In commemoration of yesterday’s holiday, I’m finally returning to my Couple-Creators series of interviews, featuring this time Shannon and Dean Hale who recently came out with their second comic book together, Calamity Jack.
Theric: In the past, in this interview series, both members of the marriage have had clearly defined artistic lives. But I think that few people were aware Dean had a way with words before he was announced as co-author of Rapunzel’s Revenge. So, Shannon, tell us a bit about Dean the writer.
(And then, if alterations are needed, we’d better let Dean make them.)
Shannon: Dean is a wit, in the very classic sense, no question. His email subject lines alone are publishable. His problem is he’s too good at too many things, so he was never forced to just write, as I was. So I’m the Motivator, and Dean gets swept up in my steamroller force.
Dean: I think she probably meant to say I’m a classical “twit,” as in “a weak or thin place in yarn caused by uneven spinning.” Also, love the steamroller. Except when I want to play video games.
Theric: Rapunzel’s Revenge did well enough to warrant a sequel (though I get the sense that the sequel was sold before book one was published, yes?) and it’s wracked up awards including an ALA 2009 Notable Children’s Book award, a YALSA 2009 Great Graphic Novel for Teens award, the 2009 Leah Adezio Award For Most Kid-Friendly Work, and–most impressive to me as a comics guy–an Eisner Award nomination. And I have to compliment you both. As far I knew when I read it, neither of you had any comics experience, yet you knew how to use the panels, everything was well paced–you nailed it. Coming into the project, were you confident you could really make it fly?
Dean: No, not at all. I was a naysayer about the project up until, and including, today. I wanted to do it, I thought we *could* do it, but I didn’t think anyone would like it. Or buy it.
Shannon: When we first wanted to do the project, children’s book publishers weren’t publishing graphic novels. I thought we’d have to pitch to the impenetrable walls of DC and Marvel. It was a shock when I just mentioned the project to my editor at Bloomsbury and she was interested. Once we started writing, though, I had a lot of confidence in the story, and once we saw Nate’s art I reached the point of “anyone would have to be insane not to love this!” Dean and I balance each other well.
Theric: Have you two worked on creative projects before? And if so, what was it like?
Shannon: Well . . . there’s the children . . .
Dean: Yes, the children. An ongoing project that may yet succeed or fail spectacularly. Frankly, I think Rapunzel and Jack have gone the smoothest of all our collaborations. Our experience building IKEA furniture together is better left unmentioned. So…cut that last line, I guess.
Theric: Needing a third person to draw the Rapunzel comics (the no-relation Nathan Hale)–easy? awkward?
Dean: Initially unfortunate, because it reminded me of the fact that the artistic talent I have wanted all my life has yet to materialize. Once we started working with Nate, though, it was great.
Shannon: Nate was breezy beautiful. And his wife Mindy did the lettering, so there’s another husband-wife team of collaborators! But once we wrote the script, our part was over and the story was in Nate’s hands, so there wasn’t any confusion or husband-juggling, so to speak. Dean and I had to work together, but then we got to sit back and just appreciate what Nate did.
Theric: Speaking of working with other people. I always have to ask creative parents how they share this passion with their kids. So . . . how do you involve your kids in creation? (Or, at the very least, keep from neglecting them?)
Shannon: Oh, we neglect them. I find if you lock them in a closet with a bag of marshmallows, they find ways to entertain (and feed) themselves.
Dean: And every time I try to question that parenting style, Shannon always shouts “if it was good enough for me and my sisters, it’s good enough for my kids!”
All I’m saying is that we should at least put a TV in the closet or something.
Shannon: When they deserve it. Yeah, so, our three-year-old has been pretty self-absorbed for the past three years, but our six-year-old is very aware of the books we write. He loves to write his own little books and illustrate them. Or we play “Picture-Word” (his title), which means Dean or I write the words to a little book and Max illustrates, or vice-versa. He loves it. He couldn’t care less about our being published authors. He’s like, Yeah, I write books too, big deal.
Theric: It seems to me that the act of creation is particularly Mormon in the sense that Creators is what we intend to be someday. In that sense, how does your faith reflect your work?
Dean: I don’t know . . . I feel that creation is really the act of wringing order out of chaos, making something that is inexplicably greater than the sum of its parts just by being organized by a conscious hand. Any time you succeed at that, whether publicly or privately, I think you get closer to your true potential as a human being and a child of God.
Shannon: Whatever, he sounds so intellectual and deep, but he actually wrote “the some of its parts” before I corrected his typo. But I agree with everything he said. Go honey.
Theric: How would you describe the relationship between faith, art and spouse?
Shannon: It’s all mashed up together, isn’t it? Faith is the underlying current of everything I believe and it affects all I do, consciously or not. Family is my life and reason to keep chugging along. Art is the expression to keep myself from going crazy and to create connections with others.
Dean: What she said. I probably would have left out the “connections with others,” though. Four connections is about my max.
Shannon: Dean gives “recluse” the style and class it has long been missing.
Theric: You didn’t start off married life as Eisner nominees. How have your successes affected your relationship with each other?
Dean: Not much. I’ve always thought Shannon deserved awards and recognition. I just don’t think she deserves all the curtsies she makes me do.
Shannon: Only when I’m wearing my tiara. I don’t think anything has changed much. I’m happier when I’m doing what I love, and so is he, but we’ve known each other for 21 years so publishing books doesn’t affect the big picture of our relationship.
Theric: Has success altered relationships with other people in your lives?
Shannon: Oh, I think “success” is a fancy word. We just write books because we enjoy it and have to in order to maintain sanity. I think my parents and siblings are pretty nonplussed by the whole thing, and old friends are old friends no matter what. It’s only ever awkward with new acquaintances.
Dean: And since I spend most of my energy avoiding making any new acquaintances, all seems to be status quo.
Theric: What advice would you offer married couples embarking on creative endeavors together?
Dean: Make someone the boss. Not the “in perpetuity” kind, but decide beforehand who gets final word on that specific project. Or, if you can break the thing up into different pieces, make sure who is the “champion” of each of those pieces. You’ll probably end up with fewer bite-wounds that way.
Shannon: Any guesses on who was the Boss in our companionship?
Theric: No. And don’t make me. Let’s just wrap up with some recent events: The sequel to Rapunzel’s Revenge just came out. Calamity Jack. Please. Plug it.
Shannon: Well, you know, it’s probably the single most important piece of art to be published in 2010, and I don’t think it’s going too far to say it will forever change the lives of all who open its brilliantly illustrated covers and perhaps save humankind. Wouldn’t you agree, honey?
Dean: Oh yes. It’s also a handy tool to see if you have a soul or not. If you read it and discover it not to your liking, you’ll know that you are naught but an empty husk. Try it on your friends!