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Journey into the sewer with Jay B. Kalagayan, the creator, writer, and publisher of MeSseD, a comic series inspired by the nickname for the Metropolitan Sewer District of Greater Cincinnati (MSD) that follows the adventures of sewer worker Lilliput. Kalagayan discusses the art of comic creation and collaboration, his influences, the value of diverse stories and representation, pursuing creativity at all ages, the comics landscape in Ohio, infrastructure, sewer worms, partners in slime, and, naturally, the Hell Is Real billboard.
Kalagayan is the executive director of Cartoon Crossroads Columbus (CXC), a free comics, art, and animation festival in Columbus, Ohio. An entrepreneur and arts advocate in Cincinnati for the last 25 years, he is the founder of Know Theatre of Cincinnati and a co-founder of the Cincinnati Fringe Festival. He is a writer of plays, cartoon strips, reviews, articles, marketing collateral, fundraising appeals, and geeky event calendars. Photo by Mikki Schaffner Photography.
The first two seasons of MeSseD are available digitally for free at messedcomics.com, and the series is available on WebToon. Kalagayan will participate in the Cincinnati Comic Expo September 22-24 and Cartoon Crossroads Columbus September 27-October 1.
Jay Kalagayan (00:00): There are sewer worms in the sewers and I just, you know, I made 'em a little bigger, but maybe not by that much. And the thing is, you can't prove whether I did or not. Laura Maylene Walter (00:09): <Laugh> Laura Maylene Walter (00:13): Welcome to Page Count, presented by the Ohio Center for the Book at Cleveland Public Library. This podcast celebrates authors, illustrators, librarians, booksellers, literary advocates and readers in and from the state of Ohio. I'm your host, Laura Maylene Walter, the Ohio Center for the Book Fellow and author of the novel BODY OF STARS. Today we're joined by Jay Kalagayan, creator, writer, and publisher of MeSseD Comics. He's also the executive director of Cartoon Crossroads Columbus, the founder of Know Theater in Cincinnati, and one of the founders of the Cincinnati Fringe Festival. He's here to discuss comics, creativity, and, of course, the wondrous world of sewers. Jay, welcome to the podcast. Jay Kalagayan (00:58): Hello. Hello. Laura Maylene Walter (00:59): We're so excited to have you today. We always start the podcast by asking about our guest's Ohio connection. So can you tell us a little bit about where you're from and the role Ohio has played in your artistic pursuits? Jay Kalagayan (01:12): So I am from Erie, Pennsylvania, and so with my fellow Cleveland people, I share the words lake effect...lake effect snow. So definitely share that. And a lot of the times in Erie there's not as much as you would want. So we spent a lot of time going to Cleveland, going to the Flats and everything like that. Went to a school at Xavier University in Cincinnati and would do that drive down there, which some people say is boring, but you know, hell is real <laugh>. I feel like there are lots of landmarks. M-hmm. On the way to Cincinnati. So started my career in nonprofits. I started no theater in the Fringe Festival down in Cincinnati. And then when we talk about Ohio, it was I was working for the Museum Center at the time and I kept seeing the sewer treatment plant, MSD, the Metropolitan Sewer District. Jay Kalagayan (02:01): And I don't know, my curiosity was really just kind of tickled. And a friend of mine got a tour and so I toured the sewer treatment plant. I've been collecting comic books since I was nine years old. And so I think anyone who collects comics always has in their back of their mind a thought of actually doing comics. The idea just clicked. So that's where MeSseD, my comic which is the nickname of the Metropolitan Sewer District, comes from. So yeah, I owe it all, it's all Ohio. I mean I love the state and everything going on in it. And because with that comic book I was able to just really start doing the circuit. But then a job came up to be executive director at Cartoon Crossroads Columbus. And so I applied for the job. I get to work with amazing people like Lucy Caswell Shelton, started the Billy Ireland Museum and Cartoon Library. And then also get to work with Jeff Smith, who's the creator of Bone and Tuki and RASL, and get to work with those wonderful people and really just put a spotlight on Columbus and Ohio as a place for comic book and cartoon creators. So full circle, I am promoting the heck out of Ohio. I am tastings my way through Columbus as well as its culture. So I'm enjoying all the food and trying out all the great culture in Columbus as well. Laura Maylene Walter (03:18): Yes, I will have to find a link that refers to the "Hell is Real" billboard <laugh> for anyone out there who doesn't know, that will be a little treat for everyone in the show notes. And I'm glad that in your discussion of Ohio, we kind of fired down right into the sewer. That's great. So you and I met last fall at Books by the Banks in Cincinnati, a book festival. Jay Kalagayan (03:39): Books by the Banks! Laura Maylene Walter (03:40): And we were on a panel together where I didn't expect this to happen, but I feel like you and I kind of turned the focus of the panel to sewers during that day. <Laugh>. Jay Kalagayan (03:50): As it should, it should. Laura Maylene Walter (03:51): As it should. Wastewater, sewers, I think it was World Toilet Day at the time. That just is the perfect segue into MeSseD, which I will read. The tagline you have, which I love