Looking Back At Fairyland, With Skottie Young [Interview]

IMAGE COMICS: Okay, Skottie. You've finished the first arc of your first creator-owned book. How do you feel when you look back on the experience? Is there anything you'd do differently, whether creatively or otherwise?

YOUNG: It's the best feeling in the world. I've been drawing comics for 15 years and had many books come out, but I've never felt as proud as I do of these five issues. When the comps for the trade arrived, I just kept flipping through the books and saying, "I made this. I made this out of my brain." Then my wife said "That's so awesome, honey. Can you now make dinner for kids out of your brain."

I think anytime I make something and get some distance I see how I could have made this story point "better" or designed that character differently. But one of my favorite things about comics is the absolute run-and-gun of it all. We have ideas one day, we put them on paper the next, and in a few weeks or months, we're buying and reading them. There's something kind of magical about the almost freestyle nature of that. So while I always think things would be different, I really enjoy the from-the-gut method of making comics.

IC: How long has I HATE FAIRYLAND been cooking in your head? Why was this the story you wanted to tell at Image Comics first, rather than anything else?

YOUNG: It's been brewing in one form or another for about four or five years. It started its life as 48-page story that I was going to kickstart back when Kickstarter first came around. The more I developed it, I started seeing it as more of a webcomic-like structure with a series of shorts, similar to how Tank Girl used to be presented. The nature of Fairyland lends itself to the random style of storytelling, like jumping from land to land and dealing with all types of oddball characters.

I was wrapping up some of my Marvel projects, and I just felt ready to finally jump over and do a creator-owned book. I had a few different ideas I could have went with, but ultimately, I HATE FAIRYLAND was the furthest along.

I was nervous to try something like this. A comedy that looks like a kids book, but not really for kids and not really for super serious adults, and mostly just for me...haha. But I've heard a few people say, "If you're going to do creator-owned, do something that you could never get through the door at the Big Two." I figured I HATE FAIRYLAND fit that dead on.

IC: Break down Gert for the readers. She's forty, trapped in a twee wonderland, and sick of it. How has she changed over the years before the story starts? How does she cope?

YOUNG: At first, she was scared. I think that would probably be the first reaction to young children who are virtually stolen from their daily lives and thrust into a full-blown, walking and talking acid trip-like world. Once she gets acclimated, I think she started to be okay with the world. She had a goal and was determined to achieve it.

But the longer she looked around with no luck finding her key, the more she started to break down. She's seeing the cracks in the system. "You're telling me there's an end in sight but I don't see it. You give me a road map, but it's leading me nowhere and everywhere except to the key. You say you're giving hints on how to get it, but you're just giving me riddles." Eventually she's like "none of this and none of you matter." It's all just one big mirage and she's calling their bluff with a giant axe.

I think there's a lot those kinds of things in daily life. My six year old is in kindergarten now and everyday he's told to color this and write that and stand in this line and if you're good or you do this or that right, he'll get a sticker. Then the next day he repeats that. And he'll repeat some form of that for the next twelve years, right? Stand in line, fill in the correct circles, do the dance, answer the riddle. Funny thing about my son, though: One day, his teacher says, "Baxter, if you color in the lines today, you'll get a sticker." And after months of this he replies, "I don't need a sticker." He saw past it and realized that the stick was just a sticker. He wants the key. One day, I'm sure he'll get it...just not with axes and cannons and stuff.

IC: What excites you about having a fairyland as a setting? You're a guy with a wide range—what did you like most about the setting?

YOUNG: I like the freedom of imagination. Fairyland is different to everyone. Sometimes it is Lord of The Rings-esque, sometimes Alice in Wonderland, sometimes Peter Pan, sometimes Dr Seuss, etc. It can be anything that springs to mind on that day I'm writing or drawing. It allows me to draw from inspirations during the entire creative process, even if the book goes on for years. Like, if I'm really inspired by the '20s and I develop a book based on the '20s, I better hope I'm just as inspired by that material two or three years down he road. Fairyland can be anything. I can do a forest issue and then get inspired by Street Fighter and do Bloodsport-style issue or noir issue or whatever. I'll just say, "This is NoirLandia," haha.

IC: I'm interested in how the run-n-gun nature of comics production and the freedom of Fairyland work together. How tightly crafted was I HATE FAIRYLAND? Did you outline the first story, then go full script, and then draw it, or was the process more loose than that?

YOUNG: The first five issues were completely written out, full script. Then I went in and drew them, adding to scenes as I came up with new ideas, and changing things were I thought it needed, almost like drawing was the second draft.

Now, I've come up with the general idea for each issue of the second arc, but then I write one and then do the art while chipping away at the script for the next one at night after I put my kids to bed. I still write full scripts for myself though. It helps me keep the timing of the humor and page turns in check. And it keeps my books from being ninety-six pages of a character picking up a sword.

I tend to want to animate actions when I start with art. So fully scripting these out helps me decide what can be left to the reader's imagination and that needs to be drawn. It's a way to discipline myself. Knowing the process of each stage helps me look at a calendar and know what's possible. I have a lot of plates spinning, so the more organized I can make my run-and-gun, the better. It's like freestyling over a beat rather than just reciting rhymes. The beat keeps you honest, but still allows for making things up.

IC: You had a series of FUCK FAIRYLAND covers for this book, which I think says a lot about the tone of the title. How did you approach the storytelling so that it was crass and funny, rather than just crass? What line did you have to walk to make that work?

YOUNG: Honestly, I don't know. It's one of those things that you just trust in your gut and hope that others get it. I just try to entertain myself and make myself laugh. If I do that, I'm happy. If others laugh, i'm even happier. I just try not to overthink any of it. I never go "this isn't crass enough, go further," or "This isn't funny enough, go funnier." I just write and draw what's in my mind that and let it land where it lands.