This weekend, instead of blogging about my inexorably slow NaNoWriMo progress (and aren’t you all glad I’m skipping that topic!), I’m welcoming back my buddy Neal Bailey to talk more about the wonderful webcomic Cura Te Ipsum. This time, he’s brought along artist Dexter Wee, too!
CURA TE IPSUM is the story of Charlie Everett. Well, several Charlies, as it turns out. In most universes, Charlie Everett gets sick of his life (where he’s most often a guidance counselor who tells other people how to live their lives, while not knowing how to live his own). After a certain point, he’s fired, and he goes home and sticks a pistol in his mouth and blows his brains out. Charlie Prime, our hero, is stopped by another character, Leo, who introduces him to the concept of the multiverse, and tells him that there’s a whole team of Charlies, Cura Te Ipsum, fighting to stop him from committing suicide across multiple universes. The story has grown and deepened, new Charlies (both good and evil) have been introduced, and a world has been destroyed. Let’s see if Neal and Dexter will tell us what’s in store for Volume Two and beyond….
ANTHONY: I know there’s a synopsis of Cura Te Ipsum as a whole leading off this interview, but give us an idea of what Volume 2 is all about, and how it is different from volume one.
DEXTER: Volume two opens with a bang, introduces new characters to the team and ends with a killer cliffhanger.
NEAL: Volume one was definitely much more about laying the ground rules for the story, and volume two is all about running with that world, now that it’s established. Charlie tries to come to terms with the first (of many) things that drove him toward suicide in the first place, and the Dark Everett moves to take the advantage by kidnapping Hank, Charlie’s childhood best friend. Charlie’s role as a leader starts to come into more prominence, and the Dark Everett solidifies his place as Charlie’s nemesis, where before he was more of a mystery to the team.
ANTHONY: Last time I interviewed Neal, we talked a little about the collaborative process between the two of you. Several months later, has that process changed at all? Have you guys settled into a comfortable rhythm or are there still surprises that pop up in the partnership?
DEXTER: The process is still the same. I read the script then send Neal the draft layouts for approval. Then once it is approved I tighten the pencils, scan, then email the pages to Neal for lettering. It’s been a smooth partnership. Neal is very easy to work with and the communication is great. It’s been a fun and enjoyable ride so far and will continue to do so.
NEAL: I would say the process itself hasn’t changed too much, but I do see a definite comfortable rhythm that has developed, at least with me. Dex has become very much a friend over the months that we’ve grinded away at this thing, and there’s a kind of sixth sense I feel now, where he’ll see something missing in the script or something that’s too much, and he’ll add a panel, remove a panel, or give something a little touch that it was missing in a way that makes me feel like I haven’t before… like I have a back up editor for one of my own stories. With a novel, it’s very much EVERYTHING I screw up, I see later and regret (even if it’s small). In a collaboration, I’ve learned that Dex has my back, that two minds are better than one, and it just keeps getting better and better for me.
ANTHONY: Neal, has your scripting style changed as you’ve developed a better feel for Dexter’s strengths as an artist?
NEAL: Absolutely. As I got to know Dex and learn what he liked to draw, and where his strengths lie, I started tailoring the broader script toward his work. Now, to be fair, I had the first year in the can before we got through the first trade, so much of that adaptation occurs in year two, which is an even higher compliment to Dex, because the first year is not directly tailored, and yet he’s still, consistently, CONSTANTLY knocking it out of the park.
ANTHONY: Dexter, what is your process like once you receive a script from Neal? Do you charge right in, or do you read it over and let it soak in for a while?
DEXTER: I read it over then soak it for a while. Just visualizing the story and getting the feel of it. But sometimes I just draw right in, read one or two pages then draw, but most of the time it’s reading a chapter first, and then I get one printed page and place it on the drawing table and read it again while drawing the page.
ANTHONY: Have you ever read over a script, started to draw, and then thought there might be a better camera angle or page layout for what Neal’s words are trying to convey? And if it happens, how do you guys work through disagreements like that?
DEXTER: Yeah. Sometimes scenes sounds good or easy in the script but looks different visually. So If I encounter something like that I usually draw a sample first then send it to Neal. Glad to say there isn’t much of a disagreement. Sometimes I just miss the point and once Neal explains it to me, I’m all good. There are times also when I completely mess up by forgetting to draw some characters in certain scenes. Good thing I don’t ink the pencil pages, so it’s much easier to correct once Neal will inform me about it.
