I’ve been following Skottie Young on social media for quite a while, and he’s mentioned Bully Wars a number of times. It was originally a story he would both write and draw but he ended choosing I HATE FAIRYLAND as his first Image series. I’m glad he decided to rework BULLY WARS and even happier that he’s collaborating with an artist that’s style matches the right sensibilities for the series. I had the opportunity to ask the duo about the comic and their collaboration, which you can read below.
All artist is, unless stated otherwise, illustrated by Aaron Conley and Jean-François Beaulieu.
Skottie, you said you set aside Bully Wars years ago because you didn’t think it was the right time for it. What’s changed between then and now?
SKOTTIE: I’m older? [Laughs] I mean, my story was a bit unbalanced back and then leaned a little too heavy on the bully side of the characters. I just didn’t get it right. I didn’t even know what that meant yet, but it was feeling off. So I just put it away until I could go back in and rework it a bit.
How much has the project changed from when you dreamt it up 10 years ago?
SKOTTIE: Not in HUGE ways, but in the RIGHT ways as far as characters go. Before it was all about Rufus and Hock. Now Hock has become a mostly a symbol of the worst bully and instead, we have Spencer, Edith, and Ernie. They add that balance to the book was lacking 10 years ago. The end of the first story has changed a lot though, but I won’t get into that until later.
Specifically, how did it change when Aaron joined the book?
SKOTTIE: Well, the whole visual language changed for sure. I think Aaron helped age the book up a bit as well. I have a tendency to make my characters look very young and Aaron a bit older. So he found great middle ground for the visual language of the students and it really elevated this book far past where I would’ve taken it. Aaron also adds so many little fun things to spot in the background. He’s so detail-oriented and that adds a whole other layer to the storytelling that wouldn’t have been there had it drawn this myself.
How did you two connect?
SKOTTIE: My friends over at the 11 O’Clock Comics Podcast were gushing about him and his book SABERTOOTH SWORDSMAN one morning while I was driving to my studio and I ordered it while in line grabbing breakfast. I fell in love with that art right away, met him at a con a few months later and we started a dialog soon after that about possibly working together. I brought him on for an issue of Rocket Raccoon and Groot and we had an absolute blast and knew we clicked as a creative team. And here we are!
Did you guys work together on developing the art style of Bully Wars?
SKOTTIE: Not really. That’s all Aaron. Being an artist myself, I’m pretty sensitive about making my collaborators feel like i’m going to come in and start telling them how things should look. I wanted to work with Aaron because he’s a brilliant cartoonist, not because he’d draw how I wanted it to look. So I stay in my lane! I gave a few notes on the characters ages when we first started, but past that, I’ve just watched Aaron craft a beautiful and funny world! Then Jean comes in and pluses it up even more with his electric colors! I’m pretty spoiled.
Aaron, there’s so much extra detail in the background of panels that helps make the world come alive. How much of that is in the script, and how much is your own improvisation?
AARON: Most of the little details are all me. Skottie will mention a few things here and there, I think he wrote that “Spencer’s room is fun, but has a lot of wires,” and of course I just take that overboard.
Every artist-colorist relationship seems different. Can you describe your collaboration with Jean-François Beaulieu?
AARON: An absolute dream! I just asked him to give me all the love he gives Skottie, and you can see the results. Occasionally I will suggest that he try this or that because any artist can get a little too far in their head, but over the last few issues my only notes have been “Amazing”!
I know Skottie prefers to draw his own sound effects. Do you do the same, or are they handled by Nate Piekos?
AARON: I usually do, I don’t know why I didn’t this time around, but there are a few little things I slipped in there. Nate has done an amazing job with all the sound effects, so I’m not regretting it too much! [Laughs]
I love the use of lopsided panels, especially on the page Rufus is shoved into a locker. What do you find effective about deviating from typical panel structure?
AARON: I think at the end of the day it’s all about telling Skottie’s story in an entertaining way. But sometimes I need a little more room here or there and I’ll tilt the panel just to give myself more space. That particular deviation really helped amplify the speed and force that Hock was was shoving Rufus in that locker.
Is Bully Wars a miniseries, or a project you could both see yourselves doing for quite a while?
SKOTTIE: It’s an ongoing! We have plans for at least 3 arcs at the moment. But like for all indie comics, it will really depend on retailers and readers and if they are digging it!