Ben Balistreri's "Seaweed and the Cure for Mildew"

Its Comic Con season and I know that a lot of you are getting excited to go. So to help get people even more excited, I wanted to let everyone know about Ben Balistreri’s new book "Seaweed and the Cure for Mildew". Even with his busy schedule at DreamWorks as a story artist, he had time to answer a few questions about his awesome book…

Ben when did you first think of the story for this book and how long did it take to create?

I was on vacation in San Diego and was enjoying a drink or two at the Tangiers Bar, which had a very "Casablanca" feel to it. I had been thinking of creating my own comic for a while, and this bar really inspired me. (Or I guess it might have just been the beer...) In any case it set the wheels in motion and I set about writing the story. That was about 9 years ago.

So what was the process you went through in creating your book?

I originally wrote an epic, that if completed, would have spanned seven books. It was a total mess. I showed that script to a few friends and most replied with dead silence or quickly changed the subject when I asked what they thought. I got some really great notes from my Dad (who has excellent story taste) as well as a good friend of mine, (and an amazing storyboard artist), David Prince. Their notes really centered on simplifying the story and making ideas clearer. I went through a few attempts to fix what was there but eventually threw the whole idea out and started over with a very simple idea of a pelican who was trying to find a cure for his crippled wings.

The second go-round I kept the script to a basic outline and figured I would "write" it with the drawings, as that felt more natural to me. I drew and hand-inked the pages and then did the color in Photoshop.

What's going to happen in the future; do you plan on doing more?

I planned on only publishing one book with one story but it's taken so long that I decided to split the story into two books. Luckily the halfway point made for a nice break which, though the story's not finished, there's no annoying cliffhanger.

The second book is fully written and drawn and now just needs to be inked and colored.

Do you have more stories you would like to tell with different characters?

Absolutely! Creating this comic has been so fun and rewarding that I can't imagine not doing more. Seaweed and Poisson's story will be done at the end of book two, "The Devil's Cookbook". After that's finished, I have plans for doing a story set in World War II.

Not only did you come up with the story, and pencil it, you also inked and colored the whole thing too. What were some of the difficulties and/or enjoyable experiences you had doing it by yourself?

Writing dialog and coming up with the story were the most challenging parts for me. I tried like hell to make the characters all speak with their own unique voices and spent a lot of time trying to make them likable. I wanted Seaweed to be a cool Humphrey Bogart "type" who even though he has a problem to overcome, he doesn't seem like a loser or a standard underdog.

I spent most of my career working in character design, so drawing backgrounds was a real challenge as well. My favorite artists, Uderzo and Andre Franquin, draw every detail to perfection. There's no slacking off on elements that the artist was too lazy to research or draw properly. I worked toward that kind of discipline for my book. I went on "location" scouting trips to take reference photos. I built a model of a tug boat so I could draw some tricky angles on Seaweed's boat, "The Salty Sugar", and otherwise spent a lot of time drawing and re-drawing all those details that I otherwise would be too scared to attempt.

Color frightened me as well. I was used to laying color down on individual characters but combining them on a background and then thinking of the color on a whole page was intimidating. I thought early on about going mono-chromatic but I didn't think that would help the story and I didn't want to take the "easy" way out. Thank God for Photoshop and the "hue/saturation" bar. This book would be a complete disaster without the ability to simplify the color from my first pass. Some pages got very discouraging and needed a lot of time and adjustments to get them to not look awful. I found that when something wasn't working, it was usually because I was using too many colors and needed to simplify. The same lesson I learned when writing the story.

As far as "enjoyable experiences" - just creating something that was 100% my own was unbelievably rewarding! There were so many exciting moments that I could write for days about all the fun times. In the end there was no bigger thrill then getting that first advance copy and smelling that wonderful smell of freshly printed ink! That may have been the greatest smell I ever experienced!

I am really happy to hear you plan on printing your book 12" x 15", full – color and in hard cover with a cloth spine. Were you inspired by the European comics?

They were my MAIN Inspiration! In particular, I have some limited Tirage de luxe albums that are all oversized and the quality of the paper and the printing treats them as the breathtaking art that they are. People who have seen "Seaweed and the Cure for Mildew" are being blown away at just how big 12 x 15 inches really is. It makes the book stand out and I think provides a much more thrilling reading experience.

