Friday, September 22, 2017

Interview: Two New Illustrated Novels

Next month, two author/illustrators will be releasing visual novels set in imaginary worlds of their own creation. 

Armand Baltazar, formerly of Pixar, produced Timeless: Diego and the Rangers of the Vastlantic, and illustrator Gregory Manchess invented Above the Timberline

They both agreed to be interviewed, and I thought it would be fun to ask each of them the same series of questions by email. Neither of them knew what the other guy said.

1. Please give us the one-sentence pitch of your story.

Manchess: On a future frozen Earth, an obsessed explorer goes missing on an expedition to a lost city under the ice, his only chance for rescue is a young inexperienced pilot…his son.

Baltazar: Timeless follows the adventure of a thirteen year old boy named Diego and his friends as they travel across the world fantastically changed by the fragmenting of time in order to rescue his father from a 2nd century Roman general and a scientist from the future who plot to reshape the world to their liking.

Art by Greg Manchess from Above the Timberline

2. How many illustrations will there be, and what is the balance between text and visuals?

Manchess: Including the book jacket and the case cover, there are 124 major oil paintings. Each turn of the page reveals the progress of the story through a combination of text and images, in varying amounts.

BaltazarTimeless is a 600 page book with about 440 pages written with about 160 pages of full color illustrations interspersed between the prose totaling around 200 mixed media paintings in varying sizes. It reads like a novel using traditional spreads and spot illustrations blended with graphic novel style sequential panel storytelling.

Armand Baltazar, preliminary and finished art from Timeless
Greg Manchess, sketch and finish from Timberline
3. How did you plan the book—for example, did you do written outlines, pencil storyboards, color scripts, value thumbnails, or compositional line drawings?

Manchess: I started with some simple notes, then began with very small, rectangular thumbnail sketches, designed for strong compositions, to get a feel for the rhythm. These led to writing, which led me to sketching again. Back and forth, until it was established. Then years of tweaking! It took seven years to get it in book form.

BaltazarFor the writing I alternated between traditional novel writing using outlines and revising drafts with elements of screenwriting and graphic novel layout. Visually I approached the chapters like a film script and would often thumbnail, then storyboard sequences, and build lighting and color scripting into those panels. I used a combination of thumbnailing, CG set model building, and drawing in line and in digital paint as part of my design and painting process.

4. How much did you have completed before you sold the idea to the publisher?

Manchess: While patiently waiting to get it sold, I’d already finished several drafts of the manuscript and had it completely laid out, page by page.

BaltazarI had about 12 to 15 full color illustrations and drawings completed and one complete "very" rough draft of the story. The first five chapters of that draft were more refined and what I initially shared with potential publishers.

Armand Baltazar, from Timeless
5. Did the making of the visuals cause you to rethink the story?

Manchess: Absolutely! The writing spurred visual ideas, and those initiated more scenes of writing and dialog. I played it over and over in my mind and got new ideas after many run-throughs. Then I’d start again to make the storyline cleaner and more interesting. Constant development.

BaltazarYes, but more specifically... how I wrote the story. We (with the editor) made the decision to use illustration to both bring the text to life visually and to replace sections of written text to tell the story. In those places the imagery would drive the storytelling, so in the written manuscript [there] were entire segments left unwritten to be completed with visuals.

Greg Manchess, from Above the Timberline
6. Is this a project you could do in your spare time, or did you have to clear off your other commitments? 

Manchess: I kept a busy schedule while writing, through several major projects, and taught every week online. Even through a couple of gallery shows. I couldn’t wait to get through an assignment so I could work on the book in the evenings, early mornings, whenever I got a chance. I was possessed. Once it sold, I spent eleven months painting all the images straight through.

BaltazarIt started off in my spare time but as I became more serious and invested in the project, I realized I needed more time to focus so after completing my work on Pixar's Inside Out, I made the decision to take a break from animation and work on it full time. Afterwards I was fortunate when HarperCollins read my story and wanted to publish it and later when Twentieth Century Fox approached me to develop it for a film.

