Last week saw the release of the second issue of the 5 part comic miniseries Little Bird, published by Image Comics. The story of a young Canadian girl, and her role leading a rebellion against a tyrannical religious government. The comic series is written by Darcy Van Poelgeest, with art by Ian Bertram, colours by Matt Hollingsworth, and letters by Aditya Bidikar. I had a chance to sit down with Darcy Van Poelgeest to discuss the series and his transition from directing to comics. These are the edited excerpts from our conversation.
Scott: You grew up in Canada, how long have you been out in Vancouver?
Darcy: I moved out here when I was in grade five, so a lot of years. There are still those early years that mold who you are, I still feel like an Albertan sometimes. I’ve definitely adopted some progressive ideas over the years.
S: Can you give me an introduction to Little Bird, and how it came to be?
D: Little Bird started as this idea…I come from a long history of resistance in my family. My mothers parents are some of the first people involved in Amnesty International, Greenpeace, they founded a group called Raging Grannies, which is now all over Canada and the US. The group is made of senior citizens who are activists. My mom would be away to go an protest at Clayoquat Sound against cutting down old growth forest. So I grew up with this sort of social activism all around me. I wanted to do a sci-fi version of that story, what is it like to take a lot of the socio-polital things going on around us today and project it forward into the distant future. How do the ideas and those extreme political views manifest themselves in the future? Just coming up with Little Bird as a character, who is a young, indigenous girl and placing her in that setting, and building out from there. Originally, I thought it could be a film, but it became obvious that it would be way too expensive to do something like that. As a film maker, here in Canada, you’re really reliant on Arts funding to do projects like that, and it would have been unrealistic. I felt frustrated at these limitation and that isn’t a way to dream bigger. I think if you’re part of the system in Hollywood that you have avenues toward a project like that. But just some kid from Alberta, those aren’t accessible, and so comics…I’ve always loved comics, and probably fell in love with comics before film as a kid. So the inability to dream bigger and my love of comics collided and resulted in Little Bird.
S: Comics allowed you the ability to get to that ‘Blue Sky’. Is there differences when scripting a film and comic book?
D: No, it’s really similar. The panelling is really what separates the two, in terms of format. On a page that may have 5 or 6 panels, that could be a full scene in a film, a fluid series of moments. But having to distill them down to a sequence of images.
S: When you’re watching a film, it has to visually tell you the sequence from A-Z, but with comics it can skip ahead and the readers imagination can fill in what happens between panel 1 and panel 2.
D: Exactly, you only need 5 letters of the alphabet. Which is part of the challenge for me, I’m really in to the subtle moments between characters rather than the battle sequences. Thankfully, Ian’s an incredible artist who just can take my ideas and makes them amazing. I let him run with that stuff because his world building is amazing. I like writing that stuff but it is the smaller moments between characters that I look forward to. In film you can accomplish that so much easier than in comics, you can have these keystone moments. Some of the most powerful moments in film are the way a character looks at another character and nothing is said at all, and those are challenging things to do in the comic format, but when you get them right, they can be more powerful than in film. Part of Ian and I working together is trying to carve out those moments and make them count, in a way that works with the format opposed to against it.
I’m really in to the subtle moments between characters rather than the battle sequences.
S: How did you and Ian to pair up for this collaboration, had you seen some of his previous work?
D: I had never read any of his work before, Little Bird has been in the works for 5 years now. He had his artwork on deviantart and was working on Bowery Boys, which was published by Dark Horse. I feel like that book doesn’t get enough attention. I think that was the only work I was familiar with at the time, but I loved the style.
S: Ians style is very unique, which is great for a comic, to set itself aside from everything else, but there is a crazy amount of detail to the artwork. Did you allow him to go beyond what you had scripted?
D: I couldn’t overstate how much extra there is. The way I work is having very clean scripts, cause the story that I’m attracted to writing are complex, and I don’t want complex stories to become baggage in the script. I keep the story points simple, so those things don’t get lost. I fill notebooks outside of the script, and I get Ian or whoever my collaborator I’m working with on the phone, so we can dissect for many hours what going on in the scene that I don’t have to bog down the script with. I think coming from directing I’m used to communicating my idea verbally, opposed to shoving it all into a script.
S: The majority of the panels of the first issue are very structured and rectangular, but there two pages illustrating the battle in penitentiary where the frames purposely become screwed and chaotic, with viscera all over the page, even behind the panels. Then once the scene is done the structure returns. It is visuals like that that can only be done in comic books.