MeSseD is a comic book featuring sewer worker. Lila put, she is our tour guide to the weird, wild and Wet World Beneath Our Feet. Let's just get to it. Why sewers? Why were you so attracted to this as subject matter for a comic series? Jay Kalagayan (04:17): I think that in my writing what I try to do is take elements of the familiar but then also give it that science fiction, that little edge to it. And what I like about it is I don't wanna write about gangsters in Chicago. I think that subject's definitely been covered. I don't wanna write about politics that's been covered. And especially in comic books, I didn't wanna write a superhero. There are people, better people than me covering that subject. And so I wanted to do something a little bit unique. And so I came up with the sewers. The sewer system is a system that we are all pretty much dependent on. It is an essential service that we don't know very much about. And I am not condoning people going into those tunnels without supervision. Please, it is very dangerous, but we don't know much about their system. Jay Kalagayan (05:08): Like what happens after we flush the toilet? When I first was promoting the book, I had a hashtag "Follow the Flush" <laugh>. And this system that we flush our toilets, we wash our vegetables we water our lawns. I mean like that is dependent on this system. And the system, honestly, unless you're in a brand-new city, which I've never heard that term, brand-new city, but unless you're in a brand-new place, the majority of the systems are antiquated. We are dependent on a system that maybe was supposed to support a hundred thousand people and you know, a lot of the city populations are, you know, several million and we're still dependent on that system. So there's a lot of great cities, especially in Ohio, making moves to improve the system. But for now it is definitely antiquated in certain ways. Laura Maylene Walter (05:54): Yes, and I think a lot of people might share your, well, do share your enthusiasm for learning more about sewers and this infrastructure that is at once really mysterious and yet really vital to our everyday comfort and safety and health. You know, by the time this podcast airs, my class will have already passed, but as of right now, I am preparing to teach a class this weekend with Literary Cleveland and the Northeast Ohio Regional Sewer District that includes a wastewater treatment plant tour and writing exercises inspired by some of the terms involved at the wastewater treatment center. I'm partnering with someone there who is an expert in those matters. I'm very much not so, but the enthusiasm for this class has been mind blowing. I mean, we have a waiting list. People really wanna come, we have to limit it because of safety issues. But I never really anticipated, as someone who doesn't know a lot about our infrastructure, but who is interested, that people are curious and sort of intrigued by this. And I think you can see that in the story of MeSseD. The first several seasons of MeSseD take place all in the sewer. So can you tell us a bit about the main character, our heroine Lilliput. Tell us about her. What kind of character is she and what was the inspiration behind her? Jay Kalagayan (07:08): All right, so first of all, my background is Filipino. I'm of Filipino heritage. I know this is a podcast, but if you could see me, I'm turning green with envy that I don't get to do that writing group with you. I want to go so bad <laugh>. So the lead character is Lilliput and like you said, she's kind of our unofficial tour guide. She's a sewer worker. I think when you do any writing, whether it is wild fiction where you're branching off into fantasy or sci-fi or any of those kind of subjects, I think it's still important to take the time to do research. And one of the things I did was I interviewed a lot of workers, I did tours of different plants here in Cincinnati, it's MSD, across the river here in Cincinnati is Northern Kentucky. Jay Kalagayan (07:53): And they have SD1, the Sanitation District 1, and I followed their trouble call crew. That was a great day where I would just go with them and just, you know, just hearing the different stories, some funny anecdotes, really important, the essential nature of what they're doing. And I wanted to combine them to create a realistic character. And with Lilliput, the way I describe it sometimes is like Tremors meets Tank Girl or Hellboy kind of thing. And with Hellboy and Tank Girl, to me they're characters that they're doing their job, they're doing it well and they're just trying to get through the day with the mantra of keeping the flow. That's the MSD workers' mantra, is just keeping things flowing. It's hard work and there's a lot of odd things and some of the stories that I got in my interviews and during my research I added a sci-fi embellishment to, so there are sewer worms in the sewers and I just, you know, made 'em a little bigger, but maybe not by that much. Jay Kalagayan (08:48): And the thing is you can't prove whether I did or not <laugh>, but the main thing is inspiration-wise, you were talking about inspiration. So one of the coolest things, I have two daughters and as a parent you get the privilege of introducing your children to the things you loved when you were a child. But the side effect of that is they in turn reintroduce those things back to you. So you'll see like maybe your favorite science fiction series with the word star in it might not be as gender equitable or maybe your favorite fantasy novel is a little homogenized as