Tails is a webcomic that follows the exploits of Ethan, a vegan hippie with an over-active imagination and an over-abundance of cats. Described by some as High Fidelity meets Scott Pilgrim, Ethan deals with family, relationships, and litter boxes, all while struggling to break out as a cartoonist.
We had an opportunity to chat with Ethan as Hermes Press gears up for a 21012 publication of the first volume of Tails.
Stumptown Trade Review: Since this is your first major graphic novel, this may be the first exposure many people have to you. Why don’t you take a few moments to introduce yourself and your comic, Tails.
Ethan Young: Thanks, Brian, and thanks to all you Stumptown readers for having me.
My name is Ethan Young. I’m a native New Yorker and I’ve been drawing since the age of 3. I left college prematurely to start a freelance art career, and since then I’ve illustrated and designed for almost anything you can think of: comics, CD covers, storyboards, concept art, you name it. Oh, and I also worked at an animal shelter during my wilder years. I fostered a lot of cats and gradually transformed into the old cat lady from The Simpsons. My experience working with animals, combined with my experiences with cartooning and romantic entanglements, inspired me to do a comic, which became Tails.
Tails started as a self-published mini-series back in 2006, and the collected volume received a Gold Medal for Best Graphic Novel during the 2007 Independent Publishers Book Awards. I had a sequel planned for 2008, but never got around to printing it, mainly because I was unsatisfied with the final product. I scrapped a bulk of the story and started practically from scratch, relaunching Tails as a webcomic in the summer of 2009. And now, Hermes Press will be releasing a series of graphic novels collecting the online comic.
STR: It is tough not to notice that you are Ethan and the main character is Ethan. How much of Tails is (or was) autobiographical?
EY: Ha, how embarrassing. Yes, Cartoon Ethan is based on me, but he’s more of a representation rather than a replication. The slice-of-life stories are based on real events, but certain details (names and dates) are altered slightly. All the stuff that seems real is taken from reality: my job at the animal shelter, my mother’s illness, my estranged brother, my one-time nudist roommate. Other story elements, such as Cartoon Ethan getting his comic published through Locusts Studios (a made up company), are based on my experiences working with editors and execs from various companies.
STR: The story of Tails gets complicated as it straddles the fantastic and the mundane. What was the inspiration for this?
EY: I guess the simplest answer I can offer is: because I can. (Sorry if that comes off with an inflection of arrogance) I’ve always loved stories that combined reality and fantasy, such as Escaflowne, Tellos, Princess Bride. I wanted to try one of my own, and I didn’t let the biographical nature of Tails stop me from breaking a few rules. I know what you thinking, “Man, what a rebel this guy is!”
STR: You seem to enjoy playing with layout, as well as breaking the panel borders. What is your process as you get ready to create the page?
EY: I’m a pretty visual thinker, so I imagine whole scenes playing out in my head. If I can vividly picture a page (i.e. how the panels will look, what shots are going to be established), I go straight to the bristol board. If a scene is harder for me to visualize, that’s when I sit down and meticulously plan out the sequential storytelling. Otherwise, I’m a very ‘Let’s WING it’ kind of creator (which has gotten me into trouble in the past).
STR: What changes (if any) have you made as you prepare Tails for print?
EY:The Hermes Press editions will have a few extra pages, some edits and rearrangements, and a small handful of specific pages were removed. The main concern from publisher Daniel Herman was narrative structure, and he wanted to make sure that the story flowed smoothly in book form. The final outcome will be really, really good. I don’t want long time fans to think that this won’t be the comic they’ve grown to enjoy. If anything, I think they’ll enjoy it even more.
STR: How did Tails come to the attention of Hermes Press?
EY: I have Chris Irving (Leaping Tall Buildings) to thank for that. I first met Chris in 2009 while promoting Tails (the webcomic). We kept in touch and I called Chris up earlier this year to inquire about promotional work, in case I decided to return to indie publishing. One thing led to another and he introduced me to his boss, Daniel Herman of Hermes Press. Daniel reviewed my work and decided that Tails was worth both his company’s time and dedication, which couldn’t make me happier.
STR: The story of Tails goes beyond the chapters covered in the graphic novel. Has Hermes committed to more chapters?
EY: Hermes is committed to 3 volumes. Originally, the deal was for 2 volumes, but after some extensive conversations, Daniel Herman has lent his full support for the the entirety of this series.
STR: Do you envision Tails as an ongoing series, or is there an arc at play here with a definite end in sight?
EY: Um, yes and no. After the third volume is over, that will probably be the last time I use Cartoon Ethan for a while. I’ve been going back and forth on this subject. I really want to offer readers some solid closure to his story, which in turn is closure for me as well, since he IS my cartoon facsimile. I may do stories of ancillary characters in Tails, or just pursue unrelated projects altogether. But who knows? I may change my mind, so don’t take my word for it.
STR: Does Tails consume all your time, or can we see more of your work elsewhere?
EY: Sure, you can. You can currently see my work in Comeback Kings, a 4 issue mini-series written by Gabe Guarante and Matt Sullivan, released through Ardden Entertainment. It’s an action satire in the vain of League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, only instead of Victorian literary figures, you’ve got dead celebrities: Bruce Lee, Tupac, Elvis, and several other deceased icons. Issue 1 sold out in a week and a 2nd printing is in the works. Issue 2 should be coming out soon.
I’m also currently working on The Centsables, a kids’ comic aimed to teach younger audiences the value of fiscal responsibility. I’ve also contributed to 2 comic anthologies, Wonderlost and Comic Book Tattoo, both published through Image Comics. Other than that, I keep myself busy with lots of miscellaneous freelance work, stuff that the general comic-reading audience will never come across.
STR: What’s your “issue”?
EY: Hmm, my ‘issue’. Well, what instantly comes to mind is Chester Brown’s Paying For It, which I recently read. I found it both entertaining and contemplative. I wouldn’t say it’s the ‘wildest’ thing I’ve come across, but it certainly is one of the most personally reflective, while still maintaining a level of distance from its reader. As for the ‘wildest’ and ‘craziest’ comic I obsess over, I’d probably have to say Dave Cooper’s Ripple, where his character falls madly in love (or in lust) with his zaftig model. It’s is so beautifully drawn, perfectly paced, brutally honest and wickedly funny (I say funny in the darkest sense possible). I felt emphatically connected to the protagonist while simultaneously judging him with my self-righteousness. It’s a book that people either love or hate, but you definitely can’t say it’s boring.
STR: Thank you so much for taking the time for this interview.
EY: Thanks for having me!
Check out Tails at the official Tails website.