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 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, 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  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 and follow our tumblr.  Recently I did a review of the documentary Journey of the Universe

As a co-founder of , 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:
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)

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Staple interview with Tim Doyle

Tim Doyle is about as as Austin as you get. Contributor to Minerva's Wreck, the Blue Genie Art Bazaar, and (yes) Staple!, the man behind Nakatomi is in no small part responsible for a Silkscreen Pop-Art Print Renascence.  And soon his work will be center stage in an Off-Broadway production as the artist behind the first story arc of the Intergalactic Nemesis.  He is also a swell dude who let me pick his brains on art, comics and life.

You have been coming to Staple! as an attendee and then as an exhibitor since the very first expo. Has there been any really cool or memorable moments you would like to share? 
I would have to say that last year was probably my favorite Staple so far- I got to hang out with Kevin Eastman quite a bit, and we talked for quite a while at the after party about life, having kids, and ninjas.  Dude was super cool and relatable, very much a regular guy, considering how much the Ninja Turtles meant to me as a child!

How does the process of interpreting and framing one narrative moment or locality of a film or TV show relate to process of breaking down the adaptation of the Intergalactic Nemesis into panels and pages?
Well, the Intergalactic Nemesis was a very structured experience, when compared to the art prints I do.  Jason Neulander had a script in place, and while he wasn't totally familiar with how to break down the panel flow and what you can and cannot do within a single panel, we were able to work that out over the first few scripts.  By say, issue 3, the process was fairly nailed down. Like most freelance artists, I've found there's always a bit of 'training your client' to get to where you can get to a point where you're both happy with the result. Comparing that to say, my UnReal Estate series of prints, it's completely different. I only have to please myself with that stuff.  There is a bit of intense research and studying the subject matter when it comes to those things though- but it's not as slavish as working from someone else's script.  Instead what you're doing is boiling down the essence of what YOU think the show is about, into a single image.  And I generally am doing that by just depicting locations and environments- which provides its own challenges.

How different was the process behind Bad Cat Comics from Intergalactic Nemesis?  Not just in regards to having a collaborator but also the difference between working with and whithout script.
It was night and day.  With Intergalactic Nemesis, we already had a destination and roadmap.  We had to get the existing script for the play into a new format, and the only changes were dictated by adapting it into the new format.  But with Bad Cats, again, I only had to please an audience of one, and if anyone else liked it, then awesomesauce.  The process of writing that book was pure joy for me.  I just imagined a rambling chase through a city, thought of the beats I wanted to hit, and I thumbnailed out the whole book in just a few hours- and then spent the next few months nerding out on drawing the darn thing. We sold out 2 printings, and I really want to do more, as soon as time allows!  Comics are just SO MUCH WORK, and I'm able to support myself through my art prints, so I only want to do comics that I'm either extremely passionate about, or 100% personally invested in.

What comics are you reading these days?
I quit Marvel and DC (except Morrison) cold turkey about 18 months ago, and have never looked back.  It was shocking how quickly I kicked the habit after about 29-30 years straight!  But I find I'm reading more comics than ever, oddly. Loving the Prophet and Glory relaunch. I still read a couple Vertigo books-  Unwritten is amazing. The Sixth Gun almost out Hellboys Hellboy.  I'm also reading all the Hellboy universe books. BPRD is my jam.  Saga, Luther Strode, Nowhere Men, Manhattan Projects- all the really smart books are at Image nowadays.  Black Kiss 2 is there as well, but that's another story.  A dirty, dirty story.  Walking Dead and Invincible are very addictive as well.

I stopped hanging out in comic shops for a few years and when I got back I was shocked to find that Image became one of the smarter publishers.  In your opinion when and how did that happen? 
 Walking Dead. Image had been publishing some really good books for a while- FireBreather and Invincible were just fantastic super-hero books, and Savage Dragon was and remains a great ride.  BUT- with the success of Walking Dead- I'm talking even before the TV show was even in development- people started to realize that there was no reason NOT to own your own IP and take a hold of your creative and commercial destiny.  The just abhorrent way that creatives have been treated historically at the big licensing houses...I'm sorry- I mean comic publishers like Marvel and DC, means that anyone working there now with half a brain knows that they're just next in line for the Kirby/Ditko/Simon train to heartbreak and sorrow.  So- they get their shit together, make a pitch for Image or one of the other houses, and go for it.  And because of that, you have amazing books like Saga, Multiple Warheads, Fatale...the list of books at Image is just spectacular and dwarfs anything at the big two in terms of craft and quality.  (And, usually much cheaper retail too...)

