Best known for creating Cartoon Network’s iconic miniseries Over the Garden Wall, Patrick McHale has a gift for writing spooky tales with a whole lot of heart. Prior to introducing Wirt, Greg, Beatrice, and Frog to the world, he wrote a short story called BAGS (OR A STORY THEREOF), which has since been converted into a graphic novel by cartoonist Gavin Fullerton and published by BOOM! Box.
The Beat recently caught up with Patrick McHale via e-mail to talk about BAGS, the differences between comics and cartoons, and how the Over the Garden Wall comics expand the Unknown.
Samantha Puc: What was the process of turning BAGS (OR A STORY THEREOF) into a comic?
Patrick McHale: Gavin Fullerton deserves almost all the credit for creating this adaptation. He took the original book and figured out how to break it up into comic form, and chose which bits to include and what not to include. To me it seemed like a very tricky thing to adapt into a comic because it was a rather vague experimental story, both in writing and illustrative style. But in the end we sort of treated it like a folktale, with this comic being like a 60s pulp comic adaptation of the story. Gavin figured out how to make it visually interesting all the way through, and then with Whitney Cogar‘s beautiful colors and Marie Enger‘s unique hand-lettering, it really found its own language.
Puc: What did you learn from that process?
McHale: Well, mostly I learned how incredibly talented Gavin, Whitney and Marie are.
Puc: What is it like working in a visual medium like comics versus working in a visual medium like animation?
McHale: I think this question is too big for me to answer right now. I guess I could write a book on the huge differences and huge similarities between comics and animation. I like both.
Puc: Do you think stories are more well-suited to one visual medium over another? Would you ever want to create an animated version of BAGS?
McHale: I think some stories are definitely more well suited for certain mediums, but they can be adapted. BAGS could be animated, but i don’t think it should be drawn like the comic book OR the original book. A perfect animated version of BAGS might be stop-motion. Maybe just simple clay animation or something. A long time ago I actually started writing a sequel to BAGS called “John Motts in Outer Space” revolving around John, the Wolf, and the Walrus on a rocket ship in uncharted outer space. I thought it would make a great Star Trek / Sid & Marty Krofft type live action feature film or TV series. But it felt like nobody would want to make that. Uh… If anybody wants to make that please contact me, haha.
Puc: Can you describe the character design process, especially the choice to make John so different from the others in the story?
McHale: Well, it just seemed odd when we tried to give him too much specificity. Gavin did a ton of sketches early on until we landed on the final look. The name John or Jack is generally like a place holder name in writing, and John Motts is kind of a blob of a character: we don’t know what his daily life is like, we don’t know his hopes and dreams, or even his interests. So in the story we’re not trying to describe John Motts as much as we’re trying to give the reader a glimpse into his experience. And when you’re living an experience you can’t see yourself… you’re just a blob going through the world. The rest of the world is full of clear detail, but you’re just a blurry blob in the world. So that was the general idea, unless I’m just making up a bunch of nonsense right now.
Puc: Do you have a favorite panel, page, or moment? Why does that one stand out to you?
McHale: There are a lot of panels I really love. Especially everything with the devil and the walrus. One of my favorites is the full page image of John Motts stuck inside of the bag, with the Walrus looking down at him. Such a fantastic image, and Whitney’s colors are perfect. It’s also distinctly different from the illustration in the original book, highlighting the different storytelling approach.
Puc: Did anything about working on this graphic novel surprise you?
McHale: I was surprised that anybody wanted to adapt it into a comic book, haha. The story doesn’t have a clear audience.
Puc: What do you hope readers will take away from BAGS (OR A STORY THEREOF)?
McHale: I hope people enjoy it, and I hope they find something touching about it.
Puc: Regarding Over the Garden Wall, how involved are you with the comics? How do you feel about the story continuing through comics?
McHale: I wrote the first five (the last of which I co-wrote with Amalia Levari), which filled in some blanks in the miniseries. They weren’t necessary stories to tell, but it was fun to expand the world a little. And then when BOOM! Studios wanted to continue making more I became a consultant, just making sure the characters and world stayed as true to the original series as possible. In some ways it feels unnecessary to tell more stories about these characters and that world because their story is complete. But at the same time the Unknown is essentially a place for lost stories… so it feels to me like the Wirt and Greg in the comics are like ghosts/shadows/echoes of the Wirt and Greg in the animated miniseries, forever lost.
Puc: Do you have any current projects that you can talk about?
McHale: I’m currently co-writing Guillermo del Toro‘s stop-motion adaptation of Pinocchio.
Puc: Is there anything else you’d like to add?
McHale: Thank you!
BAGS (OR A STORY THEREOF) is in stores now. To keep up with Patrick McHale, follow him on Twitter.