Tuesday, April 15, 2014

My Staple Interview with Rob Harrell

What were you reading the first time you realized you wanted to be a cartoonist? 

Probably Peanuts, though my parents claim I told them in fourth grade that I wanted to be Garry Trudeau. But I’m not sure why I would have been reading Doonesbury in fourth grade, and I’m not sure if that even pans out chronologically. So Peanuts was probably my first true cartoon love.

Other than your own, what is your favorite monster to draw?

Hmm. I really like just making up monsters the most.  But I have been known to draw Godzilla from time to time.  Not well, though.  Usually sort of goofy, cartoony versions of him.

How did your comic strip work like Big Top inform your work on Monster on the Hill?

I think doing the strip really helped me learn how to tell a story succinctly… how to get some humor in there without getting too wordy or long-winded. It definitely helped me know how to hit deadlines, as well.  Doing a daily strip and having daily deadlines has taught me how to get the work done and not overwork it to death.

What formal art training do you have?

I received a Bachelor of Fine Arts from DePauw University, and then studied illustration for three years at Ringling School of Art and Design for a few years. I did a lot of figurative drawing and painting at both schools, and I think that really helped me improve.

How have you been involved in the Austin comic scene so far?

I go meet up with a couple of comic creator’s groups from time to time. I met a lot of artists through showing my fine art at the Wally Workman Gallery for years. Aside from that, I’m embarrassed to admit what a hermit I become when working on a project.

How does it feel to have become the headliner for Top Shelf’s Kids’ Club FCBD and gotten great reviews from Jeff Smith and Neil Gaiman? 

It feels really surreal! I’m a huge, huge fan of both of those guys and of everything Top Shelf does. So those were three things I could have never imagined. When I saw the blurbs from Smith and Gaiman, I definitely felt like I was having an out-of-body experience.  


What are you looking forward to at Staple?

Mostly, I just love the chance to get out of my studio and meet people for a couple of days. It’s like a mini-vacation!

More Rob at:

Friday, April 4, 2014

My Staple Interview with Chip Zdarsky

Chip Zdarsky is the artist behind Sex Criminals (Time Magazine’s #1 Comic of 2013!). Zdarsky has  produced a self-illustrated satirical column Extremely Bad Advice under the name Steve Murray for the National Post. His comic strip Prison Funnies ran in the Independent Weekly and Too Much Coffee Man Magazine. You can find his some of his work at http://stevetastic.com/chip/ you can follow him at http://zdarsky.tumblr.com/ and on twitter @zdarsky

With only four issues, Sex Criminals has become one of the biggest critical success in the Image catalog, receiving praise from peers like Ed Brubaker and Robert Kirkman.  A lot of people are really excited about the project so far. What has been the feedback that resonates the most with you?
Positive feedback from pros is great. I mean, I would have been satisfied with a non-positive quote from Kirkman, y’know? “Fraction’s writing is spot on and Zdarsky’s art does the job, I guess” would’ve still made me ecstatic. He knows who I am??
The feedback that means the most is the feedback from Fraction. In so many ways he’s my audience and I just want to do justice to his scripts. But beyond Matt, I’m thrilled with the positive reaction from women. It was such a gamble opening our story with a tale of female sexuality. I’m extremely conscious of being a middle-aged white guy (kicks back in leather recliner, lights cigar with $20 bill), and was worried about what we were attempting, but it seems to have worked out pretty well so far.

You studied illustration at Sheridan College and had a very successful career as an illustrator prior to Sex Criminals. How have your professional goals been met and changed since you were in school?
I never really felt like I had time for goals. I took any and all art jobs out of school and just made things that made me laugh on the side. Each job and comic project just kind of led to more stuff. Boring, I know. I’m jealous of people with a five-year plan.

There have been a lot of great comic books out there that are also works of serious journalism, like Burford Brendan’s anthology Syncopated and the work of Joe Sacco. As someone who has worked within the comic and newspaper worlds what are your thoughts on comic book journalism?
It’s fantastic. Any opportunity to make history or current events more tangible is welcome. There’s been such a boom in creative non-fiction across the board, with media companies looking for more ways, especially visual, to tell stories. I want comics about everything. Why not?

How would you compare the smaller, more dedicated comic book audience to your National Post and Independent Weekly audience?
Well, with a newspaper you’re a cog in a machine. There may be a million people flipping through the newspaper, but it’s hard to disseminate who stops on my work or just flips past to sports scores or sudoku. Some people will seek out my stuff and some people will be angry that I’m given space in the paper. With comics, especially serialized ones, people are buying because they want to see what the creators are doing. It feels like a huge responsibility, people handing over their money for our product. I have a horribly heightened sense of needing to make an issue as good as possible.
Today’s newspaper, seen by so many, is tomorrow’s bird cage lining. People hold onto comics. It feels like they need to stand the test of time as a result.

It seems like having a book launch in a Toronto sex club in a Garfield suit is in keeping with your sense of humor and your journalistic sense of adventure.  It was also clearly marketing genius.  Has any one in the comic book industry talked to you about that daring public outreach and why do you think there isn’t more of that in the industry?
 I … tend to enjoy going overboard, which helps when it comes to promotion. Matt, of course, one-upped the setting with his on-stage nipple piercing. He’s the best comics partner.
We were pretty lucky in the sense that a sex club launch actually ties into the comic’s content, y’know? Having a launch of your superhero book in a sex club may not make as much sense, y’know? It also helps greatly that I’m in Toronto, home of The Beguiling, an unbelievably supportive partner to have when promoting creator-driven comics. Comic book launches are usually lower key because they’re harder than book launches because you’re still working on the comic’s issue two, three, etc. then the launch comes. The whole time I was running around promoting issue one I just kept thinking about time lost on issue three.

Working within a medium where horrific, clown faced sadists have become a cliché, how does it feel to have your work singled out along with that of Fiona Staples, as being too shocking for the Apple purchasers?
First of all, don’t you dare lump me in with that degenerate pervert, Staples.
I wouldn’t say I’m proud necessarily, but I’m happy that it’s shone a light onto Apple’s unusual practice of review. It boggles the mind a bit to look at some of the horrifically violent work out there and know that our frank story of sexuality is considered more unsuitable for consumers of Apple products.

