Thursday, November 25, 2010

Ten Questions With Jesse Toves

Hi! Fellow Samurai,
Another installment of Ten Questions (sorta). This time we talk to master Animator and Visual Effects Artist Jesse Toves. Jesse brings a unique process to creating his comics. They are created entirely digital.  Armed with his computer and his talent Jesse has created a futuristic epic for Samurai The Graphic Novel. 

You can pre-order Samurai The Graphic Novel here: Samurai Pre-Order

Karl Altstaetter
Samurai The Graphic Novel

In two sentences what is your STGN about?
Encoding Bushido is a story about jealousy. It’s Cain and Able with robots.

Where did your STGN story come from? What were your trying to achieve with the art?
My story came from having a pretty specific objective - to expand my graphic storytelling vocabulary. The initial objectives for the group were simple enough - it was to “up” our game, to take our approaches to the medium and challenge them a little bit. For myself, that actually meant doing something with far more action, more technical involvement, and basically more density. So I am answering the question a little bit backward here, the initial pitch had only the working title of the Bushido Code, and I knew it would be science fiction. Even though like most comics artists I started my comics experience with the superhero genre, it’s never been my wish to do personal work in that genre. My initial pitch was huge - something other members told me would be more fitting a long form project and not an anthology like the one we were putting together. But I was already very attached to the world that was starting to emerge, and was asked if I could pare down the pitch which then worked out very well. But I remember the day at work when I found a few spare minutes to come up with the basic gist of the story - and I think some of the guys at work were discussing Pinocchio and the various modern attempts at bringing that story to life. Steven Spielberg’s “A.I.” was his Pinocchio told in a very science fiction setting and there is a scene in that film which is basically the inspiration for Encoding Bushido. In this scene, an artificially intelligent creation becomes jealous of it’s “sibling” - becomes enraged, and destroys what is actually just a copy of itself. Encoding Bushido asks a similar question, that if beings constructed become artificially intelligent enough to become jealous of one another, what will the dynamics in their relationship be like?

What was your experience like working on Samurai The Graphic Novel. Was it a challenge?
The greatest challenge of working on this project has been that I had already been working on the most challenging and rewarding OTHER project I have ever undertaken in my entire animation career. My work as an animator and visual effects artist during the same time represented as much of a game changer for my career as an animator as Encoding Bushido represents as an aspiring comic book artist. So the challenge of working - at various times - 10-12 hours a day, seven days a week on a television series AND working on self publishing my other books AND working on Encoding Bushido represented the complete use of EVERY WAKING HOUR of my life for most of 2010.

What was your process for creating your story for STGN? Describe it step by step.
If I had to describe my process I would have to say it was organic. I have become a big fan of the “mind-mapping” techniques of engineers and designers and have even used various computer programs to do so - but Encoding Bushido began entirely as a mind map asking the essential questions about what it means to be a samurai. From the mind mapping I could collate my ideas, write a pitch, the pitch became a plot, the plot became a rough script, that rough script was enough to generate thumbnails, then I refined the script a little according to some ideas I had doing the thumbnails, I made rough pages from the thumbnails and more refinements to the script. Now I know to some people this is going to sound very backward, but I did not make a final design for anything before finishing the script. I literally thumbnailed everything without the benefit of final concept art - the style I was going to use, virtually nothing I did was look development until into the rough page stage. I did this for various reasons which are mostly related to the fact that until I knew what the characters were really going to be and be able to do as informed in the script I didn’t want to lock into anything visually. In other words, if it was expedient for the story in some way I would alter the design or approach to something. It has always been my job in visual effects to follow the demands of the project and not force my own creative agenda onto something and I wanted to treat this project the same way. Say for instance I designed something like a rocket launcher into the character before I started writing the story. If nothing in the story called for its use I would feel like I wasted my time. So by the time I was ready to do the final layouts I had a solid idea of what the characters would be doing, what they looked like, etc. Sounds kind of backwards but it was important to me to force myself to think more like a writer for this project.

In one word what best describes your style?
Loose?” I don’t really know - I can tell you that the style for my other project is definitely “Noir” but Encoding Bushido represents a significant departure from that for me. As a matter of fact, most elements about any new project I work on will likely be rendered completely different form one another. Any story I want to tell will find its “look” or style. Runs very counter to the typical nature of comic book artists but I don’t want to get stuck in a look forever. I can’t remember who said this but it’s one of my favorite sayings - “everything in the world ultimately harmonizes with its ideal shape” and I like to think the same applies to art. Ultimately everything artistic finds its ideal form, style, or shape.

How many years have you been creating art?
This is a trick question - I would have to find in my life something I would consider art and then determine whether or not I had done that enough times to represent a decent enough amount of time to … just kidding. Professionally I have been creating art for maybe twenty-two years.

