Anyone familiar with my work on the Pages and Panels podcast might know what interests me most about comics are the creators and the process behind the books I love. For me how comics are made is just as interesting as how Captain America is going to beat Red Skull this time. Comics like any creative endeavor are a melding of inspiration, ideas, process, environment, influence, tools, and so many other factors.
The idea of Issues with Perspective feature is to highlight a more in depth look at the creators and the process behind the making of the issue/series. I am terrible at naming things (take the podcast Pages and Panels, holy shit I hate that name) but the idea is that you will get a better perspective of the issue/series by learning more about the process and the actual creator who made it. I hope with this feature readers will get a further look into the books they love and the amazing people who make them.
For the very first Issues with Perspective I talked to Ryan Ferrier about his new book Kennel Block Blues from Boom! Studios. With series like D4VE, Curb Stomp, The Brother James and Tiger Lawyer under his belt there are plenty of reasons to be excited for Kennel Block Blues and Ryan Ferrier. A huge thanks to Ryan for taking the time and honestly for working with me in this new format. Enjoy!
Ryan Ferrier - Kennel Block Blues
Who is Kennel Block Blues? (Creative Team)
- Me - Writer
- Daniel Bayliss - Illustrator
- Adam Metcalfe - Colorist
- Colin Bell - Letterer
- Mary Gumport - Assistant Editor
- Eric Harburn - Editor
What is Kennel Block Blues?
Kennel Block Blues, on the surface, is a story about animals in prison, focusing on Oliver, a boston terrier, who enters Jackson State Kennel at the start of the story. Once inside, while maintaining his innocence, he quickly discovers what life in Jackson is all about, and finds himself somewhat in the middle of a generations-long cats vs. dogs rivalry.
It’s a prison drama, but it’s also a hallucinatory cartoon musical. It’s also an exploration of our current prison system, animal shelters, as well as depression and mental health. It’s also a very personal love letter to someone close to my heart—it’s a love letter we’ve all written once an animal becomes part of our lives.
Why should readers pick up Kennel Block Blues?
I truly, genuinely believe that everyone involved in this book has leveled up incredibly, and this is the best work we’ve ever done. The amount of heart and excitement and emotion and humour and fun and message we’re putting into this is something we’re all beyond proud of. And we promise that it’ll touch you, make you laugh, make you cry, and make you think. At the very least, the artwork and visuals from Daniel, Adam, and Colin will leave your jaw on the floor. But I like to think that we’re creating a world and characters that mean something.
When/Where/How can readers get Kennel Block Blues?
February 3rd is the day #1 hits retailers as well as Comixology! If you pick up #1 from your local shop, and dig it, don’t forget to pre-order the remaining issues! Pre-orders are vital to the lifespan of a book, and the livelihood of its creators. And it helps bring business to the shops themselves.
What was a normal workday/writing session like for the first issue of Kennel Block Blues?
There’s a ton of discussion and notes and emails and phone calls that are kind of unquantifiable before The Work really begins, so let’s just say for the sake of clarity that the following is immediately after the “okay, great, here’s your deadline for the outline/script/etc.”. I really like to keep things tight and immersive when I’m outlining and scripting, and I’d preferably devote large chunks of days/weeks solely to any book I’m writing. Having multiple books on the go, and multiple lettering jobs, makes that kind of tricky, but for the most part I’m able to do that, which is wicked.
For outlining, I’ll pour over previous notes and make new ones, and just kind of get a really cool idea session going. I’ll just get up and drown myself in coffee and go to town on it until I’m ready for bed many, many hours later. For outlining, I’ll take anywhere from two or three days to sometimes more. Really just soak in it. Then, with the help of my brilliant editors Eric and Mary, they’ll bounce some thoughts back, and vice versa, and I’ll take another crack at it or two, just so I can really nail it, and hit every character, emotion, and narrative beat.
For actual scripting, it’s very much the same, but takes longer. Seldom do I script with music or anything distracting in the background—just me and the laptop and all the coffee. I’ll dive in and do my best to do that, morning to night, uninterrupted, for several days. I want to say four or five tops—sometimes less, sometimes more.
What would you say was total time spent for your portion of the work on the first issue?
Oh wow. I’ve never really thought about time in that manner. Being a full-time writer, my days just kind of exist outside the concept of time. Surely no nine-to-five, clock-in clock-out. So it’s tough to say. I wouldn’t even know how to guess. Between notes, and discussions, and outlining, and revisions, and scripting, and revisions, and emails…no clue. As a writer, I will say that there’s never enough hours though. The Work is never finished.
