Catching Up with Jason Shiga
Jason Shiga is an inventive cartoonist and the creator of FLEEP, a comic serialized at Modern Tales back in 2003. Shiga is fairly prolific and has posted to his website many other examples of his work over the years. His most recent graphic novel Bookhunter was nominated for an Eisner award this year and he's already at work on new comics.
So what are you up to these days? Are you working on new comics? Solving the Goldbach Conjecture?
I'm currently finishing up a romantic comedy and after that I'm embarking upon a 1300 page sci-fi epic that will take up the next 10 years of my life.
Speaking of the Goldbach Conjecture, have you ever read, Uncle Petros and Goldbach's Conjecture. It's a fascinating book about a brilliant mathematician who devoted his entire career to proving the Golbach Conjecture... but failed.
It looks like you used to blog at a livejournal account, but no more -- do you write updates anywhere online these days?
I haven't written in a while. I'm too busy making comics!
You're last big project Bookhunter got a lot of good buzz (including an Ignatz Award nomination in 2007). I'll admit I've only just skimmed the online preview but I'm thinking of getting it. Did you work as a librarian at one point? What inspired you to do this story?
I work for the Oakland Public Library, maintaining their website and online catalog. And before that I shelved and worked the circulation desk at over half the branches in the Oakland Public Library system. Often times I would daydream about what it would be like if the job were a little more action packed and how I would catch thieves if I were limited to 70's era library technology.
P.S.: Don't forget to mention the Eisner nomination!!!
What is it about comics that leads you to pour your creative impulses into that form as opposed to writing or some other art form?
Well first of all I'm a visual thinker. But I also like narrative. So I guess it's either comics or movies, right? I actually did experiment with animation when I was younger but it's just too labor intensive. I'd spend months and months drawing and at the end of it all, I'd have 12 seconds of film. I think comics is unique in that it's a visual medium but the barriers to entry are practically nonexistent. All you need is a pencil and a piece of paper and a computer and a scanner and photoshop and a light table and ink and a drawing desk and a publisher and you're good to go.
Back in 2003 when your comic strip FLEEP was running online at ModernTales.com, Shaenon Garrity wrote a profile of you and a review of it for ComixTalk. I take it you first published that in Asian Weekly in 2001? I just reread it again on your website. It's rare you get so much logic in what is essentially a pyschological thriller. And like the movie Memento, some of it works because things are revealed in sort of a reverse order. Do you ever think you'll be interested in doing a serious, thriller-like story like FLEEP again?
Fleep was my attempt to do a sort of one room text adventure game. You know the kind where you wake up with no memory and then slowly piece togther the narrative leading up to your present situation. But you're correct in that I basically had to write it backwards. My next project (the 1300 page sci-fi epic) will be a thriller-mystery of sorts. The story begins with the character waking up to his own faceless dead body. Everyone thinks he someone else and that he's guilty of murder. I guess it all goes back to Cornell Woolrich.
The other comic from you I'd heard of but never saw the paper version of is Meanwhile which I just checked out online. It's a crazy infinite choose your own panel comic. How close to the paper experience do you think your web presentation gets?
It's about as close as I could make it. The book itself comes with tabs running along the edge. But I guess one thing about the book is that you can kind of slip your finger at a spot before turning the page and if you don't like that choice, you can go back to that spot. There isn't a real way to do this on the web version unless you know the keyboard shortcuts for your browser.
Comixology did a nice overview of your work last year and you really have done all of your work for the print medium. You have posted a lot of it to your website but you really don't have a big presence online and since the 2003 republication of FLEEP at Modern Tales I don't think you've had a regularly updated webcomic. Is that a conscious decision or more of a it's just never worked out right yet decision? (For what it's worth I think a lot of your work -- your approach to story and the humor you bring -- could really do well serialized on the web)
I'm too old to be doing web comics. I don't understand these kids today with their web and their facebooks and their hippity hoppity music. Maybe if monitor technology improves to the point where it can display at 600 dpi at high contrast. Also maybe if monitors and computers weighed 10 grams so that they could be taken anywhere and cost 2 cents (instead of $1000 every five years) then I might have a more open mind about reading web comics because then the technology would be up to the level of paper... a technology that's already been invented!
All that said, I think I'm going to try and serialize my next comic online.
You do in fact have a lot of your work now posted at your website. The Family Circus is a short twisted twist on the Bill Keane cartoon. What kind of reaction have you gotten to that over the years? Has Bil Keane ever seen it?
For a while it was my most popular comic. But if you read it, I think you can tell that I actually really like "The Family Circus". I think to parody something effectively you have to have a really sincere affection for it. Bil Keane has never seen it evidenced by the fact that I haven't gotten a cease and desist. So don't tell him!