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Indie Comics Interviews

INTERVIEW: 30 Rock Writer Vali Chandrasekaran Talks About His Debut Graphic Novel ‘Genius Animals?’

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Vali Chandrasekaran has an impressive resume, writing and producing classic sitcoms such as 30 Rock, Modern Family, and My Name Is Earl. For his latest project, Genius Animals?, he has switched mediums and has written a graphic novel with artist Jun-Pierre Shiozawa.

Genius Animals? is a comedy that follows Alexandra on her search to find her partner when he simply vanishes one day. In her quest, she’s dropped into the bizarre world of fringe conspiracy theories, populated by weird and wonderful characters.

How to Love Comics caught up with Chandrasekaran to chat about his debut graphic novel. He talk about how writing Genius Animals? compared to writing for television, his enjoyment of conspiracy theories, writing comedy, and much more.

Genius Animals? cover by Jun-Pierre Shiozawa.
Genius Animals? cover by Jun-Pierre Shiozawa.

HTLC: Genius Animals? is your first graphic novel but you previously worked in television. How did this transition come about and how did you know that this was the medium to tell this story?

VC: I’ve always been fascinated by what different mediums do well, what their relative strengths are. Why do we laugh out loud more at plays or TV shows than prose? How is a tweet different than a late-night monolog joke? With comics, I was particularly fascinated by how interactive they are, how the space between the panels requires the reader to interact with the book. It’s not possible to passively read a comic like one can consume music or a movie. Our minds need to fill in that space, create a narrative to explain it. That’s the quality that made me want to tell GENIUS ANIMALS? as a graphic novel.

The central question of Genius Animals? is: Why do human beings need narratives? And what happens to a person when she can no longer trust the narrative she’s created? A medium where the reader has to fill in parts of the work herself is perfectly suited to explore those ideas.

Plus when you throw in Werner Herzog, Bugs Bunny and the world of fringe conspiracy theorists, you have genre-blending story that kind of can’t be told anywhere except for an independent graphic novel.

HTLC: How does writing a graphic novel like Genius Animals? compare to writing for television?

VC: Coming from TV shows like MODERN FAMILY and 30 ROCK I was used to writing for hyperverbal characters and amazing actors who could get their mouths around any line of dialog, no matter how long or awkward. If it was funny, Alec Baldwin or Ed O’Neill would find a way to make the speech feel natural.

However, with comics, every reader reads in a different voice. I have no input into their line reading. To account for that, I wrote much less dialog than I’m used to (though there’s still a lot!) and worked with the book’s artist, Jun-Pierre Shiozawa, to find comic timing within the art. Jun came in with a lot of great instincts and with some additional trial and error, often informed by studying our favorite newspaper comics, we landed on something that at the very least made us laugh.

Page from Genius Animals? chapter 3 by Jun-Pierre Shiozawa.
Page from Genius Animals? chapter 3 by Jun-Pierre Shiozawa.

HTLC: Genius Animals? dives into the world of conspiracies. Is this something you are personally interested in?

VC: I’m love the conspiracies of the 90s and early 2000s – the stuff of crop circles, the X-FILES and the Illuminati. That stuff, which is so wonderfully covered on the radio show Coast to Coast is so fun and funny. Those conspiracies make the world feel bigger, more exciting. Today’s conspiracies on the other hand… I find them bleak and hopeless, corrosive to the spirit. Nick Drasno did a great job exploring them and their effect on humans in SABRINA and I don’t think I could add anything to what he did.

HTLC: The comic uses a variety of comedic tools throughout it, including parody, satire, screwball comedy, among others. What’s your approach to comedy and how do you find the right balance between the different kinds?

VC: I just try to pack as much in as possible and see what I can get away with.  Most individuals I know have wide tastes in comedy – they find it possible to like Bugs Bunny AND Miranda July. There’s something about the mix of highbrow and lowbrow within one work that I just love. Like when they put salt on a cookie.

HTLC: Finally, what comics/graphic novels have you read recently? Anything you can recommend?

VC: Both THE CASE OF THE MISSING MEN and THE CURSED HERMIT by Kris Bertin and Alexander Forbes are strange and funny Nova Scotian mystery stories. I’ve never seen anything else like them.

You can read all ten chapters of Genius Animals? right now at geniusanimals.net.

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