A few months ago, editor-in-chief of The Beat Heidi MacDonald shared on social media that she’d been interviewed for the comic book podcast Stuff Said. I really enjoyed her conversation with host Gregg Schigiel, and soon after listening to that episode I devoured the rest of the show’s catalogue. I learned that Gregg Schigiel is also a very talented cartoonist, best known for his work on SpongeBob SquarePants comics. He has a new original graphic novel called Pix available now online and coming out through comic stores on February 11th. I spoke to Gregg about the book, from its development through marketing Pix with interviews like what you’ll read below.
You originally drew the first two chapters of Pix as a black and white ashcan. Why did you decide to make the graphic novel color?
Originally, I was pitching it over at Image in 2007/2008 under their Slimline line of books that Casanova and Fell came from. The concept I had at the time was that each chapter would be 20 pages and you could collect every 5 and it would be a $1.99 book for younger readers. The ashcans were black and white because it was cheaper to go into Nickelodeon and use their photocopiers and print black and white copies. The intent for the book was always to be color if and when it got printed.
Why did you decide to self-publish?
I’ve wanted to self-publish forever. Well, forever’s probably overstating it, but I’ve been interested in self-publishing ever since I was an assistant editor at Marvel. People like Jeff Smith and Terry Moore did really interesting work when I was in college and are still doing interesting work now, really making self-publishing work for them. I found the process super interesting and wanted to at least understand what it took to see something from start to finish. At a certain point with this project, I also saw that the self-publishing process would be faster than trying to shop it around and get somebody else to publish it. I knew what I wanted from it and the most efficient way to get that final result was to self-publish.
Why did you start the preview on the Pix website with Chapter 1 instead of the prologue?
I thought the prologue would be a nice treat for someone who read the first chapter online and then picked up the book and saw that there was something before Chapter 1. Also, a lot of the prologue is going to be in a book trailer that I’m working on when I’m not working on other things, so it will show up in some format. But I thought Chapter 1 worked as its own chunk of content. It seemed like a good intro to the character and the world.
The first page of Chapter 1 was a lot of exposition, but it’s really good exposition. I love how it takes advantage of the comics form, in that you can flip back to it if you forget something about a character like their name.
Yeah. I wanted this to be an entry level book where you knew what you had. It’s an incredible advantage of comics that you can do a lot in a single page and share that information very quickly.
You spend a lot of your time drawing SpongeBob, who you have to draw exactly the right way for licensers. Is Pix more your natural style?
Yes, Pix is much closer to how I naturally draw. Although, I’ve done so much licensing work and that’s had a…this might sound pretentious, but I can draw in different styles. And that manifests in the construction and finish, so I could do Pix in a different style if I chose to – cartoonier, more rendered, etc – but, for efficiency’s sake, this is the closest to my natural style at the moment. And I tried to work a little looser on Pix to work a little faster because I can, like so many people, really over-think and over worry about a drawing. Making lines perfectly smooth, making sure not a single thing is out of place. The SpongeBob work I do has to be “on model” and look super-consistent to the show, and that’s held over into my trying to keep consistency throughout Pix. That can also slow me down, if I’m too concerned with “is the nose perfect every time?” So I tried to chuck that and tell the story. I spent more time on the construction and making the figure work solid and less time on the final linework, if that makes sense.
Like I imagine many did, I first discovered your work through your podcast. Why did you start Stuff Said?
I started it in 2011 because I didn’t hear a podcast like it and I wanted there to be that show out there. I found the conversations on podcasts like Bullseye hosted by Jesse Thorn and WTF with Marc Maron super engaging and wanted that sort of thing in comics and cartooning. After listening to enough shows and complaining to friends it got to a point where if I thought I could do it, I should do it. So I went ahead and did it.
It’s nice to get the perspective of a cartoonist. Doesn’t seem like there’s enough of that in the podcast world.
Thanks. Yeah, it’s funny because that was clearly what I was going for, but it didn’t quite dawn on me that it was what I was doing until I spoke to Jamal Igle early on. He said that our talk was a different kind of conversation because we were coming from similar places. It was a peer to peer conversation as opposed of fan to pro or store to creators. It’s hopefully a little bit interview, a little bit commiserating as fellow professionals in this business.
Has the podcast helped build your name in the industry?
I don’t know. That’s a great question. I think it all depends… I’m not sure. I was at NYCC and had people come up and say they liked the show. Some of them were people in the industry and some who I presume were just fans who came across the show. I have no idea who knows who I am. I tend to think I’m a certain level of obscure but then people know who I am. I was at SDCC 2011 after two episodes had aired and met Skottie Young for the first time. I mentioned I did this podcast and he was like, “Oh yeah, I know.” I asked, “How do you know? The show is brand new!” He said he’d heard about it from somebody so I guess some people are listening to the show. I don’t have the full information on who’s listening to it and who knows who I am by name. I don’t think it’s that many people, though, and that’s not me being modest. I genuinely think that it’s not that many people. I wish it was more and interviews like this will hopefully help get my name out there.
After years of SpongeBob and now a self-published graphic novel, do you have any interest in working on a project that’s more mainstream for typical comic fans?
I might have at one point – I did draw a handful of comics for Marvel in the late ’90s and that was amazing – but I haven’t much lately. I mean, Pix, while geared towards a younger audience, which isn’t maybe the mainstream comic book fan, still has plenty for a mainstream or typical comic fan to enjoy, but… No. No, because I’ve seen over the years there’s something very, very satisfying about the reactions kids have when they read stuff and are super into it. I feel that with SpongeBob Comics and I feel it when sitting next to Chris Giarrusso at conventions. Kids and families are super into G-Man. Raina Telgemier’s work draws a huge audience. There’s something very heartwarming… this might sound a little sappy… about seeing that kind of reaction. I see that less with mainstream comics. That’s not to say mainstream comics fans don’t appreciate the work, but I’ve become less concerned with appealing to that specific fanbase. I have been part of that fanbaseso I’m not dismissing it. I just don’t think as much about or make those kinds of comics at this point. I wrote Pix with the idea of 9 to 14 year olds reading it. That’s not exactly the mainstream typical comic fan.
What’s next for you?
Next for me is promoting and trying to sell Pix to comic stores and elsewhere. That’s the biggest and hardest challenge of this project so far. It’s the one thing I’ve not been able to have the most control over because to sell the book I need to promote the book. To promote the book I need people like you, thank you very much, to talk to me. Or I need distribution and need a distributor to sell the book on my behalf. When it comes to drawing it, I can just do what I do. Writing and drawing is the easy part and the fun part.
So there’s that and more Stuff Said because that’s part of my new comics output. And at some point I need to start working on Book 2 of Pix and I still work on the SpongeBob comics because that pays the bills. I’ve also been working on a new podcast that has nothing to do with comics that I’ll announce on the December 15th episode of Stuff Said. That will launch at the end of December and I think it will appeal to comic book fans but it’s not a comic show at all. It has nothing to do with comics, which is a fun departure. There’s always stuff I want to do. Like every person making comics and telling stories the list of things I want to do that I haven’t gotten to is only going to be longer than what I’ve been able to get done so the list continues. There’s still time, though. I’m not that old yet!
You can buy a copy of Pix in digital or print here or ask your local comic shop to order it in the December catalog: item #DEC141546.