Nature Murder Mystery? An Interview With Mr. Big Creators
Mr. Big, the mini-comic turned graphic novel by Carol and Matt Dembicki, is a personal favorite of mine and its creators have been nice enough to answer a few of my questions.
Comics in the Classroom – Scott: Carol and Matt, thanks for taking a few minutes to answer some questions.
This is a question I have to ask all the time: So you've just had your ecosystem-food chain-habitat-murder mystery-alien entity invasion mini comic published in a handsome collected edition. How has that experience been? Is this a first for you guys in terms of having your work published in this format?
Matt: We have self-published several comic books and participated in other anthologies, however, this is the first time our work was collected in a graphic novel. Even though we have worked on the Mr. Big storyline for years, it's quite rewarding to see it pulled together in one book. It suddenly had a new life of its own.
CitC: Calling Mr. Big an ecosystem-food chain-habitat-murder mystery-alien entity invasion comic is my favorite way to describe the book, but how would you describe it?
Carol: We call it a nature comic but find it hard to argue with your description, Scott. It explains all major points of the book in 10 seconds! The reason we call it a nature book is because the storyline is grounded in the vicissitudes of nature. These changes, albeit occurring in the animal world, closely mirror what is happening in the human world. This connection is what piques people's interest. For example, you wouldn't believe the number of readers asking if Mr. Big is really an allegorical work based on some despotic leader who is creating conflict somewhere in the world.
CitC: When did you begin creating the Mr. Big story and where did the initial idea come from?
Carol: The inspiration for Mr. Big really began as a justification for wasting time at a small pond located along a bike trail by our house. Matt happened to be running along the trail when he saw this monstrous snapping turtle emerge from the water. He came back and told me about it. Then, with bread in hand, we returned to the pond to coax the giant out again.
We became immediately addicted to watching the comings and goings of our snapping turtle, whom we fondly christened Mr. Big. As time passed, we realized that the other residents of the pond did probably not share the amicable feelings we had for Mr. Big. We noticed that Mr. Big tended to bully the other creatures.
Matt: Like Jane Goodall, we began to notice common routines and practices of not only Mr. Big, but other animals, too. With familiarity came the stories. We began to create stories about the animals. I suggested that we create a one-shot, mini-comic about our Mr. Big. We didn't think it would garner much interest. We did it primarily for ourselves. But before we knew it, people began to e-mail us, inquiring about the next installment.
CitC: I was pleased to see that you had Jay Hosler write the introduction for the book. For those that don't know, Jay Hosler is the creator of my other favorite science themed graphic novel, Clan Apis . His book taught me more about bees than I ever thought I would – and now here is your book teaching lots of stuff about habitat, etc. Your two books teach the science in different ways, but both are very effective. What has the response from teachers, librarians and readers in general been for Mr. Big?
Carol: Mr. Big has been well-received. Art teachers, science teachers and English teachers have created a variety of lesson plans using Mr. Big to illustrate some educational concepts. Libraries have also embraced Mr. Big . In fact, the Fairfax County Library system in Virginia ordered copies for all their branches. We also make quite a few sales to parents of middle school kids who are looking for a comic-style book that's unique and educational.
I think the appeal lies not only in the illustrations and storyline but also the originality in format. Mr. Big is a comic book that spotlights some tough issues (loss of family, bullying, scheming, etc.) in a non-threatening, creative manner. Unfortunately, as we all know to well, the bigger world outside your little pond can be a big, beautiful, scary place.
Matt: I think they see the book as a fun way to introduce their subjects to kids. It visuals what kids learns in science class and puts it in context. Snapping turtles will eat almost anything. But actually seeing a snapper devour fish, ducklings and carrion is different. It's like applying a math lesson to a real-life problem. The light bulb turns on.
CitC: The book is not clear on who did what creatively on Mr. Big. How do the creative chores break down for the two of you?
Carol: Although we call it a collaborative effort, Matt is the true driving force behind Mr. Big . I focus primarily on the textual side, like developing the storyline and editing the drafts. I am the “word girl.” Matt offers creative analysis to the text and storyboard but mainly concentrates on the visuals. He conceptualizes the storyline into comic form. He's also responsible for drawing, inking and lettering the comics.
CitC: Matt, I know that you have been doing comic creating workshops in your local libraries and I saw on your blog that the two of you gave a “Create Your Own Comic” seminar at this year's International Children's Festival in Vienna , Va. What has that experience been like for you? How have the kids (and adults) responded to your classes?
Matt: It's been fantastic. It depends on the ages of the kids, but they younger ones don't have preconceived notions of how comics look like. They seen them and know what they are, but they aren't yet indoctrinated that comics must have panels and they must be square. I've seen some incredible innovative uses of panels come from kids. Personally, I'd recommend that every cartoonist try to teach at least one class every few years. It's an eye-opening and rejuvenating experience.
CitC: What is next for Team Dembicki ?
Carol: Besides adjusting our son to the birth of our second child due at the end of November, our next project centers on a mystical triad of nuns who are sent to investigate strange phenomena in the world. It's a bit edgier than our past comic ventures but the story is really beginning to take off and spawn new ones.
Matt: And while Carol is busy writing that story, which we hope to have ready in 2008, I'm editing a comic anthology based on Native American trickster stories. It will include authentic trickster tales written by about 20 Native American storytellers from all over the U.S. It'll have coyotes, rabbits, raccoons, you name it. In addition to editing it, I'll also be illustrating one of the stories (“Azban and the Crayfish” by Joseph and James Bruchac). The full-color book is slated to be published by Little Foot Comics, the folks who published Mr. Big . It should be available in September 2008.
CitC: Congratulations on the new addition. Both of those comic projects sound very interesting. Please keep us updated on their progress. Thank you again for taking the time to answer a few questions.
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