Some of my favorite European BDs are EVERYTHING by Andre Franquin, although "Spirou et Fantasio" is my favorite, (try finding "Le Nid de Marsupilami" or "Le Voyageur Du Mesozoique"), a couple of standouts from the series.

If you're looking for an English translation of a Franquin book, good luck! The only one I've seen is "Z is for Zorglub" published by Fantasy Flight Publishing back in 1995.

All Asterix comics are priceless works of art! A lesser known but equally brilliant series by Uderzo and Goscinny is "Ompa-Pa". There is an English translation available that you can occasionally find on Ebay.

I love "Tin Tin" by Herge, "Benoit Brisefer" by Peyo, "Lucky Luke" by Morris and Goscinny, "Gil Jourdan" by Tillieux, "Les Innommables" by Yann and Conrad, "Blacksad" by Canales and Guarnido, "Soda" by Gazzotti and Tome, Batem draws a beautiful "Marsupilami" series, "Belladone" and "Les Echaudeurs ds Tenebres" drawn by Pierre Alary, "Spoon et White" and "Polestar" by Leturgie, "Green Manor" by Bodart, anything by Jean Barbaud (the greatest designer of airplanes EVER), also any book by Yves Chaland is brilliant. Tome and Janry have put out some amazing editions of "Spirou and Fantasio" ("Spirou a New York" is particularly beautiful and "Machine qui Reve" is one of my favorite comics of all time!). If you get a chance look at the amazing art of Jung Etienne on either "Gargoilles" or "Brussli". I'm sure I'm forgetting tons of awesome books but those are some that stand out.

Creating this book seems like a perfect fit for you with your incredible ability to do storyboards and character design. Did your experience in the animation industry affect your designing process in how you laid out your pages and created the characters?

Well thank you very much! That's nice of you to say. I'm sure working in animation affected the look of Seaweed, but I spent a lot of time studying what works well for the comic book medium. There's a real beauty to reading a comic that can't happen in film. The positioning of panels and transitioning between pages can mean a lot to the story. Changing the size of the panels is a great way to add power to a particular image. You can't change the size of a TV monitor or movie screen to get the same effect.

As far as design, the basic images could of course be for an animated film, but I doubt you could ever use the same varying line quality that is essential to the look of these characters. I think a comic book is the only way to showcase that.

It's got 40 pages of story and 24 pages of sketches, designs and development all printed on heavy paper stock. I am really pleased to know you will be adding those extra 24 pages of development to the book. What motivated you to add those pages in the book?

I originally thought the idea to add development to the back of the book was a bad one, because it was a reminder that the characters weren't "real". The problem I had was that I really LOVE those additional sketch pages in other books that I buy and furthermore I got a lot of requests to add them. In the end I decided that it doesn't take away from the story at all and adds a really great personal touch to the book. I filled it with some notes on my process, the steps I use to ink, character design development, and even unused character designs that got cut from the book. It's got loads of thumbnail drawings, failed attempts, and some of the blue line pages before they were inked. I printed the "making of" pages on a different paper than the actual book. It's an "unfinished" matte paper that feels more like a sketchbook and makes the book really feel like you're getting two books for the price of one!

What steps should aspiring artists take to do what you do, to get themselves started in creating their own book?

I'm not sure I can offer any great wisdom on this issue as I'm so new to the publishing game that it seems silly for me to tell anyone else how to accomplish it. Ask me again when my second book is being sold and I may have figured out something.

For those interested in self-publishing, I got a lot of my information from the book: "The Self-Publishing Manual" by Dan Poynter.

Otherwise just be passionate about the type of art that you want to make and don't give in to your insecurities about what you can't do. Keep struggling because hard work always pays off.

The biggest question is when and where can we buy it?

You can buy it RIGHT NOW!!!! Go visit I'm also signing each book and providing a quick sketch.

Will you be selling any of the production art or any of the original pages from this book?

I doubt I'll ever sell the original pages. They are just worth too much to me to part with them. I may sell off the development sketches at some point but I don't have any current plans to do so.

Ben thank you for taking the time to answer these questions, I am so happy your book is finished, and I can't wait to read it. I look forward to seeing what you do in the future.

Thanks so much for taking the time to help promote the book and for running such a great blog!

For those of you going to the Comic Con, Ben will be at Booth #5012 (Stuart NG Books) signing books on Sunday from 2:00 to 4:00

Click Here to find out more, or if the time and place changes.

To see more of Ben's artwork and thoughts go to his Blog by clicking the picture below.