GUEST POST // The Well-Red Mage Interviews Tony

WELL-RED MAGE: Let’s get this party started! First question: Do you consider yourself to be a gamer and how long have you been one?

TONY: I’ve thought about this a lot. What does it mean to be a gamer? Is it dependent on skill level or the number of hours played? Or something else? I don’t know. I do overthink these things. It’s why I often have trouble with labels. So, to kind of answer your question: I do play video games a lot but I’ll never beat Dark Souls.

As to how long I’ve been playing video games, I came to this rather late in life. I was nudging thirty by the time I got my first console. It was an N64, and I loved it! I’ve been gaming ever since. Probably about fifteen years or so.

WELL-RED MAGE: Ah well overthinking things is what we do ’round these here parts! Let’s break down ‘gamer’ even more and define our terms. Ultimately, of course the label itself is meaningless and one can call themselves a gamer at any level of skill or exposure to games. You consider yourself a gamer, since you play video games a lot, but you say you’re maybe not a gamer-gamer since you’ll never beat Dark Souls. We can make the question harder. What kind of gamer would you consider yourself? For example, I prefer the categorization ‘classics gamer’ since I love that which is retro, vintage, classic.

TONY: That label definitely suits you. And can I just say that I think your reviews are amazing? They’re meticulously put together, and they’re full of many little details about an era of gaming that has somehow managed to pass me by. (And as a long time appreciator of Miyazaki’s oeuvre, I thought your Studio Ghibli pieces were sublime too.)

As for what kind of gamer I might be, I’m still unsure. Truth be told, I tend to prefer games with 3D graphics as this is what I was introduced to. My formative experiences were The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time and Super Mario 64 after all. And what a wonderful place to start! These two games began my love affair with ‘play for play’s sake’ (and it’s an art that sadly many adults have forgotten). So, whatever that kind of gamer’s called is what I am, I guess. I just want to play, and hopefully I’ll be proficient enough to complete the game I’m currently playing.

WELL-RED MAGE: Oh you flatterer! I knew I’d enjoy this conversation but not merely because it’s inflating my already morbidly obese ego, hahaha! You’re bringing up so many great subjects to chew on. What a wonderful place to start indeed with Ocarina of Time and Super Mario 64, two of the most rightfully venerated entries in two of the biggest video game franchises in history. We’ll call you a fun-factor gamer? Haha I don’t know.

So going back to those years when you got your gaming start with the N64, I’ve a couple questions for you: Did you specifically wait to start gaming with the 64? I mean were you just not interested in consoles before then? Why did you pick the 64 and not say the PlayStation coming out around the same time?

TONY: Fun factor gamer! Now that is a label I can get behind. Let’s call me that! And I think this is all I’ve ever wanted from gaming really—just something that’s immersive, fun and stirs the emotions.

I remember back when I was covetously eyeing off a friend’s Atari. I asked my parents about it but they wisely chose not to get me one. I think I would have been addicted to the point of dropping out of life and failing school if they had. Still, you can imagine how console hungry I was by the time I hit adulthood! And I didn’t really choose the N64. Not really. It chose me.

My wife had a work colleague who wanted to sell his N64 to buy a Dreamcast, so she snaffled it up for me. I received a bunch of games with it: Mission: ImpossibleGoldenEye 007, and Turok: Dinosaur HunterMission: Impossible was truly awful, and it nearly put me off trying the others, but when I popped in the excellent GoldenEye 007, I soon realised that I could afford to pick and choose my gaming experiences. It’s a weird thing to realise, I suppose, but there you go. It wasn’t long before I began to seek out other titles, and so I moved on to the aforementioned The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time and Super Mario 64. I became so obsessed with these last two games that I don’t think I really took in the fact that PlayStation was a thing.

WELL-RED MAGE: Your parents were very wise to make you miss out on an Atari, especially since you were able to get your start with Nintendo instead. That’s definitely fun-factor foresight. Ocarina of Time and Super Mario 64 are officially legends but what struck a chord and resonated with you about those games in particular?

TONY: Super Mario 64 was like pure imagination on acid! From Cool, Cool Mountain to Whomp’s Fortress and Jolly Roger Bay, I was unapologetically hooked. There were so many secrets to unlock, and so many environments and scenarios to check out! And I loved the conceit that all of this could be accessed via a portly little plumber traversing the ‘hub’ of Princess Peach’s castle. I felt like a little kid again, like I could just walk down into my own basement to find something magical and a little bit dangerous that I’d previously overlooked—all I’d need do was cock my head and take a slightly different view. (That sense of wonder is such a precious commodity as an adult. We need more of it!) Also, the controls just work. They’re as smooth as butter. The graphics may have dated somewhat but not the gameplay and sense of fun—those will always remain timeless.

And speaking of timeless… Holy cow, Ocarina of Time or what?! It ended up being my favouritest ever game until Wind Waker came along! I remember playing through the Great Deku Tree at the beginning with an assumption that the game would end soon. It was only as the story started to build on itself, slowly revealing more and more of Hyrule as I went along, that the scope of it began to dawn on me. A light switched on behind my eyes, and so I became quite invested in how this tale would play out. I remember having a lump in my throat when Saria awakened as the Forest Sage, knowing that things would never again be the same between her and Link. That she had been waiting all these years just to part ways with him… well, it broke my heart. I thought of my wife who’d bought this game as a gift to me, and knew then that Zelda would become a permanent fixture in my life.

