Angel Catbird illustrated just how high a silly idea can be elevated by an expertly crafted comic. A book about a man turned into part cat, part bird. It’s certainly a WTF idea and don’t get me started on the title that sounds like it came out of the random word generator. However, it was hard to deny that Angel Catbird by acclaimed novelist Margaret Atwood and artist Johnnie Christmas was one of 2016’s most imaginatively fun reads. One which certainly earned its place on the NY Times Best-seller list.
Best of all…it wasn’t the end. Angel Catbird: To Castle Catula, the follow up to the hit debut graphic novel lands in stores on Valentines Day. Beat Manor was fortunate enough to get a few words with the man who designed a world unlike any other, Johnnie Christmas.
COMICS BEAT: Even with a notable author’s name like Margaret Atwood attached to a project, you never know how a book is going to do once it gets to the audience. What was your initial reaction to the incredible reception Angel Catbird received when readers got the book?
JOHNNY CHRISTMAS: I was extremely pleased. I thought the book would do well, but I had no idea that it would go over as well as it did! We topped the New York Times Best-Sellers list in our category and was on the list for 13 weeks (before the Graphic Books List was pulled. So who knows how long the series would have been on the list)! That’s thanks to the great team working on the book. From Margaret’s script to the superb work of our marketing and publicity people.
CB: Personally, I’m thrilled we’re getting more Angel Catbird in 2017. How did you and Margaret Atwood manage to do such a quick turn around for Vol 2 and even faster for Vol 3 when other publishers have a year or two between their successful graphic novel installments?
JC: The secret to Angel Catbird’s quick turnaround time, is that we are doing a graphic novel series on a monthly comic book schedule. So we are able to produce multiple graphic novels, three to be exact, within the space of a year.
CB: One thing readers can look forward to in To Castle Catula is larger scale action, which by the way is superbly done. What were some of the other things you wanted to do differently or expand upon this time around and in the upcoming 3rd installment?
JC: Thanks! I think one of the things that we really wanted to do with this volume is have some fun with action sequences. Make them quite dynamic. See our characters in action, put to the test. See what they’re made of when they’re facing deadly foes (with lasers)!
CB: It’s not uncommon for comics and graphic novels to have informational footnotes. Angel Catbrid certainly uses them in ways to educate readers young and old with PSAs about pet shelters or cat care, but as the illustrator of the book, do you know those notes are going in so you can accommodate on the page? Does it alter your process in any way?
JC: Yep, I know going in which pages are going to have info banners. That way I can build a page around the space we’ll need for them. Also, those pages aim to have a little less dialogue so the artwork can still breathe.
CB: Another thing I’ve noticed about your work is in the thumbnail stage. When planning your layouts, your thumbnails are very animation influenced. Your placement of characters or key objects are more locked in and distinct with heavier lines than most comic book artists. Where you influenced by animation artists in your early days?
JC: I wouldn’t say that it’s an animation influence, per se. I would say, that I try to keep a high level of energy in my thumbnails. I keep them very loose, and I put as much energy as I can into them at that stage. So that when we have the placement and blocking locked down, I can go in and articulate and tighten up in the penciling stage. It leaves a lot of room to discover new things at every stage of the page’s realization.
CB: You’ve been such an ambassador for the arts and the comic book medium with the recent exhibitions in Vancouver to talking comics with the BBC. What were your thoughts on the New York Times removing comics from their Best-Sellers lists?
JC: I think it’s unfortunate, not having the Graphic Books list as part of the New York Times Best-Sellers anymore. Not only was it great for the comics, but I think it did a great service to the readers of the New York Times. It was a trusted place where they could go to find some of the most popular and engaging work in the form today. For some people, it acted as kind of a “cheat sheet”. A way in which they could dive into a medium they may not be fully familiar with, and have 10 great options to choose from in any given week. My hope is that they’ll, in time, reconsider their decision.
CB: Finally, I know you’re more of a dog person so will you ever get tired of seeing cat puns?
JC: Ha ha, perhaps one day maybe. However, in the script for the upcoming Volume Three of ANGEL CATBIRD, there were some puns that actually made me laugh out loud!
CB: Now, I can’t wait. But you fine fine Beat readers don’t have to wait long for more Angel Catbird as volume 2 is in stores on Feb 14th with a third volume to be released this Summer.