Cursed Pirate Girl: A Review & Interview with Jeremy Bastian

Posted By on June 18, 2013

Art and Story by Jeremy Bastian

Published by Archaia

By Jeremy Bastian

It’s a rare thing when a comic comes along that catches readers off-guard with a unique blend of exquisite aesthetic elements with carefully crafted characters rolled up into over 150 pages of high adventure.  Readers lucky enough to get their hands on the original issues are in for a real treat with the “handcrafted” feel Bastian put into the publication of his old-world comic with its textured, embossed cover; rough cut pages, which lend the impression of its creator diligently wiling the night away cutting each page by candlelight and hand-stamping each cover in preparation for you, the reader, to enjoy; and the combination of spider-thin line work and unobtrusive inks recalling a 19th Century newspaper cartoonist.  But this is exactly what artist and writer, Jeremy Bastian, delivers to his readers with his collected edition of Cursed Pirate Girl from Archaia.

Bastian originally published Cursed Pirate Girl in serial form through Olympian Press and was first collected into trade through a highly successful Kickstarter campaign in 2010.  In 2012, Archaia—known for publishing original graphic novels with a voice that’s distinct from mainstream comics—published the collection bringing this tactile work of art into the hands of an even wider reading audience.  I say tactile because, while available digitally, it’s really a book that needs to be physically experienced.     There’s no mistaking the fact this book is a beauty to behold, and upon looking at the work Bastian put into each panel of every page, it is a wonder this comic this work saw completion with the sheer amount of detail rendered for readers to linger over.  In many regards, the art and design recall early renderings of Alice in Wonderland and other cartoonists from a bygone era.  It is too easy to go back and find new things embedded in each picture that was previously overlooked.  Bastian adds to this nostalgic tone through generally eschewing more traditional text boxes and speech bubbles, which typically are added after the; instead, he incorporates these comic elements directly into the art giving a more organic feel to the entire page.  Moreover, hand lettering the entire story lends to an even more intimate feeling as opposed to the more contemporary approach to use computer-generated text to help tell the story and give voice to the characters in a comic.  So with all of these wonderful aesthetics proving so visually pleasing, how does Bastian’s storytelling hold up?

If you’re looking for a complete reading experience during your morning or afternoon commute, or perhaps a story you can consume quickly while waiting in the doctor’s office, Cursed Pirate Girl will no doubt prove frustratingly slow.  Some may take this as a criticism, but there is a reason this book simply cannot be taken in so quickly.  This book is best experienced when taken in slowly.  Because Bastian fills the panels with such intricate details, the pacing of the story is notably slowed down.  For my part, I enjoyed being made to slow down.  Too many superhero books ‘ cues readers to consume the narrative more quickly, and this sort of reading can dull one’s critical eye when compared to taking in a story in a more deliberate and unhurried approach.

The story itself adopts the typical “coming of age” / “fair unknown” trope, but then delivers it in a rather unique approach.  Readers familiar with the commercial world of Disney are familiar with the way in which the House of Mouse reinforces standard gender stereotypes with its “Pirates” and “Princesses” line for boys and girls respectively.  Bastian, however, turns this mass-media norm on its head through using a pirate girl as his protagonist—and the story makes her gender-bending behaviors and influence on others one of the focal catalysts for her troubles.  Had she only been a well-behaved young girl, it is likely she would have remained safe, unharmed, and quite unworthy of having a book written about her!  As it is, this young girl comes to know that she is the daughter of one of the five pirate captains, and it is her destiny to discover his identity and assume her likely role as his heir apparent all the while facing troubles from both the local governor and the inhabitants of the high seas.

Interior Page from CPG

By Jeremy Bastian

I had the good fortunate to chat with Jeremy Bastian in between his various convention appearances.

 

Forrest Helvie (FH):  I know that this book was originally supposed to be published through Archaia, but it took something of a “scenic route” to get to this point.  Can you describe your experience in bringing your story to comic readers?

