GREG ANDERSON-ELYSEE: Welcome to (Heard It Thru) The Griotvine! It's great having you here, Walter Ostlie!
WALTER OSTLIE: Thanks for inviting me, can't wait to chat it up with you. I had to look up "Griot" by the way.
GREG: Ha! And what did you discover about "Griot"? I've a feeling there's a few readers who have yet to even research the word!
WALTER: From what I get, it's basically the bard of West African culture?
GREG: Yes. A bard exactly. Griots are traveling storytellers in West Africa who pass down tales orally, whether its poems, songs, folklore, etc. Can you tell us a bit about yourself?
WALTER: I'm just a dude that likes to tell stories. I started off as a singer in an industrial metal band. From there, I moved on to screenplay writing. It was then that I discovered thumb nailing. That rekindled my love of comics. So I started to teach myself to draw, several years later, here we are.
GREG: So I invited you over to educate us a little bit about Shiver Bureau.
WALTER: Shiver Bureau is my playground; it's my toy chest. It gives me the ability to let me imagination just run wild. I guess that doesn't really tell you what it's about. It takes place in our world, if our world was overrun with ghosts. Ghosts, or shivers, can no longer pass over to the 'other side', so they are trapped here. Some are peaceful, but a lot aren't. That's where the Shiver Bureau comes in. The Bureau is made up of this rare group of people called Inspectres. They have the ability to pass the shivers. Not everyone trusts the Shiver Bureau and that is when Inspectre Pickle shows up. It's a roller coaster ride after that. It's action, mystery, comedy layered in gothic punk style...or something catchy cool like that.
GREG: Now how long have you been working on Shiver? What was the initial concept and how has it developed over time?
WALTER: The original idea germinated just over 7 years ago, which is really crazy to think about. Originally it was just about two hack ghost hunters, Pickle and Todd. That was the original name as well, "Pickle and Todd." Pickle was just a random name I came up with because I have an obsession with green and gave the original Pickle a green tie. Eventually that turned into green hair and then green eyes. It started out very "low budget," it was a smaller focused story. Pickle and Todd dealt with simple house spirits. Eventually I just fell in love with the characters and wanted to tell a bigger story. That's when Trish showed up. I realized I was only writing male characters and needed to change it up cause it was a little silly to only have dudes in my story.
GREG: Ah nice. As a writer myself, I have had to sorta check myself when realizing I didn't add as much females in my work so I'd make an effort to change that. Did you find any difficulty in trying to find Trish's voice? I do think she's hilarious when paired with Pickle.
WALTER: I focus more on the personality then the gender or race of a character. I am able to write a personality type. I think at the end of the day we are all people, we all have our quirks, so that is how I write. Also, Shiver Bureau at its core is an adventure story, not a social commentary, so I have way more wiggle room. I do try to be aware of stereotypes and the potential social reaction to what I write, but I haven't really ran into anything like that yet.
GREG: So Inspectre Pickle. He's one snarky bastard. What came to mind when creating him?
WALTER: I'm a bit of an ass. Hah. I dunno, it is just really fun to write. I think with Pickle though, even though he's snarky, he always says it in such a way that implies the joke could really be on him. That's what makes him work and not be a complete piece of crap. Pickle is very inspired by Sherlock Holmes and Gambit of the X-Men. Pickle's black and green eyes are a big nod to Gambit.
GREG: Can you tell us about his supporting cast?
WALTER: I am reluctant to call Trish a supporting character. I think she started off that way, but the story wouldn't work without her there. Pickle would be a failure without her. That is why Pickle works so hard to get her back on board after pissing her off. Now Mr. Todd, he's just fun to have there. I love the idea of characters that go against their type cast. Mr. Todd is this huge, bulky dude, but he's a pacifist. He's the super intelligent one of the group. His kindred spirit would be Donatello of TMNT. Hah, now that I think of it, the 4 characters could totally be analogous to TMNT. Mr. Todd is Donatello, Oliver is Michelangelo.... Trish and Pickle would have to fight over who's Leo and Raph. I'm gonna have to think about that. Hah.
