Man's Best Friend: Slade talks "Korgi"

Fri, February 16th, 2007 at 12:00am PST

Comic Books
Justin Jordan, Guest Contributor

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Corgis are, according to the wonders of Wikipedia, a small breed of dog that are considered highly intelligent. They are also, I might add, darn cute. You know, the dog from "Cowboy Bebop?"

Yeah, Corgi.

They're also the dogs that Queen Elizabeth the Second likes, if you were wondering. Why am I rambling about small welsh dogs? It's not because I get paid by the word, because I don't.

It's because "Korgi," with a K, is one of the newest offerings from indy publisher Top Shelf, following the adventures of a Korgi, which is very much like a Corgi, but not quite.

But we let "Korgi's" creator, illustrator and animator Christian Slade, explain it a little better.

"'Korgi' is about a small community of woodland creatures who harvest the land around them and enjoy the simple pleasures of life," Slade told CBR News. "The focus of the stories will be mainly on Ivy, a human-like creature and Sprout, a Corgi-like creature. Ivy and Sprout live together in a treehouse in Korgi Hollow. They always watch out for each other, and protect one another from dangers. Even though they are both intelligent and gifted, they are also young and often wander away from the hollow as their curiosity often leads them into dangerous places, as happens in book #1."

Slade has been drawing for most of his life, making up for what he perceived as a lack of natural talent with the next best thing, working like a fiend.

"I really got into it in the third grade. There was a kid who drew and I started hanging around with him drawing Star Wars, Transformers, monsters, you know the usual elementary stuff. Even though this kid was really talented, he didn't draw all that much which frustrated me because I drew all the time, carrying my sketchbooks with me wherever I went to try to get better. This kid drew better than me at the time and I thought, 'Well why the hell doesn't he do more of it?' I met many people like this up through college. My academic philosophy became to find the hardest working student of the class, and create 3 times more than they did. I grew up thinking I didn't have a lot of talent, so I tried to make up for that with lots and lots of extra work, and a healthy obsession of sketchbooks."

It was also around this time that Slade became interested in comics, including one very surprising influence on "Korgi."

"It was around the same time I started drawing a lot (3rd grade) that I discovered comic books. The Frank Miller 'Wolverine' limited series was great, and the 'X-Men.' I was into mostly Marvel stuff, 'Spider-Man,' 'Punisher' and also 'G.I. Joe,'" explained Slade.

"'G.I. Joe' was never that exciting to me, however one of my favorite comics ever is a 'G.I. Joe' book," continued Slade. "It was issue #21 and it is called 'Silent Interlude.' That was on a small stack of books I flipped through for inspiration when creating 'Korgi.' What I loved about the story was that it was told only with illustrations. I love the compositions and the pacing of this story, too. My other favorite comics were in the newspapers. I was big time into 'Bloom County.' Huge! I didn't understand all the content, but I knew these were some amazing little characters here. I also marveled at Bill Watterson's imagination, when 'Calvin and Hobbes' burst onto the scene.

"I spent many years of childhood studying the classic Disney animated features. The staging of scenes and the acting of characters fascinated me. Later on I got a copy of 'The Illusion of Life' and it just totally blew my mind how inspired and detailed the process was. In college, I ate up every single art history lecture and wanted more," said Slade.

Slade had an opportunity to practice those skills he honed watching Disney when he went to work for the company, eventually working on what would be Disney's last traditionally animated feature, "Brother Bear."

"It was amazing. I was one of the last to get in there so my time there wasn't as long as most of the other artists around me. I was pretty much the rookie so I had the 'pixie dust' on me most of the time. Those people in there were some of the most talented artists I had ever met. I was also lucky to have my desk around some of the funniest, and craziest, cats in the whole joint. I drew my fingers off. I worked overtime a lot and my personal record was 86 hours in one week. It was also sad because there was this underlying knowledge that the studio might be closing."

After Disney, Slade moved into illustration, which led to corgis and "Korgi."

"My girlfriend's family had one in college, Queenie, a red and white Welsh Corgi. I instantly knew this was a special type of animal. I spent many years drawing Queenie in my sketchbook. Years later I married that girlfriend and we ended up getting two corgis ourselves, Penny and Leo. Ann, my wife, later suggested we attend a National Specialty Welsh Corgi show which is a big dog show once a year with just corgis. I brought around 20 paintings and sold almost all of them. Since then, we have attended the National every year. There is a community of Welsh Corgi enthusiasts who collect my original paintings, prints and books. It is because of the success of the Corgi artwork, and the history of the breed's association with fairies that led me to create 'Korgi,' which will hopefully take my corgi art to a new level."

Slade also found inspiration in an eclectic mix of classic artists for the lush visual style of Korgi.

"For Korgi, I looked to early 20th century pen and ink illustrators Franklin Booth, Joseph Clement Coll, Heinrich Kley and Harry Rountree. I also love the Brandywine school, Rembrandt, Norman Rockwell, and the Dutch illustrator Rien Poortvliet. That is quite a variety of names, but the common denominator is that they all deeply cared about their picture-making. These artists stepped beyond the frame and it shows in the depth of the work," said Slade.

It was a combination of luck and snazzy design that brought "Korgi" to Top Shelf after he was impressed by their work and the kinds of books they offered.

"Over the last few years, I had found myself picking up books off shelves with no other purpose other than, 'Hey this looks cool.' Time after time, I found myself picking up books by Top Shelf," said Slade, "These graphic novels were packaged beautifully and I also took note that they published a nice variety of stories and artists. At Megacon last year, I went up to the booth and spoke with Rob Venditti briefly. Maybe a minute. A few weeks later, I sent in a submission to Chris and Brett and we were talking about 'Korgi' soon after that."

Top Shelf offered a chance to tell the kind of stories Slade wanted to tell and get a good audience for those stories.

"Korgi is filled with the types of stories I have always loved. Primarily wordless, each story is a tale on its own, yet there is a larger storyline taking place over the course of the series. As Korgi progresses, the stories will build upon each other to reveal surprises to the reader," said Slade.

Korgi will share space with Andy Runton's "Owly" in a free comic book day special, with a brand new six page story featuring Sprout and Ivy running into trouble when Sprout's passion for cookies gets out of hand.

Space in a Free Comic Book Day book isn't the only thing "Korgi" shares with "Owly," not to mention everybody's favorite army ninja, Snake Eyes from G.I. Joe. No dialogue, just a story told almost entirely in pictures.

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"I had text in there early on, but removed it to discover that it still read well, so I left it out. Also, my dream and original vision for the book was for it to be told with illustrations alone," said Slade.

Slade didn't want to give away too much about Korgi before readers had a chance to read it for themselves, but he's got long range plans for Korgi.

"The future for 'Korgi' actually deals with me finishing the start of 'Korgi.' As of the time of this interview, I am finishing the last pages of book one. The plan is to get the first three books out within 12 months," said Slade, "After that, we are planning on releasing one to two new books a year. For the next few years, I am concentrating on the story of 'Korgi' and making it as layered and rewarding to the reader as possible."

Even with the demanding schedule that "Korgi" requires, Slade has a full slate of illustration work coming out this year

"I illustrated three other books which will be released this year. They are: 'Reality Leak,' a young adult novel from Henry Holt, written by Joni Sensel, 'The Daring Adventures of Penhaligan Brush,' a young adult novel from Knopf, Random House, written by S. Jones Rogan and "The Decoy," a picture book from Mitten Press written by Nathaniel Lachenmeyer," said Slade.

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