Jeremy Bastian (JB):  When I first started work on Cursed Pirate Girl (CPG), I did not want a colored book.  I was inspired by the works of Durer and Dore and wanted that old world etched illustration style but in a comic book format.  Archaia wanted the book in color.  I did go and color the first two issues but that’s as far as I got before I met Tom over at Olympian Publishing.  Tom knew where I was coming from and knew what I was doing with the book and basically made me an offer I couldn’t refuse.  It allowed me to quit my part-time job and just work solely on the book.  I had a hard time calling up Archaia and saying I found someone else to publish with, but they were really understanding and let me go.  And so Olympian published the three individual issues and then put the soft cover trade up on Kickstarter to raise money for.  The Kickstarter for the soft cover trade went beyond our expectations and we were able to print the trade and make a plushy Pook the Tarantula through a local (to Chicago, where Olympian Publishing was based in) costume maker.  Then in talking with Olympian, I believe it was an overall consensus that they’ve taken the book as far as they could and that we should look into a bigger publisher to take it to the next level.  I still had friends at Archaia who loved the book and believed in it so I decided to ask them again to publish it, just as long as it could stay a black and white book.  They said no problem, and were quite excited by the prospect.  And I can say they really did a fantastic job with it. 

 Jeremy Bastian and a Cosplayer

FH:  What can you share about how this story came about?  Specifically, what influenced your telling of this story?

JB:  It started with an idea that was based on a drawing I did.  The drawing was a pirate woman, very tattoo flash inspired, complete with treasure chest and shark.  The idea that it spawned was “what if I made her a child?”, and this brought images of all the children storybook characters I liked as a kid.  I wanted to write a story that was fun and adventurous but a little dark and creepy as well.  As far as the story goes it’s definitely Alice in Wonderland like- a girl in a whimsical world trying to navigate its perilous characters and landscapes.  It’s also heavily influenced by Little Nemo in Slumberland- a child thrown into an ever-evolving land of the impossible and fantastic.  But I also really enjoyed the world of Grimm’s fairy tales.  I liked how dark they were, just the right amount of scary and heroic. And also unlike Alice or Dorothy, CPG is a little fiercer, she’s not afraid of anything.  In those other stories the characters are thrown into a situation they don’t belong in and are trying to make their way out.  CPG belongs to the world she is thrown into so it’s more about finding her rightful place there.  

FH:  I know many reviewers and fans have compared this work to a contemporary “Alice in Wonderland,” and I couldn’t help but feel the influence of 19th Century editorial cartoonists in the art.  Along these lines, were there any literary (comics or conventional works) that informed your creation of Cursed Pirate Girl—whether the story or the art?

JB:  I might’ve already said too much in regards to this one in the previous answer but as far as the art is concerned, I have many influences.  From Albrecht Durer, William Hogarth and Gustave Dore to Arthur Rackham, Walter Crane and Kay Nielsen to Andrej Dugin and Olga Dugina, Gennady Spirin, K.Y. Craft, Alan Aldridge and Tony DiTerlizzi to Amano Yoshitaka, Mike Mignola, Guy Davis, Gary Gianni, Geof Darrow and Arthur Adams.  

FH:  Without spoiling the story for new and future readers, the first volume ends on a somewhat ominous note:  What do you have in store for volume 2?

JB:  Well, in book one of volume 2 you’ll find out a whole lot more of CPG’s father and his enemies, and it marks the beginning of a treasure hunt that will lead her directly to the reunion she has wished for.  There will be singing crabs, a sunken city, a new pet, a bad guy or two, ghosts, more skeleton pirates, sword fights and a frog named Turnip.  And no, not all of that is in the first issue, but some of it will be.

FH:  I noticed as I looked through volume 1, which was originally published in serial format, the art actually appears to grow progressively more and more detailed.  Was this something you were aware of while creating each issue?  Are you finding this happening during the production of volume two?

