Wild Lands & Weird Creatures: Anne Szabla Brings ‘Bird Boy’ to Dark Horse [Interview]
Dark Horse announced at NYCC this weekend that it's publishing the first print edition of Anne Szabla's webcomic Bird Boy, the beautifully illustrated tale of a young boy traversing a mythic land of gods and monsters in an attempt to prove himself to his tribe.
We sat down with Szabla to talk about the announcement, what it means for the future of her webcomic, and what readers new and old can look forward to in the print version.
ComicsAlliance: I see a lot of indigenous influence in Bird Boy. What were your inspirations?
Anne Szabla: There really is a little bit of everything in there, from Mayan to Norse, but my love of Northwest Native American art I think shines through most clearly in Bird Boy. When I was a little kid my mom used to read me all these American myths and creation stories, and the stories and the art really stuck with me, so that when I went to college many years later, I was drawn to art history classes that were exploring these cultures in depth, and it became deeply ingrained into the artwork I was producing.
Around the time I first started writing Bird Boy, I was seeing a lot of European inspired medieval fantasy in the webcomics scene. I kept thinking back to those creation myths that my mom read to me and realized there was territory out there in terms of fantasy stories that utilize the kinds of shape language and themes we see in indigenous art. So I started pulling from all these different sources, and the world just expanded from there.
CA: Before I forget: congratulations! This is a big announcement! This seems to be the first time you've had a comic published in print! I think there are a lot of artists looking to make the webcomic-to-print-comic leap, and we've seen a few big names accomplish it --- Noelle Stevenson, Jake Wyatt --- but the game is hard. How does it feel and how did it happen for you?
AS: Thank you! I’m beyond ecstatic about it! I feel like for me, it was sort of a case of right-place-right-time, honestly! I had been working on Bird Boy for a couple years on and off, not really planning or expecting much from it at the time. I attended the Illustration Master Class in Amherst, MA, which is this great illustration workshop that happens every summer. I remember I tweeted something about the workshop and a Dark Horse editor who was on the faculty at the workshop picked up on that tweet and then asked to check out the comic. After that he kept nudging me to bring the comic to Dark Horse when I was ready, and in turn I picked up the pace to get it done!
CA: What does the Dark Horse announcement mean for your webcomic going forward? Will there be backmatter or other materials included in the book that wasn't available online?
AS: For now the webcomic will keep updating. It’s been important for me to keep it up because without feedback from my readers as I produce pages, I sometimes become a little lost. I need to have someone reading over my shoulder to keep me going, I guess!
People who have read the webcomic will notice that the printed book is a little different: there’s a bit more context, stuff's been changed a little bit. It can sometimes be hard to go back in to a comic once it’s already been “published” online, but I’ve always given myself permission to change things up until it becomes a printed book. So there is definitely material in the book that isn’t online!
CA: Pacing is something I think about with styles. Manga, for example, gives itself a lot more time than American comics do, for both structural and cultural reasons. Webcomics also flow differently than print comics, so I'm curious about the process of translating from online to print --- and whether you've noticed yourself writing differently now that you know Bird Boy will eventually be in book form.
AS: I always intended for Bird Boy to be a printed book. I didn’t always know how it was going to get there, but having that plan in my head from the get go was definitely important when I sat down to write. I knew there were times the pacing would be strange for people following along with the webcomic --- especially during action scenes, where people have to wait a week between pages, rather than flipping quickly though! That was a sacrifice I was willing to make for the overall pacing when it would be a book, but I knew it would impact how some people felt about the webcomic.
I would always preface these scenes by reminding people “Hey, this is gonna be weird, it’s meant to be read all at once” on the site. I have a number of readers of the webcomic who have combated this by reading a big chunk, bookmarking the site, and then coming back several months later to read the next chunk. Others love waiting for single page installments and trying to guess what will happen next, and then others just cannot handle that at all and simply say “tell me when the book’s out”!
To this day I believe Bird Boy reads best as a finished book, rather than weekly updates, so that makes me even more excited that it’s finally going to be in it’s intended form.
CS: What's been the most exciting part about the making of this book? What are you looking forward to sharing with readers, new and old, the most?
AS: I think the most exciting thing has been working as part of a growing team. Working with my editor and everyone at Dark Horse to make this book as successful as it can be. Webcomics can be kinda lonely sometimes! It’s nice to have other people who are just as excited to get this book out as I am!
I’m most looking forward to sharing this story as it continues with as many people as possible: the characters changing and growing, exploring more of the world and the impact they have on it. There are all sorts of wild lands and weird creatures I’ve thought up and have been excited to get to for years. I think it’s going to be a really fun ride.