D: That kind of thing is important to comics, I think I want to encourage artists to do more of, because working outside the panel like that. When you see splash pages where art has left the panel or is extending over other panels, that abstract form are where comics are strongest and unique accomplishment.
S: So Little Bird is currently solicited as a five issue mini-series, is there possibility of this going beyond 5 issues if it’s received well?
S: Was there a reason that you chose to go a single issues rather than directly to graphic novel?
I feel like reading it in the collected edition will still be enjoyable, but flipping a page and it suddenly being six months ahead, will have a different feel than waiting a month and it being six months ahead.
D: It always existed in my mind as a mini-series, there weren’t collect editions when I was growing up reading comics. I really love and miss the anticipation that comes between the issues. Not only did I want to do that format wise, I wrote it that way too. You’ll notice that between each issue there is a gap in time, months not years. I feel like reading it in the collected edition will still be enjoyable, but flipping a page and it suddenly being six months ahead, will have a different feel than waiting a month and it being six months ahead.
S: Because theres a actual time frame between issues, you know time has passed.
D: The story is more effective if you read it in singles. It is written to be read that way. A five issue mini-series is like a great compromise, and each issue is like 40 pages, so its a great compromise between 22 page monthlies or a graphic novel. Big chucks or story, but spread out.S: So we’ve talked a little bit about Canada, we’re both based here, but what is the significance of including Canada in the story and as part of where the Resistance is based?
D: I don’t see any reason to not include Canada.
S: Well that is the correct answer, obviously. It is unfortunate that it was noticeable, because not many comic stories take place in Canada. But there are so many great comic creators living in Canada.
D: Going back 5 years ago when I wrote the story, not the scripts but the story, there have been a few series that have come out. There was Stand On Guard by Brian K. Vaughn. So when people were first reading the synopsis for Little Bird they were like “oh yeah, this is part of the trend to have a story based in Canada”. But honestly, before then I had never read a comic story based in Canada, beside some offshoot Wolverine story or Alpha Flight. Not that it hadn’t been done, just that I hadn’t read one.
S: Growing up in Canada, and near the Rocky Mountains, the scenes that take place in Canada really hit home for me, and are definitely recognizable. It really brings me into the story.
Little Bird is genuinely Canadian, it doesn’t try and step out of Canada and look back on it.
D: It’s one of those weird things like the success of the book, financially, almost entirely relies on a US market. I really wrote it for my friends here, and for Canadians to enjoy. Other series that take place in Canada always have that joke about Canada. There’s always got to be some bacon thing, it always has to be there. Little Bird is genuinely Canadian, it doesn’t try and step out of Canada and look back on it. Everything comes from inside, and I’m proud of that part of book and hope that people connect to it that way.
D: There’s a lot happening with Canadian comic creators now.
S: Is there a reason you decided to go with Image Comics to publish Little Bird?
D: The first publisher we had onboard was Glénat, a French publishing company, and that just worked out because they saw the pages Ian was doing during a show in NY. We did that first issue over the span of 2 years, and Ian took a year off to do House of Penance, and then came back to finish Little Bird. He had some original pages at a show in New York and editor from Glénat saw it. When it came to getting an English publisher, we showed it to Image first and it just worked out. They’ve been amazing, the amount of attention they’ve paid to the book. This is my first comic book, I’ve been blown away by how great they are.
S: The comic creators that I’ve spoken with have always had positive response to how everyone is treated, whether its your first or fourth book. It’s noticeable how much PR work they put into their series. As soon as Little Bird was announced, I started seeing it on various social media, and then even my LCS was telling me to make sure I had it on my pull list, so that reach is getting to the retailers too.
D: We didn’t know what to expect from them. This is our first book, and we’re not “big” creators. So we weren’t sure if we’d get get as much help.
S: Is there a lot of work that you had to do for marketing, and pushing the book? And is it different then doing marketing of a film?
D: Yeah, its the same. Image has a marketing department, so theres help there. It starts with you as a creator, they’ll pick up very quickly if you’re willing to put in the effort, which I am. There are certain aspect that I don’t enjoy, but it needs to be done. That is the same as a film maker, if the work is good festivals will program it, but it is quite often left up to you to get the word out to try and bring the audience in.
Issues 1 & 2 are available now at your LCS and issue #3 hits shelves on May 15th, 2019. Be sure to add Little Bird to your pull list.