HEROES CON 2022: AN INTERVIEW WITH DON NGUYEN
Fresh from Heroes Con, Comic Book Yeti contributor Alex Breen corresponded on the convention floor with Don Nguyen, artist of the Kickstarter comic series Retro, to discuss the differences between storyboarding the animated film and illustrating the comic, along with the inherent strengths in telling a story as a comic.
COMIC BOOK YETI: I'm here with Don Nguyen, artist of the Kickstarter comic, Retro. Don, thank you for joining me today with Comic Book Yeti.
DON NGUYEN: Thank you very much for having me.
CBY: Absolutely. So, first things first, can you give us an elevator pitch for the Kickstarter series that's live* now, Retro?
*[The campaign for Retro ended successfully prior to publication of this interview.]
DN: Yeah, of course. If you enjoy movies like The Jason Bourne series, Looper and Memento, think of it as a mashup of all those movies. But more importantly, what's at the core of the project is it's a father-son story. It's about relationships and the lengths you would go to for a loved one.
My friend, Aaron Lindenthaler, initially came up with the project, the character, and the idea. And he asked if I could do storyboards for him. So, I took the job, I did the storyboards for him, and then he asked me to do final storyboards, which isn't something very common in storyboarding. Normally, you see rough and fine pencils, but he wanted me to ink and color them. So, I did, and then he animated that.
Essentially, he made a short film/motion comic and got it into the Dances with Films Festival, the longest-standing and running Film Festival left in Los Angeles. We debuted that in 2019 as part of the 23rd Dances with Film Festival and his friend, actor Reno Wilson, from Mike and Molly and Good Girls saw that and was hyped about it and wanted to make it in live action. So, they've shot a live-action feature, and the Kickstarter is basically to start off or to get off the ground, the comic book, and Aaron's looking to do a 12-issue maxi-series with it. So we're super stoked about it.
"...That's the joy of the medium that we work in, we're able to do so much more with what we have."
CBY: Fascinating. So, you definitely answered my next question. So, you have me curious then, was it originally done as a motion comic, and then they used your stills for the film?
DN: They used the storyboards to set up the live-action shots, so there are places where it looks just like the storyboard, which is insane to me. But yeah, they didn't really incorporate any of the animation from the original into the movie, but at the end of the credits, you'll see some of the rough storyboards.
CBY: So then, were they always planning on making it a comic as well?
DN: He actually was planning on making the comic, but Aaron started off as a screenwriter and didn't know how to go about it. And he just happened to have a good friend that was making comics. So that was the other part, we had done the animated short, and the live-action hadn't really settled in his mind, I don't think yet and he was like, "how do we make this into a comic?" because you can only do so much in a five minute short. He figured there was a lot more meat on the bones of this story. He's also working on a novelization of it as well.
The fun thing about it is, you know, usually as comic book fans, we see movies, and we want comic page accurate costumes and like it to follow panel to panel. What I enjoy about a lot of comic book movies is that it keeps the essence of the story and the characters, but it brings something different, and I feel for the project, Aaron has brought something different to each element. So, the novel is going to be different from the comic, the movie is slightly different from the comic. In fact, the comic takes elements from it and builds upon it, and that adds layers to it. That's the joy of the medium that we work in, we're able to do so much more with what we have. And like I said, five minutes just isn't enough to tell the story.
CBY: Honestly, I couldn't agree more. Also, you seem to be reading my mind, man. You're leaning right into my next question. So, just to put a fine point on it, each adaptation is coming up out of the same core story idea, then it's approaching it as what's best for the medium?
DN: Yeah, exactly. I think Aaron's done a good job of that in terms of overseeing it in terms of the visual stuff. Like, if you look at how Reno looks as Retro, it's completely different than the storyboards and even the comic book design is slightly differentiated from the storyboards, too. So we added, I would say, a little different layer to how he looks in the comic.
CBY: Did the collaborative process change with the storyboards versus the comic?
DN: So my part in terms of the storyboards was I did all the character design work, but other than that, the storyboard stuck to the script. Aside from having to design the characters, it was essentially just making sure that the shots were blocked properly and that it was shot from interesting angles that I would want to see and Aaron would take it from there and give me notes if need be.
For the comic, it was essentially a little bit in the reverse of that dynamic because he hadn't really written a comic yet. So then it was a matter of just giving him some pointers on how to work a comic book page. Especially, the idea of like the page turn, where something should end, or, what the motion should be, because, one of the things with filmmaking is they usually equate one page of the script to about a minute of screen time. For us in comics, it's about the moment, like the instant or the object on a page that drives the story. So he had to think of it from that perspective versus what he would see going frame to frame because now it's just like, which of these frames are the most important for my storytelling on this page?
