Lifeformed – Chico Comics Page Interview
Interviewed: Matt Lowery and Cassie Anderson
Interview by: James Kniseley
J. Kniseley: Introduce yourself.
Matt: I’m Matt Mair Lowery, the writer of Lifeformed: Cleo Makes Contact. I live in Portland, where I grew up and more or less never left, except for living in Eugene in the 90s when I studied journalism and creative writing at U of O. Lifeformed is my first comic book project.
Cassie: I’m Cassie Anderson, and I’m a comic artist living in Portland, OR. Other than Lifeformed, I’ve worked on a webcomic called An Ordinary Princess, as well as several smaller comic projects.
J. Kniseley: How did you get into comics and then making them?
Matt: I got into comics as a kid in the 80s along with some of my best friends back then. We all started reading Larry Hama’s G.I. Joe stuff, which then sucked me into the usual suspects: Spider-Man, X-Men, Secret Wars, Batman and so on. By the end of my first phase as a comic reader my favorites were stuff like Denny O’Neil and Denys Cowan’s Question run, The American by Mark Verheiden, Jim Starlin/Jim Aparo Batman and anything with Mike Zeck anywhere near it. I got back into reading comics in 2004 or so, with Bendis’ Ultimate Spider-Man and then dove into both catching up on stuff I’d missed and keeping up with all the great new stuff.
I got into writing comics when I realized that the middle-age clock was ticking and if I really wanted to be a writer – like I’d been telling myself all my life – I better get to it before, you know… so after some screenwriting and such I realized that if I actually wanted to see one of my stories come to life, that comics would be the best way to make it happen. So, I studied up and wrote a bit every day and was lucky enough to find Cassie and get Lifeformed going. And then I learned a ton from her, of course, through that process.
Cassie: I have always enjoyed visual storytelling, and I’ve been drawing my whole life, but it wasn’t until I was studying Sequential Art in college that I really fell in love with comics as a medium. After graduation, I interned at Helioscope Studio (then called Periscope) for a summer and learned what it looked like to work as a freelance artist. Shortly after that, Matt and I started working on Lifeformed together.
J. Kniseley: What kind of comics do you prefer?
Matt: I’m into pretty much anything. I just finished Tillie Walden’s Spinning, which was fantastic. I love the New Gods, Tom King and Mitch Gerads’ Mister Miracle is mind-blowing, as is pretty much anything King writes. All DC’s Young Animal stuff, especially Shade, I really look forward to. Both when I was young and now I love Starlin stuff. Thanos and other Marvel Cosmic stories have become a go-to for me… all the Infinity and Annihilation books. Some of the most fun chunks of comic reading for me over the last 15 years or so have been diving into fully realized worlds for a few months, just devouring a big epic story. I did that with the Giffen and Abnett and Lanning Annihilation/Nova/Cosmic stuff, with both Hellboy and B.P.R.D. I get stoked looking at some giant list of titles that I can spend an entire summer lost in. Oh, and Michel Fiffe’s Copra, which is pure superhero magic. And Paper Girls and Deadly Class and X-Men: Grand Design, obviously I could go on and on. Oh, Remender’s X-Force… if you haven’t read it, especially the Opena-drawn stuff, you’re missing out big time. Okay, I’m done.
Cassie: I love all kinds of comics, but some of my favorites are the ones that at the heart of them tell stories about people and their experiences. Lucy Knisely’s work has had a big influence on me. Her sense for storytelling as well as cartooning is superb. I also really like Anya’s Ghost by Vera Brosgol, which is about real life with an edge of paranormal creepiness that I dig. This One Summer by Mariko and Jillian Tamaki is another awesome book. It imposes a sense of nostalgia and emotion on the reader in a beautiful way. Those are just a few; there are so many amazing comics out there!
