Transcript: Children Chatting With Paul Downs and Michael Yates

DISCLAIMER: This is NOT a certified or verbatim transcript, but rather represents only the context of the class or meeting, subject to the inherent limitations of real-time captioning. The primary focus of real-time captioning is general communication access and as such this document is not suitable, acceptable, nor is it intended for use in any type of legal proceeding.Transcript by

Children Chatting: Discussion between Paul Downs, Michael Yates and Children Chatting members

DANIELLA: Hello, everyone. You are listening to Children Chatting With Authors. Today, we're going to be joined by screenwriter, animator, professor, and author, Paul Downs; and story artist, director, and illustrator, Michael Yates, of the graphic novel, Urban Legends. We're delighted to be able to spend time with them today.

GABE: Hi, my name is Gabe, and I was just wondering, what got you interested in drawing cartoons in art?

MICHAEL: Yeah, I can take this one. That's a great question Gabe.

MICHAEL: I think I always just loved to draw ever since I was a little kid, maybe since the age of six. And I remember in second grade I would always just copy the cartoons I would watch on TV all the time. And I would trade drawings to different classmates. It was always just something that I initially wasn't that good at, but over time I just got better and better from doing it more and more, something that I always found fun.

MICHAEL: It was always an easy the thing to do. You only need a piece of paper and a pencil. So whenever I was board I would just start drawing different characters and different scenarios.

PAUL: And for me, I also draw, but just not nearly as well as Michael. He's, he's way, way better. But yeah, kind of the same thing. I knew what I wanted to do from a very young age and that was to animate and it took drawing in order to get me into art school and things like that. And then since then, it's moved on to more of computer animation, like Pixar style animation and things like that. I don't draw as much anymore, but drawing is definitely the gateway to creativity, and to pursue your dreams, if you want to be an artist.

GABE: Have you worked with Pixar before?

PAUL: Michael currently works at Pixar.

MICHAEL: Yeah. I've been working there for the past five years.

GABE: Are you working on Soul? Cause they really can't wait for that to come out.

MICHAEL: Yeah, I did. I worked on it for about two years.

GABE: Cool.

MICHAEL: I'm really excited about it.

GABE: Looking forward to that.


KASSI: Hi, I'm Kassi. And my question is, how long on average does it take for you to, from start to finish, to finish your drawings?

MICHAEL: Yeah, that's a great question. I think it really depends on what the drawing is for me. Some pages are faster than others, but I would say I spent, I would do it in sections of maybe five pages at a time where I would spend the week just doing the rough sketches of everything. And then a couple of days after that doing the tie-down drawings, cleaning it up, making it look good. And then maybe an additional day of color. So I would say each page probably took, total, around three days average. And then some, some were faster, some were a little longer. It kind of depends on how difficult the drawings were on that page.

PAUL: Michael is a machine when it comes to this, cranking things out. It's really incredible how he works. He would receive the written word. It would be script pages and he would read them and then he would just start to visualize. And he would deliver a rough version very, very, very quickly. His brain is just able to visualize it, make sense of it, and then he would get that in front of the team very, very early on to just getting initial feedback. And usually, it was like, it looks great! It's crazy. Then he would go in and he would refine from there. And then he would start to get into color and things like that after everything was approved by Humanoids, the publisher.

MICHAEL: Yeah. I think it helped a lot just from being a kid and reading books. And after I would read a book, sometimes I would just draw different parts of that book. And that's kind of what making comics and films is like. A lot of it is just you reading it and then using your imagination to figure out what does that look like. It's really fun.

GABE: Thank you.

PAUL: So yeah, If you want to pursue this and you want to do a test, do what Michael said, read a book and then try to visualize it, and draw it out in panel form. That's a good test to see what it's like.

SORA: My name is Sora. Why do you choose to have Cashew's dad seem to be so far away from him, but then at the end of the book, try to save him?

PAUL: Yeah. That's a great question. The idea behind Cashew was a kid who has it all, except for a strong family bond at home. His dad's always busy doing the business stuff, and it's taken a toll on their relationship, and Cashew just wants, so badly, to be part of something. That's why he's found this crew of friends. He's trying to bring people together because it's what's missing in his life. He's been trying to get through to his dad and communicate with him and say; I need you in my life.

PAUL: I think in the end, when his dad sees the situation that he's in and how high the stakes are for him, he says, my priorities have been backwards this entire time and it's really time to reconnect with my son. It's not really about these fancy buildings that I'm building and the success that I'm having. It's the human connection with my son that's been missing. That's where that change happens, and it takes this crazy event to make that happen.