NEAL: I should pop in and, in Dex’s defense, say that most miscommunications are mine. Like when I put Squirt in a bar! Duh! But yeah, usually the thumbnails catch anything that might be funky… and Dex is always, ALWAYS improving my pacing with his awesome layouts.
ANTHONY: Dexter has an interesting challenge with this series: even though each main character has an overall unique visual, they are still all variations on Charlie Everett. So what do you do to make sure they look like the same person while making sure they stand apart?
DEXTER: I have a picture of my head of what Charlie looks like from the eyes to the chin so that when I draw the Charlies they will look the same but still have those unique look.
ANTHONY: Cura has a distinct look. How do you create it? What tools do you use as you move from initial roughs to the final uploaded pages?
DEXTER: My tools are just pencils 3H, 2B and 4B. After scanning the pencilled page I just adjust the contrast in Photoshop. I don’t ink my work due to time constrain but hopefully in the future we’ll do one.
NEAL: I use an ancient version of Adobe Illustrator to letter. I take Dex’s final pages, place them, do my layers and all, and then I save a version for the site, which is typically much less detailed so it doesn’t take forever to load, but it’s still clear on the screen. Illustrator seems to leave less blur on a file than Photoshop, so I use Illustrator for most everything I can.
ANTHONY: Are there pages you are particularly proud of?
DEXTER: Ah, let met me think. I like the recent pages of volume three. The first page of Cura is also memorable to me. I also like the first time I drew Dark Everett in page 35 splash and Undertaker Charlie in page 49. The massacre splash of page 47. The doomsday scenes from page 76 to 78 as well as pages 89-91 where Hank slide down from the exterior of the building. I also like the Titanic scenes, it might look easy but it took me time to check the Titanic ship design and copy it. I also like the cameo scenes of pages 118, 119 and 149.
NEAL: I echo Dex for favorite pages. I remember seeing that first page and going “Holy crap, this is actually going to work.” I realized in Dex I was working with real talent, someone who could make this comic soar. My personal favorite page is when Charlie throws the gun into the water, the no copy page. I also like little things, mainly. Panels really make me smile on their own, as part of a whole. When Hank is being called Lucky in caption in the middle of the falling ash from the nuclear weaponry. There’s a page coming up that has the pyramids again (I won’t spoil it), and that page really makes me smile in a ghoulish, moribund kinda way.
I really, really love the pages with Henry V. Dex really killed those pages.
ANTHONY: Certain pages still jump immediately to mind for me with very little bidding. For instance, the buildings collapsing during the nuclear attack, where we first meet Hank. Did you intentionally draw on September 11th imagery for those pages? It resonated that way for me.
DEXTER: No. Neal wrote the script clearly for me to visualize it. Actually the picture that I think went into my mind while doing the page is the apocalyptic scene in Terminator two movie.
NEAL: I actually overloaded Dex with references for those pages, doing the math, seeing how high and how far you’d have to be to survive a nuke placed right behind the Eiffel Tower, seeing what you’d have to do to survive. That building is actually the Tour Gan, which I believe is a government building, across the water, but at just the right height and distance to survive that kind of nuclear explosion. And for all that reference, all that thinking, Dex still outdid me in that page. It was so awesome. I think the only thing we changed, if I recall, was added that waterfall in the building. Oh! I also (like a dunce) added a redundant panel at the top, so we deleted that, because that page on its own… oh man. Can you imagine it with a small panel at the top? I have learned to let Dex do his thing, because he does it so well, and stop cluttering.
ANTHONY: Neal’s starting to feel left out by now, I’m sure. So, a plot question: As you know, I’ve really come to like the character of Billy, the version of Charlie who has cancer and has obviously been through chemo. Was he a planned part of the story all along? He seems to really be merging well with the main crew, although I notice he hasn’t been added to the cast page or the team picture…
NEAL: I would feel left out if I didn’t keep jumping in on Dex’s questions! Heh. Apologies, Dex.
Billie is an interesting story, actually. He’ll be added to the cast page and team picture shortly, actually, and he’s around for the long haul. He was planned to be around, but the cancer element I added as I was writing. When I’m creating a story, there are fixed things which can change, but often don’t. For example, the destruction of the Anchor Universe was ALWAYS the end of issue four, back when this was planned out as a monthly. The intro of Headquarters was the end of the first issue. The destruction the end of the second. Charlie’s second survival was the end of three, and then the death of the world. Explosion, implosion, life, death.
