Girl Meets Giant in Tyrel Pinnegar’s ‘Imago’ [Webcomic Q&A]
The world of Imago is rendered in clean lines, subtle patterns, and a muted palette. It acts as home to mysterious mechanical golems, emotive wildlife, spiraling trees, and a mask-adorned tribe of curious figures. Tyrel Pinnegar, the series creator, spoke to ComicsAlliance about Imago's enigmatic and intriguing story, the inspirations behind it, and the battle wounds incurred during the artistic process.
ComicsAlliance: What was the genesis for Imago? And what genres and inspirations does it build from?
Tyrel Pinnegar: Imago began as a mindless doodle. An unfinished ballpoint pen sketch of an eerie, gas mask-like mechanical face. Something about its strange, unblinking stare captured my imagination. I began to wonder what kind of world would give rise to such a being. Eventually, the wispy beginnings of a story began to form around the character.
Imago was highly influenced by the animated films of Hayao Miyazaki. The first time I saw Spirited Away, a tiny seed was planted in my mind. I had always admired animated films, but this one was like nothing I had ever seen. I didn't realize it at the time, but I feel like that moment was the one that sparked my interest in storytelling.
The Secret of Kells was another enormous influence on Imago. The way that film simply ignored the so-called "rules" of illustration and just gave way to abstraction was immensely appealing to me. In a way, it gave me the permission I needed to simply do what felt right, stylistically speaking. I owe director Tomm Moore a great deal in that regard.
Finally, I would be remiss not to mention the work of Brad Bird. I saw The Iron Giant in theatres as a child back in 1999. That was probably the first animated film I saw where the stakes felt real. That's been an important aspect of my storytelling ever since.
CA: What’s it about?
TP: Imago is the story of Chrysalid, a tousle-headed girl from a nearly extinct, mask-wearing desert tribe, who stumbles across a mechanical giant in a nearby dry forest. That may seem rather straightforward at first blush, but trust me when I tell you that it's a story that's not quite what it seems on the surface.
CA: Who is the intended audience, and do you suggest any age restrictions or content warnings?
TP: This has always been a tricky one for me. I'm the kind of person who visits every section of the bookstore. I don't tend to see stories in terms of age or gender demographics. My favorite stories tend to have a kind of universal appeal, and that's definitely something I try to replicate in my own work.
That said, Imago does contain some frightening and emotionally intense scenes. However, I don't think it's anything a well-adjusted twelve year old couldn't handle.
CA: How has both your creative approach and the webcomic itself changed since inception?
TP: Okay, I've got a confession to make. When I made the decision to tell the story of Imago in graphic novel format, I had yet to actually read a graphic novel. I had to learn how they worked pretty much from the ground up. The first thing I did was pick up a copy of Scott McCloud's Making Comics. That gave me a solid foundation to build on. From there I started collecting and reading graphic novels at a fairly rapid pace. All the while, I was developing Imago's story and visuals alongside, adjusting my approach with each new thing I learned. In that way, Imago didn't change my approach to storytelling, so much as much as it created it.
CA: With its emphasis on crisp shapes and negative space, Imago’s linework is very stained glass-meets-storybook. What prompted you to go with this style?
TP: Once again I have to credit Tomm Moore's The Secret of Kells. That film's distinctive style was inspired by the art of medieval illuminated manuscripts, from an era before classical perspective had even been invented. Simply discarding such a commonly used drafting technique allowed for a lot of freedom in creating interesting and unique compositions.
On the subject of composition, my past experience with wildlife and microscope photography proved invaluable. It taught me a lot about negative space and the rule of thirds, both of which I use heavily in Imago.
Another influence was the aesthetic of vector illustration. When I was younger I used to scan sketches into the computer and trace them using Flash. The perfection of vectors was very appealing to me, and I thought it would be interesting to try and recreate that aesthetic in a more imperfect medium.
CA: What drew you to webcomics and the platform you currently use?
TP: Imago wasn't originally intended as a webcomic. I had always imagined myself locked away in my studio for years, perfecting my masterpiece, before emerging triumphantly with a beautiful hardcover book that would immediately get picked up by a publisher.
Eventually I realized that this fantasy was neither healthy nor realistic. I turned to webcomics as a way to connect with a community, and that turned out to be a very wise decision. Since then I've visited some fantastic conventions, had the opportunity to meet with people I admire, and made a few close friends. The idea of locking myself away and going it alone feels rather foolish in retrospect.