WELL-RED MAGE: I couldn’t agree more about the impact of those two games. I shared the same experiences with them, virtually. So the Zelda franchise… I was just talking with someone today about how the series hasn’t changed much over the years, how the recent Breath of the Wild didn’t do much to surprise or shock us narratively speaking. I don’t know how much of that assertion I agree with, so let me ask someone who really loves Zelda: What do you think is the consistent and lasting appeal of the Legend of Zelda? Why has it remained popular after all this time?

TONY: I feel this assertion that Zelda’s narrative hasn’t changed much is only partially true. If you look at the individual stories of each game, then certainly, the same tropes crop up again and again. Rescue the princess. Kill Ganon. Save Hyrule. Cut lots and lots of grass. We’ve gone through all of that before. But let’s be real here—this recycling of narrative is present in almost any video game series one cares to name. You don’t have to look very hard.

Isn’t there a maxim that there are only seven stories in fiction? I feel like that’s true. And I think it’s all in how you tell it. It’s all in the little details that get peppered throughout the narrative. It’s all in how you bend that narrative ever so slightly each time. Perhaps it’s this mix of the familiar and something new that’s given the Zelda series such longevity. Wind Waker was set at sea. Spirit Tracks was on rails. Link’s Awakening was just a dream. These are all simply remixes of the same song, and I don’t think there’s necessarily anything wrong with that.

WELL-RED MAGE: I’d have to agree with you. Certainly archetypes and kinds of stories are limited and have been repeated since the dawn of man. I’d add that I think the Legend of Zelda series is so successful because of the way it retells these stories in its own archetypal and legendary fashion, like real world myth. A lot of them play like Greco-Roman myths where the details are less important than the heroism and magic. You mentioned already that Wind Waker is your favorite of all time, and of course Ocarina is high on your list. Have you played all of the Zelda games? Which are the worst, if such a thing could even be said?

TONY: I have played them all except for the first two ZeldasTri Force HeroesFour Swords Adventures, and the Japan-only Ancient Stone Tablets. And my top three favourites would have to be Wind Waker, Breath of the Wild, and Majora’s Mask, but I do rate the others I’ve played quite highly too. I think the only ones in the series that I would not play again are Phantom Hourglass and Spirit Tracks. These two aren’t awful by any means—far from it—but I simply did not enjoy them as much as I was hoping to. I have to admire Nintendo for trying out a different control scheme though. That was a small stroke of genius! (Pathetic pun intended.)

WELL-RED MAGE: That Japan-only title is a new one on me! See? It’s true what they say, you learn something new every day. So no CD-i Faces of Evil and Wand of Gamelon Zeldas for you, my boi? And, my friend, have you not had a chance to play the original Legend of Zelda yet?

TONY: I found out about that Japan-only one literally a day ago, so I’ve learned something new too! As for Faces of Evil and Wand of Gamelon, all I can say is I’d rather lay eyes on Cthulhu’s horrifying visage than play those games! I’ve read that they are truly, utterly awful, so I’m willing to trust that assessment and play more Breath of the Wild instead. And while I did download the first Zelda to my 3DS a few years back, I found that I just wasn’t into it. Now, I’ve never considered myself a graphics snob, but I think to some extent I must be—I just couldn’t get past those graphics! Perhaps if Nintendo was to release a remake with updated graphics then I might be persuaded to revisit it. I know, I know… what I’m saying is heresy. I have no defence!

WELL-RED MAGE: I’ll quash my inner inquisitor for the moment, sir. Just kidding! I’m trying not to be a snob, period, nor a retro elitist and say, “You can’t call yourself a real fan for [insert standard here].” These are games, after all. I do have something I’ve been ruminating on of late and that is where do you think Nintendo can take the Zelda franchise after the sprawling, gorgeous, highly successful Breath of the Wild? And why do you think it was so good anyway? Never mind the adjectives I just heaped upon it.

TONY: Thanks for putting your pitchfork away, good sir. It looked entirely too pointy and jabby! But seriously, I can fully appreciate if anybody reading this gets quite upset at my rather superficial assessment of the first Zelda. After all, that’s where the whole thing began—without that Zelda we wouldn’t have Breath of the Wild today. Believe me, no one wants to be the heretic in the room! But, as you rightly say, these are games after all. We should each enjoy what we enjoy and enuff said.

And as to where Nintendo could possibly take the series after the superlative Breath of the Wild, I’ve literally no idea. Conventional thinking would have it that they’ll all be open world Zeldas from now on, but I’ve found that Nintendo has a bloody-minded tendency to foil people’s expectations—it’s what I love about them! In all the years I’ve been gaming, they continue to present me with fun, compelling experiences that I never even knew I wanted in the first place. So, I’ve had to learn to trust their judgement a little bit. Who knows? The next Zelda could be set entirely in one room. I was uncertain that they’d make an open world version work as beautifully as they have, and look how wrong I was there. So… perhaps they could pull off a contained Zelda too.

WELL-RED MAGE: Exactly! Down with elitism and snobbery of all forms. We are of course entitled to our opinions but we’re not entitled to everyone agreeing with our opinions, or even buying into them in the slightest.

I’d be excited to play a minimalist Zelda set in a single room! Heck, at this point just give us more new Zelda, Nintendo!

So am I correct in assessing that Nintendo sits at the top of your console and developer favorites list? How do they rank alongside the giants Sony and Microsoft, and what makes them different? Sometimes, I wonder how they even stay in business! Of course, this is coming from someone with an NES themed blog, so rest assured I’m a Nintendo fan.

TONY: Yes, more Zelda please! One can never have too much Zelda! It’s franchises like that which keep me coming back to Nintendo time and time again, so you are correct in assuming that they sit atop my developer favourites list. They also have Mario, Metroid Prime, and Pikmin, so what’s not to love?