far as race or maybe there's some plot lines that are kind of troublesome now that you see it or the way they treat people. And so I think that with that in mind, I try to look at different things and whether it's movies, TV, cartoons and try and find better things, I wanna say better or more quality things to introduce to my daughters with different ideas along with the things that I love of course. Jay Kalagayan (09:51): But like a lot of the Miyazaki films, the Studio Ghibli films, those were some great examples of just different perspectives and different stronger characters who happened to be female. So with that, I also wanted to create something, taking this opportunity to create something. So I wanted to create a strong character who happens to be female, happens to be Asian. And so I get this thrill when I bring them with me to the comic bookstore, to the bookstore and they see MeSseD on the shelves and they get to see someone who looks like them on the shelves. Laura Maylene Walter (10:24): Yeah, that's really great. That's important and really fantastic. And I would like to point out for our listeners that in addition to the sewer worms, there are hybrid alligators and crocodiles creatures, Allicrocs, and what else? There's a pet rat in the first season as well, which I really enjoy. <Laugh> Jay Kalagayan (10:43): The pet rat is Akka. That is Lilliput's pet rat "partner in slime" as I'd like to call her <laugh>. And what's great is in the second season I have a sidebar, two-parter where Akka rescues a baby centipede named Footsie <laugh>. They end up at the centipede clan and then they get attacked by those sewer worms. And I don't speak rat and I don't speak centipede, so it's an completely silent issue. <Laugh> I I love that. Laura Maylene Walter (11:11): That's amazing. <Laugh>. Well you mentioned in terms of sewer workers keeping the flow, which also makes me think of the flow state writers can enter when they're working. So I was hoping you could tell us a bit about your process of writing MeSseD. Now, you write the comic, but you work with an artist. Tell us about that kind of collaboration, how that works for you and how you approach writing MeSseD. Jay Kalagayan (11:35): I've been very fortunate and that sometimes the story ideas come across so fast I barely have time to write them down. So that's amazing. Almost like I have a camera and I'm writing it down as fast as I can as opposed to drawing out one panel description of one particular comic. It's more like just doing highlights. Almost like as an artist uses thumbnails, as a writer you're just going like panel one, panel two, panel three and you're just like filling in the gaps. Those are the great times. The bad times are when you're just, I don't wanna say the B word...not that B word. Uthe B-L-O-C-K. Yep. Uso every once in a while I'll hit uthat B word and I'll take walks, I'll walk around, I'll try and watch something outta my wheelhouse, like a documentary about sewers or some videos, something to change it up, maybe exercise just to get your mind flowing. Jay Kalagayan (12:28): I can't tell you how many times on the walk I have one specific scene that I just playing on my head over and over again with little tweaks, just trying to figure it out. And then luckily it's not traffic, I'm stopping in the middle of the sidewalk, I have my phone and I might type out a note or two, just trying to think it through. Technology's amazing because the note I make on my phone, I'll see on my computer or my other computer just like immediately or on my iPad. So that part I appreciate. I heard certain writers, they don't like the internet, which I get. Sometimes I need the internet because what is that thing called or what does that thing look like? But it can be a time suck and just like the black hole of the internet and then all of a sudden I'm watching 20 movie trailers. So that's a problem. Laura Maylene Walter (13:16): <Laugh> Exactly. Yeah, I think we've definitely all been there. Jay Kalagayan (13:19): <Laugh> Laura Maylene Walter (13:20): But yeah, what you're saying about taking a walk can be so important for the creative process. Ideas can come then, or when doing a mindless chore, like washing dishes. I actually baked cupcakes last weekend and I used to bake a lot and haven't lately and I was getting all these writing ideas while I was baking and I thought, oh I guess I have to keep doing this now <laugh> just to keep it going. Jay Kalagayan (13:39): Yeah. As you mentioned, I worked in the theater world, directed a lot of shows, I was a playwright producer, everything like that. Theater is a collaborative process and what's nice is I've heard sometimes writing can be pretty solitary, but in comic book writing it's great as you have one or two or three artists that you're working with, whether they're doing lettering, whether they're doing inking whether you're working with an editor. So I work with Dylan Speeg, he's the main illustrator for MeSseD Comics and honestly it's a dream because he's got a lot of great ideas. His influences lean a little bit more towards like rock and roll, rock and roll posters, the fantasy Frank Frazetta kind of artwork style while mine are a lot more traditional superheroes and we mesh together really well as far as the action and adventure. So the typical process is I write the script, I definitely have a friend read the script and serve as editor just at least grammar-wise, making sure clarity, everything like that. Jay Kalagayan (14:37): And my scripts also have a lot of hyperlinks. You could describe