Profiles: An Interview With SCOTT FOGG
EDITOR’S NOTE: Scott Fogg is a newcomer to comics. ACTION LAB, DOG OF WONDER from Action Lab Entertainment, his first published work co-written with veteran Vito Delsante, will be released to comic shops in March 2016. In the following interview there are some notes that offer further explanation/reference to some of the comments. These can be seen in bold italics. If you already understand the references, please ignore the notes. They are being offered as a public service since not all readers share the same background /familiarity with all types of works.
ABOUT SCOTT FOGG: “I’m from Chattanooga, Tennessee. By day I’m the manager of a Kid to Kid (a children’s resale store) and by night I write like it’s going out of style. My wife Kelly and I just celebrated our ten year anniversary, and we are proud parents to a three year-old blond blur named Amelia. We live in an ark with three cats (Desmond, Scarlett and Penelope) and two dogs (Gwen and Tumnus). Life is good and gets better every day."
BC REFUGEES: What was your entry point into the comics business? Is there anywhere else besides ACTION LAB, DOG OF WONDER where we can find your work?
SCOTT FOGG: I grew up making stories in my backyard, which I’m sure we all did. (How did he know?) But something about creating characters, putting them in predicaments, and figuring out how they overcome those predicaments really clicked with me. So as I got older, me and my friends stopped playing Pretend. I started writing short stories. I’d give them to my friends to see if they liked them, to make them laugh, or see if I could make them ask “what happens next?"
I started young and it never left me. And growing up as a fan of books, TV, movies, and comic books - - as my imagination would stumble onto a story I’d begin asking myself “what’s the best way to tell this story? Is this a book? Is this a movie? What is this?” Whatever the answer was, I would begin writing.
That’s how I’ve gone to be a comic book writer. I began having ideas that really were best suited for comic books and graphic novels - - though, as I write this I’m also working on a play and something that I think will be a book - - we’ll see.
ACTION LAB, DOG OF WONDER is actually my first comic book. My first big “comic book idea” was Phileas Reid. I thought it was a book idea and I was struggling with writing it when Vito Delsante (creator of STRAY and my co-writer on DOG OF WONDER) suggested I make it a comic book. It was a medium change that made the story work. That was at HeroesCon 2013. I’ve been writing comic books since. After a successful Kickstarter fundraising campaign, PHILEAS REID KNOWS WE ARE NOT ALONE will be coming out later this year as a graphic novel. DOG OF WONDER is also my first time writing an ongoing series.
BCR: What made you interested in the ACTION LAB, DOG OF WONDER project? Please tell us how this got started.
SF: I was on my way home from work when Vito called me. “I want to write a comic book with you,” he said. Anytime anyone approaches me about working together, my response is always “okay, let’s do it.” I never want to turn down an opportunity, even if the project at first sounds like something I’m not suited for. It doesn’t always work out. Sometimes I’ll start collaborating with someone, and after going around in circles we’ll realize it’s not working or not quite coming together. We’ll admit temporary defeat and go our separate ways. But I never turn down a chance to work out my imagination.
“Are you familiar with the Action Lab logo?” Vito asked me. I wasn’t. I quickly Googled it. “It’s a dog with a jetpack and goggles, he explained as I looked at it. “I want to tell his story."
“Okay, “ I said, my mind already whirring at the possibilities a jetpack-propelled dog could bring. “Let me get back with you."
If you know Vito at all and you follow him on Facebook, you’ll know his unbridled love for dogs. He’ll fill your feed with dogs that need adopting, funny dog videos, and justifiably angry rants towards sports teams that allow dog abusers to remain on their team. I think that’s what sparked the initial idea - - that and my love of Baroness Emmuska Orczy. (Author of The Scarlet Pimpernel, a 1905 adventure and historical novel set after the French Revolution. Sir Percy Blakeney, a swordsman and escape artist, was the original ‘ hero with a secret identity’ that paved the way for Zorro, Batman and so many others. Information courtesy of Wikipedia, the free online encyclopedia.) Because about a day later I e-mailed him back: “What if Action Lab is a canine Scarlet Pimpernel?"
I get to write on one of my favorite heroes. Vito gets to save dogs, and together with our incredible league of artists maybe we can make a difference. That’s what drew me in. That’s what pushes me to conquer nights of writer’s block.
