Aaron Renier's first graphic novel, Spiral-Bound, was an anthropomorphic menagerie that dealt with issues from creative frustration to community hysteria. His latest book, The Unsinkable Walker Bean, is the first in an ongoing series. A high seas adventure involving monsters, treasure, pirates and magic skulls, it delivers everything you want from such a story with genuine warmth and excitement.
MERCURY: What were your inspirations for Walker Bean?
AARON RENIER: I really wanted to capture the feeling I had from playing the videogames made by LucasArts and Sierra in the '90s. King's Quest, Space Quest, Sam & Max Hit the Road... but most of all Indiana Jones and the Fate of Atlantis. Those games still bounce around in my head.
Your style in general has a classic cartoon feel to it. How did it develop? What did you grow up drawing?
When I was growing up in Green Bay, my family moved in the middle of my fourth grade year of school. I went from a Catholic school to a public school, and I went from being the class artist to being the most unpopular kid. I struggled to get myself back to being the class artist, but it was tough. The most popular kid in school was also the artist. It was impossible. I would find artists I liked and mimicked them, and traced them and tried to push myself to draw like them all the way through eighth grade. It wasn't until my freshman year of high school, that I felt I became the class artist again. I was looking at Bill Watterson and my favorite artist growing up, John Severin. I'm going back to their work again now.
Ever since then I feel like I wanted to keep growing and changing. It felt good every time I made a leap. I think working on this book came from looking at a lot of French cartoonists like Chris Blain, Lewis Trondheim, and Joann Sfar... but I think it was a deep need to connect with one of my favorite cartoonists, Hergé, that really drove me to work on this book.
You put a lot of complicated inventions into your comics—have you always made up these kind of devices?
I remember really struggling with my weight when I was in middle school, and really wanting to be a running back on a professional football team. I would draw these machines that I would get into that would teach me to run like Barry Sanders. I think it's funny that I didn't want to do the work to be an athlete... but I could come up with a machine that would turn me into one.
Walker Bean is considered a "young adult" book—do you write your stories with a particular audience in mind?
I really just write to keep myself entertained. I do think my work speaks to my middle-school self. Even when I think about more "adult" stories I want to do after I'm finished with the Walker Bean series... I'm pretty sure they will end up being all-age appropriate. I really have little interest in just speaking to adults—I don't even think I could if I really tried.
When's the next Walker Bean book coming out? (I DEMAND TO KNOW.) And how long of a story are you planning? Is it more fun or challenging to have a longer, serialized project going?
I hope and pray it will be out in 2012. I am not sure exactly when though. I am really excited about book two. It feels much different to me. I really just want it to be a book about how my three main characters interact... and who they are. There will be machines, and there will be mysterious creatures. I think it is very challenging to me to work on a series. Sometimes I have these panic attacks about failing on a second book, and feeling like I let everybody who cared down. I think I've tamed that feeling for a while. I'm excited to sit down and draw it, and that has to be a good sign.