It's easy to get lost inside the pages of Jeremy A. Bastian's comic book Cursed Pirate Girl. The Michigan-based artist works with ink and a very fine brush to create panels that overflow with tiny details. Look closely and you'll see faces carved into the sides of rocks, a buckled shoe hidden on the ocean floor, even a dinner party turned upside down. It's these intricacies that make a young heroine's quest to find her pirate father all the more magical.
Cursed Pirate Girl has been making the rounds throughout the independent comic book world for several years now. Bastian self-published his first issue before it was picked up by Olympian Publishing. Two years ago, Olympian launched a Kickstarter campaign to fund a hefty trade paperback. Their goal was $2500, but they raised over $36000. Recently, L.A.-based publisher Archaia, who brought Jim Henson's A Tale of Sand script to life as a graphic novel last year, picked up the book for a hardcover edition. This latest incarnation of Cursed Pirate Girl will be released on Dec. 12 and comes complete with new pages, a guest artist section (Hellboy creator Mike Mignola is amongst the contributors) and more.
Bastian and his art appeared Saturday night at Century Guild. The event marked both the opening of the Culver City gallery — a Chicago transplant focusing on Art Nouveau and Symbolist work — and the forthcoming Cursed Pirate Girl release. Below, Bastian answers our questions about his book and his art.
How long has the story of Cursed Pirate Girl been a part of your life? What was the evolution of the story from idea to the comics?
About 7 years ago, I drew up a pirate woman in a more tattoo art inspired style for the art store I was working at one day and that was really the beginning of Cursed Pirate Girl. I came up with the idea for the story while in line for a San Diego Comic Con Hall H panel presentation of Quentin Tarantino and Robert Rodriguez's Grindhouse a year later. The book I had drawn, a supernatural G.I. Joe type of story with werewolves and zombies called Phantom Corp, didn't live up to my expectations and I was a little bummed. I thought, why don't I take that pirate woman and make her a girl and try my hand at a more all ages book? I remember I was in the line for Hall H and jotting down the idea of a bird climbing into a fish's mouth and then asking the little girl he was with, “How do you know you don't breath underwater, have you tried?” I also remember thinking that I should probably rewrite that a bit because I was afraid some kid might actually ask themselves the same question one day.
When I got home from that SDCC I sat down and pieced together the story. I wrote it on tractor feed computer paper — which I did not separate and measured it out to be about 26 feet of story — and the story just started pouring out. It took three weeks to write this first story arc.
What's your process for creating the illustrations in Cursed Pirate Girl?
Well, when I started writing the script there were certain images that popped into my head that I knew were going to be really fun to draw. In fact that's pretty much how I wrote it, by coming up with really fun parts and just connecting them as logically as I could. When it comes to the individual ingredients though, that's where I have a lot of fun.
I start with the basic idea, whether it is a character or object or setting, and then brainstorm ideas to really set it apart. For instance, the cage Captain Holly puts her into to await her demise the following day, I wanted the cage to be unusual. So I took a stroll around the house asking myself would that make a good cage? How about that? And since Captain Holly is the most like something from Alice in Wonderland (my male version of the Queen of Hearts) I decided it would be a tea pot shaped cage. And then the final ingredient to finishing an interesting image for me is the ornamentation, so all around the cage you will see bizarrely tea-themed adornment. I try to challenge myself with every page to out-create what I've done on the previous page.
Up next: How the art show came together
It looks like you've worked with Century Guild before. Did you show work at the Chicago gallery? How did this L.A. art show come together?
Century Guild is the parent company which Olympian Publishing belongs to. I am very fortunate that every year I am allowed to set up a table at their San Diego Comic Con booth and hock my wares. I have done a couple of pieces for the Century Guild Grand Guignol show they put on in Chicago in October of 2011. They have been extremely supportive of my work and I don't think I would be the artist I am today if Olympian didn't allow me to produce CPG at my own pace. It really let me explore the limits of my imagination and gave me the time to do it right. Century Guild has moved their gallery from Chicago to L.A. and we had always talked about a gallery show featuring work from the book. I was really thrilled that I was going to be their inaugural show, and a bit terrified.
What are the challenges that come with creating such detailed art for the comic book format? How do you handle those challenges?
I think my biggest challenge is time. If I were working for a mainstream comic company there's no way they'd put up with how slow I am. The only way I'm able to handle that problem is because of Tom Negovan of Century Guild. He acts as my patron and gives me the financial freedom I need to work on the book and not have to cut corners or speed up my production rate. I want to create something that is totally free of compromise and to the best of my ability. If I'm putting out a comic it has to be the best I can do and so I'm always trying to improve.
Briefly, what's your background in art? Were you always interested in comic books?
Oh yes, I knew I wanted to be a comic artist since I was maybe 3 feet tall and that was 3 feet 4 inches ago, so you know it's been a while. Art is a big part of my family and there are lots of artists in my family. It was the one thing I could always do fairly easily, and I knew it was the only path in life that would make me happy.
My father was a janitor for GM, a job he didn't really relish, but he had a family to support and he needed the security it gave him. He brought us up saying that having a job you love is the best thing you could ever hope for. My parents have always been encouraging and accepting of what I wanted to do with my life. My cousin Erin introduced me to comic books and I've been hooked ever since.
I started by copying Silvestri, Arthur Adams, Bill Sienkiewicz, and so many more, building up my “comicbook” anatomy skills. I did a couple of little comic book stories for my high school creative publication the Palladium. And then I went off to Art School, my dream of after high school education. I went to the Art Institute of Pittsburgh and graduated two years later, moved back home and started working on a comic book portfolio to show to editors.
Who or what have been your biggest inspirations for Cursed Pirate Girl?
A lot of the inspiration comes from the story books I read as a kid. I would go to the library and pick up any book of fairy tales or mythology I could find. Later I got into following the artists that made those works come to life, Arthur Rackham, Kay Nielsen, Walter Crane, Maxfield Parrish and so on. Then I really got into Dore and Durer and an even older world of illustration. CPG is kinda a lengthy love letter to all the stuff I love to look at.
“Jeremy Bastian: Cursed Pirate Girl” will be on view again at Century Guild from December 6-8. The gallery is located at 6150 Washington Blvd., Culver City.