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Creative Insights: Interview with Max West

Creative Insights is a regular feature that take a closer look at authors, artists, developers, and inventors who inspire with their works through interviews and/or investigative profiles. 


Our first Creative Insights subject is the author/artist of Sunnyville Stories, a graphic novel that has been featured here at the blog as a subject of review as well as on sale at our companion retail site (www.great-stories.net).  We hope you enjoy this closer look into the life and work of a bright new talent in the comic industry!


We would like to welcome Max West to Great Stories.  Here is a little background on Max and his beginnings!

 

Max West was born and raised in New York City. He spent much of his youth making visits to his local library (starting a lifelong love of books) and watching much television – both cartoons of the 1980s on broadcast TV and a variety of movies and specials on cable TV. Earning a degree in creative writing from Baruch College in 2003 and taking night classes in art at the nearby School of Visual Arts, he created Sunnyville Stories in 2009 and completed his first adventure with Rusty Duncan and Samantha Macgregor in spring of 2010.


He currently resides in the Southern USA, where he works full time as a freelancer.

 


GS: First off, congratulations on your book distribution deals with Ingram and Baker & Taylor.  We also understand that your work can be found at Amazon, Alibris, and even in many public libraries throughout the nation!


MW: Well, I wouldn’t say “many” – but so far, I’ve landed my work in four public libraries, the library of the School of Visual Arts, and the library division of Alibris.  Anyway, the distributor I’ve landed has been very helpful.  They’ve sold copies of my book to some independent booksellers as well as the chain Books-A-Million, the second largest bookstore chain in the country after Barnes & Noble.  I also got my book listed on IndieBound, which can make Sunnyville Stories Volume 1 available through many independent bookstores across the country.


GS:  In your own blog at www.sunnyvillestories.com, you mention that Sunnyville Stories was inspired by an old Japanese Anime named Maple Town and your own move from New York City to rural North Carolina also served as the breeding ground for this invention.  What was it specifically about the old series and your change in scenery that moved you to create Sunnyville Stories?

MW:  Yes, it was.  Maple Town (which is hard to find in the USA since there’s been no DVD release and videocassettes are long since out-of-print) fascinated me as a child and as an adult.  The setting of the series was a remote area where time seemed to stand still.  For an anime made and supposedly set in the 1980s, I was amazed at how the characters and towns seemed to be without video games, personal computers, or popular music in the era of “I Want My MTV”.  In a way, that helped make the series timeless and give it a particular charm.

 

This unique setting in Maple Town was one that I sympathized with.  At the end of the 1980s (the end of an era for me), I left New York City for a rural town in North Carolina.  It was a jarring change going from one of the largest cities in the world to a town that was small and spread out.  Whereas everything I needed was within walking distance or accessible through mass transit (in New York), the small town was a contrast in that you needed a car to get everywhere and I didn’t have many of the things I took for granted in NYC like movie theatres, shopping malls, video arcades, and so on.  This is reflected with Rusty, the star of Sunnyville Stories, as in the first episode and even as time goes along, he remarks how different the town feels and how he doesn’t have everything that he had in his former home city.


GS:  Do you think that your change in environment was a necessary component of Sunnyville Stories origination?  Would this idea have been found had you not uprooted yourself from the city?

MW:  It definitely was.  I may have eventually created Sunnyville sooner or later as I found inspiration from the Maple Town anime.  However, had I not moved, it may have lacked the unique perspective I had in moving into a completely different environment.


GS:  It sounds as if the main character in Sunnyville Stories, Rusty, could be an extension of you, Max West.  But Sunnyville Stories is chock full of other characters in an ensemble supporting cast.  Are these characters manifestations of your own life experience and reflections of people you know and have met?  Or are they loose interpretations of a variety of expected personality archetypes that reflect a world exclusive to Sunnyville? 

 

MW:  Many of the characters that make up the world of Sunnyville were inspired by the characters from Maple Town.  When I first started putting the world together in 2009, the supporting cast were indistinguishable from many of the Maple Town characters.  But for obvious reasons of originality and copyright, I started individuating the characters, changing their names, and giving them short histories.  I want to drive home the fact that these characters are not simply drawings on paper.  They are living, breathing creatures with birthplaces, childhoods, goals, and life-shaping experiences.  I’ve always felt that Sunnyville and its inhabitants are very real.  That’s probably why the work is so strong and has much potential among the reading public. 


GS:  Can you give us any insight as to what other adventures may be in store for Rusty, Samantha, and the gang?


MW:  We’re going to be delving more into the world of Sunnyville, meeting even more characters, learning about the character backgrounds, and more wild stories.  I have a grand total of fifty stories planned to be spread over a total of ten trade paperbacks.  While many of these stories will be slice-of-life, I’ll occasionally delve into the realms of the fantastic.  I have notes for a ghost story, an incident where an energy-based lifeform is accidentally created, and even a time travel episode!


