20 More Questions with Comic Artists: Max West of Sunnyville Stories


You asked for it and we deliver:  Today we have with us critically acclaimed author and artist Max West.  In honor of the new release of Sunnyville Stories Vol. 3, we are dedicating this month to Sunnyville Stories and Max West and to help showcase his new release we brought Max into the Root Beer Party studios for some draft root beer on tap and to talk about his latest work: Sunnyville Stories Vol. 3 which you can preorder here on Amazon: http://smile.amazon.com/Sunnyville-Stories-3-Max-West/dp/0989069621/ref=sr_1_8?ie=UTF8&qid=1452340352&sr=8-8&keywords=sunnyville+stories

Welcome back Max, none of us here at the root beer party can wait until the official release of Volume 3, but lets get down to what the fans really want to know about:

1: What can you tell us about Sunnyville Stories Vol. 3?
Sunnyville volume 3 is the next trade paperback in my saga collecting the adventures of Rusty Duncan and Sam Macgregor. It’s my aim to “grow the beard” in this volume with my work. Besides improving my drawing and trying out new storytelling techniques, I want to expand more on Sunnyville, the people living there and their relationships.
2: What is the origin of Rusty and Sam as characters? How did you think them up?
When I first thought up the idea of Sunnyville (more on that in a moment), I took some cues from the 1986 anime series “Maple Town”. That series dealt with a young girl rabbit named Patty Rabbit moving to a new town and meeting a local boy named Bobby Bear. While these two characters were the spark I needed, the protagonists of Sunnyville had to be different; I didn’t want to plagiarize and I needed to give them a unique feel. I decided to make them teenagers. Rusty was there from the start. He was a wisecracking city boy who would be moving to Sunnyville from a big city far away. He was a cat but when I developed Samantha, she was originally a rabbit. She became a cat because that was easier for me to draw. As for the dynamics of Rusty & Sam’s relationship, that was there from the start too. I intended them as a wise guy and straight man duo; Rusty would say or do something funny while Sam would react.
3: What got you started in making Sunnyville Stories?
It was an accident. I’m very nostalgic about the 1980s and one day in 2005, I found information about an anime series I used to watch in syndication then on Nickelodeon called “Maple Town”. I read webpages I could find on the series and through various sources, was able to get my hands on English dubbed episodes of the series (at this time, no official releases exist here in the USA). After watching the series, I began to think. Maple Town was a remote village that seemed to be lost in time; the inhabitants dressed traditionally and seemed to lack modern technology. That appealed to me and I pondered what it would be like to build some kind of story around such a remote village. Rusty and Sam were added in soon after and I drew upon my own experiences of moving from New York City to the rural South. The idea was shelved for various reasons until 2009. In early 2009, I started going to night classes at the School of Visual Arts and I had to do a final project for a course where I had to do a minicomic. While I thought in vain of ideas, I wondered about those two characters Rusty and Sam – then I decided to use them. From then on, I spent the rest of 2009 putting together the universe of Sunnyville and generating story ideas. Then in 2010, I launched the series.
4: You have said that there will be a definite end to the Sunnyville series. So what is on the horizon as your next project?
That won’t be for quite a few years. I plan to do more with the Sunnyville characters so while the series will eventually end, the adventures of the characters won’t necessarily end too.
5: Are there any Easter Egg guest shots or tributes in this volume?
I have Cerebus the Aardvark making a cameo in Sunnyville #10 plus Bob Burden’s Flaming Carrot also makes a brief appearance in Sunnyville #11 in a montage of art school students
6: What can you tell us about your layout and design process, for pages and characters?
When it comes to setting up my pages, I keep it simple. I draw thumbnails ahead of time and keep it simple. I try to avoid anything fancy that would detract from the storytelling. My pages are drawn on smooth 2-ply bristol with nib pen and India ink. As for character design, I sometimes have a clear idea for the character itself but sometimes it’ll take a few tries to get a usable idea down on paper.
7: How does this volume showcase your progression as an artist and a storyteller?
I’m using storytelling techniques inspired by Dave Sim’s Cerebus. Here, I’m using polyptychs where the character moves through divided panels against a static background. I want to convey a dynamic motion on the static comics page. Artwise, I’ve gotten better with my drafting. Besides being more experienced with handling a nib pen (I used to draw with markers until Matt Madden got me started on nibs), I’m much more comfortable drawing the characters. I also have taken more cues from newspaper comic strips, having read more of Peanuts and George Herriman’s Krazy Kat.
8: What is the hardest thing about self publishing your own work?
