Smile Politely

An interview with Jim Gallagher

Our local creative community is a vibrant and buzzing place. As witnessed in the seven Pecha Kucha events so far, we’ve got an abundance of artists, designers, musicians, writers, architects, magicians — even a mad scientist — living among us. Hell, you might as well call Champaign-Urbana the culture capital of Illinois if it weren’t for that damn city 2 hours north of us.

Well, it’s time to add another name to that list of local heroes we’re proud of: Jim Gallagher. His new self-published graphic novel is an amazing work of writing, drawing, layout and design — everything a good graphic novel should be. The 122-page book is filled with wild characters, insane action and a story right out of Greek mythology. Which in fact, it is. But never has Greek myths been told with such zest and tasty bits. The graphic panels literally flow into each other, sometimes with no dialog so that you can better appreciate the kinetic action.

I wanted to get to get to know Jim better, so I asked him to speak at an upcoming lecture series at Parkland College where I teach graphic design. Recently Jim and I spoke over email and he answered a few questions which has been on the top of my mind. Here’s what he had to say about his experience creating Jason and the New Argonauts, his first graphic novel.

Smile Politely: Many of us read comic books when we were kids. But very few of us actually decide to draw one ourselves. What inspired you to take on this project?

Jim Gallagher: Well, I first came up with the idea in high school and for years I would get it out of mothballs every now and then and play with it for a while and get very excited and passionate about it. Then I’d realize that it would be a TON of work to actually doing anything with it and put it back in mothballs. After 30 some years of that I finally decided it was time to jump in with both feet and make something concrete out of it.

SP: Writing a graphic novel is very different than writing a regular novel. How did you approach designing the story?

JG: I first came up with the cast of characters and then tried to see what connections and alliances I could make between the different cast members. What sort of relationships would form, rivalries, antagonisms, possible romances, etc. Then I came up with a beginning and an ending and a rough outline and proceeded to flesh it out. As I wrote, the ideas just kept popping into my head and I couldn’t write them down fast enough. Sometimes I would get a visual image as I was writing about how I wanted a certain scene to look and would make thumbnail sketches of a few panels. The characters sort of took on a life of their own as the story unfolded and I began adding in different attitudes and personalities and opinions here and there throughout the story.

SP: Since this is a self-published book, you must have invested some cash as well?

JG: Yes, I paid Tim Stiles to ink the pages, which was the biggest expense. I also paid to have the books printed at Ka-Blam, an on-line print-on-demand publisher, who specialize in comic books. I’ll have to sell a LOT of books to break even!

SP: This must have been an ‘Herculean’ effort. How much time did this project take?

JG: I worked on it pretty diligently for about three years, evenings and weekends. I was working part time at Precision Graphics and taking classes at Parkland when I first started on the project. I probably never would’ve gotten it off the ground if I’d been working full time. Then the last two years, I was basically waiting for my inker Tim Stiles to catch up on the inking process and did my other book of my mom’s letters to keep myself busy in the meantime. I also started doing ceramic sculptures of the characters, but only have two done so far. Then when Tim got the inks done I had to jump back in full-steam again, correcting and finalizing the pages, finding a printer, finding a venue for my book release party, etc. etc.

SP: As an author and publisher, you now have to market the book as well. What is your strategy?

JG: Well, I’ve already had 2 signings and have a couple more coming up, one in my home town of Tuscola, and the one at Parkland of course. I’ve also been given the opportunity to talk about the book not only at Parkland but, also to the Kiwanis club in Tuscola, coming up in November. I may be having another signing event at Jane Addams Book Shop closer to the holidays and I intend to approach Barnes and Noble about selling/promoting the book. Also, it’s for sale at the Heartland Gallery in Urbana and at Gmart Comics in Champaign. I will probably also look into having it listed on Amazon at some point. I’ve also been blowing my own horn on Facebook about the book for a while and trying to get people who’ve read the book to go on my website and post reviews there. I also had an interview in the News-Gazette a while back and Jan Chandler at Heartland Gallery has been posting about my show and book in her newsletter and other online venues.

SP: Any new books on the horizon?

Some of my readers are already pushing for a sequel, but nothing’s in the works yet.

SP: Any advice for other budding graphic novelists out there?

JG: There are no shortcuts and it’s a lot of hard work and long hours, but if you’re passionate about what you’re doing it can be a labor of love.

Jim Gallagher will be speaking at Parkland College on Wednesday, September 28 at 12 noon in room C118. A book signing will follow immediately after his presentation in the Parkland Library at 1pm. His new graphic novel Jason and the New Argonauts will be available for sale at the book signing.

Jim’s presentation is the inaugural event of “Meet the Pros,” a new lecture series sponsored by Graphic Design at Parkland College. This free lecture series is open to the public and will feature designers, photographers, illustrators and other commercial artists in our local creative community.

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