BC: Was that convention meeting your only acquaintance with Vito? In other words, what prompted him to invite you to write this with him, considering that you are a relative newcomer to comics?
SF: I was first introduced to Vito by our mutual friend Dean Trippe. Dean had convinced me that I “just had to go” to HeroesCon 2013. Dean, Vito and I shared a hotel room. Vito and I just clicked. We bummed around the convention, talking stories and superheroes and pitching each other ideas . . . . and the rest, as they say, is history. Actually to this day, HeroesCon 2013 is the only time we’ve been in the same room at the same time. Modern technology and the Internet is a wonderful, wonderful thing!
BC: What are the plans for ACTION LAB, DOG OF WONDER?
SF: The original plan was to do a three issue mini-series. But everyone’s so excited about the book and loving it so much already that we’ve been given the green light to write and do a full 12 issues. What happens beyond that I’m sure will be up to sales and things out of our control. But you have at least 12 issues of ACTION LAB, DOG OF WONDER to look forward to!
BC: What writers are you influenced by? Who are your favorite writers and artists? After reading several issues of ACTION LAB, DOG OF WONDER will readers be able to sense any of those influences?
SF: There are many, many writers that have inspired and influenced me. If I ever get stuck, sometimes something that helps me is wondering “how would (insert better writer here) get out of this?” So it’s hard for me to say which ones have influenced me the most. There are, however, a handful of writers that if I see their name attached to a project, I will be sure to be there opening day for said project. They are (in alphabetical order) Ben Acker and Ben Blacker, Brian Michael Bendis, Kelly Sue DeConnick, Matt Fraction, Jonathan Hickman, Steven Moffat, Grant Morrison, Aaron Sorkin, Rob Thomas, Brian K. Vaughan, Mark Waid and Joss Whedon. I’ve learned so many things from each of them and in different ways. I aspire to reach their levels of greatness. While certain specifics may not stand out to readers, I’m sure there will be moments of familiarity.
I’ll be curious to see if people are able to pick out the issues and/or the pages I wrote. Vito’s and my process is so collaborative that it can be difficult to pick out where I end and he begins and vice versa. So if you can pick out my specific contributions, I’ll be impressed. If you can pick out the people who inspire and influence me, I’ll be amazed.
BC: Now that you have told me who your influences are, I could easily answer that question. But, to be fair, after two readings nothing obvious came to mind. I also couldn’t pick out sections written solely by you or solely by Vito. It reads very seamless, like a good collaboration should.
SF: Yeah, it’s an interesting thing - - having writers you look up to and try to learn from - - and then turn around and write something that really bears no resemblance to anything any of them write. If there was one literary hero of mine that I could point to that, maybe, direct influences could be seen it’s someone I haven’t mentioned yet: C. S. Lewis. The noble animals that fill The Chronicles of Narnia have been an inspiration for me my entire life and I would love it if some day someone was listing their favorite fictional animals and somehow Reepicheep (chief mouse of Narnia) and Percy (Sir Percy Blakeney, the Scarlet Pimpernel) were on that list. That would make my day in a way I can barely describe. So, when writing this, I didn’t really channel any of them. It was more about applying sessions I learned from them, how they told their stories and how they constructed their characters.
BC: How much of this came from you and how much came from Vito? After he presented you with the idea, did you completely develop the character or did he have some more influence?
SF: I provided the story structure and a handful of characters (Percy, Marguerite, Armand and Clancy). Vito’s the one that fleshed it out and breathed life into it. He assembled the Action Lab League, gave them the shedquarters and made sure that every dog had a specific duty. The rest was a back-and-forth process of asking each other questions that built the characters and the world they exist in.
To give a more specific example, I would say that I created Clancy. He’s in charge of Canaan City’s Animal Control Center. He’s our Chauvelin (the adversary in The Scarlet Pimpernel). He’s here to make Percy’s life difficult and round up all the dogs and put them in prison. But as I began writing him, I realized that he wasn’t really a bad guy. He was just doing his job. So I switched gears with him a little bit and made him more like Javert from Les Miserables - - but to make sure I still always liked him I imagined Marc Evan Jackson (comedian/actor and voice of Sparks Nevada for The Thrilling Adventure Hour podcast) playing him. Clancy may have more than a passing resemblance to the actor as well. That made him a good guy stuck with a bad job. He’s a character with some layers that I look forward to writing in the future.
