feature by Brittany Matter, originally published in IMAGE+
What do you do when you hear the ice cream truck coming down your block? You dash for your spare change and run out the door to catch it, right? This particular ICE CREAM MAN is no different, except some decadent details that’ll make you squirm and think twice about those classic tasty treats.
Join W. Maxwell Prince, Martín Morazzo, & Chris O’Halloran, a veritable ice cream truck crew, as they serve up a variety of tales that’ll tickle your tastebuds—and the back of your neck!
BRITTANY MATTER: ICE CREAM MAN is a series of one-shot tales with at least one consistent character, the Ice Cream Man, who’s on the periphery of each issue. W., what inspired you to tell disparate stories with this particular character as a sort of unreliable narrator?
W. MAXWELL PRINCE: The stories came first, and the Ice Cream Man kind of ambled his way in after. I knew I wanted to tell a bunch of different little ditties, all sad, about different people, with different laws of reality governing the narratives. But I think you need some sort of glue or connective tissue to justify doing a book like that as a monthly comic. So I kept writing, and eventually the chapters started to coalesce in my dumb head around a central storyteller, who slowly came to reveal himself to me as a peddler of ice cream...who may or may not be god, the devil, or something else entirely.
This happens with every comic I try to make: the book slowly and shamelessly starts to ape The Sandman, insofar as you’ve got these complicated stories about real people, with this magical-ish figure circling them and exerting an unknown amount of influence.
MATTER: I’ve seen this book described as “genre-defying” which is intriguing. How is it genre-defying, and can you hint at what readers can expect?
PRINCE: I think the issues answer the question: Chapter One is this sort of existential horror thing with a handful of creepy-crawlies; Chapter Two is a pretty straightforward tragedy about two opioid addicts; Chapter Three is about a washed up rock singer (à la Bill Haley) finding a fantastical world in his basement, wherein he has to write the perfect song to save all of humanity.
MATTER: The combination of the Ice Cream Man, the novelty truck with a serving window, and the jingle is usually depicted as a positive aspect of childhood. W., how did you land on this memorable trifecta when telling stories of sorrow, misery, and suffering?
PRINCE: It’s been my experience that this is what the adult brain does: it takes the lovely stuff from your youth and casts it under a new, darker lens; it grafts your adult trauma onto blissful memories. Or, I dunno, maybe all of these things just live in a kind of harmonic order—the cheery, joy-bringing stuff, and the unfortunate sorrowful stuff, all as one.
MATTER: I noticed that the ice cream truck’s jingle is not defined by lyrics, and that the music notes are set in mostly primary colors, like the title—what were your intentions with these aesthetics?
PRINCE: In my neighborhood, the ice cream trucks play a wordless song. You can hear it from miles away, and you immediately start to salivate once it’s in your ears. As for the primary colors, here’s an actual transcript, verbatim, of a thing I have written down in my notebook: mix simple ideas—loneliness, horror, despair—into something more complex and magical. (Just like you mix the three primary colors—blue, red, and yellow—into vivid greens and purples and oranges.)
MATTER: Martín, can you tell us a bit about character design for the stories within ICE CREAM MAN? How did you approach the Ice Cream Man? Did you design his look, or was it all in the script? Since there’s a different cast of characters in each issue, how do you ground the reader when everyone inside the world is changing?
MARTÍN MORAZZO: The Ice Cream Man and his truck were the only designs we made before having the final scripts! W. had a sharp idea of what he wanted: a handsome guy in his 40s, blonde with blue eyes, but, most importantly, he had to express goodness and trust! W. thought it would be great if we gave him and his truck a 1950s look, so there we went! I used some '50s actors as reference, some pictures of old ice cream trucks, and the designs came out really easy!
As for creating the characters in each issue, I have much more freedom! Only a few are detailed in the scripts. The rest have maybe just one detail and then we start working on some sketches to define everyone's look. We will have a large cast of characters across the whole series. Many will be main actors on an issue and then maybe appear in a smaller role in later one!
Besides the appearances by the Ice Cream Man himself, and repeating characters and locations, we'll have some graphic elements that will ground the reader and show this is all happening in the same world. And there, on the side of the road, will be the Ice Cream Man, serving as a connector between each story.
MATTER: I recently attended Rose City Comic Con in Portland, Oregon, and in one of the panels about the Fine Print Crew (those on the inside cover of a comic book), letterer Ariana Maher described her relationship with her colorist as deeply interconnected. Chris, would you say that’s true for you and, if so or if not, why?
CHRIS O’HALLORAN: Hmmm, I'm not sure. Everyone is playing off each other, but I'm not sure I would say I'm more deeply connected to the letterer over the artist in general, to be honest, or not more so than anyone else involved anyway, but there are definitely moments when I've felt a nice syncing of the two. But maybe I've just been spoilt with amazing letterers and really taken it for granted [laughs].
Generally, I don't see the lettering work until a while after I've finished my part, so maybe that remark is more from the letterer's point of view. I think both colorists and letterers do think of the flow and beats and where your eye is going down a page very heavily, so in that sense, you do both need to be on the same page. I can say, and you mentioned the primary colors of the musical notes in a previous question, that that got my mind rolling and gave me a sense of the look the book should and could have. They aren't really colors you'd instantly link to horror, so straight away that's an interesting take or approach to go from.