J. Kniseley: How did you find and develop the idea for Lifeformed?
Matt: Lifeformed mostly came out of looking for comics to read with my daughters. At the time, 2012-ish, there weren’t many stories with a girl protagonist that were also in my favorite genre, the sort of 80s sci-fi or fantasy action adventure space that Lifeformed occupies (luckily that market has really opened up since, with great stuff like Lumberjanes and Goldie Vance and Gotham Academy). But anyway, I realized it would be fun to create a book that I could read with them and that would have aspects to it that we could discuss after reading: Growing up, father/daughter relationships, when is it right to take action and fight back and, of course, dad jokes. So I started writing with that and my love of the genre and the tropes – and the ways I thought I could do something different than the usual – in mind, and produced the first script. Plot-wise, the story changed a lot of the course of the initial drafts, but the core of it, the relationship between Cleo and the alien posing as her dad, remained. And with my daughters, I had a lot of inspiration for that right in front of me. Sometimes they seemed like aliens, sometimes I felt like an alien trying to understand them.
J. Kniseley: How did you find a platform to publish it?
Matt: After Cassie and I connected, we did some character designs and test pages and then initially developed a seven-page pitch (I think – it was a long time ago) that I was really happy with. At that point, though, I wasn’t 100% sure what to do. Then I heard Sam Humphries (Sacrifice, Avengers A.I., Weird World, Green Lanterns, Jonesy) on a podcast and he basically said that you just have to make your comic. That you have to do it in order to know what it’s really like. And also, as I took it, that you sort of owe it to yourself to just go for it. So, we went ahead and did a full 24-page issue, and that’s what ended up making it to Dave Marshall at Dark Horse, who liked it and brought us in.
Cassie: We got pretty lucky. Comic books don’t usually get published because an editor happens to see it, like it, and want to publish it.
J. Kniseley: The art style really stands out. What made you decide to go for a cartoonish style rather than a gritty one?
Matt: I came across Cassie’s art online and was just blown away by her ability to convey mood and, most importantly, emotions. Her storytelling was also great, just panel to panel, conveying the actions. Everything was clear and clean. I had intended to find a couple artists at least and compare sample pages and then decide, but as soon as I got the first sample pages from Cassie in my inbox I was like, yeah, this is it. Done.
Cassie: I tend to have more of a cartoony lean in all my work, partly because it’s a style I find interesting when looking at other people’s work and also because I feel it conveys emotion in a more animated and intriguing way. For this story, going with this style helps keep the tone from going too dark. We deal with some heavy things in the book, and I think it would have a lot more of an adult feel if we went with a super realistic approach.
J. Kniseley: Did this contribute to the forming of the story? Did you decide on the art style first?
Matt: It definitely influenced the story a lot. The way it evolved, we ended up going through a couple substantial revisions in terms of the plot, and I think in each of those revisions, as I learned more and also saw more of what Cassie could do, the amount of feeling she could bring out in a scene, I tried to lean into that as much as possible, and focus even more on the small, emotional moments in the story, which I wanted in there from the beginning, but with another artist might not have worked. At a real tactical level, it influenced the script itself quite a bit. A lot of pages, especially ones where it’s just a conversation between Cleo and her “dad,” I wrote the dialog but had panel descriptions like “Cassie, just do your thing,” and she found beats and expressions that take things to another level.
J. Kniseley: When did it hit you that all your work paid off?
Matt: I would say at Rose City Comic Con, when we launched the book, and we were there pitching it to people we’d never met and they were super-excited about it, really liking the story, and then picking it up and checking out the art and clearly digging it.
Cassie: I agree! The book was released in time for us to have copies at Rose City Comic Con, so that was the first time seeing people’s response to all our hard work. Such a good feeling to have someone who has never met you pick up your book, flip through it, and decide to buy it because they like it.
J. Kniseley: Where can people find you and what do you have planned for the future?
Matt: People can find me on Twitter (twitter.com/mattmlpdx) and Instagram (Instagram.com/mattmlpdx) and we have a Facebook page (facebook.com/lifeformedcomic) for the book. As far as future plans, we’ll have some Lifeformed news at Emerald City Comic Con, where we’ll have a table in Artist Alley (HH11). We’ll have some great Lifeformed extras there as well.
Cassie: I post mostly on my Instagram (@cassiejanderson), but I also have a Twitter (@CassieDoesArt), and a Patreon (patreon.com/cassiejanderson).