a pencil all day. But then like sometimes I'll just have a link to a pencil, a picture of a pencil <laugh> and then Dylan goes through the scripts and he does thumbnails, which are great. So basically it's just really rough stick figures of the different panels that I have described in the script. Then he sends it to me and we go back and forth like what? And remember how I said about describing a pencil and sometimes just including a picture of it, there'll be scenes where I'll describe it and then he'll hand me the thumbnail and I'll be like, what is this? And then I'll reread my script and I'll be like, oh okay, I can see where you got that from <laugh>. So it's a really highly collaborative process with a lot of give and take because sometimes his ideas are better than mine. Jay Kalagayan (15:25): Sometimes I'll have five actions in one panel and if you know comics that's impossible. So like he might have a bridge panel or he might make a suggestion or he'll show it in the thumbnail and it's terrific. It really is. Sometimes we'll argue about certain things or certain things are important and it's good to let them know early, like the thumbnail stage because after thumbnails we go to art and then finished art and if there's a major change in the finished art stage, it's gotta be for a really good reason. It's just, it's so hard to go through it. And I think artist-wise that's an important process for artists especially. It's a lot easier with digital art now, but after things are flattened it is hard to go back and just completely redraw or redo a scene or something like that. Laura Maylene Walter (16:11): Well, you had mentioned that for this comic project that the ideas were coming really fast and that I guess the world of the sewer is a fertile place for creativity. And I was watching an interview that you gave with Ohio Center for the Book a few years ago where you talked about how there are so many ideas in the sewer and you compared it to say a Law & Order series where, you know, there's so many episodes where there's always going to be a different murder somewhere. And so I just wanna throw out to the universe I would absolutely watch like Law & Order: Sewer Unit or something like that. Jay Kalagayan (16:44): <Laugh> Oh, yeah. I know it's somewhere on the internet, the body count of the Law & Order episodes. I mean we're talking about thousands and thousands of people so hopefully the sewers don't kill that many people. <Laugh> Laura Maylene Walter (16:59): Not the murders, just the rats and the crocodiles and the worms and the adventure, you know? Yeah. Jay Kalagayan (17:03): So that's one of the fun ideas I've had. You know, I take all those urban myths like the alligator and the sewers, I crossbred them with crocodiles to come up with allicrocs so then I can say, oh it's a different species. I don't have to be beholden to certain sciences if I like just start playing around. Sure. But what I love about it is Lilliput, I think that like any person they seek companionship and working in the sewers by yourself can be pretty lonely work. So she has Akka the rat and she does connect with the many tribes in the sewers, the different species and stuff. And the public utility has found ways to work with them as long as the flow is kept. So like with the allicrocs is a good one because they have an accord and just don't go to the surface and get caught on someone's cell phone, <laugh> cause they won't have to answer questions <laugh>. Laura Maylene Walter (18:00): Absolutely. Well I mean MeSseD is definitely a work of fiction, and you have certain creative license as you said. But in terms of your research, do you have anything you'd like to share with us? Anything you might have picked up along the way about our real-world sewer systems and wastewater treatment and how it all works that you'd like to share with us? Jay Kalagayan (18:18): I always ask the questions like, what's the weirdest thing you found? In Virginia Beach at their sewer treatment plant, they have these, basically it's a series of filters that start off. So it's like large filters, smaller, smaller, smaller. So in the large filters, in the medium filters, money kept getting caught and like dollar bills, twenties and hundreds. And apparently someone robbed somebody and stashed it unfortunately in the sewers. So they saved all the money and turned it back in. But I mean that was a good one. I've heard weird stories like popcorn machine, that's my favorite. I'm like what? <Laugh>? Laura Maylene Walter (18:54): A whole popcorn machine? <Laugh> Jay Kalagayan (18:55): How'd it get down there? <Laugh>. And I think that's this essential service done by these amazing men and women. I think that it's gonna just even be more essential, if there is such a word as...if there's such a description as "more essential," just with things with climate change, the different rains, the intensity of it all. And I think it's gonna be more important that we know about it and invest in that system. Laura Maylene Walter (19:20): Well, another thing I wanted to ask you about was, in MeSseD you have some excerpt reports, pages of texts that are giving some reports from the work in the sewer. Can you talk a bit about that and how and why you decided to include those and how you see them working with the larger storyline in the comic? Jay Kalagayan (19:40): Okay, so <laugh> as a writer...let me rephrase that. As a reader, the reader of many books, the reader of many comic books, I think especially in comic books, some writers have a bad habit of being pretty