I was reflecting on an interview you gave for Dork Shelf.  It is well documented that some comic artists use images borrowed from porn to pose their costumed heroines.  Is it subversive to do a comic about sex where "the sex isn't necessarily titillating?"
I suppose so, yeah. But it’s also a little liberating. I never have to worry if something is “sexy enough,” because we’re not trying to titillate, we’re trying to tell a story. We’re trying to convey emotions in panels, not arouse the reader. Wow. I never thought I’d say I’m not trying to arouse readers, but there you go.

It seems like you have a lot of empathy for Suzie and Jon compared to your more satirical work.  Does that make Sex Criminals easier or harder to work on?
It’s harder to nail subtle emotions, but it’s easier than my satirical stuff because I’m sharing the burden with Matt.
In an interview with Matthew Meylikhov of Multiversity Comics you said of Sex Criminals that: “I want to pack it full of weird background details so you can read and re-read the books and find something new each time. Comics are expensive! People should be producing work that asks to be re-read.”  Who do you think of as being especially good at producing work of that caliber?
I’m kind of playing off of the classic MAD and Cracked artists with the background jokes. I think part of it is that I don’t feel I’m strong enough of an artist to get by on my drawings alone, that I need to add jokes to make up for my work.
The artists I’ve been following lately don’t need to rely on gimmicks to be re-readable though. Lately I’ve been pretty into these folk’ works:
1) Chris Samnee on Daredevil, who makes every line count. Also! I really, really take note of Javier Rodriguez’s colour work on that book. Bold and fun without relying on a retro-pop palette.
2) David Aja on Hawkeye is re-readable for similar reasons as Samnee. But because I’m working on a tight grid for Sex Criminals I really take notice of his layouts. Also, Matt Hollingsworth’s colour work is perfect. When you conjure an image of the book in your mind, his colours are right there in the forefront.
3) Emma Rios on Pretty Deadly is what I’ll never be. Seemingly effortless, gestural forms and layouts. I take my time looking at her work.
4) Stuart Immonen on All-New X-Men is consistently the best superhero artist out there. To have an illustrator who can create such rich, technical environments AND be the best in the business at conveying subtle emotions is just mind-boggling.

I  have bemoaned the loss of the letter pages in mainstream comic.  People who are waiting for the trade are missing the fact that Sex Criminals has an amazing letter page where both you and Fraction respond to the mail.  Are you trying to make the letter page cool again, and is it working?I think it’s mostly that Matt and I both really like interacting with our audience, and, unlike with online interactions, we can totally have the last word on a letters page. HA HA SUCKERS. The other thing is that people are, y’know, paying money for these books and we want them to be jam-packed and re-readable.
Also, it’s just fun for people to see their words and names in print.
When a new issue comes out I’m equally as excited to see people’s reaction to the letters page as I am the comic itself.

Your design work on the covers has been amazing. Who are your influences, and who do you think is doing good design work for comic book covers
Oh! Thanks! I… hmm, let me think… I love David Aja on HAWKEYE of course. And Sean Phillips’s covers have always been fantastic. The template he uses for FATALE’S trade dress is so striking and classy you can spot the cover easily on the stands. Fiona Staples’s SAGA covers are beautiful and I love the logo so much. I never understood the idea of soliciting a cover image without the book’s logo. The trade dress should be integral and complement the artwork, right?
(this may be a really stupid question)  Is there anything that is easier for Chip Zdarsky to draw/express than Steve Murray?
Well, the division is mostly because the stuff I do as Steve Murray is geared towards newspapers, so it’s typically more family friendly (and also produced faster). So, I guess I feel less limitations when I’m doing a “Chip” project.

Since this is an interview for Staple! and you live in the home town of TCAF, I have to ask, what makes a good con? What has been your best and worst experience at a con?
I find San Diego hard. It’s too long and impersonal and crazy. The attentive organizers and curated exhibitors of TCAF help a lot. You don’t have to worry about being stuck next to an energy drink booth or a disgruntled wrestler from the 80s. Also, it’s free to the public! How great is that? The idea of paying $50 to go into some horrible convention centre so you can shop is just weird to me. Imagine paying to get into a mall.
It’s been a looong time since I’ve done any shows. So I signed up to do Emerald City Con because everyone tells me it’s great and I’m doing STAPLE! because Austin is fantastic and Chris "Uncle Staple" Nicholas is fantastic so I can only assume STAPLE! is fantastic.

Will you be bring anything in addition to issues of Sex Criminals to the Staple! expo (Prison Funnies, prints, T-shirts, etx)?
Yeah, I’ll probably drag along some old Prison Funnies and Monster Cops! But I’m also hoping to have an exclusssssive STAPLE! print available as well. It’ll be so hot. Too hot? No. The appropriate amount of hot.

Sunday, March 30, 2014

My Staple Interview with Jeremy The Artist

Jeremy The Artist is a comic book maker, caricature artist, graphic designer and a prolific doodler.  His web comics can be found over at mytalkinghead.com. His output is astounding and he is consistently sharing it with the world. Last year I started to archive Uncle Staples's collection of Staplegator sketches and solicit new ones. I got allot of help form all quarters of the indie comic scene.  I am grateful for everyone's support but Jeremy just blew me away check out four of his submissions here. Jeremy The Artist has his own set of artist interviews that can be read here.  You can follow him on twitter @thetoonman and/or like him on facebook.com/jeremytheartistguy

What formal art training do you have?

I have a Bachelor’s Degree in Fine Arts, with a concentration on Graphic Design. I was the Editorial Cartoonist for my college newspaper for the whole of my undergraduate years- that experience in itself has helped a lot with the techniques and styles I use.
I still freelance graphic design stuff, but as you can see from my current portfolio- I've deviated quite a bit from formal design.

You work in a couple of mediums, both analog and digital. What do you see as the biggest advantages and disadvantages of each?

I have been inking by hand since I was about 11 years old (hopefully I’m a bit better now at it), and digitally drawing/inking since about 6 years back, though nothing really solid until about 3 years ago.

I don’t think anything will ever replace creating by hand- no matter what technological advances we may experience.

