Nick Francis Potter is a multimedia artist and writer from Salt Lake City, Utah. His work has been featured in Black Warrior Review, Sleepingfish, Caketrain, Fairy Tale Review, The Collagist, and Devil’s Lake, among others. He currently lives in Missouri with his wife and two kids and blogs his drawings at nickfrancispotter.tumblr.com.
Potter’s entertaining and wildly original graphic story “New Animals” appears in our upcoming special-focus double issue on “The Animal.” We asked him to share some thoughts on the piece with TCR readers.
LS: When you read a graphic novel—say you’re reading Chris Ware’s Jimmy Corrigan—what kinds of narrative techniques and cues stand out to you as a fellow graphic writer? Particularly for our readers encountering graphic fiction for the first time in this issue, what kinds of visual elements do you enjoy seeing integrated with prose?
NFP: Coming at comics from a prose writer’s perspective, I’ve been interested in the parts of comics where the text is absent or unnecessary to the story. I’m always looking for the tension between the language and the art, and when, if possible, the combination of the two is redundant. As a form, comics don’t actually require prose, so I like it when artists allow the images to communicate for stretches of narrative without any language at all.
This is a bit of a tangent, but I was surprised this past week to have my four-year-old son accurately read to me what was happening in a wordless comic. He knows all his letters and can write his own name, but can’t yet read any words, let alone sentences or paragraphs, and yet he can read me this wordless comic. I have been collaborating with him on comics too (his name is Atlas), and after drawing a few comics together, a couple weeks ago he drew his first comic all by himself. It’s astounding to me that even though he can’t even begin to start writing a story in prose, he has the confidence and ability to write a sequential comic. To me, it says something about the communicative power of images, and with comics, the priority of the image in relationship to the prose.
How to read the comic, according to Atlas: (1) A monster stands over a kid sleeping in his bed, ready to scare him; (2) the kid wakes up and the monster scares him; (3) The kid stands next to the monster to see how big they are; (4) Now the monster and boy are friends.
I should say, though, reading Chris Ware, who is a very adept writer even outside of comics, I become so overwhelmed with the genius of the craft that I don’t even try to investigate the architecture of it all, the strings. Ware’s visual storytelling is so technically complex that when I’m reading his work, I say to myself, Screw it, I’m just going to enjoy the ride (though, with Ware, of course, it’s more depressing than enjoyable). I have similar readings of certain prose authors, Joyce for instance. And while I love these artists, and am in awe of them, I find that I love equally, and learn a bit more from artists who are imperfect, who are half-writers or impaired illustrators: that’s where I see myself. So I have a special fondness for these kinds of artists, and not only out of sentimentality, but out of genuine appreciation and the satisfaction I get from artistic imperfections laid bare.
What was the inspiration for “New Animals”? Tell us about how you came to write it.
“New Animals” essentially comes from a world that I have been slowly generating in the hopes that someday it will become a novel. I’ve written various appendages of the thing, and it is chaotic and glorious in my mind and contains illustrations, comic spurts, and a fragmented poly-vocal collage of prose. It’s a mess, overall, literally and in my head, and very much in the drafting stage, but “New Animals” is kind of an exercise in working through some of what I’ve already established about the world and what will come to be.
The furry and horned “new animals” first resemble bunnies, other times Satanic incarnations, other times interloping frat boys or alienated peers. How did you imagine the changing presences of the story’s various animals?
My idea for the animals is that they are a generally hazy, unfixed group of creatures, morphing slightly from one to the next, but maintaining an identifiable continuity. They are mammals of some sort with horns mostly, but they are shadowy and silhouetted so that there isn’t a great deal of detail to be pinned down. I wanted them to be kind of vague, inhabiting a wide range of characteristics from a variety of animals, hooved mammals, and bears, and birds and stuff, similar, in a limited way, to the French writer Eric Chevillard’s Palafox. I was hoping to draw out aspects of their animal-ness and also their borderline human-ness, their almost mundane appearance in certain situations contrasted with their more animalistic and violent behavior in others.
Here is a picture of the first “new animal” that I painted a couple years ago when the idea was still gestating that’s a little bit different, but you can see the similarities:
“New Animals” combines humor with pathos. Do you consider those qualities important to your vision as an artist?
Combining humor, pathos, and surreal darkness are all natural parts of what I am drawn to as an artist. And romance. That doesn’t quite play out in “New Animals,” but I’m a pretty big John Hughes fan and think my overall vision, if I can claim one, is a darkly surreal take on Hughesian romance. The results always end up way off the mark, but that’s always in the back of my mind with just about anything I write. At least that’s what I tell my wife (though she doesn’t believe me).
Whose work has influenced you most? Who should we go check out right now?
Essential comics that I would highly recommend include Anders Nilsen’s Big Questions (a crazily affecting, Beckettian dark comedy about a group of birds), Jason’s Hey, Wait… (a coming-of-age story to end all coming-of-age stories), David Mazzuchelli’s Asterios Polyp (which contains in it seven of my favorite pages in all of comics), and Marion Fayolle’s In Pieces (which is a brilliant, poetic take on the comics form).
For prose, I am forever beholden to Donald Barthelme, Stanley Crawford, Flann O’Brien, Carole Maso, David Ohle, Joy Williams, Ben Marcus, Brian Evenson, Italo Calvino, Renee Gladman, Rob Walsh, Thalia Field, Antione Volodine, Ann Quinn, Roald Dahl, and everyone else.
Where do you go for inspiration?
Recently I watched Upstream Color and Holy Motors, and I just can’t stop thinking about or talking about them with my wife. Both are bizarre, and confusing, and utterly affecting and beautiful and weird and great.
The Internet in general I guess. I’m kind of a ravenous hunter-gatherer when it comes to finding new and unusual art for inspiration online. I haven’t updated it lately, but for the past few years my wife and I have collected inspiration online at forestgospel.blogspot.com. I think we have some two-hundred-plus bookmarked websites in all corners of the web that we regularly visit, always looking for anything: installation art, memes, short animated films, poetry, anything and everything.
What are you working on now? What can readers look forward to?
I’m working on a longer graphic story tentatively titled “Conrad Dillinger Considering His Inevitable Death.” My claim is that it’s “the most boring comic narrative ever written.” I’m still in the early drafting stages but am pretty excited already. Other than that, I have been writing stories about post-apocalyptic baseball forests, architectural mysticism, and the Queen of Insurance. I’ll continue publishing shorter forms online and in print, so people can look out for those. And I’ll probably be posting more comics collaborations with Atlas on Tumblr.
Subscribe now to read “New Animals” in our Fall/Winter double-issue with a special focus on “The Animal.” Your subscription will conclude with the Lamar York Prize Winners for Fiction and Nonfiction in our Spring issue.