Sho Uehara was at work when he turned to a fellow employee and said, “Hey! I have this great idea! What if Pinocchio never got his wish and he was just an empty immortal wooden puppet forever?” Nick Johnson thought it was brilliant, and the two of them started spit firing ideas back and forth until they realized they had an anthology on their hands. Wishless: A Graphic Anthology was born.
Wishless is independently created by Calgary artists including Nicole Brunel, Jillian Fleck, Jackson Gee, Joanne Leung, Lyndon Navalta, Nick Johnson, Jarett Sitter and Sho Uehara. Today marks their official launch party and book signing at Shelf Life Books in Calgary, Alberta, Canada.
“When we realized how intense and how many possibilities there were, I was like, ‘You know, this might be the perfect thing to unify in an anthology,’” Johnson explained. “I wasn’t really into doing anthologies anymore because I had done a bunch already, but by doing one where everyone was tapping that same idea and seeing where they would go with it got us both really excited!”
“So that was the driving force find, that just unified it all. There are a lot of anthologies that have different stories and a lot of different conflicts and stuff, but we liked the idea of an anthology having a through and through, every story is about Pinocchio but in a different way,” Uehara added.
Johnson and Uehara are no strangers to comic making. Both are well-known Artist Alley staples in Alberta, and Johnson has tapped into anthology making before. But the idea of Pinocchio never becoming a boy gave birth to Wishless. Johnson tapped creators he knew and chose those he thought were a great fit for the book. Some were fellow schoolmates from the Alberta College of Arts and Design or their former workplace, Icom Productions. Delightfully, many creators were on board and pulled together the anthology project.
Looking at the credits, I noticed a surprisingly diverse selection of creators. I asked Johnson if that was a conscious decision.
“It is all people I admired, who did comics in their own unique ways, and I just really wanted the book to be, you know, diverse, and really different art styles, and I think it worked out, ‘cause it’s a pretty wide range going on in there. It was only when the book was done I realized I’m the only white guy on this book, and I was like, ‘That’s awesome!’”
I asked Johnson about his story, “Don’t Look Up.”
“I wanted to tell more of a quiet, sort of personal story. I had this weird experience one day where I was cleaning my bathroom, and I left and I washed my hands, and when I came back I looked in my bathroom from across the hall and imagined myself still on the floor scrubbing! I thought, ‘What if I saw myself outside of my body like that?’ I had been watching tons of David Lynch at the time, and I think Pinocchio talking to a psychiatrist about this experience would be perfect! After I showed it to a friend of mine, they asked, ‘Has this ever happened to you?’ and I replied, ‘No, it was just a daydream,’ and he said, ‘Well, it’s happened to me, and it scared the shit out of me,'” Johnson said. “So I guess it adds a touch of realism, and the ending just kind of wrote itself once I threw a puppet into the scenario. It was really cool, it was really simple, atmospheric; after it was all done, I didn’t know if I can draw comics anymore because this was all just talking heads and people sitting.”
The results were dark and moody, reminiscent of a Mike Mignola comic. Johnson’s approach was very effective. One of the strengths of Wishless is the wide variety of storytelling. Each creator takes a different approach, offering a unique story. Uehara chose to tell his story, “Grim,” without words and presented it in a more cinematic style.
“I have always been fascinated with trying to tell a story without using words,” Uehara said. “I still am pretty stoked, and I thought why not try with Wishless as my first run. Originally I had two or three different stories that were way longer than this, and they were all wordless.”
Uehara ultimately settled on a story about Pinocchio and Death.
“Because Pinocchio in my story is a character dealing with his own demons, I thought it was appropriate for him for the story to be wordless, because he doesn’t really have anyone to bounce off of, or anyone to really converse with. In this, he is chasing Death, who is retired, so they’re not really on ‘speaking terms.’ I have always been fascinated with the wordless approach to storytelling, and I think there’s kind of a potential universal quality to it. It breaks language barriers which really fascinates me.”
Uehara’s end result is beautiful and cinematic, drawing inspiration from silent films and movies with strong visuals.
“I very much love cinema, and I really believe that cinema and comics are not that far apart. Sure, they’re different meanings, but there’s a lot of things that carry into comics easily in cinema. Even right now I am re-watching a bunch of Charlie Chapman films. And Mad Max Fury Road? I watch that movie like at least once a week, I don’t know why. And because it’s on Netflix I watch it even more. I loved that movie so much because it was just so … it was so precise about the words to use and when the characters would say something.”
As for his choice wordless publications? “Shawn Tan is a children’s book illustrator and he did a book called ‘The Arrival.’ It’s wordless and about immigration essentially, about what it feels like to move from one place to another and how alien it feels.”
A convention favourite, Wishless is now in its third printing and can be purchased at Shelf Life Books in Calgary as of today, at the Panel One Creator Comic Festival on June 3 (where several Wishless creators are making an appearance), and at the Edmonton Comic and Entertainment Expo in September. It is also available digitally through ComiXology.