Nevertheless, I have branched out in the last few years, and now own a PS3 alongside my Switch and 3DS. For me, it’s all about the games, so I find that Sony is comparable to Nintendo in terms of the variety on offer. I’ve played Journey on Sony’s console, as well as Limbo, the rebooted Tomb Raider, The Last of Us, and Skyrim. Good lord, have I played the ever-loving stuffing out of that last one or what?! Yup, I’m a bit obsessed with Skyrim at the moment, and it’s convinced me to sample Bethesda’s Fallout 3 too. So, I guess that would mean that I rate Sony pretty highly. Microsoft? Not so much. Of course, there’s nothing wrong with Microsoft’s family of consoles—I just don’t find their exclusives to be all that enticing. I could happily live without an Xbox, but I’m glad I now have a PS3.

WELL-RED MAGE: Yep, you and I see eye to eye on this, as I suspected. I love Sony for the variety of the PlayStation library and I very much consider them to be on top of the industry. Nintendo, on the other hand, is the underdog in a lot of ways and while I don’t think they want to play catch-up per se and be the kind of giant Sony is, they need to retain their character and characteristics while giving gamers the kind of Nintendo experiences they want. So far, it’s been great with the Switch and I’m looking forward to what they’ll have to show the world at E3. As for Micro$oft… well… So beyond the realm of the Legend of Zelda, what are some of your other favorite games? Do you maybe have a top five?

TONY: I’ve gotta say I’m loving the Switch as well. It’s great having the option to play a full-blown home console experience on the go. How cool is that? And Breath of the Wild has been the perfect game to showcase this. I’ll be sad when I finally finish it, although it’ll be nice to have some other games to look forward to—Skyrim for one. I love the Switch so much that I’m eager to shell out a second time to see how Skyrim translates to the little console that could. Xenoblade Chronicles 2 will be an instant buy as I adored the first two instalments, the premise of Super Mario Odyssey intrigues me, and I’m crossing my fingers for Monster Hunter to crash the party as well. E3 this year should be quite interesting!

As for what my top five is, some titles I’ve already mentioned make it to the list. Number one is Wind Waker. I grew up watching lots of cartoons and reading lots of comics, so this style of imagery is very much in my blood. However, it’s far more than just a nostalgia hit to me as it’s also a gorgeous looking game with a distinctive soundtrack, an unbridled sense of optimism, and some genuinely heart tugging moments!

Number two on the list is without a doubt Skyrim, something I thought I’d never ever say. My first experience with it was not so positive as I hadn’t played many open world games by that point. I really didn’t understand what I was supposed to do, that I could make what in essence would become my very own Choose Your Adventure story. I’d spent hours wandering about, wondering why everyone was bleating ‘game of the century’, before trading it towards another game. It would be a couple of years before I worked up the courage to try it again, and it’s only then that I finally managed to click with its shtick (and that’s also thanks in part to another game on this list).

Number three is Monster Hunter, and you can pretty much insert any instalment here as I’ve loved them all (the Nintendo ones anyway). The idea of defeating monsters in order to make gear to defeat bigger, badder monsters is a simple one done very very well. The combat in these games forces you to be strategic, and to be quite methodical too (I hate the mindless button mashing of other titles in this genre).

Number four has to be Xenoblade Chronicles as this is what really opened my eyes to the whole point of open world games: the freedom to explore and create your own narratives. Sure, it has last gen graphics but it’s still a visual and aural triumph with its vast landscapes and compelling soundtrack. I was really heartbroken when I finally completed this one!

And number five is Journey which is by far the shortest on my list. You can play it through in a couple of hours, but oh my stars, what an amazing couple of hours! It has one of the most moving video game endings I’ve ever played. Seriously, I don’t want to say too much about it. Journey is one of those experiences that you need to enter into with as little prior knowledge as possible. Before Skyrim came along, this title alone was worth owning a PS3 for. That’s how highly I think of it.

Some honourable mentions would be Metroid Prime, The Last of Us, and Pikmin 3. I would have included Dark Souls somewhere but that’s way beyond my abilities as a gamer, and so I eventually had to trade it in. It’s frustrating to me because the gameplay itself was sublime.  I’m sure I’ve left something out.

WELL-RED MAGE: The Switch is awesome, just like that list of favorites! Who wouldn’t love Wind Waker, Monster Hunter (I played Tri on the Wii), and of course Journey, which is also in my top five where it is likely to stay. I am glad you gave such thorough reasoning for why these select few rank so high on your favoritometer.

As for the other games you mentioned, I haven’t played all of them. Yet! I will need to go back for Xenoblade Chronicles before the new one comes out! As for leaving some out, that’s the way it is. I didn’t have the heart to ask you for a top 100 list.

So besides for being a verbose human being and a gamer with taste, I know from our conversations earlier that you’re also like me in terms of loving Ghibli. A bit of self-appreciating humor, there. Excuse me. Some questions along these lines: You like Ghibli for what reason? What makes them special? Do you like anime in general or only a few movies and series? And who is your waifu?

TONY: I like me a bit of self-appreciating humour. Ha ha! And I love your last question! I do have an odd answer to this though. My waifu is whatever female character I’m currently playing as, especially one I’ve made for, say, Skyrim or Monster Hunter or something like that. Don’t ask me why but I simply prefer playing as a woman, not a man. Is it a particularly disturbing fetish that I need to seek out professional counselling for? I hope not! All I do know is that I would’ve loved to have had the option to play as Zelda in Breath of the Wild. She’s hot! Oh well, maybe next time, Nintendo.

