Canadian comic-book writer and graphic novelist J. Torres won the Shuster Award for Outstanding Writer for his work on Batman: Legends of the Dark Knight, Love as a Foreign Language and Teen Titans Go. Here, he discusses his new graphic novel series, Bigfoot Boy, illustrated by Faith Erin Hicks. The first book, Into the Woods, introduces Rufus, a boy who discovers a totem that can transform him into a Sasquatch, and earned a starred review in Kirkus.
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A graphic novel—to my mind—seems like it would be a very picture-first process. How do you go about writing something you’re not also illustrating? Do you do any sketches?
I think every comic-book writer thinks in pictures. It's what we do. The tricky part is putting it on paper so that an artist, someone who can draw when you can't, can interpret what's in your head and maybe even make it look better on the page than you ever imagined. That's when magic happens.
Sometimes I'll do some very rough thumbnails of stick people in boxes to work out the pacing of a scene, but no one ever sees that. I've even attempted some design, but it's far easier for me to scour the Internet for pictures and other visual references and share that with the artist and say, “Something that looks like this but blue and with more buttons!”
Tell me about how you collaborate with illustrators. And did you know illustrator Faith Erin Hicks before this project?
I generally, most of the time, work full script. Meaning my scripts resemble a movie's shooting script or a stage play, but instead of scenes and shots, the direction and description is broken down into pages and panels. There's usually some back and forth with the artist as she or he works on the art, but that generally depends on them. Some artists I've worked with really like to talk things out, and will be in touch every step of the way and contact you almost daily, while others take the script, disappear and resurface when they've got pages to show.
I first “met” Faith online via Twitter, I think. I was a fan of her work before that, though. Superhero Girl is one of my favorite web comics. I'm pretty sure I've read everything she's published to date, whether she wrote and drew it or collaborated with someone else. She's amazing, one of the hardest-working people I know in the business. I love what she's doing on our book, and I can't wait for people to see it. I'm pretty sure they'll be as impressed with it as I am.
Where did the idea for Bigfoot Boy come from—did you have a childhood fascination with Sasquatch?
Well, I've always had a fascination with the paranormal, “cryptozoology” and cryptids, which we used to simply call monsters. I also love superhero comics that star transforming heroes, and you'll see that Bigfoot Boy is kind of a mashup of Captain Marvel (Shazam) and Sasquatch from Alpha Flight.
Your debut work was described as semi-autobiographical. Any traces of you in Rufus?
You know, I didn't really think about that until recently when someone asked a similar question. Then it dawned on me that this is the second book I've written starring a boy who visits his grandmother's house and discovers magic, and fantastic things happen. For me, the best thing about visiting my grandmothers in the Philippines, especially my dad's mom, were the stories about my family, Filipino folk tales, ghost stories and so on, that I came home with. I didn't go into the woods and find a magic totem or deal with monsters, but I found another kind of magic. So maybe in that way, I'm like Rufus. Or vice versa.
Would you describe this book as a departure from other things you have been doing?
Not really. I've done a lot of coming-of-age type stuff as well as superhero stories or, if you will, male power fantasies, and Bigfoot Boy is pretty much that. It's not Teen Titans Go or Batman, nor is it Jinx or DeGrassi, but it's about a boy who becomes a superhero of sorts and learns a thing or two about growing up.
What are you working on now, and does it include more with Rufus and his Bigfoot transformations? It felt very much like another Bigfoot Boy might be in the offing.
Yes! I recently turned in the final draft of Bigfoot Boy volume 2. The working title is The Unkindness of Ravens. I'm supposed to talk scheduling and such for book 3 in the coming weeks with my editor. So there's definitely more Bigfoot Boy on the way!