Interview with the Creators of the Web Comic, “Los Animales”
What do you get when a talented cartoonist and a seasoned journalist join forces? Answer, “Los Animales!”
Pronounced as you would say, Los Angeles, “Los Animales” is an original web comic created by writer, Liz Ohanesian, and artist, Jeaux Janovsky. Since the release on the beloved Valentine’s Day, “Los Animales” has delivered a steady beat of glow sticks and music-infused comics based in a small record shop dubbed “Animal Sounds Records,” in the city of Los Animales.
If you’re simple-minded and strapped for time like me, you’ll enjoy making a quick daily stop by Animal Sounds Records to get your comic fill for the day. The one-page dailies are nostalgic-induced and packed with just enough humor and drama to leave you waiting for the next page. The city of Los Animales is a little piece of the world where a handful of spunky twenty-something-year-old animals work; either at Animal Sounds Records or the comic or video shop. The bright colors and outrageous facial expressions of characters are unique touches to this comic. Coming from someone who doesn’t follow comics, this hip and memory-baring storyline has me yearning for the next page, and I’m definitely looking forward to what the creators have in store for the future.
I sat down with Liz and Jeaux to discuss the characters and ideas behind their delightful project and followed up with them at the “Los Animales” release party, Friday, March 8.
Geek Smash: Hey guys, thanks for taking time to chat! I’m excited to share “Los Animales” with the readers of Geek Smash. Can you give a brief intro of yourselves?
Liz: I’m Liz Ohanesian, I went to high school with Jeaux. My day job is freelance journalist. So, I write for a bunch of people and my work has been in “LA Weekly”, MySpace as of recently, “Hi-Fructose”, and a bunch of other places. Before that I was a DJ, so that’s how the how club thing came about in the comic.
Jeaux: Like Liz said, we went to high school together so we’ve been friends now for like five years, right?
Liz: Yeah, like we’re what, 20?
Jeaux: [laughs] Yeah, we’re 20-something. Heh, no. We met in high school and as far as what I’ve done or who I’ve worked with, I worked in the comic industry before. I used to work for a company called BoneYard Press, and that was actually back in high school too. I used to do artwork, inking, and managing editing for the company. Meaning I kinda oversaw the nuts and bolts of the everyday, “here’s where we have to ship today!” Or I would arrange other artists with writers, and stuff like that. It was definitely a learning process and I apply it to everything I’ve done since that experience. Oh man, I’ve worked for Frederator, the company that produces “Adventure Time” on Cartoon Network and other shows on Nickelodeon. And most recently doing work with animation legend, Ralph Bakshi, helping out on his newest project. And of course “Los Animales” with Liz!
GS: Wow, you both seem to have an extensive background and lots of experience. Liz, you have talents in both writing and art, that’s awesome!
Liz: Yeah, well I don’t actually draw. Jeaux does all the pictures; I just do all the words. Yeah, I can’t draw for sh*t.
Jeaux: [laughs] She really helps out with coloring though.
Liz: Ha Ha, yeah, I’m really good a coloring! [chuckles]
Jeaux: She helped out with a majority of the color choices.
GS: The colors are very energetic, I love them! So “Los Animales” was released recently, February 14th, Valentine’s Day! Is there a significance or particular reason you chose that day to release this project?
Liz: Not particularly. We’ve been working on this for a really really long time; like longer than I can even remember. And we just got to a point we just said we have to have a date we can remember to publish this; otherwise it’s never going to get done.
Jeaux: We just needed a hard date for ourselves. And something’s are in here about relationships, so we might as well go with Valentine’s Day, right?
GS: I thought the February 14th release was brilliant. For people like me, a “Tish solo”, it was the perfect “gift”, something to look forward to and brightened my day with that glow stick heart intro! Since the release, you’ve been posting daily. In your blog I read you guys would release something new every day or at least every week, correct?
Liz: Every week day, so Monday through Friday. And sometimes two pages a day. We’ll always do one page a day. And if we need to, if it helps the story, we’ll post two pages. Like if we’re coming up to a cliff hanger or something…‘cause we like to do it soap opera style where things happen on Fridays and Mondays.
