Exclusive: Tyson Hesse Take to the Skies with ‘Diesel’ [Interview]
Boom Box, the imprint from Boom Studios that encourages creators to let loose with their wildest ideas, has been on an incredible roll recently. New comics from artists and writers like Noelle Stevenson, John Allison, Ryan North, and Jake Lawrence have seen the imprint go from strength to strength, in many cases taking some of the best webcomics talents out there and bringing them into print. That streak looks set to continue, as ComicsAlliance can exclusively announce that webcomic creator Tyson Hesse will brings his series Diesel to Boom for a four-issue miniseries in September.
The story of a young girl and her airship, the series follows Dee Diesel in a coming-of-age story set high up in the skies. The daughter of a world-famous pilot, she's grounded when her greatest rival takes her father's airships and zips off into the clouds. All seems lost until, from nowhere, a mysterious new ship crashes down in front of her and offers her the chance to fly. It's a beautiful, brilliant story, and ComicsAlliance got to speak to Hesse about how it got off the ground.
ComicsAlliance: You’re best known for your webcomics work, including Boxer Hockey. How has your other webcomic, Diesel, now come to find a print home at Boom Box?
Tyson Hesse: I actually originally made the first prototype issue of Diesel back in the fall of 2010. At that time I had been doing my webcomic Boxer Hockey online for several years, but it never dawned on me to try and make a living off of webcomics. It was just a project I was doing because I simply like making comics. So, when I graduated from college and it came time to look for paying work, I put together the Diesel pitch book to show to publishers.
In the meantime I took extras that I printed to comic conventions, and after selling over a thousand of them on my own just at a few shows I thought maybe I'll just self-publish the whole thing. But self-publishing turned out to be not my forte, and I had a hard time juggling the twin forces of art and business. Luckily along the way I had been working with Boom on a few of their licensed KaBoom books --- and when I decided to finally start pitching Diesel to publishers again, they felt like a natural fit.
CA: Will this be a new telling of the story, or will it be reprinting your work from the webcomic?
TH: Even though the story starts in a very similar way, a lot has changed. I can't imagine many writers not jumping at the chance to fine-tune a story they wrote almost five years ago! Everything from my writing style to my drawing style is in a completely different place than it was in the original Diesel issues, so simply reprinting the old material was not an option for me.
CA: Diesel is described as a coming-of-age tale – what made you want to tell Dee Diesel’s story?
TH: My favorite stories are the ones that explore the concepts of friendship. Why we choose our friends, why we put up with them sometimes, why they put up with us, etc. Dee's story is all about these kind of relationships, as she struggles to find her place in a community. Dee's character is moved forward by big, fantasy adventure but at its heart it's the kind of introspective story that I like to read about a cast really learning what it takes to get along with each other.
CA: What is Dee like when we first meet her? What does she want from life?
TH: At the start of the story Dee has lived a pretty sheltered life. She's never really had to work for a living, and even though she has some natural talent as a mechanic, she tends to squander it. Growing up as the youngest and smallest of eight siblings, what she wants most of all is just to be in charge. She lives aboard a mobile colony called Peacetowne that was founded by her father decades ago. And, since Peacetowne is her birthright to be inherited when she turns 18, she's opted to just bide her time lazily until that day comes.
CA: How did the design come together for Dee? Was it difficult to find the right look for her, or did it come together fairly quickly?
TH: As I went back to square-one to flesh out the world for the Boom Box reboot I decided that I wanted this to be a story for all ages, and that altered the looks of all the characters. Dee was originally an older-looking character with much more sex appeal and a flamboyant personality. She was at first just a design that I created to draw for fun, but as I whittled out a story for her she turned into a younger character and that changed everything about how she should be represented.
Diesel also takes place in a world with alternate technologies, so the fashion has to reflect that in some way. It was hard to avoid tropes that would lead people to think it would be a steampunk story, like goggles and corsets, but in the end I think she arrived at a look all her own. This is a story where all the characters will grow as their world changes, though, so Dee will continue to evolve still.
CA: Were there any particular stories from other media that inspired your approach on the series? Which influences does Diesel draw upon?
TH: In early drafts of the story I was easily influenced by adventure manga like One Piece and stories about burgeoning friendships like How to Train Your Dragon. As I move along though, I find my biggest inspiration in terms of tone and pacing falls on Jeff Smith's Bone series. As a teenager I only ever occasionally read licensed comics about characters like Sonic the Hedgehog or Ren & Stimpy, but one day I randomly picked up issue #2 of Bone off the newsstand.
No book had ever, or has since, grabbed me so immediately. I can't say the story of Diesel even remotely resembles that of Bone, but I constantly ask myself, "How can I make Diesel grip the reader in the way Bone did to me?"
CA: Which parts of the series have you most enjoyed working on? Do you have favourite characters, scenes, or locations?
TH: I always enjoy designing new worlds full of mish-mashed elements. Cartoon worlds full of people and creatures of varied shapes and sizes always inspire me the most; so I'm trying to do the same with Diesel. My favorite character is the current captain of Diesel's ship, because she's a character that starts in a very antagonistic position and I always like the characters that really have to work to win you over. The, "Eh, I didn't really like them at first, but then..." kind of characters.
I love trying to find that one thing about a person that's so good it almost makes you forget everything else. It can't be something ham-fisted like, "Oh, they donate money to orphanages"; it has to be something specific to the way a character is. It's a fun trait to discover.
CA: What’s your artistic process like? How do you balance writing and art duties on the series?
TH: I just draw a lot! I sometimes wish I didn't draw as much as I did, but here I am, I guess! I try to eat well and exercise and I know that sounds irrelevant, but when you sit in a chair for 12 hours a day it really is an indispensable part of my routine. Other than that, just mixing it up. Take a walk, sit on a bench somewhere. Drawing or writing in a marathon can burn you out and leave you useless. A well-rounded life breeds a well-rounded artist, that's what I always say.
…I've never said that until now.
CA: Have there been any points where the story changed and surprised you? How carefully do you plan out the story ahead of beginning a project?
TH: Yes, but in the interest of not giving anything away I'll just keep them in my pocket for now. I plan my stories primarily by arranging the moments that need to happen for the whole thing to make sense. Timelines, character arc keystone moments, all that gets placed down. But dialogue I always write in the moment, which as writer and artist, is a huge advantage for me.
An area I always try to focus on is character acting. As a page comes together, a character may completely change their delivery of a line based on the expression on their face. This can change the response of the next character completely, and so on. Even though Diesel is a dramatic story, it's still very comedic and comedy lives in these moments of spontaneity. So I try to leave myself wiggle room to let those moments land.
CA: How have you found working with Boom Box on bringing Diesel to print?
TH: Everything's been smooth sailing. When revisiting a story I wrote so long ago it can be hard to see the cracks or ways it can be told better, but luckily I'm working with editors that I have learned to really trust and communicate with. It can be a trip coming from a world of, "I made this page today by myself and now I will put it on the internet and it is done," to putting everything together to prove that you're not writing a train-wreck months ahead of schedule.
It's very tempting in webcomics to just go with your first draft of an idea. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn't. But it's an advantage to have the opportunity to see your story from an outside perspective before it goes to print.
CA: Finally, as I don't know if I'll ever get the chance again, I wanted to ask about Knuckles the Echidna, as you are the expert on the subject. So ... why doesn’t Knuckles ever get the respect he deserves?
TH: When you're as bad at your job as Knuckles is, maybe he doesn't deserve any respect.
Tyson Hesse's Diesel comes out from Boom Box this September, and will run for four issues. You can also find Tyson on Twitter here!