I was connected to Ryan Heshka through a publicized promoting the upcoming art exhibition for his comic. I’d never heard of such a thing, but it’s a brilliant concept. Earning a living through sales of an indie comic is an uphill climb for any creator. By centering an exhibition on a comic, however, an artist can spotlight the original art which sells for far more than a single comic. Frog Wife is a wonderful three-color risograph comic that captures an old-fashioned pulp aesthetic with a classic art style complimented by beautiful pastel colors. I was happy Heshka found a way to monetize the comic, and even happier to get to speak to him about its production.
Where did the concept and imagery of the Frog Wife come from?
I played off a painting I did years ago entitled Frog Wife’s Bad Day. I create many random characters in my paintings, and some of them (like The Mean Girls Club) I feel are worth developing. Comics give me that opportunity for a full narrative. I have long treated my paintings like single, clipped panels from lost comics… so fleshing the painting out into a comic story feels like gluing that lost panel back into the found, phantom comic book.
Were romance comics from the Golden and Silver Age an influence?
Absolutely! Especially the early EC love comics from the 1950s. I had fun flirting with that genre, which I actually never particularly cared for.
Even though the comic is only 14 pages, it features a number of twists and turns. Was it difficult plotting a story that had so many plot twists?
The plotting actually came quite easily, and there were never any other plot elements edited out or unused. I knew the story I wanted to tell quite quickly. What was difficult was getting the art to carry the plot I had in mind, and getting the art up to a standard I was happy with. There were many redraws on each panel.
On multiple occasions, as I was reading the comic I thought I figured out the moral of the story, until a story development changed my mind and convinced me the moral is something else entirely. Was that a deliberate play with readers’ expectations on your part?
Not really (I’m curious to hear what your take is on the moral). I mean, I always hope the reader will be entertained and enjoy the story, but I was never going for misdirection. It was not written as a moral tale… but I guess since I am playing off the monster-movie genre of the 1950s as an influence, maybe the moral factor is built into it. So many of those old movies I love are about the price that mankind must pay for toying with nature and science (ex: A-bombs create a giant fire breathing lizard that wreaks havoc), maybe the moral aspect sort of bled in unconsciously.
Like your two volumes of Mean Girls Club, Frog Wife stars a woman who bucks gender norms and pushes back against her mistreatment. What fascinates you about telling stories featuring that kind of character?
There are many genres and art forms I enjoy and am influenced by, pin up art among them. I used to paint a lot of straight-up pin ups. But over time, I found that I was merely rehashing an old format, and started to think about what I bring to this genre that would make it my own, but update it with a strong contemporary undercurrent. Without searching too hard, the Menu Girls Club popped out of my brush, and it resonated with readers… of all types, ages and genders. I realized that I had found something with teeth, a style of storytelling I would enjoy bringing to life, but that also had social and political weight to it (even if it is treated lightly, tongue in cheek). I have always admired strong women, and have never felt threatened by them. I am mystified by the misogynistic attitudes right now… I thought we left the 70s behind.
The pastel style is beautiful. What art tools did you use to color the comic?
Black gouache on paper, and photoshop. All the color and feel of the book comes from the risograph printing technique (printed by Colour Code Printing, Toronto). Risograph is basically a photocopier that can run different color layers, almost like silk screening. It is THE perfect technique for me, as I was going for a really tactile object that felt like it was form the past.
An art exhibition is a very unique way to debut a comic. What made it the right route for Frog Wife?
Bruce, one of the co-owners of Corey Helford (where it debuted) is a big comic fan. So I pitched them a very comic-centric show, as an excuse to show my existing comic art as well as get another comic out into the world. It was a different approach to launching a comic for sure. I like to try different things and see what sticks.
Is an art exhibition a more effective way to monetize your hard work than releasing Frog Wife through other channels?
Yes, generally. Selling one expensive painting is much simpler than the labor, edits and distribution (Frog Wife was self-published) going into doing a comic. Comics are notorious for bringing in NO money in. But they are so damn gratifying to make. And I was so happy with how Frog Wife turned out, I am thinking about crowdfunding my next one to make it feasible.
Do you have plans for reaching comic book readers who don’t keep up with the art scene?
Not immediate plans, but I also don’t have a ton of comics under my belt. So I think once I pick up steam on comic production, I’ll look towards more serious avenues to get the work out to the comic masses. I would like to do more publishing with Nobrow (who published Mean Girls Club), as they are the perfect blend between comics and art. So I have a great contact for publishing, I just need time to produce more content.
Will there be more of Frog Wife?
There may be a return of Frog Wife, but I tend to flit around from project to project, and I actually enjoy the idea of the one-shot comic (which was what Frog Wife was designed as). But I did leave Frog Wife somewhat open ended so that there was potential for expansion! I am also toying with the idea of an anthology for my next risograph comic, something a bit more experimental in nature.
Matt Chats is an interview series featuring discussions with a creator or player in comics, diving deep into industry, process, and creative topics. Find its author, Matt O’Keefe, on Twitter and Tumblr. Email him with questions, comments, complaints, or whatever else is on your mind at firstname.lastname@example.org.