Once that settled into the regular story, the longform tale, Charlie would have to explore who he was in the past, and he’s not done with that at all. We still have to meet Cindy, we still have to learn about what happened in Paris, and on and on… I won’t spoil, but Charlie has a lot of life to unpack. The first thing, however, the thing which ate him up and spat him back out, was the fact that he believed if he had just had the courage of his convictions to go to New York, he’d not have been sad. He would have succeeded. He was weak, and selfish (in his head, not to me), and so he had to go and talk to his younger self and see if he actually was these things he believed he was.
And so the scene where Billie is brought in (it shall be explained how, toward the middle of year two you’ll understand) was important as hell, because of his naivety in comparison to Prime. I was writing this scene I’d had in my head forever, where Billie says something about having no future that sets Charlie off, and instead of realizing it’s a teenager being a teenager, he shakes the kid. The initial construction was that Charlie would think about what his dad did to him, then we’d meet Billie, and then Charlie would shake Billie and realize he was like his father. A real Luke looking at the glove moment. But then I realized that if Charlie thought he was like his father, like, ever, he’d blow his own brains out right after doing such a thing. I couldn’t shake the scene, though, I knew it had to play like that no matter what (fixed point), and so I wrote it anyway thinking I’d delete it or take a break if I had to, but then, as Charlie’s shaking Billie, the wig came off, and I realized… ah. Billie has cancer. That’s what my mind was trying to tell me.
Charlie is trying to confront death, and it’s VOLUNTARY death. My subconscious was telling me that I needed a character to help him confront inevitable death, because he’s looking at all the facets of why he should live or die, and the inevitability (or avoidance) of death, too.
That’s not to say Billie is doomed to fail with his chemo, or that he’s going to survive, note. Just that his character is an important part of the larger picture, and is, beautifully, not a fixed point. I will let Billie’s story tell itself to me, and given what’s coming, I think he’ll have a great potentiality in several worlds.
ANTHONY: By the time the print version of volume 2 hits, the webcomic will have moved on. So what teasers can you share with us about where the story is headed in the next few months?
DEXTER: Oh, it will be big year. Lots of exciting stuff happening. I already did some visual teasers for the next chapter. It will be posted soon so I hope you’ll dig it. I’ll give the floor to Neal to share his thoughts on whats coming next.
N: Well, like Dex said, we have some teasers. We’re going to release them in our first week after the trade (in five straight days of pics!), and here’s two of the six:
The Charlene pic is a hint at a little bit of what’s going to happen in the first few months. The peril of Central Park is… well, I can’t spoil it, but it’s pretty damned crazy. It’s a scene I’ve had since early in year one, and it’ll shake out over a few months.
Then there are other promos you’ll see, starting on the 11th of November, celebrating our one year anniversary. For a hint, you’ll get a look at the terror lightning, a familiar face will return, an origin will be hinted at, and a new Charlie will debut.
Year two is going to be CRAZY. Flat out nuts. There’s all kinds of great stuff going on now that the core team is in place. They have to rebuild Cura. They have to find a new source of cash. They have to cope with Billie’s health. We learn more about the Dark Everett and his creepy buddies. We see what happens when you open a portal to a place you shouldn’t, really. Plus, as promised, a return to the dystopian Anchor Universe! Stick with us! I promise a great time.
ANTHONY: Thanks for the hints and teases! I’m honored to be debuting some of Dex’s artwork here for the first time. Neal, any final words to add?
NEAL: On a more nuts and bolts level, buy a trade if you can, folks. It’ll help keep the lights on, and they flicker sometimes around here. I’ll gladly operate at a loss until my brain explodes (that’s one of the great curses of being a writer, you love what you do even if it’s eating at your pocketbook), and it’s totally worth it even if we never turn a profit. However, if you can, we’d love any help you can provide in this down economy to help alleviate production costs. And if you have already bought one, MANY THANKS! You’re a saint, and you give us the faith we need to do this thing.
More important than any of that, however, is if you can tell a friend. I may be being shameless here, but I want this comic to succeed, and if you can get one more reader for us, that’s one more person who can tell one more person, and we won’t need the apparatus to make this book work, we’ll just have a great, DIY, dedicated crowd of folks supporting independent art.
Either way, you all rock and have made Cura the best artistic experience of my life so far. Thank you. Thanks, Anthony, as ever, for this place to yak about what we love to do!
ANTHONY: You’re welcome, guys. I plan on inviting you back as long as there’s new CURA to talk about!