I received my first (and only) tablet in 2008 as a graduation gift- I had a 3 month trial with it, got frustrated and put it up for 3 years…and now, I think its God’s gift to the Illustrator.

The tablet’s fluidity allows for faster, “cleaner” production- creating multiple layers within a program and identifying one as “pencil” and another as “ink” eliminates a few steps that you always have to take when hand inking your work and physically erasing any left over pencil work.

Tablets are becoming so advanced that they can simulate all types of mediums now including pastels, oils, paints, inks, pencils and charcoals, with only more added to the list every update.

There’s a certain quality that tablet-produced work has, and by far is the most efficient.

With all  that said, when I work by tablet- there’s a certain “connection” I lose with my creation. As I have a Wacom Intuos, I have to draw while keeping my attention on the computer screen while my hand draws on the tablet…it’s a skill you develop as you practice with the tablet, but one that keeps you somewhat detached from your work, or at least for me.

When drawing in your sketchbook or just on paper while sitting at a table somewhere- the connection is instantaneous. No longer do I feel like there’s a barrier between me and my work…we’re as intimate as can be- and this relationship that is created with pen and paper versus computer drawing is something I could not live without..no matter how advanced we become.

Does your diversity of style reflect a diversity in artistic influence? Who would you say influenced your work in what ways?

At the age of 10 more or less, I can distinctly recall telling myself I wanted to become a comic book artist. At that age, that meant the guys who drew up Spider Man, Wolverine and the rest of the X Men.

Now at 27, I do comics, cartoons, web comics, freelance illustration and caricatures.

My influences range from Robert Crumb to Todd McFarlane. I remember picking up my first Spawn at age 12 and loving the style of the book…I had never seen a comic like that produced, that was in the heyday of Image and of the “McFarlane Style”. Spawn made me set my initial goals and I bought a Dynamic Anatomy book done by Burne Hogarth (artist for original Tarzan), who I grew to admire. Jack Kirby is always a favorite of mine, but I really draw from and admire these days Mike Mignola (Hellboy & BPRD are a couple of my FAVORITE comics) and Frank Miller’s work.

A couple years back I had an epiphany I really wanted to become known for my cartoon work and web comics…and discovered Ivan Brunetti, Jaime Hernandez and Art Spiegelman… revolutionaries in the world of “Underground/Indie Comics”… two of the bigger influences from this genre are Charles Burns and the iconic underground artist himself, Robert Crumb.

All these artists have various styles and techniques they use as well as tools…some of my favorite guys here use brush while another couple use micron pens and rapidographs…seeing this difference in style, especially within the same genre of art helps me to understand the variety of the form and helps me to grow as an artist personally. This in turn motivates me to try different approaches as well- learn the pros and cons of each style and tool.

I’m also quite the admirer of fine arts, a huge favorite of mine being German Expressionism, but I do fancy Contemporary as well as Abstract. I’m naturally a minimalist in style and admire works in this style.

Why monsters and why comics?

Monsters Ive been a big fan of since I can remember. Growing up, my dad and I would watch a lot of horror movies together,  including a bunch of older monster movies like the 1950s Wolfman, Frankenstein and Mummy. My dad also was the one to introduce me to Greek Mythology and I do believe Norse Mythology as well…exposing me to mythical monsters like griffins, Cyclops and frost giants.

Watching these movies with my dad and talking mythology with him are precious memories I hold so I think that’s why years later monsters have such a hold on me.

Comics and sequential art in general is such a wonderful way to tell a story. The beauty about that story is it can be any story, including your own, dressed in a different suit, however you may want it.

Comics allow an artist to create entire universes of characters..characters that have their own characters in their lives….all involved in their own bubbles of life, which stem from what the artist created, even daresay birthed from the creative production of the artist, but not necessarily directly created by the artist him/herself.

Comics, as time goes on, are being understood as more of a fine art vs the “low brow” category its unfortunately been classified as since their creation. I find comics to be one of the more formidable fields of art and still has great potential-  I cant wait to see what the future brings for comics.

I know that you’re a big fan of Reservoir Dogs but is there another reason so many of your monsters are in semi-formal wear?

The criminals of Reservoir Dogs and the hitmen of Pulp Fiction definitely influenced the look as those are my two favorite movies by one of my top favorite directors. Another reason, and probably the bigger reason, is the aesthetics of the imagery. Using contradicting elements/subjects: suits, classy attire and wild, horrific creatures- it’s almost a contrast of “light” and “dark” elements- the interaction which then produces a unique image.

Simultaneously, dressing up the monsters, they become “humanified” to some degree. For me, having the monsters dressed in something maybe I would dress in then helps me to empathize/connect with them on a level I wasn’t able to before.

In general as a rule of thumb as well, suits are just plain cool.
Why do you think Monster comics came back into main stream popularity after decades of comics as a one genre medium?

With a resurgence in the interest of monsters like vampires into the mainstream (in both books and shows like True Blood or Twilight) and zombies (the comic Walking Dead and tv show based on comic), monsters are becoming “cool” again.

With Guillermo Del Toro’s Pacific Rim movie and Godzilla 2014, we are seeing the comeback of “Big Monster Movies” as well- which will help the comics based on these monsters back into popularity.

In other words, we are heading towards the golden days my friend.

Personally I want to know when we can expect another issue of Security! it is by far my favorite of your comic books so far.

Ah! Security! was a definitely fun comic, but a rushed one based on my experiences based on my day job experiences in the security field. I wanted to add so much more to the book and just ran out of time as I wanted the book done in time for Staple! 2013.

I’m definitely going to do another security-based comic, but for this next one I want it to be a waaay bigger book.  I have a couple other books planned beforehand however, a second print issue of My Talking Head, which is based off my webcomic site, My Talking Head ( www.mytalkinghead.com ) and a relaunch of my Kickstarter for my graphic novel, Monsters In Ties (looking to do the kickstarter in February)

I regularly update my facebook fan page: www.facebook.com/jeremytheartistguy and looking to update my blog more as well with current news, which you can find here: www.jtabloggin.blogspot.com

You’re doing your own artist interviews at My Talking Head. What is your favorite part of that?

As an artist interviewing artists, I tailored my interview questionnaire with some fun questions (or at least I hope they are fun) and tried to think what I would like to be asked- thus far, it’s been working!

