COMIC BOOK YETI: Thanks for stopping by the Yeti Cave, Seraji! How are things going in Vancouver?
SERAJI: Things is Vancouver have been good for me this summer! I did a lot of work and research preparing myself for my campaign, and I’m happy that it’s been paying off.
CBY: Yes, things are coming together nicely! Now, I was first captivated by the visual style you’ve been cultivating for FOURTH DIMENSIONAL, when I saw some of your material in the Cartoonist Kayfabe Ringside Seats facebook group, making mention of a forthcoming release. Since you first drew Mon, the protagonist, in 2019, can you tell us a bit about how this comic came to be?
S: Well first off, thank you very much! After drawing Mon for the first time (who didn’t even have his name at that point), I was captivated by him. It’s a weird thing to say, but there was something about that blank expression that gave his eyes so much depth. I drew him myself, but was left thinking “what’s going on in this guy’s head?” From there, that question rumbled around in my mind, and I began to develop this character and the world around him.
I was doing a lot of world-building and developing the characters, but I hadn’t felt confident enough to start drawing the story until I found the Cartoonist Kayfabe channel. That gave me the motivation to get going on the comics-making itself, and two years later, here we are.
CBY: Yes, with Mon's design, I think you've landed in a sweet spot regarding the principles Scott McCloud outlined regarding a cartoon character's "simple, iconic, subjective, universal" ability for the reader to explore and connect with. On the note of influences, you mentioned Bone, Madman, Dragonball, and One Piece as reference points in your Kickstarter campaign video, and I can see the distinct, vibrant characters and colorful world are certainly important elements you’ve drawn upon. As they are also all creator-driven titles, it bears mention you’re the sole creator of FOURTH DIMENSIONAL. Are there other comics or creators you’d like to cite as inspirations on your work?
S: You’ve definitely hit the mark with the creator-driven titles. They are the exact types of stories that got me interested in reading/drawing comics and continue to keep me invested. There are so many amazing comics I’ve been reading, that it’s impossible to name them all, but I can hit on a few that have really impacted me recently.
Michel Fiffe’s Copra is an inspiration in both the constant experimenting with its visuals and the clear, unashamed love for the works that it homages. Wes Craig’s Kaya for its beautiful balance of character and world, and for its appeal to people of all ages. Anything Daniel Warren Johnson or James Harren work on is gold. Tradd Moore is a visionary creator, and it’s a wonder that he’s only getting better. On the alternative side, Jaime Hernandez’s Love & Rockets stories pull me in with their deeply real characters and masterful cartooning.
CBY: Volume One collects a variety of short-form stories and supplemental material. What does your creative process look like? Do your ideas start visually, or do you generally start with plot points and scenarios? Has this process evolved over the last couple years of developing FOURTH DIMENSIONAL?
S: My writing and drawing are separate parts of my creative process. Starting with plot points and scripts is what gets my ideas flowing, and allows me to refine them before I start drawing. For me, everything from the gags to the big moments need to work in script form.
On my process changing, I’ve gotten more comfortable executing longer form stories. For the first issue’s material, I intentionally kept myself to short-form stories, which allowed me to improve at a faster rate. Starting and finishing complete short stories had me improving through repetition faster than if I had done just one long story.
By the end of the first arc, I had taken those plot points and condensed them into a single, larger scale storyline. All that work has gotten me very excited to continue 4D into the next arc, and tell even larger scale stories.
CBY: One thread throughout the narrative is the concept of forced migration and displacement. You mention Mon is an extra-dimensional fugitive, and Ava as being Persian, but not living in Iran, and she starts the story feeling aimless about her prospects. Can you share some reflection on immigration and cultural integration, and how your perspective towards these topics has shaped the story you’ve begun telling?
S: I’m an Iranian-Canadian who moved to Canada from the US when I was very young. My parents immigrated from Iran, but I’ve never lived there in my life. When I’m seen by other Canadians, I’m seen as an Iranian first, despite being just as much of a citizen.
When I interact with any Iranians who’ve lived in Iran most of their lives, there’s a disconnect in my level of understanding of language and in cultural experiences. In simpler terms, they would see me as “white-washed.”
This specific position leaves me feeling out of place in either camp. It’s an experience I believe many immigrants can relate to, and one I want to capture in FOURTH DIMENSIONAL.
CBY: Finding those spaces between defined boundaries in which to play is certainly a theme that comes through in the collection. One other thing I’ve enjoyed is the degree to which characters take Mon’s non-humanity in stride within the narrative world. Without spoiling anything, are you able to share a bit about the rules, expectations, and assumptions you’ve established in your world-building process? Beyond the inter-dimensional refugees dropped into your version of Earth, what other changes have you laid out for the sake of your story from the reality we occupy?
S: One trope I’m tired of is the “protagonists need to hide their new otherworldly friend from the world.” I believe it strongly reduces the amount of interesting interactions you can have with story’s scenario. I then thought, “what if I take this is the complete opposite direction?” What if people just accept this strange inhuman being in front of them?
Honestly, I don’t know how unrealistic this is either. In real life, we’re in this beautiful time where people present themselves as flamboyantly or unconventionally as they like, and for the most part, they’re either casually accepted or confusingly ignored.
