SPX Spotlight 2014: Whit Taylor Interviews Jesse Lonergan

Welcome to another entry in the 2014 SPX Spotlight series! For the next month, Panel Patter will be highlighting creators and publishers who will be at one of the best conventions, the Small Press Expo. You can check out all of Panel Patter's spotlights for SPX from both this year and prior years here.

Jesse Lonergan is a Boston-based cartoonist who was born in California, but spent his formative years in Saudi Arabia and Vermont (where All Star is based). Place has played a very important role in his works, including his first book Flower and Fade, which is loosely based upon his time spent living in Chicago, and his second book Joe and Azat, which was inspired by his time in the Peace Corps in Turkmenistan.

His latest book All Star (NBM) follows Carl Carter, an "all star" small town baseball player with a full scholarship to the University of Maine, who makes a majorly bull-headed mistake at a point where he seems to have everything going for him. It's a slow burning story which is brought alive by Lonergan's attention to the nuances of small town life and the inequities that people experience based on their perceived value to the community. 

I was able to catch up briefly with Jesse and find out more about his book.

Whit: How did the story come about? Is it purely fictional or does it have any autobiographical roots?

Jesse: I think of writing a story as this process of closing doors. It starts out as this giant amorphous complex with all these doors, and basically you close doors until you end up with this single path through the whole thing. The original giant amorphous complex was this vaguely titled idea of "the Vermont book" about where I grew up which had been in my head for a long time.

And with that, it really is the setting that is most autobiographical. The town of Elizabeth in the book is based very much on my hometown of Chelsea, Vermont. I did my best to make the story I told a story that felt like it could be true, but it's ultimately fictional.

Whit: Carl is a pretty complex character and his actions may leave the reader feeling conflicted about him. Was this intentional? Do you think it's always necessary for the reader to root for the protagonist?

Jesse: I approached it more in terms of the situation which Carl is in, which is a pretty gray area, and so I think if the reader feels conflicted, that really just reflects the conflict that Carl is feeling internally.

In general, I don't think it's necessary for the reader to like the protagonist, but I think that the protagonist has to have something that makes the reader want to spend some time with him or her. With Carl, it felt like it was pretty fine line. I think he's pretty easy to dislike in the beginning.

Whit: The thing that stands out to me about this piece is your effective use of pacing. What were thoughts regarding pacing when writing this comic?

Jesse: With other comics, I've had page counts in mind, but with this one, I just decided it was going to take as long as it was going to take. I wrote it in sketchbook form, and I ended up with a first draft that was somewhere around 250 pages. From there, I tried to cut it down to only what was necessary. Enter each scene as late as possible, leave as early as possible, which is an idea from screenwriter William Goldman.

Whit: The way you draw the human form is really unique. First, how did you develop your style? What tools do you use?

Jesse: It wasn't a conscious thing. I got really interested in trying to create a feeling of movement in static images, and I think that resulted in this physical distortion of human anatomy. It's distorted, but it's that distortion that allows the feeling of action. Also, I think a lot of it comes from just putting in the time drawing. You draw and draw and draw, and this style coalesces. I recently heard my drawing style described as "lived in", which I really like a lot.

For All Star I used nib pens and brushes, but I feel like I'm kind of done with that for now, especially the nib pens; they're just so finicky. Recently, I've been using Pentel brush pens and Microns. You lose a bit of fluidity with the line, but it's so nice just to be able to put the cap on and stick the pen in your pocket.

Whit: What projects are up next for you?

Jesse: Most recently, I've been working on an all-women car racing comic, called Faster Miles an Hour, which is really just a lot of fun. It's much more art focused, and kind of an excuse to draw whatever cool stuff I feel like. Long term, I'm working on a book tentatively titled Vengeance, which is a western about a faith healer seeking revenge from beyond the grave.

Want to check out Jesse's work? Stop by his table at SPX (W42)!