One Story, Three Mediums: An Interview with Drew Spence
08 Jan, 2013
Medium blending is rarely done, especially where more than one is used to tell the same story. Recent examples are video games like Mass Effect and Dragon Age continuing their stories in comic books. But what if someone were to create one story across multiple mediums at the same time? It’s an intriguing idea, but we don’t have to wait to see it in action. Combining short films, comic books and music, Drew Spence has told one story across three different mediums. To check it out head over here.
Using a photorealistic style, Spence tells a story that in the graphic novel can also be seen in the web series. It’s an interesting concept, largely because the reader (or is it viewer) can choose how to consume the story. The imagery has a darker and much more moody atmosphere than the web-series, but also tells the story in a more intimate way. It’s interesting to note the differences while you follow the story, largely because this is something you haven’t seen before.
Whether you listen to the soundtrack that accompanies the web-series while reading the comic is up to you. In fact you can check out the first issue online here. I found myself enjoying the music while reading and also on its own. The techno beats and digital styling is complex enough to listen alone, but it has a soundtrack quality that allows you to concentrate on imagery and words in the comic at the same time.
My only gripe with the content is it’s a little blunt in places. While the music is as sharp as it comes, the videos have pacing issues and the graphic novel gets muddy in places where it’s hard to see or follow. That said the overall package between mediums is compelling and anyone interested in this exciting technique of storytelling should take a look.
We recently spoke with Spence about his work, what inspired the series and his work as an artist.
AiPT: Your work is very dynamic as it incorporates music and two different types of visuals. Tell us about yourself, what inspired this amalgamation of mediums?
Drew Spence: I grew up in a household that listened to everything. Soul, Classical, Funk, Country…my parents had a diverse collection so when I started making my early sample-based music, those were the crates I started digging in.
AiPT: Would you say there was one genre you’re more interested in?
Drew Spence: My first love was Hip Hop. Melle Mel’s “White Lines” was the first record I ever became obsessed with and a RUN-D.M.C. record was the first album I ever owned. Another huge influence, were all the theme songs and incidental music from all my favorite Sci-Fi shows.
AiPT: What would you say is your first calling?
Drew Spence: Probably Rap. It allows me to tell a story in the most direct way.
AiPT: For someone who’s never heard of Mark of the Griffin how would the elevator pitch go?
Drew Spence: I’m Drew Spence the creator of the Mark of the Griffin web series. I’m a music producer and artist telling a story about a superhero who is not super and not a hero. He thinks differently and this feels different. You will think and feel differently once you experience the video, music and comic book.
AiPT: Was there anything that specifically inspired the character in Mark of the Griffin?
Drew Spence: I became fixated on a picture of a jet pilot wearing his oxygen mask and felt that, somehow I was tied to that image. I started using gas masks in my online profile images but wanted it to mean more than a cool artist shot.
I created a gasmask-wearing mascot for my videos and planned to have his back story slowly evolve, but the image resonated so well, I decided to dive in with full length videos. I didn’t have any ideas about what he’d be doing without the mask, so I added a Marcus Griffin and based his story loosely on my life.
AiPT: So I take it the music came first and then the videos and comics is that right?
Drew Spence: Oh man, I’ve been drawing comics since I can remember. I went to school for the arts and everyone thought I was going to become a painter or sculptor. Later, I did a lot of graphic arts and wanted to create a comic book that came with a CD of music. I had a distribution deal in place, but couldn’t raise enough money to press a full run so I had to let that idea sit for a while. Now, I’m taking the same DIY approach for music and applying it to videos and comics.
AiPT: Why delve into comics at all? Why not stick to short films?
Drew Spence: It’s about the translation of a story into a medium. Comics, films, music and novels all have their pluses and minuses when it comes to sharing an idea. There are things I can show you in a picture, which I really can’t in any other way. There’s an emotional element to music that’s expressed better in a song than in a soundtrack. There are small moments in film that would require a lot of explaining in a written story and being wordy always sacrifices pacing. Big and involved concepts translate well across the various mediums and you are able to focus on different aspects depending on what medium you choose to work with.
AiPT: What is your experience with film?
Drew Spence: It’s learning on the job. I have several friends who either got to school for film or work in the film industry. They have been very helpful with smoothing out some of the (very) rough edges and lessening some of the big mistakes. As I learn more and more, I am able to be more ambitious and technically sound. I’m enjoying the learning process.
AiPT: Your work deals with crime in a noirish sort of way. Do you see yourself tackling other genres using the same music/video/comic book formats?
Drew Spence: Oh yes, this is a package I’d like to use again. I have several projects from music and comics that I’d like to cross-develop. But before I can share some of those other worlds, I need to establish a single story and Mark of the Griffin is the most accessible. I think so many can relate because at its root, it’s an ordinary guy doing extraordinary things. It’s believable.
AiPT: Your work reminds me of what the Gorillaz have done by animating themselves and creating a whole world around alternate personas. How does this affect writing music when you’ve developed a persona outside yourself?
Drew Spence: I try not to stray from my core because you can create ‘someone’ who really isn’t you. I don’t want to meet a supporter and have to adopt a fake voice or mannerism. And you need respect for the culture behind the music you create.
AiPT: Doing a little googling around, it appears you’re also a DJ and judging by the content of your comic and videos you have trained in a fighting style. Can you tell us how long you’ve been doing both?
Drew Spence: I’ve been taking Martial Arts for over 12 years at a school called Modern Warrior in Lindenhurst New York. They do this real-world type training, from weather simulations like rain and snow to total darkness, fighting in an elevator and bus… inside your home or office with furniture… they always update and adapt to current situations.
They do a lot in the community and the school has a wide range of students. There are classes for every age group and every level of ability is appreciated. The have a group called Wolverines for kids, Silverbacks for the older people and many programs for women- from the free rape prevention seminars to multi-week defensive courses.
The Mark of the Griffin character Sensei Ernesto Hawke is played by my real life trainer Phil Messina and Phoebe also trains at Modern Warrior. It’s a little funny to most of us because I violate many of the fighting principles for the sake of action.
I don’t really call myself a DJ. I do DJ a bit, but I consider myself more of a producer/performer and my live shows are about new translations and versions of my records with a few twists and surprises thrown in.
AiPT: I love the idea of being skilled in different arts and then combining them as you’ve seemed to have done with comics and videos. What gave you the idea to translate your skills into media?
Drew Spence: It was always a fantasy. I would say, “Someday, when the time is right, I’ll do this or that.” When a friend and artist passed away, I realized you don’t get to write your own life story. There’s no guarantee I’ll have time in the future so now is the best time to do everything. Mark of the Griffin is the first idea where I had the means to create and combine all of my interests.
AiPT: Can you divulge any details on anything you’re currently working on?
Drew Spence: For now, it’s about reaching as many people as possible. Blog sites like Adventures in Poor Taste are extremely important in spreading the word about independent projects like Mark of the Griffin. I can create all kinds of content on my own website and blog, but it takes the help of other media outlets to share these portals. Trust me; I am busy in my fallout shelter cooking up some treats.
AiPT: Thanks for your time Drew.
Drew Spence: No, thank you. This was awesome.