As for Studio Ghibli, I was introduced to their oeuvre via a screening of Laputa: Castle in the Sky back in my art college days. This film completely blew my mind, and it made me excited about the kinds of stories that could be told in animation. I especially came to appreciate Hayao Miyazaki’s even handed approach to the portrayal of characters in all of his stories. There were no simplistic delineations of good and evil to be found—just people being… well, people. Sometimes they did a bad thing, sometimes they didn’t, but they were always deeply human no matter what. I found this take to be very true to life, and so it became easier to emotionally invest myself in Miyazaki-san’s wondrous works.

My favourite film of all time is actually Howl’s Moving Castle; every single character is pitch perfect in that, and hugely relatable as a result. I like anime a lot. It’s probably my favourite style of animation if I’m honest, although I can and do enjoy animation no matter what part of the world it’s from. I love the classics like Akira, Ghost in the Shell, Grave of the Fireflies, Osamu Tezuka’s Metropolis, Cowboy BebopKum-Kum, Astro Boy and Spirited Away, of course, but I also love more recent fare such as The Girl Who Leapt Through Time, The Tale of Princess Kaguya, The Wind RisesAldnoah.ZeroKill la KillBirdy the Mighty: Decode and the Evangelion rebuilds.

Outside of anime, I’ve enjoyed such fare as Adventure Time, Voltron: Legendary Defender, Futurama, The Legend of Korra, Brave, The Lego Movie and Zootopia. I’m still sure I’ve left something out.

WELL-RED MAGE: Interesting answer and no I don’t think you’re a psychotic. At least not by that admission. The best explanation I’ve heard on that is when some dude said, and I quote: If I’m going to be playing a game for hundreds of hours then I’d rather look at a chick’s body than another man’s. So there you go. Playing as Zelda in a future game seems like an inevitable move at this point from Nintendo.

So as anyone can tell, you’re an artist. More on that later. Does or did your love for anime fuel or inspire your craft?

TONY: I love that question because few people would know to ask me it these days, and with good reason. I used to be very heavily influenced by the Japanese animation that I watched as a child. How could I not be when my favourite shows were the aforementioned Kum Kum and Astro Boy, as well as others such as Robotech, Ulysses 31, Mysterious Cities of Gold and Sherlock Hound? I would try to mimic that general style and then wonder why I was never able to get any good at it. It was only after I started art college that I began to move away from this and find my own visual language instead. And it’s continued to evolve since that point, but even now I can look back and recognise how anime still subtly informs what I draw.

For instance, anime taught me that eyes are critical in conveying a character’s emotional state. It’s so important to see that spark there in order to be invested in what’s happening to the protagonist—whether it be funny or serious. I also learned the value of a carefully planned colour design. The best anime often has beautiful, lush looking images because of a deliberate and judicious use of colour. This helps to pull all the disparate elements within a composition together so that it all feels ‘of a piece’. In essence, I learned this and more by osmosis, so… yeah, anime has been (and continues to be) a huge inspiration for my craft.

WELL-RED MAGE: I wouldn’t have known to ask unless we’d talked about anime first but in retrospect, your art has a distinctive personality to it, especially in your characters’ faces, which evokes the expressiveness of Japanese animation. You’ve clearly moved beyond imitation, though, and found your own style, with a distinct color palette that sets it apart from other online art I’ve seen. What led you to pursue art in the first place and why do you continue to pursue it? What are your goals?

TONY: Thank you for your kind words, sir! I do love what I do, so it’s most gratifying when others love it as well. I’ve never not been an artist really as I’ve drawn all kinds of stuff since I could hold my first crayon. With this and growing up on a steady diet of cartoons and comics, there was just no way I was going to avoid the artist’s life; being something else makes absolutely no sense to me.

As for my goals, I hope to continue what I’m doing until the day I die, and to make a living from it. This is the one and only thing I kind of do well, so I’d like to stick with it. I’m also looking forward to writing and drawing my first graphic novel within the next couple of years. That’d be an achievement worth striving for!

WELL-RED MAGE: Wow! Having your own graphic novel under your belt would be quite the achievement! You should get it published by DC. DC fan here… What are some other inspirations and influences we should be aware of? And then maybe you can segue into the content and direction of your art? I’m familiar with your work on your blog Crumble Cult, which is where I primarily know you from.

TONY: Alas, I don’t think DC or even Marvel would be interested in the kinds of comics I produce. Mine are far too navel-gazing and existential and waffley and… well, not very ‘superheroey’. I guess they could be categorised as slice-of-life, semi-autobiographical comics with a magical realist bent. Mind you, I have nothing against superhero comics. They just weren’t the kind of thing I gravitated to when I was growing up. I was more interested in different genres, artists and titles—oh, and giant, transforming robots (I’ve always had a weak spot for those). I can, however, appreciate why superheroes resonate with so many people. They’re the mythology of modern times really, and so in that sense they’re as relevant as any tale from antiquity.

As for other influences, I’d have to mention music here. That’s a huge deal for me. I don’t play an instrument or even sing, but I do listen to a lot of music covering a number of different genres. I’m especially drawn to lyrics that have a strong storytelling component, as well as more abstract ones that allow me to create a narrative of my own.

WELL-RED MAGE: So where can we expect to see you in the coming years? Where do you want to take your art, including the graphic novel? What would be the equivalent of achieving your dream?

TONY: Honestly, I’ve no idea where I’ll be tomorrow. All I do know is that writing and drawing are the only things that make sense to me. In fact, they’re the only things I’m even halfway good at. I’m really pretty hopeless at anything else. I think I’d like to do graphic novels and somehow make a crust from that. And write a novel. I have some dreams swirling about in my head; I just need to continue doing what I’m doing and never give up. Can I ask you about your dreams, my friend? What would be your definition of ‘success’? It seems to me that you pour everything you have into your blog, and I find that inspiring.

