A Comic For Everybody: Ian McGinty Discusses ‘Welcome to Showside’ [Interview]
If you know Ian McGinty's name, odds are you associate it with a comics adaptation of an animated series --- Adventure Time, or Bravest Warriors, just to name two --- or the Munchkin card games. But this fall, he's turning the tables; the first issue of his new, creator-owned Z2 Comics series Welcome to Showside comes out in late October, and it's already being developed as an animated pilot, with McGinty serving as showrunner and lead voice actor. McGinty will take the role of Kit, a kid who just happens to be the son of the evil Shadow King, the leader of a netherrealm full of monsters.
We sat down with McGinty to discuss the pressure of writing and drawing a creator-owned book while overseeing an animated project, and to dig into the appeal of all-ages comics, pulling stories from real life, and snagging none other than Henry Rollins to do some voice acting.
ComicsAlliance: Up to now, a big chunk of your comics work has been on licensed books with characters and settings that have established looks. Welcome to Showside is all you, in terms of both story and design. Does that feel freeing? Is it a lot of added pressure? Is it both those things at once?
Ian McGinty: It’s a weird situation. Licensed properties like Adventure Time, Steven Universe, Hello Kitty, Bravest Warriors, etc., have been ingrained in me so much now that working with style guides and rules, and constantly having to be on model, it’s almost become a fun challenge to me. I repeat this, because any comic artist reading this is going to kick my ass anyways, but I really do enjoy working on model and within the “rules” of the property. I love working on properties I genuinely enjoy.
However, and this is a big however, it ain’t my stuff, and the goal of this whole comics thing has always been to get my own stuff out there and hopefully, maybe, get to run with the big series doing the rounds right now. Welcome to Showside is extremely important in that regard, it’s really my first published foray into creator owned work.
So, yes, it’s freeing, but it’s also an insane amount of pressure, because who the heck am I? I’m the guy who’s been drawing Catbug for two years and Munchkin cards and Adventure Time comics and sort of pretending to be a big time comic dude when I haven’t really had much of my own work out there. This is where the pressure comes in, and why I am incredibly proud of Welcome to Showside and everyone involved. It’s genuinely a really fun and rad comic. And this isn’t because of just me, it’s because of everyone involved, my publishers, the cover artists, the backup artists, the colorists, the letterers, it’s just been so amazing.
So the short version is, yes, it’s freeing, but its also an crazy amount of stress and anticipation. Yet it’s a positive stress, if that makes sense. I’m lucky, in that working on all these licensed comics has taught me how to be super on-model, on-time and on-deadline, so I can apply those sentiments to Welcome to Showside and hopefully people dig it.
CA: Does knowing that the book is already being developed as an animated pilot --- with you serving as showrunner and lead voice actor --- change the way you look at the comic? Are you working on the comic with TV in mind, or are you trying to keep both things fairly separate?
IM: I developed Welcome to Showside with one rule: that anyone can run with it and do what they want with it, i.e., there are no rules. I worked very hard to make the world of Welcome to Showside elastic and broad enough so that, yeah, it could be turned into an animated series or a movie or game, but more importantly, that fans could cosplay and write fan fiction and draw comics of their own. I love seeing fans and artists and writers get involved, it’s fairly incredible to see. So in that regard, it doesn’t change much of the way I look at the comic because I’ve subconsciously been ready for it.
I’m comfortable in a position of showrunner, and I love voicing Kit in the pilot, but I do focus on both the comic and the animation as one and the same. I view both as extensions of the other, and I definitely want both mediums to work together rather than be separate. I think that’s the strength of a good story, it works on multiple levels, and I hope it works for Welcome to Showside.
CA: What led you to make your creator-owned debut an all-ages book?
IM: A lot of people want to label me as the all-ages guy because of the licensed work I’ve done, but the reality is I’ve been doing all-ages comics before I was working professionally, in school papers and self-published stuff.
All-ages does not mean “for kids,” and I really want to make that clear. All-ages means comics for everybody, and that’s who Welcome to Showside is for. I have never catered to one demographic, be it a nine-year-old or a 99-year-old, because fans of all-ages comics don’t need to be catered to.
This is a community of fans that will dive into a brand new series without the series being about Spider-Man #450 or whatever. I mean, Dave Roman has a hugely successful all-ages comic about a kid who turns into a boat. How freakin’ awesome is that?
The challenge for Welcome to Showside was to combine all-ages material with horror, which is a huge influence on me. But I think we succeeded, and I’m really excited to see how people react to the elements of horror wrapped in an all-ages comic. The fans of all-ages, of anyone, at least will pick up the book and give it a shot and, hey, hopefully they’ll like it, maybe love it even.
