Interview - Carissa Halston

Tedd Riccio is an intrepid reporter, and if I'm not careful I may lose him to the likes of The Daily Bugle or The Daily Planet (why aren't there any monthly news publications in the world of comics considering new issues of comics are usually released once a month?). In his latest interview, Tedd talks with comics newcomer Carissa Halston, a star on the rise in the world of print and art. Feel free to visit her website (Aforementioned Productions) to check out her latest work, Sequentially Yours.

Omnicomic: What was the first comic book you ever read? Any particular writers influence your work? Anything you're looking forward to reading in the future?

Carissa Halston: I remember reading my brother's comics. The first character that really struck me was Spider-Man, due to the dialogue. I have a soft spot for smartasses. Besides that, I read Peanuts and Calvin & Hobbes religiously, which is an ironic choice of words considering I had no idea who Hobbes was named for.

If there are any writers that influence my work, they'd be playwrights. I've been a theatergoer since I was six and my work reflects that. Dialogue and characterization are both very important to me. But sometimes, there's more to be said in silence than in words.

One book I'm looking forward to is the final issue of Local. Brian Wood knows how to make a monthly. And Ryan Kelly's art is beautiful.

Omnicomic: Can you tell us a little bit about the compilation of stories in your book? How and when did the ideas come together? Why these three stories?

Halston: The first story, 'A Message for the Future,' is a satirical piece featuring an anti-environmentalist named Kent Fielding. If you flip over your copy of Sequentially Yours, he's the surly chap trying to sell you on his ideals.

The second story is almost entirely silent and it's called 'Adventure in the Big City.' In it, the reader follows a little boy (Our Hero) through the downtown area of a city where he causes some trouble, shakes up the locals, and fights a little crime. It's dedicated to Chuck Jones and Michael Maltese because I wouldn't have written AITBC if they hadn't created Ralph Philips (see: old Looney Tunes cartoons 'Boyhood Daze' and 'A to Zzzz').

The last story, 'Georgia,' features a theme that I visit often: a young woman who hits upon some trouble in her life, often resulting in bad form on someone's part. In this case, she makes a decision which sets her right side up, but forces others into upheaval. I'm strongly attracted to characters who can't help but make mistakes. They're so unquestionably human.

The visual formatting of each tale is a little different. 'Message' is black and white; in AITBC, only Our Hero is in color; and 'Georgia' is both—the present day scenes are black and white and George's memories are in color. The older her memories are, the brighter the color; the closer they get to present day, the color seeps out.

The stories in Sequentially Yours came together in that they were three out of four of the only comic scripts I'd written at the time. I was writing, roughly, one script per year and once I had enough to warrant printing a book, I started looking for an artist.

Omnicomic: How different is the process of writing a comic book as opposed to a novel or a play? Do you collaborate closely with the illustrator in regards to the story's direction? What do you look for in an illustrator?

Halston: Writing a novel is labor intensive in the editing process. You can leave things unsaid, but the odds are that someone, somewhere, will not get it. Then you have to decide how to say what without ruining your message (if there is one) and without sacrificing your style.

When writing a play or a comic, you can just put what's left unsaid in a character's mood or look and it's up to the visual to speak for you. Writing comics and writing plays are so similar. Some of the terms are different, but the end result is the same. In a comic, it's "off panel;" in a play, it's "offstage." In a play, a pause looks like this: (beat). In a comic, you make a character say: "…" The only difference is how far you go in one versus the other. You can write something for an actor like, "Your character exits." But in a comic, you have to write that character leaving in a very specific way.

Collaboration is a tricky art. There are trust issues involved that, of course, differ from artist to artist. I've worked with people who I only have to give two words and they'll know exactly what I mean. But other artists, I'll need to go further. And that's okay. It's just important to know which is which.

I look for versatility in an illustrator. Obviously, each story in Sequentially Yours needed a different style. And Thomas came through on each one. He's incredibly diligent and willing to reshape something in attempts to make it work.

Omnicomic: What do you think is the hardest part of your work as a writer? What do you think has helped you grow, artistically?