WELL-RED MAGE: Hopeless at anything else? I’ve never met you but I’m sure you’re being much too modest. Never giving up is brilliant wisdom. Thanks for being so conversational and turning my question back at me. And thank you for the kind words. I went through several ‘dreams’ when I was a child: palaeontologist thanks to Jurassic Park, a game designer, a conceptual artist or animator, which was something a lot of friends and family pushed for me since I could draw little cartoony things now and then. I ended up not pursuing the visual route. Sorry this is turning into a cheaply-made biopic.

I eventually fell in love with reading in my preteens and when I was 16 I was already writing a novel I never finished. I furnished its realm with made up languages I kept journals for. I drew up maps of its lands. I sketched all of the main characters. It took me so long working on it that the project kept changing. It was a novel called Lies of the Machine that has now been a dormant epic for years. Maybe someday I can finish it. Currently, my only fiction projects I’ve ever finished are two short stories called I laid a stone to reason and the Bamboo Man, and a novella called the Last Stitch Goes Through the Nose. The last fiction project I was working on was based on ancient folklore from around the world and would’ve followed a female knight being impregnated with what was believed to be a descendant of Christ and subsequently pursued by the church and by the barbarians.

Anyhow, all that to say my dream job would be to write for a living, mostly I’ve dreamed about being a novelist. I think I’d personally define success as being able to support my family doing what I love to do, in this case writing, and still having a little extra disposable income on the side. I’m actually not that driven of a person in most other areas of life, but writing is one thing that I’ve really been able to enjoy. It’s helped influence other opportunities in my life such as teaching and preaching. When I found that I couldn’t finish large fiction projects, I decided I’d try blogging to lend myself manageable bits that I could definitely finish, as well as more experience in writing as a craft. Since we’re both aspiring novelists, what are some of the ideas you’d put forth into a novel?

TONY: I have to say that I’d definitely read something called Lies of the Machine, and your other titles pique my interest! I hope you’ll keep up with the writing because I think your site is a terrific testament to your love of the craft.

I also appreciate your definition of success as that’s something that should really only be defined by the individual and what they choose their priorities in life to be. Having your first novel become a number one bestseller might be considered success, but success could also be something that’s usually seen as more ordinary. I’m someone who has suffered depression in adolescence and adulthood, so sometimes even getting out of bed in the morning has been a kind of success.

I guess when all’s said and done, ‘success’ is maybe little more than a glorified social construct. When you put it to one side, perhaps what you’re left with is the mundane, day-to-day business of making choices. It’s not as glamorous and sexy as success, I suppose, but perhaps it’s more concrete and real. And I think this is exactly the kind of thing I would want to write about in a novel because I don’t think it gets talked about enough. Of course, anything I write would have to have a magical realist bent and feature unicorns. Oh, hang on, that’s Crumble Cult.

Okay. I’ve always wanted to write a novel that features some kind of giant mythology. And by that, I don’t mean a mythology that’s larger than life, I mean a mythology about giants. Ha ha! Hm. Yeah. I think I got a bit carried away there…

WELL-RED MAGE: Success can be measured in so many different ways, and there are big and small goals one can set for oneself. You’ve already shared quite a sizable portion of wisdom but in conclusion: What would you like to say to an entire universe of writers and bloggers by way of wise encouragement and inspiration? No pressure, haha!

TONY: I struggle with giving advice. I’m just not the right guy to come to for that. What works for me wouldn’t necessarily work for others, and vice versa. And, who knows, perhaps I’m doing everything the wrong way? Me giving advice would be like the blind giving directions to the sighted.

And, at the end of the day, others would do well to listen less to me and do more of what they, in their heart of hearts, know they really want to do. Oh, there you go. A bit of inadvertent advice there, I suppose? Follow your heart. It may sometimes lead you astray but at least it’s more honest than cold, unfeeling, bloody-minded intellect. And on that flat note, thanks for chatting with me, sir. It’s been an honour and a privilege!

WELL-RED MAGE: Squeezed out that inadvertent advice anyways! In talking with you I can assure you that one of the things I really like about you is your humility. Thank you so much for taking the time to craft such thoughtful answers. I really appreciated our discussion! An honor and a privilege indeed! End transmission.

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COMFY CONFABS // Tony Single

Hullo, Dear Reader. Guess what? I got talked into being the second interviewee for my brand new, ongoing feature, Comfy Confabs. The interviewer being the interviewed?! How on Cthulhu’s sweet, barren earth did that happen? Well, I’ll tell you how… It’s all the fault of one Candice Daquin, and if you don’t know who she is then you really need to edjumacate yourself at The Feathered Sleep. Okay, go. Go now! Go and have your eyes opened and your mind exploded. I’m serious! I’ll be here when you get back.

Right, got all that? Good. So, anyways, I approached Candice to be the focus of this second interview, but instead of a yes I got an offer to be interviewed by her instead. “You’ll be more interesting!” she said. “But I’m a career hack!” I protested. She was having none of it, so I folded rather more easily than a deck chair at a conflict resolution symposium…

All joking aside, I am rather pleased with the outcome. Not only have I shared dialogue with a writer of Candice’s calibre, but the resulting Q&A even makes it seem like I’m not a total and utter narcissistic halfwit—pretentious maybe, and a bit of a tool, but still…

CANDICE: Were you always an artist? Did you used to do something before that? If so, when did you decide to devote yourself more toward your art and networking your work for others to see?

