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Mr. Scootles vs. The Inferno: An Inter-Review - Part 1

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The Inter-Review is back! Badder (as in worse, especially its grammar) and blacker (I’m gonna use lots of bold...well, no not really, but maybe) and geared up to tackle some of the most outrageous and unheard of graphic fiction in the universe!  The universe I tell you!!!

But wait, what the heck is an “Inter-Review”?  I mean, it’s not like anyone was reading these before, let alone now—no, no (this is fun) I will not feel sorry for myself  when I just got the chance to read a book as awesome as Mr. Scootles Volume 1 and chat with an author as wicked-cool as Howie C. Noel.

Comin’ at ya from über-suave publisher Alterna Comics, Mr. Scootles was originally released online as downloadable single issues via the infamous Wowio.com, and now the first collection—offering issues #1-5 inside a single cover—is hitting physical comic store shelves via the infamous Diamond we-don’t-need-no-stinking-dot-com-to-distribute, come November 26th..

Mr. Scootles can, alternatively, take the money you would have spent on booze or Marvels at the Alterna Comics website, as well as Amazon or, even better, you can download whole shebang for a mere $0.99 at Drive-Thru Comics.

Broken Frontier Review: I first learned of Mr. Scootles when Wowio.com came into existence, during those days when all its downloads were 100% free I could browse the “Latest Releases” via which I could always go gaga over the dozen or so new comics per week that were added to the site.  Alterna Comics, alongside Dakuwaka, were the two small press companies that took the largest advantage of Wowio while the advantage-taking was good: even logging in every day I couldn’t keep up with the sheer wealth of titles, graphic novels, and new issues that hit seemingly by the hour.  But amidst this pool of PDF productions, one stood out in name, cover art, and concept alone: Mr. Scootles, with exquisitely appropriate art by creator Howie C. Noel, about a forgotten black-and-white cartoon character who, after his own creator’s suicide, faced eternal condemnation to Hell.

Talk about your sweet notions: Scootles was a book that simply cannot be passed up once a body sees the title character for the first time: the inimitable Mr. Scootles really looks like a gumby-limbed, almond-bodied character yanked straight from out of 40s animation.  In fact, he looks so much like this that he appears an icon for the whole era, more Mickey Mouse than Mickey Mouse, more unnamed anthropomorphic non-animal than any other, an absolute representation of what he’s meant to be.  And here he is, in the modern day.  In Hell.  That’s comic book magic, that is.

So what does Mr. Scootles Volume 1 offer in detail?  The first 5 issues of the series, from the moment when average film student Jason finds an undisturbed reel of a lost Mr. Scootles short, through the downright insane and unquestionably unpredictable quest to stop the evil Professor Sentanalqua from using the curse of Scootles’ creator’s death to gain immortality, all the while the gatekeeper of Hell hopes to use Scootles to open a portal back to Earth, where the demon’s possession of Jason’s girlfriend only adds further fuel to the fire. Then Judas and all of Heaven joins in, because, you know, there wasn’t much going on before.  That sounds like a convoluted plot, and it’s only maybe around half of the twists and turns that occur as the story goes.   Mr. Scootles is anything but your ordinary epic, and sweetly, it does wind up getting intensely epic before all is said and done.

BROKEN FRONTIER: Welcome, welcome, welcome, mis-tah Noel!  Here we are at (I’m  assuming) your very first Inter-Review.  So what do you think?  Good opening?  Genius opening?  Why don’t you go ahead and describe Mr. Scootles in your own words, just so readers can see how much better I do it than you.

HOWIE C. NOEL: I have to say it was indeed a genius opening. I’m actually out of breath from reading  that introduction…it was…amazing. I’m not sure if I can compete with that but I’ll try my best! Mr. Scootles is about a 1930s cartoon character that winds up in Hell after his creator commits suicide.  It’s about what happens when you give up on something you create.  How those lost ideas are actually alive and floating around somewhere.  Two college students find the last film reel starring Mr. Scootles and when they watch it, Mr. Scootles wakes up in Purgatory.  It has cartoons, curses, a hot female demon in a schoolgirl skirt and even Judas himself! And like you said, it does become quite the epic before the 160th page is turned.

BF: So did you start the series thinking you’d self-publish?  Put it online as a webcomic?  And how’d you come to join forces with Alterna and begin the book’s online Wowio release and then how’d you finally come around to achieving a coveted Diamond GN release (that makes it sound like the thing will be encrusted with diamonds, how cool would that be for a 90s-esuqe gimmick cover?).

HCN:  I thought I would self-publish the series initially until I could find a publisher that was right in helping me bring this vision to a larger audience.  Mr. Scootles didn’t appear online at first, however after completing the fourth issue I did put it up online at Drunk Duck where the readers there were so enthusiastic and positive it breathed new life in me creatively.  Peter Simeti, president and publisher of Alterna Comics, wanted Mr. Scootles to be a part of Alterna’s digital lineup and that’s how it all started.  Peter really helped me continue to believe in this story as it’s a very long and difficult road sometimes to get an original somewhat zany story published.  After Mr. Scootles was released digitally I spoke to Peter about a graphic novel release, including my idea of it being the first graphic novel released by Alterna Comics to feature color.  I give Peter and the crew at Alterna credit for presenting Mr. Scootles to Diamond for acceptance.  I really wish someday that a version of Mr. Scootles is published with diamonds all over it.  Seriously…I have had dreams about such a thing.  I’ll settle for a Bedazzler.

BF: Holy—I really think you’re on to something there!  Maybe a limited edition?  Anywho, how’d you get your start in comics?  I noticed that you had a book called Vincent the Painter of Death.  Was that your first?  Have there been any others?

