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Graphic Novelist Sam Alden on Writing for Adventure Time

Portrait of the artist as a young chicken-killer.

Only a few years out of college, Portland-born graphic novelist Sam Alden landed a dream gig storyboarding for Cartoon Network's Adventure Time. He's also got a new comics story collection called New Construction (Uncivilized Books, 208 pages, $17.95). The title is a play on words: Not only are "Backyard" and "Household" revamped versions of older comics, but take place in post-Katrina New Orleans, where Alden spent time between semesters at Whitman College. WW spoke to him about those dang kids, being a nerd, and his brief career as a livestock murderer. JAMES HELMSWORTH.

WW: In "Backyard," a house of anarchists watches one of their friends turn into a dog. Is this meant as criticism of activists?

Sam Alden: In the earlier version, it was much more critical. The second half of the story, which is new, I take a slightly less cynical tack on that. I wanted the art to be a conversation rather than a political cartoon.

There's a sequence I loved where a character comes home in the rain to find a dead chicken in the backyard.

The sort of cartooning that I do is influenced by the visual tropes of noir and cinema. Dramatic lighting and emotional scenes in rainstorms. I also have a thing about chickens. When I was living in New Orleans, I killed some chickens—we had chickens in the yard, and three of them got sick. I had to kill them in this really violent way. I was looking through some of my work the other day, and there's a dead chicken in every comic that I do.

You have a story, "Anime," about a kid saving up to go to Japan and having it go wrong. Were you that kid?

Everything about that story is true except for the part where I was really into anime. I came to anime later. I was a nerd for even nerdier things than anime. The idea that I could be an anime geek is almost a fantasy for me.

What's nerdier than anime?

Oh, Jesus. Like silent film comedies. Like Buster Keaton and Harold Lloyd. I think as an adult, you have to reconcile the embarrassing 16-year-old that's still in you. I certainly had to do that working on a children's cartoon.

How so?

With cartoons you have to make embarrassing decisions. There's always people yelling. People falling over. It took this core of like a rowdy boys' gag show and somehow made it into this sprawling world with all this mythology and all these human moments. I think that's what's most important to me about the show.

GO: Sam Alden is at Powell's Books on Hawthorne, 3723 SE Hawthorne Blvd., 800-878-7323, on Thursday, Nov. 5. 7:30 pm. Free.