GS:  Switching gears, you attended the School of Visual Arts in New York.  Can you share your feelings on this experience?  And would you consider such formal training and learning to be a necessary step for aspiring artists today, both from an artistic and business perspective?

 

MW:  I wasn’t a degree student at SVA.  I went at night to take continuing education classes.  I specifically took classes that I felt would help my work rather than the full range that a degree student would have had.  I not only took classes in making comics, but also in other skills like painting, perspective and life drawing.  That’s when I really started to come alive.  I felt an awakening that I hadn’t felt before and I had a supportive environment that embraced my ideas rather than scorn them.

 

As for art school being a necessity, I can’t give a straight answer of “yes” or “no”.  While art school and an art degree can give you skills and connections, it’s no guarantee that you can get any paying work in comics, illustration or any branch of commercial art.  It all depends on your goals, your educational options, and ultimately, you.


GS:  Can you speak of your artistic influences (not necessarily limited to your own trade as a writer and illustrator)?


MW:  My influences are many.  I’ve done a lot of reading, I’ve traveled a lot, and I’ve taken much in during the course of my life.  I’ve taken much influence from the 1980s, the decade of the my childhood, and I like reflecting this retro-style universe in Sunnyville.  As for artistic influences, newspaper comic strips were the very first and foremost thing that affected my work.  While I read superhero comics and manga, I was exposed first to newspaper comic strips since my parents bought copies of the New York Post and the New York Daily News.  The first thing I turned to was the comics pages to read up on what was happening to Garfield, Peanuts, etc.  Charles Schulz was (and still is) the biggest influence on my drawing.  Like him, my own work is simple and relies on its writing to carry everything.  To a lesser extent, the work of Jim Davis (Garfield), Gary Larson (the Far Side), and Bill Keane (the Family Circus) also was an inspiration to me.  I’ve looked to the world of illustration for inspiration; Marc Brown (Arthur) and Richard Scarry (Busytown) have given me many ideas from what to work with.

 

I also have a relevant theme that recurs in my work and that is isolation.  In some of my past work and with Sunnyville, I’ve dealt with characters who are isolated somehow or setting that are the same way.


GS:  What do you find interesting in the world of pop culture, including movies, TV, music, and literature?

 

MW:  What I find most interesting are the older works, mainly from the later half of the 20th century.  Most contemporary music and TV shows don’t appeal to me much.  In fact, the theme of isolation is tied in part to the constant fluctuations of modern pop culture.  The world, the latest fashions, the hot ticket at the moment, etc. is always changing month to month, week to week, and day to day.  Whatever pop singer or trend was popular one day may transform into yesterday’s news another day.  This rapid change is one I find overwhelming and with Sunnyville, I deliberately try to make things stand still in that setting in an attempt to bring order to the chaos.  I want to make sense of the constantly changing world.


GS:  I’d like to take a moment to talk about your future projects.  You have mentioned on your blog that you are preparing a horror-themed book called Von Herling, Vampire Hunter as something you are preparing for a 2014 release.  Does this project bare any relation to Sunnyville Stories?  What can we expect from this project?  And when can we expect the Sunnyville Stories Volume 2 release?  Are there other surprises fans of your work can look forward to?

 

MW:  Von Herling is a completely original graphic novel that’s in a different setting from Sunnyville; don’t expect any crossovers.  While Sunnyville is more of a general audiences title, Von Herling is intended for older readers; there’s some blood in there as well as profanity.  This work is more of a classic vampire tale and Gothic horror.  I was influenced by the original Dracula text by Bram Stoker along with Hammer Films (maker of the 1958 classic, Horror of Dracula).  August Von Herling is a protagonist that, like Rusty Duncan, is a fish out of water.  He’s a precocious teenager who’s arrived in rural Tennessee in pursuit of a vampire he’s chased all the way from Europe.  His accent, his precise way of speaking, and his dress immediately set him apart from the close knit community that he settles down in.  Anyway, I feel that I’ve achieved a real feel of Gothic horror that missing from contemporary horror works that rely on buckets of gore and gruesome deaths.

 

As for Sunnyville volume 2, that’s on schedule for March 2014.  I’m sure fans will like it because it continues to reveal more of the world of Sunnyville and more of the characters.  I introduce the older brother of Sam Macgregor as well as a little of the seaside town, Solton, that he lives in.  Rusty continues to settle into Sunnyville and gets involved in local activities.  And I continue to find my voice and develop my style.  There will be even more surprises in 2016, when the third volume will hit stores.


GS:  Thank you for taking the time to answer our questions!


If you are interested in buying Sunnyville Stories Volume 1, please visit this link………

http://www.great-stories.net/Sunnyville-Stories-Volume-1-Oversized-Trade-Paperback-SVS-TPB.htm

Happy New Year Everyone!

Chris (for the Great Stories team)