Talking 50 Shades of Clay with Jeff Whitman

With the Gumby 50 Shades of Clay graphic novel out this week, we got a chance to sit down and chat with Papercutz managing editor and Gumby writer Jeff Whitman.


Some of our readers may not be familiar with Gumby. For those, how would you describe Gumby to them?

Gumby was created by Art Clokey back in 1955. He’s a boy made of clay who lives in a toy store and can jump into any book (with his pony pal, Pokey, too!). He is the epitome of imagination, captivating audiences with over 200 episodes, a feature length movie, toys, games, and comics! Because Gumby can jump into books, one moment he is befriending dinosaurs and the next he is crossing the Delaware with George Washington, effortlessly educating and entertaining all ages while promoting kindness, adventure, friendship and fun-without ever sounding too over the top.


Could you tell us little about your own personal history with Gumby?

Like many, I grew up with Gumby. When “Gumby the Movie” came out, I frantically dragged my mom all over town to try and search for toys of Gumby’s friends, Tara and the Clayboys…When I entered into my first comicbook store, I soon found out Gumby comics existed. I’ve always dreamed of contributing to Gumby’s world since then and kept up with the property…


Papercutz has a new graphic novel coming out on November 7th, Gumby 50 Shades of Clay. Can you tell about the origins of the graphic novel?

“50 Shades of Clay” is a collection of our first three Gumby comics. With the guidance of the Clokeys, we assembled a team and sought to reintroduce the world to Gumby the clay boy. This graphic novel has nine Gumby adventures featuring old and new characters alike. The adventures place Gumby and friends under water, in mobile games and kung fu movies, and send Gumby to “Hawaii” and France and beyond!


Some very talented creators have contributed to the “Gumby 50 Shades of Clay” graphic novel, how were the creators selected?

The magic words were “I love Gumby.” That got talent to the front of the line. Everyone working on this graphic novel, from Kyle Baker and Eric Esquivel, to Veronica and Andy Fish and colorist Laurie E. Smith, had their own take on Gumby, their own memories of the show or memorabilia that they wanted to emulate in their stories. Writer Sholly Fisch had a Gumby wedding cake! Gumby is flexible, and it was really fun to see everyone’s take on the character.


You have written for the Gumby 50 Shades of Clay graphic novel, what can you tell us about your stories?

My goal was to revisit old friends. As I grew up with the movie—I rented that VHS tape probably 100 times—I wanted to revisit Tara, Gumby’s girlfriend from the movie who hasn’t been heard from since. I wanted to the two dogs Gumby has had in his long career to interact (which they never did on screen). On the TV show, the characters and their personalities really carry the plot, I wanted to emulate that naturally.


What were your inspirations for the stories that you wrote for the graphic novel?

60+ years of Gumby really inspired the stories. We have a lot of fun nods for fans. In “All That Nin-Jazz,” by Sholly Fisch, Gumby dresses up like a ninja based on an old Trendmasters playset from the 90s. In “Gumby’s Gran Adventure,” Gumby is rocking his shell necklace and hula skirt, just like the Funko bobble. We also wanted this accessible for new readers of all ages. I think we got the essence of Gumby inserted into the stories and provided a great jumping on point for new fans.  


Does the fact that Gumby has a legacy dating back to the 1950s make it more difficult when you are writing the character?

It means I have to limit myself. My first draft of “An Alien Abundance” had maybe 20 characters in it just for the sake of having them appear. Editor-in-Chief Jim Salicrup helped me stay a bit more on track and focus on what makes a Gumby story a Gumby story. Again focusing on “the essence of Gumby.” But I still have a long wish list of Gumby adventures I would like to tell the world some day and plenty of characters to revisit!


When you are writing for Gumby is it an easy process?

Sure! I have been crafting Gumby stories since I was a kid with those great figures. I rewatched all the episodes upon learning we were in talks for the comic rights, so it was all pretty fresh in my mind.


What are the challenges you come across as a writer?

Gumby changes shape a lot, jumping in and out of books (and now in the comics he jumps out of postcards, smart phones, home work). To show that in comics and have it be clear and concise while making the story flow at a good pace. It really made me appreciate every frame of animation that Art, Gloria, Ruth and all the animators crafted for each episode of Gumby.


When you working with an artist on a story for Gumby, what qualities do you look for in that artist?

I worked with Jolyon Yates on the art. He really went above and beyond, adding fun cameos and gags that were not in the script. By the time he was drawing Eric Esquivel’s “Green with Envy,” Yates was adding band posters with Gumby’s dog Nopey just for fun. Lettering and coloring were their own art as well. Laurie Smith was the main colorist adding a sense of vibrancy and brightness to every page. Letterer Janice Chiang (at the suggestion of Jim Salicrup) made every Gumby balloon green. Everyone really got into the project, adding a little bit extra and outdoing themselves time after time.


Do you have a favourite scene from the Gumby 50 Shades of Clay graphic novel?

Mike Kazaleh’s “The Sour Note!” is one of my favorites. He brought in long lost characters from the Gumby show and really made the 5 page story fun. I know Gumby is done with clay animation, but it would make a great 2D animated cartoon as well!


When Papercutz released their first Gumby comic, what kind of feedback did the team at Papercutz receive?

Joe Clokey, son of Art Clokey, said his dad would have loved these stories. That was the best praise we could hope to achieve! Really an honor.  A lot of critics commented that these stories were a lot like how people remember Gumby. At conventions, seeing people’s surprise that a Gumby comic exists, watching them flip through the pages, and then come back the next day to say they read the book and loved it was extremely real and rewarding after working so hard on these books.


What can Gumby fans expect from Papercutz in the future?

Gumby is experiencing a renaissance and Papercutz is happy to be a part of that. A new Gumby TV series and movie are in the works. The old episodes and movie are being released on DVD, on demand, and streaming…and these episodes really hold up. A stretchable Gumby is now in Target stores everywhere. With every new Gumby fan, I hope they discover the comics and demand more! We can’t wait to make more stories and we have a lot of interested talent ready to mold their versions of Gumby!


Do you have any message for the ComicBuzz readers?

Stay fun and flexible, just like Gumby! 


We would like to thank Jeff for taking time out from his busy schedule to talk to us.




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