Ansis Purins dropped by the Comic Book Yeti Cave to chat with Steve Thompson about his new comic, SUPER MAGIC FOREST, which premieres today!
COMIC BOOK YETI: In your words, what is Super Magic Forest about? Is this a story you've been building to with previous Magic Forest comics and zines? What can we learn from reading it and who is the audience for it?
ANSIS PURINS: Super Magic Forest is part of my comics universe, built up within and around a place called the Magic Forest. Each of my books and stories over the years has incrementally built upon that world, using various characters who lead the stories. One of my major goals is to tell a singular, satisfying tale that anyone can read from start to finish, regardless of reading my past work. My Magic Forest books are a mash-up of fantasy and real slice-of-life stories that aim to relate to anyone. I liked creepy stuff as a kid and I try to capture that element. Scary doesn’t always mean bloody or violent, and that’s the kind of vibe I want to bring.
To get back to your first question, Super Magic Forest is centered on my character Twit Leaf, an elf, who really wants to be a big warrior, and is given a dream quest of delivering an “otherworldly device” (like a Nintendo Switch or Gameboy) to the wizard who protects the state park, aka the Magic Forest.
CBY: Who is Twit Leaf? At times he is willful and sometimes brave and often curious and nervous. Do you like him, and will we see more of him in the future?
AP: Twit Leaf is a small elf who is pretty insecure. He really wants to be a strong warrior, someone special. I love Twit Leaf! He’s a relatable character, like any of us who want to be more confident and more capable with all of life’s hardships. I wanted someone for readers to root for. Twit Leaf will pair up with a human park ranger for another adventure.
CBY: There is a big cast of fascinating and fun characters in Super Magic Forest, who I'm guessing you enjoyed designing as they all have a distinct, strong look, but which ones endear themselves to you?
AP: Thanks a bunch for that comment! My dad, who is a graphic designer, gave me the book Character Trademarks by John Mendenhall in high school and I pretty much studied/copied/hacked each character’s design over and over and over again while in class, while I was supposed to be doing homework, late at night, etc. So having a sharp visual design that pops has always been on my mind when designing a character. I’m partial to all of them, especially Pulpo, the Cthulhu-esque god that is basically a brown-spotted, spazzy yellow octopus that acts like it just drank 20 pots of coffee. Pulpo would be an amazing jazz drummer.
CBY: You were kind enough to send me a print version of the book, a printer's proof, as you didn't want me reading it on a screen. Why was that important to you and will this book only be available in print?
AP: I’m OK with webcomics and digital engagement, but I’m a lover of printed books. I love big, elaborately bound art editions in slipcases to small, scrappy zines, and everything in between. The sounds of pages turning, smells of the paper and ink, I feel all add to immersion with the book. I do aim to have a digital version of the book available online at some point, maybe all of them. I experimented with making a digital version of my last book available, but I’m still working out the knots I have in my brain about that.
CBY: The colour changes every few pages or so, often suggesting a different emotion or mood. What was behind this choice?
AP: Growing up with a father who is a graphic designer definitely had an impact. Color is a really big deal with him. He would repaint the living room or kitchen or some other room every year or so. This often seemed to be because he was having a love affair with a new color scheme. I was flipping thru Pantone color swatch books at a young age because of him, and I still have some around. And it also has to do with my process. I draw everything in pencil, then ink it and add collage elements, scan the drawings, then work the color in using Photoshop. That inking process is laborious, but just as important to me as every other aspect of the book. Coloring is one of the fun parts.
CBY: What is your process for creating your books, and does Super Magic Forest differ from previous books you have created? Do you write a script before starting the art, or is it something more spontaneous?
AP: I’ve basically had the ending to the Magic Forest in my head for decades now. And everything I write slowly works its way towards revealing that. I do a lot of research and keep notes, ideas, and dialogue for characters and scenarios I won’t use for sometimes years. I won’t start really writing a story until I have a main character to identify, and most especially, the ending is already worked out. The ending has to be satisfying and totally awesome and not knowing what that is can really slow me down. I thumbnail everything from start to finish and then follow that with 2 to 3 more drafts of thumbnails. I read the entire work before I sit down to draw/write more, share with friends and fellow cartoonists, and take notes on what can be improved and incorporate them. It’s very much like pulling a lot of strings together, followed by a spit shine of ink. It’s a lot of work, but it’s really depressing to make a whole book and have someone say, “I don't understand what’s happening in this panel,” so I strive for clarity. Harvey Kurtzman wrote a great children’s book about his life, and I reread it all the time. In that book, he says something like, “You can’t dumb down comics enough,” and I can’t agree more with that sentiment.
CBY: How has it been working with your publisher, Revival House Press, and how did they come to be publishing this book?
AP: Dave Nuss and Rusty Jordan of Revival House are such big fans of comics. Their enthusiasm and passion for reading and publishing comics is infectious. They emailed me one day, out-of-the-blue, after reading Magic Forest #1, which was a short self-published book. It was like a dream phone call, like being asked to join the major league, as Revival House Press believed in the work and offered me distribution of my work that was broad. Sometimes people ask how to break into comics and my only advice is to keep drawing, writing, and self-publishing.
CBY: Are there cartoonists or animators working today who you always pick up new work from and you admire?
AP: I don’t watch many modern cartoons or read many contemporary comics. I’ve never seen Adventure Time, but people sometimes compare my work to it. I could not tell you if that assessment is correct. I’m a little old-fashioned as I still love reading Asterix, Tintin, and especially Sergio Aragonés’s Groo works. I’m a big fan of Archer Prewitt’s Sof’Boy. I’m an avid reader of Batman and Black Panther since childhood, and I love Go Nagai with his beautiful robots and the world-building mashups of Devilman, who lives on the fringes of that robot universe. I am always down for reading anything by Masashi Tanaka, Hironori Kikuchi, or Charles Addams or Burns. I generally look for older cartoonists and cartoons if I’m looking for new work to find. I like Cara Bean’s work engaging with themes on managing mental health. Ariel Bordeaux is back doing diary comics on her Instagram which is really fun and infectious reading. I also like Malachi Ward and his otherworldly sense of color and line. Hartley Lin’s Pope Hats stuff is always so good.
CBY: What is your next project or ambition in cartooning?
AP: I’m slowly working on my next Magic Forest installment. It takes place in a city this time, at a comic book convention. The story starts with an evil warlock who is looking for the forest, coming across the convention after waking from a deep sleep of 700 years. He mistakes a little girl to be a fellow warlock and seeks her help in this strange new world. If I won the lottery, I would also like to see animatronic versions of my characters inhabiting a Magic Forest-themed mini-golf course.