Born and raised in Vancouver, British Columbia, Tony Cliff is a ten-year veteran of that city’s animation industry and a contributor to the Flight series of anthologies. He has been nominated for Shuster, Harvey, and Eisner Awards. Delilah Dirk and the Turkish Lieutenant was his first published graphic novel and is the product of work accumulated over five years. The Pillars of Hercules is the third book in the series, following 2016’s critically-acclaimed The King’s Shilling. You can find him online at tonycliff.com and you can find more Delilah Dirk at delilahdirk.com.
Shauna Kosoris: Where did you get the idea for your sword-swinging, globe-trotting female causing trouble in the 1800’s?
Tony Cliff: Hey, “causing trouble” is all a matter of perspective. She is only “trouble” for those who have wronged her, crossed her, or inconvenienced her or the people for whom she cares.
Otherwise, it’s just the grownup equivalent of taking all my favourite toys, throwing them into the sandbox, and playing around. In DD’s case, my favourite toys were Indiana Jones, the Napoleonic War, the fiction of CS Forester and Bernard Cornwell, and a few of my favourite comics. Plus, I was frustrated that all the women in so many of the comics I’d read were so serious and dull. I wanted to write against that, maybe spend some time with a lady character who had a sense of humour. I thought it would be refreshing.
Well it definitely is! Part of the humour also comes from the differences between her and Erdemoglu Selim. Why did you pair Delilah Dirk with the mild-mannered, tea-loving Turkish lieutenant?
It just started out as a gender-reversal thing. The woman saves the man, ooh, ahh, how rebellious. (I am being sarcastic). From there, I just developed them as character foils. The strengths of one shine brighter next to the weaknesses of the other. It’s the principle of contrast. And tea seemed to be good neutral ground on which they could meet.
Tea is pretty fantastic like that. So how long does it take you to draw each page of the Delilah Dirk comic?
Hard to say, because I go over the whole book like doing laps around a racetrack. Each lap, the story gets tighter and the drawings get better. It’s an iterative process which means that at any given time I have a good bird’s-eye view of the whole thing. But a book takes about eighteen months to make, more or less, which I think means that each page takes maybe a day and a half to two days, all-in.
And who is your favourite character to draw within the series?
Always the villains. It’s fun to be selfish in a completely consequence-free context.
Before Delilah Dirk, you did some work for the Flight graphic novels. How did you become a contributor?
I knew Kazu Kibuishi from The Internet. We hung out on forums together. I drew his characters for fun. He might have drawn mine. Either way, compliments were probably exchanged at some point, and in increasing frequency. Soon after he’d started the Flight anthology, he just extended an invitation, and it was simple as that.
You’re also a ten-year veteran of Vancouver’s animation industry. How did you get involved in animation?
I don’t even remember. I’ve been trying to animate things forever, using whatever techniques I could get my hands on. The big turning point, though, was when my mom pointed out that Capilano College (in North Vancouver) was running a summer animation program. At the time, I was studying fine art at the Emily Carr Institute of Art and Design, and it wasn’t a great fit. If I took this summer program, it would effectively mean signing up for “summer school,” which wasn’t a very appealing idea. But I did it anyway. They gave us the fundamentals and set us loose, and I got totally lost doing it. I fell in love with animation. It was hard work, but it didn’t feel like hard work. It felt like magic. So I immediately dropped out of Emily Carr and into animation.
What are you working on now?
I just finished a children’s book called Let’s Get Sleepy, which is a Where’s Waldo-style hunt-and-seek book about a bunch of cats searching far and wide for one very elusive, very valuable mouse. It’s also secretly a lesson in not letting the pursuit of a singular goal distract from all the delights during the journey.
Currently, I’m illustrating an unannounced graphic novel which is very much not suitable for children. When I’m finished that, I’ll get to work on Delilah Dirk 4, hopefully sometime around January next year (2020).
Well good luck with everything! I’d like to finish up with a few quick questions about reading. What book or author inspired you to write?
I dunno, I don’t really believe in inspiration. Every time I read something or play a game or watch a movie or TV show that gives me a really strong feeling, that’s another mountain peak on the horizon saying, “here is a point you can reach.” And I know how to do the work to get there, so I pick my peaks and do the work. Sometimes I get there, sometimes I end up on a different peak. I wanted Delilah Dirk to make me feel the way Indiana Jones did. I’m not sure that it does, but I like the way DD turned out, regardless.
Is there a book or author that you think everyone should read?
Everyone should read Calvin & Hobbes. Regularly.
And what are you currently reading?
Two library holds popped up, so I’m making my way through them now: Wyrd Sisters by Terry Pratchett, and the audiobook of Erin Morgenstern’s The Night Circus, read by my absolute favourite, Jim Dale. They interrupted me in the middle of Ryan North’s How to Invent Everything, which is as delightful as it is informative, and it is very informative. Prior to that, I very much enjoyed Colleen AF Venable and Ellen Crenshaw’s Kiss Number Eight as well as Pamela Ribon and Cat Farris’ My Boyfriend is a Bear. Lots of good books!