Q & A

Aaron Costain has been writing and drawing comics for three and a half years. He is also part of a Toronto jam comics collective called Team Society League. His longest self-published work, Entropy, is a re-working of a variety of creation myths, both modern and ancient. It has been published as a serial narrative on his website, aaroncostain.com. The latest installment can be found in the new graphic fiction section of carte blanche. Aaron intends to collect this serial as a book upon completion, with each issue forming one chapter.

Aaron is an art-school dropout, and has degrees in art history, environmental design, and architecture. He works as an architect and lives in Toronto’s Kensington Market with his wife and cat. He was born in Victoria, British Columbia, and has lived in Halifax, Chicago, and Yogyakarta, Indonesia.

carte blanche’s Matthew Forsythe interviewed Aaron by email in May 2009.

cb: What are you reading these days?

Costain: I read loads of old newspaper strips: Little Orphan AnniePopeyeGasoline AlleyMoomin, and really anything else I can get my hands on. I feel privileged to live in a golden age of classic cartooning reprints. I was sad to recently read the last volume of the collected Terry and the Pirates, by Milton Caniff—but I’m about to jump into his follow-up strip, Steve Canyon. In terms of new stuff, I’ve recently finished two great Bildungsroman-style comics: Yoshihiro Tatsumi’s incredible autobiography, A Drifting Life, and Jeffrey Brown’s similarly-themed Funny, Misshapen Body. Both books are about the author’s development as a cartoonist. Collodi’s [The Adventures ofPinocchio was the last prose book I read.

What are some of the things that influence Entropy?

Pinocchio is a huge influence, both the original book and the sanitized Disney version. I am fascinated with the idea of the golem, and I see the Pinocchio story as a variation on this theme (with a happier ending, though). I cannot overstate the influence of Murakami’s odder books, like Kafka on the Shoreor Hard Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World.  They ponder many of the same oblique existential issues I am interested in.  Anders Nilsen’s graphic novel Dogs and Water and his ongoing series Big Questions both deal with the solitary figure contemplating existential issues in a way that parallels my own predilections. I am also extremely interested in myth and fable and how they intersect with religion. Milton’s Paradise Lost is one of these intersections, or Bill Reid’s incredible Haida sculptures and writings. Comics that deal with these same issues include Tom Nealy’s The Blot, Cyril Pederosa’s Three Shadows, and any given short story by Eleanor Davis.

There’s something hilarious and profound about this comic—there are also a lot of religious allusions. How does religion play into your life?

I am not religious at all. I was raised with a perfunctory couple years going to an Anglican church, but I just never got it. However, I have always been fascinated by the commonalities between different religions and, as I mentioned previously, their connection with myths and fables. I was privileged to do a degree in art history at the University of Victoria, where I was able to study art from all over the world rather than the Eurocentric view that you find at most Canadian universities (I focused on art of the Islamic world and of Southeast Asia.) Culture, history, and religion are a big part of art historical studies, and I was fascinated by the bleeding of cultures from one region to another. No one area is immune from cross-cultural pollination, no matter how remote. I find this fascinating, and I feel I just have to write about it. I mean, look at Indian Buddha sculptures from two thousand years ago and you can see the influence of the Greeks, or the direct inspiration the Egyptians had on early Christian iconography. It’s amazing. I think I digressed there a bit.

I know you’re also an architect—do you think that your job influences your approach to comics at all, even in a complementary way?

I learned a few things from architecture that have affected my cartooning in a direct way, mostly to do with matters of presentation and draftsmanship. However, architecture has influenced my cartooning in more abstract ways as well, most notably instilling in me two of the most important virtues for a cartoonist: patience and precision.

Architectural drawings typically work in a specific way that guides your understanding of a building in a sequential fashion, from the big picture on in to the smaller details. Cartooning typically works in a similar way (at least, cartooning as I practice it) that allows you to follow a narrative through a series of sequentially ordered panels to tell a story. I am currently trying to adapt the architectural sequence of drawings into a narrative structure in a way that Chris Ware and John Pham have not already tried. I don’t know how successful I’ll be, but it’s an interesting challenge.

When you release narratives serially, they become a strange, living thing. How long do you see the final Entropy being? Do you have a vision for where this is going? Does it matter to you?

I was originally aiming for a hundred pages. I am at about 75 pages now, and the end keeps getting pushed back farther and farther. I have a hunch that the end product will be around 150 pages, but that is a moving target. There are a certain number of plot points that I want to hit, but I am not sure if I will be able to get to them all in the allotted amount of space if I stick to a predetermined page count.

Cartooning usually takes up more pages than you anticipate; it’s easy to write something in the script that takes up a single line, but ends up consuming four pages of art to convey properly. Right now I don’t really care how long Entropy eventually becomes, since I am having so much fun drawing it. There is an ending in sight. I’m just not sure how long the journey will be to get there.

What are you going to work on next?

I usually work on Entropy with a “breather” comic in between each issue, but I feel like I’m on a roll right now and want to jump right into the next chapter. That being said, I’m kind of excited about this formal exercise I mentioned previously, where I want to bring methods of reading architectural drawings into comics.