GREG: Sounds like a funny concept to play with. So you've set up the overall world of Shiver Bureau. Now what's going on when this book starts? What gets Pickles involved and how does his involvement change things?
WALTER: We start off the book with Pickle flying into London. It's his first day as head Inspectre of the London headquarters. He shows up to find the current head Inspectre, who happens to be Pickle's mentor, is sick and near death. It doesn't take the current head Inspectre long to die, but before he goes, he gives Pickle a dire warning. From there Pickle has to figure out the meaning of the warning while performing his daily Inspectre duties. He gathers up the team and heads on the roller coaster ride of mystery solving.
GREG: One thing I've noticed reading Shiver Bureau is that you don't really focus on back-stories for these characters. You set up the world and the situation and these characters are smacked right in the middle of the action. There's obviously a story involved but we get more of the characters' personalities due to their actions, interactions, and reactions. Was this a conscious decision?
WALTER: I have this huge pet peeve with back-story. I think it comes from having to see Superman's origin for the billionth time. We get it; he's an alien who grew up on a farm. Everyone knows. I swing pretty far in the other direction because of that. The story is more about what they are dealing with now. I think important elements will come out as they are needed, if they are needed. No one knows where Zeus came from and it doesn't matter, we all still understand Zeus. Of course, I have another pet peeve, which is almost the opposite. I hate when writers let the reader know there's a secret and everyone knows the secret, except the reader. That drives me mad. I almost expect the characters to wink at the camera after they say something. I also feel really stupid when that happens, because I am asking myself if I missed something and it takes me out of the story. Then you have to watch the entire crappy movie to figure out the secret and then the secret sucks. So I try not to do that either. If something is kept from the reader, it is kept from the characters and we all find out together. Obviously there are fine lines and shades of grey with all this, but the whole reason I started writing was because so many movies pissed me off on how annoying they were.
GREG: Makes me think of the most recent Mad Max. There wasn't much back-story but a lot was implied. What you think of it?
WALTER: I haven't seen the new Mad Max, so I can't really say. But everyone else seemed to love it. So that kind of proves my point. People aren't stupid. They can figure this stuff out.
GREG: There is an art to minimalist story telling, but there should be a balance. Then again, there are movies that people find complicated for no reason yet you and I bonded over like Prometheus (laughs).
WALTER: Right, Prometheus is a weird situation. I didn't find it confusing at all. Some of the character actions and motivations were stupid, but that's a horror movie. No one ever does the right thing in a horror movie. That's pretty much horror's bread and butter. The car broke down; forget waiting for a tow truck, lets walk into the woods.
GREG: Is Shiver Bureau filled with silly decision-making? I can see Pickle making fun of finding himself in clichés.
WALTER: Oh yea. There are clichés abound in Shiver Bureau. I love them. You just have to have fun with them as opposed to making it the cornerstone of the entire story.
GREG: Lets talk about your art. First thing I've noticed before we met was how energetic and dynamic your work was. What inspires you as an artist? From past to now?
WALTER: I never really though of myself as an artist, I always had friends who were way better then me. I was happy just to look at their art. Once I realized I wanted to write and draw my own stories, I really only wanted to be passable. If people could figure out what I had drawn, that would be good enough for me. Then it became an obsession; it may still be an obsession. I wanted to get better and be awesome. For a little while I wanted to be a Marvel artist. Then I started seeing artists like Ben Templesmith and Skottie Young, which made me realize I didn't have to be able to draw like Jim Lee to be a comic artist. They reminded me of Joanne Vasquez and how much I loved "Johnny The Homicidal Maniac" when I was a kid. So that really opened me up to drawing in more experimental styles. I am still really jealous of what a lot of artists can do. My mind is constantly blown away by the technical ability of Sean Murphy, Jim Lee, James Harren, Joe Mad... But the pure emotional impact of Skottie Young, Templesmith, Alexis Ziritt, Andrew MacLean and countless others just reminds of that art takes all shapes. There are just so many good artists out there that I found myself like different things every day.