What was/is your work space while working on the issue?
I have a little 700 sq. ft. apartment and I’ve made a nice little office space with all my comics and books and desk and iMac. I find myself in there mostly for lettering nowadays though—I now have a macbook air that I use for really hunkering down when writing. Most of the time I take it to the kitchen table with my notes, pads, and pens, and go to it. Sometimes I’ll be lazy and take it to the couch, but that gives me the shit neck. That’s an actual medical condition, my doctor said that. “Ryan Terwilliger Ruddiger Ferrier, stop typing on the dadgum couch, you’re developing the shit neck,” that’s what he told me. Ce la vis.
**See attached pics, inc. example of “shit neck”**
What are the tools/applications/research you used most in the creation of Kennel Block Blues?
A large portion of the research was of the prison system. I watched a lot of prison shows and documentaries, and read as many studies and articles that I could. And the very same for animal shelters and kennels. I also watched and listened to a lot of musicals, which is something I do anyways. I love all that stuff. And Fleischer Studios cartoons! A whole bunch of old timey cartoons. Revisited some Disney classics. Thank god for The Internet and for Netflix.
A fair amount of it was also reflecting on personal things and experiences. This made certain elements of making the book very emotional, sometimes uncomfortable, but important and fulfilling. There are real things and feelings and fears and triumphs and themes attached to these characters.
What is the situation that gets the most productivity out of you?
Honestly, coffee. That’s what I need. Without it, I’m utterly useless. But in terms of writing, I just need isolation, mostly. The best working days—weeks even—are the ones where I know I don’t have to leave the apartment for days at a time. I love it. I can just do the work and enjoy it.
Some weeks aren’t like that at all, and you can get pulled in multiple directions on multiple things, but those are good in different ways. Some days having a dozen smaller tasks to do makes for the most productive days—and with lettering I can just blast some music and enjoy it—but if it’s writing days, then I’m a total hermit and it’s perfect.
What media were you engaged with during the creation of Kennel Block Blues (music/movies/books/games) that helped the creation process or that you just happened to be into at that time?
I listened to a few musical soundtracks, notably Hairspray, Sound of Music, Aladdin, Beauty and the Beast, and Book of Mormon. Movie-wise, I’ve always been into prison and crime stuff, but I did revisit Escape from Alcatraz, Animal Factory, Godfather, The Great Escape, and Midnight Express. I also endured, again, several accounts and footage of animal abuse and high-kill shelters, things like that. As a lifelong Morrissey fanatic, I’m no stranger to it.Heartbreaking, ice in your veins stuff, that I never want to think about, let alone see, again. I also watched an unreasonable amount of old cartoons. Everything from Betty Boop to Looney Tunes to Disney to Fleischer’s Superman to Popeye. That was all after or before actually writing, as I like to work in silence, but many late, late nights were spent absorbing this wide range of media.
For readers who enjoy Kennel Block Blues what else would you suggest to them that they might enjoy that has a similar tone/style/message of your work?
I truly think Kennel Block is something really different and unique. It’s not a straight up prison book just as it’s not a straight up animal book or a musical. So that’s tough to say. I will say that I hope it gets people thinking, talking, taking action when it comes to the prison system, animal rights and welfare, and depression and mental health. The very, very least one can do is go over to that non-human companion in your life and give them a great big hug, a delicious treat, and rub their bellies and tell them you love them. There is no single love on this earth that one will experience when an animal gives theirs to you. It’s unconditional. It’s eternal. They need us.
What is something you learned about the series/yourself/comics from work on Kennel Block Blues?
Working on Kennel Block has made me explore some things in my head that I maybe prefer not to, or don’t understand how to cope with. It’s certainly given me a different view of depression, particularly my own. Whether the things I’ve felt doing this book are good or bad, the important thing is that I’m feeling anything at all. And for the most part, it’s been very good. It’s been important. But it’s also been so wildly fun and exciting and hilarious and heartwarming. All of these things complex and less-complex don’t exist in a vacuum; they’re not mutually exclusive.
I’ve re-learned that I made the right decision: that I have to make comics, period. I’ve also learned and experienced really pushing myself and forcing myself to go bigger, better. I think we all have. The work that Daniel, Adam, and Colin are doing is incredible. They are doing things that I don’t think I could have even visualized. I’ve also learned that I’m one day going to write a stage musical. I’ve got the bug now.
Was there anything that you found particularly challenging or blocks you hit in the creation process? On the same note what was the most enjoyable part of your creation experience?
