Out this month from creators Nicole Goux and Dave Baker, with colours by Ellie Hall, Everyone Is Tulip is set to be one of the year’s most thought-provoking graphic novels. A powerful exploration of the nature of art, creative compromise and re-appropriation, it’s a book that captures the cultural zeitgeist with a profound incisiveness. We took the opportunity to chat to Nicole Goux and Dave Baker about this new release from Dark Horse, their approach to the pure language of comics, artistic expression, and the performativity of the online world…
ANDY OLIVER: Before we talk about Everyone is Tulip could you introduce yourselves to the Broken Frontier audience by telling us a little about your individual comics output to date – from early self-publishing to indie hits like Fuck Off Squad, through to your work on iconic super-hero and pop cultural properties?
DAVE BAKER: I’m Dave Baker, I’m a writer/illustrator. Nicole and I have been making stuff for a while together. We started with Action Hospital, my sci-fi adventure comic which is set in a futuristic hospital. From there we’ve made loads of mini comics and zines, and full-length comics like Fuck Off Squad, Suicide Forest and Murders. From there we segued into working on some higher profile stuff like I wrote a Star Trek miniseries titled Seven’s Reckoning and Nicole worked on DC’s Shadow of the Batgirl graphic novel.
NICOLE GOUX: I’ve been making comics for about 7 years. I started small with some mini comics and xerox zines and have gradually tried to level up. I self-published with Dave for a few years before we started getting some work with larger publishers. First with the indie publisher Silver Sprocket Bicycle Club putting out Fuck Off Squad, then some minis with companies like IDW and Oni on Star Trek and Jem and the Holograms, and eventually putting out Shadow of the Batgirl with DC.
AO: How did you first meet and start collaborating?
BAKER: We met through some mutual friends. LA is a small place sometimes. From there I saw some of her drawings and was like “Jesus, you’re amazing. Wanna make some comics?!” and we’ve been collaborating ever since.
GOUX: Dave and I met at a gallery showing and at the time I hadn’t been reading or making comics since I was a teen. I went to school for illustration and didn’t have a plan to try and break into the comics industry. Dave convinced me to try some minis and I completely fell in love with the process.
AO: For any uninitiated Broken Frontier readers discovering Everyone Is Tulip through this interview could you succinctly describe its premise and cast of characters?
BAKER: Everyone Is Tulip is a 164-page graphic novel written by me, illustrated by Nicole and co-colored by Ellie Hall. It follows a young girl who moves from Arizona to Los Angeles in order to pursue work as an actor. However, after arriving, she gets sucked up into the high stakes world of internet performance art… which is a real thing.
GOUX: What he said.
AO: You’ve been releasing early pages of the book online in a webcomic format too. What was the thinking behind that dual method of delivery?
BAKER: We’re self-serializing the book online as a means of trying to get the word out about the project. You can read the whole thing at www.everyoneistulip.com. It updates three times a week. Normally we’d beat the pavement going to every convention under the sun… but, y’know, that’s not really a thing currently. Haha. So, with Dark Horse’s blessing, we’ve set up our own site. It’s pretty fun to see it rolling out, like this. We’re even doing Creator Commentary videos on every issue, as well. So, it’s a fun way of getting a peak behind the curtain.
GOUX: The online format is a chance for readers to get a preview of what the book is before it comes out. The hope is that when people get a taste they’ll love it so much that they’ll go out and buy the book, or that it might expose some people to our work who haven’t heard of us and want to see what we’re about before committing to buying something.
AO: The idea of artistic compromise is something you’ve spoken about in publicity for Everything Is Tulip as being one of its central themes. It’s interesting in that it ties into something Jeff Lemire said to us in an interview very recently about work-for-hire projects and the mixed results that can sometimes ensue from that lack of creative control. In that regard how much personal experience fed into the book’s narrative?
BAKER: Yeah, that’s a component of it. But also comics is filled with publishers who offer terrible deals. And some who offer great deals. So navigating those waters is something that we’ve had to have a crash course in. I wouldn’t say the book is explicitly about bad comics publishers though, haha. It’s more just about the idea that the central conflict in any artist’s life is inherently compromise. It can take many shapes and forms, but it’s always there.
GOUX: Working in any creative field comes with the fulcrum between pure artistic expression and the need to monetize and sell your work. I think you’d be hard pressed to find an artist who hasn’t made any sacrifices in the name of being able to put food on the table or to boost their name in some way. The trick is to make the right decisions about what you can or will give up, while not “selling your soul” to a corporate machine that will benefit from your work without giving you decent compensation or acknowledgement.
BF: In terms of the book’s social commentary is there also an allegorical element in regards to questions of identity in a social media-dependent world? Is Becca/Tulip’s loss of control of how she is perceived and the performativity of her online persona also representative of the way all of us engage with others via online platforms?
BAKER: I think that’s absolutely a component of the book. Today, living with a phone can sometimes feel like a prison. The idea that we all have to manage our “brand” and that every experience we have is just going to be flattened, commodified, and then streamed to the world is something everyone has to reckon with.
