Graham Annable

Posted by Philip Jong.
First posted on 18 October 2010. Last updated on 13 August 2011.
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Graham Annable
Graham Annable is an American (but Canadian-born) animator and cartoonist and the creator of Grickle and Puzzle Agent.
Graham Annable
Here is the proof that Grickle is fond of adventure games too!

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Graham Annable is a classically trained animator and cartoonist best known as the creator of Grickle. After graduating from Sheridan College (in Toronto, Canada) where he studied Classical Animation, he joined LucasArts in 1994 and worked there as a graphic artist and animator. In 2005, he joined Telltale Games as the Creative Director. He returned to Telltale Games in 2009 as a collaborator to the company's first game pilot project, Puzzle Agent. His adventure game development credits included Full Throttle, The Dig, The Curse of Monkey Island, Outlaw, Bone (Bone: Out from Boneville and Bone: The Great Cow Race), and Sam & Max (Sam & Max: Season One), amongst others. Currently, he works as a story artist at Laika Entertainment for the upcoming animated feature film ParaNorman.

We are privileged to have an opportunity to interview Graham Annable about his work. In this interview, Annable speaks about the inspiration behind his work, his memories of working at LucasArts, his collaboration with Telltale Games on Puzzle Agent, his distinctive art style in Grickle, and his current and future projects.

Check out the exclusive Grickle comic artwork drawn by Annable himself with a special tribute to us (yes, we begged)!

Who are your artistic influences? How do you describe your own artistic style?

I like to think I have a lot of artistic influences and they are in a constant state of flux as I continue to find new sources of inspiration. Some definite influences I could name would be Harvey Kurtzman, George Herriman, and Charles Schulz for sure. My artistic style has been called many things, simplistic and animated are couple of terms that I have enjoyed.

Prior to LucasArts, you worked as a freelancer in film and television animation. What were some of the early projects that you worked on? How well had your formal art training prepared you for a career as an animator in these early years?

Before LucasArts I spent my time living and working in Toronto, Canada. I worked on a television series for British TV called "The Magic Adventures of Mumfie" mostly. Along the way I did animation for various commercials too. I also had the opportunity to develop and story board a complete theatre short for Chuck Jones Enterprises. That was an amazing experience and convinced me that story boarding was the job for me. I spent nearly 15 years animating after that but I knew I wanted to get back to doing boards. Sheridan College was the school I received my animation training at and it provided exactly enough to enable me to get my foot into the door of an animation studio and begin the next phase of the learning process.

How did you get recruited by LucasArts? What were some of your fondest and heartbreaking (such as the cancellation of Sam & Max: Freelance Police) memories of working at LucasArts? You also worked as the Creative Director at Telltale Games, a company that was cofounded by a group of LucasArts alumni. How different was your experience of working at Telltale Games compared to that at LucasArts?

I ended up at LucasArts through a friend of a friend actually. I was preparing to move out to Vancouver, B.C. to work on more television animation when I got invited to come down for an interview at LucasArts. I thought I'd perhaps stay and work in California for a year or two before continuing onto Vancouver. After spending nearly 13 years at LucasArts though my plan had changed somewhat. I have a lot of great memories of my time there and the people I got to know. I was able to work on a ton of fantastic projects such as Curse of Monkey Island, Outlaws, and the Dig. Certainly the most heartbreaking memory was the cancellation of Sam & Max: Freelance Police, it was such a special team of people and the project was going along so well that it really stung to have it cancelled for reasons that were completely beyond our control.

Working at Telltale had a lot of similarities to working at LucasArts, in that I was there alongside much of the core team that had been on Sam & Max. But the quantity and variety of daily tasks at Telltale was a huge change from LucasArts. I knew going in that it was going to be a lot of work to establish a brand new company but nothing could have prepared me for the level of effort required that first year. It was kind of crazy but ultimately one of the most rewarding experiences I've had in my career so far.

What does the name "Grickle" mean? How do you describe the style of humor in Grickle?

