The Comics Literacy Advancement Project, CLAP, is a small organization working to advance the form of graphic literature by educating the general populace on the breadth and depth that comics as an art form has to offer. The cornerstone of this effort are the monthly Graphic Novel Discussion Groups sponsored by CLAP at a number of New England Borders bookstores, including the stores in Methuen, Massachusetts and Portland & Bangor, Maine. Focusing on works outside the realm of superheroes, some titles that have been discussed over the past four years include FROM HELL by Alan Moore and Eddie Campbell, MR. PUNCH by Neil Gaiman and Dave McKean, BLANKETS by Craig Thompson, THE TALE OF ONE BAD RAT by Bryan Talbot, WHITEOUT by Greg Rucka and Steve Lieber, and KABUKI by David Mack.On November 30, 2004 the group in Bangor, Maine came together to discuss THE BAREFOOT SERPENT by C. Scott Morse. As always, it was a lively discussion.
Many good points were brought up regarding THE BAREFOOT SERPENT at the group along with many questions. Everyone commented upon the aesthetics of the book - from the varying use of color and black and white to the animation quality of the linework. Their overall impression of the work visually could be a possible explanation as to why a number of readers did not realize that Kurosawa's brother committed suicide in the first part of the biography. Although some had difficulty with the challenging juxtaposition of the Kurosawa biography with the story of the haole girl, everybody appreciated the way many of the seemingly tangential storylines with the little girl - the appearance of the Night Marchers, the story of the pond that won't give up its dead, and the story of the little dog Ilio Mai - actually enriched the main plot running through the book. One of the more fascinating insights made during the evening was the fact that all the dialogue was placed under the panels, as the subtitles are in an Akira Kurosawa film, while the sound effects were in the panel as they would have been onscreen. This, as much as any other point made that night, allowed for a better appreciation by everyone of the time and thought involved with the production of this graphic novel.
Considering not all who read the book had "gotten" it, the discussion of the work allowed for questions to be asked and alternative viewpoints to be shared. In this way everyone was able to get his/her questions answered while giving all the participants a greater understanding and appreciation of the book. One other invaluable resource was a dialogue with Mr. Morse regarding the book, which was conducted via email prior to the discussion. Everybody was happy for the added insights from the author and many expressed an interest in going back and re-reading the book again with their newfound knowledge. What follows is the "Conversation with Scott Morse on The Barefoot Serpent" which will open a doorway into a newer, richer understanding of this memorable work.


When Akira Kurosawa's brother takes his own life in your book I had to go back and re-read that page a few times to make sure I was reading it correctly. The matter-of-fact writing style you used coupled with your animation-influenced artwork made that particular part of the story very jarring, and consequently it resonated with me long afterward. Is this intentional on your part or is it a happy result of your particular art style juxtaposed with the stories you wish to tell?
This was completely planned through the aesthetic of the whole book. I wanted the book to feel like a children's book, an old Golden Book, through both design and writing styles, to juxtapose the impact of the issues at hand. With such a heavy issue as depression, and ultimately suicide, at play, I felt it was best to ease the reader through it visually and through the prose. So aesthetically, the reader would feel more comfortable "talking" about it on one level, and experience it through a sort of "haze" on another, much the same way some people react when they're given bad news. The overall effect has proven to affect people as a very jarring experience, unexpected, as a sort of dream that continues to linger through into the bulk of the main fictional story, where it's juxtaposed with the family.

What precipitated the choice of using color art for Kurosawa's tale and black and white for the haole girl's tale?
I mixed it up to strengthen the juxtaposition. It's two stories that interrelate, and I wanted to show where the breaking points were, primarily, but on another level, I wanted to show the lush nature of real life versus the more theoretical "lessons" of the fictional tale. It's a stretch, I know, but aesthetically, I think it helped give the book a different tone than other books offered in the current market.

Did you originally think the way in which you told this story, bookending the little girl's story with Kurosawa's tale, would work? Why, or why not?
I had no idea...I knew it worked for me, and I was trained to believe in your gut instincts. "Selling" an idea of juxtaposition is always a trick, with the built-in problem of convincing the audience that the two subjects you're juxtaposing are at all related, especially to a degree that makes them worth the energy to use as examples. It comes down to a matter of opinion, and a hope that it wasn't too big of a leap for the audience to make. Upon reading various reviews, it appears to have worked on a larger scale than not...certain readers just didn't "get it", and in those cases, I hope the individual stories at least held enough entertainment value on their own to make the book worth it. If they at least enjoyed one of the sections (either the biography or the fiction), then I was at least partially successful.

The story of the haole girl is quite intricate, and you reiterate the main theme through what might appear to be tangential incidents when we are introduced to the little dog at the shave ice hut or when we are shown the pond that would not give up its dead. Did you know the whole story of the haole girl before you began drawing it or do you just go with a vague idea and see where that takes you?
I knew most of it, but certain "acting" scenes kind of wrote themselves. The one scene I surprised myself with is at the end, when the little girl kicks sand on her Dad's feet. Having things like that just "happen" while I'm thumbnailing is the real joy for me. The scenes you pointed out, however, were calculated, and based on research done in Hawaii. Ilio Mai is a real dog living half of each year on Maui, though Ilio Mai's story is fiction. The pond is a reflection of a story my wife and I heard on the Napali Coast of Kauai while visiting an archaeological dig in an Ali'i (royal) bath area, on the beach. Apparently, some archaeologists had discovered a gravesite in this area and exhumed the bones, only to experience hauntings almost instantaneously. They brought the bones back and reburied them, bringing in someone to bless them. The hauntings stopped. This is an especially odd tale seeing as how the Hawaiians never buried their it's unknown whose bones these could have been. The dig took place in 2000, and the bones were never dated, due to the immediate hauntings and need to put them back.

What prompted you to adopt the "animation" style you have and how did that develop?
Well, I've worked in animation longer than comics, actually. I trained at CalArts, and later under Maurice Noble, who worked on the first five Disney features, was Chuck Jones's main designer and art director on his Looney Tunes films, and designed other classics like HOW THE GRINCH STOLE CHRISTMAS and THE DOT AND THE LINE. Maurice's teachings shine through in most of my work. I find the style lends itself better to immediate communication of story than some other, more intricate, styles. This medium is all about communication, and I play with pacing quite a bit in my comics. Animation and film are shown at a fixed rate of speed, whereas comics allow you to linger on still images if you wish. To keep a story flowing and "trick" the reader into experiencing it at an intended rate of speed is a trick I love playing with. So, the simpler the drawing, the less likely a reader is going to linger while reading...but appeal in the drawings is still incredibly important. It's a tough line to walk...

Who are some of the artists and storytellers that have influenced you?
I try to pull influence from everything around wife, my pets, my family and friends, places I visit, things I see. I was trained to base what I do on real life, to exaggerate and milk things for effect. Artistically, I'm looking everywhere...but certain artists that I always come back to include Maurice Noble, of course, as well as Mary Blair, the Provensons, Miroslav Sasek, J.P. Miller, Eyvind Eyrle, Ronald Searle...David Mazzuchelli, Baru, J Muth, Joe Kubert, and of course Jack Kirby. I'm incredibly fond of a lot of the Fort Thunder guys, as well as guys like Souther Salazar and Deth P.Sun. Anything that challenges me to think in a new way.