The 1980s were a special time for fantasy and adventure films meant for all ages. It was an era of movies like 1982’s Dark Crystal and 1986’s labyrinth, which featured fully-realized puppet characters that navigated wondrous, magical, and often dangerous landscapes. Those movies captured the imagination of comic creators Skottie Young and Kyle Strahm, as well. Along with Jeff Smith’s comic series Bonethose films directly inspired their new five-issue mini-series Twig from Image Comics, which Young writes and Strahm provides the art for.
CBR spoke with Young and Strahm about creating the world of Twig, their adorable and strange cast of characters, and the adventures that the title character Twig and friends will embark on. The pair also provided a look at some of the pages of Twig #1, which is available in May.
Twig is an adventure fantasy in the vein of things like Jeff Smith’s Bone, Dark Crystaland labyrinth that’s set in a world you built. What can you tell us about this world? Who are some of the beings that live there and what are their lives like?
Kyle Strahm: Twig’s world is endless and it’s fantastic. I’ll share more as we go, but Twig journeys through a lot of lands and each one could be its own story. The creatures are magical — some are ancient, some have jobs, and some are just trying to go about their business. Where Twig comes from, things are relatively peaceful, but every so often a darkness seeps in and critters like Twig must chip in to help stop it. At the beginning of the story, Twig has a new job and he and Splat set off to do their part.
What was it like building the world of Twig together? How did you guys design it? What were the initial seeds that it grew from?
Skottie Young: Kyle and I worked so seamlessly from the start that it feels like it was made by one Voltron-ed storyteller. [laughs] I loved seeing Kyle’s work in his sketchbooks, which were filled with weird critters and creatures. Kyle was working on a horror/monster book for a while at that point, but I wanted to see a book that would allow him to add all those awesome ideas from his sketchbooks. I pitched him the idea of working together and developing an idea that would bring them all to life and he was in. After that, he went off and did what he does best, just make up weird things for me to start improv-ing with.
Strahm: Skottie and I knew we wanted to create something in the vein of the big fantasy epics of the ’80s that had lots of puppets and strange creature effects. Those films were made for kids, but they had a darkness to them that wouldn’t really fly today. Along with the films you already mentioned, we both love the never ending story, the animated films of Don Bluth, and other work by Jim Henson. We agreed on the tone, then I drew a series of character designs for creatures that might live in that kind of world. Skottie and I used those as a jumping-off point. We did a lot of back and forth, fleshing out a story. A lot changed as we went.
What happens in my favorite writer/artist collaborations is we both feed off each other’s ideas. Eventually, it’s impossible to tell where the writer ends and the artist begins. That’s definitely the case here. Skottie and I are both in it to make a fun comic. Skottie is a master storyteller and he’s able to balance creating a character-driven story with telling a story that’s 100% fun. He comes up with exciting ideas I never would have thought of. Those spark ideas in me and I feed him more concepts from my own wheelhouse to riff on. It’s an endless cycle. The same goes for Jean-Francois Beaulieu and his beautiful colors. He’s truly one of the best in the business. When I started to see how wonderfully he was enhancing everything I drew, it made me think more about how light and color can be used to tell Twig’s story, to describe the lands, and to elevate every character design.
At one point Skottie and I had been discussing making this story a lot more about the politics of the weird world Twig exists in. There were a lot of fuzzy creatures debating each other and engaging in Machiavellian plots. I actually drew some pages for it. Then we had a lot of time to think about things during lockdown. When we got back to work, we had scrapped the intrigue and solidified Twig as the story it is now. It’s about adventuring through a big world, always moving from one place to the next, meeting cool creatures, [and] finding scary landscapes. Sometimes the landscapes themselves are creatures. Twig is hopeful and always positive. I think we could use some of that with how things are going here on Earth.
Nate Piekos did an amazing job designing a logo. It gets across exactly the right vibe. Twig is an epic adventure tale about a small creature who lives in a tree. We had a lot of conversations about what feeling we wanted the logo to evoke. Specifically, what media of the past we wanted to remind people of, but not copy. Nostalgia can be a valuable storytelling tool. Nate took all that in and came back with a few options, one of which became our logo. Nate has also done a great job designing the lettering. He’s the author of The Essential Guide to Comic Book Lettering. I’ve learned a lot from him about how to design my pages in such a way that the panels will be the most easily traversed by readers. I’d suggest following him on Twitter where he drops bite-sized tips that have made me a better comic book storyteller.
In the preview pages for Twigwe meet your titular protagonist: an adorable, blue Muppet-style character who’s about to embark on a new job. What inspired his look and creation of him?
