Patrick Block is one of the main creative forces behind over 20 years of Disney's Donald Duck and Uncle Scrooge comics. A multiple time Harvey Award nominee, Block and his wife Shelly have created hundreds of Disney Ducks comics that have seen publication in North America and Europe. Block also drew the art for Carl Barks' final Donald Duck story "Somewhere in Nowhere".
Last month, the Blocks announced a Kickstarter campaign to fund their first creator owned comics project, Frostlings. Described as a swords and magic comic with steampunk element, Frostlings is a hand drawn and colored project with a decidedly classic feel. As of this article's publication, the Kickstarter campaign for Frostlings has raised $12,700 of its $20,000 goal. The Kickstarter campaign is set to end on July 31st.
I spoke with Patrick Block via email about the project:
Christian Hoffer: How did you and Shelly meet, and how long have you been producing comics together?
Patrick Block: Shelly and I rode the school bus together. We lived a couple of miles apart in southwestern Pennsylvania. We both drew in school a lot, but didn't date until after we had graduated and bumped into each other in a shopping mall. We've been together ever since!
Hoffer: You're best known for your many Donald Duck and Scrooge McDuck comics, which you've been producing for over twenty years. Were you expecting to be working with one set of characters for such a long time?
Block: The Disney Ducks were always my first choice in comics...I can't think of any characters I would rather be drawing, with the exception of trying our own- so, yes, I figured that once we started drawing the classic ducks for Disney, that we would keep at it as long as there were comics being published somewhere.
Hoffer: What is the central premise of your new project, Frostlings?
Block: Frostlings is set on a tiny, icy, snowball of a planet called Luminas. On this snowy globe are a race of creatures called Frostlings that have a civilization a lot like us. They constantly bicker over resources and food, and power hungry tyrants try to boss around the populace- but they are funnier than us, and while they constantly fight, they don't kill one another.
The story follows the tale of five Frostlings on a quest of epic proportions. The narrative explores their individual differences in character and skills, and we learn a bit about greed and charity, and how karma eventually prevails. There is a lot of light humor and huge battles with Frostling armies along the way. It's a Lord of the Rings meets Ran meets Laputa-Castle in the Sky sort of big story, and it weighs in at 204 pages. It's an all ages sort of story, but one that we've written to please ourselves.
Hoffer: How long have you been developing Frostlings?
Block: The look of the characters first appeared in a college newspaper strip I drew around 1978. I was playing a lot of Dungeons & Dragons back then, and sent these little guys on cave exploring treks. They didn't develop into an entire world until much later, with Shelly doing a lot of the world building. She also knighted them with the title "Frostlings" and did a lot of the work on Flats and Barge Bigbone's characters.
Hoffer: What are the differences between producing a creator-owned project like Frostlings and working on one of your Donald Duck projects?
Block: The biggest difference is that we have complete control over the entire process, and own the characters ourselves. Because we have developed a whole planet, we get to establish the setting, where with Donald and company, you have a built in history to follow, and also you have the great foundation of Carl Barks' pantheon that gives you a built in audience with expectations.
With Frostlings, there are no limitations at all. This also has freed up my layouts a lot, and I am letting go with my creativity and using some more abstract and interesting page designs than I could with the more conservative Disney comics.
Hoffer: Has the collaborative process between you and Shelly differed at all while working on Frostlings?
Block: Not really. We've always been fairly loose with our borders, with both of us contributing whatever we like. When I get stuck somewhere, I'll go to Shelly to get bailed out. She is great with characters- she offers quite fresh and unpredictable gags a lot like Unca Carl with the ducks- you never know what she is going to come up with. I'm best with narrative structure and pacing. Together we manage to write pretty good stories, I think, that are interesting and fresh.
Hoffer: One of the interesting things I noticed about this project is that all the artwork, the penciling, inking, coloring and lettering, is all done by hand. Why did you decide to pass on using any digital medium, and what do you think it adds to the project?
Block: People pledging on Kickstarter appreciate hand created work. I'm offering original pages as special premiums, and there's nothing like a hand painted cover to hang on your wall to excite backers! Plus, you get a lot more uniqueness with watercolors and a brush that you really can't achieve with a computer. It's old school painting. I think it's a no brainer, if you have the skill and time to do it yourself, and it's your own project that you care about- and, it's fun!
Hoffer: Why did you decide to use crowdfunding to produce Frostlings?
Block: We considered offering to sell the project to Walt Disney. But, if we did that, Disney would own the characters, Luminas, and everything in it. Probably there would be more of an audience and more short term money in it for us in going the traditional route- but making a lot of money isn't as important to us on this as the project itself is. It's more of an artistic decision, I think, to retain control, and produce the story we want to tell.
Hoffer: What sort of rewards can backers expect to receive for supporting Frostlings?
Block: We really sat down and tried to come up with some cool premiums that would be unique and collectible. We have a deluxe, signed map of the Frostlings' world, drawn as they would make it, with "known" areas marked in. We have an extremely cool, metal, map-key bookmark too, that you can use to measure distances on your signed map.
There are five hero, metal collectible character cards featuring each of the main characters that came out really nicely.
There are two original hand drawn sketchbooks full of penciled Frostling drawings that went into the creation of the project.
We also have two Frostling t-shirts featuring Flats and Barge Bigbones, and a really nice battle scene poster suitable for framing that has hundreds of charging Frostling "ballbarians" in it.
The book comes in a deluxe, numbered, signed edition as well- with a watercolor drawing, for those wanting a bit of artwork!
Hoffer: When do you anticipate backers receiving their copies of Frostlings? Do you plan on making copies of Frostlings available other than as a Kickstarter award?
Block: We have a website at frostlings.net or frostlings.com where we eventually will sell copies of the book. However, the kickstarter will have the best price for the book, and all the extras too! The book is being drawn, so we don't expect to see it published until May, 2015.
Hoffer: Do you have any plans to make any other comics set in the Frostlings world?
Block: Yes, if the Kickstarter meets it's $20,000 goal, (we are approaching the halfway mark as of this interview), fans can expect to see more of these guys...Shelly and I have several ideas for some interesting projects set on Luminas!