SDCC 2017: Nick Abadzis Talked To Us About His Latest Graphic Novel ‘Pigs Might Fly’

A few weeks ago we shared a review of a brand-new graphic novel called Pigs Might Fly. I genuinely think it might be one of my favorite original graphic novels of the summer. I mean, the heroine is a smart, compassionate young woman with a good head on her shoulders and an intense passion for engineering and adventure. Plus it’s full of all kinds of amazing pig puns. What more could you want?

Pigs Might Fly is an incredibly fun adventure for all-ages feature magic, science, and pigs who fly!

The book was written by Nick Abadzis, illustrated by Jerel Dye, and published by First Second – one of our absolute favorite graphic novel publishers. We had the great opportunity to sit down with Nick at SDCC 2017 to talk a little bit about Pigs Might Fly.

We got to learn a lot about about the story’s origins, the creative process, and more. We also had a really great conversation about the book’s many important themes. If I didn’t already have such a great opinion of the story going in, I definitely would have after this interview!

Heads up for the spoiler conscious: we talked a fair amount about the book’s themes and speculated on the future of the series. While I don’t think there are any huge spoilers, you may want to wait to read the interview until you’ve read the book for yourself (which is, of course, something I highly recommend you do).

What can you tell us about your new book, Pigs Might Fly?

Nick Abadzis: Pigs Might Fly is about a world of pigs where they build airplanes and they really do fly. It’s a world of science and magic where these two potentially opposing forces clash. And it’s the story of a – I don’t want to say piglet – a young girl who finds her way and sees a way through all the different clashing sides. She’s the only one with any clarity.

When you were picking the animals that would go in this sort of anthropomorphic world, what drew you to pigs?

NA: That’s a good one. I have to go way back because I had this idea a very long time ago. It’s been knocking about for the better part of twenty years. I originally wrote this little outline of the story in the late 90s. It was originally called Aerial Honker: Ace Hog of the Skies.

It was going to be, a discovered document. And I guess it all stems from that idea of pigs in flight. It’s a ridiculous idea. The general idea – that idea of pigs in flight, which is absurd – is also very attractive. You know, Miyazaki [did it with Porco Rosso]. And I just sort of thought how would that work? There’s a whole world there and it sort of built from there.

Was it hard to come up with all the pig puns in naming the characters and the locations?

NA: No! That was the fun part. That was a very easy thing. And that was there in the original version of the pitch. I have an early version of the map that I did way back when and a lot of those names are already on there.

But it’s just a sort of logic. If you just take it as a given that this is a world of hogkind, like humans they are going to reflect things in their own image. I think, “You know I wonder what they’d call that?” Would they have a different set of days? A different way of measuring time? Of course they do! And it’s all very specific. And sort of logical to their world.

Lily’s surname is Leanchops – but her father is Hercules Fatchops. Will she someday become a Fatchops?

NA: Well, no, it’s matronymic and patronymic.

I had wondered! But since we never meet Lily’s mom, I wasn’t sure.

NA: You don’t meet her mother. No, you don’t. She’s noticeably absent from the story, isn’t she? That’s deliberate. You may eventually find out further down the line if we get to a book two and a book three why that is the case. But she’s very deliberately missing from Lily’s life. It’s also why her aunt Sasha plays a maternal role in her [life]. But she’s not there in the house. So Lily to a certain extent is free to be her own person.

Do you have ideas for book two and three?

NA: Ohhhh yeah!

I assumed with how the first book ends that you had some ideas. But I thought you did a really good job of wrapping the story up just in case.

NA: Any story should be satisfying itself. It should be whole. And an awful lot of literature and media these days is predicated on the basis that there will be a part two. And a part three. And I kinda get fed up with that. I think you need to deliver a good story in and of itself.

So, [Pigs Might Fly] is very much designed to be a whole story. But also because of the nature of the world  – while I was writing – I couldn’t help but spin off all kinds of other sorts of possibilities.

Lily is a very strong female character – she’s smart, she’s adventurous, she’s an engineer. Was that a conscious choice in her characterization?

NA: She was always a girl. She was always female. Sometimes characters just make themselves known. I don’t want to make out that they arrive fully formed – there’s always development. But she was always a girl pig in the original draft.

All those characters are named in the original draft apart from Griselda. She sorta came about later when I was fleshing out the sort of warthog part of the world. But Lily and Sasha, they occurred very early on. I’m not sure why. It just seemed right.

I thought that was one of the really cool things about the book. We’re seeing more stories geared towards encouraging girls and young women to do whatever they want and do new, exciting things. I liked that there was a little bit of push back from her dad about it all in this story, too. Lily’s story becomes incredibly relatable in that way.