Strahm: Twig was a bald, naked cave dweller the first time I drew him. I think Skottie’s first suggestion was to make him fuzzy. For a while, I was filling sketchbooks with drawings of Twig, trying to nail down his look. In comics, you really can’t figure out a character until you start drawing them on pages. At one point, Twig looked like an otter. Later he had weird bird legs. The drawing where we felt like we had nailed the design was what ended up on the cover of the Twig preview. Once I began drawing pages, I have evolved even more. We asked Jean to color Twig and Splat a few different ways, and blue and yellow is where we landed. We’re on Issue 4 and I almost feel like I have a handle on drawing him!
Splat is a tiny, dinosaur-like character who lives with Twig and accompanies him on his way to his new job. What can you tell us about the dynamic and relationship between Twig and Splat?
Strahm: Splat is a rascal and a troublemaker. He’s scrappy — a real scamp. Twig is more sincere and driven. They’re great friends. They like to banter. They complement each other. Neither could get through the journey on their own.
I noticed that Twig has very expressive eyes, but Splat doesn’t appear to have any. Was that on purpose or just coincidence?
Strahm: The contrast wasn’t intentional. Most of the creatures in Twig have eyes. Splat is fun to draw because he’s a stretchy ball of goo who can basically do anything. The shapes he bends into can be very expressive. Like you pointed out, I rely on Twig’s eyes to do a lot of his acting. I use his hands from him for that as well. Splat can be whatever I need him to be to get across the mood I’m going for in a drawing. He can be compact and stubby, long and winding, rubbery, floppy, or a sphere.
I also read that Twig’s new job leads to a quest to save the world. What can you tell us about the nature of that quest, and, initially, how qualified is he to carry out this adventure?
Strahm: He’s not qualified at all! Ok, that’s not entirely true. Twig is following him in his father’s footsteps. He’s picked up a lot of knowledge just by being around his dad. He messes up some things and is sent on a quest to fix what he broke! We do not want to give him too much away, but Twig believes the fate of all the worlds depends on his success. Some creatures take that news very seriously and some scoff because that’s what every traveler says.
Young: Sometimes it’s not about if one is ready or not, but if they want to do that thing. “Ready” and “qualified” are two different things. Like everyone, Twig has her own dreams and goals in life. His call from him to this journey will answer which he is.
I noticed two very intriguing supporting characters in the press release: an orange being with goggles and tools, and an anthropomorphic island. What can you tell us about those characters and how you came up with them?
Strahm: Mount Guphin is the giant face on the hill. In my sketchbook, it used to be a tree, and before that just a giant creature. What remained the same each time were those weird, lopsided eyes and the big sagging mouth. Skottie and I loved that face, so Skottie found a place for it, then he took it in a really fun direction. All I’ll say is Mount Guphin’s tongue is pretty epic. The goggled character you noticed works to find important magical items. Twig’s job is to take them where they’re needed, no matter the danger.
Finally, if Twig resonates with readers, will we see more of his exploits? Do you already have ideas for more adventures?
Strahm: Part of why Skottie and I get along so well is we both have an endless pool of ideas and they’re all malleable. We don’t have concrete plans to continue Twig, but nothing is off the table. Since the book was announced, the reaction has been phenomenal. I’m so grateful for everyone who’s excited about Twig. If readers want to see more Twig, spread the word, buy copies to give to your friends, or let them read yours. There’s a fast-growing Twig Comic Community on Facebook I would encourage folks to join. It was started and is completely run by fans of Twig.
Young: The beauty of comics is there’s always a chance for more. Endings can be re-opened and new stories are around the corner. There’s no book I’ve worked on that I haven’t had more ideas for after they ended. So yes, if readers come out and support Twig and Kyle and I are feeling inspired, I would love to add more to the Twig mythos! Let’s wait and see!
Strahm: Twig is a big adventure for people who like weird, fantastical, worlds. If it’s half as fun to read as it has been to create, you’ll be in for a treat. If you’re interested in Twig, please sign up for my free newsletter. I’ll be sharing some upcoming Twig news there before anywhere else. I also sometimes share insight into the question I’m asked the most: how to break into comics.
Young: Putting my parts aside, Twig is one of the most beautiful books I’ve been a part of. Kyle, Jean, and Nate have worked so hard and the result is as close to perfection as I’ve ever been involved in. This book is, simply put, beautiful! You’ll be excited by the story, but you will absolutely fall in love with the art and want to frame every panel and put it on your wall.
Catch Strahm and Young’s work in Twig #1, available in May.
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