A Thrilling Adventure In A Unique Fantasy World – Roger Langridge & Ryan Ferrier Discuss Criminy

by Hannah Means Shannon

In a highly productive team-up that brings together a number of emotive themes and also gorgeous artwork, Criminy is an all-ages original graphic novel being released soon by Dark Horse.
Artist Roger Langridge (Snarked!, Popeye, The Rocketeer) is known for his breadth of style, particularly drawing on comic, illustration, and animation tradition, and writer Ryan Ferrier (D4VE, Kennel Block Blues, GI Joe, TMNT, Planet of the Apes) is know for his adventure stories and work in both licensed and creator-owned comics. Together they weave a tale of a family in peril, racing through a madcap world, driven by a need for self-preservation as well as the preservation of their cohesion as a group.
The Criminys face a piratical invasion of their home town, but that’s only the beginning of their woes as they venture forth as refugees to find a new place to live. They explore various strange locations, all fraught with underlying problems that drive them onwards. Will they ever find a place where they can re-establish domestic safety? Langridge and Ferrier take us on a marvelous journey that suggests that strength is something you gain from endurance and that even the most difficult challenges can contain a measure of humor as a matter of perspective.
Roger Langridge and Ryan Ferrier join us today to talk about their graphic novel, Criminy.

Hannah Means-Shannon: Why do you think that stories about ‘misadventures’ and perils are so absorbing to us as human beings? It seems like we’d get upset by them, where one hardship follows another, but no, we are glued to the screen/page!
Roger Langridge: I’m not sure. I think, in the case of the kind of all-ages story we’re dealing with here, we usually know things are going to work out all right in the end; the question isn’t whether they’ll overcome adversity, the question is how, and what resources of bravery or ingenuity they’ll draw upon to do it. I think that’s quite compelling to watch (or read), being surprised and amazed by the means our heroes use to get through each crisis. Especially so if it’s something you yourself haven’t already thought of, or couldn’t imagine yourself doing. (Or maybe only just imagine yourself doing.)
Ryan Ferrier: Quite simply, these stories are thrilling! Would Indiana Jones be as entertaining if it were just an archeologist finding things, and not overcoming peril? Hardships are part of the human experience, and I’m a firm believer that—with the assumption of rewarding the reader in the end, or communicating some enlightenment through theme—connecting with an audience, even through a fantastical world such as the ones in Criminy, makes escapism-through-danger all the more exciting.

HMS: What are the opportunities that bringing a family group into unpredictable environments allows for storytelling? Why did this combination of settings and characters appeal to you as a project to work on?
Roger: Ryan’s initial idea was to tell a story in a kind of 1930s-influenced, Max Fleischer-esque world, so that was our guiding aesthetic. The nuclear family is arguably a later idea, one I associate more with the 1950s, so seeing those kinds of characters in a Fleischeresque environment is something we haven’t seen before. That’s often a really useful starting point when creating a new thing: find two things you haven’t seen together before and put them together, to see what sort of a new energy might be generated from it. Throwing children into Fleischer’s seedy, debased world is straight away a source of tension, a potential narrative engine. Part of our job as creators is to look for those kinds of conflicts to build a story around.
Ryan: Touching on Roger’s comments, the Fleischer-esque world of Criminy allowed us to bend the rules of this world and to really stretch our imaginations when it comes to all of the weird and wonderful things of this one. But at its core, Criminy is a story about a refuge family, bound together by blood and love. To be able to tell such a grounded, relevant, relatable story in a universe where anything is possible, was at the forefront of our minds when we started this project. We wanted to bring a real heart to this story—to bridge the potential disconnect of such a unique fantasy world, and raise the stakes while keeping them entirely familiar.

HMS: Roger, character design and world design in Criminy are so beautiful, drawing on comics and animation tradition as well as whimsical invention. How did you decide on character design and how did you decide on the look of the environments that the Criminy family encounter? 
Roger: Thank you! The Fleischer aesthetic was my main guiding light, but I tried not to copy it too slavishly; I wanted my own style to be visible as well, and of course that meant bringing in my other influences as a part of the mix, so you’ll see bits of Carl Barks, E.C. Segar and other influences of mine popping up here and there. The white faces and pie-cut eyes of the Criminy family were, I suppose, inevitable if one is trying to evoke Fleischer, but I’ll take credit for the unifying colour scheme of their wardrobe.
As for the environments, a lot of them grew out of sketches I did to send Ryan as a starting point for building the story; Ryan deserves a huge amount of the credit for turning them into something that made narrative sense. All I was really trying to do was to capture a few scenes from the imaginary Fleischer cartoons in my mind.

