From CBR to Rising Star: Keith Giles talks Plastic Animal Studios

Thu, December 12th, 2002 at 12:00am PST

Comic Books
Arune Singh, Staff Writer

The cover to "Digerati" by Ben Templesmith
It's often said that one needs to be in the right place at the right time and if that's true, then Keith Giles is right where he needs to be. Longtime CBR News readers will no doubt be familiar with the work of former staff writer Keith Giles, whose interviews graced the cyber-realm of ComicBookResources.Com for the late part of 2000 and the majority of 2001. However, after interviewing his favorite comic book creators, Giles turned his focus towards pursuing his own comic book ambitions and recently found his work gaining positive reviews from the gentlemen at TheFourthRail.Com.

Taking some time out of his busy work schedule and family life to speak exclusively with CBR News, Giles spoke about the beginnings of his comic book ventures, under the banner of Plastic Animal Studios, and the work he'll see published in the upcoming "Prophecy" magazine.

"I gotta say," explains Giles, "I feel like I won some 'Artist Lottery.' I've got the best artists working with me. I know a lot of indie writers who write a great script, then go looking for an artist and it's really hard to find a good one, but I've somehow found a lot of them! "

Giles explains more about the Studio he created to house his various projects, "Plastic Animal Studios isn't a traditional studio. We don't publish other people's work or look at other people's stuff. I write the scripts and have artists work on the projects. When they're done, we shop them around to other publishers and hopefully find some success."

Plastic Animal Studios began, as you might expect, with a story that Giles had written not too long ago. "'Digerati' is really the comic that got Plastic Animal rolling," said Giles. "I had just started a new job, about two years ago, and I needed a creative output so I started to write this sci-fi novel; it's something I've been kicking around in my head since I was in high school. 'Digerati' is a near-future story, and it deals with technology that is in development or could be theoretically developed soon. I've done a ton of research on this. But, the core of the book is really about a search for identity. 'Digerati' follows two main characters, Gretchen and Caiden, who are trying to figure out who they are, but the advancement of technology is really stealing their identity. It's a cautionary tale because I feel that our society is racing towards technological advances without taking the time to consider what some of this can do to a person. The tagline for the book is, 'Who do you become when you lose your soul?' The characters are lost in this technology and they just want to know who they are deep down inside, what their lives truly mean.

"The second script I started on was 'Durango Silver,' sci-fi western story, that deals with the world after a biological weapon is released that 'eats' fuel, plastics, and concrete…and I'm not making that part up, there really is a biological weapon in development to do just that. So, I'm just theorizing a world that has been subjected to this warfare. Without plastics and fuel and concrete, we're back to the Old West. The book follows a young girl, Del Rio, who is badly scarred and walking the 'New West' hunting for five men for whom she has vowed revenge. It's a five-issue mini-series. I'll be pulling in a lot of Native American history into the story, even though it's set in the future, because it's really interesting stuff and I don't only mean the injustice they've suffered, but the spirit of the people and their willingness to survive."

Cover by
Joy Ang
Cover by
Kristian Donaldson
Still, bringing the ideas to life isn't a walk in the park for Giles and as the founder of Plastic Animal Studios he explains that the joy of creating his own comics does come with some hardships. "The hardest part is carrying it all on your shoulders. Being an indy writer, you're not only the writer, but you're the talent scout, you're also the editor and you're also the project manager. You have to write the script and then find the artist, work with the artist, then give the artist some room to interpret your script and your characters the way that they want to- you have to oversee everything. In a way that's great- you have absolute, 100% freedom to do whatever you want and no one can tell you 'that sucks' or 'change that around,' though sometimes it is great to hear both of those things. Having to really direct and really run things is the hardest part, though it hasn't been a hardship- the artists I work with are all great people and they've been a perpetual source of inspiration. You gotta remember, with all this 'hard stuff' comes the other side of the coin- the 'good stuff.' I love seeing the pages that come back from the artists I've given the scripts to. It makes me want to go back and write something else! Seeing the art and words come together is amazing."

So, how does Giles succeed in finding such complimentary artists to join Plastic Animal Studios? "When it comes to finding the right artist, I'll share one of my little secrets. I've found almost all of my artists through their Web sites. But, I've looked for the one's that show the depth of their talent. I look for artists who can draw perspective, dogs, cars, guns, everyday appliances, not just muscle bound men and women.

"When I talk to other indy writers, it seems their biggest frustration is an inability to find an artist, which is very hard, especially one willing to work for free. To find an artist who will stay committed to a project is not easy. I've learned that I can sit down and put out a script in a few days, but it can take months for an artist to put together a comic. They spend more time with the script than I do! But, honestly, I feel very blessed. I don't just have one or two 'okay' artists, I have an army of great artists!"

