A Conversation with Norm Konyu About 2D and The Junction

Recently I had the pleasure of corresponding with the author and artist of the upcoming Titan release for The Junction. Our conversation visited all corners of the discussion you’d expect from two guys talking shop about the thing that they love: animation. Oh ..and we also had time to discuss some of the elements behind his making The Junction, the deeply intimate and dark story of mystery and grief and how we cope. 

The Junction is available everywhere beginning tomorrow, April 5th. 

Sean Cohea: Hey Norm. It’s a pleasure to have you take the time to do this here. First off, I want to begin by saying that your book, The Junction, it’s brilliant. I recently was privileged enough to be able to read a copy and I was very pleasantly surprised at how moving it was. But before we get into the book, give us and our readers a brief introduction of who you are and what your animation background consists of.

Norm Konyu: Thanks for the kind words! I’m a Canadian living and working in the UK as an animator, having worked on feature films, commercials, apps and TV series – basically for whoever will employ me! I’ve had the privilege of working for the BBC, Cartoon Network, and Nickelodeon, among many others.

SCC: Ok.. so are you a Cartoon Network, or Nickelodeon guy at heart? 

NK: You can’t ask me that! [Grrr! HaHa!]

SCC: Ok ..so you’re both. Haha! You cite yourself as specializing in 2D animation. I’m curious what your thoughts are regarding the landscape of the future in animated storytelling as we see 3D being much more utilized in the mainstream as compared to 2D. It’s not an immediate thing, more so a long term concern on my end since there are so many amazing and moving animated things being created without that third dimension. Do you have any of these same thoughts as I do?

NK: I actually think there’s more 2D animation now than a few years ago. There was a time it felt like 2D was heading the way of the dinosaurs, but I think the public and those commissioning the shows can see the merits of 2D and the distinctive look it can give a project. Unfortunately, the call is often down to budget, and 2D can often be more expensive than 3D and you know, you can’t fight a budget!

SCC: This all makes me think of the resurgence of vinyl over the past decade or so. Records used to be considered history back in the 90s. And now look! Really makes you wonder if that sort of thing will happen in tech and animation. Where do you find yourself in this thought experiment? Do you anticipate 2D staging some sort of triumphant return to the mainstream? Personally, I think it’s time; some of the most incredible animated stuff I’ve seen in recent years has been in 2D..

NK: I’m not sure about a ‘triumphant return’ but I think it’s fighting fit. Netflix’s Klaus a couple of years ago was a great reminder what 2D can do for a feature film. There are several pieces of software out there now which can produce hand drawn animation using a graphics tablet, streamlining the process, making it a better option than it was financially some years ago.

SCC: In regards to your graphic novel, The Junction, could you speak on the creative process? I mean, how long had this story been on your mind, and when or how did you decide that this story were to settle as a graphic novel as its medium presentation?

NK: I jotted down the first ideas for The Junction way, way back in 2012 but it was a long time before I tackled it seriously. Working in animation for so long, I wanted to do something that was totally me- concept, art, style, everything, something not possible on most animation projects- usually it’s somebody else’s concept, writing, and quite often someone else’s design as well.

SCC: So in creating this graphic novel you essentially went into business for yourself then. It’s sounds like that working in animation can be much less about creating your story and much more about creating someone else’s. As a creative person I’m sure you have ways you counter that. What do you do to maintain a satisfactory amount of creative accomplishment when it’s not always something that is ..”yours”?

NK: There’s always something creative you can throw into the mix personally. Yes, you are working to somebody else’s script, using somebody else’s character, but its up to you how the character accomplishes what the script calls for. In a way, you’re the actor and you make the decisions as to how the character behaves.

SCC: Was this your first time using a graphic novel to tell a story?

NK: Absolutely! I made some terrible comics back in Canada in high school but hadn’t done anything in that field for decades.

SCC: The Junction was originally a self-published project and now it is seeing a wider release and printing with Titan. Was it difficult deciding on who to collaborate with on this next step?

