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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 05/09/2007
On the Road Less Traveled

Jesse Rubenfeld on Into the Dust

I met Jesse Rubenfeld a few years back, shortly after a mutual friend introduced me to Richard Rubenfeld--a fellow who not only happens to be Jesse's father, but also a Professor of Art at Eastern Michigan University who harbors a life-long love for comics and their creators. I'd heard about Jesse's own interest in comics at that time, but it wasn't until he shared a table with David [Mouse Guard] Peterson at the Motor City Comic Con about a year later that I first encountered his work. Since then, I've watched with real pleasure as Jesse's understanding of the medium, along with his command of his tools and native abilities, grew by the proverbial leaps and bounds.

Now he's ready to share his work with the rest of the world via Into the Dust, a full color series which explores a side of these United States that's decidedly off the beaten track. And, judging by everything I've seen of it, this is a tour of the magical heartland of America which you'll not want to miss.

Into the Dust

Bill Baker: How would you describe Into the Dust?

Jesse Rubenfeld: It's a traveler's tale. Literature is filled with stories of people traveling from one place to another. More specifically, this is a tale about a young woman trying to return home.

BB: Is this an ongoing, open-ended series, or more of a graphic novel that's being told in discrete chapters?

JR: The latter. The story will be 12 chapters long--maybe a little more, depending on how much I squeeze in to a single book--although I do have stories for 2 sequels with the same characters.

In the Dust page

BB: Where did the idea for Into the Dust come from, and how has it evolved and changed from your original vision during the development process?

JR: I have always liked stories about someone who is taken to a place they very much do not fit in, but through their experiences there learn that this new place is more like "home" than home is. Originally I was looking through stories that had archetype characters, characters that were symbols or representations of ideas or needs; with stories like those, anyone can take a different angle on it and still have the story hold the meaning that it originally had. The Wizard of Oz was one such story. I wanted originally to just make those characters into some sort of real world people. I wanted an "Oz" that was a bit more plausible. But as the idea grew I missed some of that "magic" of the original, so I decided to put back some twists that would not be plausible at all--like a time traveling tornado, for example.

Into the Dust

BB: What specific aspects of Baum's work have provided inspiration on this project, and how has that effected the final look and feel of the book?

JR: I very much wanted to include most key plot points from Baum's book. But in order to not make people think, "Oh, I know exactly what is going to happen next. Why bother reading it?" I mixed some things up, changed a few, and made the book inspired by other things as well. Steinbeck's Grapes of Wrath and Kerouac's On the Road are other books that provided inspiration, as well as music from the time and the time period itself. A lot was happening in America in 1964.

BB: I can think of a few significant events that were going on back then, but I've still got to ask: What are some of the reasons you chose to set the series in '64?

JR: I chose 1964 for a number of reasons. First off, the Mustang. I wanted the car to be "never seen before" when she started driving it. The Ford mustang started production in the middle of 1964 so it was brand new. It was named by many to be "the sexiest car ever created" according to one of my old teachers.

Other reasons? Well, JFK was assassinated only a year prior, and the nation was still in a state of shock. The British invasion was beginning to happen as The Beatles were touring the U.S. for the first time. The TV show Route 66, about 2 guys traveling across the same highway Judy is on, was canceled that same year, so I can in a way pick up right where they left off--I am planning on a big homage to the show a few issues into the series. The year is also about halfway between the "Brando" style of Motorbiker of The Wild One and the "Dennis Hopper" style Biker of Easy Rider. Since there is a major Biker Gang that plagues our travelers starting with Chapter 3 on through to the climax of the book, I wanted an amalgam of the two. Also, there was a large gang presence in Chicago in '64 as well, which is where the famous Route 66 ends--and if all goes according to plan, so will my book.

As for the significance of when Judy is picked up by the Dust Devil, 1934, it was the year which brought the Dust Bowl to national attention. In May, a severe storm blew dirt from Texas, Oklahoma and Kansas as far east as New York City and Washington D.C.

Into the Dust

BB: Well, what's your approach to creating comics? Have you been starting out with a general outline and simply going with the flow, so to speak, or do you prefer beginning from a detailed script that you follow closely?

JR: I have an outline in my head and I layout pages from that. I can't stand writing scripts; they put me in too much of a box. Dialogue is always my last step. I try to tell my story as much as I can with pictures alone, and add additional information with text after the book is done. It's not quite the way Marvel used to do it back in the day though; where they would make up a plot from the images provided, I have the plot in my head and use the words as more of a spice on top of the dish.

BB: Is that the same approach you used on your earlier work, Cross Street Blues?

JR: Cross Street Blues was a weekly gag cartoon I published on the web for about two and a half years. I developed my creative process with them, but I always had trouble with plot. "Telling an opera in a phone booth" was not really my style. Also, I always tried to make my work in CSB reproduce well and I limited myself artistically that way. With Into the Dust I gave up and just started drawing like I had always wanted to do.

BB: How important is the coloring of Into the Dust? Is this something that's simply added later, or is it perhaps a bit more integrated into your creative process and the final look and feel of the pages?

JR: This story has to be told in color and black and white. 1964 will always be in color. Just like Oz was in the famous film. It is one of the few stylistic choices I have kept from other versions of Wizard of Oz. In the actual page creating process, color is always done last, though. I do a fully rendered grayscale page in ink wash before ever touching color. I feel that it gives some of the pages an almost color-ized feel, like in some of the first color movies that were hand painted frame by frame.

Into the Dust

BB: I know that Scott McCloud, who taught a class at Eastern Michigan University which you attended, has had some real influence on your work and thinking about making comics. What are some of the important ideas, techniques or even lessons you might have learned from him, and how have some of those concepts manifested in your work?

JR: Scott convinced me to do this project. I was simply going to keep struggling with Cross Street Blues, but when Scott saw a few pages of watercolor work of mine he said, "This. Keep doing this. Your other stuff has some nice moments, but this goes much further." As for lessons that I have learned: The world your character lives in is just as important as the character him/herself. If you put 12 hours into drawing a small 1 inch square shot of a city, readers will still look at it for only a moment, but it makes the world that much more real.

BB: What about scripting comics? Whose work has captured your attention and imagination in that regard, and what about their work piqued your interest?

JR: Neil Gaiman, I read anything he writes. His stories always come at you from a strange angle. He also knows how to create characters that I search for--see [my answer above to an] earlier question.

BB: So when is the first issue of Into the Dust due to hit the stands, how often will it be published, and how can people get their hands on copies?

JR: It will be hitting the stands in early July. It will be published bi-monthly. People can order it from their local comic shop.

Into the Dust

BB: What do you get from doing comics, be it strips or graphic novels?

JR: I like telling stories, and I like good stories. Drawing puts me at ease and relaxes me, and if I can tell a story doing that, it makes it even better.

BB: What do you hope readers get from your work?

JR: I hope that people enjoy the story and connect with at least one of my characters in some way.

BB: Anything else to add before I let you get back to work?

JR: Well the comic website is www.intothedust.net, where you can read the first 13 pages of book 1. It is listed on page 368 of Previews, under Tool Publications.

<< 04/18/2007 | 05/09/2007 | 06/20/2007 >>

Discuss this column with me in World Famous Comics' General Forum.
Read my weekly blog, Speculative Friction, on my website BloodintheGutters.com.


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