Halston: I'm my own worst critic. There are days when I think I've done nothing worth mentioning. And the hardest part is getting over that. That and letting go of a project. I'll edit and rewrite and polish something, but the question of calling it done is hard. I want it to be perfect, so it's difficult letting something go when you see its flaws, however minute.

Two things which have helped me grow as a writer are practice and going back to school. Practice, trite as it sounds, has made me more willing to make a mistake because I'm better prepared to fix it. Or, even better, do it right the first time. And going to school has helped because it put me back on a schedule of writing every day, as well as kept me mentally sharp.

Omnicomic: Your newest book really demonstrates your range as a writer, as each story is told very differently. When you start a new project, how do you approach it? What do you 'take with you' from your other work?

Halston: My shorter pieces grow very naturally. They're often borne of something I see and extrapolate on. I'll read an advertisement about a product I don't understand. I'll think, "Who would possibly need that in their life?" And then I might write about the person who needs it and their daily life, from beginning to end. Beyond proofreading and checking for clarity, that story won't need a ton of revision.

Longer projects are less organic. I'll write scenes, out of order, and then stitch them together. In that regard, the editing is what makes it work. I'm currently working on the first draft of my second novel. Almost all the scenes are written, but now I have to go through and create bridges. Bridges, by the way, are bits of segue that connect each scene. I'd love to lay claim to creating that phrase, but I doubt I'm the first person to phrase it that way.

Omnicomic: Can you tell us a little about "Billy" and his "father"? Or is that too much to ask?

HalstonL Billy is the kid that Kent torments at the end of 'Message.' Besides physical labor, Kent introduces Billy to misogyny, willful ignorance, and foul language, all under the guise of acting as a father figure. My feeling is that Kent should not reproduce, so he takes out any would be parental frustration on Billy.

While funny, we notice a bit of satire tucked into your first story. When you write, do you have an end goal in mind- a theme, a resolution? How much of that was intentional and how much came together on its own?

I've written so many things that had no ending when I began. But some pieces start as just conclusions. It really depends on the project. As for themes, those creep in later. If I notice a pattern, I'll try to tap into that. But if it's not working and I can't figure out a way to make it work, extracting a theme or letting it remain in a more subtle fashion is always an option.

The themes in 'Message,' specifically the anti-war theme, timely though it is, didn't occur recently. I wrote 'Message' in early 2003 just as the war was beginning to look like a permanent fixture in our society, but that wasn't why I wrote it. Mentioning it toward the end was just a logical conclusion to Kent's insanity. It rounded what was already a fractured outlook on how the world should be run.

Omnicomic: Your last story, Georgia, is compelling. In particular, we sometimes think that what isn't said or shown is powerful in this story in its own way. Can you tell us about how you came up with the idea for the story, its narrator, and the way this story is told?

Halston: George is a character who needs companionship, but also needs to grow. The adage, "You can't love anyone until you love yourself" holds true here. We've all had relationships during which someone has said, "Why are you with me?" George needs reassurance, but she also can't take it. The second scene which begins fun and light, ends with her shutting down emotionally. She wants to be with Craig, but can't deal with his affection because she doesn't see herself as deserving of it.

The way its told (non-linear, via flashbacks) is just a way of letting the reader in. She never shows her hand completely, so I force it. And it's in her reflection--figuratively--that the reader sees how and why she makes the choices leading up to the end.

Omnicomic: Your locked in a gladitorial arena with Warren Ellis, Garth Ennis and Grant Morrison. At LEAST one person must die for you to leave there alive. Who do you ally with? Who do you turn against? Whats your survival strategy? Who lives and who dies?

HalstonL My god, they'd eat me alive. If I had any predatorial instinct, I'd probably side with Ennis. He seems the most physically spry. But I'm almost certain that Morrison has some sort of magic powers and Ellis has made a pact with a lesser evil deity at some point during his life. Really, I'm done either way.

But we'd likely team up against Ellis because he's the eldest and we're young and foolish. He'd suck the marrow from our bones or spread it on toast.