TONY: I’ve been drawing since I could hold a crayon, so I feel like I’ve never not been an artist. I was even creating comic strips all the way through my school years, so by the time I was accepted into art college the idea of trying to be a professional cartoonist felt like the next logical step to me. However, my life since then has consisted of being equal parts job seeker, house husband, and struggling artist.

CANDICE: What do you recall as your original inspiration when you began to draw more for others to appreciate? What message if any did you want to convey the most?

TONY: I don’t really recall much to be honest. I do remember Charles Schulz’s Peanuts strip featuring quite prominently in my childhood. I adored its many characters (and still do), and very much aspired to do something in the same vein. As for messages, I don’t think I had any in mind at that age—only an idea that I wished to live out a creative life.

CANDICE: Do you consciously impart messages in your work or do you think they are interpreted by the viewer?

TONY: I believe it’s a bit of both. The older I get, the more I find what I want to say, and so I’ll layer this into whatever I create. However, no one likes to be preached at, so I’ll try to find an indirect way to impart that meaning, a way that gives the reader credit for having their own mind and take on things. Of course, whatever I put out there does often get interpreted in ways that I cannot possibly anticipate, but this is no bad thing. All it means is that people aren’t being passive, that they’re actively engaging with my work, and that makes me happy.

CANDICE: Does your hearing-loss factor in the choices you make artistically?

TONY: Such an interesting question. No one has ever asked me this before! If my hearing-loss is any factor at all then it would have to be in the way I try to write dialogue. I am constantly striving to make my characters sound as naturalistic as possible (not easy to do within the silence of the page). I want their stresses, intonations, and turns of phrase to mimic what I will often hear in everyday conversations.

CANDICE: When did you begin to combine your ability as a writer/poet with your art? Do you feel more confident in one genre than another?

TONY: As a cartoonist, I’ve always combined my writing with my art. I do find it difficult to draw a standalone image as it often feels like there’s no story present. I tend to be more comfortable working with a sequence of images; it’s a less static approach that’s conducive to driving narrative or some overall message. If there’s one thing I like more than writing or drawing alone, it’s putting those two things together to tell a story.

CANDICE: If you had endless options, what would you choose to do with your art? Would you like to be a comic-artist, a graphic-novelist? Or something else?

TONY: When I was young, my goal was to write and draw a famous comic strip, just like my hero Charles Schulz. That changed. What I’m doing now with Crumble Cult actually plays to my strengths as a cartoonist, and far more so than the newspaper format ever would have. It’s emotionally fulfilling in a way that a gag strip could never be for me. Still, as a creative, I can’t say that I’ve ‘arrived’. My next big challenge is to write and draw my first graphic novel, and I want to do this in Ukraine. I have no idea how I can make this happen, but I sure aim to.

CANDICE: If you weren’t you and you didn’t know you, and you saw your art what would you think of the person behind it?

TONY: God. Again with the interesting questions! I find this difficult to answer as I’m often wondering what people make of me anyway (could someone tell me?). I’m constantly striving to get personal with my comics, to bare my all, and yet I use them to hide myself at the same time. It’s weird, I know. I guess I just like to confound people’s expectations.

CANDICE: Whom are your biggest influences both historically and in more recent times and why?

TONY: There’s the aforementioned Mr. Schulz. His Peanuts strip has always appealed to my whimsical and melancholic natures, as have the works of Tove Jansson. I grew up reading her Moomintroll books, and they were fanciful but in an extraordinarily mundane, grounded way. Then there was the Osamu Tezuka comics that possessed a certain kineticism which I very much admired. And they had a rather pleasing pulp fiction sensibility too; for me, Adolf and Astroboy will always be his definitive works. Oh, and Rumiko Takahashi’s Maison Ikkoku was another influence. That story was romantic, down-to-earth, very very funny, and humane. I’m also seeing an abundance of that last quality in Love and Rockets by the Hernandez Bros. That’s a more recent influence I suppose, but no way in hell will I ever reach those giddy heights of masterful storytelling. Not with my own paltry efforts. Still, I love what I do, so I can try.

CANDICE: You mentioned wanting to do a graphic novel (so glad you said that, this interviewer always felt this was your destiny, jus sayin’!) but also ‘in Ukraine’ meaning you want to write / draw it in Ukraine or in Ukrainian? Can you elaborate on this and explain to the readers where this momentum began and why? (I think I know!)

TONY: I think you do too! I once asked my writing partner Tetiana Aleksina about her home country, and she challenged me to simply go there and pay her a visit. Her feeling was that it would be better for me to experience Ukraine firsthand rather than simply hear about it from afar. That’s when I had the idea to turn this potential trip into a story that I could tell in the graphic novel format, and so I’ve been obsessed with the idea ever since. Plus, it would just be a cool thing to hang out with someone that I love and admire very much! I plan to make it happen. Again, I don’t know how, but I will.

CANDICE: What influence has your writing collaborator Tetiana Aleksina had on your work and how do you feel she has influenced your direction?

TONY: I was floundering creatively before Tati came along, and that’s the truth. I don’t know where I’d be today if it weren’t for her timely intervention. The width and breadth of her imagination is the one thing that shone through when I first encountered her blog, and so I very quickly became a fan. And as I got to know Tati through our collaborations thereafter, I came to realise she was someone I very much wanted to work with on a permanent basis. With much trepidation, I asked her if I could, and luckily for me she said yes! And in all the time since, I’ve come to see just how meticulous Tati is with her endeavours. Everything counts for her; nothing gets wasted. Things are worth doing properly or not at all. Not many bloggers seem to have this perfectionist drive, and so I’ve really come to value her professional approach and attention to detail. I’m forced to lift my game—to strive for my absolute best—and this clearly is no bad thing. As a result, we now have many projects in the pipeline, and aim to make them all come to fruition.