Aside from that, I try to keep the human world in FOURTH DIMENSIONAL as grounded as I can to enhance the bizarreness of the extra-dimensional beings. Although I won’t stray from heightened reality, since it lets me have a little more fun with things.
CBY: There's certainly room to explore the social dynamics of acceptance further in future issues. Turning from narrative to your art, the aesthetic of your finished work is what initially caught my eye when I saw you posting about FOURTH DIMENSIONAL. Can you unpack for our readers how you achieve the look you’re seeking in your work? What challenges have you faced, and what techniques have you found to help you get what you want on the page?
S: The current look of my work was developed across the first three issues contained in the first volume and in pieces I worked on outside of the series. My key discovery was to emphasize the fun and boldness of my work. I have a graphic approach to colour, texture, and stylized linework, over the more realistically drawn and rendered approach I see in most comics.
My main challenges have been in my linework. From issue one to two, I worked with extra thick brushwork. Then in issue three I switched to thinner linework to let my colours pop. Now I’m working on finding my balance between the two approaches and enhancing the most unique parts of my linework.
There was a lot of experimenting to reach where I’m at, and I continue to refine my style with every new piece.
CBY: I'm keen to see where you take things in subsequent installments. I’d also like to spend a bit more time on the art, as the color palettes you select are distinct - they often manage to convey a vibrant, frenetic energy, while also retaining a softness. Is there any specific method you’ve picked up from studying other work that helped you develop (what I would consider) a signature look for FOURTH DIMENSIONAL?
S: I appreciate you recognizing it as a signature look of the series! I think my colour palettes have been vital in FOURTH DIMENSIONAL resonating with so many in the way it has.
For building colour palettes, I start with the intent of the page and take it from there. Often, I have the main colour right off the bat, and slowly find the colours that best complement it. Using non-literal colours, I’m able to enhance the visual and emotional impact of my pages without worrying if the grass is green and the sky is blue.
Like I said before, my mantra is to make my work fun and bold, but I still want to leave myself room to convey a range of emotions. Building colour palettes can often become a trial and error until everything clicks, since my flatter, graphic approach leaves so much riding on my colour choices. Things like colour theory and studying the works of other artists definitely help me, but there’s still a lot of experimenting being done.
CBY: You’d mentioned in your campaign material this story as a continuation of a lifelong interest in comics and illustration. Can you share any prior work you’ve completed, or let our readers know what other projects you have underway they may look forward to reading in the near future?
S: While I’ve drawn many pages of comics growing up, I hadn’t been able to commit to executing an entire story before. My childhood art is scattered with so many “first few pages” of stories that I lost interest in and abandoned.
I can also say there was an intermission in creating comics in my later teens, as I was convinced that comics wasn’t the practical path for my life. That didn’t stop me for long. Now, FOURTH DIMENSIONAL is the series I’m taking with me on my journey into the world of comics.
FOURTH DIMENSIONAL is far from over, but I know I have other stories that I’ll be working on, both by myself and potentially with a collaborator, if the right story came up. Maybe at FOURTH DIMENSIONAL’s halfway point, I’ll take a break from it and come back refreshed. Who’s to say, though?
CBY: Back to your campaign, I think congratulations are already due for what looks like a successful crowdfunding exercise! You’ve offered some commission options for backers and you’d mentioned enlisting guest artists for further FOURTH DIMENSIONAL material. What sort of artists currently out there in the comic community would you most like to work with, given the opportunity?
S: Thank you very much! I am extremely grateful to all those who have backed the campaign, especially to the comic shops who guarantee FOURTH DIMENSIONAL will have the chance to grow past my reach after the campaign.
I’ve been so lucky to connect with an immense amount of talent who will be creating pieces featuring my characters and world. The list of artists will continue to grow as the campaign does, I hope. I have my dream list of artists I’d love to do pieces for FOURTH DIMENSIONAL, with Mike Allred being at the top. Other artists would have include Wes Craig, Michel Fiffe, and Jim Mahfood.
In terms of collaboration, there are many writers I would love to work with. It would be amazing to work with a writer who can take my work in directions I haven’t explored. Working from a script written by another cartoonist would also be very enticing. There are more and more artists who have taken the seat of writer on new series. Creators including Andrew Maclean, Wes Craig, and Daniel Warren Johnson.
CBY: We’ve discussed some of the influences on FOURTH DIMENSIONAL, but I always let guests close with an opportunity to mention some other media worth checking out. What comics, films, music, art, literature, etc., has been catching your attention lately?
S: Right off the bat, everyone who’s checking out FOURTH DIMENSIONAL should check out SEWER BOYZ, also on Kickstarter now! This is a collaboration of the Ink and Drink Long Beach group and is a love letter to the TMNT drawn by over 30 artists!
Aside from that, I encourage people to check out more indie comics! There’s an endless supply of amazing stories being told, catering to all types of readers. Go try something new!
CBY: Seraji, thank you for joining us today, and if there are any links and social media contacts you’d like to share, please let us know to include them below.
S: Thank you for having me! Your questions were well-thought and I loved answering them.
I’m on Instagram, Twitter, and TikTok @serajiart and you can find me on Facebook under Seraji. More importantly, I have the link to the 4D Volume One campaign page. Make sure to check it out! I’m committed to giving all backers a package that they’ll be ecstatic to receive!