The brother-and-sister cartoonists draw on Greek myth for In Perpetuity (Top Shelf, Apr.), a supernatural noir set in an inverted version of Los Angeles.

How did you start Coin-Op Books, your self-publishing operation?

Peter: Around 1997, we got a call from Monte Beauchamp, who was editing Blab. He had seen our [joint] illustration work and asked if we wanted to try drawing comics, which we had never done before.

Maria: We thought, how hard could it be? As a cartoonist, once you start, you can’t stop.

Do you find you have to work differently for a graphic novel like In Perpetuity, as opposed to your shorter comics?

Peter: When we do shorter-form comics, generally the whole thing evolves in one big lump. With the longer ones, we write the story out in prose first, then adapt it into drawings. When we do that, 90% of the prose disappears.

Maria: What’s wonderful about making these longer books is that we’re making smaller, shorter comics simultaneously. We can pop between projects.

How did you come up with the graphic novel’s version of an afterlife?

Peter: I wanted to retell the story of Orpheus and his trip to the afterworld. The inverse of L.A. is A.L., or “after life”—to make the afterlife a kind of shade version of Los Angeles seemed like something people could understand.
I also wanted to bring in a noir influence. In the film Out of the Past, Robert Mitchum is working at a gas station when somebody from his past shows up and drags him back into crime—Kirk Douglas and Jane Greer and a lot of gunplay. That appealed to me: the idea of fate, your past catching up to you. It’s also how the fable of Orpheus works.

What was your favorite thing to draw?

Maria: I love how the story toggles between the living world and the afterlife. The whole color scheme and mood changes.

Peter: In the Greek afterworld, it’s dark, they’re down in the Elysian Fields. But this is L.A., so it’d just be smoggy all the time. When there is a sun, it’s black.
It was fun to imagine how the afterlife would look and invent rules for it. It’s based on the Greek idea of the afterlife, which is that there’s no more sensual pleasure. There’s no food, there’s no procreation; you just kind of wander around. But since it’s L.A., you drive. There are bars where they serve glasses with nothing in them. There’s entertainment, but it’s not entertaining.

What do you find most challenging about making comics?

Maria: It becomes your life, but in the best way. What a strange, wonderful life you can have.
—Shaenon Garrity