MATTER: How did y’all meet and begin working on ICE CREAM MAN? Prince, what was it about Martín’s art and Chris’s coloring that spoke to you? Martín and Chris, what was it about ICE CREAM MAN that made you want to work on this project?
PRINCE: Martín and I made The Electric Sublime together for IDW. I loved his work on THE GREAT PACIFIC, and cold-emailed him for TES. We’ve been palling around ever since. His work is just...I’m no good at articulating what superb art like his does to me. Martín’s got this mix of Frank Quitely and Frank Miller and John Paul Leon and, to my eye, a bit of Goya and Velasquez. It’s emotive and also restrained; it’s very big and very small at the same time. It lives in two worlds like all of my favorite things.
Chris, on the other hand, came to us recently. Jordie Bellaire was kind enough to play matchmaker and hooked us all up. (It should be noted that she’s not only a consummate colorist—she can recognize, by style and tone, what projects her peers and studio friends would be appropriate on.) Chris injects a sort of cotton candy light into every page—I’m beyond thankful he came aboard.
MORAZZO: I met W. a couple of years ago. We worked together on The Electric Sublime, and it was amazing! When it ended, we could only ask, "What do we do next?" and he shared the idea of ICE CREAM MAN with me! I said, "Let's do it!" instantly. The chance to work on different stories and genres each issue was really tempting! Doing everyday tales but with the twisted, dark flavor W. adds to it turned out to be totally engaging to me.
O'HALLORAN: Well, I got a lovely email out of the blue and it seemed like something I couldn't pass up. The idea was so weird and strange but great. It was something I would want to read anyway, I think. With TV shows nowadays taking a more anthology approach (True Detective, Fargo, American Horror Story, etc.), I liked the idea of something like that. I loved Martín's work, too, and the chance to work over it (under it?) was something that really drew me into coming aboard too. It's a style I like working on in general and felt I could really do well with.
MATTER: While there’s a bubblegum and excited-kids-in-a-candy-store quality in the first issue, it’s coated with horror and dread reminiscent of Willy Wonka & The Chocolate Factory. You know that scene where they’re in the tunnel? Scariest scene ever, am I right? How do y’all work together to capture this juxtaposition?
PRINCE: There’s no earthly way of knowing which direction we are going. There’s no knowing where we’re rowing or which way the river’s flowing. Is it raining? Is it snowing? Is a hurricane a-blowing? Look: not a speck of light is showing, so the danger must be growing. Are the fires of hell a-glowing? Is the grisly reaper mowing? Yes—the danger must be growing, for the rowers keep on rowing, and they’re certainly not showing any signs that they are slowing.
O'HALLORAN: With something like this, it gives us a lot of opportunity to really make the stand-out moments pop and have a real effect. You're correct about the juxtaposition. There's a false sense of security or something that can be manipulated to make the more horrific or dreadful moments hit harder than in a standard story.
MATTER: Without spoiling anything, which themes in the distinct stories are y’all most excited to tell, draw, and color?
PRINCE: I think the issues hit on a refrain: everyone is suffering, every day and all the time. But there’s magic, too. And healing, one hopes. The Ice Cream Man dances between every one of these raindrops.
MORAZZO: Every ICE CREAM MAN story has its own appeal to me, whether it's from the horror side, the fantastic, or the dramatic! Drawing so many characters reacting to each other and the extreme situations they have to go through, though it's hard sometimes, is a wonderful experience! And I enjoy each time the Ice Cream Man gets on the stage! That's when the magic happens.
O'HALLORAN: I've been working on more sci-fi or superhero stuff lately, so the chance to do something scarier and stranger for a change is a thrill. Each issue having its own vibe going on is also very appealing to me.
MATTER: Real talk: When y’all were kids, what were your go-to flavors or favorite bars from the ice cream truck?
PRINCE: Screwballs were and are the perfect ice cream truck treat: you’re rewarded for your sorbet indulgence with a hyper-sweet gumball. It’s like eating a piece of cake and finding another, tastier piece of cake at the bottom of it.
MORAZZO: Oh, we didn't have ice cream trucks in Buenos Aires when I was a kid! The Ice Cream Man rode a bicycle instead. I think I was a little lame with my ice cream tastes. Never vanilla, never chocolate, and always fruit flavors! But don't worry, luckily, I've changed!
O'HALLORAN: The names were probably different here in Ireland than what they are called in the United States, but Iceburgers, Brunches, and Calipos were my go-to. I would devour regular ice cream on a cone, anything chocolate or raspberry. It was really great prep work for this book.
ICE CREAM MAN #1 debuts 1/17 and is available for preorder now.
Brittany Matter is a firecracker empath with a deep love for storytelling, ramen, and pour-over coffee, ideally all at the same time. You are most likely to find her immersed in a graphic novel, writing over cocktails, or looking after the people she loves. IMAGE+ is an award-winning monthly comics magazine that's packed with interviews, essays, and features about all your favorite Image comics and your first look at upcoming releases.