool Frankenstein Mobster. ISG has become an umbrella studio for all of us to help cross-promote and help each other, while marketing our properties through various publishing houses.

The decision to go with NBM was an easy one. They've been in the graphic novel business since the 1970s, with inroads into comic book shops as well as bookstores. I've always been extremely impressed with the quality of the NBM products. Allan and I were shopping publishers for the past year or so--hoping to find the right one for the property. We met Terry Nantier [the N of NBM] at the San Diego Comicon, and pitched the idea to him. Terry was intrigued by the property and we began discussions that culminated in an agreement in September[, 2004]. NBM has properties like the Hardy Boys, Nancy Drew, and Boneyard, as well as a significant amount of high-quality European imports. In other words, they have a great variety of product, and we feel right at home with them promoting our all-ages title.

BB: Well, how do you guys put one of these stories together, generally? Do you and Al work out the basic plots together before he scripts it and you draw it, or do you do it a bit differently?

JC: I actually plotted the first story we did together, but Al had to do a great deal of work to build a real story into it. His script expanded it by a number of pages and it actually made sense when he was done. I'm not gonna tell you which story it is--you'll have to guess as you read them. Since then, Al has been writing pretty tight full scripts for me to illustrate from. I draw up thumbnails for him and we discuss them. Then, it's time for me to draw until I can't hold a pencil anymore. I email him the pages and he finishes the dialog script. I then do the final gray scale toning and the lettering. Luckily for me, I'm pretty fast, and I use an Apple laptop (Titanium) to do all my production work, so I can take it wherever I go, so I can work pretty much continuously. I had to learn to make my entire studio portable, so I can always work. I use these great Komtrek refillable sketchbooks with durable plastic covers; so I can keep them full of Bristol board or card stock for the pages. I also have a little "geek" kit of art supplies--mostly technical pencils and brush pens--that goes with me everywhere. Rarely a day goes by that I don't fill at least 2 pages in the book.

CryptoZoo

BB: I was also wondering how working in the different formats--virtual comics strip versus ash can comics versus full size comics--might affect the way you work, or your approach to the look or even the actual creation of the art itself? Do you have mentally switch gears when moving between them, for instance finding that you have to think a bit more about pacing, or overall page layout, when moving from the webstrip format to print, or does it all just seem to come naturally...or perhaps with equal difficulty?

JC: Working concurrently in different formats is certainly a challenge, but it's kinda fun to switch gears and work in varying ways. Plus, the pacing is generally Al's problem--since it dictates the format of the script. Fortunately he's had experience in writing all the formats. He wrote the Tarzan newspaper strip for a couple years and has done comics and television. From an artistic standpoint, there are varying challenges. When the final form is the comic strip, the drawing process is faster and perhaps easier, but the final composition can be difficult. It's a real juggling act to fit a batch of words and pictures into the limited space. I'd bet that Al might tell you that it's extremely difficult to write a strip that has to be funny and make sense within three panels, but still work across the scope of the larger story. It's more fun for me to draw complete comic books. There's more space to spread out the art and text and to experiment with different layouts. I'd say the ashcan format represents a compromise between the full-size comic and the comic strip--the ashcans that we've done have been these neat little stories that are paced to finish up in 16 pages--very satisfying to work on and to see in their final form. We're adopting the pacing of the ashcan for the new comic book, since it's been so satisfying. We're trying to do two stories, each being complete stories, in each issue. We think that's a much more satisfying read, with no continuity issues.

Tork

BB: What about the future, both near and far term? What can you tell us about the big challenges that Tork and Tara will face in the coming months...and what might your biggest fantasy concerning the series be? An ongoing comic series? Graphic novels? How about TV or film, live action or animated?

JC: The first NBM story will be titled "Little Swamp of Horrors", and should appeal to all you budding cryptobotonists. Issue # 1 will be a 32-page bonanza, with a backup story called "Clan of the Cave Monkeys". Future adventures will include a run-in with the Himalayan Yeti, a nose-pinching encounter with Florida's Skunk Ape, and a leggy conflict with beautiful and deadly giant spiders. Allan has been burning the midnight oil, researching cryptids far and wide; so you'd better believe the next few months will bring a slew of freaky fun cryptozoological hijinks.

As for the near future, Cryptozoo Crew is an ongoing bi-monthly series at NBM. We'll probably do a trade roughly once a year, and there's always free comic strips and additional stuff at www.CryptozooCrew.com and www.SunnyFundays.com. At San Diego, we had a lot of Hollywood interest, and pitched to a number of studios. Nothing's firmed-up at this point, but we feel pretty confident about the mass-market appeal of the property. Personally, I'd love to see a Cryptozoo Crew animated show--I'm a freak for cartoons--and, yes, I do have to stop all work at 8:30 every Saturday night for Justice League Unlimited. I'd giggle like a schoolgirl to see a Cryptozoo Crew cartoon. Not to mention action figures! Gotta have Tork and Tara Darwyn action figures, with a special Cave Monkey playset.