GREG: What is your art process like?
WALTER: I tend to do a lot of my thumb nailing on the computer. It gives me more freedom to experiment. If I draw something bad, I can just delete it all. I don't have to worry about wasting paper or buying erasers. From there, I will print out the roughs and ink over them with pen and brush. I use the pen to ink the entire piece with a single line weight. I like doing that because I can add a bunch of fine details and just be really loose and rough with my inks. Once that is done, I will go back with a brush to add line weight and some energy to the page. Then I do an ink wash over the entire piece to add some texture and shadows.
Finally I scan it back into the computer and color it digitally. My coloring is also very loose. I'll quickly block flats, I don't color in the lines, and then color over that just using tones. My stuff tends to be pretty monochromatic. If I want the scene to be purple, I start with the entire page purple and begin to shift the color slightly for different object. For skin, I just lighten the purple till it feels like skin. It's a weird process but it works for me.
GREG: How has it changed from your previous book Cubicles to now?
WALTER: It is actually pretty much the same. I had a few growing pains with Cubicles, for instance I had to do the ink wash digitally. I was going to do it traditionally but I had printed out my blue lines too dark and they would have been visible if I did an ink wash. So that took some learning. Also Cubicles was black and white. The other difference was I penciled very rough for Cubicles, but I found myself wasting time by re-penciling pages. So for Shiver Bureau, I made sure that the pages had a tight pencil before I printed it for inking. I am way too insecure to pencil loose. Maybe one day.
GREG: Now did you originally want to produce Shiver Bureau as a web-comic?
WALTER: I knew I wanted to put it online from the start. It's what has always made sense to me. There is no barrier to admittance and I wanted to write a story for me. I didn't want to worry about if it was right for this publisher or that publisher. But I never wrote Shiver Bureau with the web-comic format in mind. Meaning the delay in page updates, different timing, etc. I just wrote it as a graphic novel because I always had the intention to print it as well. So it suffers a little as a web-comic because of that. Gag-a-day strips do the best as web-comics, because they are so easy to share. It's hard trying to share a 150 page graphic novel in 140 words or less.
GREG: Heh, did you get impatient fans and hate mail about taking so long with the book?
WALTER: Amazingly no. I am not sure if that is a bad thing. That could just mean I have no fans. Hah. Everyone was really cool about. I also took about 1.5 years off after I released chapter 2. So if people were going to be upset, it would have happened then. I think one person said they got tired of waiting, not sure if they ever came back. If you're out there, man, come back.
GREG: Beyond some of the delays, what have you found to be some of the biggest challenges producing this book and story?
WALTER: Just the amount of work is a challenge. Trying to juggle my 9-to-5; family and Shiver Bureau is tough. There are only so many hours in the day to work on Shiver and I also don't want to take 5 years to draw 200 pages. It takes a lot of discipline to make sure you make the time, even if you aren't really feeling it that day.
GREG: Any surprises while you were making this?
WALTER: It always feels great when someone leaves a comment that they love the characters or love the story. Of course it's what creators want to hear, but I guess it is still surprising when someone takes the time to say it. We spend so much being self critical that comments like that allow us to step back and react to the story in a fresh way. Plus I can't get enough ego stroking.
GREG: And now you're moving to finally getting in printed! What can you tell us about the Kickstarter?
WALTER: The Kickstarter is a newborn and needs your money to grow strong and healthy. This is my second Kickstarter, but it also feels like my first. My first one was about 8-9 years ago, which were the early days of Kickstarter. It's grown so much since then; it is a different game now. The amounts of money some of the projects bring in are overwhelming and a little daunting. So I am just trying to follow the basic model for graphic novel: digital copies, print copes, sketches, shirts, commissions, original art. I tried to keep it as streamlined as possible, simple reward tiers. I am sure I will be checking my email on a minute basis hoping for new backers.
GREG: Do you plan to try to get this book picked up by a publishing company or do you want to do it all yourself?