NK: As an unknown independent creator, I think it’s more of who will take the chance on your first project, rather than the creator being able to call the shots. Saying that, I’m absolutely delighted with Titan.

SCC: That’s a fair response, and one I should have anticipated. I guess my assumption is that everyone with a published book is at the stage of calling their own shots. In The Junction the characters have such immediate life to them, do you have any specific tricks or tools you use to make that happen?

NK: No tricks! I think, because of my animation background, I tend to approach the page like a storyboard. Perhaps somebody else without that background approaches the story and visuals differently.

SCC: I particularly enjoyed the mysteriousness of the Kirby Junction itself. Once you finally get to the final act of the story it opens up so much narrative that came prior. With your background working in storyboarding how much of that knowledge did you repurpose or fold into the process for making this book?

NK: So NOW you ask about my storyboard experience after I spoke about it in my last answer! The way the story unfolds is probably more down to the way I “built” the story. I took the individual chapters, scribbled on separate sheets of paper in the correct order, and played with their order to preserve as much mystery as possible.

SCC: Yes! I particularly enjoyed those chapter break splash pages. They served their purpose very well. At what point did you realize that this story was going to be made in this way and not another? Did it ever get pitched or considered as a tv idea or an animated motion short?

NK: It was always meant to be a graphic novel! I never entertained doing it in any other way, though I often thought I would never finish it…

SCC: The story is very intimate, meditative and spiritual even. The narrative had a quality to it that felt lived in, it felt aged and processed. Am I correct in assuming that this story, these characters, have been living inside your head for quite some time?

NK: Yes, as I said earlier, The Junction had been floating about my head for quite some time. “Lived in” and “aged” seems to describe me pretty well though!

SCC: Were any of these parts in the story, or the characters within it drawn out of personal experience or relationships?

NK: Not so much the characters, but many of the settings were based on my childhood in Canada- the capped well existed in the front yard of my parents’ home, the water tower from the town I went to school in. The trying to get out of the woods bit was based on a dream.

SCC: Escaping the woods in a dream. Ok ..so I have to ask for more details of this dream! Or is that ..for the next graphic novel you’re working on?

NK: No, it definitely was used in The Junction. I’ve always had freaky dreams. In college, I kept a dream journal (how New Age of me), where you write down the dream immediately upon waking as they are usually forgotten by morning. It was the weirdest, most hilarious jumble of nonsense you could imagine. The “woods” dream was much more recent, while I was writing The Junction, and was one that stayed with me the morning after. It was simply me trying to find my way out of a forest, but all the branches and undergrowth were alive and were trying to grab hold of me and pin me down. Dream analysts begin your interpretations now.

SCC: Looking back, do you notice yourself finding an obvious bridge for yourself that led you from tv and commercial work (etc) to making this story happen in The Junction as a graphic novel?

NK: It was a bridge I took to escape animation for a bit with the skill set I had and a way to rediscover my own artistic style. Boy, that really makes it sound like a hate animation. Put it this way, if you eat burgers all the time, having a pizza once in a while makes a nice change, no matter how much you like burgers! Now that makes it sound like all I do is animate and eat burgers…

SCC: Nothing wrong with a burger and some art supplies! So let’s talk shop.. what tools are in your tool kit? How does Norm animate?

NK: Animation wise, I’m totally digital now, though I began back in the day using pencil and paper. My current setup is an Imac and Wacom Cintiq graphics tablet using Adobe Animate. For The Junction, the hardware was the same, but the artwork was created, first in vectors with Illustrator, then taken through Photoshop to add in textures scanned from real watercolor and acrylic swatches, before being finally collated and lettered in InDesign.

SCC: When you write stories do you always seek a beginning, middle and end? Or is it preferred by you to have the ending ambiguous so as to give the option to one day return to the characters again? The Junction felt ambiguous but it also had a concrete ending, so I suppose that there might be a fair amount of overlap in this.