ZAREK: Why do you choose different urban legends?

PAUL: The main story is that at one point it was about werewolves. It was a werewolf story that was going to be set in Brooklyn. And in talking about it, and going back and forth, it felt like there were a lot of werewolf films, where you've seen that a bunch of times. You've seen Thriller and The Howling and there's just a lot of werewolf films, even though we enjoy that.

PAUL: We started to try to figure out, is there another jar that we could reach into and pull ideas out of? And because we were always set on this idea of an adventure happening in a city, like Brooklyn, it made us start to think that maybe urban legends could be something. And through our research, we realized that there's so many, and it's such a rich pool of content with these monsters that are huge and some are small. Just so many fun ideas that it seemed like that would trump the whole werewolf idea, because it feels like we've never seen this before, and it could be this more unique adventure. That was the main idea behind it.

WRIGLEY: Hi, I'm Wrigley. Did any other kinds of mythology inspire Urban Legends?

PAUL: It was mostly just strictly going with the urban legends. We love the world that Harry Potter has built and Percy Jackson and the fact that that is all about Greek mythology. To us it felt like that's been done, and it's been done really well.

PAUL: We really wanted to find what hasn't been done in the same way and tell a story, a present-day story, and relate it to some of the things going on now. So that young readers can see themselves in the characters and things like that. But it was mostly the urban legend side of things and not other mythology. We didn't want to make it too muddy or a combination of too many things, so we tried to stick with the well known urban legends.

WRIGLEY: How'd you find out about the urban legends and use them as source?

MICHAEL: Growing up you always hear about different urban legends and there's a lot that, when we started to think about which ones to use, it's like, oh yeah, I've heard of that one too. I'm from the Midwest and you've heard of that one too. It's finding out which ones everyone knew about and then researching those to figure out the differences and the specificity of each of those urban legends. There were a lot that we couldn't fit in the book as well, but we really wanted to, there's just so many really good urban legends out there.

PAUL: For me, I grew up, my house, my backyard was a cemetery, right outside Boston. I lived just two steps away from a gigantic cemetery. We would go in there as kids all the time and hear these stories about this statue, and this scary thing and all of these... And we would explore and have all these adventures. And it just always resonated and stuck with us that we love these stories that stand the test of time and it doesn't matter where you're from, you've heard of them. And then it's all about research and trying to find out, where they come from? That's the best part. Why are alligators in the sewers a thing? And it's actually because there's several documented sightings of gators that size in the sewers. And you look at the timeline of information, it's so interesting and you know, that they actually come from something real, which is even better.

EVA: Hi, my name is Eva, and my question is how did you choose the personalities for the kids for the fine group of Cashew?

MICHAEL: Yeah. I think a lot of the characters are based off of us. I find the easiest way to write characters is just to write your friends. Because they're all very unique, they're very specific, and you knew exactly what they're going to say in different scenarios. It's always like putting a little piece of your life into your work. That's always something I try to do.

PAUL: Exactly. Cashew is our other collaborator, Nick, who right now is working hard, directing a movie and he's actually working on a Saturday, so he couldn't be here today, unfortunately. But he basically is Cashew. He's that confident kid, his dad worked on Wall Street growing up. It's very, very much Nick's story in a lot of ways. There's a little bit of us in everybody, as well as our family and friends, because if you write about the people that you know, it makes it more real and more relatable and just more honest. Instead of it being a caricature of somebody, it really is somebody that we have in mind and it always tends to go better.

EVA: Thank you.

MICHAEL: Absolutely.

PAUL: Even, Mia, as a character, coming into it was also... Michael looked at his girlfriend as inspiration for Mia as well. So it's pieces of everything that come together and make one thing.

NICHOLAS: My name is Nicholas. How come you picked Brooklyn as a city and not somewhere else?

PAUL: That's a really good question. Part of it is the architecture, part of it is just the melting pot, just the culture of it all. I'm from Massachusetts, and I'm a Red Sox Fan, so it was like, wait, I'm choosing New York of all places. But it was just by far the richest location for something like this and just great opportunities for drawing, and exploring, and what the neighborhoods look like, and what bodegas feel like. The Gowanus Canal is this amazing body of water that runs through Brooklyn and it's super polluted, but it has this feeling. It's surrounded by buildings that are being taken over by nature, and there's this machinery that's breaking down, and it's honestly like a fairytale. Like an urban fairytale. And it just has so much potential for visualization.

