The solicitation for Oni Press' "Polly & The Pirates" took many fans by surprise, as no one had really heard of acclaimed writer/artist Ted Naifeh's new project before the solicitation. Then the preview images shown at Comic Con International in San Diego not only made fans happy, it whet their appetites for more. CBR News caught up Naifeh to learn about the project.
"Polly & The Pirates" is a six-issue mini-series with the first issue scheduled to hit comic shop shelves September 21st. "Polly, naturally, is the central character," Naifeh told CBR News. "The main inspiration for her is, believe it or not, Bilbo Baggins of 'The Hobbit.' I always loved that book, even more than 'Lord of the Rings,' actually. The idea of the homebody discovering the joy of adventure always struck me as a fantastic coming of age tale, even back when I was a kid and couldn't put words to the idea. So I decided that I wanted a character who wasn't interested in adventure, didn't want to escape her circumstances, and only found out after the fact how much she was missing in her comfortable everyday life.
"All the other characters of the story take a backseat to Polly, but there are a few who stand out.
"And there's The Pirate Prince, whose father is, of course, the infamous Pirate King (now retired), who gathered all the pirates of the pacific under his flag. All except for Meg Malloy, naturally. So the Prince and Polly carry on the same conflict as the old king and queen.
"And, of course, there's Polly's father, who is quite possibly the most debonair gentleman in the world, and could charm a shark into giving you a ride on its back; two scheming lawyers called Snedecker & Werms; and Emperor Norton, one of my favorite historical madmen."
"In any event, I got a lot of nibbles, but nothing concrete. And the more I dreamed about the world, the less I liked the idea of just handing it to an animation sweatshop and letting them do whatever they wanted. It's got a pretty unique flavor, and I didn't think it would work unless it was done just right. On the other hand, I didn't want to move to Hollywood and get into the business myself. I'd watched Jhonen Vasquez go through that and though I'm in awe of 'Invader Zim's' utter brilliance (I have the full collection plus the house box), I don't envy him the effort and struggle he had to go through. Plus, there's no way I'm moving out of San Francisco. So when Oni asked for my next project, I pitched it along with a slew of others. They went ga-ga for it."
The reason that Oni went "ga-ga" for Naifeh's pitch is a combination of the broad appeal of the series and the fact that, like monkeys and zombies, pirates are "kewl." "[Oni Publisher] Joe Nozemack called me immediately after I sent the pitch and said, 'This is adorable. How come you didn't show it to me before?' I think what really got him was the extended cast. It's not simply a bunch of wacky characters. What makes them interesting is their relationships with each other, how they all connect in various ways to make a whole quirky world. Of course, I'm sure the fact that it's a pirate story, the flavor of the month, doesn't hurt matters."
Like "Courtney Crumrin," expect to see multiple series, but there won't be any "bigger" picture you really need to worry about following. "I plan to do three Polly Mini-series," said Naifeh. "There won't be an overarching story, unless one asserts itself. They'll just be the various adventures of Polly and her taking on the mantle of the new Pirate Queen. But then, Courtney wasn't planned as an overarching story, but it definitely became one, mainly because characters that don't change bore me. I wanted Courtney to grow and evolve. I suspect I'll want Polly to do the same."
The comparisons to "Courtney" may seem tedious to some, but it highlights an important aspect of Naifeh's career- without pandering to "grittiness" or writing down to his audience, Naifeh has managed to create comics that appeal to both children and adults. "I didn't intend to start a career as a children's comic writer. In fact, I, like many others, took an interest in comics when I was getting older and children's entertainment was beginning to lose its appeal. My first loves in comics were the 'Dark Knight Returns' and Matt Wagner's 'Mage,' both of which were intended for post-adolescent audiences. I'm not sure why I ended up doing 'Courtney' as a children's comic, other than that perhaps I felt that there weren't enough of them and that I predicted (wisely, I can now see) that there might be a market outside comics core readership starving for that kind of material. Additionally, I have a soft spot for children's books. I still love Tolkien, C.S. Lewis, Roald Dahl and many other great children's writers, not to mention JK Rowling. It seems unfitting, somehow, that the medium would have moved so far away from that sort of material, when after all, that's really the kind of work that launched comics. More importantly, I think one of the biggest
Looking at the premise of "Polly & The Pirates," the series has a mix of romance, action and adventure that lends itself to a broad range of stories. Naifeh says that there's no genre he won't be tackling per se, but he wants to focus on one in particular. "'Polly' will be a light, fun adventure story with lots of silly humor and plenty of romance. It's not going to have a lot of horror. I think 'Courtney' has the horror stuff covered. Also, It's not actually going to have any magic. It's more of a fanciful version of reality, where the only magic comes from places and inventions that never existed.
The art for "Polly" shows an almost softer, rounder style of art from Naifeh and the bright colors lend the series a distinct look. "The main art influence for Polly is, oddly enough, Junko Mizuno. But a lot of it is just evolution from previous work. As I mentioned elsewhere, I'm attempting with 'Polly' to go in the opposite direction from 'Courtney' and so the art style is going to be an attempt to break out of the habits I've developed. Where 'Courtney' relied on heavy blacks, I plan with 'Polly' to avoid too much use of shadow. I'm getting to the phase in my work where I'm influencing myself. And thankfully, I think I've worked through most of my Mignola influence and can be my own artist for a while."
Fans fondly acquainted with Naifeh's previous work have reason to smile- he'll be bringing back a favorite character. "I'm going to do more 'Courtney.' I have way too many ideas to just abandon it. 'How Loathsome,' I'm not so sure. This is my day-job, and I don't make a lot of money on independent projects like 'Courtney' and 'Polly.' This is why books like 'Death Jr.' are a godsend. DJ was a big financial support and it's so much fun that I'd want to do it even if it wasn't. But with 'How Loathsome,' I'm splitting very small profits with another creator. It just doesn't add up. I'd love to do a sequel and Tristan and I have talked about it, but right now, I just can't justify the time. I would like to do more projects with adult themes and I've even considered doing some erotic material. I have some great ideas. But currently I can't afford the time to draw an indy book unless I'm getting the full profit. That may change in the future."
So why should you check out "Polly & The Pirates?"
"Hey, it's pirates! Everybody like pirates," smiles Naifeh.