In the following email interview about his comic book Skull Cat: Book 1: Skull Cat And The Curious Castle (paperback, Kindle), writer / artist Norman Shurtliff admits that he drew some inspiration from his own life. And no, that’s not my way of telling you that Norman is a kitty. At least I don’t think he’s a kitty…
I’d like to start with the story: Who is Skull Cat, what does he do, and what kind of a world does he live in?
Skull Cat or Scully is about ten years old. His dad gets injured, so Scully ends up having to take a job as a gardener to feed the family while his dad recovers. He’s a young, tender, clumsy scaredy cat tasked with some heavy adult responsibility. He lives in a fantasy world filled with monsters and villains, but he’s quite naive to how dangerous his world really is.
And then what adventure does he go on in Skull Cat: Book 1: Skull Cat And The Curious Castle?
Legend has it that the castle where Scully works is haunted. He’s terrified of that possibility which makes his first day of work overwhelming, awkward, and, hopefully, hilarious for the readers; but, his adventure really begins when his coworkers go missing and Scully tries to save them from the looming horrors of the castle.
Where did you get the idea for Skull Cat, and for the adventure he goes on in Skull Cat And The Curious Castle?
The idea really came out of a desire to tell a spooky but fun story about a scaredy cat. I created Scully and his world first, and those parts came easy. The story itself was a lot harder to get right, and it changed a lot over maybe a year or two of development.
And is there a reason you made him the gardener as opposed to the butler or the maid or the chauffeur?
When I was young, my family owned a greenhouse complex where we grew tree seedlings for reforestation, as well as bedding plants. I studied Horticulture (plant-growing and landscaping) in college with the intent to help with the family business. So, the gardening side of Skull Cat is the part of the story that’s directly influenced by my own life.
In a similar vein, is there a reason he’s a cat and not a dog or a monkey or a sloth? Or, maybe, a human?
Cats make for fun characters because they come with some interesting myths built in. Like, “cats always land on their feet,” which Scully hilariously does not do. And he trips and falls a lot.
So what writers, or stories, do you think had the biggest influence on Skull Cat: Book 1: Skull Cat And The Curious Castle?
Deep down, I think I’m mostly trying to emulate an Adventures Of Tintin by Hergé, type mystery story. Setting wise, I’m reaching for something like The Creepy Case Files Of Margo Maloo by Drew Weing, the Hilda series, by Luke Pearson, or Bone by Jeff Smith. The Cathero comic that Scully reads is influenced by fantasy barbarian heroes, Usagi Yojimbo by Stan Sakai, Mouse Guard by David Petersen, or Flopnar The Bunbarian by Cam Kendell. I see Scully himself as a goofy hero like the old school Mickey Mouse comics.
How about non-literary influences; was Skull Cat: Book 1: Skull Cat And The Curious Castle influenced by any movies, TV shows, or games?
I’m sure there’s some inspiration coming to me subconsciously from sources outside of comics, but I’m not sure of anything I turned to directly.
And what about your four kids? What influence did they have on Skull Cat: Book 1: Skull Cat And The Curious Castle? Because you dedicate the book to them, but specify that they, “…like spooky stories but not getting too scared.”
My family are the first to read my comics, and anything I make has to get my kids’ stamp of approval. My oldest is eight, so they’re all still pretty young. When I make up a bedtime story for my kids, they’re always quick to tell me when it gets too scary and I need to temper down the fear factor. I also bounce ideas off them to make sure I’m keeping it fun and entertaining for my young target audience.
Moving on to the art, who would you say had the biggest influence on the way you drew both Skull Cat and Skull Cat: Book 1: Skull Cat And The Curious Castle?
When I was developing Skull Cat, I was trying to approach a more cartoony art style and took a lot of inspiration from James Kochalka’s work. I never made this connection while I was designing Scully, but I seem to have channeled some Samurai Pizza Cats elements in his design. I’m pretty sure I got his whiskers, subconsciously, from that show.
How hard was it to get the look of Skull Cat right?
My first concept for Scully was “a cat with a skull for a head.” I spent a long time exploring that idea but never came up with something that I liked. The hard part was letting go of my initial idea so I could eventually find what we’ve got today.
Now, with this being Skull Cat: Book 1, the implication is that there will be a Book 2. Maybe set in a Condemned Condo or a Horrible Hacienda. Is the plan that there will be a set number of books, and they form a single story, like a trilogy, or is this just the first of what you hope will be many adventures for Mr. Cat?
This is the first of an ongoing series. Condemned Condo and Horrible Hacienda are some great names for sequels.
So, do you know yet what Skull Cat’s next adventure will be, and when it’ll be out?
I’m currently writing the second book, but it’s a bit too early to really talk about what happens. I’m guessing it will change a lot from where I’ve got it right now. My working title for Book 2, at the moment, is Skull Cat And The Vampire’s Amulet.
Hollywood loves making movies, TV shows, and games based on comic books. Do you think Skull Cat, and the adventure he goes on in Skull Cat: Book 1: Skull Cat And The Curious Castle, could work as a movie, show, or game?
I think Skull Cat could work as a cartoon series and / or a game. I’ve got a lot of stories I’d like to tell with Skull Cat, so I could see it working as an animated series. I don’t have a preference between 2D or 3D. There’s stylized and beautiful animation in both.
If someone wanted to make a Skull Cat movie or game, who would you want to do his voice?
I haven’t given any thought as to who would do the voice acting.
And what kind of a game should it be?
I think Skull Cat would best fit a point & click adventure, like Lost In Play or the Sam And Max series, or maybe a 3D Platform collect-a-thon like Mario Odyssey. Both of those game genres would allow Scully to do more exploring and puzzle-solving than combat related stuff.
So, is there anything else you think people should know about Skull Cat: Book 1: Skull Cat And The Curious Castle?
There’s some cool stuff in the back of the book, after the story. I love drawing mazes and I’ve got two in there, as well as an in-world excerpt from the Cathero comic Scully reads, which will continue in the next Skull Cat book.
Finally, if someone enjoys Skull Cat: Book 1: Skull Cat And The Curious Castle which of your other books would you suggest they read while waiting for Skull Cat: Book 2: Skull Cat And The Suspicious Spa or Skull Cat: Book 2: Skull Cat And The Shakey Shack or whatever the second book is going to be called?
I’m always excited for readers to pick up my other books, but none of them are like Skull Cat. If you enjoy my mazes, definitely check out my book Amazing Scriptures, it’s one long maze adventure set up like a solo tabletop game. Other than that, check out any of the books by other creators I’ve mentioned during this interview.