Black Ship Interviews Adam Masterman

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Some frames from Echo’s graphic novel pitch.

Adam Masterman is the creator (writer-artist) of Echo Callaway and the Mists of Pelleon, an all-ages adventure webcomic, as well as the graphic-novel-in-progress Oracle. You can check out more of Adam’s work at his DeviantArt page and follow him on Twitter and Tumblr.

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Black Ship Books: Hey, Adam! I know who you are, but why don’t you introduce yourself for the readers.

Adam Masterman: Well, my name is Adam, and I’m an elementary school teacher by day, comic-book maker by every other spare moment I can find. I live in western Maine with my wife and two daughters, and I still aspire to compete in the Olympics in cross-country skiing. And I’m a practicing Buddhist of the Karme Kagyu lineage (Tibetan). Kind of a strange mix, I know. 🙂

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The Wolf, a frightening adversary from the graphic novel.

BSB: How did you get into comics, both reading and creating?

AM: Well, there wasn’t ever a time I didn’t read comics; I grew up on Barks’ duck stories and still adore them. I had a big epiphany when I read Flash #45 by Messner-Loebs and Larocque; reading that book is still magical for me to this day, and it instantly sparked an obsession with comics. I was around 12 at the time, and it wasn’t too long after that that I started drawing, totally in response to my love for that story and those that followed. My friends and I would make comics in class when we could get away with it, passing pages back and forth and being each other’s “inkers”. I still have one tattered page from those days, and I guard it very jealously.

I drifted away from making comics in high school; painting and “fine art” really grabbed me and I went to college to study painting. It wasn’t until I started teaching that I encountered comics again, and it was a another epiphany experience. I went from making very contemporary styled paintings (sort of a blend between photorealism and abstraction), to making comics, almost overnight. That was around 2004, and I’ve been comiking ever since.

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Lionskeep, the fortress stronghold of the chivalric Knights of Lionskeep.

BSB: This might have just been my own experience with comics as a kid, but I think there’s a subtle difference between “kids’ comics” — say, something like Tiny Titans, obviously produced with a primarily young audience in mind — and the sort of comics that kids really want to read: high adventure, largely escapist fantasy, where there might even occasionally be a word or two the kid doesn’t understand. There’s something I like about comics that can talk to kids without talking down to them. I guess this is a long, drawn-out way of asking — do you see Echo Callaway as a kids’ comic? Do you limit or censor yourself based on how family-friendly you want the book to be, or is it just a natural outgrowth of your larger vision for the story?

AM: Good question; definitely a difference I’ve observed and thought about. Personally, I like to call Echo an “all-ages” comic, and that’s really what I aspire to: something that’s equally engaging for a 40 year old guy and a 12 year old girl. For one thing, I (and any creator) have to make comics that are engaging to me, something I dig and feel engaged in. If I’m not passionate about the stories I make, I don’t think there would be any way for them to appeal to anyone else. So really, the first audience I have to satisfy is the 35 year old geek who thinks Heretics of Dune is the best sci-fi novel ever. Now, I also love Avatar: The Last Airbender, everything Hayao Miyazaki has ever made, and authors like Brandon Mull and Eoin Colfer. So, for me at least, there’s no contradiction between loving very adult oriented fiction and loving truly all-ages work.

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Echo, Hiro and Sati; screenshots from The Mists of Pelleon.

Echo is a big story, and its a vehicle for a lot of ideas I have about fiction in general and fantasy specifically. The protagonists are young people, all around 12 years old, which is a part of what makes the story work as all-ages. But, to my mind, this is kind of universal; we all can remember being 12, whether it was yesterday or decades ago. Being a young person is a common experience across generations, whereas being an adult is much harder for a non-adult to relate to. Beyond that, I don’t feel like the work is very self-censored in terms of content. I mean, it is “safe” for younger readers, in that there’s no profanity, explicit sex or anything like that. But those things would be glaringly out of place in this kind of story anyway. It’s just not the kind of story that explores those things, and the themes it does explore (life, death, meaning and the nature of reality), are things that I think any age level can engage with.

BSB: The Mars of Echo Callaway is obviously very Burroughsian (which I hereby declare to be a real word, by the way). How much of Barsoom is in there, as opposed to other fictional Red Planets or your own unique take on an inhabited Mars?

