Korgi: Man's Best Friend

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Christian Slade, former Disney animator, enters the world of comics through Top Shelf next month with Korgi, a story about mollies and korgis — human- and animal-like beings living in a place called Korgi Hollow. Actually, the story is about one mollie and one Korgi in particular, Ivy and Sprout, inseparable friends who will find out that life in Korgi Hollow is not as rosy as it seems – there are trolls and oversized spiders lurking in the dark…

BROKEN FRONTIER: The world in which the Korgi stories are set is called Korgi Hollow. What is the environment like? 

CHRISTIAN SLADE: It’s the woods. All the good stuff. Rotted logs, moss-covered stones, waterfalls, and of course, fantastic creatures to live within it. That is the overall setting. Korgi Hollow is where the mollies and korgis live, but around them is a larger, more unknown land.

BF: Where did you look for inspiration to design the physical qualities of Korgi Hollow?

CS: I have always been enthusiastic about areas of illustration, especially the golden age, turn of the century pen and ink artists. I originally looked at artists Gibson, Coll, Kley, and Booth. These guys were beacons in art school so I kind of have them ingrained in my inkwork. However, in the last few years I have really started to move out of my comfort zone and begin defining myself as an artist. Korgi helps me do that.

I really trust my instincts at this point, and when I draw, I am connected to a deeper part of my inner self. I am always going to this place (which I nicknamed "the cave"), where I hope to find what I need to take the drawing to that next level.

BF: You’ve described Ivy and Sprout, the main characters in the series, as human- and animal-like. Do they actually differ in any way from ‘normal’ humans and animals, or is this a verbal play to give the fairy-tale atmosphere, if you will, a boost?

CS: Ivy and Sprout do not fall into the “normal” category of human / animal. In fact, they don’t fall in that category at all. Although these characters resemble what we normally think of humans and dogs, they are in fact quite different, which is part of Book One’s arc.

There is a fairy tale atmosphere to Korgi. As the story progresses with future books, you will see this quality maintained as other unexpected atmospheres come into play, like Sci-Fi.

BF: So, taking the info from the first two questions: mollies are the human-like beings, and korgis are the dog-like ones? Are there any other creatures showing up in the first book—either fantastical ones or based on animals from the real world?

CS: Yes, there is also a monster called Gallump who is sort of like a troll.
The Gallump has other creatures that he lives with underground; oversized-spiders and other beasts.

There is also the creephog (hedgehog-like), which spies on Ivy and Sprout and then reports back to his mysterious master who is seen briefly. The creephog’s first appearance will be in the Free Comic Book Day story.

BF: Also, will there be any interference with the real world in subsequent volumes? Or is Korgi Hollow a place that pretty much encompasses its own universe?

CS: Korgi Hollow, and its surrounding lands are contained within their own world for the first few books. I am still working on the story for past that. I guess anything is possible.

BF: How did Ivy and Sprout get to be such inseparable friends?

CS: Almost every mollie has a korgi best friend. Ivy and Sprout share this “best friend” type of relationship. There friendship will be explained in future books, since it is the heart and center of the series.

BF: Do your stories have anything in common with other kids-and-their-animal-friend stories like Peanuts or Calvin & Hobbes?

CS: Like many artists my age today, I grew up spending many hours reading the Peanuts paperbacks and reading the antics of a mischievious boy and his pet tiger. I have always liked the buddy stories; two characters that are best friends and always seen together. The bond that can happen between humans and pets is very interesting to me. I have two dogs of my own now, and their behaviours influence Korgi’s story tremendously.

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BF: Do you have an example of how some of their behaviour ended up in the story and helped build Korgi’s character?

CS: My dogs serve as models for Sprout and the rest of the korgis in the book. From the tilt of the head when hearing a strange sound, to the way they chase after squirrels in the backyard, it all gets into the drawings for Korgi.

In the Free Comic Book Day special, Sprout tries to jump into a large tree. The actions in the story were based off of Leo, my dog, as he tried to retrieve biscuits out of a tree at my local dog park. I also have a nice supply of models to work from, and tons of sketchbooks and photos to reference too.

BF: What are some of the adventures Sprout and Ivy will stumble into?