Money is a challenge as I have to raise enough funds to keep printing books. Promotion too is hard as I don’t have the resources of some big time publisher; I can’t run ads in magazines as the prices are steep.
9: What is the best thing about self publishing your own work?
The best thing is the fact that I have complete control. Like Dave Sim, I don’t like having to compromise my artistic vision with some editor telling me “you can’t draw that”.
10: What can you tell us about Volume 4?
I hope to have volume 4 out in the summer of 2017. There will be more drama in the coming volume as Rusty will get sick, there’ll be more parent-child conflict and someone in Sunnyville is going to die.
11: Do you think traditional drawing and comic making is making a comeback?
Traditional methods are more common with the small press crowd. While there’s nothing wrong with using the computer to make comics, it’s an issue of cost like having hardware, peripherals and software and that can run into hundreds or even thousands of dollars depending on what you want. I think that traditional methods (like drawing tables, pencils, pens, and so on) will always be with us because of costs.
12: What do you see as the advantages to doing traditional comics as opposed to modern techniques?
In addition to costs, it just feels good to have a tangible piece of artwork. You can reach out to touch a page that’s been drawn on; that can’t be done with a computer file. On top of that, you don’t have to worry about constantly upgrading hardware or software. Every few years, new models of computers come out that render the previous ones obsolete or even useless. I don’t have that problem with bristol, pencil or pen.
13: Have you thought of releasing versions of your comics in color, do you think it would add or distract from your work?
I don’t plan on doing any color comics. It’s just too much work. There’s a science to coloring comics; you can’t throw every color onto the page like a coloring book. It has to be done so that it supports the flow of the story. On top of that, color printing is expensive.
14: Is there any work that you modeled Sunnyville Stories after? Like Jeff Smith of Bone wanted to do something like Moby Dick in layering the story and Carl Barks in adventure?
Sunnyville was heavily influenced by Maple Town. But I didn’t want to simply copy that story and I used a more simple art style by following cues of many comic strip greats like Charles Schulz.
15: What artist would you consider to be your greatest influence?
It’s hard to pick one particular artist, but it has to be Charles Schulz. My own style is very simple compared to the draftsmanship of many others out there, but like Schulz, it gives me a chance to let the writing speak for itself and use an iconic representation that doesn’t let the art get in the way of the story
16: Do you see yourself releasing a complete version of Sunnyville Stories some day?
I’m not sure what you mean by a complete version. I do have story ideas that I’ve wanted to use but had to discard or file away simply because of time. For example, Sunnyville #7 was going to be about Rusty forming a band and then taking his band to compete on a live TV contest show in the neighboring town of Solton. Will I ever do that? I don’t know.
17: Von Hurling is tied into the Sunnyville universe, how will his story interact with Rusty and Sam, or is it some sort of parallel universe?
Von Herling is in a separate universe from Sunnyville. There won’t be any crossovers where Von Herling teams up with Rusty and Sam.
18: What term would you use to describe Sunnyville Stories as a genre of fiction?
At this phase, I would say “genre-busting”. Early on, I would have considered this slice of life but the addition of humor (Rusty’s jokes) and drama is making this more than I originally envisioned. Plus more fantastical elements are going to be introduced soon; there’ll be a time travel story and one where Rusty and Sam face an energy-based lifeform!
19: In what way has Sunnyville Stories changed your life for the better as well as for worse?
Doing Sunnyville has given me a sense of accomplishment. I have done what few people have; I created something out of nothing. I put together a whole universe full of characters having adventures and in relationships; they will still be there when I put down my pen and stop drawing. The worse thing is that it’s brought me some unwanted attention in the form of vicious detractors who have a grudge against my work. But from what I’ve learned, this seems to be more about “tall poppy syndrome” as they resent me for my success and for what I’ve accomplished.
20: Are there any on-going comics or webcomics which you really enjoy?
I enjoy Peter & Company; in fact, Rusty and Sam can be seen as background characters there if you look hard enough. I also enjoy the work of Master Godai, notably his Rascals webcomic
You have seen it here first True Believers, Once again, you demanded more Max West  and we delivered.  Stay tuned all this month for additional reviews of Sunnyville Stories Vol. 2 as well as Max’s foray into Southern Gothic horror is his now classic graphic novel Von Hurling: Vampire Hunter
Until next time True Believers, may your mug always be frosted and your root beer always foamy.

