Lance “Fever” Myers (author of Why So Much?) has been an Austin-based creative force since moving to the capitol city in 1991. He studied painting at the University of Texas, dropped out to tour the country as front man of the ska-punk outfit Gals Panic, then began a long-running career as a professional animator bringing characters to life in the feature films Space Jam, Anastasia, and Richard Linklater’s A Scanner Darkly, among others. He was even tapped to write, direct, and animate a web series that landed on adultswim.com.
But before all of this, Myers grew up on the gulf coast, where his high school sat not two blocks away from one of the largest oil refineries in the country. He ate crawfish and swam in the muddy ocean waters of Galveston beach. And this is what has informed his latest creation—a novel about the struggle to find a meaningful existence in a small refinery town somewhere in Texas.
POV: After music and movies, why turn to literature?
Myers: I’ve always wanted to tell stories. I used to write a lot when I was younger. My first artistic success was winning an award for something I wrote in third grade—a story about kid who has a conversation with Satan in his bedroom.
Ha! So you were dealing with religion in your work even back then?
Sure, why not? I mean, I don’t think I’d been in love yet, so what else is there? The devil! That's what!
And when I decided I wanted to be an artist in college one of my professors made the comment that it seemed like all my paintings were frustrated attempts to tell a story. And it kind of awakened me to the fact that I want to tell stories and maybe painting isn’t the best medium for that. And it wasn’t too long after that that I got interested in animation.
Tell us how that got started for you.
Well, I was doing a daily comic strip for the university newspaper. Back then the comics page was huge, and just full of amazing talent. And the Daily Texan cartoonists were a tight-knit group-- we all knew each other and hung out… and the paper hosted little get-togethers.
Anyway—I dropped out of school to be in a band for a few years. And when I came back to Austin, I heard that a lot of my cartoonist friends had found jobs in animation. And so I went and applied to the same studio and got a job as a cleanup artist. A month later the studio landed a big contract with Warner Brothers and suddenly we were all drawing Bugs Bunny. And I’ve made my living as an animator ever since.
Speaking of comic strips, your novel is called Why So Much? but you also have a comic strip by the same name. Tell us why.
Well, the novel came first. And when it was done, I was very proud of it, but I had no idea what to do with it. I didn’t know how to go about getting it published. But I had all this experience doing comic strips, so my wife suggested I make a comic strip featuring some of the characters from the book. So I drew a few of them and sent them to the art director at the Austin Chronicle, Jason Stout. And he agreed to publish them. So I had a weekly strip in the Chronicle for a few years. And people seemed to dig it.
How does the comic strip and your animation work differ from the novel?
Well—in the obvious ways. The novel is much deeper and more serious than the comic strip. The comic strip does deal with some of the same issues—the meaning of life, depression, art, alienation—but in a much more playful way.
It’s nice to switch gears, creatively. I animate video game characters during the day, and write in the early mornings. And, you know, the video game stuff is all fantasy and sci-fi and outlandish kinds of material, so—maybe to balance that out, I’ve been writing about real people in real situations. And trying to draw from real-life experiences I’ve had.
Your book is a work of fiction. How much of it comes from real characters in situations that really happened?
Well, the location plays a very big role in this story. In the book it’s called Port Island, but we all know it’s the Port Arthur area. There are certain landmarks that people from the area will recognize. For example, in the book there’s an enormous bridge called Hope Bridge that connects Port Island to the mainland. It’s a thinly veiled representation of the Rainbow Bridge. And Pleasure Island makes an appearance, as does Crystal Beach and the Bolivar Peninsula. I feel like the surroundings play a huge role in the flavor of the story-- almost as if the little town is just another character.
And every actor in the story has at least one, but usually two or three real world counterparts. No one is exactly based on a real person. They’re all amalgams of people I grew up with.
And you’re still dealing with religion?
Only in a detached sort of way. These characters are all looking for ways to get through their day and feel okay with the lives they’ve chosen to lead. And some turn to religion. But there are no conversations with Satan in this one.
The book starts with an excerpt from Ecclesiastes. And at first I wasn’t sure if that was a good idea, because I was afraid it might give the wrong impression—you know, quoting from the Bible right off the bat. But the quote is about the slog of everyday existence—the constant struggle to find meaning. And that’s what I think is really at the core of this book.
So what’s next?
I am almost finished with my second novel. And I think I am growing as a writer. I’m very proud of Why So Much?, but I am also excited to see if this next one can solve some of the problems I was dealing with on my first time through. We’ll see.