CA: The series focuses on a kid who wants to just be a regular kid but doesn't always have that luxury because of who his dad is. Is that something you personally can relate to?
IM: My father is an incredible person. I’m extremely lucky to even have a good relationship with him. I love him, but this dude rocks to put it simply. He’s really an amazing man who’s done basically everything I’ve ever wanted, from briefly managing the Nighthawks [a D.C.-area blues band], to heading oceanographic projects I can’t even wrap my head around, to seeing thresher sharks and dolphins and orca whales and all kinds of sea fauna --- my family is Navy --- to surviving a heart attack and a super rare disease and coming back stronger than ever.
Even more so, he’s a guy everyone loves and wants to get to know, and this is the guy who drove me to school every day and to band practice and picked me up when I drank too much at 4 a.m., no question, and I could go on and on.
This is compounded even more by my grandfather who was one of the first dudes to break the sound barrier in a jet, had a crazy amount of medals --- again Navy --- and worked as lobbyist and all this great stuff. That’s insane to me.
I can’t live up to that, I never will, and that’s the crux of Welcome to Showside. I’m a nerd. I’m a comic book artist. Try explaining that to a friend of your dad with 500 tattoos and piercings who hangs out with David Bowie regularly. I think we can all relate to the struggle, trying to live to up to your father, mother, whatever. You don’t want to “do better” but you want to make a name for yourself and, dude, it’s hard.
CA: It sounds like Kit's relationship with his dad, The Shadow King, is a pretty adversarial one. He and his friends Belle and Moon have to fight monsters from his realm all the time. Is the Shadow King a full-on villain, or is he a little more nuanced than that?
IM: The Shadow King is definitely more nuanced then being a straight up villain. But that’s a parent! And the Shadow King isn’t the only one creating these issues; Moon lives under her grandmother’s title of a world-famous sorceress and Belle must hide her relationship with Kit and the other monsters from her monster hunting family. These are themes that will develop more as the series progresses, and it’s going to be fun to side these more subtle problems with the outright ones as, say, a huge freakin' monster made out of crystals named Joshua.
CA: I noticed in the first-issue solicitation that Showside is described as "your average Southern town." Is it at all based on your adopted hometown of Savannah, Georgia?
IM: It is! And that’s funny, because Savannah is anything but an “average” Southern town. Honestly, if you’ve every read Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil and think that was exaggerated, you are wrong, wrong, wrong. Savannah is beautiful and weird and gross and amazing and messed up and awesome and bizarre. I couldn’t help but base the town of Showside on Savannah, Georgia, a city I literally cannot believe exists in the southern United States to this day.
CA: You've got a lot of great artists --- Kate Leth, Erin Hunting, Margaux Saltel, Jen Vaughn --- doing variant covers for the series. Did you give them any particular direction for what to do with their variant covers, or did you sort of just show them designs and let them have at it?
IM: A big part of Welcome to Showside, and what I think is a strength, is that I don’t need to give rules to anyone who wants to add to the world. Yeah, there’s some very basic reference, which mostly boils down to, “Yo, Kit is a demon kid, Belle kicks ass, and Moon is mega cool,” but overall I am a huge advocate of trusting in the artist. I have the advantage of being one, so I understand the struggle.
Writing the backup for Carey Pietsch, for example, my script was like, “and then the dude does this maybe, or whatever you think works best.” I wrote it intensely and specifically, but I trusted that Carey would make it amazing no matter what, is my point. I love having artists and writers do their thing, so Welcome to Showside was a great opportunity to do so.
CA: OK, so you knew this one was coming: How did you score Henry Rollins as a voice in the animated pilot? Have you had a lot of one-on-one interaction with him, and if so, how intimidating was it?
IM: Henry got the script into his hands via Sridhar Reddy of Modern Prometheus, partner of Z2. Henry Rollins loved the character I wanted him to voice and, amazingly, he loved the script. He loved it so much we were able to arrange for me to direct an entire voice cast in Los Angeles and spend some time together and really just get the pilot looking and sounding great. He nailed his lines in two takes and still stuck around, running lines with the rest of the cast, joking with us, telling awesome stories about the Beastie Boys (my favorite band), and was just really the most generous dude ever. I was floored by his intensity, but also his genuine kindness, and I think that just added to the world and characters of Welcome to Showside.
So, yeah, it was intimidating, but so is launching a brand new series and directing a voice cast and all this stuff, but I do come back to how cool Henry was and it calms me. I’m hoping Welcome to Showside can be as cool as Henry Rollins.
Issue #1 of Welcome to Showside is on sale in October. Check out a three-page preview below:
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