JB:  Well, in book one of volume 2 you’ll find out a whole lot more of CPG’s father and his enemies, and it marks the beginning of a treasure hunt that will lead her directly to the reunion she has wished for.  There will be singing crabs, a sunken city, a new pet, a bad guy or two, ghosts, more skeleton pirates, sword fights and a frog named Turnip.  And no, not all of that is in the first issue, but some of it will be.

 Interior Splash from CPG

FH:  I’ve heard there’s actually an audio play based upon this series that’s currently in production, which includes an eclectic array of talents such as comic greats Grant Morrison and Dave McKean; acclaimed actor, John C. Reilly; and MMA fighter-turned-action movie star, Randy Couture.  What can you tell us about this venture?

JB:  I can’t say much, other than it sounds really cool!  I’ve heard different clips from the different actors involved and I’m really happy with it.  This is a Century Guild/Olympian Publishing project; we were brainstorming up ideas for the book and marketing.  It’s a different kind of book than most of the books out there and we wanted to do something equally different to gain attention.  An audio version of a comic book- which is so much more a visual medium- is certainly different.  There are still many parts to be cast and I believe there will be a symphonic score to go with it.  So far that’s all I know.  

FH:  On a slightly more random note, what has your attention right now in comics?  Any books or creators who have really caught your interest?

JB:  I don’t purchase too much, as I cannot afford too many books.  But, I do pick up Hellboy, Swamp Thing, Animal Man, pretty much anything Richard Corben puts out, I’m obsessed with the self-published books of Andy Belanger and Becky Cloonan, Locke and Key, Mouse Guard and a book called Bodie Troll.

FH:  In addition to Cursed Pirate Girl, what other projects are you working on presently or would you like to work on given the time?

JB:  I am working on a contribution to a Little Nemo in Slumberland anthology, but besides that, I cannot afford to spend any time on anything other than CPG.  I’ve a long way to go, and I’m very slow at what I do.

FH:  As of late, there has been a lot of… tension between the world of creator-owned comics versus publishing licensed comics, i.e. the “Big Two.”  What would you say are some the benefits you’ve experienced as an independent creator?  Drawbacks?  Are you primarily looking to stay indie or would you look at more mainstream comics as well?

JB:  I grew up wanting to draw X-Men and Swamp Thing; I don’t think that’s going to happen.  One- I don’t think my style lends itself well to them (well… maybe Swamp Thing) and Two- there isn’t an editor at Marvel or DC that would put up with my work schedule.  A week a page is not your industry standard.  That is the one thing that stands out most; I get to craft a story without cutting any corners.  CPG is an intense labor of love and patience.

FH:  The last word’s yours, Jeremy.  Any final thoughts you’d like to share?

JB:  I’d just like to thank my fans for being so very kind and patient. I started working on this book a long time ago and I’m just glad there are so many people out there who really get it.  It’s not your typical book and it’s so reassuring that there is so much love out there for it and from such a diverse audience.  I grew up wanting to be an artist in this industry and have been pretty focused all my life on achieving that.  I’m glad that it has paid off, that there are so many people who really appreciate what I can offer.  So thanks again!  Being creative is so very hard to make into a career and impossible if you don’t have people who like what you do.

 

You can find Cursed Pirate Girl vol. 1 on Comixology, through your local comic shops, or Amazon.

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About the Author

Forrest C. Helvie
Dr. Forrest C. Helvie recently completed his doctoral dissertation, which is focused on the relationship between American literature and comic book superheroes, and he is now preparing the book for publication. He served as a panelist at a number of conferences discussing his research in comics, most notably the New York Comic Con. Additionally, Forrest writes for Newsarama and Sequart; additionally, he has recently been working on writing some comic short stories in collaboration with other up-and-coming artists. In addition to his work in comics scholarship, Forrest is an assistant professor of developmental English at Norwalk Community College in Connecticut. Twitter: https://twitter.com/fhelvie