Armand Baltazar, from Timeless
7. Did you get enough of an advance from the publisher to cover your work time, or did you have to cultivate other sources of income?

Manchess: The publisher gave me an advance, but I also had to supplement my income with other work. I was in a unique position to complete this novel, almost as if I’d been training for it my entire career. I’d written many finished projects before working on Timberline, and of course, I’d been training to hit deadlines for several decades. So I was able to manipulate my time between commissions and building the novel. 

BaltazarAfter I left Pixar to work on the book I took on freelance to pay the bills. After my story was picked up, it was the combination of both the publisher advance, and the movie studio option that enabled me to work full time .

Greg Manchess, from Above the Timberline
8. What kind of editorial input or guidance did you get? Did you meet any resistance or skepticism about being an artist-turned-writer?

Manchess: Initially, publishers were skeptical about whether it would sell, or even if I could get it done. I admit, I wasn’t always confident I could do it! But once it was sold, and I started, Saga Press was very hands-off. I built the entire book from the ground up visually, with minor coaching on writing from my editor, Joe Monti. He was brilliant, and helped keep the story from getting too cumbersome.

BaltazarI have a great agent who was an accomplished YA writer that gave me great guidance in finessing my story for a middle grade audience in terms of length, tone, and craft. I met with rejections, skepticism, and bias, but I understand that rejection is part of the journey and in the end it was about working hard to improve as a writer and ultimately find the kind of publisher that was right for my story.

Layouts by Armand Baltazar, from Timeless

9. Did you work on several paintings at once, or did you approach them sequentially? Why?

Manchess: I approached it like a film: between the beginning and the middle. This helped disguise my learning curve, allowing me time to get in a rhythm of painting which will keep the viewer from detecting my confidence levels. I got better as I got deeper into it, naturally, working back and forth. I had multiple paintings going at once, sometimes 25 to 30 pieces in progress, all pinned to the walls!

BaltazarDesigning and illustrating for animated film is sequential storytelling that requires all aspects of the visuals to be in lockstep like instruments in an orchestra performing a symphony. That discipline had a direct influence on my method and workflow for the book. I approached the chapters as sequences within acts of the story and I would compose, design, light, and paint illustrations that would define the arcs of the character and story.

10. What did you learn about your own productivity and time management, or your own psychological or physical limits?

Manchess: I learned a boat-load about how I work, and how I could set myself up to work in "The Zone." I worked with a general schedule: up, showered, breakfast by 9am, reference gathering and sketching until about 1pm, paint until 6pm, break for hot chocolate, dinner, paint until 11 or 12am, watch a film or read, sleep. Not everyday was exactly the same, depending on the specific image I was attempting.

BaltazarManaging time, productivity, stress, and health and wellbeing was one of the most difficult aspects. Writing and illustrating a dense epic adventure is daunting enough but learning to manage how to work, live, and have a healthy life with your family and friends required the same Herculean effort! I came out stronger and hopefully... wiser on the other end.

Armand Baltazar, from Timeless
11. Were you thinking about the potential of this project as a movie as you developed the book? Did you actively court movie producers with that idea as it was in development? Were the movie rights included in the book deal, or did you reserve them?

Manchess: My literary agent got us in touch with a film agent right away because of the strong cinematic visuals associated with the story. I was discussing film locations before I’d even painted a stroke! Crazy. But Hollywood is rather fickle. First and foremost, my mind was focused on making the book work as a novel. I did reserve the film rights, as the publisher wasn’t interested in them.

BaltazarI fantasized that someday it would be great if my story became a movie , but in truth that was the furthest thing from my mind as I worked on it. Early on I was approached by producers but refrained, wanting to secure Timeless as a book first before entertaining any opportunities. In the end I reserved the movie rights separately from the publisher.

Greg Manchess, from Above the Timberline
12. How is the nature of the illustrated book as an art form different from a movie?

