I was lucky enough to discover Mulp at The Lakes earlier this month where I got to have a chat with creators Matt Gibbs & Sara Dunkerton. Since then I’ve reviewed issue #1 (which I loved) and then caught up with the creators again to ask some questions on all things mice related……..there was even a glimpse at some of issue #2 as well which I’ve shared!
What was the main influence for MULP?
Matt: There’s a whole host of influences behind MULP for both Sara and I. Probably the most evident ones are the Pulp roots of our setting, comics such as Tintin, and films such as Indiana Jones and The Mummy. Beyond that, both Sara and I are slightly obsessed with anthropomorphic stories, especially those involving mice and rats. Redwall, by Brian Jacques, is a huge inspiration for me, having fallen in love with his series of books as a child, while comics such as Mouse Guard, Grandville, and Blacksad are all definite influences.
Sara: For me, with the art I have always loved creating and drawing animal characters. As a kid, I had all the Beatrix Potter books and I adored the Brambly Hedge books by Jill Barklem. My love of anthropomorphic stories has always been there while growing up and now it’s come full circle with the same graphic novel influences as Matt mentioned. I also keep pet rats, which have become a huge source of inspiration! So when Matt proposed that we work together on an anthropomorphic tale I leapt at the chance!
MULP really works as an all-ages adventure – was it a challenge to create something that would appeal to both kids & adults alike?
Sara: I don’t feel it was really a challenge as such, I mean we just did what we’d both enjoy! There were a few discussions as to wether Moreau aught to smoke cigarettes using a long holder like Audrey Hepburn, and also how far we aught to go with some of the action later on. But we just found a good balance and had fun with it, I guess it helps that Matt and I are just big kids!
Matt: As Sara said, we’ve definitely created a story that we would both enjoy reading; similar to the stories we read as children and continue to reads as big kids now! But we have discussed at length various aspects of our setting, from what extent guns are used by our characters – which is similar to films such as Indiana Jones or even Star Wars – to how complex we should make the characters use of language, especially their use of archaeological terms. I think for us the balance comes from never wanting to talk down to children, or to adults for that matter, reading our story.
The time it’s set and the archaeological elements give it a real Indiana Jones/Tintin adventure vibe – was that planned?
Matt: As we already touched on, they were huge influences on us and we knew from the outset that we wanted to recreate a Pulp adventure feel… Well, at least the positive aspects of those Pulp stories. It was very important to us to create an ensemble cast of characters, each with their own strengths and weaknesses, all of whom have agency in our story. As to the archeological elements, that was key to the entire story and setting from the start. Our idea sprang from a single image – mice archeologists excavating a human skull in the deserts of Egypt. That one visual image gave us our 1930s setting and the adventurous spirit at the heart of MULP from the outset.
Sara: Also being an ex-archaeologist, Matt was able to draw directly from what he knew. Which helped immensely when it came to drawing the Double Spout and Bridge pots, Ranging Poles, Theodolites, and various other specific objects he included in the scripts, as I had no idea what they were!
Were mice the first choice for playing the characters?
Matt: Definitely! I don’t think there was even any discussion on that front…
Sara: Matt’s first pitch of the story to me was the image of the archaeological dig site, where mice are excavating a human skull! From that image MULP grew; the fact that the characters are mice are actually quite integral to the whole story since they are actually mouse sized in a real world environment. From a design perspective there was very little complication in making these rodent characters personable while retaining their natural animal traits. Since mice naturally stand upright and can manipulate things in their front paws, so of course they could wear clothes and drive cars!
Every character has such a unique look – was this a challenge to create?
Sara: Not a challenge at all, but a delight! One of my favourite parts of illustrating comics is creating and designing the characters. Matt and I established very early on that these were real life sized mice, so we decided to model them from actual species of rodent; Jack is a Yellow-necked Mouse, Victoria a Deer Mouse, and Cornelius a Dormouse! This instantly gave each character a different ear shape, fur colour, body structure, etc, and ensured that one was easily distinguishable from the other. With the Pulp setting of our story and the real life grounding of our characters the clothing had to be researched just as extensively and designed specifically to complement the character profiles provided by Matt. Each character’s outfit is as much integral to portraying their individuality, even down to the fact that each character has their own colour scheme. This was to ensure that even if Jack changed his clothes you’d recognise him for the one that wears blue and brown, or Victoria for wearing orange for example!