Cave Monkeys

BB: I'd definitely buy one of those! [Laughter] Well, since you've sort of broached the subject, how about other series and characters, be they original creations of your own or owned by a company like Marvel or DC? Do you have any interest in working on other things, now or in the future, or is this something that you could easily enjoy working on for the rest of your life?

JC: If I could make a good living just doing Cryptozoo Crew, I'd be extremely happy. It would feel wonderful to reach a large number of people and know that we were entertaining them. I think if I never did any work-for-hire, and only worked on personal projects, I could be truly self-actualized.

Having said that, I'm a huge friggin' fanboy for the big two companies. It's doubtful that anything that I'd like to do would ever see print--the stuff that I love is simply too odd. Just for giggles, I'll give you a few ideas. I don't know if you remember the old 1970s Action Comics--I don't know the exact period--but the cover price would be 20 or 25 cents. Mike Grell did a series of Green Arrow/Black Canary backup stories that were just incredible to me. I'd love to do a story like that, kinda retro in the new Justice League Unlimited style. Al and I could really do a nice job on a project like that. biggest DC comics fanboy dream would be Wonder Woman. Pretty much any Wonder Woman--but I have done a few Elseworlds-style Wonder Woman illustrations--including a Valkyrie Wonder Woman illustration developed from the Norse gods instead of the Greek gods.

As for the Marvel pantheon, well my interests are even odder. I love the Marvel characters, but there are very few that I'd like to work on. I'd love to do a female Marvel super team in the animated style. Y'know, pretty much She-Hulk, classic Ms Marvel, Tigra, classic Valkyrie, and maybe a resurrected Red Sonja or somethin'. Kinda like Charlie's Angels, but with Marvel super heroines.

Wonder Woman

BB: I was wondering if you could nail down a few the different aspects of the Cryptozoo Crew project that makes it such satisfying work? And how about creating art in general, what does that do for you?

JC: Well, first off, let me say that the collaboration I have with Allan is incredible. Even when the work is difficult, it's not like "work" at all. It's very much about fun, which seems to really come across to our readers. Al challenges me by tossing scripts over the fence that have things I've never drawn before. I curse at him for a few seconds, then start researching--or making stuff up--and I'm always really pleased with the final result. I really wish I could just draw Cryptozoo Crew all day long.

The last year has been really satisfying for me overall. Even though we've only really promoted the book at a few conventions and online, we've had remarkable fan feedback. I've had a few real high points with fan interest in my artwork. Also, I've had seasoned industry professionals say good things about my work--it's been really wonderful. If I could, I'd attend every convention in the U.S. and meet every single fan.

As for creating art in general, all I can say is that I love to draw. To me, there's nothing more important to being human than feeding the creative muse. I just gotta make stuff to feel whole.

Black Canary BB: What do you hope your readers get from the adventures of Tork 'n' Tara? Is it all about fun and games and entertainment, or might there be a little more you hope to accomplish with the book?

JC: I'm a pretty shallow guy. [Loud general laughter] I don't like movies/TV/comics that make me cry. I don't like movies/TV/comics in which the hero dies. I like movies/TV/comics in which things blow up real purdy, with crazy special effects and a groovy story that may or may not ever make me think. In other words, I just want to be entertained and I just really want to entertain. Allan, on the other hand, is luckily a very deep guy. He likes stuff that makes him emote. Allan's work generally has a message--just read his Doctor Cyborg stories and you'll see what I mean. I think that this is part of what makes us a great team. I bring the vacuous entertainment, while Al brings the depth. But we both agree there's too much angst out there now. The best message comes through when you're laughing anyway!

BB: Anything else you'd like to add before I let you get back to your menagerie extraordinaire?

JC: Well, I just hope folks pick up this comic, enjoy it, and stick with it. It means a lot to me to know that readers enjoy what I'm doing. Now's the time to take a chance on it! Issue #1 is being solicited in Previews this month! Turn to page 308, and look under NBM. You'll find Cryptozoo Crew #1 right there in the "Spotlight On" box! Enthusiastically order a couple from your local retailer--you won't be disappointed. If you can't find your local comic book shop, try the Diamond Comics Comic Shop Locater at csls.DiamondComics.com or dial 1-888-ComicBook. Find free stuff and Cryptozoo Crew news at www.CryptozooCrew.com. Free comic strips are online at www.SunnyFundays.com. Keep up with your favorite Insight Studios Group creators at www.InsightStudiosGroup.com. Many thanks to Baker's Dozen for taking an interest in us!

******


<< 10/27/2004 | 11/03/2004 | 11/10/2004 >>

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