What's your biggest influence artistically/story wise?
I don’t think I can name any one person - maybe it comes out in my work, maybe it doesn’t. There are people I definitely include as artistic influences because I see the media effects they have had and have to name them - Frank Miller, Frank Lloyd Wright, Edward Van Halen, David Lean, Bill Sienkiewics, and J. R.R. Tolkein.

Why do you think the idea and iconography of the Samurai resonate with the imagination?
One of the first ideas I had about the entire project is that we truly are “standing in the shadow” of something much larger than any of us. We are literally standing in the shadow of the concept of the samurai - they were once very common and now we generally experience their message and likenesses in popular culture and media and not necessarily in our daily lives. But like all good ideas, the people who followed these beliefs left such an indelible impact on the world that we are likely to never forget that contribution. I think plenty of people would argue that we are generally experiencing a more abstract and filtered view of what it was to be a samurai but we are at the mercy of our distance from the real thing.

If you were a Samurai what part of Bushido (The Samurai code) best describes you. Pick two: loyalty, honor, obedience, duty, honoring your elders/ancestors, and self-sacrifice.
Uggh. I think this is likely a better question for someone else to answer about me personally because while I appreciate the ideals behind this system of honor it truly doesn’t have any meaning under the generally soft and “milktoast” level of society we encounter today - this isn’t feudal Japan after all and the consequences of our actions aren’t as serious as they were when people ACTUALLY carried samurai swords around and cut your head off for being insolent. Also, culturally speaking, Japanese people consider different things to be dishonorable especially in the time of the Samurai. I come from Guam and that is very near Saipan - it’s an island whereupon the Japanese occupants fearing for their honor and lives from the invading US soldiers flung themselves from cliffs with their children in their arms. I think to anyone in the United States seeing that actual footage - some of the surviving color footage is shocking even today - would say that taking your children to their deaths is dishonorable but the cultural view of the act at the time was that it was traditional and even acceptable. Sorry that’s a long non-answer - someone, upon experiencing me at my best (or worst) is more qualified to answer that.

The sword was the main weapon of the Samurai. What is your weapon of choice when it comes to art?
My opinion. I personally think anything you hold in your hand will ultimately be irrelevant if you don’t have a point of view about it. If I had to say something solid, and choose an actual art supply or product I would say a mechanical pencil - for it’s precision in both writing and drawing, I have used one of these more than most tools for their efficiency, portability, re-usability, ubiquity, and balance. They are never perfect, but it’s the habit of companies that make them to slightly re-design them every year to stay relevant that I think is funny and little bit of a fetish.

When you create an idea what's your first action? Write it out? Do layouts? Character designs?
I obsess. Literally - I obsess about something until it feels real and then I create something. Most of the time I am already in process on something which is just labor intensive and already well formulated creatively so it becomes a matter of using the skills or tools I have to make it solid. But the first thing is always obsession.

What do you hope readers will get out of your story in Samurai?
This is a long story and it all begins with a dream I had. I think everyone at one point in their lives has had to deal with the sting of jealousy in some way. The dream in question went something like this - I was alone and fighting two giant snakes, I managed to fight both of them to a draw, holding each one of them under one of my fists. I woke up that morning and felt awful, the anxiety of a situation like that was palpable and I happened to find a book on the medieval interpretation of dreams. Under the category of snakes, one of the most common interpretations of the appearance of a snake in dreams was jealousy. At the time I had been working at a company where I felt I was not getting the same credit for my work as other employees, and it was my opinion at the time that the attention on these other people was largely undeserved. If there is anything I would like a reader to take away, it’s that jealousy is poisonous - whether or not they are able to deal with it, move past it and learn from it is really a matter of whether or not you are even capable of detecting and recognizing it.

What are your latest projects or projects you are going to be working on in the future?
I want to finish a short film idea I had worked on for many years before realizing like a lot of independent filmmakers that I would need more money, technical know-how and time before I could make it a reality - it’s a western and will likely take several years to finish.
Currently though, I am working on finishing a series of comics called “Trouble, Guts & Noir” that began as entries in the annual 24 Hour Comics Challenge. The first two issues are available online on my website at:
I hope to have the last issue finished in January, 2011. This definitely falls into the category of “love” project - noir is not at all popular form and - if I dare say it - it’s one of those aging hipster kinds of genres. But I love it just the same - the world might be black and white but some of the people are as colorful and unpredictable as any in history and I can’t quite let go of the genre yet.
I also update my blog regarding Encoding Bushido on a regular basis here:
I talk about a lot of stuff that is and isn’t related to the book itself but all of it falls into the soup that contributes to the overall experience of making the book. For instance, I blogged about the software I use in the course of making the book but I also talked about the overall atmosphere of the industry that the story will be released into - it’s a more complete look at the world I create in than you may find in some blogs - who wants or cares what someone had for breakfast that morning if the blog is supposed to be about a title or new book, right? But I think everything tends to contribute to the book in some way or another and is worth writing about there.

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