CS: In Book One, Ivy and Sprout will encounter a hideous creature known as Gallump. Their biggest problem here is trying to escape from his lair while staying in one piece. Adventures can come from within too, and you will see changes in these too by the end of Book One. Future books will explain adventures of the past, including Ivy and Sprout discovering the origins of Korgi Hollow.

BF: What drew you to Top Shelf? Was it the success they’ve had with a similar-type story like Andy Runton’s Owly?

CS: Top Shelf caught my eye when I pulled random books off shelves in comic shops. They had these beautifully packaged graphic novels, and the stories were so clever, that I thought it might be a possible home for Korgi. I also like that they are on the cutting edge of bringing comics into mainstream reading; very forward-thinking and genuine. Korgi is more of a younger audience, and after seeing Owly, I was glad to see that Top Shelf considered this genre as well.

BF: Speaking of Owly, Top Shelf’s the FCB special you mentioned this year consists of an Owly and a Korgi story. For the publisher, the pairing of both projects makes perfect sense, but from your own point of view, where do the similarities between the Owly and Korgi begin and end?

CS: I’ll start with a funny fact here. The similarities between Owly and Korgi actually begin back in 1974. Andy and I are one day apart in age! Zip ahead 30+ years and I found this out when I first met Andy at a Top Shelf dinner outing.

I think Korgi and Owly are similar in that they both have a respect for animals and the natural world. The biggest similarity is in the storytelling technique. Both are told in a silent style, that is without words. (I also found out recently that Andy was influenced by a certain issue of a G.I. Joe comic back in the day, one that I was influenced by as too!)

Korgi is different from Owly in that it has a busier pen and ink style. Korgi’s drawings are created by laying thin lines over and over and over each other, like cob webs. I do not use symbols. Instead, I place a page or two of text in the beginning of the story, told by a first-person narrator, to help set up the story.

BF: While the artistic rendition is definitely different from Owly’s, the painted cover to Korgi Book One is different from the style you use on interiors. Was that a decision you made to make the book as appealing as possible to potential readers?

CS: Well, I hope that potential readers like what they see on the inside too! Looking past the obvious, the cover having full color and the interior being black and white, you will notice that the styles are not that much different from each other. The cover, though painted with brushes, has a linear quality that is my natural illustration style. The interior pages, though drawn with pens, have a tonal/painterly quality that is my natural illustration style as well. It all came from the same hand and mind.

BF: You polished your craft over at Disney. Does your background before moving to comics consist mainly of animation work?

CS: My background consists of as much freelance illustration as it does animation work.
Currently, I work fulltime as a freelance illustrator, work on a small number of original welsh corgi paintings each year to be produced into prints through my website sladestudio.com, and draw 1-2 new Korgi books a year.

For as long as I can remember, I have always adored drawing. It is my drug. A lifelong addiction that I have practiced by carrying my sketchbooks everywhere and filling them up with ink, watercolor, pencils, or whatever instrument is closest.

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BF: What projects were you involved in at Disney?

CS: I drew on the feature film “Brother Bear”, working mostly on Koda, Tug, and Koda's Mom. It was a blast because bears are one of my favorite animals. I also worked on animation for the ride at the Magic Kingdom, "Stitch's Great Escape".

I also drew for the Adam Sandler film "Eight Crazy Nights", which wasn't released by Disney (Sony released it), but used many of their animators and a building on the backlot of M.G.M. Studios in Orlando.

BF: Do you find working in comics more enjoyable than what you did before, because, especially on Korgi, you have complete control over the project every step of the way?

CS: Well you hit the nail on the head there. Although Korgi is totally perfect in everyway to work on, I still crave and need to illustrate other people’s stories. There is something special there about not being too attached to it, or doing something fresh and different. These varied projects will help fuel my imagination and enthusiasm for Korgi.

BF: What are the plans for the book following this month’s volume and the FCBD edition?

CS: Korgi, Book Two, will be out before the end of the year, and I am planning to release 1-2 new books a year in the series. I am working on the stories for the first 10 books of Korgi at the same time because they are all tied together.

Look for Korgi: Volume 1 from Christian Slade and Top Shelf in early May.

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