I post the interviews every other Sunday on My Talking Head, all current interviews can be read here:

This has to be my favorite part- the actual reading of the replies- I also personally pick each interview out, and its always work I really admire and people I respect- so its neat to be able to interact with these people in this way specifically.

What is your connections to Five-Line Graphics?

Five-Line Graphics is managed by one of good friends who also creates comics, Paulo Hernandez.

I met Paulo at Staple! 2012 and since then we have done both fan art for each other’s publications and have collaborated on a couple others.

Through Five-Line Graphics, “The Axeman #1” (created by me) was funded and is considered under the Five-Line Graphics branch of comics.

What has been your most memorable caricature request?

I’ve been caricaturing now for about 5 years, the last 3 here in Austin. Definitely most interesting caricature requests have been here in Austin. I have 2 that stick out in my mind at the moment:

1.) Back when I was zombie-caricaturing down South Congress for First Thursdays, as I was setting up I was asked by a young couple to zombify their dogs.

I ended up drawing the dogs on their back feet, with their front paws stuck out like arms in front of them (similar to a “Frankenstein or Mummy Walk”) and zombifying the now-humanoid looking animals. That, was interesting.

2.) Another gig that I was actually hired to do zombies for, one lady requested not only to be a zombie- but to drawn riding a unicorn, which would also be zombified. Very fun picture, I believe I have a picture of that somewhere on my portfolio site.

-Last note on this question, this doesn’t technically count, but I was caricaturing at The Volstead one night (VERY fun caricaturing at a bar) and, asides all the drunken caricatures, I had 2 girls (maybe under the influence) insist on me getting caricatured by them. AND, one of the girls would pay me. So, I ended up in the other chair while one of the girls drew me- turned out she was an artist too. I prefer to  be paid and drawn, less effort on my part, haha.

What has been your favorite Staple! experience so far?

So far I have to say, having a beer with Kevin Eastman, the co-creator of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, at the after party. I didn’t know how to introduce myself to him and was working up the courage to just go to talk to him, when one of my friends who came along to support me (and who was already a smidge drunk) shouted out to me, “HEY JEREMY, KEVIN EASTMAN’S HERE! COME OVER!”

She had gone up to him with some other friends and were talking him up before calling me over. Me and Eastman then ended up talking about a buncha art stuff and the business of comics. That whole memory in itself holds a place in my heart.

Friday, September 6, 2013

My Staple! Interview with Zach Taylor

A ten year veteran of the self-published comic book scene, Zach Taylor, took some time from his simultaneous projects Bear Quest 3 and Work Force! staring The Miner to answer some questions.  You can follow him on Twitter @z_bill and like him on hist Facebook page.  He also has cast posted to Youtube at Largocasts.  His comics can be found at gnourg.com and Bear Quest 1 and Bear Quest 2 are for sale along with some cool posters at his store

Who would you list as comic book influences?

Jack Kirby deserves mention over all others. Dave Sim, Jeff Smith, and Mark Oakley (who did a book called Thieves & Kings that few people know about and that's a shame) got me into indie comics and the idea of self-publishing. Grant Morrison and Kirby were my gateway back into mainstream superheroes. I could also label a lot of filmmakers as influences, but I'll just give a shout to Terry Gilliam, the greatest imaginative mind ever.

I'm still waiting for someone famous to say Bear Quest is "Jack Kirby meets Jim Woodring by way of Super Mario" so I can make it a blurb.

Having ten years of insider’s perspective into the world of self published comics what would you see as the high and low watermarks

Kind of hard to say, because Texas, apart from Staple!, is off the radar in terms of the indie comics scene. Tough to be on the pulse of it. The promise of real self-publishing with wide distribution and success, the landscape of Cerebus and Bone, died before I even started making comics. And I see little of that spirit in most webcomics today. Comics, with ongoing storylines, real domain remains to be print. The bright side is that I feel a greater kinship with the medium as a whole, mainstream and all. Maybe I'm delusional. But when I see guys like Matt Kindt, Jeff Lemire, and Brandon Graham, people I consider straight cartoonists, able to draw, write, whatever, win the good graces of the big comics publishers...I smile and think of our Great Comics Family. Band together or we die alone.
You went a long period only working in black and white.  How did inform your current color work and would suggest it to other artist?

The black and white period came from frustration in printing my color work. I did digital painting in college, and always seemed to have to give the excuse "it looked better on the computer" in portfolio class. So, when I started making comics seriously, I made it my mission to create a style that was impossible to print incorrectly. That brought about a raw, strict black and white (no shades of gray!) style. Plus, it might have been my "dark" angsty years, haha.

Would I suggest it to another artist? Not if he or she isn't inclined to do it already. Artists will eventually arrive where they need to be artistically if they keep at it. It may take waaaay longer than planned, but they will get there. For instance, while I was in my black and white period, people would see my occasional color work and ask, "What the hell? This is much better than what you are doing. Why aren't you doing stuff like this?" And they were right, it was better. But I couldn't just jump right to color. I had to go through this extended black and white phase to bring myself to that point artistically.
I found an old copy of you books The Moonman on Wheels and I was wondering how would you contrast it with The Miner.  Like the Bear they both have these ballistic trajectory through life but have very different attitudes.
Difficult to talk about Moon Man because it's out of print and not available on my website, but what the hell? Moon Man is good high concept that was in the hands of a guy who didn't have much respect for his audience. A much more bitter guy made it. The Miner was that guy lightening up and making something fun and approachable. In a way though, they are both about characters feeling entitled to something they never earned. Unrealized potential. He walks into town and expects to be loved by everyone despite being a stranger who hasn't proven himself. I WAS that guy when I made Moon Man, but The Miner overcame that and decided to fit in and have a good time regardless of the apathy of the universe. I would like to revisit the defeatist tone of my early work though. I had some good ideas that I was too stubborn to write properly.

You work is influenced by video games, you have a strong Twitter and Facebook presence, you started a vlog, you do free hand and pixel art on the computer.  What is the connection between art and computers in general and what is your relationship in particular.

