John Green and Dave Roman on Teen Boat!
How would you describe Teen Boat! in your own words? John Green: Teen Boat!
is the story of a teenager with the power to turn into a yacht. It chronicles the trials and tribulations of being a teen and a boat, such as trying to fit in with the cool kids, struggling with acne (or in TB’s case, barnacles), being hijacked by pirates, crashing into icebergs, and going to detention. It’s the only comic that features the angst of being a teen and the thrill of being a boat! Dave Roman: Teen Boat!
asks the reader to go on a journey of self-discovery and transformation, highlighting the universal struggle between inner versus outer identity. Through the power of graphic narrative, it redefines the perceived boundaries between boat and teen, because in our hearts, Teen Boat is you and me. Also, there are jokes about dinghies.
Can you describe your collaboration process? John:
Dave and I have collaborated together on a number of projects, and we approach each one a bit differently. How Teen Boat!
is written varies from chapter to chapter. Sometimes Dave will have a loose idea for a story that he’ll run by me; other times he’ll have a full script. Quite often, Dave will write an entire story because I tell him I thought of a single funny line of dialog or gag I want to draw. Or, in the case of the Venice chapters, an excuse for me to write my trip to Italy off on my taxes. And I asked Dave to write the chapter with the wedding scene because I wanted to include a cameo of some friends of mine as their real-life wedding present. Though Dave is the writer and I’m the artist, our process isn’t really that clearly divided. When Dave writes a chapter of Teen Boat!
, he’ll sometimes loosely draw it in comic form. That contributes a lot to my artistic process. He’ll even do sketches of characters or vehicles that I’ll then adapt into my own style. And sometimes when I’m drawing the comic I’ll notice things that can be rearranged to improve the narrative or add a character moment. There are many writer/artist teams that think of each of their respective duties to a project as completely separate, but that’s not the case with Dave and me. As a writer and an artist we together form one author: Davohn Romreen! Dave:
John is really easy to write for.
Do you have a favorite character? Or scene? Dave:
Teen Boat himself constantly surprises me as a character. He walks this delicate line between melodramatic sad sack and showboating, egotistical jerk. One minute he’s crying because nobody knows he exists, and the next he confidently believes he deserves to be class president. The “Vote Boat” chapter is probably my favorite for exactly that reason. There is a scene where Teen Boat nags his best friend into being his campaign manager so she can do all the work for him. It has nothing to do with being a boat, but everything to do with him being a comically self-centered teenager. John:
Favorite scene? That’s tough. There are scenes I really like but were tough to draw, or drawings that I really like but aren’t a big part of the story, or story parts I really like that I thought I could’ve drawn better . . . It’s difficult to find one specific part that I am 100 percent satisfied with. But if I had to choose, I think I’d go with the Venice scenes, especially the date that Teen Boat has with the gondola. I’m especially proud of the Lady and the Tramp homage, plus the gag of the gondola sighing under the Bridge of Sighs (Ponte dei Sospiri). As for favorite character, I’m quite partial to the crab and duck that seem to mysteriously follow Teen Boat wherever he goes. What’s their story?
Who came up with the concept of a teen who is also a boat? John:
I can’t remember which one of us first said “Teen Boat,” but we definitely came up with the concept together during the weekend of the Small Press Expo in 2000. We had been going to the show a few years, promoting another comic we’ve made together, Jax Epoch and the Quicken Forbidden
. That series is stylistically very different from Teen Boat!
, and I was thinking about doing something sillier or lighter on the side. Somehow Dave and I got to talking about after-school specials and Saturday-morning cartoons; thus the idea of a teenager facing normal teen problems like acne, bullies, crushes, and peer pressure, but who can also transform into a boat, was born. If you think about it, it’s really just like Spider-Man, only instead of spider powers, TB’s got nautical powers. Dave:
At first it was like a running joke. At the Small Press Expo, John and I kept telling all our cartoonists friends about our “million-dollar idea!” which got a lot of laughs; especially the proposed tag line “the angst of being a teen . . . the thrill of being a boat.” But when you hang out with creative people, a lot of silly ideas get thrown around that don’t actually go anywhere. So the Teen Boat premise sat around for a year or so, and really, it could have ended there. But for some reason, John and I were determined to pay off the joke by making it a real thing. So in time for the next Small Press Expo, we debuted an eight-page Teen Boat!
black-and-white mini-comic and sold it for fifty cents! The little photocopied book got an even stronger reaction than we expected, and we were totally blown away by the enthusiasm everyone seemed to have for it. Things just kept snowballing as we found new ways to expand on the initial ideas and keep ourselves laughing along the way.
What were you two like as teenagers? John:
I grew up a very sickly child. I had severe asthma and allergies and doctors wanted to put me away in a bubble, but my mom wouldn’t have it. I still sort of lived in a bubble as I spent a lot of time in my room reading and drawing comics. I was quite entrepreneurial, making comics, photocopying them on my grandparents’ machine and selling them to other kids in my school for a dollar. I think Dave did something similar in his youth. By high school, I was fairly normal, at least health-wise. I didn’t play sports, but I was in the plays and musicals, and good at math, and thought I had a pretty low profile, yet everyone seemed to know who I was. I wasn’t in any one clique--I sort of floated around different groups of friends. Dave:
When I was a teenager I listened to a lot more heavy metal and gave much longer answers to questions.
You are both very involved in the comic and graphic novel industries. What advice would you give to teens looking to break into the field? John:
This is a very interesting question, because the "field" is very different today than it was when Dave and I were in school. Today there are a lot more avenues for getting into comics. The most important piece of advice is the most obvious one: Make comics. If you want to make comics, make comics! There’s nothing stopping you. There is really no technological, educational, or financial barrier the way there is with something like making a movie or making a video game. All you need is some pencils and paper. That said, you can’t just make comics. If you want to make a career out of making comics, you need people to see them. This is something that’s really easy these days. There are plenty of websites where you can post comics, and plenty of other sites that you can use to spread the word about your comics. But I also think it’s important that if you want to make comics as a career, you spend a little time figuring out what kind of career you want. Do you want to be a commercial artist, writing or drawing comics of Batman or Spider-Man for DC or Marvel? Or do you want to do your own full-length story for a traditional book publisher? Or do you want to do gag strips online that you’ll collect into a book after a year? There’s nothing that says you can’t do all of these, or switch what you want to do later down the line, but being an artist can also mean being a business, and it’s important to at least consider having some sort of plan. But again, what it comes down to is 1) make comics and 2) show them to people. Dave:
My advice would be to listen to John. He gives good advice.
Will we see more of Teen Boat!? John:
Indeed you will! The next voyage of Teen Boat sets sail in . . . Dave:
. . . I should probably get back to work on that script!