Interview: Steven T. Seagle and Jason Adam Katzenstein on ‘Camp Midnight’
What’s worse than being sent off to summer camp against your will? Being sent to a summer camp full of monsters! That’s what happens to Skye, the heroine of Steven T. Seagle and Jason Adam Katzenstein’s Camp Midnight, which came out in April from Image Comics’ Man of Action imprint. Seagle is the co-creator of the Big Hero 6 comics team and co-founder of Man of Action Entertainment, which created Ben 10; Katzenstein is a cartoonist for the New Yorker. They talked to GC4K about what went into creating Camp Midnight—and shared their own scary summer camp experiences!
You have described in other interviews how the two of you started out to make this graphic novel, worked on it a little at a time, then remixed it into a minicomic for Comic-Con in 2014. What was it about this story that made it worth all that effort?
Jason: I think Camp Midnight works as one big book, but also as smaller stories within the big one, so it was exciting to highlight those adventures in the minicomic and the Free Comic Book Day version.
Steven: My interests in writing are pretty solidly rooted in experimentalism and form. So while I thought of Camp Midnight all at once and pretty much as the story Jason and I presented, it was unusually linear in both the construction and execution. When Jason and I decided to make a Becky Cloonan style mini (thanks for info, BC!), the idea of getting to take some of the early draft pages and remix them into a shorter story gave me that jolt of inventiveness I like to work with usually.
Skye is a great character! Was she inspired by anyone in particular—real or fictional?
Jason: Thank you! Skye’s haircut is based on a real life friend of mine. Otherwise, she just came alive for me based on Steve’s script.
Steven: Skye is a mixture of what I imagine my wife, Liesel, must have been like when she was a spunky 10-year-old and a consideration of another character I wrote previously as a teen and wondered what a younger iteration of her would be like.
What about Mia?
Jason: Mia’s glasses and gestures are based on another friend of mine. Sorry, I’m going to keep their identities secret! I do feel like when Mia gets nervous her expressions look like mine.
Steven: That’s ridiculous, Jason. When are you ever nervous?!!!
Steven, how does your experience in animation inform your comics writing, in terms of pacing, reveals, etc.?
Steven: I have been writing comics 17 years longer than I’ve been writing animation, so it’s probably more of an influence moving the other direction. That said, one major influence was that I wanted to do a book like this for the younger fans of my cartoons who can’t read most of my comics due to their much more “R” rated content! As far as pacing and reveals, I think comics are much trickier. In animation, time is controlled by the team making the cartoon. In comics, the reader controls that pacing, so where and how you place things on the page and in the story becomes much more important.
Jason, how did you come up with the design for the camp and the characters?
Jason: We spent a lot of time discussing how the world and the characters should look. We wanted this book to make you laugh and also scream, so it was my job to come up with designs that could do both.
You are working with a lot of elements that are familiar to young readers, such as monsters, witches, summer camp, even family tensions. How did you make the story fresh—for you as a creator and for the readers?
Jason: One goal from the beginning was to make sure this comic didn’t look like any comic anybody had ever seen, so my work was cut out for me. I think one way to do that is to not just look at other comics (or stories in general) about witches or summer camps, but to find influences outside of our genre. I read early issues of MAD Magazine, I thought about old Bugs Bunny cartoons, I listened to punk rock records…an easy way for me to keep things feeling fresh is to just take whatever I’m feeling excited about that week and find a way for it to influence the comics I’m drawing.
Steven: I just didn’t look back or even sideways at anything. My only influence was Miyazaki’s film Spirited Away. I had just seen that in the theater when I came up with the idea for Camp Midnight. But once I met Jason and we decided to make this story happen, I didn’t look back on that film, any other films about camp, any comics, I didn’t even dig into my notes really. I just read the treatment once and started writing. I wanted the experience to be more what I remembered about camp, and friends, and being that age.
What’s your favorite part?
Jason: I really love all of the scenes where Skye and Mia get to know each other better. I love how they play off of each other, and they make me laugh!
Steven: Almost any scene where Skye and Mia are in cahoots to pull something off. They’re so fun together!
The coloring in this book is remarkable. Can you talk a bit about the color choices and how you used a limited but varying palette to define different moods and scenes?
Jason: Thanks so much! We wanted each scene to feel unique, but also part of a larger whole, so we made a ‘rule’ that the whole book would have a limited palette but that each scene would vary depending on mood and tone. It was actually very freeing to only use a few colors per scene, because I could get very bold with which colors I used and where I used them.
Steven: It was already looking good, but there was something bugging me about the solid blacks with the vibrant colors. So then we hit on the idea of not having any 100% black tones in the book. The deep colors in any scene are actually shades of colors. That and the panel border tones being pulled from the colors on the page really made it all pull together for me.
Will there be more stories about Skye?
Jason: I’d be down to draw them. We’ll see, I think?
Steven: Jason and I were already on to the next thing before this thing came out. But the response has been great so far and I think we’d both like to check back in with Skye and crew at some point in the future.
What was your own scariest experience at summer camp?
Jason: I’ve actually never admitted this before, but I got lice right before I was supposed to go away to camp. I was so afraid that I’d still have it when I got there, so to be cautious I took my anti-lice shampoo and secretly used it in the shower for the first few days of camp. That feels good to get off my chest.
Steven: It always feels good to get the lice off your chest! My scariest moment was when I slipped and smashed my face into a bunkbed post. I was pretty sure I’d broken my nose! Luckily it was just a bleed. I was also terrified of taking a shower at camp, but I got over it.
About Brigid Alverson
Brigid Alverson, the editor of the Good Comics for Kids blog, has been reading comics since she was 4. She has an MFA in printmaking and has worked as a book editor, a newspaper reporter, and assistant to the mayor of a small city. In addition to editing GC4K, she is a regular columnist for SLJ, a contributing editor at ICv2, an editor at Smash Pages, and a writer for Publishers Weekly. Brigid is married to a physicist and has two daughters. She was a judge for the 2012 Eisner Awards.
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