Interview – Maggie Umber on her Latest Graphic Novel, Owls, Research & Colours

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Minnesota-based publisher 2dcloud has launched it’s quarterly crowdfunding campaign for it’s 2017 spring collection. 2dcloud has been using crowdfunding as a mechanism for pre-orders and to create curated book bundles. 2dcloud is a publisher from which you never know what to expect. They keep selecting new and innovative work to publish that always defy and satisfy your expectations. They have once again created a very interesting line up of comics featuring the works of a host of incredible artists. I’m particularly excited since some of the books are amongst some I’m anticipating the most this year are included in this bundle.

One of the books I’m anticipating the most this year is Maggie Umber’s Sound of Snow Falling. It’s the story of two great horned owls in a forest during the winter. A simple enough tale, but one that truly shines thanks to the talent of Maggie Umber. Not only has she spent a number of years researching and studying the behaviour of owls in the wild, she also aimed for accuracy with their anatomy. This isn’t simply an academic tale, but a poetic narrative with a documentary undertone to it. The result is a graphic that looks absolutely gorgeous. The details in each pages, the vibrancy of the colours is phenomenal. You can easily tell that the author is passionate about her subject in the way the owl is

I’ve reached out to Maggie Umber so she can tell us more about the book. She has been kind enough to talk about Sound of Snow Falling, her research work and colours in her book.

Philippe Leblanc: For those readers who may not be familiar with you and your work, can you tell us a little bit about yourself?

Maggie Umber: I’m a cartoonist and the associate publisher at 2dcloud. This past year I had a 24 page comic in the anthology The Shirley Jackson Project edited by Rob Clough Rob Kirby and published by Ninth Art Press. My first graphic novel, Time Capsule, was published by 2dcloud in 2015. My upcoming graphic novel, Sound of Snow Falling, is being kickstarted as a part of 2dcloud’s Spring 2017 collection.

PL: Sound of Snow Falling is the tale of two owls. Could you give us a little bit more information on the book.

MU: Sound of Snow Falling is a 104 page flexibound, acrylic-painted, documentary-style, wordless graphic novel. It’s a dark, almost monochromatic book that follows a pair of great horned owls through a single winter.

PL: Your mention on your website that your new graphic novel, Sound of Snow Falling, has been in the back of your mind since you were in 10th grade. How do you feel now that this book is so close to being published?

MU: Until I am holding it in my hands it won’t be real. It’s been such a long process. I wrote the 10th grade research paper, then ten year later I turned the paper into the short comic You Are the Great Horned Owl in 2008 for the Good Minnesotan anthology. I started the graphic novel Sound of Snow Falling in 2010 and finished painting it at the end of 2014. We waited to publish it until we had a major distributor, so here it is, coming out in 2017. Now it’s at the printers, I’ve seen the wet and plotter proofs, and in a few weeks we get the advanced copies.

PL: How long and what type of research did you do for this graphic novel?

MU: I read every book and article on great horned owls and owls in general that I could get my hands on. Also books on other as animals as well, like porcupines, white-tailed deer, crows. I watched owl cams obsessively for a couple of years. I visited a few great horned owl nests in real life, one was high up in a tree, the other was high up in a cliff, so that made observation difficult. I kept that part minimal because I didn’t want to disturb the owls.

PL: How do you distill both the research you’ve done and the behaviour of owls into a narrative without it becoming erratic? How did you decide what was important and what wasn’t as important?

MU: I did a lot of editing. I read and reread my book by flipping through the storyboards and the finished paintings as I made them. Pacing was very important to me. If something didn’t fit, I pulled it. If something felt too fast, I added material and slowed it down. The structure of the book slowly revealed itself as I worked. I knew I wanted a focus on the prey animals. The endpapers of the book show all of the different animals that great horned owls are known to have preyed upon. Those were some of the first pages I painted and they helped me to focus. I also wanted it to be about the process of the owlets growing up, but most of that material ended up being cut. I realized that the story was about winter, and the relationship between the parent owls as they started the process of bringing up a new generation.

PL: I’m fascinated by the colours of the graphic novel. Using deep blue really helps to convey the nocturnal aspect of the owl. Could you tell us about the colours in your book.

MU: Ultramarine Blue dominated! Also there is Alizarin Crimson Hue, Hansa Yellow Light (to add to the blue to make green) and Neutral Gray. As an artist, I like to simplify things down to an essence. Blue is the color of the night, and blue is the color of winter. Green is the approaching spring. Alizarin Crimson Hue is food – blood and berries, heat. Neutral Gray made the other colors pop.

PL: What do you want readers to take with them once they’ve finished reading your graphic novel?

MU: I spent six-months playing the Larkwire app on the iPad. It teaches you to recognize bird species by their songs. When spring came I went to a bunch of parks and I saw birds everywhere because I could now recognize them by sound. It was astonishing, the things that you miss that are right in front of your face. It gave me such joy. The take-away from Sound of Snow Falling? Read some books or buy an app, learn. Go outdoors, be quiet, and observe nature.

You can pre order Sound of Snow Falling as well as the other fantastic looking books from 2dcloud Spring 2017 publishing slate during their crowdfunding campaign here.

4 COMMENTS

  1. OMG thanks Rob! I have been running on very little sleep lately because of the 2dcloud Spring 2017 kickstarter.

    Rob Kirby was my wonderful editor on “The Shirley Jackson Project”. Rob Clough is a marvelous comics critic for The Comics Journal and High-Low!

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