AM: How much Barsoom? A lot. 🙂 I first wrote that scene in 2010, and drew it in its initial form in early 2011. This was before the movie came out, and so I expected those references to be much more obscure than they probably are now. I loved John Carter as a kid, and actually considered having him be a character that Echo encounters in my earliest drafts. But the context has changed, and Barsoomian references aren’t just an easter eggs for fellow Burroughs fans, but instead tie directly into a recent and relatively popular movie. So while I haven’t made any drastic changes, it comes across differently for the majority of people, which could be good or bad, depending. There’s a lot of Bradbury in there too; this is a mostly dead world with canals and glittering, empty cities. But either way, its definitely an amalgam of fictional Mars’s, which, as the story unfolds, is actually an important part of how the mythology of Echo’s universe works.

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Echo doodles.

BSB: Would you like to see Echo make the transition to other media? A TV show? A movie? How comics-specific is the story you’re telling?

AM: Now that’s getting the cart in front of the horse. 🙂 Right now Echo is two projects: a webcomic that tells a small, self-contained story within her much larger tale, and a long project that mostly exists as notes, outlines, character designs and maybe 50 pages of actual comic. A lot of that material has been shared, but it hasn’t really been told as an actual comic story yet (beyond the first chapter, of which I’ve drawn two separate version to completion, and am currently working on a third). Its this larger story that I’m trying to find a practical way to create; some way to deliver it to an audience and really share it as a creative work. Its long, as in several graphic novels in length (at least), and I’m not sure I want to trickle it out as a page-a-week webcomic. Right now, my ideal solution would be to partner with a publisher and release it in print, and so, to that end, I’m working on a pitch of the material that I can shop around. I guess that’s the first answer to the question: I want it to exist as a comic first! 🙂

Now, the webcomic, which is officially titled Echo Callaway and the Mists of Pelleon, is an experiment in digital formatting, and wouldn’t translate directly to print. I say “experiment”, but the aim there isn’t to be unusual or strange, but almost the opposite; I wanted to find a digital format that’s intuitive, natural, and, for the most part, invisible for the reader. I borrowed a bit of advice from Mark Schultz: anyone who can read Garfield should be able to easily read and follow The Mists of Pelleon without any confusion or effort. That actually ties a bit back to the “all-ages” question earlier, but I’m a strong believer in comics that are accessible, in a basic graphic sense, to everyone. Honestly, I have trouble myself reading some of the standard line-up comics from Marvel or DC, with page-layouts that switch from single pages to double page spreads (with multiple panels crossing the fold) and collage layouts that are often far from intuitive. I don’t begrudge anyone who digs that stuff; its often very fun to look at, but in terms of story-telling I find it basically useless. When I read a story, THE STORY is what I want to think about; even noticing the layout takes me out of that experience. So certainly in my own work I avoid that like the plague. I’ve also noticed that the mainstream comics that I still read and enjoy follow the same lead; Cassaday’s layouts in Astonishing, or Fiona Staples work in Saga, both use very simple, very clear layouts. Their work is still dynamic and engaging, but its also very readable, which unfortunately isn’t true for a lot of otherwise very talented creators.

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An Echo mini-comic; strange reactions to being drawn as chibis.

Anyway, tangent-rant aside, The Mists of Pelleon story is my attempt at making a genuinely “digital” reading experience, and it’s going to be finished this year as a 500+ screen digital graphic novella (if you will), that people can pick up on iTunes as well as right off the website. The nature of that process, and its similarity to story-boarding, have made it easy for me to see this project as an animated story, at the very least, but that’s very much an idle thought at the moment. Way too much work left in making the comic to even speculate about other media.

BSB: Let’s talk process — as a writer-artist, how tight do you make the series of steps from script to finished product? Do you always start with a full script or sort of figure out the particulars as you go along?

AM: Well, honestly, its different for nearly every project I do; and even chapter to chapter. It really depends on what’s available to me when I work. As in, if I’m on a long car trip, I might use that time to write in full script form (my wife usually does the driving). If I’m away from my home studio, which is often, I like to work on cheap typing paper, the kind you run through photocopiers. In those cases, I’ll write out a plot longhand, and then start thumbnails directly from that.