Matt: Sara did an amazing job bringing all of our characters to life. There is so much thought and care that has gone into their designs, the attention to detail, and her studies of the real mice species they’re based on. For each new location, Sara and I draw up lists of indigenous rodents too, that we then work into the story and art as best we can. And just quickly on the colour schemes of our characters, to illustrate the thought and care that Sara has put into them, they’re even designed to be complementary, so that certain pairings of characters, such as Jack and Victoria, look right together.
We’ve already seen the story move from Egypt to London – will we see the journey continue to other parts of the world?
Matt: In the next issue, which is out for Thought Bubble, we see our heroes heading off to South America, to Tiwanaku and Peru. We always intended this to be a truly globetrotting tale, but we don’t want to give too many spoilers away… But Sara has been doing an incredible job in bringing all the various locations to life.
Sara: As we were going to visit various countries within the Sceptre of the Sun arc I wanted to ensure that each location had a very different feel, so you really felt that you had travelled to somewhere new with the turn of a page. The main way in which I’d hoped to achieve this was by giving different colour palettes to each setting. So Egypt is all yellows, golden browns, and ochres, London is fresh woodland green and brown, and in the next issue Peru has a dusty terracotta, bright green, and purple palette. However, similarly with the character design, we went as far as to research the indigenous species of rodents for each location we visited. As one human civilisation is different from another, I wanted to create the same sense of cultural variation in our mice!
What’s it like for you guys now that the book will be released through Improper Books?
Sara: This is my very first full length graphic novel, whereas previously I’d contributed art to short stories in anthologies and such. So for me it really is rather fantastic to be represented by such a prestigious publishing company and has given me an opportunity to concentrate more on my illustration career.
Matt: It’s fantastic for us. Although I was heavily involved with Improper Books already, working as the managing editor for our group of creators, we didn’t set out creating MULP with any expectation of it becoming an Improper title. So it was a thrill when Benjamin Read, Laura Trinder, and Chris Wildgoose invited us to join. In many respects Improper is a creative family, and by working together, providing feedback on each others work, we truly believe we push ourselves to make better comics… At least that’s our hope!
Do you have a release schedule for the remaining four issues?
Matt: We’re hoping to get two, possibly three issues out next year, but we’ve always said that we should not rush things and compromise the quality.
Sara: We’ve got the hardest issue out of the way now, and I don’t want to jinx it by saying it should all be plain sailing from here… But there are some really exciting things coming up soon that I can’t wait to draw!
Will we see more MULP beyond the ‘Sceptre of the Sun’ story?
Matt: Both Sara and I are hugely invested in MULP, and the characters and world we’ve created. We really want to explore Japan next, base a story on Japanese myths and history.
Sara: And we’ve got an untold story about Jack and Cornelius in Belgium!
What else are you both working on?
Sara: MULP is the only comic project that I’m working on currently, however as I mentioned previously it has enabled me to establish my freelance career in Illustration. So I’m also taking a lot of portrait and pet commissions, and I hope to open an online shop to sell prints, custom jewellery, and other bits and bobs that have shown some interest on my blog.
Matt: In comics, MULP is my main focus right now, alongside my managing editor work at Improper Books, and freelancing for Delcourt and Soleil. I do have other ideas in the works though, including some new stories I’d like to explore with my fellow Improper creator Bevis Musson, plus there is an Anglo-Saxon/Norman Conquest supernatural series that will hopefully see the light of day next year.
You can get your hands on issue #2 at it’s debut at Thought Bubble next weekend (14th & 15th November) or check things out over on their Mulp website. Since they’ve recently found a new home with Improper Books you can also check out their Website & Facebook page for more details too.