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Meredith Gran: Breaking Down Octopus Pie [Interview]

IMAGE COMICS: Meredith, you self-published OCTOPUS PIE for years, including both serializing it online and shipping print volumes through TopatoCo. What brought you to Image Comics?

MEREDITH GRAN: Self-publishing has treated me well for years, but there are limits to my reach. Image knows how to promote comics to a retail market. I know there's a bigger audience for OP out there—I'd like to think there is!—and I'm hopeful those people will find the new books. If nothing else, I'm looking forward to having some really nice-looking collections for the existing readership.

IC: You're almost ten years into OCTOPUS PIE at this point. What's been the biggest lesson you've learned over the run of OCTOPUS PIE, whether craft-related or more generally related to your time with the comic?

MG: I think a big benefit of doing a webcomic is getting a fresh chance to draw it better, write it better, make things more clear with every page. I've learned so much about making my work more eye-popping and accessible, just from interacting with an audience every week.

In general, keeping a comic fresh for a decade has forced me to reach deeper and deeper for ideas. While the early comics focused on broader, more situational stories, I'm writing from a place that feels particularly raw and personal now. It seems easier than ever to access that place, and form those ideas coherently. I see that as a benefit that reaches beyond comics.

IC: OCTOPUS PIE is about a very specific experience, but depicts that experience in a way that's funny enough to make it very familiar. Stoner roommates, self-sabotage, utter exasperation that sounds comical as soon as you express it aloud—how much of this is actively planned, and how much is just how the story naturally has to roll out? Do you ever pause like, "Whoa, gotta add some jokes into this. It's a little too real"?

MG: Haha, I do that pause pretty often. It's not always conscious. I'll be tossing around a fairly sound concept for weeks and wondering what's wrong with it. It can seem heavy-handed or disingenuous. Usually what fixes it is a little perspective. I'll have some relevant experience and realize I need to take it a little less seriously. I think finding the drama in something is my method of data collection, but finding the humor is how I end up communicating it honestly.

IC: I know you count people like Tex Avery and Chuck Jones as influences. What is it about their styles or approach to storytelling that appeals to you? On a related note, when you find yourself stuck—do you ever find yourself stuck?—what do you look to in order to break the jam?

MG: Their approach to acting has always gotten to my lizard brain. The way the characters interact with the environment—scratching their heads in frustration, grinning eagerly, never betraying the world they're in, even if they're talking to the audience. Every move they make is perfectly understandable, given their form and the stuff they're made of.

When I'm stuck, I try to ask myself if I'm doing too much. I think this is a little easier to tamp down in animation, where mid-shelf ideas seem wasteful. I love comics for the freedom to insist on your ideas, but explaining my stories out loud will usually reveal a lot of extraneous junk. I try to keep that space clean in case a more ambitious flight of fancy comes along.

IC: I'm curious about the origin of OCTOPUS PIE, but not in a "Where do ~ideas~ come from?" sense. If you don't mind sharing, where were you at in your life, and what led to you first typing out "Octopus Pie?" What were you hoping for from creating and putting the comic out there?

MG: I'm definitely thinking about the series more retrospectively these days. My life had been shaken up pretty badly right before I started the comic, and I was between jobs—so I invested a lot in it. I intended for it to be my world, far beyond the scope of a hobby. Everything I've put into it is something I needed out of me at the time. And it's really been wonderful for that; I can't imagine approaching comics a different way.

OCTOPUS PIE, VOL. 1 will be available 2/24. Look for one volume a month to release in March, April, and May, as well.