Cartoonist Katie Longua And Chiptune Musician Accumulator Join Forces For ‘Her Space Opera’ [Interview]
Artist Katie Longua has long been a favorite here at ComicsAlliance, creating distinctive, vibrant comics that sing with energy and jump straight off the page. After the success of her madcap risograph comic Munchies, it became clear that she's an artist with a kaleidoscope in her mind and a hugely exciting future in comics. Her newest project, Her Space Opera, is another ambitious, visually stunning piece of work.
In collaboration with chiptune musician Accumulator, every page of the comic is accompanied by a different song from his newest album. Designed with his songs in mind, the comic creates a journey through space and creates a singular approach to narrative. Longua came onto the project with the album already in the works, and set about bending the music into visual life. ComicsAlliance spoke to Longua and Accumulator about how their collaboration came about.
You can also listen to a preview of the album while you read!
ComicsAlliance: Katie, how did you first come into contact with Accumulator (aka David)?
Katie Longua: I got a really unexpected email from David laying out the entire concept of Her Space Opera. At the time I had just accepted a full time position and really wasn't looking for more work, but the idea was way too perfect to pass up! It was pretty mind blowing.
I've always experimented a lot with music in comics, and for years had considered doing some kind of collaboration. I'm really thankful that David has remained patient while I figured out how to balance everything in my life!
CA: Was the album already completed by that point? When did this project first start coming together as collaboration?
KL: When David first wrote, almost the entire album was complete, and he already had plans for incorporating art somehow. I was the crazy one who said we should go big and get actual records made. I grew up loving the Harry Nilsson album, The Point, which came with a large 12"x12" comic that corresponded with the record. Even though it has a drastically different look and sound than Her Space Opera, it's definitely my main inspiration. I loved the magical experience of carefully putting the record on and poring over the comic pages while it played.
CA: For anyone who might not know, what are chiptunes, and how do you create music in that form?
Accumulator: Chiptunes are a genre of electronic music that comes from sound chips in early video game and computer systems, usually with pretty brutal limitations. They typically can only make few and primitive sounds, like square or triangle waveforms, sometimes just raw noise, since they're easy to generate digitally, and each have their own unique sound. For example, one thing you'll often hear in chiptunes are these really fast arpeggios. In order to play a chord with other stuff going on, you might have to get economical and cycle between notes very quickly on one voice, a classic technique.
Purists like repurposing old hardware to acknowledge the original artifacts, controlling them remotely, or sometimes run sequencers directly on the machines themselves! It helps to be a tinkerer, but it's not necessary these days. Alternatively, you can run everything now with decent emulation using tools on your PC.
These days, I use a hybrid approach with my own custom chip hardware implemented on FPGA (programmable hardware) and custom software, but I model my features on existing hardware like the NES. I like composing on a traditional piano keyboard, and try to abstract away my setup as much as possible so I can work intuitively.
CA: What made you want a visual component for the album? Did you always want for this to be a multimedia project?
A: It started with these loosely connected scenes, composing like a soundtrack to a game or movie. Describing a scene with the music is my way of preventing a block. As things became clear, I thought it would be cool for someone to visually interpret those scenes and the music, but with minimal input from my end. I'm a design school dropout, but that experience gave me a huge appreciation for the effort that goes into visuals. Artists should be credited --- and paid --- for their hard work, and I wanted the project to hopefully provide an opportunity to promote that too.
Honestly, I really have no idea what I'm doing, but I want to keep on doing this because it allows everybody to bring their ideas together and still have the freedom to do whatever they want for their part. Making things by yourself gets kind of boring after a while, you know? I think it's super important to be confident in doing that, for sure, but collaborating with others makes for more interesting work, and it's also way more fun!
CA: When did you approach Katie about collaborating with you? What do you like most about her style, and approach?
A: I first approached Katie in March 2016 after finding her portfolio through the 1001 Knights project. I thought her style was a perfect match. This was the first time I tried for something more serious, and I still cannot believe that she took time out of her schedule to take part! Aside from her clearly amazing technical powers, Katie has this expressive, juicy style and bold color work. Whether they're serious or silly, she can pull these living, spirited characters out of thin air. Magic.
One thing in particular I love is that she can get this intense line detail and critical density onto a page like it's no big deal, even these massive 12-inch panels, it's powerful but also effortless. It's hard to describe – it's one of those things that sweeps you away and you don't realize it. You want to crawl into that page and just to hang out! Her style just makes me feel really happy.
CA: Katie, how did you you take the music and find the story you felt best encapsulated what you were hearing? For you, what is Her Space Opera about?
KL: David told me Her Space Opera was about a space traveler searching for something she’s lost. I expanded upon that using the songs for inspiration as well.
To me, Her Space Opera is about capturing the feeling of adventure, discovery, longing and friendship. I think this particular combination of art and music really works well to convey those emotions.
CA: Do you even feel there is a coherent, single story threading through the comic, or was your plan to leave things open to the readers, let them assemble whatever story they see come through your pages?
KL: There is a continuous story to be found in the pages of Her Space Opera, but I've purposefully left it a little unclear. There actually aren't any words at all, since I wanted the music to tell the tale. Because each page is meant to match up with one track from the album, I worked hard to give people a comic they could spend time exploring.
A: For me, it's about finding happiness through exploration, curiosity, taking risks, and sharing it by making a real connection out in the universe. The project ended up embodying that in many ways, and I hope it inspires people to do that.
CA: Katie, what’s your creative process on the pages? Are you working entirely digitally here?
KL: I still haven't given up traditional inking just yet --- I love it too much! Everything else about my process is digital now. It was super fun to print out the pencils and see the comic in full size for the first time! I usually work quite small, so seeing those two foot long spreads was really something.
CA: The colors are especially important in setting the tone of the comic. How do you decide on the colors that should fit a comic like this? Is there an element of synesthesia at play?
KL: I made a lot of color and layout choices based entirely on the music ... it was a really enjoyable way to work. I thought a lot about temperature, so deciding whether a song felt warm or cool informed the way I used color. It's really noticeable for the song "Soar," which to me has a warm, playful, friendly sort of feeling. As I listened to each track on the album, different kinds of shapes came to mind, too, and inspired the page layouts.
CA: How do you hope for the comic to be read? People usually flick pages fairly quickly, but would your hope here be for people to read this one page per song, having them spend more time absorbing each page of the piece?
KL: I do hope that people will try reading the comic with the album: one song for each page. It's a unique experience, slowing down and spending a lot of time exploring something instead of flipping though. I've put a lot of work into making each page engaging; there's a lot to investigate during each song!
CA: Where can people find Her Space Opera?
KL: Her Space Opera will first be available at Emerald City Comic Con this March at table Y-6 in the Artist Alley. After that it will be available online. If you'd like to receive an email when it's available, you can sign up here.
CA: What else are you both working on at the moment? Where can people find you online?
A: I'm working on lots of projects in parallel now, some chiptunes, and one very big with voice acting! Right now I'm focusing on building some FM and analog synthesizers to get a much bigger sound. Making the actual tools and instruments to make music is half of the fun! My main music page can be found right here, and I'm also on Twitter here. Beep!
KL: I work full time on educational illustrations and comics, which you can check out here. I'm also doing illustrations for a novel called Adventure Quest that you can read on the Tapas app! My website is at klongua.com; I try to always keep it updated with new projects. If you're interested in seeing more everyday sketches and in-progress work, you can find my Twitter here.
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