The Sting and The Sweet

To celebrate the journal’s 5th anniversary,  NANO Fiction asked local illustrator, Jason Poland, for a one of a kind comic/art feature. He not only delivered with The Sting and The Sweet but was nice enough to talk with us about his process and how his facination with bees began. Here is what he had to say:

Kirby Johnson: Tell us a bit about yourself and your work. How did you get started doing comics? Who are your inspirations?

Jason Poland: My first comic was something called Roboman that I drew when I was eight. There are maybe four or five different stories drawn on big sheets of newsprint folded into books. They were kind of a goofy mashup of Mega Man and Batman. I think my mom still has them somewhere at her house. I used to always read Calvin & Hobbes, and The Far Side–I think that’s where I developed a lot of my humor. I also watched a lot of Mystery Science Theater 3000. Later in high school, I drew a comedy/action comic called OddCo that was influenced by a lot of the humor-based anime I was into at the time, like Ranma 1/2 and Urusei Yatsura. In college, I started getting interested in illustrators like Edward Gorey, and Winsor McCay. During my sophomore year at the University of Houston, I applied for a cartoonist position at the Daily Cougar student paper with variations on OddCo with no success. I tried a new comic with characters from a one-off strip I drew about an emotional kid and his stoic robot friend. The editors gave it a go, and I started drawing Robbie and Bobby in August 2003.

KJ: What was your process for The Sting and The Sweet? Do you start with a story, and then map it out? How many drafts either visual or written do you go through?

JP: I mapped out the story from the central conflict between the two queen bees. I drafted most of the comic in my head, and committed to paper what would fit in the allotted four pages. I just draw a bunch of thumbnails of the panels with a few notes. All of these paper drafts were scanned and traced digitally. This cleaner digital draft was then digitally inked for the final comic. So, I guess that’s two rough drafts, and one big mental draft. Some of the better ideas came to me when I was out jogging–like the bear siege for instance. But the story kept expanding–the whole rise and fall of the hive was what I was wanted to tell, but of course, I had to reel it in for the sake of a digestible narrative. There were a few drafting sessions where I was figuring out the spacing issues with honeycomb panels. I made a test booklet to get the pages right–I’m fairly new to long form comics, and it’s good to know what pages will face each other when pacing and layout are a concern. This was also important because I didn’t want any details in the panels to get lost when the comic went to print.

KJ: In your artist statement you talk about your time spent as a bee keeper in 2008. How did you fall into that? And how did your understanding of bees influence your story here?

JP: My grandpa has always been into beekeeping. I feel like it is a very grandpa thing to be into, so after I helped him extract honey from his hives one year, I got some equipment, and set up a couple of my own hives. Julai and I named the queens after Oprah and Lady Penelope from Thunderbirds. I thought of the hives like city states with resources to manage, and a poplus to feed. I think it’s this kind of anthropomorphizing of bees that hooked my interest. They are baffling and wonderful insects. There’s so much knowledge and lore in beekeeping–Victorian beekeepers had all kinds of weird traditions that might make good material to pull from, (like feeding bees wedding cake) but I wanted to stick to what goes on inside the hive. When I learned that newly hatched queens engage in combat for supremacy of the swarm, I knew that had to be my focal point. It’s one of those nature fights that I’d really like to see. Do all the bees gather in a honeycomb colosseum and cheer for their champion? Maybe, but I imagined it to be more subversive and underhanded, like an assassination attempt. The real catch is that the queens are aware one of them must die–they can’t just off each other in a melee brawl or the hive would collapse. The awareness of mortality and burden of obligation in an insect fascinated me.

KJ: What is next for the sisters of The Sting and The Sweet? What is next for you?

JP: In the upcoming chapters, there will be some power struggles between the sisters. Like a good game of Risk, no alliance can last forever. As far as other comic projects, I’m working on a long form collaboration with Austin cartoonist Chris Sweet. It’s tentatively called Dungeon School, with a fantasy videogame influence. I’m participating in the 24 hour comic day in October with Chris, Austin Bedell, and Zach Taylor. We’re going to do nothing but drawing comics for a solid day. I’m also working on a new Robbie and Bobby book that will debut in November at the Austin Comic Con.

Jason Poland is a cartoonist working in Houston, TX. His illustrations have recently appeared in Houston's cinema magazine, Film Monitor. His webcomic, Robbie and Bobby, is updated five days a week at Fun Fact: In 2006, Jason won a national lego building competition and worked as a model designer at Legoland California. He's been drawing Robbie and Bobby daily since 2003. He lives in Montrose with his girlfriend Julai and their cat Wizard.