CANDICE: If you could fast-forward ten years where would you like to be in terms of creative output and accomplishment?

TONY: I would like my wife and I to be living abroad, and for me to be working alongside Tati in person. That’s the dream. We want to bring out more books, to complete our first novel, and maybe even tackle a graphic novel together too. The sky’s the limit. We just have to be foolish enough to reach for it!

CANDICE: What subjects most influence your perspective as an artist and why?

TONY: Religion and mental health are two huge subjects in my life, so they tend to crop up in my work a lot. After suffocating in a Baptist church environment for nearly twenty years, I realised that I needed to get out and truly be myself for once. I’d also given up on the idea of a loving god by this point, and was feeling tremendous guilt about that—I felt like a heretic and a failure as a human being. There were also lingering questions from my youth regarding my sexuality and self-identity that were still not going away, that could not be adequately addressed the longer I stayed in such an emotionally and intellectually toxic subculture. I felt stained and stunted. I needed to escape. Add ongoing anxiety and depression to the mix, and you can see why I write and draw the things I do. I have to.

CANDICE: What role do you think you play as an artist in terms of being a ‘truth’ bearer to subjects most close to your heart and what subjects would you include? (Example; This interviewer holds mental-health and gender close to her heart and incorporates them into her work often.)

TONY: The more I follow my current path, the more I find what I want to explore in terms of themes. Of course, there’s the aforementioned religious and mental health issues, but I’m now branching out into other areas such as sexual identity and gender politics, and finding that there’s quite a bit of crossover. Actually, it’s shocking to note just how much church and society have framed my thinking in general, and in ways that are less than helpful, that quite frankly fly in the face of reality. Back in my church days I tried to cleave to some pretty dangerous ideas dressed up as piousness and a sacrificial love for mankind, but really… I was only robbing myself of the ability to empathise with others while at the same time deliberately taking leave of my senses. One particular issue seemed to crop up again and again amongst my peers: homosexuality. God and his ‘chosen ones’ were disturbingly obsessed with that, and sought to box it up as something which was ‘aberrant’ and ‘evil’. This kind of bigotry troubled me as I’d always believed that homosexuals were as normal as anyone, but I never had the guts to challenge the church’s prejudice head on. At the time, I was more invested in gaining total acceptance from my fellow Christians than in pursuing a form of ethical honesty. So, yes, I now incorporate such concerns and themes into my works as often as possible. It’s kind of my duty, and I have a lot to atone for.

CANDICE: Thank you for your time answering these questions. As long as I have had the fortune to know you as an artist, I have found you to be a continual inspiration, but I also know you personally to be very modest and unaware of the impact you have upon others. Do you think this came about from your life thus far? Have you felt working in this creative community and especially with your creative partner Tati, that you have begun to shed your modesty and become fully the creative person you wanted to be? Do you see this as a process of transformation? I say this because in the last year I see a shift in the courage of your work delving deeper into issues and subjects that matter to you with more willingness to ‘go there’ than say, before.

TONY: Oh, Candice, you’ve always been very kind to me. I wish I truly was modest. The reality is that I possess a massive ego, and it offends me. Seriously, I must have an overinflated sense of self if I’m trying to tear that down on a constant basis! If I was truly humble, I wouldn’t even be thinking about myself in the first place. As for the impact I have on others, I’m always worried that it will be a bad one, so I find I overcompensate and try not to have an impact at all. I know—messed up or what? I’ve always suspected that I’m not being totally honest with myself, which is why I write and draw. I just want to get closer to the truth of me—whatever that may be—so the creative process is very much an act of attempted transformation. It’s taken me a long time to ‘go there’, to work up the courage (or foolishness?) to tackle issues and subjects that I personally still find very painful. I also hope I don’t end up fashioning a narrative for my life that’s dishonest, or a narrative that paints me as some blameless, long-suffering saint, a narrative that fools even me. How do you stay true to something like that? I’ve no idea.

© All rights reserved 2017

GUEST POST // Cocktail Molly Interviews Tony Single

COCKTAIL MOLLY: How do you define yourself artistically?

TONY SINGLE: I’m definitely a cartoonist. I don’t think I could be anything else really. While I’m quite capable of drawing in a more realistic style, aesthetically speaking I much prefer to play with the pulp sensibility of comics. It’s what my heart has always responded to, and ever since I was a child I knew that this was what I wanted to do with my life. And besides, I like words too. You get the best of both worlds with comics.

COCKTAIL MOLLY: Tell the readers of about Crumble Cult & how it came in to existence?

TONY SINGLE: Crumble Cult is an introspective, semi-autobiographical, magical realist tale about Ernest Crumb, a forty-something year old guy who so far has drifted through life with little to no purpose. He comes to a point where he must do something, anything, to kick-start himself into engaging with the world again, and so he sets off on a road trip of the heart. This comic has a dash of humour, some existential pondering, and unicorns.

As to how it came into existence, Crumble Cult grew out of a need to write and draw a comic that was… well, a true reflection of who I am. I felt that my previous works hadn’t done this to any meaningful degree, so I went into this project with the intention of making it my most personal yet. Hopefully I’ve achieved that to some extent as I feel it’s pleasingly idiosyncratic, something that only I and I alone could have dreamt up in the first place.

COCKTAIL MOLLY: Who has influenced you the most artistically?

