A key member of the Man of Action creative collective, Steven T. Seagle has thrilled viewers and readers alike for years with projects ranging from the Ben 10 TV series to the spooky Camp Midnight graphic novel. For his latest project, Seagle takes readers on a personal journey through multiple cultures in Get Naked, a new graphic essay collection that combines Seagle's impactful prose with illustrations from artists around the globe. With Get Naked now in comic shops and bookstores, we caught up with Seagle to discuss what he learned about how people view nakedness in diverse cultures around the world compared to how Americans feel about it, what he hopes readers will take away from his new personal collection, and much more.
Thanks for taking the time to answer some questions for us, Steven, and congratulations on your new graphic essay collection, Get Naked. When and how did you originally come up with the idea for this collection?
Steven T. Seagle: I'm a fan of comedic and travel essays in both prose and monologue forms—writers like David Sedaris and Spalding Gray in particular. In my comics work, I'm always trying to go new places with form. So I had been thinking for some time about the idea of "graphic essays"—essays told in comics form. About four years ago I started asking artist friends if they'd be interested in illustrating one if I could ever figure out the format, but despite a lot of tinkering with the graphic design of them, I never quite cracked that form. Eventually I decided to just write the essays and leave it to a pack of new, international comics artists who didn't know there was a form problem... to solve that form problem.
When you researched the history of nakedness, what are some of the most interesting things you discovered?
Steven T. Seagle: The big "Wha? Huh?!" has to be that males used to swim naked in school gym classes and YMCAs in various parts of the country—and not just a few where there were suspect lifeguards. And this cultural norm continued until—as far as I could discern—at least the late ’70s. A small part of nude swimming classes seems to have had something to do with a concern of fibers getting into filtration systems, and pollution from nearby lakes and rivers getting into the water via contaminated suits. But the far bigger piece of it seems to have been that it just wasn't a thing. Guys swam naked. No biggie, because everyone did it. I'm pretty sure I would have dropped out of school if confronted with naked swim class! But then again, why? What led me to feel so anti-naked? Why does my body—which is pretty much the same as those of my friends—have to be some taboo mystery? That's one of the main threads of the book.
Did your own personal experiences around the globe change your perspective on American culture and lifestyles from other countries?
Steven T. Seagle: Greatly. While travel broadens the traveler in a lot of ways, this book is specifically essays about how the world altered how I feel about getting naked in the presence of others. It was in Korea at a jjimjilbang (community spa) where I was finally able to relax with the idea of being naked. Denmark got me over feeling judged for my body appearance. Japan got me into a mindset of not even being aware of being naked. Germany enlightened me about the differences between sexualized and non-sexualized nudity in mixed-gender situations. Different cultures definitely deal with the natural body in different ways, and I don't think that US culture has gotten this one right by any stretch of the imagination.
How important was it for you to get uncomfortable during the process of researching and going through the experiences you recount in this collection?
Steven T. Seagle: DC/Vertigo recently put out a new edition of my semi-autobiographical book it's a bird... and I found telling the oddball stories of my travels with and without clothes a lot easier than talking about my family's connection to Huntington's Disease in that book. But there were still some limit testers in Get Naked. I printed my middle name for the first time on one of my books—I'd always kept it a secret. And, like all the artists, I had to do my own naked sketch for the contributor pages. I don't know if I was more freaked about drawing myself naked or about just having a drawing by me seen by the world! I don't draw! In the end I thought about all the compromising ways Eddie Campbell has drawn himself over the years and just took the leap.
Your stories in Get Naked are told through an experimental graphic novel format. What made this innovative approach the best way to tell these stories?
Steven T. Seagle: Essays are text heavy. And while I like hearing them read, I'm less inclined to read them in print. So I wanted to find ways that graphics could enhance the text and make it all a bit more of a comic book experience than a prose experience. I think my artists excelled at doing just that.
You teamed up with up-and-coming cartoonists from around the world to create the artwork for this collection. What inspired you to work with a wide range of artists with varying styles on this project?
Steven T. Seagle: Each individual essay takes place in a different part of the world, so the international concept came from that. I also wanted artists from places not grounded in the American lens of nudity. As far as styles, though, I didn't place any preconceptions in my mind. I knew the work of these 19 cartoonists and I knew I trusted them to do great work. So I just wrote the essays, handed them over, and tried to stay out of their way as much as possible.
What do you hope people take away from reading Get Naked?
Steven T. Seagle: It took me over 30 years to feel comfortable in my own skin. I hope people reading this collection find the courage to get there much faster. As soon as I got the nerve to set aside the puritanical shaping of American culture and set aside the insecurities about how my body looks, and take the plunge to get naked? I was over all that garbage in less than five minutes. It's a real revelation that being naked changes almost nothing except making you a bit happier with yourself. It's who you actually are, it's a valid and important part of your being, and owning that empowers us as people.
With Get Naked out now in comic book stores and bookstores, what other projects do you and the Man of Action team have in the works that you can tease? What can readers expect from your anticipated Camp Midnight sequel? Also, where can our readers go online to learn more about your work?
Steven T. Seagle: I am more than halfway through the second Camp Midnight book with artist extraordinaire Jason Katzenstein. We haven't decided what to do with it yet, but it is a mountain of fun and we hope to start serializing part of it in the near future just because we can't wait for people to read it! Man of Action, my creative collective with Joe Casey, Joe Kelly, and Duncan Rouleau has a lot of exciting things going on. The release of the I Kill Giants film is soon, Ben 10 continues on Cartoon Network and will be joined by a new Mega Man series we're exec producing, and we have a bunch of other cool TV, film, animation, and comics projects we can't yet discuss.
About Man of Action Entertainment
Man of Action Entertainment are Joe Casey, Joe Kelly, Duncan Rouleau and Steven T. Seagle, the writers' collective behind comic's largest franchise characters as well as original characters published by their Man of Action imprint at Image Comics. Their creations include Ben 10, the $4.5 billion boys' action franchise for which they're executive producing the new iteration, and Generator Rex, both for Cartoon Network. Dentsu handpicked them to create, write and executive produce the all-new Mega Man series coming to Cartoon Network this year and they also created the Zak Storm series for Zag that airs on Netflix. They previously launched Disney XD's Marvel's Ultimate Spider-Man and Marvel's Avengers Assemble as EXP/writers. Man of Action created the characters and team featured in Big Hero 6, Disney/Marvel's Academy Award®-winning feature. In addition to creating successful video games, toy lines and comic books, Man of Action are the creator/producer/writers of current and upcoming feature films and live-action TV series based on their original comic books and graphic novels including the I Kill Giants feature film that will be released on March 23rd, Officer Downe, Kafka, The Crusades and The Great Unknown.
Artwork for "Get Naked in Helsinki" by Aske Schmidt Rose: