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Matt Chats: Writer Hansel Moreno on Finding Collaborators and His ‘Artists First’ Mentality

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Over the past couple of years, many of my favorite comics have been outside the eye of most visitors to comic shops and bookstores, and even alien to most readers of publications like The Beat. I’ve been entranced by artists with fresh, unique styles who have created stories deserving contention for any awards for sequential art.

I can never speak highly enough about interwoven anthology Terraquil by Shawn Daley, who I interviewed not too long ago about the graphic novel. Nor will I stop urging larger publishers to recognize the talents of Claire Connelly, Julie Godwin, and so many more.

I would have never been aware of these incredible artists and stories if not for Hansel Moreno. He has a keen eye for distinctive and remarkable artists outside the purview of the larger comic book industry. Everyone should follow his Twitter list of under-discovered artists so they can enjoy the same experience I’m so grateful for.

Not content with simply admiring the artists’ work, Hansel has been collaborating with them on comics of their own. His stories are fascinating because, if I had not known otherwise, I would have immediately assumed they were the work of a single creator. The words and art meld into something that makes one almost indistinguishable from the other, to wonderful effect. You can read many of his comics in full on his website at no cost.

Recently Hansel released a graphic novel containing multiple stories by multiple artists, and it came together beautifully. Galahad and the Far-Off Horizon is a collection of fantasy tales set in the same world but still vary widely in style and tone. The longest story, The Garden of Galahad, is filled with melancholy, while The Witches Laugh is short and inspires a smile. I hope many more people have the opportunity to read it.

I interviewed Hansel, partly on his creative efforts but also about his eye for talent and the importance of valuing the artist. Give it a read.

Header art by Julian Adkins

How do you discover so many interesting yet largely unknown artists?

Twitter! I’ve had a surprising success rate when reaching out to collaborators. Claire Connelly, Shawn Daley, Jack Gross, Chan Chau, Julian Adkins, all have been found on Twitter. I have met some people at comic cons but twitter is 24/7. Once I had a completed project it was great to have a reference that I could use to establish a history with possible new collaborators.

What comes first when you’re developing short comics, the artist or the story?

I usually have a look of the book in mind and I reach out to an artist I think can best fit the style I have in mind.

Can you describe your process working with artists?

That varies depending on the artist. Working with Marek Jarocki on Mother Made Us To Die was more of an email conversation and we went back and forth. With the artists on Galahad and the Far-Off Horizon, there was a script for each story that the artists would work from and we would email back and forth when they had better layout ideas than I did in certain scenes. Julian really breathed a lot of life into Galahad with extra touched here and there with crowd scenes. I asked for a lot and he gave beyond that. Maria is very aware of conversations and they would make sure to place the characters on the page in speaking order. It’s such a major thing to overlook and they were extremely vigilant to prevent that. Chan made an amazing splash page of a treasure lined cave that was two or three lines of script and they filled the panel with amazing trinkets.

Art by Julian Adkins.

A lot of your work is sparse on dialogue and narration. Do you gravitate towards stories that are expressed through art more than words?

I’m still learning how to write conversations/interactions that feel genuine. I super cheated with the Galahad/Brynne relationship as one is a mute suit of armor but I hope the readers can see/read/feel the friendship that is there. Aside from that, I do love leaving so much room for the reader to enjoy the art. I feel I work with artist talented enough that they are able to convey the story with only a few words of narration or conversation.

Art by Shawn Daley.

Your stories feel like they’re the work of one cartoonist rather the product of multiple creators. How do you achieve that level of synchronicity with your collaborators?

Julian Adkins made reference sheets for the main characters, every artist was able to play and change with those designs as they saw fit as well as design at least one character of their own. Julian designed a book that only appeared in the story Julie Godwin drew/co-wrote and also the story within Tougher Than The Hills that Maria lettered and colored. Aside from the technical aspect, I like to believe everyone involved liked the world we were building.

Art by Julie Godwin.

Your work suggests you have very little ego about letting the art be in the forefront. Has that always been your attitude?

Yes!

I see a lot of Japanese influence in your work. Who are some of your favorite creators of manga and anime?

That would definitely be a question for the artists as they’re the ones who are illustrating. However, I can say I am a huge Dragon Quest and Final Fantasy fan and adore the work of Akira Toriyama and Akira Toriyama.

Art by Claire Connelly

You leave many elements to the readers’ interpretations. What do you like about ambiguity in storytelling?  

The reader is an important element to the story. I’ve read stuff from my favorite creators and have felt nothing. I’ve come back to a book or album weeks or months later and have been moved to tears. Leaving room for the readers’ imagination feels like a way to make a work connect better with them.

Was a full graphic novel collecting multiple stories always what you were working towards?

Yes, I have a Twitter list of 100+ artists I would like to work with and the more I can write for the better. I had a few more stories planned for this current anthology but my budget can only go so far. There is always room for a second volume though!

What’s your ultimate goal as a comic creator, personally, professionally, and/or creatively?

I would love to work with any of my collaborators at Vertigo, Image or another big publisher and have our stories seen by a larger audience.  

Art by @soupsleuth on Twitter and Instagram

Notice he says “our stories.” Most writers would have spoken in the singular, but it seems instinctual to Hansel to share the credit. You can follow him on Twitter @hanselthelost and read many of his short stories for free on his website. I hope you do.

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