All media is going to collapse into one someday. Just a big mass of comic/game/movie/novel/rollercoaster/whatever. I want to contribute to the spirit of that with Bear Quest, which is at its core the history of a video game property told through a comic. But, I don't know, I'm torn between digital and print, painting and pixels, comics and video games. They all try to grab me away equally. I just hope that whatever our Entertainment Future might be, that a) I don't end up hating it, and b) it's got some spot where I fit in.

As far as social media, I try to keep up with twitter (@z_bill Hit me up!) mainly. I'm a fan of YouTube Let's Plays and podcasts, so I decided to create what I call Largocasts, where I talk about whatever I feel like (comics, games, process, storytelling, etc) as sped-up artwork plays. Trying to figure out what I can do with the platform, maybe create a little community, do something fun and audio/visual.

Do you see the collapse of media distinctions as a threat to print comics, comics as a static medium and/or some thing as aggressively low tech as zones and mini comics?
I wouldn't say "threat," but yeah, there's no way comics will exist in this same form in a hundred years. Things will be different, but no one can predict how. I mean, I'm definitely that old-fogey-in-the-making who is unable to give up on his "books printed on paper." I love books. But I'm going to look at comics' evolution the same way I'm looking at the current superhero blockbuster movie explosion: All my senses could easily judge these films as terrible. But I've consciously decided to find things I like about them, that way I don't become that hateful old fogey. And I've got some standing in the future of The All-Media. Whatever that looks like.

So, the Bear has made a few appearances at Staple! and other conventions, are their any stories you’d like to share?

Yes, The Bear has started showing up at cons and creating mayhem. I guess he heard I wrote a book about him? Weird thing is I've never seen him! I always remember walking out of the con, then...I guess I black out? I wake up in an alleyway, go back in, and everyone tells me The Bear showed up and caused all this trouble, leaving me to apologize. He's prone to shuffle merchandise around, dance, knock things over, and randomly maul people. He's going to get me in trouble!

Though for some reason, most kids don't seem scared of him. There are pictures of him playing with legos in a circle with children. And I once heard about a toddler, initially terrified, taking what looked like her first steps from her carriage to embrace his calf. Good thing she couldn't read yet or she'd know what a monster he is!

There was also an epic battle with Sonic the Hedgehog. Most the time he's in a confused frenzy at these cons.

Just to get basic terminology Bear Quest is a side scroller, Bear Quest 2 is an overhead rpg, and Bear Quest 3 is a first person shooter?  What games in each of these categories do you credit as influences.

That sounds right! (Though sticklers would call BQ2 "isometric" perspective, not "overhead") First BQ has resemblances to Pitfall and Hudson's Adventure Island. But the screenshots I mimicked when I made it were from a game no one played called Dynowarz for NES. BQ2 I just say Zelda to make it easy. However, the real influence is my favorite game from the 16 bit era, Landstalker for Genesis. Yep, I was a Sega kid. BQ3 is straight up Doom. The game panels there are actual screenshots from a fully modded Doom 2 level!

Bear Quest seems to resist over analysis at the same time it seems to invite it.  Every page has parallel storytelling but by my count there are at least four levels of storytelling.  There is what happens on the screen of the video game, what happens in the game world, what is happening subjectively for the player and in Bear Quest 3 we see the screen and the game world jump out of the player’s subject space and into the objective space of the Largo Game Console.  Where do you see it taking place?

I love this question. I can tell you are paying attention, haha! The idea that Bear Quest is just a simple rendition of "what would be happening if this game were real" breaks down slowly. At first, readers assume he's just an oblivious beast being playful. They forget about the person that may be playing the game. Is the bear being controlled? Are YOU controlling him? If he escapes into the player's world, then what does that mean about the former "reality" of the game? There are lots of different ways to look at it, and I wouldn't want to force my version.

If you are lost though, it might help to think of each panel as a viewport. Does The Bear see pixels in a world that is actually detailed… or does he see a detailed world interpreted down to pixels for someone else (The player? The reader?) to see? These questions get weirder and more meta the deeper we go in the story. Especially in BQ3, when The Bear enters the "Largo World" and now the game panels look, in many ways, more realistic than the reality! Then the insane reality-bending thing that happens when he is eaten by an armadillo, haha! It's an experimental work, no doubt. And if readers aren't asking, "What is the game? What is real?" then they are just looking at the purdy pictures.
Is there an overarching meaning to why we see Largo game systems running through out you Miner and Bear stories?
Oh absolutely! The Largo Infinite Handheld System is the glue that ties all my work together. The Miner, or another character in his story (such as The Sailor in my currently running comic, Workforce!), is prone to play Largo video games. Technically, he could pull out Bear Quest and start playing. It's a very popular game franchise, which has spawned many sequels, merchandise, and even costumes! So, by extension, the "Largo World" of BQ3 and The Miner's world are the same place. Which, to confuse things further, is named Gnourg. Call it my "Hyboria" or "Westeros" in that big geeky fantasy tradition of naming your world some nonsense word, haha. Though, gnourg.com is the website where you read all these stories. And has been around for 15 years! It's almost like I planned all this, right?

Apart from the connections, might there be a reason there are so many games being played in these stories? Games are my stand-in for most all media. It's relevant that the city is crumbling, or an adventure is happening elsewhere, and all these characters want to do is beat a video game. I'm not making some judgmental statement about humanity and how we bury ourselves in trivial entertainment and ignore our actual problems. But we absolutely do that. I see that and it goes in my books. I am so, so guilty of it myself. It should be obvious that I spend a good deal of my time with my head in fantasy worlds, both my own and others. I believe it's healthy, at least for me, to do this. It's how I cope with the real world. That's why beating the game always gives the hero insight into how to beat adversity.

Monday, July 29, 2013

My Staple! Interview with Jon David Guerra

At the time of this interview Jon David and Nicole Guerra were completing their fourth issue of Nightmare of Professional Wrestling and had released a black and white ashcan of Ghost King.  The Nightmare of Professional Wrestling web comic is on-line at nightmareprowrestling.com.  The books along with the Ghost King Preview are available for sale at the site's shop.  You can also follow him on twitter @jondavidguerra and should like the NightmareProWrestling Facebook page.

As a couple what is the division of labor on these books?
Usually bounce ideas off each other during the writing process. We talk about dialog and make sure it works well with what we want to convey to the reader. I also like for Nicole to look over the page and make sure every thing makes sense with the story and art. 