Manchess: The book is definitely not a film on paper. I can control time far better in this format than a linear film can. I can jump back and forth, as long as it’s clear for the reader, they’ll stay with it. Our thoughts work like that anyway. We are back and forth, past and present, future and past. Our thoughts are rarely linear. Film is restricted, but the culture is learning to push out of that restriction.

BaltazarThe illustrated book is very different as it is your vision that drives the art and story of the book. A movie is a collaborative art form whereas the end result is the product of the director, producers, writers, artists, musicians, craftsmen, technicians, and support working collaboratively on a (sometimes) massive scale to create the cinematic story.

Armand Baltazar, from Timeless
13. Are you comfortable with your book being classified as young-adult or placed in the kid’s section of the bookstore, or will it be presented as adult science fiction?

Manchess: I had started with an older protagonist, but it was suggested that the YA market might open it up to a wider audience. I think the book will appeal to adults, because it’s written from an adult perspective, but one that young adults can easily access, and will appreciate the approach.

BaltazarI feel very good with Timeless book 1 as a Middle Grade children's book geared towards 9–13yr olds and up. It follows a path similar to the Potter series as Diego and his friends begin the series as young teens and end as young adults. The maturity in the themes, writing style, and tone will evolve with the characters with the last few books in the completed series transitioning to YA.

Greg Manchess documented the making of the first painting long before he envisioned the book.

14. How will you and your publisher be marketing and promoting the book? In an ideal world, if budgets and time were no obstacle, how would you want to see your book marketed? 

Manchess: Publishing, like the art world, is incredibly hard, if not impossible, to gauge what works and what doesn’t. Saga Press has been very supportive about this novel, but still the best promotion any book can receive is word-of-mouth; to have readers and fans talk about it. Honest appraisals. In an ideal world, I’d want every reviewer, librarian, and bookstore talking about it. I’ll be working hard to promote the book, and with that I’ve produced a few video book previews to get readers excited. And they’re fun!

Baltazar: We will be marketing the book in all the traditional ways with video interviews, school and store visits, book fairs, and conventions. If the sky was the limit...I'd love to have a traveling art show with models, maquettes, costumes and props we made on exhibition at all the schools, stores, and venues we are promoting the book and maybe a cool animated book trailer for later books!

Preorder on Amazon:
Releases October 10: Timeless: Diego and the Rangers of the Vastlantic by Armand Baltazar
Releases October 24: Above the Timberline by Greg Manchess

If you are interested in 'visual novels', you might want to check out:
Gnomes by Rien Poortvliet and Wil Huygen
Dutch Treat: The Artist's Life, Written and Painted by Himself by Rien Poortvliet
Faeries by Brian Froud and Alan Lee
Wyeth at Kuerners by Betsy Wyeth
Expedition by Wayne Barlowe
Dinotopia, A Land Apart from Time, Expanded edition by me
Dinotopia: Journey To Chandara, Expanded edition by me
The Katurran Odyssey by Terryl Whitlatch
Arthur Spiderwick's Field Guide by Tony DiTerlizzi
Tales from the Loop by Simon Stalenhag


Brian McElligott said...

Fantastic! I can't wait to get my hands on both of these. It is also great inspiration to try to create the fully illustrated book I have been thinking about for years.. Thank you for sharing!

Michael Pianta said...

I have had an idea for a while to do an illustrated novel. I just think it sounds like a really fun project, and I have an idea, but it's still in the early, outline stages. It's encouraging though that others are doing this and being met with interest by some publishers. Maybe it's time I start really pursuing this!

Peter Drubetskoy said...

Both projects look very interesting and seem to be influenced by Dinotopia!

Luca said...

Thanks a lot for these interviews! You did very interesting questions to two great artists, but besides this even just formatting the inteview for publication on the blog must have required some time and work.

Unknown said...

Wow the format of the timberline painting is massive! The precision of the strokes mindblowing. Thanks for sharing these!

Roberto Quintana said...

This is great! Very nicely done. The format of two artists addressing the same questions really works well! Getting a binary view on the creative process creates a ‘whole larger than its sum’. Your Q’s and insight puts an exponent on the final product. -RQ