verbose where their word balloon is pretty much three-quarters of a page and I'm like, you're delivering a monologue in the middle of a fight scene. How is this humanly possible? <Laugh> There's no way that time moves that slowly in a lot of those scenes. So one of the things I wanted to do, also working with great artists like Dylan, whose artwork is so good, I don't wanna get in the way with that, I don't want to cover it with word balloons and that kind of thing. Also Lilliput, besides hanging out with Akka, Lilliput's pretty much by herself. So why is she reiterating a whole scene of what you're seeing? Jay Kalagayan (20:26): So what I do is they're called the Fat Mucket files and Fat Mucket is the code name for her manager. And basically it's a recap and it's, it shows off a little bit of my research. It sets up a little bit of extras behind the scenes things and it just adds to it. So you could read the comic without reading the Fat Mucket files, but I think the Fat Mucket files just really enhance things. And what's great about the Fat Mucket files is it's kind of also an opportunity to show off because I put so much time and energy into the research, I might as well show off as much as I can but not have it get in the way of the panel-to-panel story, which I think is really important. Laura Maylene Walter (21:04): I agree with that. I thought it was an elegant solution to getting more context and information in a way that made sense in the world without interrupting the artwork. So I think that's great. Well, you had mentioned your theater background, you have playwriting and directing in your background, and you already mentioned the collaborative nature of working in theater. But is there anything else that you can share that, that creative pursuit, how it might have influenced or contributed to your work with comics? Jay Kalagayan (21:32): I think with theater stories essentially have a beginning, middle and end. So that's important to have. There's the flow of a scene, there's building a scene up, there's the blocking. What I love about comic books is at its basis with a lot of the incredible movies you've seen with a lot of the great TV shows that you've seen, it starts with concept art, it starts with storyboarding. And I think that this is really, they're all related in that way. So I think the theater background has really helped me do that. And also someone read my comic book and they're like, I'm surprised. And I was like, what? And it's like, I thought you would just have like two people in a coffee shop all day. And I'm like, well I do like those scenes but you know, what's great about comics is I also don't have to worry about in theater you do a scene, but like sometimes you can only depend on an audience's imagination so much. You kind of have to build a little bit of a set just to give the idea of where they are, what they're doing. And like I don't want to build a sewer on a stage so <laugh> I get to do that. I get to like have that kind of fun with a comic book and not worry about like how do I pay for the sets on this one? Laura Maylene Walter (22:47): That's a good point <laugh>. I always think how lucky writers are that we don't require the expensive, you know, trying to find the money to produce a play, right? It's way lower cost. You just need a laptop or a notebook and pen to make it happen. Yeah. So I always appreciate that about the writing part of it. Jay Kalagayan (23:06): Although I would say that theater definitely helped me think in different ways because unlimited imagination sometimes needs to like have an editor have someone just say, ask that question like why or what <laugh> or who you know, because like theater especially you limit those scenes, you don't have a cast of 20, you know, that kind of thing. Yeah. Put it together that way. For the first two or three seasons, there's no more than three or four different characters at any one time. I definitely don't have big group scenes. That's not my thing until the third season. But anyway, and again, when I say season, it's basically volumes. But in uthe idea of promoting it to new readers, I think the word season is a little bit more understood than volume. Laura Maylene Walter (23:52): Yeah, I love that unlimited imagination can still require an editor. And I do think creatively having certain restraints can improve your creativity or it forces you to come up with something and problem solve. I think a lot of creativity is actually problem solving and yeah, I think you can see that in MeSseD that you have so many action scenes and great moments in the sewer through the artwork and sometimes the text is more limited, but you're still telling such a strong story and finding ways like those excerpt reports that we mentioned earlier of getting it across. I think that's great. Jay Kalagayan (24:22): I mean, if you can't work with your artist and tell the story without like covering up all of it with word balloons, then you gotta figure out. Yeah, because I mean why hire an artist? Why not just write that novel with a couple illustrations? You know? Laura Maylene Walter (24:37): Right. Exactly. So my next two questions will take us on a journey through ages. So first starting in childhood, you mentioned you were collecting comics when you were a kid. Do you have any sort of formative memories or anything you'd like to share about being a kid reading comics? Did you have, you know, a certain favorite comic book or maybe a ritual when you would go and get or read new comics? What would you like to share with us? Jay