Saturday, September 29, 2012

Stephen Cartisano and Ellen T. Crenshaw

Stephen Cartisano a member of the Boston Comics Roundtable and a sometime writer. 

Ellen T. Crenshaw is a Boston-based freelance artist, movie-goer, comic-book-reader, and dirty-joke-teller. Her comics have been featured in Inbound, ZombieBomb!, and the critically and publicly acclaimed Womanthology. She's an alumni of Girls Drawin' Girls, a member of the Boston Comics Roundtable, and co-founder of the fan-art blog, Fanartica (

For more information and pretty pictures, visit!

What inspired “America’s Pastime”?

Stephen: A couple of things; first, I wanted to play around with the idea that one person’s deviance is another person’s norm. Second, failed past attempts getting published in previous anthologies. I was trying to avoid mistakes I made earlier. 

Is this your first horror story?

Stephen: Yes, to first story published but no, to first horror script written. Last year, I wrote an eight page tale but I lost track of time and before I realized it, the final deadline was fast approaching. I tried to find an artist but wasn’t able to do so. I planned on using that story this year but I didn’t think it was dark enough so I wrote a new one from scratch. I hope the first script fits the theme of Hellbound IV because I’m proud of it and I would like to see it illustrated.

Ellen: Yes. Horror doesn't really fall into my comics repertoire, but there was something about Steve's script that spoke to me—it's horrible, but cheeky and darkly funny—and I thought my drawing style could lend itself well to the charming relationship between our murderer and his lady.

Are you a fan of horror? If so, what are some of your favorite stories? (And they don’t have to be limited to comic books.)

Stephen: Yes, but I’m not fanatical about it. I grew up with the birth of cable. Our first cable remote had a cord running to the cable box. Don’t laugh; it made it impossible to lose. I remember the night I was alone and watched Friday the 13th for the first time. When it was over, my parents couldn’t return home fast enough. I also watched The Howling and My Bloody Valentine (the original) more times that I can remember. Also, I use to record episodes of Tales of the Crypt religiously. They’re currently gathering dust in a storage locker with my comic book collection. Current favorites include Dawn of the Dead (the original) Near Dark, Let the Right One In, and The Crazies (the remake). As for books, I read Stephen King and Clive Barker when both were in their prime. I seldom read horror now but when I get the itch, I’ll pickup The Stand or The Thief of Always (one of my favorite titles).

Ellen: I get scared too easily to be a horror-buff. When I was a kid, I read my mom's copy of Creepshow and couldn't sleep! Even now, Stephen Gammell's illustrations in Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark make me want to look over my shoulder for monsters.

Explain to Hellbound readers your creative process. Was the story written independently and before the art or did both develop together?

Stephen: My first publishing job was at Warp Graphics, the publishers of ElfQuest. I was a production assistant and interacted with the artists and writers regularly. Not understanding the comic creating process, I assumed the writer was the “lead singer” and the artist was the “backing band.” I quickly learned that was incorrect. It's was very much a partnership. If the writer fails to engage the artist, the art will be uninspired, late, or both. Since I’m not an artist and I was working independently of one, I did my best to visualize the story but tried to write the script in such a manner that an artist wouldn’t find restrictive. Shortly after I joined the Boston Comics Roundtable, I wrote a script for a different anthology that was drawn by a fellow BCR member. I wanted him to have free reign over the art. One, he self published regularly so he clearly knew more about art that I did and two, his vision of the story was excellent. I was very happy with the result. I feel the same about Ellen and “America’s Pastime.” It was better than I could hope for!

Ellen: D'aw—thanks, Steve! This collaboration marks only the second time I've illustrated comics for another writer (the first time was with my husband, Matt Boehm, for Inbound 4), but I think I approached this project the same way I would had I penned the story. I know many comic artists can't separate words and images when developing a plot, but when a concept requires dialogue I almost always write a script first. I ruminate over the script; play out the action in my head to get an idea of how best to visualize it. I plan out the pages, laying down panels first to get a sense of the overall design, the big picture. I sketch out the characters and keep them close-by. I gather a lot of visual reference, and then I just start drawing. When I get stuck, I'll act out scenes and take lots of ridiculous pics in Photobooth.

What did you find most challenging about “America’s Pastime”?

Stephen: The four page limitation was tough. I didn’t want to overwhelm the artist with too many panels. Originally, the main character was going to be experiencing a crisis of faith in his mission and his partner was going to comfort him. I wanted to end the story on an especially dark joke. When I was writing it, I realized there was too much of an emotional shift keeping every thing I mentioned earlier. I decided to change the core of story to what it is now because I felt it worked best with the dark joke ending. When I submitted the script for Jerel’s review, he recommended removing the joke ending because it seemed heavy handed and sort of cheapened story. Even now, months after the feedback, I can’t say I agree but by removing the ending and the panels that lead up to it, I reduced the panels per page which I thought would allow the artist more freedom to work their magic.

Ellen: Character design is one of my strong-suits, but oddly enough one of the hardest things was designing Grandslam. I wanted to stay true to Steve's vision (and he provided excellent references), but I still had trouble wrapping my head around his costume. I guess I tried solving that problem by throwing spikes all over everything!

Did you experiment with this story?

Stephen: For me, writing is an experiment in itself. It doesn’t come natural which is one of the reasons I like doing it.

Ellen: Being that horror is an uncommon genre for me, I took the opportunity to employ some techniques I don't otherwise get to use—high-contrast shadows, extreme vantage points, swaths of black ink washes.

Artistically, was there anything you were hoping to achieve?

Stephen: I wanted to keep the story short. I was concerned if it was long, it might work against it being accepted. Also, setting a limitation challenges me creatively; sometimes I get intimated without parameters. As I get older, I find the truth in the saying ‘less is more’ in many different aspects of my life. That includes writing.

Ellen: I was hoping to shine light on the campiness and dark humor of the piece with my cartoony drawing style. I feel that if it were drawn with more realism, the story would be equally good but have an entirely different tone. I wanted to draw out (no pun intended) the aspects of the story that enticed me to work with it—it's disturbing, but there's something sweet about it, and Stephen has nearly made us root for Grandslam by indeed making the teenagers contemptible. (As a nerdy artist, it's all too easy to shun the jock and the cheerleader!)

Where you happy with the results?

Stephen: Yes, very.

Ellen: Yes!

Thank you, Stephen and Ellen.

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