GS: What character(s) do you most relate to?
Liz: Well, Manda is basically me. Although I never worked at a record store, and the stuff that happens to her didn’t necessarily happen to me, but the way she responds. I kinda write her reactions to pretty much everything are how I would react. [pause] And her hatred for everybody.
Jeaux: It’s fun to interpret…what’s the saying… “through the artwork”? Liz you mentioned something about eye rolls on your Twitter, yeah that’s true! I relate most to Pedro because we have similar hair and similar last names. I try to inject a little bit of myself into all of the characters but through the art work.
Liz: Sometimes when I’m writing for Pedro, I have to think, “How would Jeaux react?” [laughs]
GS: Good thing you’ve known each other since high school. It must make it easier to write for Pedro if you’re basing him off Jeaux’s personality.
Liz: I don’t know if I get it, but I try. I think later on Pedro is more Jeaux-ish later on than in the very beginning. Because I don’t know if Jeaux would have actually wrote “Daft Punk” [laughs] “Daft Skunk Sucks!” on my car.
Jeaux: I dunno, it’s always the quiet ones, right? [chuckles]
GS: Are the characters based off people in your life, or from clerks in a record store? How did you come up with them?
Liz: As far as the story goes, it’s hard to say they’re based on real people because they might do a few things that are similar to some people we may know, but they have to be able to serve the story so nothing was actually based on anybody in real life. Even to the extent that Manda and Pedro aren’t really us; they might do things similar to us but they’re their own characters and have to survive in the story in ways that we’re not going to be able to. Mostly because we aren’t anthropomorphic animals. The characters just sorta happen. We’ll talk and brainstorm, “We need someone that works for this kinda store…” or “This person should be more like this…” We have more of an emotional connection than an actual literal connection with the characters. And I think that holds true for all the characters. So everything is fiction.
Jeaux: Sometimes without even conferring with Liz first, in my drawings she’ll say, “That kinda reminds me of such and such person!”
GS: Animal Sounds Records, the store that Manda, Pedro and Mick work at, definitely brings me back to a time as a kid to a small record shop my dad would take me to. I’d trade in old cassettes and at one point CDs for store credit. So for me, “Los Animales” brings me down memory lane, and reminds me a lot of the indie record or comic stores ran by a couple of twenty-year-olds. Can you guys tell us where you got the idea to focus your comic around a record store in Los Angeles but called Los Animales?
Liz: It’s funny that you mention that because everybody has their own record store that they think Animal Sounds Records reminds them of. One of my friends told me, “This totally reminds me of Vinyl Fetish.” And Vinyl Fetish was a place we always used to go, on Melrose Ave. in the 90’s. I record shop a lot; especially because I was a DJ, and I still do. I was DJing all the time, for years, since I was eighteen. I started on radio when I was eighteen and moved on to clubs at nineteen. Anyhow, I spend so much time in record stores that the record store itself ends up being the amalgamation of what every record store that does not exist in LA anymore, that I totally loved.
Jeaux: Yeah, I can think of a few record stores here in the valley. Kinda like the one you referred to Tish, where you’d go in and trade in your records, tapes/cassettes and stuff. And you gotta wonder what’s going on behind the counter; are they silently judging what I’m turning in? [laughs]
Liz and I have a lot of plans with that little corner of “Los Animales”; there will be a comic book store across the street where Dani and Kyle work at. Or the video store where Steve works at. We were talking about how amazing it would be if there were a bookstore there. These are all shops that are gone. That are not around anymore.
Liz: Jeaux and I never worked at a record store. Jeaux worked at a bookstore, I worked a movie theater. So we did put in our time at these places that are becoming fewer and fewer in numbers. I think this would be the best way to explain what “Los Animales” is . . . We grew up in the 90s. And the 90s that’s when Jeaux was working the bookstore and I worked the theater. Oh and I worked at a poster shop, selling Kramer posters. In the 90s that’s when we were getting involved in music. We were that generation that got caught in the middle of everything changing at once. Where all of a sudden everything we grew up with was gone. And it felt like it happened overnight. We were online as kids, not little kids but high school and college. And I don’t think any of us realized that the physical world surrounding us was going to be gone in a few years. It affected me, of course, in terms of my job; I started out doing print as far as journalism goes. The characters are younger than us; well maybe I shouldn’t say they’re younger than us. [laughs] Regardless, they are.
