By Marty Mulrooney
Graham Annable is a renowned cartoonist and animator living in Portland, Oregon. He is the creator of Grickle and has most recently been working at Laika Entertainment, where he storyboarded for the feature film Coraline. Previously, he had a long and illustrious career at LucasArts working on such classic videogames as The Curse Of Monkey Island, and was also the creative director at Telltale Games during the company’s first year. As of late, he has been helping Telltale Games create their first ‘pilot’ videogame based on the Grickle universe, entitled ‘Puzzle Agent.’ A collection of selected Grickle material entitled ‘The Book Of Grickle’ has also recently been released to critical acclaim. It is therefore with great pleasure that I am now able to present a special interview between myself and Mr Graham Annable!
Hi Mr Annable, thank you for your time. Can you tell our readers a bit about yourself please?
I’m a Canadian cartoonist/animator/illustrator living in Portland, Oregon. I currently work as a story artist at Laika Entertainment for feature films such as Coraline and I’m also the creator of all things Grickle, be they animated or in comic book form.
What is your current job title at Telltale Games?
I’m currently not working at Telltale Games actually. I was the creative director during the company’s first year and have maintained a close relationship ever since. I am currently working with them (not for them) to help develop "Puzzle Agent". A Professor Layton-ish type of game done in the Grickle art style of my YouTube cartoons.
What games have you had the most input with during your time at Telltale?
The initial titles developed at Telltale. Telltale’s Texas Hold’em, Bone: Out From Boneville, a bit on Bone: The Great Cow Race and Sam & Max: Season One. And obviously the forthcoming "Puzzle Agent".
Would you describe yourself first and foremost as an animator?
Not these days. I’ve spent a good chunk of my career as a professional animator but these days I feel more like a story person I suppose.
Jumping back in time, when did you first start working at LucasArts?
I started working at LucasArts way back in 1994. The first assignment I had was finishing up animation on “Full Throttle” as the project was just about wrapped up when I arrived.
A lot of the old gang now work at Telltale don’t they?
I’ve spent enough years at LucasArts that there are sort of a series of old gangs from different eras of that company. But yeah, there are quite a few folks that were former co-workers all toiling away at Telltale now.
You did some work for The Curse Of Monkey Island, right? (We are Monkey Island obsessed here at AMO!)
Yep! That was an amazing project to be on as an animator. They really let us go to town with a lot of the cutscene animation. It felt great to really push your skills as far as you could for that game.
What other games have you worked on over your career? What roles did you play in their development?
I worked as an animator on Full Throttle, The Dig, Outlaws, AfterLife, Curse of Monkey Island and I was a lead animator on Obi-Wan Xbox, Red Rock, Sam & Max: Freelance Police, and Star Wars: Episode 3.
You are classically trained as an animator. At what point in your life did you decide to pursue this path?
Well, I’d always been doodling cartoons for as long as I can recall. But I really didn’t know a whole lot about animation until I ended up at Sheridan College in Oakville, Ontario. I applied for their program because I loved drawing comics and I loved film. I figured animation was a perfect blend of the two.
Is it true you have worked with with the likes of Chuck Jones and Walt Disney Productions?
Yes, a long time ago I got a stint to create storyboards for Chuck Jones Enterprises. They were in the middle of trying to revive the market for producing 6 min (7 min?) theatre shorts and I got lucky enough to be hired to create one. I did nearly the whole storyboard job at home in Toronto (where I lived at the time) but towards the end of the project they flew all the freelancers down to LA to spend about 3 days working directly with Chuck Jones to help spruce up all the work. It was an amazing experience. For Walt Disney I did a bunch of freelance work creating greeting cards with all the classic characters. It taught me a heck of a lot about character design and inking. I also did inbetweening and cleanup work on “A Goofy Movie”.
I also heard that you recently did the storyboards for the film Coraline?
Yep. I moved up to Portland specifically to work as a story artist on Coraline. I’ve been here ever since.
How did the idea for Grickle first come about?
Grickle came about as a means for me to continue drawing on paper on a daily basis. I loved the work I did at LucasArts but in the late nineties, like everything in the video game industry, it all turned into 3D animation and there really wasn’t a lot of drawing anymore for me. I started creating short comic stories on the side as a way to keep me drawing something daily. Eventually when I had enough stories I collected them into a little booklet and called it "Grickle".
What is the idea behind Grickle?