It's still my goal to create that beautiful hardcover book, however. If anyone knows an agent or publisher looking for something unique, I'd love to hear from you.
CA: How much of the story do you have mapped out? And do you have a rough page count in mind?
TP: The story of Imago has been fully developed since before I thumbnailed the first page. I spent a full year writing a forty-four page script. Due to the decompressed storytelling of Imago, I estimate that will translate to about three hundred and forty comic pages by the time all is said and done.
CA: What’s your process like?
TP: Okay, buckle your seatbelts, because this is going to be a journey. When I began illustrating Imago, I made some poor choices that I would end up paying dearly for. I drew my pages on a tiny tablet using a cheap rubber-tipped stylus. When I printed out my digital lines, I traced over them with a half-millimeter mechanical pencil, using multiple strokes to form thick, dark lines. When it came time to add texture, I spent hours fiddling with microscopic hatching and and intricate patterns, all drawn by hand.
Not only did each page take nearly 20 hours to create, I had irreparably-damaged my wrist just one-eighth of my way though the story. I needed to change my ways if I were to ever finish Imago.
By page sixty-seven I realized I could skip the tracing step with a little Photoshop magic, and simply print the final lines using an inkjet printer. That kept me going for a while. By page one one hundred and forty-six I began drawing my digital lines using vectors, eliminating the need for a stylus. By page one hundred and fifty, I began experimenting with digitally synthesized textures using Photoshop's Content-Aware features, and by page one hundred fifty-three, nearly all textures were synthesized from previous pages.
To this day I'm unable to wield a pen or pencil without pain, but with some cleverness and planning I've been able continue my work on Imago pain-free and still manage to make it look remarkably consistent.
CA: My deep condolences for your injury! Do you have any self-care advice you’d give to Past Tyrel or any artists attempting their first webcomic?
TP: I think the most valuable advice I could give to someone starting a long-form comics project is to plan ahead. Know what you're up against. Take your script and chop it into panels. Refine your process to be as efficient as possible. Take shortcuts. Don't be afraid to cheat. Because one thing is certain: comics take much, much longer than you think they will.
Also, I'd like to reach out to people who think that they can't tell stories because of disabilities or limitations. The technology available today provides opportunities for creative expression that were unthinkable just a decade ago. Be clever. Think outside the box. You may end up telling stories in a different way than most people, but in the end that will make them all the more interesting.
CA: The various patterns give the comic a lot of detailed, yet subtle texture. What goes into conceptualizing and creating a pattern for any given character or object?
TP: In creating the textures, I always began with the material I was trying to represent. For tanned leather, I used a lot of very fine hatching to recreate its smoothness. For tree bark, a lot of tiny circular strokes communicated its roughness. For the forest floor, I thought about the long pine needles that fall from old conifers. In my mind, the world of Imago is a very textural one.
CA: Do you think self-publishing this story granted you freedom that you might not have had elsewhere?
TP: Perhaps, but I feel the most important thing that it granted me was time. Imago has been such an enormous learning experience for me, and not having anyone to answer to allowed me the ability to experiment and make mistakes. If there had been strict deadlines or endless revisions, I think I would have buckled under the pressure.
Now that I've got a more thorough understanding of how comics and publishing work, I'd love to try working more closely with an agent or publisher, but I'm still thankful for the freedom I had with Imago.
CA: Which other webcomics would you recommend to readers who like yours?
TP: One of my favorite webcomics is Serenity Rose by Aaron Alexovich. It's a story about a witch that suffers from severe social anxiety. No creator has managed to pull as much cold hard cash from me as Aaron, which I think is a pretty good endorsement.
The Last Halloween by Abby Howard is another one I love. Fair warning, it can get pretty gruesome. But if you can muscle through that, then you'll be rewarded with something really imaginative, funny, and beautiful.
And finally, if you're looking for something a bit more lighthearted, you can’t do any better than Gigi D.G.'s Cucumber Quest. It probably the funniest webcomic I know, and it's got a wicked subversive streak that I really admire.
If you have a webcomic you’d like to suggest for an upcoming Webcomic Q&A, send a tip to jonerikchristianson[at]gmail[dot]com with the subject line “Webcomic Q&A.”