Inherently Unique To The Medium – Rob Cham Talks ‘Light’

by James Ferguson

Buño Books has hit Kickstarter for a new, improved, and slightly redesigned version of Rob Cham’s debut graphic novel, Light. The wordless comic is the first of a trilogy, followed by Lost and Limbo, that follows two eventual friends, Backpacker and Tear as they search for five gems that will bring color and light back to their world. They end up on a wild adventure far from home, confronting dangerous obstacles and interesting creatures. I had a chance to speak with Cham about the project, this new version, and his fascinating use of color.

James Ferguson: Light is the first book in a trilogy of wordless graphic novels. How did you decide to use this approach? It sounds like a monumental task on paper.

Rob Cham: I was always fascinated with silent comics, there was this series of books that I loved that my parents bought at a flea market called Lao Fu Zi otherwise known as Old Master Q by this cartoonist in Hong Kong, Alfonso Wong. I didn’t know how to read or write Chinese, but most of the strips were wordless. It was a big influence on me when I was 8 and I would make my own wordless comics. It was my first exposure to how comics can transcend language barriers and still tell stories on images alone. Eventually when I was in my 20s, I started reading Jason’s work and old Heavy Metal comics I could get my hands on, Moebius, and the like, and was always drawn by how immersed I was because of wordless graphic novels and short stories. Another big influence was this Filipino cartoonist, Manix Abrera, who collected his silent comics in these collections called 12 and 14. I wanted to do something similar where I started making short comics without any dialogue, and found it was both challenging but rewarding, figuring out how to communicate what I wanted to say through pictures alone, and how you can pull off certain ambiguity with a character’s emotions, people could project a lot of things onto these characters in the stories I was making. To me, wordless comics or silent comics is something inherently unique to the medium and that’s why I’m still fascinated by it and am trying to see how else I can push it.

JF: As you wrote and illustrated Light, what is your process like? Do you write out a full script, jump right into thumbnails, or something else?

RC: I had a rough outline on what I wanted to do with light, then as I started thumbnailing, that was the longest process where I had to shorten scenes or lengthen them, or cut out sequences that didn’t work, but the story kept changing throughout the whole process where I had an outline, a different version when it came to thumbnails, then when I got to pencils, it changed into a different story, then when I got to inks and colors, a lot of ideas suddenly came in because of how I could play with color and light with these pages, so it kept changing as I was making it. It was my first graphic novel, and one where I was experimenting with panel structure, timing, colors, and styles, so I made a lot of mistakes and changed a lot of things, but I learned a lot too. These days, the comics I make are always straight to thumbnails because of how these are really visual stories given the wordless treatment, and that’s where I do a lot of the editing. Thankfully, I know a lot more than I did before so it’s been a lot faster than when I started the series.

JF: Color plays an important role in Light. How do you decide which color to use for a given scene?

RC: Color has always been one of my strong suits, and I’ve always been obsessed with it since I started digital illustration. Working in digital opened a lot of doors when I first started learning, and allowed me to see just how much you can do with comics, illustration, and art with the color wheel where whole moods of pieces shift and change accordingly from how you decide to approach what colors to use. I learned a lot from just reading other comics, there are books I would check out because a colorist I loved was on board. I read a lot of Hellboy and noticed how Dave Stewart was just so masterful with his palettes, really complimented Mike Mignola well, and could shift tones with just these gorgeous color schemes. Another favorite of mine is Jordie Bellaire, hell of a chameleon with how they could just work on so many titles but still elevate those comics. I always try and think of color as the way to infuse a scene with the right mood, and sometimes even change the mood entirely from what’s expected. there’s a neat opportunity for juxtaposition or complimentary color palettes that help make a page stranger or enforce the mood you’re going for, and that’s what I always try to do with each page of my comics.

JF: The Kickstarter campaign is for a new and improved deluxe edition of Light. What changes were made from the original version?

RC: We’re working with Shanna Matuszak who we first worked with on the US edition of the second book, Lost. I think they are fantastic with their sensibilities and they are doing their take on this new edition. We’re also including this never-before-seen short story I made back in 2017. It was a prequel comic that was made as part of this small print run anthology commissioned by the Philippines’ National Book Development Board showcasing Filipino Comic Book Creators. It was too short to be its own book, but now it can be included as sort of a prequel to the rest of the book you’ll be reading. Besides all that, the new edition will just be a way to get the book into more people’s hands since the first print run has sold out.

Comicon would like to thank Rob Cham for speaking with us. The Kickstarter campaign for the deluxe edition of Light runs through April 19th, 2021.

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