A Conversation with Alum Jonathan Stark

It was my pleasure to have worked on a few academic projects with Ooligan graduate Jonathan Stark. When I met him as a fellow student, he was already had written a screenplay and was producing the indie film Population 2. He developed the Start to Finish program for Ooligan Press, and he is now involved in the writing and producing of a Steampunk graphic novel called Dahlia. Stark graduated from Portland State University with two masters degrees in June 2013.

You’ve been involved with film production, freelance editing and publishing, and now a graphic novel. What drives you to be able to accomplish so much?

I think everyone asks themselves at some point in their life, “Why am I here?” I’ve been asking that question for at least the last twenty years. I’m a very hands-on learner, and I seek answers by jumping headfirst into things. So I keep trying things to figure out the answer, and then once I’ve started something, I always have to finish it.

Currently you are working on a graphic novel. What can you tell us about that?

The year is 1925, and the American Civil War rages on without an end in sight. The development and mass implementation of steam power has set the war, and the world itself, on a starkly different course than the one from history books. Airships dot the skies, cities sprawl and tower over the citizenry, and life is seamlessly and inexorably integrated with steam technology, while the line between man and machine is narrow and constantly blurring.

War is a part of everyday life for both Northerners and Southerners alike, and their armies remain locked in a bloody stalemate. In the midst of this terrible conflict, the death of one young woman would normally be nothing more than another number in the grim tally of death…until she is resurrected as the ultimate weapon for the North. Her name is Dahlia, and her battle with the South will either destroy the nation or unite it forever.

This is the story of Dahlia. It’s a 320-page graphic novel that I wrote with Max Lewis, a friend of mine. We hired Mac Cooper, an amazing local artist, to illustrate it. It’s a graphic novel in two editions. The script is complete, and we’ve already completed the final art for a large portion of the first edition, some of which you will see in February when we go online. Then we’ll be heading to Kickstarter in April to help us fund the full project.

Teaser for Dahlia

Teaser for Dahlia.

How is the process of creating Dahlia different than Ooligan’s process for creating trade paperbacks?

Actually, almost everything I’m doing on Dahlia I learned how to do at Ooligan! Creating marketing plans, writing web copy, identifying a target audience, editing the graphic novel script, project managing, getting ISBNs and printing quotes, using spreadsheets to layout our costs and budgets…these are all skills I developed at Ooligan. Some of them I learned on my own in order to help out authors [and projects] I worked very closely with, like Sean Davis and his amazing memoir, The Wax Bullet War. Others I learned in classes from teachers like Todd Sattersten, whose publishing management class was essential to everything I’m doing now.

One of the most practical skills I learned at Ooligan was how to use [Adobe] InDesign. I took two amazing classes on the tool from Kelley Dodd and Abbey Gaterud, and it’s been instrumental. Because of what I learned there, I’ll be able to do all the lettering for the graphic novel.

What is your favorite part of working on a graphic novel?

The collaboration. Creative collaboration is something that feels very natural after Ooligan. Ooligan can’t claim full credit for that, as I’ve always loved to collaborate, but it did help teach me how to do it well. The biggest thing is to keep communications very clear and open. I have an amazing relationship with my co-writer, Max. It’s taken us two years and twenty-nine drafts to bring Dahlia to completion, and we’ve had discussions about every word and concept that is in the script. Sometimes we’ve gotten into very heated discussions, but the heat all comes from passion, never from contention. We always worked towards making the best product, not towards proving one of us is right.

We also have a collaborative relationship with our artist, Mac Cooper. Mac is an artist of the highest order, skill, and integrity; he’s put as much of himself into the creation of this world as we have. One thing we’re going to do on the website that launches in February is put up our scripts alongside his art, so that people can hopefully get a sense of the collaboration involved simply in the translation from script to page.

We’ve even hooked up with some old Ooligan alumni! Cliff Hansen, designer of 42, has designed our intro for us, which is a page that explains a little of the history behind our world.

What other projects are you involved in right now?

I’m working on a textbook for a new educational publisher called Chairseven, and I am a content editor for social enterprise company Chess Media. I’m also finishing up a project with my friend Gil Luna, who just finished his second successful Kickstarter, in which he created background music for pen and paper RPGs. I just wrote seventy-five pages of adventures to go along with the music and am finishing up the design on them—it’s going to be available as a PDF on DrivThru RPG. Max and I are also thinking about our next graphic novel project, which we’ll pursue after Dahlia takes off. I feel like I may have finally found the answer to my personal “why.”

Images courtesy of Jonathan Stark

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.