A Wizerd, an Archer, and a gal who wants to be buff are out to brew a potion to grant wishes. Michael Sweater and Rachel Dukes sat down with us to talk about their collaboration on The Wizerd! And the Potion of Dreams!
Rachel W: Thanks so much for taking the time to talk with me about The Wizerd! This book was such a fun escape that I sorely needed during these wild times. I love how well the dry, surrealist writing matches with the dense and bubbling panels. What was it like collaborating on this book together?
Mike: I have wanted to work on a project with Rachel for a while so this has been a blast. There are very few artists I would trust to work with and get along with me for this much time.
Rachel D: Yeah, it’s been fun! We made a smart decision early on: we’re both doing the parts of creation that we like best; which keeps work on the book enjoyable and progressing. Michael does the initial story and thumbnails, which I offer revisions and punch-up on, then Michael pencils the pages, I revise his pencils and then ink, Michael colours, and then I go back in and do the final touch-up and revisions before we go to print.
Rachel W: I love that it’s not a clean division between writing and art, I feel like the two are so well entwined in The Wizerd! that I should have guessed y’all would have both been contributing to all aspects of the comic process. Do you feel like that empowered you to do more with the comic, something different than if you had divided up along craft lines?
Rachel D: Correct me if I’m wrong, Mike, but I feel like part of the reason some of the pages in The Wizerd are so visually dense is because you wouldn’t have to ink them. I know inking is hard for you because it’s like drawing the page twice. Having me on inks freed you up from that to go a little wilder than usual.
Mike: Yeah. I hate inking! I always feel like the time could be spent coming up with more ideas for fun things to draw, and working with Rachel I really got to fully extend the amount of stuff we could put in some of these pages. I defy a reader to catch everything we squeezed in. It’s not possible.
Rachel W: I loved seeing the dedication in this book. Why was it important to y’all to dedicate this book to aspiring comic creators?
Mike: Comics are the most important storytelling medium available to people right now. For better or worse our current culture relies on visual elements to sell or pass an idea over social media. And unlike film and animation you don’t need anyone else’s help or permission to make the story you want to make. All you need is paper and the drive to figure out how to make it happen.
I think a lot of children don’t realize what options are available to them and don’t have an environment that encourages them to try things, so I wanted to just put it out there. I want to push everyone to make comics so that the people who might want to at least consider it. If someone reading this wants to make comics, they absolutely can.
Rachel D: Yeah, the act of creating comics is an endeavor that has literally almost no barriers to execution. As long as you have something to draw with and something to draw on, you can create comics.
I see a lot of first-time or early creators of all ages who are worried about creating comics “the right way” or worrying over their comics being “good enough” to share or publish… While I fell into the same traps as a young creator, I think it’s vitally important that folks who want to create comics understand that there are no gatekeepers. You can do every step of this yourself: from concept to distribution. You only need to allow yourself the freedom to do it. As far as skillset, it’s like anything else: it takes practice and you’ll get better as you go along.
Rachel W: Yes, definitely! There are all kinds of external barriers that different folks face, but we should at least try not to gatekeep ourselves out of making the things we want to make.
Rachel D: Absolutely.
Rachel W: I loved how this book really utilized the unique things that comics can do as a medium — things like the visualizations of sound effects and the panel breakouts. What were some of your favorite ways of exploring the ~medium~ of comics in this book?
Mike: We aren’t really pushing any boundaries with the medium, but I also think the form has been basically perfect since the 80s. One of the really great things about comics instead of film or animation is that you can have more information in a smaller window of time since the reader can hold their attention on a moment for as long as they want. Like when you enter a tavern you can just show them the entire space and let them explore instead of forcing a series of quick details.
Rachel W: The full spreads of things like the tavern or the city were some of my favorite parts of the book. So much is packed into those images and they open so many pathways for the reader to build out the setting in their head. I also really dug the use of sfx throughout the book, they had a Schoolhouse Rock vibe that made things seem surreal and playful. Did y’all have other ways throughout The Wizerd! that you used to try to capture that tone?
Mike: I don’t think we were going for anything intentionally. I think what you draw and write are just a different version of the things you have read that have made an impression on you. If someone wants to make good work the most important thing is to take in good work. Having good tastes tends to be the first step to making good art!
A lot of the material I like tends to be older and from an era where things were a little less grounded in reality. Modern animation and comics seem to really try to cling to being rational, but I really like to take advantage of how much freedom you have to get really silly with comics.
Rachel W: There are a lot of ways to play with fantasy tropes in stories, but I think the surreal take that The Wizerd! has is really charming. There’s a lot of hints at the broader world in the densely packed backgrounds or in the way that the Wizerd talks about their past. What were some of your inspirations and goals when you were defining this fantasy setting (both from a visual and lore perspective)?
Mike: I really enjoy the depth a lot of fantasy stories can have with background and world building, but never really liked how fantasy stories sometimes sidebar for dry historical accounts and making sure you know the dates and events of everything leading up to the story. There is a lot of under the surface history and lore. But also sometimes we just want to draw a cool thing.
If we have an idea and we think it’s fun, we put it in!
Rachel D: Yeah! Michael knows all about the history of The Wizerd, The Wizerd who came before them, Thent, and the surrounding world; but it isn’t absolutely necessary to know all of those details for the reader to enjoy the story.
So far as inspiration, I know Michael enjoyed the Dungeon series. My fantasy reads are more often magical realist series, so I don’t know that they’ve had any direct influence on the story of The Wizerd so far. Designing the world, Michael wanted to make the world look a bit lived in: dirty and desaturated. And I wanted to make sure our trio each stood out from that, slightly brighter and with their own recognizable colour palettes, so you can find them in a crowd.
Mike: I am actually really excited to see if Rachel comes up with any stories as we go. I would love to see how our different storytelling styles crash into each other.
Rachel D: Yeah, I wanted to let you run for a couple books until I felt more comfortable in the world. We’ll see where the future takes us!
Rachel W: Speaking of, what’s next for y’all? Got anything you wanna plug? And thanks for taking the time to chat, it’s been rad learning more about how this book came together!
Rachel D: I have my first solo comic, Frankie Comics, coming out the week after The Wizerd (also from Oni Press). It’s a collection of full-colour comics and short stories about my cat, Frankie, that I’m super excited to have out in the world. Michael and I are currently hard at work on The Wizerd vol. 2 for Oni. And I’m in the early stages of three graphic novels for Little, Brown Books For Young Readers. Two are for early readers by author Andrew Weiner, starting with Daddy and The Beanstalk (2024), and one is an unannounced middle-grade solo project. Mike, what about you?
Mike: I have a lot of stuff. I started a webcomic as a joke about a skeleton that gets a job as an entry level grim reaper that is on my Instagram @michaelsweater and am working on a stack of other graphic novels. The thing I am most excited about besides The Wizerd is a book about a slacker who is emotionally stunted and takes up the creative process to find meaning in their life (with Silver Sprocket; which should be out in 2021). It’s not for kids though.