Interview with I Hate Fairyland creator Skottie Young
In a world overrun with big budget comic films, TV shows and animated series the source material in the comics themselves have produced a wide range of styles, stories and genres. One man has brought his youthful brilliant style to the masses like no other. Skottie Young has been around for quite some time and has been delivering some of the most hilarious and brilliant variant covers for Marvel along with varying series such as Oz and Rocket Raccoon. Now he has taken to bring his signature style to his first creator own project I Hate Fairyland and I had the chance to sit down to discuss his new Image title and a bit of history of his impressive career as one of the best in the industry.
Bobby: Your style is very unique and not one that you would normally expect to see in the big mainstream books. How did you get started in comics?
Skottie: It’s always been a little bit of a mystery to me as well. I broke in about 2001 when I did my first comic and I guess I can thank the Manga craze in the bookstores was just starting to explode back then. While my style isn’t Manga I think back then American comic companies were trying to tap into whatever was doing that and luckily I think having a more cartoony style which was different style than you might find in a traditional comic book helped that, but that quickly went away. I just held on and tried to keep a grip on whatever the comic industry was building during an era where we were more grim and gritty and photo realistic type of work was more favored. I was able to keep finding a little corner to inhabit and keep going up until now where we find ourselves with such a wide array of styles out there and people seem to be pretty open to them all.
Bobby: Where did your initial style develop from before comics?
Skottie: Before comics it was all MAD Magazine and Sunday cartoons. That is really where most of my drawing influence came from. Comic books didn’t really enter into my drawing language until maybe late high school. I started collecting MAD Magazine around 1987 or 88 and I had a paper route, so I would check out the comic strips in the morning when I got back before school. I lived in a small town so we didn’t really have a comic shop so I would take what little money I did make and go up to the local grocery store and discovered MAD Magazine. I fell in love with it and eventually subscribed to it and was so proud of myself for subscribing to my first magazine as a kid. Archie was the first real comic book that I experienced so I read a lot of that and beyond that was a really heavy dose of Duck Tales, Chip and Dale: Rescue Rangers and whatever other cool Disney animation block we had back then. It was really most of that with the comic books not coming in till much, much later. That is probably why I never have been really sunk into being able to draw traditional style comic book muscle guys.
Bobby: Did you ever find yourself trying to change up your style to conform to the mainstream?
Skottie: When I was a kid I just drew however I drew and it was very cartoony, Disney-esque and MAD Magazine style. I copied a lot of stuff out of those MAD Magazines back then so I learned a lot of my visual language from the classic cartoonists out of MAD Magazine. When I got into comics in high school and thought I would try to draw comics and tried to do that it really did not come naturally to me. I started to kind of copy a lot of my favorites like Greg Capullo, Joe Mad, and Chris Bachalo who is still one of my favorites, so there was a lot of me trying to find what my comic language would be drawing superheroes. There were a lot of years of mimicking that and then kind of working it into my work and interestingly enough that stuff never really stuck with me. I thought that was going to be my style and thought I was going to be another version of someone like Bachalo and I tried pretty hard for a while to do that. The early comics that I never really tried to copy ended up being the ones that really stuck inside my head. I always site Sam Keith and The Maxx that was a really early book that I really latched onto, but it was also a book that I left behind quickly. It started coming out a bit slower and as I got older I fell behind on it and then it was many years, like from high school until about 2010 since I had really taken a look at that. I came across a trade or something and started flipping through it and there was a really crazy flood of nostalgia for me and I started seeing things that I did not know that I had picked up from Sam Keith. Things like when Sam does frayed cloth he does these weird spirals hanging from it and I always did that, but didn’t know that is where I got it from, but clearly when I started looking at that I saw that was the source.
Sometimes you are taking in things and you don’t know you are taking them in. When I realized that influence and even with Sam’s work you can trace back to some Dr. Seuss influence in his work, I was able to shed those other influences of trying to be like them and they became more inspirations those early influences like Seuss and Keith started coming out that were lying dormant.
Bobby: You seemed to have been doing a variant cover for every Marvel comic that has come out in the last few years. How did that all come about?
Skottie: Back in the 90s Art Adams did a run on X-Men with and actual X-Babies storyline involving Mojo and Murder World or something so it’s been something that has been around for some time. Over the course of time people would ask me for a little version of this or that characters, but in 2009 I did covers for an X-Babies mini-series and I did like 5 of those and they just came and went and it really wasn’t a big deal. About a year later I was asked to do the badges for Heroes Con in Charlotte with the X-Babies. It was just a fly by night and they thought it would be cool so I did them and the image became pretty popular online over the years. In 2012 one of the production managers up in Marvel who deals with a lot of the variant covers got hit up by Midtown Comics to do a variant for AVX which was the big event launch at Marvel that year. So they asked me to do it and suggested I do the mini-versions of the Marvel characters. It was a double spread wrap around cover so I was tasked with drawing as many Marvel characters as I could fighting each other in baby style. I didn’t think about it at all I just did it and thought it was super cool.