No specific idea really. It’s become a term that describes my style of art and storytelling I guess. The name came from numerous nicknames my Dad had for me as a kid. When I put the first booklet together of short stories I decided that "Grickle" was the perfect unifying title for it all, and it’s stuck ever since.
Grickle is drawn in a somewhat simplistic manner that still manages to be full of detail. What made you choose to draw in this style? What advantages does it bring?
It’s the type of art that I’m most attracted to. My favourite part of cartoons and comics is the acting and expression in the characters. I’ve evolved a style for myself that allows me to focus on what I love best. The simplistic nature of the drawing certainly is advantageous in getting an idea down quickly and moving onto the next bit. It keeps me rolling with the momentum of whatever story idea I’m inspired with at the time.
You have also produced a series of short online films via YouTube. What has the response been to this?
The response has been quite flattering and overwhelming. Just like the comic work I started doing the shorts to try out ideas and stories that were of interest to me. It’s been amazing to see so many other people get stoked on the work.
Is YouTube a good platform for projects such as these?
Yeah, YouTube has been great. I’ve instantly got an audience of over 11,000 people waiting to see what I do next. I think that’s just awesome. There’s absolutely no middle man deciding what stuff an audience should or shouldn’t see from me.
Which is your favourite out of all the short films?
Oh man, that’s pretty tough to say. As an artist you usually feel like the last thing you did was your best. I really love all the shorts for different reasons. They’ve all been fun little experiments for me.
What programs and techniques do you use to achieve each video’s unique visual style? They are very similar to your drawings, it is almost like they have been brought to life!
It’s pretty bare bones simple. I draw everything on a Cintiq monitor in Photoshop. I then take the files into AfterEffects and put together the cartoon with sound and timing. In the beginning I was using an older version of iMovie to put the art together but nowadays it’s all AfterEffects.
How did Puzzle Agent become Telltale’s first pilot game?
I pitched the basic idea of Puzzle Agent to Telltale awhile back and it was just fortunate timing I think. They were right in the middle of getting things going for their pilot program and a Grickle styled mystery game fit right into their plans.
Will there be more episodes afterwards?
Well, we’ll see. I certainly hope so but the whole purpose of a pilot program is to try out new and interesting ideas and see if they resonate well with an audience. If things go gangbusters then there will most likely be a whole season coming out after that. It’s exciting and hats off to Telltale for trying this all out.
Can you tell us more about the game/the pilot scheme in general?
As I understand it it’s very much like how TV works. Telltale will try out a variety of ideas in a single ‘pilot’ episode and see what sort of things connect with an audience. If it makes sense than they can go forward and wrap a whole season around an idea. It allows for Telltale to take some real risks and push the boundaries of concepts for game ideas without risking the whole deal before moving ahead on something. I think it’s really exciting.
How will the game differ from the source material?
Well the style and vibe of the game is all Grickle. But the concept of Nelson Tethers has been a sort of mutual idea cultivated by Telltale and I. So in a sense the ‘source’ material is being created right at Telltale so it doesn’t really differ from it.
I was delighted to discover you are published by Alternative Comics! These guys sound cool, what can you tell us about them?
Alternative Comics is actually one guy, Jeff Mason. He’s a wonderful fellow who over the years has published a lot of great cartoonists just starting out. He really just publishes material that he’s personally interested in. I’m really grateful for him providing me with an opportunity to have my work get seen by a lot of people.
What is The Book Of Grickle? Is this a good starting point for people who are unfamiliar with your work?
The Book of Grickle is a collection of my selected work over the past ten years. It’s published by Dark Horse and it’s all hardbound and definitely the best book to start with for anyone unfamiliar with my work.
Jeff Smith introduces the book wonderfully. Are you a big fan? Who else do you look up to in your line of work?
Jeff Smith is an amazing individual. He really makes an effort to seek out and support cartoonists he likes and comics in general. It doesn’t hurt that he’s been one of the top independent comic artists for the last 20 years either. I love Jeff’s work. Other artists I certainly admire are Seth, J.J. Sempe, Lewis Trondheim, Christophe Blain and Harvey Kurtzman, to name just a few. It’s a pretty long list if you get me going.
When is Puzzle Agent due for release?
It will be available on PC, Mac, WiiWare, iPad, and iPhone in June 2010. It’s up for pre-order now at the Telltale site.
Thank you for your time!
You’re quite welcome. Thank you!
AMO will also be reviewing The Book Of Grickle soon so stay tuned!
UPDATE: You can now read AMO’s The Book Of Grickle review here!