NK: To be honest, I haven’t written that many stories to see if I have a formulaic way of approaching them. Personally I like stories that make you think for yourself a little – everything you need is there but the story doesn’t lead you by the nose to the conclusion. As for a return to The Junction, I have no plans. Never say never, but I feel that story is told.

SCC: What has been your favorite property to have been able to work on? Mainstream, or otherwise.

NK: I really enjoyed my time working on the BBC preschool show Hey Duggee! a few years ago. A fun, creative show with a great team behind it. Maybe that’s not the coolest answer for a comic book reading crowd! Should I have said Ben10?!

SCC: (looks both ways) trust me ..where I post my comic book reviews we steer plenty clear from worrying about what’s cool or what’s not. Hey Duggee sounds like a fabulous answer! What sort of comics did you grow up reading? Were you a Marvel or DC kid? And yea ..go ahead and give us some favorites from your early reading days.

NK: I read whatever I could get, mostly garage sale finds. I wasn’t so much into the straight up superhero stuff- I preferred Conan (started after scoring an early Barry Smith issue) or Doctor Strange, but my fave man was the king himself, Jack Kirby (so much so his name may have drifted into a certain town in my book). I absolutely loved Kamandi- Last Boy on Earth, and his run of The Eternals (let’s skip the movie, shall we?)

SCC: Gah!! How did I not see that? The Kirby Junction after the legendary Jack Kirby! That is so awesome. I love it. How have your reading choices changed or stayed the same? Do you read any comics now?

NK: Recently, I’ve mostly been picking up indie Kickstarters or reprint trades of stuff like EC horror comics. One complaint about these reprint runs- as much as I love having them, I wish they would adjust the colours so they are more reflective of their original look, printed on cheap pulp so the colours are muted. Having the tales told in vibrant reprinted technicolor just isn’t the same!

SCC: I think I’ve found where you may have the potential for a niche. EC horror style comics told and illustrated in the style of The Junction with muted colors printed on cheap pulp. Hell, I’d buy it. Speaking of bearing things to a pulp, who’s your pick in a cage match between the Man of Steel or the God of Thunder?

NK: I was never much of a Superman fan- he was just too clean and moral, and entirely impervious unless you happened to have some green rocks on hand. So I guess it’s Thor.

SCC: Let’s imagine you were given the opportunity to be part of a project for one of the Big 2. Would you prefer writing or illustrating, or both? And what property from those two catalogues would it be for?
(Yes, I’m having you pitch for Marvel or DC right here in this interview! Hah).

NK: That’s put me on the spot, hasn’t it?! A variant cover would do me just fine! Something a bit dark like a Batman or Swamp Thing….

SCC: Joking aside, do you have anything else coming out that you’ve been working on you’d like to mention or initiate buzz for? As good as The Junction was, I'd love to see some more from that world, if that’s your thing— revisiting previously established worlds and stories again.

NK: I’m slowly plodding my way through another book under the working title of ‘Downlands’ - hopefully it won’t take another ten years! It has nothing to do with the world of The Junction, but it does share a bit of its darkness.

SCC: I’ve got a couple kids at home, one in particular really enjoys creating things, including drawing. Do you have any nuggets of wisdom or tokens of truth for our younger audience?

NK: Nuggets of wisdom? From me? You really don’t know me, do you?! Just enjoy creating! It doesn’t need to lead to a career (sometimes school seems to only push art as a possible career path when it doesn’t need to be ). It makes a great hobby, an outlet -it’s all good. And it doesn’t have to be perfect.

SCC: I love that you humbly gave your token of truth as a triumphant declaration that art can simply be an imperfect outlet. Cleansing our palate with creative energy is the purest form of self-reliance. Cheers!

Alright, Norm. It’s been a pleasure. Thanks so much for taking the time out of your day to participate. Good luck with the release of The Junction with Titan! I wish you all the success. And hopefully at some point we get to see more from you.

NK: Thanks very much! Hopefully at some point, I’ll get something more out there!