GOUX: I don’t think you can have a public persona, be that just a Twitter profile or a full YouTube show, without the internet turning you into a character to some degree. No one sees the full picture when we view personalities online, everything is curated and filtered through the internet and often we don’t even realize it’s happening. With Becca/Tulip we see an extreme example of what can happen when we have trouble separating the online self from the true self.
AO: How much of Everyone Is Tulip is also about exploring how we value art and the complexities of how we interact with it as we shift ever more towards digital forms of delivery? The idea of phenomenon versus craft, populist sensation versus artistic truth?
BAKER: The idea of how a large group of people interact with art, without being aware of its origin, is a big part of the book for sure. Additionally, the book is something of an Interrogation of the idea of “re-appropriation” and how that has just fundamentally shifted in the digital age. “Sampling” used to be something that only DJs did but now… every person on TikTok does it. The modern life is one filled to the brim with editing. Editing content, editing self-expression, or even editing what you’re thinking. It’s a very strange and complex thing. It’s not necessarily good or bad, just the way global culture has evolved. It’s pretty apparent who has adapted to it well and who has struggled.
GOUX: Digital delivery is an aspect of the discussion, but for me, it’s more about where do we draw the line between re-appropriation and stealing. Does it come when you add and change to the message? Do racial origins of the idea make a difference? How does privilege play into the story? I think the art world sometimes uses the term re-appropriation to cover all manner of sins in the name of “high art”, but it is by no means a cut and dry discussion.
AO: Let’s talk about creative process and the way in which you collaborate as an artistic partnership. How did that play out as Everyone Is Tulip progressed? And as a longer-term creative partnership how has that relationship developed over the years?
GOUX: Dave and my process has grown and changed the more books we’ve done and the more experience we have, both in technical terms of making stories and with knowing who we are and what types of stories we care about telling. Initially it was more heavily divided with Dave writing a script and me doing the drawings, but now, the process has become inextricably collaborative. We spend a lot of time discussing and planning story before Dave ever puts pen to page, with lots of opportunities for me to review and critique what’s in the script. I will also sometimes add panels or scenes that were not in the original plan. Dave will also look over my work and give recommendations, or sometimes come up with a new scene part way through the process and we’ll add that as we go.
AO: More specifically, Nicole, what mediums did you work in to bring this story to the page?
GOUX: This book is almost completely digital. I did small pencil thumbnails, but every other part of the process was done on my iPad in Procreate. I believe Ellie colored on an iPad as well.
AO: Colour is a vitally important part of this book in the way that it accentuates mood and theme, and connects the reader emotionally to events. Can you tell us about what colourist Ellie Hall has brought to the project?
GOUX: I did color for the initial 8 pages of our pitch, and much of the overall color ideas and some of the specific themes come from that, but the nuance and versatility that Ellie put into the book just blew me away. I think without her, the book would have come out much flatter and the decisions that she made make the world come to life and feel 3D in a way that was surprising and exciting. She did a fantastic job and I’m so grateful we decided to bring her on for this project.
BAKER: It was really cool to see Nicole and Ellie perfect the style of the book and incorporate so many wonderful thematic motifs into the book. I really liked watching the process, that being said, I had next to nothing to do with it, haha.
AO: Something I was at great pains to emphasise when I reviewed Fuck Off Squad (above) a couple of years back was the way you use the pure language of comics to its greatest potential. Everyone Is Tulip is full of examples of that from the parallel presentation of social media/”real world” events, the pacing transitions from panel-to-panel storytelling to double-page spreads, floating panels juxtaposed with larger single illustration, and many other tools unique to comics. How important is that constant experimentation and playfulness with the formal elements of the medium to you both?
BAKER: This is the most important part of making comics, for me. It’s something Nicole and I discuss often. I’m always attempting to come up with new or exciting ways of creating narrative mechanics that make the work specific to the comics medium. We’re always looking for thematic links or character attributes that could be shown in a way that’s specific to the medium that we love so much. So many comics are just using filmic language. Which, to me, is just obscenely boring. If you’re making an illustrated screenplay… I don’t wanna be your friend, simply put. I want to make work in the comics medium. I want to make work that can only exist in the comics medium.
GOUX: Like Dave said, we make efforts to create work that uses the comics medium to full advantage. Something we both strive for is to make a book that couldn’t be done any other way. Often our story ideas come directly from new ideas for mechanics and ways to push the medium, letting comics themselves tell us what the story needs to be.
AO: And finally what other projects are you currently working on? What can we look out for from you both in the future after Everyone Is Tulip?
BAKER: Right now we’re working on a book for Simon and Schuster titled Forest Hills Bootleg Society. Set in 2005, it follows four bullied teenage girls in a conservative Christian boarding school who start a bootleg hentai distribution ring in their school. The hustle of selling burned DVDs to their male classmates provides them with some surprising twists and turns and puts their friendships to the test. If you want to find more of my work you can do so at @xdavebakerx on Instagram and Twitter or at www.heydavebaker.com.
GOUX: Forest Hills Bootleg Society will be coming out in Summer of 2022. Until then, we’ve got some secret projects in the works that you will all just have to wait to hear about! You can find my work at www.nicolegoux.com or @nicolegoux on Instagram and Twitter.
More on Everyone is Tulip here on the Dark Horse site
Interview by Andy Oliver