Beyond the Tale: Marcus Muller

Artist Marcus Muller has been one of  Once Upon a Time Machine‘s most dedicated contributors – working alongside writer David Tanh and letterer Jason Arthur, Marcus drew and colored the single longest story in the book. Their take on “The Tortoise & the Hare,” is an anime-inspired, nonstop rush of kart race craziness, The Tea Garden Park Soapbox Grand Prix. Now let’s get started…

Q: Tell us a little about your life as an artist, and how you got to where you are today.

Since I was a kid I had always been pretty obsessed with cartoons and then eventually comic books.  Around first or second grade, working in one of those fields became my dream job – replacing becoming a Ghostbuster (still time for that, though, right?).  I’m still struggling to make a living from it; I had a few “almost there” moments where I did get some work for DC Comics Creative Services department, but the editor I was working with got canned like 3 months after I started there, so all my worked dried up because I didn’t know anyone else at DC. 😦  Ever since then I’ve been taking on odds and ends until something a bit more stable comes along, all while trying to finish some creator-owned projects.

I didn’t go to college for art, so I’ve picked everything up on my own and by picking other people’s brains (not literally, that would be gross…or tasty), like how I learned Photoshop from my more computer-savvy younger brother. If I had gone to college, I’d be really screwed with having to pay off student loans right about now.  So I’m thankful for that, heh.

Q: I see three sorts of comic work under your belt: work-for-hire, collaborative, and personal. How do you compare the three?

Work-for-hire is definitely the least fulfilling of the three.  But being stuck in a room working on my own comics 12 to 15 hours a day, I’ve really come to appreciate the collaborative process and having someone I can call up or e-mail and bother about a project.  I think it’s possible to produce better work that way by, having things suggested that you may not have thought up on your own otherwise; and if you come up with something that is complete crap, it’s good to have someone tell you this before it sees print or before you put anymore work into it.  It’s always good to have someone to bounce ideas off of as well.  However, with strictly personal work, I’m left to my own devices with no one to save my ass, and forced to take some risks I might not have taken if I was working with a collaborator.  They both have their positives and negatives to them I guess, and I enjoy them both equally.

Q: Your art here (and elsewhere) feels like a high-energy cartoon, somehow captured on a static page. How did this style of yours come about?

Again, since I was a kid I always loved cartoons and animation in general – it was what got me drawing in the first place.  But as I got older and thought about doing comics for a living, I tried to emulate what was popular in the industry, thinking that it would help me get work.  I hated it and I wasn’t having any fun drawing in that style, so eventually I started to think about what type of stuff I do like to draw, what I wanted to see more of, and why I was drawing in the first place.  All of that led me back to cartoons and animation and that type of single-line-weight style you find in animation.  From there things started to click – I was a lot happier with my work and saw the quality of it improve quite a bit (though I think it still has a ways to go).  Plus, it’s a style that works well with the types of stories I want to tell and work on.  I wish I had gone that route sooner.

Q: I’d love to hear about what went into designing the look of this story’s characters and their vehicles. 

By the time I got picked up as the artist on the story, [writer] David Tanh already had a lot of the characters’ personalities fleshed out in the script and in character profiles.  He also had a general idea of the direction he wanted to go in for the character design too, so that stuff was actually pretty easy.  We both had a lot of similar interests in comics, cartoons, movies, and video games, so we could communicate back and forth in a kind of shorthand, like, “No, make this kid’s shirt more like this character from this video game.”  Being on the same page like that helped quite a bit because then we would actually know what the other person was talking about.  Otherwise it might have all sounded like total geek gibberish.  For the vehicles, it was all about trying to capture what each of the characters represented in vehicle form.  So the ‘tortoise’ kids had these bulkier cars that were built more for rugged terrain, for defense, or for bruising it out, while the ‘hare’ kids had these very sleek looking cars that were built for speed and pulling tricks, and had a much more hi-tech look compared to the more modest look of the tortoise cars. 

Q: Can you walk us through your process on taking this race-track epic from David’s script to a finished page?

I’m sure there’s an easier and faster way to do this stuff, but here’s what kind of works alright for me.  First I print out the script, and after several read-throughs, I start sketching out layouts and any ideas that come to mind on the side of the script next to the text.  When I have a layout down that I like, I start penciling up the rough version of the page.  Normally I do all my pencil work (rough and finished art) on 11×17 sized paper, but in this case, because I really wanted to push the animated look (I tend to overwork my backgrounds if I work at a larger size), I decided it would be best to pencil the whole thing at the size it would be printed at.  When the rough version of a page was done, I’d e-mail it to Dave to see if he had any suggestions for it.  Once the rough page was settled on, I’d take it to the light box to trace the final copy.  When all the linework was done for the entire story, I started in on coloring, which was quite a learning process for me. Before this story, the only coloring I had done was on pin-ups or character designs, so this was my first time coloring sequential pages – hopefully there weren’t too many mistakes made in there.  During the coloring I found out it was much faster to flat a bunch of the pages first before doing the full colors on a page.

Although the script had just about all the action in it, Dave left some stuff open for me in that department; a lot of the action sequences we’d talk about over the phone first before I started roughing anything out.  We also added quite a few pages in there, and after a while we had to stop ourselves or else the story would have ended up at least a hundred pages.  We had some cool stuff planned for the giant robot fight sequence [SPOILER!] that we had to cut out because it would have added another 12-15 pages to an already-32-page story, and it would have just taken too long to do.  We settled on a much shorter version that worked out okay…but anyone that reads the story can feel  free to imagine the extra 15 pages of a giant, earth-shaking, epic, robot battle.

Q: From what you’ve seen so far, are there any other stories in the book that you can’t wait to read?

Well, with the wide variety of stories and art in this thing I’m really looking forward to sitting down for an afternoon and reading through all of them.  But I’ll try to be a bit more specific about what’s at the top of my list to check out first.  In no particular order, here are the stories I can’t wait to read the most, and have me most intrigued by their unique artwork and twists on the old fairy tales:

The Peach-Pit Boy (“Momotaro”), Silver-Hair & the Three Xairs (“Goldilocks & the Three Bears”), 1001 (“Arabian Nights”), John Henry, The Boy Who Drew Cats, The Shepherd and the Weaver GirlThe Crossing (“Billy Goats Gruff”), Pinocchio, Humpty Dumpty, and…um, I’m sure I’m forgetting some others…okay, yeah I just want to sit down and read this whole damn thing right now! I’m pretty excited about it and I’m going to have a difficult time trying to figure out which story to read first once I buy a copy of it.  I guess that’s a good problem to have, though.

Q: Now’s your chance to plug any current or upcoming projects, websites, or what-have-you before we go. Make it count!

I have a few things coming up on the horizon.  One is a mini-series that  probably won’t be finished until sometime next year, so I can’t say too much about it yet or the writer on it will kill me.

But I have a webcomic called King of the Unknown that started at the beginning of the year, which you can find at We also have a Facebook page people can go to for all the latest news on it, character profiles, and other fun stuff like that:

As the name of it might imply, it stars a fat Elvis taking on the forces of the unknown/paranormal for a secret branch of  the United States government.  So if you’re a fan of horror, humor, action, and X-Files type stuff, then please feel free to check it out, it’s a lot of weird fun and I think you’ll enjoy it.

Besides that, if you’re interested in seeing any more of my work, it can be found at:



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