Jonathon Dalton is an interesting fellow.
A substitute teacher by day, Jonathon fills much of the rest of his time churning out wildly imaginative webcomics for his website, jonathondalton.com. The subject matter of these comics varies greatly – you’re just as likely to stumble upon a story rooted in ancient Aztec lore as you are a humorous vignette exploring the secret origins of Chop Suey.
The former comic, which Dalton describes as a “Mesoamerican fantasy story”, recently earned him a grant from the Xeric Foundation – an organization dedicated to provided yearly financial assistance to committed comic book self-publishers. (If you weren’t already familiar with the grant, it was founded by Peter A. Laird of Ninja Turtles fame and you can read more about it here)
Based in Abbotsford, British Columbia, Dalton is also a co-founder of the Vancouver area comic collective Cloudscape Comics.
I caught up with Jonathon to chat about his own secret comic book origins, receiving the Xeric grant, and his currently updating webcomic, “A Mad Tea-Party“.
The interview is below:
KD: I wanted to point out that you have an impressive variety of webcomic content currently up on your site. What can you tell me about the first comics you ever put up online?
JD: Tianxia was the first one. When I started that, I wasn’t even thinking about putting it on the web. By the time I had finished it, I had also discovered webcomics and thought, “hey, I could put this up on the internet!”
I lived in Taiwan for a year and a half, and that comic came out of an idea that I had when I was there.
KD: What was your experience in comicking prior to Tianxia?
JD: I’d been reading comics since high school. Mostly superhero stuff, for a long, long time. Even though that was what I was reading, the comics I would draw tended not to be very superhero-ey. Generally not the kind of stuff that I imagined DC or Marvel would publish.
It was when I discovered Manga and webcomics that it occurred to me I don’t have to work for Marvel or DC. I could do the kind of stuff I wanted to, and people could still see it. So I kept going with that, and for that reason a lot of my early stuff that I don’t have online is a lot like what I’m doing now – just more amateurish.
KD: Although your various comics each deal with different material and often different approaches to illustration, there definitely seems to be a recurring theme to most of your work. Your stories tend to be interested with exploring totally different cultures, often with reference to some ancient historical context.
Where did this interest come from?
JD: Part of that is from having moved around and lived in a few different countries. Outside of Canada, I’ve lived in Taiwan and London, England. In both of those locations, I did quite a bit of travelling around their surrounding countries as well.
The experience of being a foreigner living in another country really informed the way I see the world, and that comes through in my comics.
KD: Let’s talk about Lords of Death and Life, the comic that recently netted you the Xeric Grant. What can you tell me about that title?
JD: It’s set in the historical context of Ancient Mexico, with Mayans and Aztecs, but there are also these surreal elements to it, like magic and trips to the underworld.
For the most part, I wanted to explore the culture. It’s not one that you don’t really see represented in popular culture. There are maybe two, three movies with that setting in the history of Hollywood movies, and not that many comics or books even.
KD: Congratulations, by the way, on receiving the grant. What was your reaction when you heard the news?
JD: I was pretty excited! Applying was actually a pretty rigorous process with lots of paperwork involved, and I had no idea what my chances of actually receiving it would be. They only give out a dozen of them each year for all of North America.
KD: What do you plan to do with the grant money?
JD: I will be printing Lords of Death and Life as a book. I have been printing it in just small print runs, printing them on my laser printer and putting them together by hand, but that’s not really cost effective and I can’t do much with those books.
Now that I can afford to do a larger print run and have it look really nice, I hope to be able to distribute it and maybe get it on the shelves in a few book stores.
KD: I wish you the best of luck with that.
Moving into more recent territory, let’s talk about A Mad Tea-Party, the title you’re presently updating. How long have you been working on this particular comic?
JD: I started it in about 2003, I think. A lot of the other comics that are on my site, I’ve been doing those at the same time as A Mad Tea-Party. I have just about 67 more pages to draw, and then it’s done. It’s definitely a title I’ve put a lot of effort into.
KD: Would it be accurate to say that the art of A Mad Tea-Party is the most influenced by Manga of your work to date?
JD: Oh yeah, and the story is too. When I originally came up with the idea for the story, I’d been consuming a lot of Japanese sci-fi manga and anime. I wanted to do my own take on that, but I was more interested in telling the story of ordinary people living in a fantastic science fiction world.
I have a backstory throughout it about a battle between Earth’s genetically engineered soldiers and these alien robots, but really that’s all just background to set up the main story.
KD: I wanted to mention here that you’re actually also a substitute teacher by day. How do you strike a balance between working that job to pay the bills, and putting the necessary time into your passion for making comics?
JD: The two jobs work pretty well together because they’re so different from each other. As a substitute, if I need to go off to a convention I can always turn down work for that day when they call. If I have a print deadline, then I can work on the comics rather than teaching.
One of the other advantages of being a substitute is that when the work comes, there isn’t a lot of work outside of the classroom. Regular classroom teachers do report cards, marking, lesson planning and all that sort of stuff, whereas if you’re a substitute you show up for work and at the end of the day there’s time for comics.
-Interview by Kevin de Vlaming