Kalagayan (25:03): All right, so for the majority of your listeners this might be news to them, but there was a time without the internet. Laura Maylene Walter (25:10): Shocking! Jay Kalagayan (25:11): <Laugh> Yeah, I know, I know. So again, Erie, Pennsylvania is where I'm from, but really I'm from a small town outside of Erie, about 20, maybe 25 minutes away out of Erie called Union City. It had one stoplight and then I think when I left it had two and I think we had four TV stations and that included PBS and this is before Fox and <laugh> and then what else was there? And there was a Pizza Hut and when McDonald's opened, I think they had to call the police in for crowd control. Laura Maylene Walter (25:42): Amazing. Jay Kalagayan (25:43): So for me, comic books were kind of that outlaw different thing that you wouldn't see on television, that you wouldn't hear on radio that you couldn't get from movies so much. I mean like when I was a kid, I think Return of Jet I just came out so it was like there wasn't a ton of sci-fi out there either on video and videos aren't even out so I'm almost 50 anyway. So what was great about comic books is my brother drove me to a convenience store, a gas station convenience store and he was getting me a slushie. He always liked to spend every so often when he had some free time, spend a moment with me, that kind of thing. And I saw in the corner the spinner rack and it was full of comics. I love the spinner rack. I have definitely put it on that pedestal of the romance because that spinner rack is just so many different possibilities of stories. Jay Kalagayan (26:33): And I picked up an Avengers comic book, wrath of Weatherman and I, I read it and everything changed from then on. And so started going to the convenience store as much as I could getting comics. And I think comic book readers, especially those that read monthly, we are used to missing chapters. You know, you miss a month, you miss a book, someone bought them. So I think when we watch TV or when we read books or you know, if something's missing we can adapt. We know we are like, oh okay, well let's just keep going. We can catch on really fast. That's my opinion. Comic book readers of a certain age, they know what it's like to have jigsaw pieces missing and they're still able to put together pretty good picture of what happened, you know, that kind of thing. So those are the formative years where it was just getting comics, reading about Avengers. Jay Kalagayan (27:21): And I tell you the saddest thing was the diversity. So again, I mentioned I was Filipino American, I did not see a lot of people that looked like me and it would be decades until like more came out. I think Shang-Chi was like the only one and as much as I love Shang-Chi, I mean he didn't have a shield or he didn't have a hammer. You know, he was he was just doing martial arts but at least there was that character. But yeah, there wasn't a lot of people that looked like me in comics. So I think that that only affects your mindset is where you don't see your yourself in what you're reading. Laura Maylene Walter (27:55): It absolutely does. And this is bringing back some of my own memories. So you grew up outside of Erie. I'm from Pennsylvania too, but I grew up in Lancaster, so other side of the state, and I wasn't a big comic reader when I was a kid. I was reading more when I was very young, the novel series like Babysitter Club, Sweet Valley Twins, that kind of thing. But the one exception would be when my family would go to visit my grandmother in Lansford, Pennsylvania, which is a very small town in coal country. And I had two older brothers. And when we would go there, this was also before the internet, I am also pre-internet times, we would often joke about how boring it was there and there wasn't much to do, but we could walk to a convenience store and they would have comics there and we would get comics. Laura Maylene Walter (28:42): So I associate reading comics at my grandmother's house, which already felt really old-fashioned and kind of reading this form that also to me at the time felt a little old-fashioned. I knew my mother used to read the Little Lulu comics back in the day. And so I would read these with my brothers and I enjoyed them. I remember a lot of like just the classic like Batman or Superman and now that I'm hearing you talk and I'm thinking about it, I wonder if one of the reasons I wasn't as drawn to them is because they did feel very like these are men and boys, right. That are participating in these adventures. And maybe I wasn't as drawn to that because I was a girl, you know. But I have fond memories when I look back at that. It was a time you could go to a convenience store and buy comics and that's what kids did. Jay Kalagayan (29:25): Yeah. because television was, you know, it was limited. It was adult and wasn't it like one o'clock in the morning or midnight it turned off <laugh>. Like they would just have that standing signal and you're like, what? <Laugh> Laura Maylene Walter (29:39): Such a different time. On the opposite end of the spectrum, as an adult. So I listened to another interview with you where you mentioned that you came up with the idea for MeSseD when you were in your forties. And so I'm wondering if there's anything there you'd like to talk about concerning creativity and age? Because sometimes in the creative worlds there is a focus on youth. I know writers who feel like they need to publish a novel by the time they're 30 or by the time they're 40. And I think writing at least is such a slow