Every Thursday in Children’s Bookshelf, we feature an original comic strip, Tales from the Slush Pile, drawn by author-illustrator Ed Briant. Tales from the Slush Pile follows the trials and tribulations of a children's book writer and his friends. Though the strip has been appearing weekly for the past nine years, we’ve had no index page for it until... now! Today we unveil our brand-new Tales from the Slush Pile index page, and we invite you to click back through the archives and read past storylines. And now, a few questions for our cartoonist.
How long have you been doing Slush Pile, and what was the impetus to do it?
Tales from the Slush Pile started in December 2005. Once every few weeks I used to meet my editor for drinks. After we’d caught up on our own news we would discuss old friends we hadn’t seen for a while. She came up with the idea of composing comic strips that we could then send to these friends, and we would scribble them out on napkins with an old ballpoint pen. After a while we began making the comics for our own amusement, and never bothered to send them to anyone. I think the idea of doing a comic for Children’s Bookshelf evolved from there.
Your characters are all in various parts of the publishing industry. Is the strip autobiographical at all?
No. A lot of readers think that Brady is me because he’s crotchety and disobliging, but in reality Brady is far more buoyant than I am. On the other hand I’m much classier than he is, not to mention that I have a pet dog rather than a cat. I think he benefits from only having to be Brady once a week.
Your art style for the strip has been changing over the years. Can you speak about that a little?
I started doing the comic at about the time that the illustration field was transitioning from traditional media to digital media. In the early days I was still using ink and watercolor wash for most of my illustration work, but as time progressed I began to use digital media more and more. By about 2009 I was doing the comic entirely digitally, but recently I have become frustrated with the limitations of digital, and now I do the linework by hand, then scan it, and finally add color digitally. This seems to be the most satisfactory combination of digital and traditional.
How do you come up with your storylines each week?
Each week in the dead of night, I have a phone conversation with my editor. She lives in New York, so I usually hear police sirens in the background. I now live in South Jersey, so she probably hears crickets, owls, and heavy drinkers making their way home in the background on my end. We plot out each week’s comic together – usually it takes between 30 to 45 minutes.
What’s with the characters’ names? Parker, Brady, Drake, Morgan – they all seem to have first names that are last names.
We thought it would be fun to give all the characters only one name that could, ambiguously, either be their first or last name. It could then be left up to the reader to decide if the names were first or last names. All of the characters do have other names, but those are a closely guarded secret.
How does it feel to realize you’ve been doing it for nine years? And is it still fun?
Absolutely. It’s actually more fun now. I look forward to our Monday night phone meetings. It’s probably the nearest I get to having a social life. I suppose it’s sobering to think that in the beginning I was the same age as Brady, now I’m nine years older. Strangely enough I think in recent years I’ve become much more fond of him, as if I’m his older brother.
And what about your characters – what’s been happening to them and where might they be going?
I think the nature of situation comedies is that the characters never really transform. There might be a temporary change over one comic, or even over a series of several, but the characters always return to where they were at the beginning. The main characters, Brady and Parker, will always be just successful enough to keep them going towards the next book, and this is very like most of the authors I know. I think if either of them were to have some huge success it would change them, and then the comic would have to be different.