Talking Ultrasylvania with Brian Schirmer
With the final volume currently on Kickstarter, I had a chance to talk to Brian Schrimer and Jeremy Saliba about Ultrasylvania – a comic series crafted in the classroom.
Joshua Pantalleresco: How did Ultrasylvania came to be?
Brian Schrimer: I was traveling in Europe in 2011, making any notes of things that crossed my mind in a little notebook – observations, passing thoughts, ideas. One notion – “What if Dracula had been a world leader?” – stuck with me. I didn’t know what I’d do with it, but it certainly had its hooks in me.
Months later, I was approached by a former student of mine – I teach Writing for Comics and Graphic Novels at the Academy of Art University in San Francisco – who suggested that the school should offer a class that would be built around something I wrote, where students would provide the artwork. Naturally, I laughed at him.
Then, a few days passed and I realized the notion stuck with me. I spoke with Jeremy about it – and about the prospect of building a class around the idea that would become Ultrasylvania. He was on board, followed by the School of Illustration’s director, Chuck Pyle. We were off and running.
JP: Is it a little intimidating using such classic characters?
BS: So many of our key characters – from Dracula and Frankenstein’s Monster to the Invisible Man and the Mummy – have well known legacies. You know what to expect in a story that features any of them. Our challenge was to subvert those expectations. That was part of the fun. It wasn’t intimidating – it was liberating. We’d found a new way to look at these classic characters, despite some of them having been around for 100 years or more.
JP: What were your influences in creating this series?
BS: I put a bit of my love for most everything in there somewhere. Coen Brothers films, ancient Egypt, Shakespeare. Apocalypse Now is in there a few times. Moral and ethical ambiguity abounds. Dracula is a bastard and Victor (our Frankenstein Monster) is very sympathetic – but neither is a hero or villain. I really wanted that to be the case, as it was something I wanted to explore.
JP: Is it still a class project to this day? If it is, have you had any comics pros work on the concept? Would you like to?
BS: The class is on indefinite hiatus. After running the course for three consecutive semesters, completing three graphic novels worth of material in 18 months, and all of the subsequent efforts that go into bringing those works to digital and to print – including the Kickstarter for Volume Three that launches Monday – we decided to take a break and to work on other projects.
JP:The first story seemed to be about the concept of finding and losing love. Was that an intentional theme?
BS: It was indeed. You’ll find that same theme explored in Volume Two. More to the point, before writing this project I’d come to realize that perhaps the overarching subject in most of my work has been hope. It was never something I set out to do. I just began to recognize it as a throughline, as a pattern. So, I decided to dive into Ultrasylvania with that in the back of my mind, allowing the tale to explore hope in all its permutations – loss of hope, misplaced hope, the hope one feels when richly in love, that last bit of pure hope one has when it seems things are all but lost, and so on.
JP: What’s coming up in volume three?
BS: Each volume has its own subtitle – Volume One: King Dracula, Volume Two: Emperor Frankenstein…. I had a couple working titles in my head that carried on that would have carried on that theme for Volume Three. But once I’d seen the finished artwork and saw the lettering come together, I realized it needed to be titled Ultrasylvania, Vol. 3: The Book of the Dead. There’s a very distinct reason for this. To my mind, it couldn’t be called anything else. This time out we finally see the origin of Meritaten, the “mummy” of our tale – and it’s a bit disturbing. We also fill in some of the other blanks on Dracula’s side, including how he acquired the third of his three brides. (Hint: There are witches in this world! Hint #2: She’s not one of them.) Also, we finally make it to the US of A – or what would be the US of A, had certain… unpleasantries not occurred. This last part sets the stage for our big finish. You know what else if coming up in Volume Three? Quite possibly the best artwork of the whole damn series. I know this sounds like self-serving hyperbole, but seriously, some of this work is jaw-dropping awesome.
JP: So when does your kickstarter for volume three launch?
BS: We are Kickstarting Volume 3 right now. We’ve already been spreading the word – via social media, recent cons – and sounds like there’s some anticipation out there – which is fantastic. I suspect October will be flush with campaigns. Here’s hoping we’ve got something that truly stands out in the crowd.
JP: Anything else you’d like to add?
BS: Jeremy and I have been so lucky to work with so many amazing artists on this project. It’s hard to believe they’re still both university students and so damned young! Some of them should absolutely be working in the industry NOW. If Ultrasylvania can be a calling card for us all, then that’s something of which I can feel proud.
You can find and donate to volume three’s kickstarter at: http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/955965154/ultrasylvania-vol-3-the-book-of-the-damned?ref=live, the webpage is located at http://www.ultrasylvania.com and the twitter handle is @ultrasylvania.
(Update: The kickstarter has been funded. Still, feel free to donate to achieve stretch goals.)m