long career. So I'm just curious about your thoughts about creativity and adulthood and age. Jay Kalagayan (30:17): I think I just wrote a hashtag for fun and it was learning is ongoing, and I think creativity is ongoing. I think even if you're not writing your book or you're not writing a comic, I think there are just ways to be creative and I think it uses different muscles that are really important to just flex once in a while and in hopefully constructive ways. Because there's some people that use creativity in very terrible, mean ways. But I would say that heck yeah, I'm doing it in my forties. I am never going to stop just trying to do interesting things and just create interesting things. I think that especially with comic books and everything like that, I still feel a youthful glee in producing my own books. So I self-publish MeSseD. I try and submit to different anthologies, work with different people. Jay Kalagayan (31:08): I work with, it's called the Cincinnati Cabinet of Curiosities. They do a lot of local, local artists taking on legends, lore and different cryptids and creatures. Just having a lot of fun just creating, do I think that this is my career? No, I don't. My five year plan for self-publishing MeSseD is to break even and I've been doing this for like eight years and I don't think I've hit that yet <laugh>, but I mean, I would still say I think the way I built Know theater and the Fringe Festival, I kept those kind of methods in that it's the slow and steady, it's the marathon, not the sprint. So like not spending a ton of money going to San Diego Comic-Con and trying to get in there, you know, that kind of thing. Even though I do want to exhibit there someday, I know like that's not the best feasible plan right now. So I think trying to be fiscally responsible but also just being creative and having fun and just doing your books and doing it well I think is essential to what you're doing. And I don't think, I really don't think age has very much to do with it except comic books are heavy and like <laugh> carrying books to different comic cons. I've definitely invested in things with wheels, <laugh>, whether it's suitcases or rolly cases or anything like that. There are smarter ways to do it because oh my gosh, books and comic books are heavy. Laura Maylene Walter (32:32): Yeah. And I think that's a lot of interesting things there about creativity and age. And definitely creativity has nothing to do with how old you are except in two areas. One is that you can get better, deeper, richer, more confident as you age. It just gets better as you age. And on the flip side though, I see a lot of people, at least in the writing world, who sort of let the pressures of real life just trying to earn a living, raising a family, I see that kind of sometimes put a pause on their creative pursuits often to the point where they regret it. And so I always think just encouraging the reminder that this is a worthwhile part of life to try to keep it a part of your life in whatever way you can, I think is really important. Jay Kalagayan (33:14): I mean, I think that taking the time outta your schedule, like I don't wanna stereotype writers as night owls, but like, you know, maybe it is that 10:00 PM to 11:00 PM or you know, like taking time to carve outta your schedule because it's, I understand again, I have a family, I have two girls and amazing wife and just trying to take that time like maybe I don't watch West Wing for the 20th time and, and maybe I instead... Laura Maylene Walter (33:39): It's a choice. Jay Kalagayan (33:41): I'm trying to find that time and again, marathon, not a sprint. I mean like the great American novel could be in your head and maybe it does take 10 years or more to come out, but it won't come out if you don't write. Laura Maylene Walter (33:56): Exactly. Definitely. And yeah, and you do have to carve the time out. It won't just come to you magically. You have to make the choice to try to find it and work it into your schedule. Because even if I have a day off where I'm not at work, it would be so easy just to let household things and other chores and whatever take over the whole day until I'm exhausted and then I can only watch TV for, you know, three hours before going to bed. So it has to be sort of a conscious choice. Jay Kalagayan (34:21): There are two groups that I take part in that have been really helpful in Cincinnati. It's the Cincinnati Comic Book Creators. They meet once a month, they get together, they talk about like best practices, the artists share art, we talk about woes, we vent a little bit, we talk about creative process. So that's a great group. Another group I just tried, but I kind of like the format. I think it's called Shut Up and Write and it's in Columbus and it's on Meetup and I went to one and they meet at this cafe. There's several of them, but the one I went to was on Saturday and it was like introductions. Everyone introduces themselves then literally shut up and write for an hour and they time it and nobody talks and you know, you write. I ended up writing at least two scenes for MeSseD and then like afterwards you could share or afterwards we just chitchat, you know, after the hour. But it's definitely timed and that was kind of nice. I got a little bit done, which was great. Laura Maylene Walter (35:17): Yeah, that is great. Yeah, I've had a lot of experiences of meeting friends to write, just to sit there in each other's company and have that accountability. I think that's really helpful. All right. Well, as we start to wrap up, I would