Interview: Glen Carabin Talks About His Inspiration for DARTMOUTH

Glen Carabin is a new writer and artist in the comics industry. His debut work, Dartmouth, is a fun, pulpy, experimental blast of comics, right to the face! Monkeys Fighting Robots got the chance to chat with Carabin about his creative process and inspirations behind Dartmouth.

Monkeys Fighting Robots: So, Glen, you mentioned to me before that part of the reason you have such a unique style in Dartmouth is because you just didn’t think you could draw. And so, you photoshopped actual photos of scenes and added lettering over it. It really does create a unique and interesting style though, kind of born out of a “shortcut” so to speak. Do you plan to keep this style going in more works that you produce or are you looking for a more conventional artist for your future projects?

Glen Carabin: If I had to illustrate this book, it would never get done, and I’d have nothing to prove my interest in making comics. That said, I am not an illustrator, but, after creating the Dartmouth character through photo-manipulation on an iPhone app, and writing the story for this book, I would mention it in conversations at comic shops and show the images to people in hope of finding someone interested in illustrating it for me.

I eventually realized though, that’s probably not going to happen. So, with some encouragement, I decided to do my own art for the project. I enjoy working in photoshop. I consider it a hobby or pastime to develop scenes and sequences each night with a game on in the background. I also now realize it would be a ton of work for an artist to illustrate these next couple of books, so I’m not even going to think about it.

But, to answer your question, the reason I wrote this book in the first place, and did the artwork, is to show artists that I am willing to do the work, that I am serious about making comics. And the last thing I want to do is insult artists by passing off what I’m doing as a replacement for the work they do. It’s not. Like I said, if I didn’t do the artwork on this book, it would never get done. I had to do it, and incidentally, while I was making Dartmouth, I read Brian Michael Bendis’ book Words for Pictures. In it, he writes, “Comic art does not have to be inked line art. It can be painting, etching, photography, multimedia, or any combination thereof.”

That passage gave me the confidence to continue working through this project. Like what I was doing was ok. Furthermore, I absolutely do hope to collaborate with illustrators, real artists on other projects someday. In the meantime, I am certainly open to giving the covers of the next two or three issues of Dartmouth (front, back, inner and outer) to artists interested in developing any cover art for the project. Just let me know.

And one final note, there’s a website called Blambot. These guys offer fonts for indie creators to use to develop professional quality lettering for their comics. I need to give them a mention here. Their fonts really improved the overall quality of Dartmouth.

MFR: This question is a two-parter. There are some clear references in Dartmouth to real life events, places, and things. Even the name, Dartmouth, is like Dartmouth, Nova Scotia, which I know is your stomping grounds. What were some of the real-life inspirations for this work?

Carabin: First off, in Dartmouth there’s an important body of water called Boonamoogwaddy Harbour. It’s actually spelt Ponamogoatitjg. It’s what the Mi’kmaw First Nation called the area we now know as Dartmouth, Nova Scotia. The initial inspiration for the lead character and for this book obviously comes from the city’s name, Dartmouth, but also, if you live here and take a closer look at the lay of the land, it eerily resembles the geography of Gotham. For example, if you cross from Halifax into Dartmouth via the MacKay Bridge, you arrive near a district called Burnside.

Likewise, in Gotham City, if you cross Brown Bridge, I believe it’s called, you arrive in Burnside and, as you know, Batgirl keeps watch over Burnside. So there’s a nod to that character and her alter-ego in Dartmouth through a bookstore called Gordon’s Gently Loved Books. Then there’s Tufts Cove Generating Station (Burnside Power Plant in the book). It’s situated near Burnside, Nova Scotia, in a location similar to where Interstate Light and Power is located in Gotham, on the Burnside side of the bridge. And next to Tufts Cove Generating station you will find Tufts Cove Cemetery (Burnside Cemetery in the book). Tufts Cove Cemetery is neither haunted nor contaminated, however, it’s been restored by a volunteer community group and is now a beautiful, historic landmark in the city. The similarities Halifax Regional Municipality has with Gotham City, especially the Burnside locale, along with this idea for Dartmouth that was rattling around in my head, made it near impossible to ignore. It felt almost like the city was screaming at me every day to write this book.

Dartmouth Carabin

MFR: Second part of the question: There are just as many references to fictional or literary inspirations. Bernie Wright feels like a nod to the brilliant artist Bernie Wrightson, the Dark Side Lounge kind of nods at both Darkseid and the Dark Side Club from DC comics. What were some of the literary and fictional inspirations to your work?

Carabin: Dartmouth is absolutely a tribute to Bernie Wrightson. In fact, along with Spawn and Batman, Dartmouth certainly takes inspiration from Swamp Thing and, the last page of the final climactic sequence in Dartmouth is modelled after Bernie Wrightson’s contribution to Batman #400. Then, you’re right, there’s the Dark Side Lounge. Locally, Dartmouth is nicknamed the dark side. I’m not from this city, I moved here a number of years ago, so I’m not sure where this nickname comes from but I am a huge fan of DC Comics. I couldn’t resist making some kind of a reference and found the Dark Side Lounge satisfied that compulsion.

There’s also a reference to the Court of Owls in a little coffee shop in Burnside called Night Owl’s Coffee. You may also see/feel/hear inspiration in my writing coming from the great Jack Kerouac. On a side note, if you ever have a chance to read the Kerouac/Burroughs collaboration, And the Hippos Were Boiled in Their Tanks, take some extra time to enjoy chapter 6, where Kerouac writes about the time he spent in Sydney, Nova Scotia. And finally, to comment on some inspiration for the artwork in this book, Grant Morrison and Liam Sharp’s Green Lantern run provided me with a sense of artistic freedom that was essential in the creation of Dartmouth.

Dartmouth Carabin

MFR: Lastly, this definitely feels like it’s the start of something bigger. Do you plan to come back to the world of DARTMOUTH, continuing the story further?

Carabin: Absolutely, Dartmouth is a 3 or 4 book story. Don’t get me wrong, Issue 1 is a complete story with a satisfying payoff for the final sequence. But, reading it may leave you with a few questions that will be answered in the first few pages of issue number two, which I am currently working on.

Check out Carabin’s brilliant debut, Dartmouth, available digitally on Gumroad. Hopefully it’s not long before we get the next chapter of this wild series!

Zac Owens
Zac Owens
A world traveler and all-around nerdy guy, Zac is a DC fan and aspiring comic book writer. When he's not writing and editing for Monkeys Fighting Robots, he's carefully fitting more books onto his already-dangerously-overstuffed bookshelf. He lives in Halifax, NS for the moment. That is, until his Green Lantern ring comes in...