As indie comic book creators why did you settle on an all-ages story?
 We wanted to create something that anybody could get into and enjoy together.  Our ideal setting is parents reading NPW to their kids and both really enjoying the comics. 
Do you think all-age books are under represented in the mainstream, on-line or at conventions?
 I think a lot of times mainstream books do tend to take themselves too seriously and market all ages books as just kids books. Online and at conventions seems to be better places to find them as you're able to find more and more independent creators that want to do all ages books. 
You use very stylized caricatures not just in Nightmares of Professional Wrestling and Ghost King but also in your poster work.   Whose work would you say influences you caricatures. 
A french artist by the name of Fabien Mense has really been influencing a lot of my work lately. He has an interesting take on caricatures. I would also say Bill Wray and a lot of Ren and Stimpy, and Looney tunes cartoons.  
It seemed like hyperrealism or New Yorker minimalism dominated a lot of American comics when I was a kid.  How much has the success of anime and 3D animated kids films affected the appreciation of more diverse styles of cartooning?   How much has it affected your work?
I've been into anime since I was kid. That has definitely influenced a lot of the way I do action in my comics as well as some of the comedy. I would say I'm actually influenced by 2D classic Chuck Jones cartoons rather than any 3D animated films. The cartoons comedic beats and character acting has definitely influenced those same things in my comics

Am I correct that you are working exclusively digitally?  What are the strengths of working digitally, like having back-ups of every stage of your work?  What are the drawbacks, like not having original art to sale? 
Yes, I now work completely digitally. I find it a lot more freeing. Not so much for having back ups but more for being able to control your work a little more. For example, if the characters head is to small or too large I can adjust the size to the way I want it. Not having original art to sell is one big draw back. I've had a few people ask for original pages but I didn't have any. Another would be problems with the technology you're using. I used to work from a lap top that would crash every now and then. I've had to start a complete page almost from scratch, in the early days of the comic. 

In sitting down and writing this I pulled up the archive page of Nightmares of Professional Wrestling on a non-portable devices.  I was surprised how much storytelling was conveyed in the inch tall thumbnails.  How do you keep clean narrative flow in your layouts? 
Cool! I'm glad to hear you say that. I try to make it so you would be able to understand what happens in the comic even if it didn't have any dialog. Like I said early, my wife and I examine the page and make sure every thing is readable with the images and enhanced with the dialog. 

The Ghost King ashcan from Staple! 2013 got me hooked.  What is next for Casey and the crew?
I'm glad you like it! I'm planning on doing thirteen issues of the mini-comic to coincide with his thirteen ghosts. At the moment that been put on pause for a little bit as things move forward with Nightmare Pro Wrestling being the main focus of what I do. 

What really attracted me to Nightmares of Professional Wrestling was the amount of motion in your layouts and the energy through the continuity.  That and your dynamic panel shapes remind me of pre-war Jack Kirby.  Who has influenced your action sequences?
A lot of the action is inspired by the creative team known as Catfish deluxe. They include Fabien Mense, who I mentioned early, Bill Otomo, and Gobi. Anime has also played a big part in my action sequences too. As for the dynamic panel shapes and layouts, my biggest influence is an indie artist called Jerzy Drozd. Who always pushed cartoonist to use panels and layouts as part of telling the story in the comic. 
Finally, besides the tale of the spunky team of Grave and Lobo, there is a playful x-factor to Nightmares of Professional Wrestling.  Some of my favorites are the great Dr. Nightmare’s Referee race scene in issue four; the Luna sup-plot in issue two; and the Nightmare Tortoise itself.   Are there any deployments that we should be keeping and eye out for? 
Funny you mention the Luna sub plot.We've actually gotten rid of that! It pulled the focus away from the story we wanted to tell. It was available in the first few copies of Issue two but now is only available through the collected edition as bonus material. Recent issues have been reworked so it reads fine without it. It was also up on the website for a while but has since been updated. 

We will find out where the NPW Referees come from. I'm even planning on doing a short story from their perspective. 

The Nightmare Tortoise will eventually be mapped. I want to include a detailed drawing/map of what is on the tortoise and where everything is located. I'm planning on putting that in future collected editions. 

I have big things planned for NPW's future. Right now I'm in what I like to call "Phase 2" of the comic and it's ideas. Some big characters will switch sides and others who aren't used to losing will lose, big time. There is also a BIG thing happening for Nightmare Pro Wrestling that I can't reveal quite yet. Be on the look out for some major announcements soon.

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

My Staple! Interview with Robert Wilson IV

This is my first Staple! interview.  Robert Wilson IV is a Texas artist. He is a talented comic book and poster artist. Many of his works are available for sale from Nakatomi Inc. He was in Austin in 2012 to showcase his and Brian Winckeler's super powered comedy Knuckleheads.  Back at Staple! 2012, they had the first 22 page black and white edition. If you missed it you can preview the first eight pages in color at Robert's web page.  Since I did the interview, Knuckleheads issues one and two are available in full collor trough comixology.  He also was part of the successfully Kickstarter funded and produced comic Like A Virus.  He also designed the logo for Staple! 2013.
Q: What were some of your favorite encounters at Staple! 2012?
A: Last year was my first time at Staple! and I met a ton of great people. If I had to pick I'd probably say eating at food trucks and talking G.I. Joe after the live art show with Kristian Donaldson, Kagan McLeod, and Chris Moreno.
Q: Is Knuckleheads your first comic book or are there some false starts and/or mini comic skeletons in your closet?
A: Knuckleheads is the first comic that I finished. I've done other short stories, several pitches, and started a sci-fi story (which I still intend to finish).
Q: What have you learned and what have you learned to avoid from your design and poster artwork when trying to tell a story in comic book format?
A: Posters and covers force you into paying a lot of attention to composition, whereas you can get away without thinking about composition too much in sequentials. The thing is, you can never do great or even really good sequentials without intentional composition.
Q: In the [yet to be published] Convention Interviews you mentioned Kirby as an influence. What are some of your other influences? Am I wrong in detecting Mike Allred and Matt Wagner as influences?
A: Paul Pope is probably my biggest contemporary influence. Other contemporary artists like Mike Allred, Mike Mignola, Jaime Hernandez, James Jean, and Fabio Moon have impacted the way I approach my work. I've also been really getting into manga recently. Noaki Urasawa and Katsuhiro Otomo have really got me thinking about story telling and pacing in particular. I've also been thinking about how Moebius and Andrew Wyeth use space and composition. This is a question that I could drone on for hours about, so I'll cut myself off there. 
Q: How many issues do Brian and you have planned for a first story arch?
A: I can't really talk about that yet, though by the time Staple! rolls around it should be public knowledge.