MICHAEL: Yeah, I'm from Indiana, like Dwayne is. I remember my first time visiting New York and just feeling like this is so different than where I'm from. I don't know about this place, I don't quite like that, and I think that was one of the elements we really wanted to put into Dwayne. So just digging into that truth of what I actually felt and putting that into the character.

NICHOLAS: Where did you get the idea for Cashew's father?

PAUL: Cashew's father was a combination of things, and it was also drawn upon the data of our third creator named Nick. It was about his dad being this successful Wall Street guy growing up. He spent a lot of time in the city and they lived in Westchester, which is a northern suburb of the city, so he was spending a lot of time in the city and things like that. And their relationship is very, very interesting even still to this day. So a lot of that went into it. The reality of Nick's relationship with his dad. And also people that we know, sometimes ourselves. I'm a dad and sometimes I feel like I'm spending a lot of time working on this project that is to show the kids, but it's taking me away from the kids. So it's always about finding that balance and making sure that work doesn't move above family time and the relationship part of it. Michael, do you want to talk about the design?

MICHAEL: Yeah, I think the design, I just looked at a lot of politicians, different ones. I really wanted him to have that feel of a very proper guy who's really good at talking to people and communicating. So I looked at different politician's speeches and how they use their hands when they're talking. I love just looking at different references of how people move and how they talk and trying to incorporate that into the art. It gives a really nice specific feeling to the characters and it makes them feel more real.

LAUREN: Book club member, Sebastien, wasn't able to be with us today, but he emailed me some questions this morning. How did you pick the legends to write about? Which ones did you choose to keep in? And did you have any that you had in, but then you took out?

MICHAEL: I think it was a lot of which ones were most fun to draw, which ones are most fun to look at, which one's people knew the most about. And then which one's fit in most with the structure of the story. Trying to think of some of the ones that we ended up taking out. I think we had—

PAUL: The Coney Island freak show was in there a little bit more. And then we decided that we could potentially push that one for the cliffhanger at the end, so that we could possibly base a second book around that one legend. We didn't want to use all of them right upfront, so we tried to choose the ones, like Michael said, the ones that were fun to draw and the ones that gave a lot of variation in scale. So it was like, oh, the Gowanus Canal Monster, but also monster bedbugs. And it was trying to play with... It's like a creature feature where there's little, little enemies, but there's also large gigantic enemies, and just playing in that sandbox as much as we possibly could.

GABE: So when you were writing your book, what did you see, or what did you think was going to be the end product?

PAUL: At first, we didn't know. At first, we had first started writing it as an actual script. Like it was going to be a movie. And we decided that we really liked where it was going. And we wanted to see it as quickly as possible and not wait 10 years for it to become a movie. We wanted to see it and explore it now. So we all just started to collaborate. And this was a really long process. That's another thing that this teaches you is how long the process is, and you just want to stay excited about it. If you love something, you're going to live with it when things are good and when things are bad, and you're going to see it all the way through until it is a hardcover book in your hand. There were several times where, we had no idea, maybe the deal could fall through and it never becomes a book. Maybe they decide that they don't like it in the end. There's just so many factors that go into it. And all you have to do is put your head down and say, we love this project. We love the characters, we love the world, and we're just going to see it through, and we're going to hope that it becomes something. And then when we connected with Humanoids, it became a reality, and it was like, this is amazing. All of this work—I mean, we worked on it seriously for four or five years before we had a publisher. We were working on it for a really, really long time. And then we got a far enough and with Michael's amazing artwork, then it was just like, yeah, let's go. Then the process of the book writing was a lot shorter than the other four or five years it took to get it into somebody's hands.


GABE: Do you ever hope to see your book as a movie?

PAUL: We're working on it right now, possibly a TV show.

GABE: Wow!

PAUL: Possibly a TV show. So that it can become a lot of adventures, there's a lot of potential there and sometimes an hour and a half of a film, isn't quite enough time to explore it. So the goal is to have it become a TV show.

MICHAEL: Yeah. And all the other urban legends we couldn't fit in. We have time to just put them all in.


GABE: Cool.

LAUREN: My name is Lauren. I'm the children's librarian at the Studio City Library, part of Los Angeles Public Library. And first I wanted to make a comment. I grew up in New York City and in the first couple pages where the scene with the girl in the bathroom and the alligator or crocodile comes right out. A lot of New Yorkers, as children, when we grow up, we are so fearful that that is going to really happen. I think by the time we hit five or six years old, someone has told us this urban legend of the alligator or crocodile, that's going to come out of the toilet bowl, or the bathtub. And we're petrified till about 12 years old. And also a couple pages in, after that house party and the gargoyles, we are petrified of the gargoyles and the cemeteries and the buildings till about 12 years old.

