By Matt O’Keefe
Short stories are a dying breed in mainstream comics, so often the best offerings are found in the independent scene. Such is the case with books like Cartozia Tales and, more to the point, TerraQuill by Shawn Daley. Like Cartozia, TerraQuill builds a whole world pages at a time. Each of the ten stories delivers heartfelt truths about the human condition. “Always Comes the Day” delivers a heartbreaking story of a student who takes the role of master. “Jimmy’s Eatin’ Well” demonstrates the sometimes subtle sadness of loneliness. “Grumble McMumble“ challenges the early impressions that we so rigidly define others based upon. Most of the stories are about time passing by, for good or ill but always inevitably. TerraQuill is one of the best comics I’ve read in a long time. It’s a shame that more people aren’t aware of Daley’s powerful storytelling put to work in a creative form like this. Hopefully his Kickstarter to fund a collected edition of TerraQuill is a big step towards changing that. Ideally, this interview will be a small one, too.
So how did TerraQuill come about?
It started off as two stories I wanted to self publish before FanExpo 2013, but the stories didn’t really take place in our world. They needed a world of their own, so I had to create one. TerraQuill Issue 1 had “You’ll Make Your Own” and “Always Comes The Day,” which were the first two stories. I realized there was so much more world to see, thus the additional stories.
You’re clearly committed to world building. Has that aspect of storytelling always interested you?
It has. I’ve always found the most enveloping stories take place in a world that’s nothing like ours, or a mixture of our world with supernatural or fantasy elements. The world in Stephen King’s Dark Tower books and even the island on LOST have been big influences in world building.
How much do you know about TerraQuill that’s not on the page?
Everything I need to know is already in my head or written down in a huge file folder of notes. There’s a ton of other stuff that I’m playing around with, but the majority of what I want to tell exists in some form. Character sketches, unused scripts etc.
From the beginning of TerraQuill up until the eventual destruction of it. It’s no fun building something if you’re not going to tear it all down eventually.
What do you use to organize your notes?
Either a dollar store file folder paired with loose paper and post it notes, or a notes app on my phone. I prefer tangible means myself, so I like writing things down as they pop up and stashing them away.
One of the short comics in the collection is called “The Whittler’s War: Prologue.” Do you plan to tell the Whittler’s War proper at some point?
I do eventually, but it’ll slowly be revealed through other stories. I’m working on a long TerraQuill story at the moment called The Bridgebuilder’s Creed, which takes place in a post-Whittler’s War TerraQuill. So you can bet the war will be discussed in more detail during Bridgebuilder’s Creed. It’s a pretty important part of the mythology behind the province.
Do you know what form future TerraQuill stories will take?
The next TerraQuill story will be a 120+ page graphic novel, and then it’s back to single short stories. I’ve really enjoyed the format I’ve been working in at the moment. Releasing single issues and stories for free under a pay-what-you-want model, and then collecting them into a volume for which print funds are raised. No one can argue with free, and it’s a great way to share these stories.
You mentioned that most of the original art you’re offering as Kickstarter rewards is hand-colored. Why did you color the pages even though they’ve largely only appeared in black-and-white?
Practice, mostly. It seemed like a perfect way to experiment with watercolours, so I couldn’t waste the opportunity. All of TerraQuill was basically exercises in writing and drawing, which definitely includes testing out new mediums and colouring techniques.
It’s definitely a nice perk for original art backers. Do you ever plan to release a full-color version of TerraQuill?
Not at the moment, but only because I prefer black and white. When it’s all said and done, I’d love to hire a colourist for a full colour release. But that’ll have to be a little farther down the road.
Are you auctioning off all of the original art in the Kickstarter?
I am. I’d be happy if I had none of the original TerraQuill art left. It does no use sitting in my room here. If there are people who would be happy to scoop it up, I’ll be happy to see it go. I only plan on keeping one piece of original art, and that’s the hand drawn TerraQuill logo.
Your prices on the Kickstarter, for the book and the art, are very low. Was making the campaign affordable to back a priority for you?
I think that should be a priority for everyone using Kickstarter. There needs to be affordable tiers for everyone, and your rewards should be the best you have to offer. At the end of the day, it is about getting your work in the hands of others. Affordable pricing paired with a solid product and good communication is key for success.
Are you a full time freelance artist?
I am indeed.
How much of that is comics?
80% at the moment. I work on independent game soundtracks as well as some web design here and there as gigs come up. But it’s almost all comics/comic art.
I first discovered your work through Dick Whiskey. What’s it like drawing for someone else, and on that one in particular?
Working with Hansel Moreno on Dick Whiskey is an artists dream come true. His scripts are just as descriptive as they need to be, and he’s all about letting the art work in tandem with his script. Not asking for art to be slave to a script is important and Hansel gets that. For the most part, it’s fun working with other writers’ scripts. It all depends on their appreciation and understanding of the artists role.
The writer is never just a writer and the artist is never just an artist. They’re both storytellers. One part of the same coin.
What do you think about the comic strip format you use for Dick Whiskey? What’s limiting about it? What’s freeing?
Back when the Beatles were recording on 4-track tape machines, they were forced to experiment in order to get their songs out. You only had four tracks — you were so limited. That’s why some of those recordings are so aurally bizarre and interesting.
That’s what it can be like working with only three panels. You learn how to condense effectively and cut out what doesn’t need to be seen. It’s a great exercise in editing.
How has the experience been with the Kickstarter? What have you learned, now that it’s nearing its end?
Exhausting, and completely worth every second. The platform itself is easy to use, and they’ll promote your project if they see you working for it. I’ve learned that it’s a very good idea to bring your project to completion before Kickstarting it. People want to see that the work has been finished. When you’re asking the public to fund your ambitions, you need to earn their trust. Completing your project beforehand is a good step in the right direction. It was an amazing experience.
You can find Shawn Daley at his website and on Twitter @shawndaley. You can read most of the TerraQuill stories for free here. I encourage you to back the Kickstarter campaign for the physical edition and some amazing perks. It ends in 4 days so run, don’t walk.