HCN:  I always wanted to be a cartoonist since I was little, but originally I thought I’d do a daily strip like Bloom County. But after going down that road I realized how tough it is to tell a good story with such limited space for art.  The submission process for the syndicated strips actually helped me create Mr. Scootles.  I started to wonder what would happen to these cartoon characters if I gave up on them after all the rejections.  If you look closely at one page in Chapter Five of the graphic novel you can see some of my old characters.  Mr. Scootles is my first full graphic novel and it has been a long and interesting road in making it become a reality
Vincent: The Painter of Death is actually my new story! It is about a murdering painter.  If murder is an art form, then he’s the master.  It’s a bit of a satire on the modern art world and its pitfalls.  I’m currently working on the graphic novel and I hope it will be released in 2009 or 2010.  I made several handmade copies of the first short story starring Vincent and debuted them at the Baltimore Comic Con this year.  I still have copies available at my website , too!  I’m really looking forward to telling the stories of my characters Mr. Scootles, Vincent, and more in the future.

BF Review: As a writer, Noel is quite accomplished.  Mr. Scootles moves as a clipped and breakneck pace, swinging from one scene to the next, and uniquely every scene offers a key  development, no panel unnecessary.  On one hand, then, Scootles is never slow, never a chore, but on the other, this does sacrifice nuance where the characters and situations could use a little more incubation time.  By the time a reader nears the end of this first graphic novel, the inundation of characters, concepts, and happenstance are enough to overwhelm, especially as Noel tosses them out and keeps the action and mystery at fever-pitch throughout.  Which is not to suggest that Scootles is a muddle, or even disappointing, just brisk and perhaps (arguably) overly moved by the momentum of its own refusal to slow down and take stock.

So don’t come looking for heavy text and slow silent moments of artsy contemplation—Noel literally moves from murderous professors collecting the blood of virgin coeds, to Hell and Judas and giant monster pigs, to murders of the past, a haunted angel in heaven, and never, ever does he stop to give exposition or explain himself.  Mr. Scootles is a work that its creator obviously feels is self-explanatory.  One scene leads to the next and before you know it you’ve slid straight through to the bitter end, to an ending even I found surprising (I don’t find much surprising anymore—you try reviewing things for four years and see if you’re  any different).

Perhaps the greatest strength of Noel’s writing lies in the story’s character, that it can be  entirely about suicide, damnation, alienation, Hell, murder, and loss, and yet, in effect and affect, read as one of the most charming damn things out there.  The protagonists Jason and Kelly (the aforementioned possessed girlfriend) are perfect go-get-‘em everymen, and the villains are both histrionically evil and sympathetically understandable; the supernatural elements harbor their own humanities (ironically), and the horrific aspects are nearly all defused as being actually horrific due to the wisecracking, ego-centric naiveté of Mr. Scootles himself.  That cat (or whatever he is) is one cool, lovable little surly spitfire of a cartoon character.

BF: On the subject of the book’s script, are you an artist that considers himself a writer, a writer who by necessity became an artist, or an all-around auteur, forever your own compass on all fronts?

HCN:  I believe I’m an artist first but also a storyteller.  I’ve always had little movies playing in my head and the best way for me to share them with an audience is to draw them out.  I try to capture what I see and do that best I can in translating it.  With Mr. Scootles, I wanted the writing to be just as important as the art and yet keep the experience enjoyable, visually.

BF: Any training, schooling, or odd experience in scripting and writing before Mr. Scootles?  Or is this your first big-big project as a writer?

HCN:  I had a brilliant teacher named Floyd Hughes at Pratt Institute who taught me a lot about comics and storytelling.  This is my first big project as a writer and I hope Floyd gets to see it.  He’s an amazing artist and was always supportive of me.

BF: How do you go about plotting a chapter/issue of Scootles?  Do you have the whole thing mapped out?  Do you just hit it page by page?  And do you script before or after roughing out the pages?

HCN : I let the story drive me when I’m creating a chapter, keeping a map of where the characters would go and what each one’s goals were.  With such a complex plot, I wanted the loose ends to tie together.  It was my responsibility to the reader.  At each show I did promoting the book, when I was just doing single issues, I promised everyone who bought a copy that I had the ending already planned.  As I was creating the book I would get new ideas and add them into the mix as long as they fit in the primary goal of reaching the ending I had planned. I create the script in my sketchbook, sometimes mapping out the page. In my sketchbook I may only write the dialogue to establish the pacing and leave the visuals for when I actually create the final page.  Other times, if the visual I have in my mind is really powerful, I’ll create a sketch of it with the script so I don’t forget it.

BF: What do you think is your greatest strength as a writer?  Your biggest flaw?

HCN: I think I’m pretty good at coming up with realistic dialogue for characters in increasingly unrealistic situations and I’m also good at making those characters suffer.  In the next volume of Scootles, I would like to leave more time for the reader to catch his or her breath.  I think now that I’ve established the rules and the stakes I can take my time in making the characters squirm, next time out.  I’ve been practicing it in my new story Vincent.

Be sure to join us tomorrow for part two of our Inter-Review with Howie C. Noel and his epic Mr. Scootles, wherein we’ll look at the art and the future for both the series and its creator.

###

Look for Mr. Scootles Volume 1: Mr. Scootles vs. The Inferno at your local comic shop come November 26th..

Alternatively, you’ll find the book offered at the Alterna Comics website, as well as Amazon and Barnes and Noble and, lastly, but certainly not least-ly, you can download the whole book for only $0.99 at Drive-Thru Comics.

And be sure to visit Howie C. Noel’s personal website for all updates and breaking news and to order a copy of his Vincent: The Painter of Death!

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