While I was wrestling with Clancy, Vito was creating this fantastically colorful supporting cast. That was always one of the most wonderful parts of The Scarlet Pimpernel books and movies. Percy couldn’t do it alone. He always had the League of The Pimpernel. We knew we wanted to do the same thing and - - to be honest - - creating a supporting cast of ten dogs that would need to stand out and stand apart from each other intimidated me. But man, Vito! He sends me this document that introduced me to each and every one of them. “This is this dog. H’e tis breed of dog and this is his speciality.” It was such a comprehensive and thought-out list that bringing them to life and finding ways to use them was not only easy, it was incredibly fun and it filled in the parts of the story we were missing. If we weren’t sure what to do, we would turn to the dogs and ask “what should we do guys?” And one of the dogs would have the answer. It was kind of magical.
BC: There are some interesting comments throughout the book, from Clancy as well as the dogs about trust, dog owner responsibility, etc. . . Is that coming from you or from Vito? I am guessing Vito, after hearing from you about his love for dogs.
SF: Both Vito and I have our crosses to bear Vito wrote the first page and gave Lucky his tragic backstory. I wrote the scene outside the town council between Clancy and the negligent dog owner I’m glad you don’t think they stick out Because that message of responsibility and co-habitation is one of the driving forces behind this book. It’s inspiring a lot of the stories we’re coming up with for the future. That being said, when Vito showed me the first page of the book, he had to convince me we could pull that off in a kid’s book. (Illegal dog-fighting) It’s so horrific. But Ted and Rosy (artists on the book) nailed it and delivered the kind of pathos we’re used to seeing in a Disney or Pixar movie.
BC: The art by Higgins and Brandt has a friendly cartoon feel to it, like Scooby Doo or other Hanna-Barbara series. Who came up with that? Did you have to provide much input as to character look and feel for the artists, or did they come up with character concepts?
SF: Working with Ted and Rosy was maybe my favorite part of this whole process. They are such an incredible art team. I think what we told them was “we’re writing a long-lost Don Bluth film,” and they just got it. (Don Bluth is a well-known animator and film director best known for All Dogs Go To Heaven and others,) We would provide references for them, but they didn’t need any coaxing or cajoling. I don’t even remember ever having to give them notes on their character designs or the art they turned in. They would occasionally need me to clarify my confusing stage direction, but the style is all their own and it compliments our story so well. I couldn’t be happier with it.
BC: Are there any other influential sources that haven’t been mentioned yet?
SF: My approach to writing ACTION LAB, DOG OF WONDER has been “the Scarlet Pimpernel if Chuck Jones directed it.” (Chuck Jones is an animator, screenwriter, and director known for the Looney Tunes cartoons) I apply a lot of cartoon logic to the characters and the story because A) it’s for the kids, and B), it makes me laugh. The first page I wrote was the hot dog vendor gag in Issue #1. When I was outlining the book, I suddenly had this idea and it just made me laugh. I’m constantly looking for places to squeeze in little jokes, little moments of levity that lighten the mood and let the reader know that while sometimes addressing awful issues, we’re ultimately here to have fun. So, in no particular order, the things that I think influence our book the most are: The Scarlet Pimpernel, Ocean’s 11, Looney Tunes, and Mission Impossible. Those, I would say, lay the groundwork for the entire series. Individual story arcs will add other influences into the mix. Vito’s got one that he’s adding a dash of The Godfather and I have one that stirs Doctor Who into the mix.
BC: How long have you been reading comics? Do you remember who introduced you to the art form, and what was the book?
SF: I don’t remember a time before comic books. So I think it’s safe to say that I’ve been reading comics for as long as I can remember. I know my parents gave me my first comic books. One was Battlefield Action #87 and the other was Superman #27 - - that was all in Spanish. We were about to move to Spain and - - I guess — they thought it was a good introduction. I never learned Spanish but I poured over that issue like it was an ancient, holy book filled with hieroglyphics for me to decipher. Those were my first comic books, but what I count as my real introduction to this world where anything is possible is the first Superman movie. My parents taped it for me and I wore that VHS tape out watching it, rewinding it, watching it again. That was, I want to say, 1985 and I’ve been hooked ever since.
BC: Thanks for sharing so much with us, Scott! Best wishes for a successful book!