In a sense, it doesn’t really matter when you draw your own stories. I can change anything at anytime, so no part of either my script or my drawings are ever carved in stone. I always like to have something written down before I start to draw, just to give me a basic direction, but after that I feel like I’m writing and drawing simultaneously the whole way through. Heck, I often change dialogue when I’m lettering; its late enough in the process to give me a fresh ear for it, and since I wrote it, its not like I need to wait for permission. 🙂

BSB: What about materials? I noticed you’ve been working with Manga Studio recently. Do you work traditionally at all, or are you books totally digital?

AM: Well, the work people see is all digital, for sure. I do a lot of sketching and boarding on paper because I like the feel and the immediacy of it, but for crafting pages, digital is just so much faster. I use a Cintiq, so I draw right on the screen like it was a piece of paper, but digital lets me copy and paste, resize, undo mistakes, and a million other things that don’t really make the work any better, but do make producing it much faster. If you are telling long stories in comics, that extra time is invaluable; it translates directly into more pages per year.

I do use (and love) Manga Studio; its the only software I know of that’s designed specifically for making comics, and its fantastic. I have Photoshop and Painter as well, but 95% of the time I’m just using MS5

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Katerina, a character design for Oracle.

BSB: I see Oracle is up and running once again. Give us a brief primer on that book and why we should check it out.

AM: Well, “up and running” might be an exaggeration. Oracle is my oldest project; the first real, full-fledged concept that I worked up into a comic. I actually made a version of it to submit to Zuda back in the day (if anyone remembers that phenomenon), and I’ve revisited it in some form off and on for about a decade. And to me, at least, its awesome: a kung-fu sci-fi fusion with massive scope and lots of strong, emotional themes. Its a very serious work in terms of tone, but I think there’s some genuine emotional meat to the story, as well as some cool mind-bending sci-fi concepts and, of course, gritty and kinetic action.

Now, that said, Oracle is also a vehicle for me learning the craft of sequential storytelling, which means that its full of glaring mistakes, bad choices, weak scene crafting, and a whole host of other sins. Its likely that the dramatic potential of the story is something that’s just in my imagination, not something that genuinely comes through the pages themselves. However, I’m not embarrassed to show where I’ve come from, and I like how Oracle stands as an example of my own growth over the years as a storyteller. Ideally, I would love to start from the beginning again and make it into everything I always wanted it to be, but in the meantime I’m happy with the work-in-progress that’s out there for now.

BSB: What’s coming up next for Adam Masterman?

AM: Well, in the short term, I’ve got two stories coming out in anthologies from Comixtribe; the first should ship within the month. Its a superhero/crime mash-up called SCAMthology, and I partnered with writer Ryan K. Lindsay on a ten pager called “Three Car Monte.” The second story is still under wraps, but I’m writing it myself, and having a blast with it. I colored a book for IDW called Jinnrise, literally the first time I’ve colored someone else’s lines (aside from pin-ups), and I’m pretty excited to see it in print. And I contributed a piece to the Stan Sakai benefit book that’s coming out from Dark Horse later in the year. Everything else I’m working on this year is Echo; finishing the webcomic and pitching the larger series. And, as if that wasn’t enough, I’ve got a brand new story that I’ve been building for a few months now that I’ll start sharing details from during the summer. Not sure what form that will take, but the work has been pure fun so far, so I know its going to come out somehow.

BSB: Sounds awesome, Adam! Be sure to keep us up to date on all your work, and thanks for your time!

AM: My pleasure!

About Evan Henry (257 Articles)
Evan Henry is a graduate student in English at the University of Virginia, where he works on the legacy of eugenics and scientific racism in American pop culture. As Head of Publishing for Black Ship Books he seeks to further social analysis of popular culture and develop new and unique voices in both creative and critical writing. His credits include Broken Frontier, the Virginia Literary Review, and numerous small publishers of fantasy and science fiction. His short story collection The Great City will be released this summer.
Contact: Twitter

2 Comments on Black Ship Interviews Adam Masterman

  1. Big fan of Adam’s art.

  2. LJ Phillips LJ Phillips // May 27, 2014 at 5:37 am // Reply

    Stunning artwork. Definitely be adding Echo Callaway and the Mists of Pelleon to the list of webcomics I follow 🙂

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