I think we’re dealing with a level of character and story that is inherently challenging in that we want to do it, and the characters, justice. This is a very emotional book on multiple levels. Keeping that in mind, we want to make it fun and unique and adventurous. That’s obviously what every creator strives for, or at least should strive for—so that in itself is a great challenge. I mentioned before that I feel with Kennel Block everyone involved is “leveling up,” and I genuinely believe that—so we’re challenging ourselves every single step of the way.
A unique aspect of this book in particular that has been challenging is balancing the vastly different styles and tones, especially in Oliver’s cartoon-musical sequences. That’s something new for everyone involved. We’re shifting gears mentally and visually sometimes in the middle of a page. Sinking my teeth into writing musical lyrics is something new to me; and it’s a challenge as well for Daniel, Adam, and Colin, all of whom are doing very different things within the same book, and they’re doing it spectacularly.
As far as blocks go, there hasn’t been any significant blocks that I can think of. Thanks to Eric and Mary, our editors, they’ve been really encouraging for us to push what we’re doing on the page—and that shows, for example, with the really inventive double-page spreads. We’ve been really asking ourselves, “how can we push this and do something truly unique,” while maintaining the heart and story and character that we’re working so hard to make real.
So all of the above challenges have really been the enjoyable parts as well. To be able for me, personally, to work alongside everyone in Team Kennel is just amazing for me. I feel equally proud and unworthy of their talent and hard work. But the fact we’re doing this together on a book that means so much, and has such raw emotions attached to it, is the prime example of why I’m devoting my life and livelihood to making comics. I very genuinely have to do this kind of thing until they put me in a box and drop the soil on top.
Best thing you could say about everyone involved in Kennel Block Blues is?
I could go on for thousands of pages about everyone involved in Kennel Block, and it would still not be enough. I truly believe they are the best, the future. Daniel is doing things that, even me at 33 years old having been raised reading comics, I didn’t think I’d see. Every single line, every panel is something new and beautiful and meaningful. And it’s heartbreaking. And it’s fun. His vision is staggering, and soaked in every ounce of the pages. Adam as well is bringing things to life, and one panel it’s grim and moody, the next it’s a hyper-nightmare cartoon doused in neon.
Adam’s perfecting these characters that I very much love. He works so hard and he’s so talented—a monumental talent—and he makes it look so natural. As a letterer myself, I know how little recognition letterers get. In a way that’s to be expected, as part of lettering (often) is creating an unobstructed reading experience that compliments the art, but every so often you see a different, distinct craft and talent shine through in lettering. Colin’s done this in a way that raises the bar. His lettering itself is part of the art to be appreciated. He’s doing things I haven’t seen done in lettering before, especially with our tonal shifts. He’s a hero. He works incredibly hard, and is the last to touch the pages before we put them out in the world, and without his incredible work and talent and craft, it wouldn’t be what it is. There’s no one else I would trust or want to do this book with.
Lastly, but certainly not least, I have to sing the praise of Eric and Mary, our brilliant editors. They have truly helped shape this book into something special and meaningful. They’re wildly supportive, invested in this story, and they’re just brilliant—they have helped me tremendously, and like everyone on the book, it couldn’t be what it is without them. They’ve certainly made me a better writer, and if I’m fortunate enough to continue making comics, there’s a small list of people who deserve great credit for making that possible—Eric and Mary are indelibly there.
Also, we have to acknowledge everyone at BOOM! for making this even possible, and for taking a chance on this book, on us. Not only that, but embracing it and believing in it, and doing everything they can to support it from the top of publishing and the design team and marketing. Once again, this is how I want to make comics, and how comics should be made: with excitement and pride, and the drive to do something new.
Why do you love Kennel Block Blues?
It’s hard to articulate just why I love it, but at the same time there are countless reasons. I love it because it’s so much freaking fun. It’s hilarious. It makes my tummy tingle. I’m excited to work on it, and read it, and put it out into the world. I love it because I feel it’s my personal best work, and the best of the whole team. I love it because it means so much to me; it reminds me of something I love more than anything in the world, and it crushes me that I don’t have that something anymore. It reminds me, simply, of love, and of hope. I love it because it deals with subjects that are very important to me and relevant to our whole society. I love it because these characters we’ve made have become something greater than in our minds; they are their own characters now, born from our hearts. I love it because I’ve been able to feel okay about being a kid inside. I love it because it’s made me more mature. I love it because it’s reminding me that I’m human, and it’s reminding me of that Black Dog that follows many of us around. I love it because I’ve been able to do what I love with some of the greatest minds and people in the same space. And musicals. I love musicals. And pets.