Monday, June 10, 2013

My Staple! Interview with Jeanne Thornton

I was hoping to do some more reviews but I would rather be catching up with these Staple! interviews.  If you want to get more of this Staple! content faster follow us on twitter @staple, like us  on facebook.com/stapleaustin and follow our tumblr.  Recently I did a review of the documentary Journey of the Universe

As a co-founder of FictionCircus.com , author of the novel The Dream of Doctor Bantam, an editor of Rocksalt Magazine, and an inddie cartonist for about a decade Jeanne Thornton is a  Renaissance Woman when it comes to the narrative arts.  She was kind enough to sit down and give us some insight into the nature of the medium of the comic strip. 

Q) There is a narrative nesting doll effect in The Man Who Hates Fun as well as many classic comic strips.  Every strip stands by itself while often being part of a larger story arc at the same time advancing the larger themes and style of the whole project.  What have you learned from the years you worked on The Man Who Hates Fun and how has it informed your plans for Bad Mother?

A) This is pretty much entirely what I initially liked about comics formally, and at this point it’s entirely what I still like about ‘em.In the early Man Who Hates Fun strips, pretty much all I was trying to achieve was this hideously fast narrative pace in Al Capp’s Li’l Abner, one of my inspirations for doing comics in the first place. Every week, the basic premise of any given storyline would completely change: in the strip’s 1940s heyday, conflicts were brought up and took at most two or three strips to resolve. (Later, as the comics shrunk in newspapers, this pace became impossible to maintain, and the strips dropped both detail and speed. Later Li’l Abner is an entirely different strip, one I really don’t like.) I tried to do the same thing with The Man Who Hates Fun early on, where every storyline was as close to four strips long as I could get, and the basic premise of the strip would change frequently. You go from the MWHF working in a library to like living off of the Ellison family to working as a kindergarten teacher. I don’t think it holds up well because the reader never gets to spend enough time in any given place to really enjoy it. It’s like this character moving through a cardboard world of malice. But I think if the artist in question keeps up a good update schedule (which I swear I used to do, for about three months nine years ago in 2004), it ends up being the best experience for readers.
In the more recent MWHF strips I tried really consciously to spend a lot more time dwelling in environments and situations: there are a bunch of sequences that are just the MWHF and Dascha Rand like wandering around Dascha’s underground lab or the MWHF and Elvira talking. I did this pretty much because I realized that I didn’t care as much about the daily updates; that as much as I wish doing webcomics was the only thing I had to do, I do have a day job and will for a long time, and I’m not as good as other people at doing both consistently along with writing prose. So a good update schedule just wasn’t going to happen, and the only way anyone was really going to get to read the stories without losing track during gaps between updates was in the books. And the quick pace just doesn’t work as well in the books. It’s far better to spread out, to have pages that one can just kind of dwell on or think about or whatever.With Bad Mother, I want to work a lot more by accretion, because you have the central plot kind of established: this girl is going to grow up, some stuff is going to happen to her during that process. Thus I don’t have to have a good “flow” between strips as much, and can just dip in and out of scenes as need be to make sure all of the character dynamics make sense, to really enjoy interactions between characters, to try to present the world as fully as I can. I wish I updated it more, but already in like fifty or so strips I’ve finished I think the world and characters are a lot more solid than the MWHF crew were at like 300 strips.

There’s also this firm advantage in that the characters grow up in real time, so it’s sad to miss weeks of updates for me in the same way that it’d be sad if work kept me from like spending any time with some actual daughter of mine for like months on end. The bummer thing about the strip is built into the format. I think that’s important.

Q) On the one hand, there are hard compositional constraints to the 3-5 panel traditional print comics.  On the other hand, where webcomics are theoretically unbounded the variety of potential screens/browser and possibility of future print editions provide their own set of constraints.   The Man Who Hates Fun started out with the strict compositional constraints of 4 panels and then became more experimental  Bad Mother seems a little more compositionally conservative.  What are the big factors that have and are currently informing your compositional choice?

A) As far as why I’ve chosen these theoretical constraints: this form appeals to me, and others don’t. That’s the obvious answer, but I think it’s a deeper answer than it’s given credit for. Ideas really only make sense when suspended in a form like sugar in a glass of liquid. I don’t think it’s possible to have a REALLY NEAT IDEA and then to consider which form that idea might work best in. It’s not the same idea in a different form; a seed doesn’t grow the same way in a different soil.But if I did have to justify the format from like first principles: I guess three panels is a really easy format to write for in some ways. (It’s even easier to lay out the strips, saving one of the most tedious tasks from MWHF during its more experimental layout phase.) If I have ideas that can’t be done in three or four panels, I reserve the right to break out one of the larger strips, like the one where Inez and Mona are talking while getting ready for bed. I consciously wanted to go back to the earlier, more conservative style because it’s a little bit easier to establish a world with some hard format constraints, but I did reserve that right to expand when and if the story demanded it without feeling guilty. There are a lot of early MWHF strips where the idea was just 100% destroyed by the format and I wanted to avoid this, because life’s too short to botch ideas for the sake of consistent formatting.The major factor is, again, just thinking of the eventual books as being the real “format that matters,” but I also do want each strip to be as strong as it can be on its own.One of the great strengths of narrative media is that you use the same fairly small formal vocabulary to build fantastic worlds. The video game Earthbound is great because it has a deceptively simple graphic style—outlined graphics, very simplified faces in terms of detail, strict isometric perspective—but because of the simplicity of the style, it really does feel shocking when you go from visiting a small town to traveling through a volcano, or a neon hell dimension, or a cloud castle. It’s some kind of equivalent of parallel structure in prose: you can achieve great effects by setting a context and an expectation, and breaking that context.
The best thing I think I’ve done with Bad Mother are the strips with Mona driving Betty to the gas station at night or Mona slumped on the kitchen floor, one hand on the handle of a pot, talking to the cat about how she feels incapable sometimes of being a decent parent/human being. It works because it uses the same graphic vocabulary of the strips where like Mona’s being a jerk to her girlfriend or Betty’s saying something cute about dinosaurs: this safe family comic world is also the world where there’s real despair breaking through. This is a theme that I want to work with a lot more as the strip going forward, which I’m sure fellow despair fans will appreciate.

