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November 18, 2012

Comics Are My Religion: Get Inside Aesop’s Ark with J. Torres & Jennifer Meyer

Welcome to Comics Are My Religion, a look at theology through the lens of comic books. There are some basic ground rules about engaging in respectful dialog about religion in this column. The column below may have spoilers for books you might not have read, so be warned!

What did the animals on Noah’s Ark do all day while they waited for the waters to subside? According to the imaginations of J. Torres and Jennifer Meyer, they did what any of us would do if we were cooped up for long – they told stories. Published digitally by MonkeyBrain Comics for only 99 cents an issue, Aesop’s Ark shares the ancient tales told on that ark by the animals who were forced to live with one another. J. and Jennifer took some time out of their busy schedules to tell us a little more about Aesop’s Ark. Enjoy!

Jeff Jackson: Give us an “origin story” of yourselves. How long have you been in the comics game? What projects led you to Aesop’s Ark?

Jennifer Meyer: I’m relativity new to the production side of comics, with this being my 3rd published story. Ironically, it was a self-created story, the Bunny General on my website, that led me to Aesop’s Ark.

J. Torres: Yeah, I was approached by MonkeyBrain about doing a digital comic for them. I had a couple of ideas, including Aesop’s Ark. Jen and I had already talked about doing “something” together when they came a callin’. I’ve been working in comics for over a decade. That’s how Chris Roberson from MonkeyBrain and I “met.” Having been fans of each other’s work for years.

JJ: How did Aesop’s Ark come about?

JM: J. approached me with the concept of stories on the ark that are more fairy tale oriented, I helped develop the visual concepts.

JT: I don’t remember when the idea first came to me, but I’ve always wanted to “adapt” Aesop’s Fables into comics. Somewhere along the way, I came up with the framing device of having the stories told on the Ark. Then it hit me that I could also make up fables involving the animals on the Ark as well. One thing led to another and I started coming up with these parallels, and eventually the format for Aesop’s Ark came together.

JJ: How did the two of you get connected on this project?

JM: Through the power of Twitter! J. was looking for something concerning mice and my Bunny General Story was pointed out to him. I just love drawing mice, so I was curious to hear more.

JT: I don’t even remember what that mouse story was now. Anyway, MonkeyBrain came along soon after Jen and I connected as I said, and the rest is history.

JJ: Tell me a little about your obvious love of the craft of storytelling. Why are stories in general, and the “fables” you’re crafting in the book, so important?

JT: People are constantly quoting Aesop, you know? We all know the stories, the lessons. They’re timeless. I just thought that a new presentation of said fables would be fun. And since I work in comics….

JM: Visual storytelling is something I’ve been passionate about for a long while now.

JJ: In issue 3, you told the classic “Lion & Mouse” story. Are most of the stories you’re telling classic tales or new fables for a new generation? Will there be more classic stories told or a mix of old and new?

JT: A mix. I’m starting with some of the more familiar Aesop’s Fables, but we’ll get into some more obscure ones eventually. As for the framing fables involving our characters on the Ark, it’s more of a new spin with a present-day application. Present-day on the Ark, that is. We’re seeing how certain animals apply these lessons to their daily lives, their present situation.

JJ: I love Jennifer’s art in this book. What was behind the choice to offer a penciled-only book?

JM: It came about during the development of the book. We were concerned about an obvious and clear cut change from from  the ark to the fable. The Wizard of OZ inspired us to go B&W on the ark to help push their unfortunate situation with the color being a break from reality.

JT: There was also a bit of a practical reason for it. It’s less work, faster, for Jen to do the pencils in sepia plus a few pages in full color. However, there’s a narrative effect and reason for doing it as well. Like Jen says, see The Wizard of Oz. Or what was that Toby MacGuire movie…Pleasantville!

JJ: This book seems to me to be the meeting place of religion and fable. Is the religious tie to Noah’s Ark simply a setting for these animals to talk or is there a deeper religious tone you’re attempting here?

JM: Writing tone is more Torres’ area, I was concerned with the setting and how involved to go. It’s been an odd line between being accurate to the biblical text/time period and being current with the times. For example, I did some research on bronze age lighting (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Oil_lamp). I would be interested in incorporating more bronze age every day life items and I’m looking for recommendations on such. And I liked the idea of the book showcasing current and endangered animals that are less known, like the Elephant shrew in the first chapter. I think the book can be a fun way to generate interest about different animals. For the curious, I have a Pinterest board identifying several of the animals in the stories: http://pinterest.com/artofjlmeyer/animals-in-aesop-s-ark/

JT: For me, I didn’t have any kind of religious agenda. I grew up Catholic and Noah’s Ark is one of my favourite Bible stories. I’ve always been fascinated by it. One of my all-time favourite novels is Not Wanted on the Voyage by Timothy Findley, in which he expands on the story. That’s basically what I wanted to do with this – expand on the story. Naturally, with a Bible story and Aesop’s Fables, you’re going to get morals and lessons but of course you don’t have to be religious to appreciate those.

JJWhy such a short issue each month? To keep the price to $.99?

JT: Mainly to be able to afford the time to do the series in as regular a fashion as our freelance lives allow us!

JM: We adore the book and work it around our schedules and greatly appreciate all the love shown for the book, it keeps us going.

JJ: Will there be a collected edition of Aesop’s Ark?

JM: We continue to talk about which publishers to approach, but at the moment, no there are no deals in place for a collected edition.

JT: Yet! But I’m pretty sure there will be. As we rack up more stories, maybe when we have around ten done, we’ll make more of a concerted effort to get a collection published. Right now, the focus is on doing more 10-page stories, putting more comics out there.

JJ: The book is great because it’s truly for all ages. How do you think this book is reaching all those ages by being digitally exclusive right now? Does the religious/moral-crafting nature of the book make it easier to reach a broader audience?

JT: I bet there’s a pro/con thing here. Just as there’s a pro/con to be “all ages.” Some people will skip it just because it’s perceived as a kid’s book or a religious book or something moralistic. But we’re seeing that those who do pick it up appreciate what we’re crafting, and they share it with their kids.

JM: Currently I think the plus to being digital is that it can reach more countries quicker than it could in the print market. Plus, as a new book it will always be in stock!

I am curious what the religious community thinks of the handling of Noah’s Ark.

JJI can only speak for one Episcopal priest in rural Georgia. But I think that we’re doing good theological work when we use our imaginations to flesh out and enhance the biblical text. Noah’s Ark is actually a horrifying story where God obliterates the Earth. To think that only two of each species made it on that ark is particularly sad. I don’t personally believe in the historicity of Noah’s Ark, but think this points to a deeper truth of tragedy and hope. What Aesop’s Ark does is expand on that theme of tragedy and hope. You have animals who are stuck together and are made to build community through their stories. It furthers the parable of the human family, drawn together by tragedy, and how we can either devour one another or we can live together in peace and share in the stories that have shaped us as human beings. Aesop’s Ark gives us a small model of what I believe the biblical text is all about. Community. Sharing. Stories.

Many thanks to J. and Jennifer for their time for this interview, but also for their fantastic work on Aesop’s Ark. Be sure to pick up issues 1-3 over at comiXology.com.

Jeff Jackson


One Comment

  1. SpidermanGeek

    I met J. Torres a couple of times at some Toronto cons (he’s a Torontonian). Great guy, loved his run on Ninja Scroll, he even gave me a kick-ass Jim Lee variant of issue #3 of that series and signed it. I’ve heard nothing but good things on his Teen Titans Go run.

    Great interview, Jeff.

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