WALTER: I am not actively searching for publishers. I like doing stuff on my own. I don't have to wait, I can just do it. Now if a publisher approached me, had a good deal, then I'd totally be open to it. Selling a book is tough and if there is someone that wants to handle that piece of the puzzle for me, I'd gladly hand it off. I think it would be really important to see how much my hands would be tied. It's important for me to be able to do whatever I want to do, and if I am going to be limited at all, then I need to really think about the impact of that.
GREG: When this volume is collected, do you plan to do a bit more with Shiver Bureau or will this be a complete tale and you're on to your next world?
WALTER: There is 2 or 3 more volumes of Shiver to really put the story to bed. So those are on the schedule to get done. At the same time though, there are a lot of other stories I want to write. I have a few one-and-done graphic novel ideas and then I have another epic I want to tell. Who knows what I will be able to get to. Drawing is way too time consuming.
GREG: Any ideas for your next project we can squeeze out of you?
WALTER: The second volume of Shiver Bureau is going to continue with the gang digging more into the corruption of the bureau. It leads them to New Orleans. I'm hoping to introduce some magic and voodoo, zombies, etc. All that fun cliché New Orleans stuff. Other then that, I am not really sure what I can say about the other stories. I am very supernatural focused; so all my stories will have that flair to it.
GREG: Voodoo and zombies for next volume?! Despite my excitement, be prepared to have me inboxing you to harass you and complain about the usage of Voodoo! (Laughs)
WALTER: Yeah, I am going to research voodoo and find out what it is all about. Right now my knowledge is super limited and it is just a shortcut to something cooler to say then just magic. Cause when I think magic, it is like Penn and Teller. This is Shiver Bureau; magic is for real and powerful. The word voodoo is just so powerful; it invokes so many feels just by its mere utterance. I don't tend to research much, but I want to figure out what voodoo actually is so I don't come off as an ass. But if I do, I fully expect you to put me in my place.
GREG: Speaking of putting you in your place... You also do a bit of work for other creators/writers outside of your own? How different is the process? Are there pros and cons?
WALTER: The process is super different. It is similar to what I said about working with a publisher. I am so used to just making a choice and executing it. Working with a writer involves collaboration, changing views, waiting. The pro, hopefully, is a better product that you wouldn't be able to pull off on your own. Hopefully you also grow because you are pushed outside your comfort zone. The other tricky thing with collabs is finding the balance on opinion. Egos can be bruised, people get pissed, and the work suffers. So it is a lot more juggling. At the same time though, it is a little more relaxing. I can just draw; I don't have to worry if the story is going off the tracks. So when it's vibing, you can really focus and let the other worries fall to the side. It's all about finding the right people. When we started working together on Is'nana, you told me your were happy to enter into this art marriage with me. It really is like marriage. You can't just focus on the comic; you have to work on the marriage as well.
GREG: Ha! I swear I was thinking about my proposal asking for your hand in comic marriage the other day. But the collaboration was truly a rewarding one. Fingers crossed for a different project some time in the future!
WALTER: I'm open to it, I haven't served you divorce papers yet.
GREG: I'm not signing anything. What advice, tips, or warnings can you give other griots and storytellers out there hoping to put out work?
WALTER: Embrace being horrible. The number one killer of all projects is a creator being afraid their work sucks. Maybe it does, maybe it doesn't, but who cares. Just finish it. It could alwaysbe better, but it is the best that it could be at this point in your timeline and that is more then good enough. It's better to suck then to be nothing.
GREG: Any last words before you depart into checking for new Kickstarter backers?
WALTER: Comics are hard enough when you're having fun. Don't waste time and energy telling stories you don't want to tell.
GREG: Where can we find you and follow your work in case we want to stalk you?
WALTER: Pick your poison...
GREG: Thanks for coming by, Walter! Best of luck with everything!
WALTER: Thanks, man. Keep up the fight.
GREG: Be sure to check out and support and share Walter Ostlie's Kickstarter video and page for Shiver Bureau!