LAUREN: So I really appreciated that because it made me think of when I was D's age. And also it made me think, yes, these urban legends aren't just happening in one place. Everyone knows about it, really around the world and across the US so that made me really happy. And then I just wanted to ask, because that's why I love graphic novels so much because yes, the artwork's incredible. The story's fun, but also there was some deep parts in the story like handling grief because you noticed in the beginning of the story, D and Curtis handled their grief of their mother passing away in different ways. And I just want to know, why did you put that in the story, especially in the beginning?

PAUL: We're always trying to find the parallel between the themes of what the characters are going through and then overall what's happening in the story. So we wanted it to be a lot about finding a way of moving forward while at the same time, not forgetting what came before. So for D, he's stuck in the past, he misses his mom, which is totally understandable. He's in this new place. He's not comfortable. He can't really relate to his dad and to his older brother. And his older brother seems to have already forgotten about mom and is ready to move on. So we wanted it to feel, and make a parallel between what D was feeling, which is he's trying to hold on so badly to the past that he's rejecting the future. And at the same time, Curtis, in some ways is rejecting the past in order to embrace the future and kind of move beyond mom. While at the same time the city of Brooklyn is doing the same thing. It's being gentrified and it's being gentrified in a way that's kind of erasing history and it's erasing the culture that came before, in order to replace it with something newer and shinier. But not integrating it and balancing it and doing both; honoring the past while at the same time, moving things forward.

PAUL: So those were the parallels that we were really trying to make between those story points. And really it's very important for us because we come from animation that we're always thinking about themes and the heart of the story and the meaning, and what the characters are doing. And Michael, coming from Pixar, they just do that incredibly, incredibly well.

WRIGLEY: Every single Pixar film makes me cry.

MICHAEL: Me too.

PAUL: Yes, they have that effect, but Michael can speak to that and say how long it takes to get people to cry and how many iterations it takes to get it to really work emotionally.

MICHAEL: Yeah. It's a long process from the start of an idea to when the film actually comes out. I think it's usually around four years, three to four years, and it's just a lot of reworking it over and over and over again. And we just watch it again and again and again, and just try to make it as good as possible. But yeah, it's really rewarding in the end when you do see people crying at it.

PAUL: Yeah. And as you grow up and you continue to pursue art or whatever it is, just understanding that you look at a Pixar film, you think, that they must have known that from the beginning. But just knowing the struggle and the process, as you're making a film, at some point during the making of that, you're hitting rock bottom. And you're saying 'This is going to be the film that's going to sink the studio.' This is it, we lost the magic. But then you work and you work and you love it and you continue until you find it and then you're rewarded even more so in the end. So stick with those ideas that you have. Don't give up on them.

KASSI: I was wondering art school you guys went to and how art school was?


PAUL: Michael, do you mind if I start?

MICHAEL: Yeah, go ahead.

PAUL: I'm just going to start with this one because we went to the same school, but I went a lot earlier than he did. And what ended up happening is I ended up, after working on movies and stuff like that for a while as an animator, I went back to teach at the school, at the college that I went to for art, which was Ringling College of Art & Design. And my first year teaching there, I actually had Michael as a student. So I was extremely fortunate to have my first class ever have this superstar. Somebody who always challenged and always questioned and always ask questions and was curious and passionate and all of those things. So it was this amazing opportunity to meet somebody and then actually collaborate with them on a professional level just a few years later.

MICHAEL: Yeah. Ringling College of Art & Design. It's a great school. I learned a lot there, I mostly learned computer animation, but in the process, you kinda learn a little bit of everything from writing, to storyboarding, drawing, painting. So you get really well wrapped around it. And then after that, you decide what you want to do with it. Like Paul was saying, I think it was my second year, you came in as a teacher, and it was a great experience, because he was fresh out of the industry and super excited to teach, and I was ready to learn everything.

KASSI: Thank you. And what class did you teach?

PAUL: I taught, I teach animation and I teach story, and I still teach there now. You can look it up, if you go to YouTube and you look up Ringling College of Art & Design animation, you'll see a whole bunch of really great shorts; including Michael's. The Legend of the Flying Tomato. Look it up. It's really solid.

MILES: Thanks for listening to the Children Chatting with Authors podcast.

[Music outro]

DISCLAIMER: This is NOT a certified or verbatim transcript, but rather represents only the context of the class or meeting, subject to the inherent limitations of real-time captioning. The primary focus of real-time captioning is general communication access and as such this document is not suitable, acceptable, nor is it intended for use in any type of legal proceeding.Transcript by