NA: That’s the other main metaphor in the book isn’t it? That some worlds can be chauvinistic. That’s a big part of it. I have a daughter myself. I would encourage her to follow her heart and do anything in life.

That’s something I passionately believe in. That anybody regardless of gender, race, height, weight, whatever should follow their heart and be allowed to and encouraged to. To develop their talents wherever they may lie. I think that’s an undercurrent that runs through every story I’ve ever told anyway. That’s not unique to this book. That’s just who I am in life and how I feel.

I really liked the balance between science and magic in the book and the message it sent. Why did you think showing that balance was such an important aspect of the story?

NA: We’re all products of our environment aren’t we? We’re all products of the human world. And we’re all susceptible to traditions and myths. But I think we also have to have a very sure basis in empiricism. In science. To learn about the world. And it’s fine – it’s absolutely fine to have tradition and to have myths and to abide by certain social structures and rules. But you’ve got to be open minded.

That [balance between science and magic] was a way to sort of bring that discussion in without making it explicitly about our world. By practicing magic you’re not close minded necessarily. You can be open minded but you [still] come from that tradition. Likewise with the science. I think these are important discussions – especially in the world today. When I wrote it I didn’t think that so many things were going to echo.

It’s an incredibly timely work for something you came up with nearly twenty years ago!

NA: Isn’t it funny the way it works out? Sometimes stories find their way into the world at the right time.

We see a lot of these themes reflected and explored in Lily’s characterization.

NA: Lily, she’s young and she’s impetuous, but she’s also extremely patient. She’s got a patience and multiple points of view and she explores them all. She’s open to them all. And I kinda think that that’s a difficult thing to achieve in a character and a difficult thing to achieve in life. But it’s not impossible.

It’s sort of what we should all strive for and maybe that’s why she’s the hero of the book. She’s a good – I was going to say person. But she’s not a person! She’s a good porcine personality. [She] remains loyal and steadfast and she’s open minded as well and I don’t think those things are contradictory.

I think you can have those things as part of your character and still welcome change. And be progressive in the way that you think while still holding on to more traditional values. I don’t think it’s a contradiction at all. I guess she’s an expression of that.

How did you come to work with Jerel Dye on this book? Had you met before?

NA: No! I’d never met Jerel and I wasn’t aware of his work. Originally Mark Siegel – the publishing director of First Second – was talking to Shelli Paroline and Braeden Lamb, who were working on the Adventure Time comics. Braeden submitted a bunch of sketches and I think he just got really, really busy. Shelli suggested Jerel who is a friend of theirs. She was like, “Well, he really likes inventing weird flying craft and I think he’d be a good fit.” So, she actually introduced us.

I sent him a couple of pages – like the first 20 pages of the script – to see how he felt about it and if he would be into it. And he sent back a couple of pages, certainly a lot of character designs, and he just sort of got it instantly. What was very, very strange was that years previously – and I’ve never shown these to Jerel – I had done my own character designs and his were really similar!

You’re both an artist and a writer. How is it different writing a book versus writing and drawing a book?

NA: Yeah that’s a good question!

Is it easier – or is it harder having to give that part up?

NA: It’s faster. You get to tell more stories, which over time has become important to me because I’m not getting any younger. I’ve got a lot of stories in me yet and I’ve gotten to a point where I’ve gotta speed up otherwise I’m not going to get all these things done.

And so that’s the beauty of working with artists.

You’re working with a very, very creative collaborator like Jerel who sees things in a very similar way. He designs pages and he designs a sense of characterization. What he kinda picks up on emotionally I liked. It’s very similar to what I do anyway. So, it’s a really sort of beautiful meeting of minds. I’m very lucky in respect to that.

The difference is I guess there’s a short hand. I won’t write myself a script. I’ll dialogue it out. And I’ll take that part of the process and I’ll do thumb nailing. That happens earlier for me. And I’ll be scripting while I’m thumb nailing. So that’s the major difference in terms of pure technique. But I sorta do that when I’m writing as well. It happens faster. I’m just basically writing scripts instead of thumb nailing it out.

I want the artist to invest in it their own directorial skills if you like. So occasionally I’ll ask for a small panel or a wide panel or a big panel. But if its someone like Jerel or someone like Giorgia Sposito who I worked with on the Doctor Who comics I’ll very much trust them to get on with it and do their own way. You want to leave some room for the artist to have fun with it… It’s a fine balance.

One last question. Is there anything else you’d like to tell us about the book – something people may not know about Pigs Might Fly just yet?

NA: Okay, uhm, the hymn at the back of the book? The first two stanzas are this book. So there’s more to be told… That’s a clue about how the story may continue. And, uh, I won’t say anything more than that!