Wednesday, March 6, 2013

WORKSHOP GUEST: Karl Kerschl discusses design, self-publishing, and the role of music in his work

Recently, comics writer and artist Karl Kerschl joined the Creators Workshop for a Book Club discussion of his work on the web-comic The Abominable Charles Christopher.

The Abominable Charles Christopher tells the path of a shaggy man-beast, Charles Christopher, and the forest creatures and gods with whom he comes in contact.

Neil Gaiman has said of the story:

"To say it's like an unholy mash-up of Walt Kelly, Jeff Smith and Sumerian Mythology is true, but it misses the point completely. It is its own thing, and it does what comics do best: make a world and draw you into it."

Topics discussed during the session included...

Designing the Characters in Charles Christopher

"The look of Charles Christopher came very quickly," Kerschl said. "I think it's really a direct result of my influences. There's a big Miyazaki influence in the story, which I don't do on purpose, but I can't really help because I'm such a big fan of his storytelling."

For the rest of the characters, Kerschl said, "I don't do a lot of design. I set out to tell a funny story about a particular animal, and my process is to do a little bit of research about what that animal looks like, and then go for it."

He also noted that he does not set out to anthropomorphize his characters, but instead lets it come naturally.

"Any time you put an animal in a human setting, you can't help but anthropomorphize them a little, and give them human expressions to communicate their emotions to the reader."

The Advantages of Self-Publishing

Kerschl has self-published the print edition of Charles Christopher. During the session, a workshop member asked if he had considered going through a publisher. Kerschl noted that he was approached by several publishers, and has left the lines of communication open, but that he feels self-publishing holds several distinct advantages.

"Granted, I don't know too much about the publishing industry, but I have a lot of friends and peers who have published their creator-owned work through publishing companies, and they make almost nothing off of it," he said.

The advantage of publishers, for work that is already completed, is that they handle the printing and distribution costs, and work to get the material out to a wider audience. In Kerschl's case, he was able to handle the costs through pre-orders and early sales. And in turn, he keeps 100 percent of the book's profits.

"I'm the furthest thing from a business guy, but this is what made sense to me at the time, and it's still what makes sense to me."

Self-publishing also gives Kerschl a greater degree of control over the final product.

"I had a very specific idea of how I wanted that book to be treated, the presentation of it," he said. "I think I would have had a fight on my hand if I'd argued for a suede cover, and a gatefold, and all of that. It's a really expensive book to make."

The Role of Music in his Work

While discussing his influences, Kerschl brought up the topic of music, and the role it plays in his work. He noted that music helps him create the mood he's looking for, points him in a certain direction, and gives him new ideas for his work.

"More often than not, music will evoke certain scenes or ideas that I would not have thought of otherwise," Kerschl said. He noted that the first section of Charles Christopher was heavily influenced by Sigur Ros. Other influences he noted include Aimee Mann, Miyazaki film soundtracks and the Lord of the Rings soundtracks.

"Usually I'll have some kind of mood in mind, so I'll put together a playlist of mood-appropriate music and shuffle it," he added.

"And when something clicks with me I'll play the same few tracks over and over and over again. It's like I'm playing out a movie trailer in my head.

"This is how I work on everything, by the way; by putting on music that's appropriate, and letting the images kind of go through my head. They don't always make sense at first, but certain ones kind of click. I make a note of it and go from there. I don't know how it will fit, usually. I just think, okay, that's something I like, and maybe I can steer the ship in that direction."

Other topics discussed:

   * The genesis of Charles Christopher
   * The planning process for the web-comic
   * Switching between longer arcs and one-off strips
   * Servicing such a large and beloved cast
   * The different reading experiences of web-comics vs. printed books
   * His script process, and how it's changed over the years
   * Marketing and promoting a web-comic
   * How much of the end Kerschl already has in mind
   * Advice for other creators, and things he wished he had known
   * And many more

Creators Workshop Book Club sessions are held throughout the year, featuring guest writers and artists discussing the craft and art of comics, as well as the business side of things. Additional live Workshop sessions take place every month, giving members real-world knowledge that will help them succeed in their comics career.

There's still plenty of time to sign up before the next session. We hope to see you there.

-- Posted by Paul Allor