HMS: Since this is a book that is geared toward younger readers as well as adults, what sort of choices did you make in conveying degrees of scariness” and intense emotion on the page? Did you have particular goals or limits in mind?
Roger: Generally, I find my own tastes fall in line with what’s required for a general audience without too much difficulty. When I work with more adult material, it’s rarely explicit in the artwork, more to do with situations and subtext. So I basically drew what came naturally, and trusted that if I crossed a line at any point, then either Ryan or Daniel Chabon, our editor, would draw it to my attention – although I can’t say it ever came up. I think if kids are going to be scared about anything, it’s the ideas –  the security of one’s home being disrupted, being forced apart from one’s parents, etc.  – rather than in the specifics of how those ideas are drawn.

HMS: How important was it to you, when working on Criminy, to keep readers guessing about what would happen in each chapter? Did you have any strategies for keeping the pace up while making sure that the plot would be easy enough to follow?
Roger: Most of that side of things fell to Ryan to handle. I didn’t do much more in this particular regard than try to maintain a bit of forward momentum in every panel, trying to prevent things from being static unnecessarily, so that readers would hopefully get caught up in the action. Ryan’s pacing is slightly different from mine, so that was an interesting challenge, trying to reconcile our different approaches and create a new thing out of them. I’m really pleased with how that worked out overall.

HMS: Ryan, I have to ask about the rhyming stanzas that help narrate this tale of struggle and adventure. Were these fun/difficult/crazy to write? What sort of inspiration did you draw on for the narrative and speaking styles in this book?
Ryan: They were challenging, as I haven’t really flexed my poetry muscles at all in my writing career. I wanted to keep the rhyme scheme simple and flowing, offering a pause for readers—of any age—to catch their breath before the next big set piece. I was inspired by classic fairy tales and cartoons, but wanted to make each poem as heartfelt and impactful as I could. As for the speaking styles in Criminy, I wanted to consider different dialects and accents, be it English or Scottish, while also creating new, absurd words for certain things; I aimed to strike a balance between familiar and unfamiliar. Suffice to say, these aspects were so wildly fun to explore while making this book.

HMS: It seems like each episode or encounter is not only divided by chapter, but into much smaller segments that are very conflict-based, in the sense that something disruptive is constantly happening. Is that a hard narrative structure to make cohesive, or is it more about building the logic of a storybook world where these kinds of things simply happen?

Ryan: Structurally, the narrative—the sequence of events and purpose of each chapter—was planned out from the beginning. They’re each with their own exploration of real struggles. The siege of Burnswick and the loss of one’s home; the S.S. Whalebatross and the imprisonment of the innocent; Isle Bobo and the inherent dangers of an uneven class system. We took all of these themes into great consideration while aiming to tell a cohesive, honest story. They’re heavy, important themes to touch on in an all-ages-appropriate book, but we’re really pleased with how we’re able to present them in such a vibrant way.

HMS: I’m wondering how you both constructed that fine line between humor and melodramatic, or even poignant, despair in a story like this? How did you make sure there were bright spots to keep the reader rooting for the Criminys?
Roger: The visual aesthetic was always going to undermine any serious melodrama or despair to some degree. Even if it’s played straight, the style kind of prevents you from taking it to heart too much – the threats, while serious for the Criminy family, look comical and ridiculous. If we’ve done our jobs well, the reader will be involved enough in the story to empathise with the Criminys, and will take the threats seriously, but I think that undercurrent of absurdity is always there at the back of the reader’s mind, sweetening the pill somewhat.
The flip side of that, of course, is that there is something seriously creepy about Max Fleischer’s world. The ghostly white faces, the sleazy environments, the lowlifes and ne’er-do-wells who populate it, all create a constant undercurrent of unease. So the bright spots all have this note of discord playing just beneath the surface. I really love that about it. It’s the difference between hearing a single note and a complex chord. It’s a much richer experience.
Ryan: For me, it’s all about the reward—what do we, as consumers of media, get for enduring peril and potential discomfort? If we do our job correctly, then the readers will feel rewarded for going on that journey with our characters. Specifically with Criminy, this is a very close, very loving family with big personalities. To me, those personalities have to come through in order for us to connect with them, but also for them to continue being “real” despite their unpleasant situations. And there’s just something so magnetic about Roger’s art that, even when portraying something villainous or intentionally frightening, is captivating and beautiful. As with Roger’s immense visual presence, we really set out to make honest art with Criminy. We hope that readers feel that connection that we did too.

Huge thanks to Roger Langridge and Ryan Ferrier for enduring such an extensive interview and providing such interesting responses!
The original graphic novel Criminy is landing in shops next week from Dark Horse on September 19th, 2018.

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