Special to The Gazette | Tracey Lindeman | February 14, 2012
“Nature nerd” Matthew Forsythe’s imagination “clearly in overdrive”: Interview by the Gazette
MONTREAL - Illustrator Matthew Forsythe has always been a nature nerd. As a kid, he drew a comic aptly named Comical Wildlife in which heâ€™d make â€œreally bad jokesâ€ about animalsâ€™ features and characteristics.
â€œIt was kind of like Animal Crackers, but more obscure,â€ the Montrealer says. He recalls drawing muskoxen â€“ known to herd into outward-facing circles when threatened â€“ literally turning into circles.
Now an adult, sipping tea in a Mile End cafÃ©, he recounts the joke with a shy smile, shaking his head. He had forgotten about those comics; heâ€™s embarrassed by them. Though he may have learned something about subtlety since childhood, itâ€™s clear Forsytheâ€™s love for animals still informs much of his illustration work.
Jinchalo, his second comic for local publisher Drawn and Quarterly, begins with a mysterious bird. Decked out in a hat, backpack and collared robe, the bird fends off a pack of vicious wolves with a walking stick-turned-snake and returns to its equally mysterious egg, nestled safely in a tree â€“ only to accidentally lose it to Voguchi, the comicâ€™s flawed protagonist, when they get tangled up at the market.
Voguchi is a gluttonous and short-tempered little Korean girl whose Jack and the Beanstalk-inspired adventure begins when the egg hatches and a shape-shifting bird named Jinchalo emerges.
With an imagination so clearly in overdrive, itâ€™s hard to believe Forsythe ever suffered from a lack of inspiration, but before embarking on a journey to South Korea to teach English in 2003, he said he had lost interest in conventional cartooning. â€œI stopped illustrating before I went to Korea,â€ he says.
The creative drought was quenched shortly after landing in Seoul. He began drawing Ojingogo, a web comic featuring Voguchi and a squid, in response to both the culture shock and the long hours spent in the classroom.
â€œThe teaching work was really hard work, so I had to do something I loved,â€ he says.
Ojingogoâ€™s nominations for Eisner and Expozine awards in 2005 and 2006 grabbed Drawn and Quarterlyâ€™s attention; they published it as a graphic novel in 2008.
â€œI loved Mattâ€™s first book, Ojingogo, so it was a real pleasure to publish his follow-up, Jinchalo,â€ says D+Q publisher Chris Oliveros. â€œOne of the things that struck me about Jinchalo is just how far Matt has come as an artist and, overall, as a cartoonist.â€
Both books pay homage to Korean comics â€“ the pages are without panels, the stories are steeped in Korean folk tales and, save for a few bursts of Korean onomatopoeia, the books are basically wordless.
But as good as itâ€™s been drawing Voguchi comics, Forsythe is moving on to childrenâ€™s books.
Last year, he illustrated My Name Is Elizabeth!, which earned the distinction of being named a New York Times notable childrenâ€™s book. Based on its warm reception, American publisher Simon & Schuster sought Forsythe out and signed him to a two-book deal. The first will involve illustrations for a book about monkeys written by someone else, but the second will be all his own.
It was perhaps serendipitous, then, that on the first day of a recent trip to India, after signing the book deal, he found himself in the middle of a monkey migration along the Ganges. Later, at Kukkarahalli Lake in South India, a chance encounter with two ornithologists and their children led to an afternoon spent birdwatching. An admitted â€œbig fan of birds,â€ Forsythe couldnâ€™t believe his luck. He came home with an entire book filled with sketches and notes.
He may have refined his illustration skills since his Comical Wildlife days, but heâ€™s still an animal-loving nerd at heart.
Matthew Forsythe launches Jinchalo Thursday at 7 p.m. at Drawn & Quarterly, 211 Bernard St. W. For more details, see drawnandquarterly.com and Forsytheâ€™s site, comingupforair.net.
Read more: http://www.montrealgazette.com/entertainment/comic+book+adventures+nature+nerd+Matthew+Forsythe/6150800/story.html#ixzz1nhreHTlB