I think he's adapted fairly quickly to it. It took him some time and he's still getting through it, but now he has more ideas bubbling in the back of his mind because we're talking about the script. And he's like, "well, what if we do this," and I'm like, "I think, you know, you can either do A, B or C" and now he is diverging in terms of his storytelling from where he was thinking his novel would take him. Because again, in comics, you see and read what's happening and sometimes that doesn't line up because the narration will add nuance to what's happening on the page. I think Aaron's definitely taken to that and he's trying to use that and ride that idea out to the best of his ability and to the advantage of the story.
CBY: So, one follow-up to that. The scripts you've been getting from him... Are they more of, would you say, a Marvel-style script? So that way, you've been able to help guide him through those early stages, like you were talking about? Or are they like full-on full script?
DN: Yeah, they're full script. So it's funny because I might give him some notes on things I want to see or where I might truncate the story. And we actually did that, because of his original comic book script. I stopped it and that's how we ended up on a 27-page comic because there was just a moment that was like, comic book perfect in terms of how to end on the page stop. His script actually continued further on that and because we've thumbnailed, that's going to be issue number two of Retro. So as soon as this project funds, our hope is we deliver right away.
It's currently being colored by Ellie Wright, who's doing the Immortal Red Sonja. She's done that and Batman and the Shadow for Dynamite, IDW and I believe, Boom, DC, and Marvel. She's had her hands in tons of amazing projects. And then Jerome Gagnon, who does a lot of work with Orange Co. Productions, has done the majority of the lettering already. So we're just waiting for them to take care of edit notes and then we're going to be off to the presses once the funding hits.
CBY: Absolutely. That's a stacked team. Now, given everything you just described for me and the various stages of Retro you've worked on, do you have a favorite part of it so far?
DN: First, I've seen it on a big screen at its premiere which was at the TCL Chinese Theater. But in terms of the comic itself, I don't want to reveal too much. You know, part of the problem of making the comic was it deals with time travel, and time travel to me at least... I don't have knowledge of many other people who might be reading time travel comics. I've always seen time travel as a character walking backward, or you might express it through motion lines and that was one of my favorite parts was figuring out or being challenged by the fact of visually representing time travel.
I think we've done something original with Retro in terms of how we're going to show that because I've taken some artistic influence from my life and from my childhood and imbued that into the visuals.
CBY: Excellent. So you mentioned that it was gonna be a maxi-series. Do you have a rough idea of like the release schedule for that?
DN: With Kickstarter projects, it's kind of hard to say. I'm off on a few different ones. So I'm working on Pablo The Gorilla issue two right now, Battle Grapple Rebel successfully funded a few months ago and then if Retro successfully funds that means I'll be on three different projects at the same time.
CBY: That's a good problem to have.
DN: It's a good problem to have. So it's all about how things will line up. Thankfully, with Battle Grapple Rebel, I'm only doing pencils, But on Pablo, I do everything and that's the writing, the drawing, inking, the coloring the lettering. With Retro, at least, we have a creative team of Ellie Wright, and Jerome Gagnon that are involved. So that alleviates that amount of work for me, but it's still a lot of work so, we'll see how it goes.
It's all about getting it funded and out there first, making sure people enjoy the product and the story, and then coming back to revisit it. I would hope, you know, at least yearly, if not bi-annually, will probably be the way to look at it. I feel like that's pretty fair for a lot of Kickstarters.
CBY: And since you mentioned you're working on three simultaneously. What's your scheduling like for that?
DN: That's the thing, we don't quite know yet because, you know, I wasn't supposed to handle social media stuff for one of the projects and that kind of came back and we really had to hustle to get it made. So I'm a little behind on Pablo. My original hope was to have it completed by San Diego Comic Con and that doesn't look like it's gonna happen. So it'll probably happen in Q4. So because of that, it pushes everything else up. So we'll see.
CBY: And where can people support your work outside of Heroes Con? Because obviously, this will come out after Heroes.
DN: Well, the Kickstarter can be found at whoisretro.com. You can find my work through my website, which is nguyeningit.com or on any of my social media feeds. I'm known as nguyeningit. I'm on most social media platforms and you will always see me promoting my projects, along with projects with people that I think are cool or doing cool things with friends. So yeah, please consider giving Retro a hand and check out some of the other projects coming down the pipeline.
CBY: Excellent, Don. Thank you so much for your time.
DN: Alex, thank you so much for coming by! Big shout out to the Comic Book Yeti crew. You guys are always fantastic and thank you so much for supporting the indie comics community.