After an absence of five years, globe trotting and notorious gentleman of fortune Francis Carver returns to Paris in 1923. He has come back to aid Catherine Ayers, the wife of a wealthy Parisian socialite and the only woman he has ever loved. Her daughter has been kidnapped by the leader of a crazed anarchist gang, a man named Stacker Lee. In order to bring the girl home, Francis will have to crawl through the underbelly of the city while confronting the demons of his past, before being faced with a final choice: succumb to the man he has become, or take that mask off and be the hero he always wanted to be.
I got a chance to talk to creator Chris Hunt about Carver: A Paris Story including it’s influences and Hunt’s time working with Paul Pope.
Graphic Policy: So to you, how would you describe the series Carver?
Chris Hunt: It’s a love letter to Corto Maltese, Indiana Jones and Hemingway amongst other things. At times it appears to be a straightforward adventure story but as the series progresses I think readers will come to realize there’s more at play within the characters than the two dimensional archetypes I introduced them as. My goal with Carver was to bring back familiar tropes that are no longer at the forefront of the cultural zeitgeist, but are still very much tied to our identity especially in the West, and try to peel back the onion on them a bit.
For instance as a fan of Ernest Hemingway’s writing, it’s sometimes hard to distinguish where his writing blurred into the “legend” of Hemingway. I have always been more interested in the self reflection of The Green Hills of Africa, and especially A Moveable Feast. In the latter you have an author who is more or less inextricably associated with machoness and misogyny, and here he is talking about this amazing period in his life, when he was with his first wife whom he never stopped loving, surrounded by surrealist artists, poets and filmmakers. I love the dichotomy of what he was versus what he let himself come to be seen as. That’s more or less the theme of Carver.
GP: Where did the idea for the series come from?
CH: Well I had a character I created for a short comic that was just this anonymous hunter. I went out of my way to draw him as a cliche because it was just a fun exercise. The more I looked at him though, I kept wondering what his backstory would be, and I thought it would be kind of funny if this broad chested, mustachioed badass had this really unexpected backstory. Furthermore I thought it would be interesting to imply that he never went out of his way to project this persona, but it was more or less just a result of one decision that led to a series of events that crafted this terrifyingly effective man from a gentle hearted, empathetic boy. From there I started building his backstory, and that led in an organic way to Carver: A Paris Story. I wanted to introduce the character “in media res” so to speak; already broken and yet reforged into a weapon of sorts, so that the audience can see how that blade will be honed from man he has become, against the wet stone of who he once was. To me that seemed interesting.
GP: How did you get into creating comics? You got this fascinating life taking you from Idaho to New York City.
CH: I got into making comics the way a lot of people do, which is I became a fan. Very few people I’ve met who love comics haven’t at least entertained the idea of wanting to create them. There’s something very special about comics from an outsider’s perspective still. I think there is still an aura of mystery about it because so little is known about the inner workings of the industry from a layperson’s perspective. But specifically, I knew I wanted to make comics when I read my first one, which was THB which Paul Pope was self publishing back in Ohio when I was a kid before I moved to Idaho with my mom at age 9.
I love Idaho. I miss it terribly. I learned so much in the 20 years growing up there. Coming to New York City was more about putting my money where my mouth was because I had really grown as much as I was going to be able to living in Boise. The internet is a powerful tool for many industries but there still is no replacement for having boots on the ground somewhere, and plugging into a community directly. Not to mention it’s almost impossible not to grow from the experience of leaving a small place like Boise, and learning to survive in a (at times) hostile environment like New York.
GP: What was it like to work with Paul Pope? How did you come to be mentored by him?
CH: Working with Paul over the past five years in various capacities has been one of the most rewarding experiences of my life. As I said, it was Paul’s book THB that originally inspired the desire to make comics in me as a small boy. There really wasn’t ever a time after that I don’t recall pouring over those books incessantly, or trying to order his new books at the one shop in my town. I knew someday I’d be making comics and I wanted them to extend from that place he had planted his flag where he’d found this balance of European, Japanese and Silver Age American comics, with philosophical undertones. So when I got serious about it finally a couple years after I graduated from High School, I reached out to him online. From there we built a friendship that eventually became something I was able to learn from. No matter the person or the industry, typically you can’t just knock on someone’s door and demand they give you their knowledge. For one it doesn’t work that way, and two it’s incredibly self serving if you come at it from that angle. With someone like Paul, once they get to know you it’s almost impossible not to be learning from them because the knowledge just spills out. You have to do the work though. A LOT of work and you aren’t going to have your ego stroked while doing it if you really want to get good.
GP: When it comes to being mentored, what’s the type of things you learned working with him?
CH: Honestly, the most important thing I’ve taken away from working with Paul is the sense of lineage that can still exist in comics. I don’t think it is as common as it use to be in the creative trades, but there use to very much be this sense that “you were taught by so and so, they were taught by so and so, etc, etc”. It’s almost like my experience as a sleight of hand magician. There are things you can read about it in a book, but the real knowledge is passed down orally. It really feels like we are keeping a tradition alive. A tradition mired in storytelling which I think is very powerful. I hope at some point if my career can sustain itself and I get better, that I’ll have a chance to pass my knowledge on to someone and keep that torch burning. Along with that, the need to reinforce in one’s self, the importance of experimentation and self learning, and not least of all the absolute need to keep the integrity of your imagination alive.