Comic Spotlight: Sunnyville Stories Vol. 1 by Max West


We are marking this month when fellow Root Beer Party member Max West releases his third volume of Sunnyville Stories, I thought I would go back and introduce readers (and True Believers) to Max West’s pervious collections.

In this first collection we are introduced to Rusty Duncan, our hero and protagonist as he is moved from the big city to the small town.  In this idyllic setting Rusty and his gang find all sorts of adventures and surprises as it turns out, the simple life isn’t so simple after all.

Episode 1: Beginnings

In this chapter Rusty arrives in the small town and the beaten up old house and has a bad attitude about his parents having to move here for his father’s job.  he misses the city with the arcades and movie theaters as well as his old life and friends.

In this chapter we are introduced to Samantha McGregor who becomes Rusty’s best friend and his guide into this small town world that he knows nothing about.  He begins to see that the loss of his old life does not mean that his life is over, but that he now has an opportunity to begin again.  As Samantha shows him around and introduces him to her family and friends, Rusty begins to see the depth of a world he never knew existed outside of the big cities.

In this chapter Max shows the traumatic extremes of someone packing up all their roots and moving to a new place, the fear of trying to fit in is mingled with the loss of everything he has given up as well as the excitement of possibility which is found in the end.  A great introduction to a multilayered epic story.

Episode 2: Multiball Madness

In this chapter Rusty is thrown into life in Sunnyville.  He goes to school and begins to realize that he is the odd man out, but with the help of Samantha, he navigates his way through the social hierarchy of high school life and begins to find his place

The chapter culminates in a challenge  between himself and Rose in a game of Pinball.  Rose is the daughter of the factory owner in town and the only real wealthy person in Sunnyville.  Rusty does his best to take the high road like Samantha, but his temper gets the better of him and soon the challenge is made and pinball match is set.

Max West shows the classical confrontation story here of the newcomer vs. the bully, and in classic style, it is the unknown talent of the newcomer which saves the day.  Rusty it the fish out of water here, but through his courage, he begins to fit in and make a place for himself.

Episode 3: The Train Robbers

This is where we begin to see the scope and scale of Sunnyville Stories with the introduction of many new townspeople.  We have the weasel Brothers as well as the sheriff, but we also are introduced to several of the towns business people, like the ferrets from Greece.

Sunnyville may be a small town, but it is also in many ways an international community.  Max West sees beyond the stereotypical small town clichés and introduces many new elements into the story.  We see that the small town of Sunnyville is much more complex than a simple group of like minded inbreeds ,   Sunnyville is more of a haven of small town values applied to an international setting.  What may appear simple at first is complex in design.

Max’s art is not fussy or overly complicated and on the face of it, Sunnyville seems like a simple comic, but if you just scratch the surface, you begin to see the depth and complexities of the world Max has created.  Just as Peanuts is no simple strip about kid’s playing around, Sunnyville is no simple strip about small town life.  In Max West’s world, Sunnyville is small town lifeand values applied to a great big world.

You can check out your own copy of Sunnyville Stories Vol 1 here on Amazon: http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/0615653928?keywords=sunnyville%20stories&qid=1451858946&ref_=sr_1_1&sr=8-1

I highly recommend this one True Believers, this volume is the start of something great.  The countdown to volume 3 has begun and I will be back later this month with exclusive interviews and reviews of some of Max’s other works as well.  Until next time, True Believers, may your mug always be frosted and your root beer always foamy.