But we have these characters with one foot in the 90s and one foot in present day. They are stuck in this world trying to adjust to everything that is completely changing around them; with the idea that everything they are doing could very well end up being worthless in five years. And I think that is something people in the creative fields are going through right now. It’s something I feel right now, and I know musicians are in the same boat; they talk about it all the time. So they are kinda nostalgic to this time when they were actually little kids. It would be like Jeaux and I nostalgic to the 80s.
Jeaux: To comment, it’s almost like the little corner of “Los Animales” is post-apocalyptic, but not.
Liz: Integral to our comic is that our characters are nostalgic for a time they never lived in really. I mean they lived in it as children.
A lot of that is because growing up in the 90s we (Jeaux and I) were quite obsessed with the 80’s. I still collect new wave records; I wasn’t even in school at the time this stuff was big. I feel this weird nostalgia for it.
Liz: Grunge was horrible!
GS: What’s with the glow sticks? I love them! You opened “Los Animales” with a glow stick aerobics and Dani comes back with them on pages 13 and 14.
Liz: The glow sticks are a motif that is running through the whole chapter. I don’t want to say anything specifically about the motif because we’ll spoil stuff. I am really into “Looney Tunes”, they have this classic gag and it’s actually pretty common on TV shows, where the lights go out and something weird happens and then the lights come back on. It’s a bizarre situation that no one is sure what is actually happening. So I wanted to play around with that idea and I like glow sticks. I thought it would be funny to have them doing a total workout before getting the concert tickets; like they have to be in shape to get their Daft Skunk tickets. Glow sticks are cliché of the rave culture and goes back to the whole 90s thing.
To date I have not seen anyone do exercises with glow sticks. It’s funny, I try to think of the oldest gags that you see on TV and how can we do something to recall that but is different. And I think the opening scene was the ‘lights go out’ gag.
Jeaux: I didn’t go to many raves in the 90s, but I thought the whole idea of glow sticks was cool. When Liz and I finally cemented our February 14th release date, we were hanging out at the Northridge Fashion Center; it’s a mall we used to go to as kids. And in the middle of the mall there was one lonely store, devoted to rave stuff. And I haven’t seen it since. We bought a glow stick, cracked it open and Liz showed me some “moves” so I can see how trails and stuff work for our comic. It was cool! I kinda wonder about that rave shop, because it’s not there anymore.
Liz: Yeah, it was like serendipitous that the rave shop happened to be there that day.
GS: I’m going to suggest to my trainer we work out with glow sticks from now on! Tell me, why a web comic and not print?
Liz: Jeaux and I did a comic that used to run in “Vegas Rocks! Magazine”; it’s no longer around anymore. We did a comic strip then called “Animal Sounds”, kind of the beginning to “Los Animales”; it has early versions of Manda and Pedro and very early version of Ian in it. At the time Jeaux had moved to New York, so we stopped doing it. A few years passed and I never thought we’d do anything with it again. Jeaux moves back and wants to revisit the comic thinking we could do it as a cartoon or something. So we put together a pitch bible and nothing ever became of it. Jeaux suggested we just do it as a web comic. I thought it was a great idea, since I had already put together the pitch bible; I had all these story ideas. And I think the only idea that is not in the bible is this first chapter. So we decided to run it and see if people pay attention.
GS: Comic 13 is a great example of the intricacy and emotions you place in your characters’ eyes, Jeaux. If I recall, Liz even tweeted about how well you convey eye rolling in your characters. Why do the eyes of your characters draw so much attention?
Jeaux: Well the eyes are the windows of the soul…hehe.
I feel really close to all these characters. When you go to school to learn animation, you’ll use yourself a lot as an actor I guess. You got to treat these characters as actors. So I’ll look in a mirror, pose it and work with that. I’m injecting a lot of myself into these characters. One that really clicks with me, page 11, the end where Mick is heartbroken; I injected a lot of what I was feeling because I had recently broken up with a girlfriend of mine.