love to hear if there's anything you'd like to share about the future of MeSseD, any future seasons, and if you have any events in the future that you'd like to mention where you might be. Jay Kalagayan (35:41): I started branching off working with a different artist who did the Akka story, Clint Basinger, great artist. And we <laugh> ever since the beginning of MeSseD, I had graffiti on the walls and it said the intrusion, the intrusion. And I had the idea of what that was, but still taking years to do it. And then,finally found the right format. So I work with the Billy Ireland Cartoon Library and Museum in Columbus a lot. And they have like original Calvin and Hobbes artwork by,ill Waterston. They have original Charles Schultz where you see the white-out on the Peanuts pages and stuff like that. And so I was like, oh my God, it was just inspiring to look at. And so I started the Intrusion, which takes place in the MeSseD Universe and they're basically adolescent cockroaches looking for sweet graffiti spots. And what I love about it is it's in that Sunday funnies format and it was just recently featured in the Scribbler, the Columbus Scribbler,which is a newspaper that comes out supporting indie artists and stuff. Jay Kalagayan (36:43): What I love about it is while Lilliput has a purpose, you know, keep the flow, the Intrusion are cockroaches that are really bored doing graffiti and they have no purpose, so they're just like causing trouble all the time. So it's a great juxtaposition in the MeSseD world. So I'm really enjoying that. And we have one book out and we'll probably have a second book out probably in September, and I will next be at the Cincinnati Comic Expo, which takes place on September 21, 22, 23, I think it is. We'll be there and we'll have at least Season Four out and possibly a new issue for the Intrusion. And then I'll be working also on Cartoon Crossroads Columbus. And that'll be in Columbus September 27 through October 1. It's a free comic book, cartoon, and animation festival. So that'll be going on in Columbus as well. So you can find out more about MeSseD Comics at messedcomics.com. We have a free digital version of the first two seasons. We're also on WebToons, search for the name MeSseD Comics. The first two seasons are free digitally. We don't really want price to be an obstacle. So it is available free online for the first two seasons and then find us at your local comic book store. We distribute there. And then also come see us at some of the great comic-con around Ohio. Laura Maylene Walter (38:05): All right. Well, for my final question, do you have any words of advice for anyone out there who might be interested in getting into comics but might be new to creating comics? Any suggestions for how they can get started or how they can keep their own flow as they begin this pursuit? Jay Kalagayan (38:21): As a writer, if you want to do comic books, one of the first things I did is the first season of MeSseD was divided up into five chapters. They were eight pages each. And I was very fortunate to find Dylan and work with him, but honestly, I was planning on possibly working with five different artists. So don't scare an artist. If you're gonna do a comic book with a 200-page graphic novel, break it up into more reasonable stories, whether it's eight pages, you know, that kind of thing. And a lot of that first season was one and done stories. So like if it happened to be I had to work with five different artists, that would work out. And it's just trying to reasonably think about the collaborative process because things happen in people's lives, but if they're able to do at least the eight-page story that you did, it's done. Jay Kalagayan (39:11): If that's all the relationship is, that's all it is. But it's hard to find an artist to commit to like your 200-page graphic novel idea. <Laugh>. The other thing in the search and in finding Dylan, who I knew before through the theater is meet with people. Have coffees, have lunches, meet with them for drinks, pay for that drink, pay for that coffee. Everybody knows someone you don't, everybody knows something you don't. So talk to them, meet with them, follow up and thank them for their time. Ask advice. Tell them what you're thinking of doing. Everybody knows somebody. Everybody knows something you don't know. And then keep a log of who you met with because guess what? If you're doing that crowdfunding thing or you're releasing a book, or you're going to be in town selling your comic book or something like that, or your book, you let them know and they might come and buy your book. So I think it's important to network and to maintain that network. Laura Maylene Walter (40:05): I think that is excellent advice. Thank you so much for being here and for this fun conversation about sewers and comics. It has been a pleasure. Thank you, Jay. Jay Kalagayan (40:15): Thank you. Laura Maylene Walter (40:19): Page Count is presented by the Ohio Center for the book at Cleveland Public Library. If you enjoyed this episode, please subscribe, rate, and leave a review for Page Count wherever you get your podcast. Learn more online or find a transcript of this episode at Ohiocenterforthebook.org. Follow us on Twitter @cplocfb or find us on Facebook. If you'd like to get in touch, email firstname.lastname@example.org and put "podcast" in the subject line. Finally, follow me on Twitter and Instagram @LauraMaylene. Thanks for listening and we'll be back in two weeks for another chapter of Page Count.
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