Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Interview with Alan J. Porter

Image courtesy of Alan J. Porter
I had a chance to meet Alan J. Porter, author of the CARS line of comics from Boom! at Staple a couple of weeks ago.  He was kind enough to volunteer and answer some questions for the blog and sign a copy of CARS: The Rookie for Henry.  It was Henry's first exposure to Alan's work and the CARS line of comics and he enjoyed it and is ready for more!

Alan has a broad and very impressive resume in comics and beyond.  For more on him visit or follow him on Twitter at @alanjporter.

Given your diverse background in writing, what are the challenges and rewards writing for a younger audience with your CARS line?

In writing anything for younger audiences I just try an tell good stories that anyone, irrespective of age, would enjoy reading. While I try and keep the language age appropriate for the audience, I also like to make sure its something of a challenge too, not enough to block reading and enjoying the story, but have at least the occasional word that a young reader may not be familiar with but could figure out from the context of the story, or by reaching for a dictionary, or asking a parent. I learned a lot of my vocabulary as a kid from comics, and I'd like to pass something of that joy of discovering new words on.

The biggest challenge of writing CARS is that at first pass they are just that, cars. Writing for what are essentially two ton boxes of metal with limited movement can be a challenge. What I did before each script was put the movie back on, and lie down with my eyes shut and just listen to the dialog and interplay between the characters, that helped me visualize them as distinct personalities rather than objects. Plotting the action could also be a little tricky as cars basically just move in a horizontal plane, they can't really jump about too much, or go up and down stairs etc. So I got to play around with my die-cast CARS toy collection as I moved vehicles around my desk plotting out races moves, or action sequences. - Which was pretty cool - getting paid to play with toy cars!

The rewards? Oh they are numerous. Writing an all-ages comic has been a wonderful experience. The look on a kids face when they see a comic about one of their favorite characters is priceless. I also love hearing from parents who tell me they read the books to their kids as a way of sharing a love of reading. I've also been told about kids being spurred to want to learn to read because of  the CARS comics, and that is perhaps the greatest reward.

As CARS  is a beloved and well-known franchise, did you feel a lot of pressure to please the loyal fans of CARS? Did the fact that the characters were well-established help or hinder your creative process?

I didn't really feel too much pressure at the start, but then I discovered there's this whole CARS collectors sub-culture. The collector community were great in welcoming me in, and very appreciative of the work I did. But when I saw a blog post on a CARS forum discussing what had basically been a throw-away gag in one panel, I realized just how closely they were reading the books. 

I'm a big fan of the movie myself, as well as a gear-head in general, so I always tried to stay true to the characters, as well as to the motor sports aspects of the story, and the various ways that things work in the CARS world. I took it all very seriously as the slightest deviation would be picked up.

While the characters were well established within the confines of the movie, there are still a lot of stories you can tell using them. I have a habit, that when watching a movie, of asking myself how did a particular character get there in the first place, or what happened next to them? That can be a springboard for a lot of ideas. For instance in the CARS movie, Lightning McQueen is often referred to as "The Rookie Sensation of the Year." Wanting to know why he was called that, lead to the ideas that formed the first CARS comic story arc "The Rookie."

If you had complete creative control, what direction would you like to take the CARS line?

Wow, that's a big question. I would want to expand the motor-sports part of the world, and bring in cars from other series (as they seem to be doing in the new movie), but also follow the revival of Radiator Springs - maybe have some of the old residents return. I'd also thought about doing something where as the town grows and prospers, the old-time residents start to see the new prosperity of something of a double edged sword as the influx of new residents means that they start to lose that feeling of community that kept them together.

I like the fact that they are doing an adventure spin on the movie too (I actually did a small four-page Mater spy story in one of my comics), and I think Mater's fantasy life (as shown in the Tall tales shorts) would be fun to explore more.

If you could write a comic about any character from your youth that inspired you, who would that be and why?

Doctor Who. Growing up in the UK, Doctor Who was a constant inspiration both on TV and in the various British adventure comics I read. The great thing about writing stories for The Doctor is that they can be about anything, and set at anytime. Science fiction, historical, whatever you want.

Do you have any other items in the works for your history of comics line?

I have had discussions with the publishers for a couple of other ideas to follow the James Bond and Star Trek comics history books, and it looks like we are close to an agreement on what the next project will be; but contracts aren't signed yet. 

On the comics front it looks like I will be doing some work on another licensed all-ages book later this year, and I'm looking forward to that.

And of course it's fantastic news that the new Disney*Pixar Presents magazine to be distributed by Marvel will be kicking off with some of my CARS stories. I have also been talking to them about some new story ideas, so hopefully I might get the chance to return to Radiator Springs at some point in the future.



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