TONY SINGLE: I have many influences actually, and they’re all cartoonists. Tove Jansson’s Moomintroll books were a staple when I was growing up. I also enjoyed Peyo’s Smurf comics, Morris’s Lucky Luke, Goscinny and Uderzo’s Asterix, and Hergé’s Tintin. There was Murray Ball’s Footrot Flats as well as Watterson’s Calvin and Hobbes as I grew older. Rumiko Takahashi’s Maison Ikkoku, Osamu Tezuka’s Astro Boy, and Hayao Miyazaki’s Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind came later on. I also greatly admire the works of Michael Leunig, Adrian Tomine and Eddie Campbell, and am currently reading through the amazing Love and Rockets series by the Hernandez brothers.

Really, the list is kinda endless BUT I guess the biggest creative influence in my life so far has been Charles Schulz’s Peanuts strip. There was a deep level of humanness and, dare I say, a certain undercurrent of melancholy in his words and lines that I’d never encountered before. It was truly the definition of idiosyncratic and also quite simply a thing of minimalist beauty. No one but Schulz could have produced this comic, and I absolutely adore it to bits. I always will.

COCKTAIL MOLLY: I know that you have the comic strip and the podcast for it, are you interested in moving Crumble Cult into an animated project for wider viewership or are you content with providing the project for a coterie of loyal followers?  My aim in this question is what are your goals for the project Crumble Cult?

TONY SINGLE: Animation of any kind is typically a huge undertaking, even for a large production studio, so I have absolutely no intention of turning Crumble Cult into a cartoon film or TV project any time soon. It would be grand to see my characters walk and talk but I need to be realistic in that I probably don’t have the will or means to make it happen. Also, I kinda like the idea that Crumble Cult can only exist as a comic. I feel it’s a story that’s suited to being told in this way and no other. And this is hopefully another thing that will set it apart from everything else out there.

Regarding goals, I intend to release this strip in a series of print collections some time soon. While it has primarily always been a webcomic, there’s something about the tactile nature of turning a page that cannot be beat. I don’t tend to read other creators’ webcomics for this very reason. I much prefer to curl up with an actual paper volume and lose myself in their comics that way. I’m hoping that folks will feel similarly about Crumble Cult. I think what I do could be perfect for print.

COCKTAIL MOLLY: What other things are you involved in creatively?

TONY SINGLE: I run Unbolt Me with the obscenely gifted and patient Tetiana Aleksina (or Tati, or Teti, whichever name her friends are most comfortable with), so that’s a full time job in and of itself. I’m also prepping an illustrated poetry collection with her, and we have a number of other writing projects in the pipeline. We’re determined to see these all through to completion no matter what. Tati has even been scripting some Crumble Cult strips for me, so those have been quite fun to draw.

I also make art for Tony Single, my online portfolio, and I take black and white pictures for my photo blog, Once More, With Foreboding. Oh, and last but not least I contribute the odd illustration and text piece to a community blog called Hijacked Amygdala every fortnight. It’s a group of talented and crazy writers, artists and photographers who’ve decided to band together to create an online presence. There’s a lot of brilliant stuff going on over there so I would definitely encourage your readers to check them out. Creatively speaking, it’s all go!

COCKTAIL MOLLY: I know you are involved with assisting in the Unbolt project as well. Would you mind explaining to readers your involvement & how it came into fruition with your partner Teti Aleksina?

TONY SINGLE: I don’t remember how I even stumbled upon Unbolt Me in the first place but I’m glad I did. Unbolt Me is Tati’s brainchild. It wouldn’t exist if not for her, and quite frankly I was captivated from the moment I started reading. I think I spent the first few weeks poring through every post and leaving the occasional comment. It was at this point that she visited Crumble Cult and did the same, and so we soon began to communicate via email on an almost daily basis. I admired Tati’s work so much that I eventually decided to ask if she’d like to run a blog together, and that’s when she invited me to come aboard with Unbolt Me instead. So I did. And I haven’t looked back. Working with Tati is a dream!

COCKTAIL MOLLY: Also, you and Ms. Aleksina have collaborated on a book.  Would you mind sharing with readers your experience with that endeavor?

TONY SINGLE: Yes, that’s Mooreeffoc. It’s a project that grew out of a short prose trilogy that Tati and I collaborated on. Putting it together as an eBook and releasing it on Amazon was entirely her idea. In fact, an overwhelming number of ideas in the story itself were also hers. I won’t give away the plot but it should be noted that Mooreeffoc wouldn’t be half the cracking read it is were it not for Tati’s considerable input. She has an insatiable creative drive, and she doesn’t settle for dross. We’re similar that way. We also like to push our ideas as far as we think they can possibly go. It’s a privilege to be her writing partner, I can tell you, and it’s one I don’t intend to squander.

COCKTAIL MOLLY: How has your homeland influenced you artistically?

TONY SINGLE: Not overmuch, I would say. At least, that’s how I perceive it. Of course, there may be cultural things that poke through from time to time that I’m simply not seeing, but they’d need to be pointed out to me. When all’s said and done, I don’t consider myself to be particularly patriotic. I’m not so sure I’d even be willing to go to war for my country as I believe no nation is worth more than the individual lives that populate it. Nationalistic identity doesn’t trump personal identity for me, nor should it ever. Frankly, I feel I have more in common with Tati in Ukraine than I do with my own countrymen. Souls connect regardless of race or creed. That’s what I’ve always found.

COCKTAIL MOLLY: What is next for Tony Single?

TONY SINGLE: Ha ha. Watch this space. Even I don’t know, but it’ll be fun finding out.

© All rights reserved 2016