I think I did 30 plus characters on there and just did it and didn’t think anything of it other than just another cover job. I think I left town the day after I turned it in and that cover came out and sold really, really well for Midtown and instantly Marvel put a poster into production because the cover was exclusive to Midtown so they couldn’t run that comic. Marvel doesn’t usually do multiple prints of a poster, but that one was selling out and right around that time they were doing the Marvel Now initiative which was taking the various creators and kind of shaking things up and hit me up to see if I would be interested in doing 5-10 covers for the new number ones. I had never been assigned ten covers at one time, but I thought yeah that is cool. I had done about 5 or 6 of them and thought I was just about finished and they contacted me and asked if I would be interested in doing about 4 more. It basically went like that on and on where just when I was about done with whatever was on deck they would ask for 4 or 5 more now to the point where I am scheduled about a year out with at least a cover a week. I think sometimes I know I am doing a cover before the creative team on the book knows they are working on it. Sometimes there are covers on my schedule that go away or change, but it was just one of those things where retailers and readers seemed to really enjoy them and now I am easily into the 170s or 180s of how many I’ve done and there are people trying to collect them all. It’s become an interesting little business.
Bobby: You have already done so much in the industry with those covers and the Rocket Raccoon series, but now you have started working on your own series called I Hate Fairyland. Was this your first creator owned project?
Skottie: Yes, this is the first one that I have put out that I have written, drawn, owned and everything.
Bobby: Where did the idea for I Hate Fairyland come from?
Skottie: About 4 years ago I was still working on OZ and the idea started popping in my head. I loved working on that book drawing those fantasy worlds that I grew up on like Labyrinth and The Neverending Story. While working on it I would ask myself questions all the time like wouldn’t this place be annoying to her? At some point wouldn’t those wacky people just be absolutely maddening to be around? My initial idea was a guy who was an older big hulking like guy who had come there as a boy and was stuck there all those years. Over the years I toyed with it trying to find the funniest version of it and it ended up becoming Gert. But it really all just started with me thinking it would be fun to tell an over the top hyper violent type throwback to things like Tank Girl with the almost Looney Tunes-esque violence with this little girl who has been there for 30 years and is an adult woman but still looks like a six year old on the outside.
Over the years it kind of morphed into kind of an examination of maybe my own life. I’m a guy in his late 30s with children and my house is filled with nothing but colorful shaped things that make crazy noises and plays repetitive music with the TV always set to some cartoon. So my life is filled with these colorful bounties of childlike things and then when I come to work I am drawing OZ and cute versions of Spider-man. So I feel like this adult man who is living in this childlike world which I love but I should feel older but I don’t. I’m in a place where I have to have a studio because I have to tell my son he can’t come in here because this is where daddy is working with all the toys and the books and while I understand that Adventure Time is playing on the TV I am working. (laughs) It’s a very weird existence and over time past the initial idea a lot of my life started forming into it as well.
Bobby: When you work on a book like this that is funny and hyper-violent, but the character designs are insane and all over the place. How do you go about designing the look for a book like this?
Skottie: Some things are written on the page and other things may be written to just say “some sort of creature” and once I get to that day working on that page I kind of already have the attitude this character needs so I try to design something that fits that attitude. In the first issue of I Hate Fairyland she met the slug lord and that was always kind of like my wonderland version of Rick Ross or something. Just a big old riddling rapper type guy with the chains and tattoos so sometimes it’s like that where I want to do a Rick Ross kind of guy but also when the clock gets ticking when you get to that day it comes down to what is the best design I have for that day so I just start drawing. Cloudia for instance was really interesting finding her, because when I first started drawing the series that character was designed more like a bee and she was older. That was cool, but there was no real concept or theme to her besides that she was a bee. I had already finished pages with her and had gotten up to 3 or 4 pages with her in it already inked. I looked at it and just thought the stuff with her was just not all that interesting.
