Note: There are mentions of alcohol, and a bit of adult language in this interview.
Ronald Wimberly, probably best known for his graphic novel adaptation of Romeo and Juliet, Prince of Cats and his short comic Lighten Up, has recently developed a 40-page sci-fi anthology called Planet Ardbeg featuring his work as well as that of artists Sanford Greene and Emma Rios - and inspired by Ardbeg whisky. During an immersive event held to celebrate both Ardbeg whisky and Planet Ardbeg, Popverse had a chance to chat with writer, artist, and editor Ronald Wimberly.
In this conversation, we talked about Wimberly's favorite whisky cocktail, the pleasures of editing, and Wimberly's creative process.
Popverse: In the theme of the day, what is your favorite whisky cocktail?
Ronald Wimberly: Right now, my favorite would be a Manhattan, a perfect Manhattan. And I usually like it with— this is gonna sound kind of fucked up; Old Overholt is good enough, you know, but I could do a Basil Hayden. But it's always changing. When I got a couple bottles of the Wee Beastie, I did a smokey old fashioned. It's not super fancy, but I just subbed it in because so it's got such a punch. I had some bitters from Bittermens, one of them had a bit of an Earl Grey vibe to it.
Yeah, smoky and spicy.
I saw some of your pages at the Society of Illustrators a couple months ago. I was wondering if you could talk about your artistic process. The pages I saw looked like pencil and ink.
[Planet Ardbeg] too, the pencil and ink, but the color is digital. For this, I start out in my sketchbook, I do breakdowns. I scan those in — probably what I do is I blow them up, I don't remember — I'm always drawing. Then I go over and tighten the pencils up, and then I ink them, scan them in, and then usually do the color.
On these, it's kind of disingenuous, but I use a texture that I made with watercolor, and I place that over the top to give the feeling, the nuance of if I had done an aquarelle on the page.
You've been editing LAAB for a few years with Josh O’Neill. And now you took on this kind-of editing project with Planet Ardbeg, too. What draws you to editing?
The villain in me would say that 'I finally wanna do it right,' you know? But I think it's just exciting to work with artists in a way to try to serve them properly.
It is kind of nice to be like, 'Okay, well how can we do something together' and 'How can I bring to bear all of the things I complain about?'
In terms of making LAAB, I remember reading Non, Jordan Crane's anthology, and I never got into Kramers [Ergot], but later I got into Kramers. I remember different little newspapers [thinking], 'I would like to try my hand at it.'
So, that's the excitement of doing it, and also working with Josh-- maybe creating a space [for] some cartoonists that I like, old and young, putting them together and trying to make the comics world that I want to live in and work in.
LAAB is a newspaper, here with Planet Ardbeg you're doing kind of magazine format, and then with your ninja comic, that's a huge accordion book. You play a lot with form and format. When and how, in the development process, do you decide what your format is going to be?
Yeah, I'm big on form. They're coming up at the same time, form and subject, and sometimes one will inform the other. Usually the subject informs the form. In the case of Gratnin, I mean, I've always been doing these ninja comics. I originally did it as an infinite scroll, so when it came time to think about how to make it into a physical form, we had to think about, 'What's the best way for the reader to interact with this in a physical way?' And so that's how we came up with that package, and also I had so much story that I wanted to tell.
That's where the trading cards came in. That's where like Chloe Scheffe doing the packaging [came in]. She's kind of another storyteller on the project, working with her and being like, okay 'how can the package tell part of the story?' Because it's not X-Men [that's] been running for like 50 years. How can we get the impression of a story as if this had been running for 10 years? Like it's Naruto or something, giving that impression through the packaging, the cards, and the other formal elements.
With the newspaper, it's like that too, with the ads in it— How is this also as a formal element giving more of an idea of what is LAAB, what is it as a formal exploration, as well as a subject exploration?
Speaking about form, with this comic you have an actual whisky that goes with it. During your Q&A earlier, you were talking about symbolism and layering tone, what is it like to have an a physical product next to a comic you made?
It's crazy. When I came into the room and I saw they have, I mean not just the whisky, but they built out the whole thing. It's delightfully more collaborative than I had expected. To do the project, I kind of wanted to be of service [to]the work that had come before. So it was great to see someone continuing to go into that direction. I mean the whisky has been a part of my process for better or worse before this, so this is just taking it to another level, you know.
To learn more about Planet Ardbeg, check out Ardbeg's website.
A visit to the Society of Illustrators in New York City