Matt Chats: Shaun Simon on Magic in Storytelling and Settling in with Wizard Beach

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Shaun Simon is one of my favorite new voices in comics. He first gained notoriety for co-writing True Lives of the Fabulous Killjoys, which tied into the last album from My Chemical Romance, with Gerard Way. Since then he’s created fantasy series Neverboy with Tyler Jenkins and Art Ops with Michael Allred. Wizard Beach, illustrated by Conor Nolan, is a more playful type of fantasy title from Simon but no less inspired. I asked the writer about changing gears for an all-ages story, adjusting his mindset as a creator, and what he loves about magic in and outside of fiction.

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How did you connect with Boom Studios for Wizard Beach?

I was taking a break, or regrouping, to kind of figure out where I want to go, and what I want to do in comics. Sierra Hahn, our editor, and someone I have worked with before, reached out. I told her Conor and I had this thing called Wizard Beach. I sent it over and she loved it. It happened very fast as far as getting comics made go.

Were you itching to tell an all-ages story or was it an adjustment for you?

It’s funny, but I didn’t realize this was going to be an all ages book until after I started writing it. It wasn’t my intention to do something all ages, it just worked out that way. As I was doing it, I started thinking this could be something my kids could read and I really liked that idea. Up to this point, I don’t know if my kids thought twice about their dad writing comics, it was just something I did. When I got the first issue of Wizard Beach and showed it to them, it was like, “Wait, you did this?” I think it was the first time they were impressed with what I did. It was a cool feeling and they even brought the issue into school to show their friends and teachers. It’s a weird thing, as someone grows up usually the idea is to usually impress a boss to get hired or an editor to get a book made, but nothing gives you the feeling of getting the, “this is so cool” from your own kids.

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You’ve mentioned that with Wizard Beach you let go of what you thought you should be writing and learning. What was that, exactly?

I got into comics because of the 90’s Vertigo stuff. The Grant Morrison, Neil Gaiman stuff, like a lot of people I’m sure. For the longest time I had it in my head that because that was the stuff I liked, that was the stuff I should be writing. But the thing is, I am not Grant or Neil, I am who I am. And while I like reading their stuff, I needed to find my own voice. I think that’s a lesson that most writers learn at one time or another and after my last book, it was time for me to do the same.

Will letting go of those notions also affect how you approach future projects?

Absolutely. I can only write what I can write and the way I write it. And I am very happy with that.

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Wizard Beach feels very spontaneous, as if anything can (and should) happen. Was it plotted out in as much detail as your previous works?

The broad strokes were worked out but I didn’t go and do a heavily detailed outline of every issue. I wanted to leave for to be spontaneous and let certain things work out organically. I did not a very plot heavy book with Wizard Beach.

There are a lot of fun details in the background. Are a lot of those from Conor?

Those are all from Conor. When this idea first popped into my head, Conor jumped right in. He is more in tune with the world of Wizard Beach than I am and I find myself writing the scripts around the ideas he has. The book is a true collaboration in every the sense of the word. The book would not exist without Conor and his sense of humor, ideas, and design aesthetic. What he does with the pages is mind blowing. The amount of detail he adds makes the world seem like it’s real—it’s somewhere out there and we just haven’t found that beach yet.

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Was the book market on your mind when deciding to use a chapter format?

It wasn’t. I wanted to do a book that dealt just as much with the world as it did with the story. I wanted to have these little scenes that amounted to a larger story by the end without it being plot heavy. The idea was people could jump into the book and have a relaxing time and not worry about getting to the end. I hope people just enjoy being there. That being said, there is indeed a story here, and it’s a story dealing directly with the way the book is laid out—not rushing and taking your time to enjoy being there.

How is the writing process for the interludes different than for the rest of the comic?

They are fun, world-building, pages. I usually have an idea and then leave it up to Conor, or George, who took over the interludes, and let them run with it.

I noticed that, for all the publishers you’ve worked with, you’ve never written a story involving superheroes. Is that a genre you’re interested in exploring at some point?

I don’t know that I am. Sure, if I had a great Batman story, I’d pursue it, but all these things take up so much space in your head. I would much rather fill that space with my own stories. I have a lot of respect for writers who write a hundred issues of mainstream books, I’m sure it’s a lot of pressure and very rewarding. I just don’t think that it’s for me. There are certain superhero type books that I absolutely love. Umbrella Academy, for example, is one. But I don’t look at that book as a superhero book.

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Magic, meanwhile, is a frequent element in your work. What makes magic a great vehicle for telling the kind of stories you want to tell?

The things that I am interested the most in are seeing strange, or extraordinary, characters in normal settings. Whether it’s wizards on the beach, or an imaginary friend living in an apartment in the city, magic happens to fit right in with the worlds I like creating. Magic is an organic thing to me, it already exists and we just have to look for it. It can be found on a beach or down an alleyway in the city and it can be believed in.

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You can follow Shaun on Twitter @ShaunSimon. Check out the first two issues of Wizard Beach now and be sure to pick up #3, #4, and #5 once each is released.

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 matt@mattwritesstuff.com.