Giles has also found support from within the industry, friends he made as a staff writer here at CBR. "I have to first say that Paul Pope has gone out of his way to be a friend to me and I appreciate that. When I wrote the first section of the story 'Hard Video,' which is being serialized in 'Prophecy Magazine' next year, I sent it out to Paul and he e-mailed me back, sent me some comments and we discussed what I could do with it. He's been a great source of encouragement and advice. Just having access to someone like Paul Pope is a blessing that you can't begin to put into words. It's great to have his help, even if I don't always listen to his advice (laughs). Ben Templesmith, who I got to know at CBR right before he exploded with 'Hellspawn' and now '30 Days of Night,' has also been a great help. He contributed a cover for 'Digerati' which knocked our socks off. I think it's even better than anything else I've seen him do professionally. He volunteered early on to illustrate a five-page story with me called 'The Devil's Riding Horse' that I wrote just for him. Unfortunately, he got so busy with the stuff I just mentioned that he wasn't able to do it. But, the story is being published in 'Prophecy Magazine' with art by Kristian Donaldson, so without Ben's involvement, the story would never have been written. Ben's been really great to us, offering to help any way he can and it's been exciting to see someone like him get so big, so fast.

The cover to "Digerati" by Brett Weldele
"Then there's Brett Weldele, who contributed a cover to 'Digerati' and he's always hanging around our private forum and offering input. Another guy, who isn't a comics guy, is sci-fi author Richard Kadrey who's been kind enough to give me feedback on the 'Hard Video' story. I also have to mention Ethan Van Sciver, who has been in the indy field for so long. He had some stellar advice for me, like telling me never to pay anyone to publish my pages. He said that, if I took the time to find someone to take the risk to publish my work, and who would pay me to publish it, I'd be much better off. I really appreciated that advice. He's also offered to help me find a publisher when I need one and so maybe I better start taking him up on that? [laugh]."

As previously mentioned, Giles and the rest of the Plastic Animal gang will see some of their work published in "Prophecy Magazine" in February. "Well 'Prophecy' is an experiment, the kind of thing that many comic fans have been hoping and praying would come along for some time," explains Giles. "It's a huge, 150 page, 'Life' magazine-size, comic book anthology with both color and black & white pages. It's an in-your-face presentation of comics, placed prominently in places like Barnes & Noble, and other places you don't normally see comics. It's exciting to be a part of something like this. I'm really humbled that they've accepted my projects for publication and I can't wait to see what else they have in store for the public.

"Hard Video" pages by Khary Randolph.
"The big 'Prophecy' project we have in there is 'Hard Video.' The entire graphic novel will be serialized over the next year's worth of issues. My artist on this is Khary Randolph and this guy is like nothing you've ever seen before. The story could really never work as a comic without a very talented artist with a specific artistic vision. That's what Khary Randolph brings to the project. Without him this would never fly. 'Hard Video' deals with something I feel our society isn't far away from, and that's a day where technology is at its zenith and all technology has converged into a single unit and system. We're getting closer to that all the time. We already have cell phones that are cameras, and hand-held PDA's that have wireless email and Internet, etc… 'Hard Video' imagines a world where all technology has converged into a single unit called HVDO (Hard Video). It's a worldwide network of streaming holographic news, information and communication, all rolled into one. But as technology is wont to do, it entertains people to the people where they become addicted. HVDO knows what you want, it's intuitive, it anticipates your needs and helps you make decisions, and people begin to depend on the technology to the point that they are unable to live without the technology"

Now if you're looking to get the comics that Giles has mentioned or you want to get ahold of upcoming Plastic Animal products, he says that you have a few options. "The two comics reviewed on FourthRail; 'Digerati' and 'Durango Silver;' can be viewed and read online at PlasticAnimal.Com. You can look at sketches, read the stories, and check up on what's new. There's no need for flash or special downloads. Right now we're sold out of the ashcans. We might reprint them at a later date, maybe for the next con, but we're out right now.

"UV Target" promo
"UV Target" sample pages.
"The first thing coming up is a complete graphic novel called 'UV Target,' and as much as I love all the projects I'm working on right now, I think it's my most exciting script to date. If you could imagine Phillip K. Dick and David Lynch collaborating on a sci-fi comic, with everything from genetic engineering, and the nature of sanity to dentistry, then I'd imagine this being the result. It's very reality bending. The artist on this one is sort of my secret weapon here, a guy named Adijin, and when people see his work, they are going to flip! And I imagine that soon after 'UV:Target' gets published Adijin will get caught up in a flood of offers to work on books for the 'Big Guys' and I'll never see him again. So, I'm looking forward to this getting into print before that happens, (laughs). That entire, fully painted graphic novel should be done in time for the San Diego Con next year."

Now that Giles has started working as an indy writer and getting things published, he has some advice for other writers who want to try their hand at scripting. "If you're a writer, what I'd recommend is making sure how to write a comic book in a proper, understandable comic book script format. I've learned that you have to make things clear for the artist so they understand what's going on in your head. That's a skill you need to develop and I apologize to my artists, because I'm sure a lot of my early scripts made them shake their heads and say, 'What is he talking about?' But I think now I've gotten the hang of it.

"As far as being an indy writer in this industry, I'm sure people already know it's tough and it's a lot of work. Even though I came into it for fun, and it's still fun, don't get me wrong, but you have to be prepared for the fact that it's a long haul. You have to be willing to wait for an artist you really click with. Work with the artist, be patient and then find that level of synergy where you guys produce your best work together. I think that sometimes people don't nurture that relationship enough and forget that the artist should feel like they have a voice in what happens and can bring something you didn't expect or even intend to the comic."

 
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