The Best Animated Short category, home to some of the loveliest works on any given Oscar ballot, is often one of the most striking—and least-explored—territories of awards season. Among this year’s nominees was The Dam Keeper, a gorgeous work by a pair of former Pixar art directors. It’s a story about Pig, an orphaned anthropomorphic pig with a lonely mission—to keep his town’s dam running.
A spare, beautiful work that looks like a painting in motion, The Dam Keeper hints at a strange and mysterious world beyond the walls of the titular dam—but keeps its story focused on Pig and the friendship he strikes up with his new classmate, Fox. But there is more out there—and Tonko House, the studio behind The Dam Keeper, is going to explore it all in a new graphic novel series to be published by First Second books.
“The Academy Awards was just unreal,” says Robert Kondo, co-founder of Tonko House. “The experience of being a part of the history of filmmaking is only just now starting to hit us, I think.”
For Kondo and his Tonko House partner, Daisuke Tsutsumi—both of whom left Pixar after working on acclaimed films like Toy Story 3 and Monsters University—their short film was a chance to do something personal and more immediate, a project that would allow their work as illustrators to actually be the finished film rather than the inspiration for it. With the books, they’re diving in even further, picking up where they left off without any of the moving parts that putting together a film involves.
The story will begin five years after the events of the short, with friends Pig and Fox on the cusp of adulthood as the dark cloud that the dam holds back recedes for the first time. They go out into the world in search of answers about the fog, and the fate of Pig’s parents—with the unlikely help of Pig’s enemy, Hippo. Kondo, who noted that the story is inspired by a personal anecdote of Tstusumi’s, says that they’re interested in exploring how friendship evolves as we mature.
“When we’re eight or ten, the kind of friends we have is different than when we grow up and start to learn about the world and who we are in the world,” says Kondo. “Friendship can change. We think that’s a big part of the progression of our characters—how does friendship evolve? Growing up and changing, what does that mean to a friendship that you count on? And also, what sort of new friends do you make?”
Kondo and Tsutsumi will explore the world beyond the dam in 2016, with the first of two graphic novel sequels to The Dam Keeper. In addition, Tonko House will produce a third, unannounced graphic novel with First Second books. Courtesy of First Second, here’s a first look at some exclusive announcement art.
Much like the film, it’s nothing short of lovely.