GP: I hear your own real life romance inspired the book’s love story?
CH: “Write what you know”, right? I was in France when I came up with the character that eventually became Carver. I was visiting an ex-girlfriend, who really wasn’t an ex, but no longer my girlfriend either. Early 20’s kind of stuff. Which didn’t really bother me too much at the time because it was just incredible to be in France with this beautiful and intelligent person I cared so much for. We were in Aix-En-Provence most of the time so I was wandering around narrow cobblestone alleys, and drinking too much coffee and smoking WAY too many Gauloises cigarettes on sidewalk cafes while drawing in my Moleskin. I was really trying to hit all of my French cliches on my bucket list hahaha. Before I left though, we spent a weekend in Paris which is where it went sideways really fast. That was when we both learned that you don’t go have a romantic weekend in Paris with someone you aren’t sure you’re in love with, either direction on that scale. That being said, it was incredibly romantic despite the tenseness we were feeling and it gave a lasting impression to both of us. It was the inability to communicate that uncertainty though that really seeped into A Paris Story.
GP: I’ve just read the first issue, but it takes place in Paris. Why’d you set the comic there as opposed to a city like New York or Chicago? Both are two I think of when it comes to the noir-ish story the first issue feels like.
CH: Well firstly, I don’t know if I should admit this but my goal wasn’t to create a noir comic per se. There definitely were elements from noir I wanted to work in, but so too were there elements from adventure stories and romantic literature among others. If I had set out to create a strictly noir comic I sincerely doubt I would have been able to hit the mark without it seeming like pastiche. I’m very happy that’s the way the book has been coming across to people though.
As I mentioned above, a lot of the relationship between Carver and his ex, Catherine is informed by my experience in Paris with the real Catherine and how are relationship existed for a number of years after. Paris for me worked for the story beyond that though in a lot of ways. I wanted to juxtapose Carver’s crassness, and unrefined qualities against a glittering city known for being a mecca of culture, especially at the time the story takes place in the early 20’s. Plus, I’ve seen Chicago and New York so many times already. I don’t think I have anything to add to them that hasn’t already been done with this type of story. Plus, there was this incredible upheaval in Europe post WW1, in conjunction with the optimism of having fought what many thought was the last great war, and you’re seeing this explosion of art and writing coming out of the Left Bank in Paris with all these expats. It’s just an incredibly rich and dynamic moment in history I’m surprised more people don’t exploit.
GP: How long did it take for the series come from your first idea for it to print?
CH: By the time the book comes out this month, it will have almost been five years to the day. I had the idea for the first draft in November of 2010. I had visited Catie in France that March and gone to a month long residency with Paul in October. My plan was to start drawing it in March of 2011 but that plan, and the rest of the year basically became a wash when I learned that my good friend was diagnosed with terminal cancer early in the month. Then, my best friend who was also a mutual friend of the one dying, died while riding a freight train home to say goodbye to him. I talk about this a bit in the coda at the end of the first issue, but it was just a hellish year and it was a long time before I had it in me to do much of anything. From there my road back to myself started to become the overarching narrative thread in how Carver came to be what it is now. Along the way I produced it as a radio drama, a short film and applied to some Sundance labs, each step helping me to hone the story as I got my sea legs back.
GP: You’re self-taught, and also had Pope as a mentor, what advice would you give to individuals getting started in comics?
CH: I’d say know exactly why you want to make comics. It shouldn’t be for glory, or money, it should be because of an overwhelming need, or a sense that you’d regret not going after it if it truly is a dream you have.
If you decide you are going for it, the most important thing you need to understand at the beginning is that there is no clear path into the industry. There is no secret door, or amount of money or clout that just lets you in. Even if you think there is, trust me there isn’t. You have to put the work in. If you’re a writer, write. If you’re a penciler, pencil. I wanted to be everything so I had my work cut out for me. With regards to just say penciling and inking though, something that Paul told me early on I think perfectly encapsulates the scope of what you’re entering into. He told me I would hate my first thousand inked drawings. And not just sketches, I mean the ones that you’re putting your blood sweat and tears into. You’re going to hate the because they aren’t as good as you see them in your head. Don’t let it discourage you though. Just start chipping away. Focus on the numbers because you won’t know it but you are getting better every time you draw. I actually kept track of mine on Flickr. It’s pretty cool to be able to look back on hundreds of drawings from the past 8 years and not only see the progression, but see what I was interested in, the ideas I had and how I attempted to put them into play. Do that for yourself as well, whether you’re strictly a writer or an artist or whatever. Set the impossible goal and start getting to it, and don’t even start thinking about money or glory. If you become good enough that you can’t be ignored, you will bring that to you.
GP: Any other projects we should keep our eyes open for from you?
CH: Well I have a giant robot story called “01-AD GO!” I’ve had waiting in the wings for a few years. I’m waiting until I’m done with A Paris Story before I really start digging into that and pitching it around. In the meantime, Paul and I are planning on doing some more collaborations after our Vertigo short for Strange Sports Stories. I can’t really say who or what they’re about because they haven’t been announced yet but they’re for some pretty cool properties that I’m excited to work on with him. If all goes well with this first arc of Carver though, I’d like to dive back into the world after I take a short break and go wander a bit.