GS: Such a good point, and I never thought of comic characters as actors. I can’t believe I haven’t asked yet, why did you guys chose animals for your characters and not people?
Liz: That was Jeaux’s idea. Jeaux?
Jeaux: Well, I’m secretly a furry. No, I’m joking! Although we did get picked up by a furry website. . . and they talked about “Los Animales”. When Liz and I started talking about creating it for the magazine, I was heavily influenced by “High Fidelity” or “Empire Records”, and at the time one of my ex girlfriends was playing “Animal Crossing” a lot, so I thought it’d be a cute idea for a comic strip to mix the two; music and animals.
Liz: I think as time passes it seemed more and more appropriate that we picked animals instead of humans because it kind of breaks. . .I might start babbling so you can tell me to shut up.
You know how people online cannot take sarcasm and they have to take everything literally? [pauses] And this is one of my biggest biggest pet peeves in life, it drive me bonkers!
GS: [pause] I have no idea what you’re talking about.
Liz: Well go on to any internet forum and you’ll see someone cracks a joke and then someone takes it absolutely literally.
GS: [laughs] No, no sorry, I was being sarcastic! Sorry, continue.
Liz: [laughs] You did that really well! [laughs] Well our animals, you cannot take anything that they do literally and don’t get all butt hurt about what you see here.
GS: What are your influences, comics you follow, favorite movies or music?
Liz: I fell into journalism. When I was kid I wanted to work in film and TV. So most of my influences are film and television related. Looney Tunes is a huge huge influence on me, particularly Chuck Jones’ work. “The Muppets” is another biggie. Do you remember the episode of “The Simpsons” where Bart has a crush on the babysitter? That specific episode has huge influence on what I think we’re doing with “Los Animales”. So most of my influences are from film and television [pause] and music. Because a lot of what I write is inspired by records. We have a lot of band references in it; there are albums that inspired this issue and future chapters too.
GS: Top three favorite bands?
Liz: The Smiths, The Cure, Depeche Mode!
Jeaux: I grew up watching cartoons, and always wanted to be a cartoonist. Everything from “Mad Magazine”, to obscure indie comics are totally my jam! I love anime, such as “Astro Boy”. I’m a huge pop culture and movie junkie, like I mentioned before John Hughes [pauses] and horror junkie!
I grew up when MTV played music videos, and discovered bands on the show “120 Minutes”; the old show they had for alternative music. I’d have to say The Cure is also on my top three. The Smiths are also up there and I can’t think of another but for some reason Oingo Boingo just popped into my head.
Liz: Oh I forgot to mention something that’s a really really big influence…”One Life to Live”! Yeah, soap operas. It has to do with the pacing.
Jeaux: [chuckles] She is totally serious! From the beginning, we based our web comic on soap operas.
Liz: I’ve watched “One Life to Live” probably before I was born, because my mom always watched it until it went off the air about a year or so ago. But I learned so much from watching soap operas, about how to write and how to develop characters, plot and keep up the pacing. So it’s probably the biggest influence to “Los Animales”.
Jeaux: And on my end my mom is from Puerto Rico, and she’s into “Telenovela”; which is the Spanish equivalent to the soap operas here in the States. It’s always on in the background here at my parents’ place.
GS: What conventions will you guys be attending this year?
GS: Final question, what does geek mean to you?
Jeaux: Life! L-I-F-E. It’s a way of life, it’s a lifestyle for me. I’m always going to be a geek.
Liz: It’s the thing you can’t change. Kids make fun of you for it and you just somehow realize it’s not going to change and go with it.
Jeaux: Speaking of which, Liz and I won “Most Unique” in high school. We were the two most unique of our high school class!
This past Friday night, Liz and Jeaux hosted the release of “Los Animales” with awesome tunes, affordable drinks, a stellar light show and LCD screens featuring shots from their comic! Liz is a resident DJ at Club Underground, in Los Angeles. Club Underground was the perfect venue to celebrate the release of their web comic. Liz spun some wickedly delicious beats, vinyl of course, and Jeaux chatted his way around the club about the success of “Los Animales” and some of his personal projects.