TED MATHOT: WILD WEST STORYTELLER
Welcome to Noteworthy. I’m Will Scott and it’s my job to highlight projects, publications, and artists that Sequential Highway believes, due to the quality of their work or the creative message they’re sending, warrant more attention from the comic book market. This installment: Ted Mathot
I first came across Ted Mathot while visiting The Drawing Board, an online forum where both professionals and novices post art and promote their latest projects. In its glory days, many of the The Drawing Board’s members were among the most talented comic book artists, illustrators and animators in the world.
What appealed to me about Ted’s work was the cinematic quality of his storytelling. I could see that he was a student of film, and eagerly awaited any new posting from him.
A friend then presented me with Ted’s entire output, Rose and Isabel and Cora Part 1 and Cora Part 2. I enjoyed each novel and noted Ted’s continual growth as a storyteller. With each volume he has matured, explored new ideas and reached for new goals. The only frustrating part about following Ted’s comic book work is the rate at which new he releases new material. Due to his demanding day job (more on that below) Ted publishes his books on a when-he-can basis. Year-long (or more) gaps between his novels is not uncommon, but well worth the wait. Cora Part 3 is due out later this year.
Ted is a highly accomplished member of the animation community. He has worked as a storyboard artist on Monsters Inc., The Incredibles, Cars, Presto, Wall•E and Ratatouille, for which he won an Annie Award.
Will Scott: How did you decide to self-publish?
Ted Mathot: Sometime in the early 2000s, I was walking around the convention center at SDCC [San Diego Comic-Con] and it seemed there was a big self-publishing boom going on with a lot of my friends and colleagues, several of whom were working at Pixar at the time. I had been drawing comics since I was a little kid so I figured, why not jump in the pool with everyone else? A group of us at Pixar formed a group to pitch our ideas to each other – kind of like a support group – since it was the first time self-publishing for most of us. We all went in together. We self-published and exhibited with our books in 2005.
WS: As far as I understand, you have no formal distribution for the English language versions of your work. You sell directly from your website, yes? Has it been difficult keep a float or have you found strong support for your books?
TM: Yes. I sell directly from the site, at conventions, and through a small number of retail shops. Luckily I don’t need book sales to support myself since I work full time in animation. It’s a labor of love.
WS: You have achieved what a lot of writers and artists dream of – your work has been translated into another language. How did your French publisher, Akileos, find out about your comics and how have both Rose and Isabel and Cora been received in Europe?
TM: It was a surprise. The Akileos editors, Richard and Emmanuel, saw my work and liked it enough to contact me. We had a meeting in my booth at Comic-Con and off we went. It’s difficult being a new artist in another country – the BD [bande dessinée] market in France is massive and there are a lot exceptional artists and writers releasing books there. I’m just happy to be part of it. I also have a sketchbook that was published by Comix Buro in France. I was recommended to them by a good friend and they let me do a book for them.
WS: Both of your titles, Rose and Isabel and Cora, feature strong female characters whose stories are interrelated. Please explain to our readers who the main characters are, the crux of their journeys, and why you were drawn to female lead characters.
TM: Rose and Isabel are the daughters of the Callaghan family of Virginia, and are physically gifted in all that is martial. When their brothers go missing while fighting for the Union army during the American Civil War in 1864, Rose and Isabel take it upon themselves to leave home (against their father’s orders), trusting their innate abilities to protect them. What they come to realize is that the women of the Callaghan family tree have an especially violent history, which manifests itself during their journey and pits them against one another.
CORA is Isabel’s daughter, who has her own related story that begins in 1888 in the American West. It’s a sequel to the story told in Rose & Isabel.
I’m drawn to female protagonists mostly because I don’t see a lot of good ones out there. Also, the Civil War story wouldn’t have been the same with male characters – women were not allowed to fight and many suited up and went undercover to fight alongside their brothers, husbands and fathers. There are already stakes before the real conflict begins, which is the actual fighting of the war. Then there is the emotional conflict between the two. It all seemed to make for a good dramatic set-up.
WS: Do you feel a particular affinity with the past, especially the American West?
TM: Absolutely. I read a lot of history. I just recently finished the Oxford History of the United States. It’s amazing and compelling stuff. The American West, too, has a
mystique that’s all its own. I’m looking forward to getting into that more as the Cora story moves forward.
WS: Your day job is at Pixar. What position do you hold?
TM: I’m a storyboard supervisor.
WS: How do your balance your job with your comic book work? It must be exhausting.
TM: Discipline! And fear is a great motivator. I set my “go to print” date, and schedule backwards from there. The print date is usually set for a major show, so I’m forced to get the book done. I keep a schedule of how many pages have to be done each day in order to stay on track. I also set limits on what I’m allowed to do. If I can’t get a drawing exactly the way I want it, I move on and if time permits I come back to it later. I made a list of other rules for the first book to keep me from falling too far behind (which sometimes happens and I end up working seven days a week). The current book CORA 3 has to be done by early September to go to print in France for a show in October.
WS: How do you approach your work? What tools of the trade do you use?
TM: My work is all digital. I use Photoshop and a Cintiq 21UX.
WS: Who are some of your influences?
TM: They’re pretty diverse but all have affected me in some way or another. A few of them are John Romita, Ross Andru, Jack Kirby, Chuck Jones, Bob Clampett, Norman Rockwell, John Byrne, Terry Austin, Dave Stewart, Hayao Miyazaki, Brad Bird, Mike Mignola, Stanley Kubrick, Alex Raymond, Walt Stanchfield, Gilbert and Jaime Hernandez, James Wong Howe, John Ford, Scott McCloud…the list goes on and on. Most importantly though, I gotta say, my folks. They’re both artists and were incredibly inspiring and supportive of me. I wouldn’t be where I am without them.
WS: How have you evolved as a sequential storyteller since your first volume of Rose and Isabel?
TM: I like to think I’ve evolved. It’s been a tremendous learning experience since the first volume. I’m trying to be more economical in my storytelling – the storyboard artist in me is at times an asset and at times a detriment. In film language: back-to-back over-the-shoulder shots don’t look good next to each other in comics. I’m trying to wean myself off of instincts like that one that come naturally while storyboarding. I still have a lot to learn, and I can only do that by making more books.
WS: Is there anything you would like our readers to know about your website and about ordering your comics?
TM: Nothing other than check ‘em out!