I drew her fine, but there was just nothing funny there and there wasn’t a joke to be had with her. I was having a heck of a time with her because there was just no theme there and was getting in a bit of a panic. One night I was drawing in the sketchbook and I drew this big puffy hair that kind of looked like clouds which made me think maybe her hair is a cloud. With that I could see that character kind of whisping around and very elegant and it started feeling like something. I like to try and design characters that have some sort of moving quality like Gert’s hair that always feels like its bouncing with the tightly wound curls. Cloudia’s hair ended up feeling that same way and then seeing there was a double little pun there with cloud and Cloudia it worked out well. Just by chance as I am working on it when she gets made her hair can now get stormy too and turn dark, with lighting crackling so all of a sudden there is a theme there. So really a lot of times they come together on the fly but some are designed before, it all just depends.
The lead characters you always want them simple enough to draw all the time, but also recognizable enough so you know who that character is. I often think if the character is cosplayable and how hard would it be for someone to make this costume. Not saying I want them to cosplay it, but thinking about it cosplay I think is a great barometer for character design simplicity. To cosplay a character there is an ungodly amount of money put into it and then you can barely walk once you get all the stuff on and then hard to emulate then it might be overly complicated character design. Anyone can go out with a pink dress, put in yellow bows, get a green wig and then get a play sword and now you are Gert. You don’t have to do it perfectly or mimic my design, but as long as you have those elements it comes together as recognizable. That’s what I think about with the characters that are going to be repeatable.
Bobby: Recently you have put out not only the first five issues, but also a trade paperback and an adult coloring book. Is there still more I Hate Fairyland to come?
Skottie: I am jumping right back into it. Volume 1 finished up and the trade with the first 5 issues is out now and in June it will back with issue 6 to launch right back into the story. I don’t want to spoil it but the way the first story arc ended was pretty interesting for Gert so we have to see how she works through that. I will say that for me the first story was definitely a set up and exploration of Gert and her dilemma in finding this key. It was an introduction into this world in general and then tone of this book and her situation. Moving forward what I am going to try and do is tell more overarching stories but told where each issue feels more like an episode of a show with the through line connecting those things. Fairyland is a place that really has no ending and there are endless places to explore so I don’t want to limit that by trying to get to narrow with a singular narrative so take cues from shows like Buffy the Vampire Slayer or Invader Zim that are really fun over the top shows that explores all the crazy demons or characters they have, but also have the big bad or obstacle that you eventually have to face. I want to be able to explore all of these little sections of Fairyland and introduce new characters and be able to go on these little side jaunts with them. I am going to try to really get in there and enjoy the freedom of exploring the world a bit. It’s not Marvel or DC so I do not have to tell a certain kind of story and as a creator I feel really inspired to tell episodic types of stories in this bizarre world that I have made up and I don’t have to ask anyone’s permission, I can just go do it.
Bobby: There is an adult variant covers of the book where the title is actually Fuck Fairyland instead of I Hate Fairyland. Do you get any flack trying to put something like that out with it being a creator owned book or can you just do what you want?
Skottie: The interesting story about that is that for the four or five years I was developing this folder on my computer said Fuck Fairyland. That was always what it was going to be. For a while I had thought about just doing it as like web comics as opposed to a full comic series. I was nervous about making something that looked like a kid’s book but was kind of hyper violent and cussy. There were just a lot of things that I didn’t think would work all that well in the mainstream comic book market so for a while I just thought I would do this web comic. I went back and forth with Image and kept asking Robert Kirkman should I call it that and just edit out the actual word with like flowers over the U and the C or something. They all thought it was a great name, but knew some stores wouldn’t shelve it. It was frustrating because that is what I wanted to call it, but the business side of me said to not call it that. Eventually I decided to call it I Hate Fairyland and that was that and maybe one day I could do a convention exclusive or something for myself. When I announced it at Image Expo they had me tell the whole story about the name and the crowd dug it, but I didn’t think much of it after that. At the reception that night retailers were coming up to us separately asking if they could get a Fuck Fairyland variant, which we never thought of. They can order a the variants if they wanted to or not and since I own it there is no one to get made about it and the stores don’t have to get the variant at all if they don’t want. So I decided to do variants of each issue and each shop could decide if they want it or not and I love seeing how clever some of these shops have gotten with covering it up. It’s ended up being a fun interaction with retailers that I didn’t expect. It’s just another thing of me as an adult thinking I am hilarious and juvenile because I am getting away with cursing. I feel like I am ten again. (laughs)
Bobby: (laughs) That is awesome. I am a huge fan and really appreciate you taking the time to speak with me. I love your work and the Fairyland book is awesome!
Skottie: Thanks man I appreciate the support.
Be sure to get out there and try to get the first five issues of I Hate Fairyland or the Fuck Fairyland variants if you can find them available now. If you can’t get them or just prefer trades I Hate Fairyland Volume 1 is also available now as well as issue # 6 and the adult coloring book in stores now.