Q) Do you feel there are opportunities for certain types of stories and character development that comic stirps are particularly good at?

A) Yeah totally: growth over time. It’s the same thing novels are good at, and I think newspaper comics are possibly better than novels at this. The only thing you lose are the tight control over the pace one gets with a novel, since comics restrict you to rendering every emotional moment visually, which generally means “constrained in time.” There might be a way to get around this—like shojo manga is good at representing abstract emotions. I just mistrust things presented in abstraction, or I’d experiment with those formal tools more, maybe. I want the camera to be pulled back to some extent.What you gain, though, is what I talked about above: you get a very extensive world built with a very small number of graphic elements. There’s something really appealing about that to me, and I think it’s ideal for telling stories about people’s interactions. There are a lot of epic sci-fi/fantasy style webcomics that really don’t do a lot for me because of the same process: over time, the initial narrative energy of The Big Quest gets lost because the characters, their psyches, and their interactions become a lot more compelling to the creators than the question of when the fourth Power Ruby of seven is found. Which is the right thing to happen—we all should become more interested in fellow human beings—but if you’re telling a story conceived from the outside as a quest with a definitive end, it doesn’t work. (I’d actually totally love to see a fantasy comic that’s designed as a picaresque, where each installment is just a snapshot from some larger, stranger quest, and we slowly watch a group of fantasy adventurers grow old and find larger or anyway different things to do in their lives than just attempt to overthrow the Singular Dark Lord. Maybe that exists somewhere already? It oughta.) Comics ought to be about exploring and discovering who your characters really are, what they’ll do over time: this is what interests me about them, anyway.

Q) The traditional newspaper comic stips are highly contextualized by the surrounding news, adds, strips and the daily rhythm of the print deadline.  With webcomics the artist has total control.  How does publishing and promoting your web comics with blogging platforms affect your work?  Also, how does it affect your editorial choices in Rocksalt Magazine.  

A) I guess I don’t think in terms of such contextualization, except the rhythm of deadlines? I can’t possibly think about such concerns without going crazy when I’m actually doing the strip, and usually I just think about how the strip will eventually show up in the books, which I think of as the most permanent medium (even if, realistically, the website is going to last longer and be seen by more people.) Sometimes if I know I’ve got a finished weak strip next in the hopper, I’ll refrain from updating for sometimes hideously long periods of time until I get a good strip finished, so there’s not a weak strip sitting up as the only thing casual site visitors see for days. It’s different practical things like this.For Rocksalt, editorial choices are often just like acts of situational malice. My favorite page is probably the one in issue 4 where literally every ad was on the same page as a comic that said in huge black text, “We demand a refund!” I didn’t even notice until Geoff pointed it out to me. All these things are more a matter of instinct than of consciously thinking about every possible cultural/symbolic valence the position you stick a comic strip on a page might have.

Q) There is a very dry wit in The Man Who Hates Fun and  Bad Mother, who would you say had the biggest impact on your sense of humor?
A) Who could answer such a question! Bill Amend was pretty important, or at least FoxTrot was the comic I read a lot as a kid that made me consciously think it was a good idea to have a second anticlimactic line after the “punchline.” For characters who respond deadpan to absurd situations, again it’s Al Capp and Li’l Abner. Bill Watterson is really important. Dan Clowes. My dad has a pretty dry wit.

I don’t know! I mistrust honest hilarity, I guess.

Q) The style of caricature evolves throughout The Man Who Hates Fun sometimes simplifying and sometimes becoming more baroque.  Am I correct that the experimentation has settled down a little in Bad Mother, and if so, what have you decided to pair down and what are you keeping.  

A) Basically the experimentation is just me learning to draw, and most importantly learning that I’m probably not as awful at drawing as I think I am, and that I can trust things to be more simple and still to seem “good.” This is not something I can take for granted, but I think it’s the necessary place to get to in order to do any work that’s worthwhile. Before, I’d worry that a drawing wasn’t “good enough” and ruin it with a lot of extra details and lines. Learning to trust that people won’t think you’re stupid if you’re honest with them is this basic lesson in life.I think the rule is to keep the faces simple yet as expressive as possible, and keep the background as clean as possible while keeping as much detail as you can. I want environments to get more complex, at the same time, to present as complete a world as I can within the small working space of a comic strip.It still isn’t where I want it to be, but it’s closer, I guess? With prose writing I can get the level of detail I want in scenes easily, and maybe some day I’ll hit this with comics also. Details are vital.

Q) I love that you are working with a 2nd color tone in Bad Mother.  It creates a slightly greater sense of depth and contrast without distracting from the line work.  What was influence and the final push to adopt it?
A)  I’ve wanted to work with multiple tones pretty much forever—there are a couple of Man Who Hates Fun strips that have gray tones, actually. (Here:http://fictioncircus.com/mwhf/comic.php?date=20070410
I’d have done it much earlier, except I was trying to be “pure” and do like zero work in Photoshop, so the gray tone experiments were always with like Prismacolors, and there was no effective way to scan them (or at least I didn’t find an effective way.) One of the big exciting things about starting Bad Mother was the worry that doing anything in Photoshop at all was not going to work out, and realizing that yeah it did work; it worked Better.In retrospect, I think I’ve been trying to get the look the extra tones give all along: the rampant crosshatching in MWHF was in some ways an attempt to get at the look of tones, but there’s really no way to get that in a world that’s just made up of black and white. In some ways I really prefer the early MWHF strips where they’re all crazy looking and muddy with crosshatching, just because it’s somehow closer to that toned look. (A NOTE: the tone stuff is going to become more complicated than  you realize! Keep reading)