It's not every day you come across a comic with monsters, robots, romance, indignant insects swarms unleashing their wrath upon humanity and soul-crushing heartbreak that also folds out into a massive sprawling epic you could border an entire room with – and oh, by the way, absolutely no dialog beyond the mighty exclamation point. But that's what you get with Tymothi Godek's !, which is an amazing achievement in art, storytelling and just general coolness.
You can see the entire story right here. And you can buy it right here for a mere $15 bucks, and considering the amount of work it took to actually create this in a printed form, it's surely worth it. It's got interweaving layers, it's got a studly superheroic robot, it's got the pathos of an indie relationship comic underscored by a titanic force of nature threatening to eliminate an entire city due to one lonely man's careless picking of a flower, and it's really a fun experience to take in. I recently met Godek and had a chance to grill him about this unique undertaking.
Q. This project is called "!" – how do you pronounce that when you're talking about it? How'd you decide upon that name?
Tymothi Godek: It's kind of an awkward dance, but when I'm speaking about the comic I tend to just talk around the title. I've got a bunch of jokey answers for when I'm asked directly, but in conversation I'll usually find other points of reference. It would have been so much easier if I had just called it "The Adventures of Stickman and Robot" or "Revenge of the Bug People" or something. But, there you have it.
What I like about that title is its almost purely visual nature. It fits with the rest of the book. I knew I wanted to draw a "silent" comic right from the outset. No written dialog. Very little text at all. Everything's conveyed through the pictures and various ideograms. The title's an extension of all that.
Q. What was the genesis of "!"? It seems like there's some serious heartbreak behind the fun of the story.
Tymothi Godek: I did kind of put those guys through the ringer a bit. The conflict makes for good drama (and good comedy). But, nope. It's just pure fun!
I mean, it's a joke. A gag. I think of the story as just a really long kind of newspaper-type gag strip. I was thinking along those lines, playing with those kind of tropes. Gag strips as a form can be pretty cynical, the metaphysical angst you get with that type of comedy. You know, the "someone walks into an open manhole and dies…" kind of thing. Fun! The subtext just grew out of that tradition.
Also, when I was a kid my mother left us for a super-powered homemade robot. It still hurts.
Q. Ouch. I'm sorry to hear that. So, what possessed you to make a giant fold-out comic like this? What were the challenges of letting it take this form as you were creating it?
Tymothi Godek: I had no idea what I was getting into when I started this book.
I grew up on traditional printed comics, but I've also been involved with webcomics for a number of years. This book grew out if that involvement. The form came from a melding of the kind of long, scrolling, single-giant-page that's easy to present on the web. But I also wanted it to work in print, as a regular book. The accordion fold booklet is where the two forms met best. I designed it to be readable as a series of two page spreads or at it's full 35+ foot length.
Getting it printed was a whole other story. It was a matter of doing the legwork and finding a printer willing to put the time in for this. Being such a nonstandard format, everything had to be done by hand. Gluing. Folding. Packing. It takes a lot of work. It wasn't easy to find a firm willing to do it for less than the promised soul of my firstborn child.
I got lucky twice, though. One, I got a publishing grant from the Xeric Foundation (founded by Peter Laird of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles fame) to held defray the cost of producing these. And two, I found a printer right in my home town that was crazy enough to commit to the work at a price I could afford. I kind of get the feeling now that they didn't know what they were getting into either. I don't think I could ever get this book done again.
Q. Which do you find more daunting – attractive robots or giant monsters?
Tymothi Godek: Given my personal history, I think it's obvious that rampaging giant monsters are easier to take. That's kind if an insensitive question, man.
Q. Sorry about that. Didn't mean to harp on the painful robot memories. The layers of this story are fascinating – humanity vs. nature, humanity vs. technology, humanity vs. itself. What would you like people to take away from "!"?
Tymothi Godek: There's a certain novelty factor – the fold-out format and twisting story paths – that I think is interesting. And, yeah, I was playing around with some of the universal themes, and the idea of illustrating kind of social interaction in a different sort of way. But, really, I just had an awful lot of fun putting this book together and I hope it's as much fun to read!