Grickle was a nickname, one of a million, my Dad had for me as a kid. Week to week he would come up with new weird names for me and my sister. Grickle just sort of stuck over the years. The humor in Grickle has been described by others as dark, black, and twisted. I personally just find it funny as it's exactly my sense of humor and it's the style that I naturally gravitate to.

When did you make the pitch to Telltale Games about Puzzle Agent? What was the original premise you made in your pitch for the game?

I made the pitch to Telltale Games last autumn. Kevin Bruner and I had always talked about doing something with my Grickle-style artwork for years but none of it had really gelled into a sensible idea until I presented them my Puzzle Agent pitch. I'd been playing Professor Layton and loved how simple and yet effective it was for telling a story and providing a lot of fun, casual gameplay. The original pitch I presented was for a game using my style of Youtube animation paired with a similar Professor Layton game mechanic. I wanted the tone of it to be a much darker one than Professor Layton though. Essentially a 'horror' puzzle game. I created a few short sample cartoons of what I thought the game would look and feel like. It basically showed a "puzzle agent" interacting with folks of a Northern community, along with a scary reveal of a red gnome. Unknown to me at the time was that Telltale was just beginning its Pilot Program and my pitch turned out to be the perfect thing to kick it off with.

What cultural and literal influences, particularly Nordiac folklore, did you draw from for the story in Puzzle Agent?

Well my wife is from Minnesota and her roots are Scandinavian so that was a huge influence right from the start. A recent trip to Iceland got me steeped in Nordic folklore and completely fascinated with tales of "the Hidden People." The little red fellows are a combination of my interest in Iceland coupled with those crazy videos of gnomes caught on camera in South America.

To what extent do Grickle and Puzzle Agent share a common art style? What else do they share?

Puzzle Agent is completely done in my "Grickle" style, artistically and thematically. The game has the exact vibe and tone I try and achieve in my Youtube cartoons and comic stories. For me Puzzle Agent is totally connected to all the work I've done thus far in my "Grickle" style.

What is your preferred medium for creating your art? Why? What tools do you use to make your drawings?

When creating animation for my Youtube cartoons I prefer to draw all the artwork on a Cintiq monitor using custom brushes in Photoshop. When creating comic book work I tend to jump around a bit. These days I'm enjoying using Micron pens for the finished line work and then painting in tones with colored ink washes. But I'm sure that will continue to change and evolve with each new comic project. :)

For Puzzle Agent, how did you instruct the artists at Telltale Games to reproduce your art style for the game?

I think the comic books and Youtube cartoons helped (hopefully) to provide a decent reference for how the art style of the game was to look. It's deceivingly tough to recreate artwork as simplistic as mine and have it all look cohesive. Pretty much like being told to copy someone else's handwriting exactly. I think the art team at Telltale did such a teriffic job capturing the look.

Which of your work in The Book of Grickle are you most proud of? To what extent do you prefer the digital medium over the print medium, or vice versa, to showcase your art?

Hmmm. That is really hard to say. I truly enjoyed creating all those stories in that book. I know a lot of folks seem to like "by necessity" a lot. It's the longest story in the collection and it certainly took the most work to create. But I think "Wee man" will always hold a special place for me. I don't have a preference of digital over print really. It comes down to the specific idea and what medium I can visualize it in.

Hypothetically speaking, what will Agent Nelson Tethers from Puzzle Agent do if he meets the other characters in Grickle? Will he charm them with his knack for puzzle solving (hehe)?

Ha. Well, based on how Nelson has behaved so far I don't know how much charming he'd do. I think there'd be a lot of staring and awkward silences involved with the interaction.

What is your current work? What other projects (such as a sequel to Puzzle Agent) will you be working on in the near future?

I'm currently working at my day job at Laika Entertainment, helping to storyboard the next animated feature film "ParaNorman" here. I've got numerous comic projects I'm finally getting an opportunity to jump back into along with a few new Youtube cartoon ideas I can't wait to animate. I sincerely hope I'll get a chance to continue Nelson's adventures in a full season of Puzzle Agent. :)

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