I know you've avoided discussions of art theory but I would like to follow up on the importance of accessibility in your work and the joy of pushing your audience’s “nerd buttons.”  It seems like you are inverting the trend in Pop Art of abstracting the form of pop culture from its context. Your work tends to be formally beautiful and exhibits an original exploration of the content of pop culture.  Your hand produced compositions that stand for themselves and also for mass cultural narrative experiences.  I don't know if there is a question there other than, how much those observations are only in my head, and could this be the reason you cast a notable British Pop Artist as a supervillain in Bad Cat?

As far as Damien Hirst becoming a Kirby-esque supervillain in Bad Cats- that was purely stream of consciousness writing.  It was based on a print I did back in 09, "The Camino Cats Make Their Escape", which features a shark in a fish tank being rescued by cats driving an El Camino.   The print was originally produced for an anti-Shark Finning organization, Pangea Seed.  Bad Cats came about because my friend and Wayne Alan Brenner Chronicle writer needed me to produce a comic book ABOUT that print, explaining the events that led to the image and moment on it.  So, how does a shark get into a fish tank in an El Camino driven by cats?  The logical explanation could be nothing other than it is being rescued from Damien Hirst.  The fact that Pickles the Cat says 'All art must end' as they bust the gallery wall down, is just another example of how great of a writer my brain is when I just STOP THINKING and let the words and pretty pictures happen.  Because, really, if I took the time and effort to write with thought and intent, it would be a disaster.  I can't trust my conscious brain to do these tasks- it's too much of a jerk.
BUT- that's not your question, is it?  I have a general disdain for what people think of as 'fine art'.  For what is supposed to be a dynamic and thriving organic experience, modern art is strangely formulaic and dead.  For me, I find that self-examination and pre-defined intent in art leads to just complete crap.  Artists get focused in on legacy and reputation and collectors and all that stuff, but the truth of the matter is this- not a single fucking part of that is up to you.  It's all events out of your control that shape all that, so you might as well just draw and paint and sell what you damn well please.  And for me, that's squids and cats and Bill Murray and Optimus Prime.

Now- with that said- when I do a pop culture print- I'm trying to play against expectations.  When I was invited to be a part of the first Bad Dads Wes Anderson art show at SpokeArt, I purposefully tried to not draw any of the main characters, and if I did, it was from over the shoulder or partially obscured- focusing in on location and a moment- finding the iconic moment where you wouldn't expect it.  And I went from there with that theme for quite a while. Even with my more commercial Movie Poster work I try to avoid all that- my Apocalypse Now poster for the Astor Theatre in Australia doesn't feature a single main character but it's unmistakably for the film.  It's fun stuff for my nerd-brain, and I guess it hits the right buttons for everyone else.  Or at least enough of 'everyone else' to keep me in burritos.

You have often been asked and answered the “do you have words of advice for young people” question.  What I’d like to know is, as an aspiring artist or businessman can you share any advice that might be helpful from your experiences or from someone who made a strong impact on your work?
I really wish I could say that someone sat me down, and told me how to be successful or at least happy at this, but the truth is- it was all trial and error.  I worked in a lot of small businesses as an employee and a manager, and I just always kept my eyes open and talked to everyone about every aspect, and learned that way.  My upbringing was obviously very influential (but who's isn't?) but I think my parents provided me with enough support to branch out and try my hand at things without fear of failure.  Well, I had plenty of room to fail, but I was never afraid of it.  Here's some advice I almost never give out because it makes me sound like a dick, but here you go- Do not be a collector. To be successful at what I'm doing, you must be more enamored of making things than the accumulation of things. Buy stuff, sure- but as reference, as inspiration.  Do not be a collector.  Know what side of the register you are on. Act as a business should act- not as your customer base might want you to act. Don't listen to the internet- it's an echo chamber- the compliments are nice, but just as worthless as the haters. Don't go into debt.

You played no small part in the creation of the marketplace that has allowed you to make money as an artist.  You did this when many of the marketplaces having been closing.  The world of big monopolistic record labels, dominance of live television and a handful of print publishers is probably over.  What does the Nakatomi Inc. story say about the future of the arts in the 21rst century?
This will sound hacky- but it's true- it goes to show a little bit of talent and a lot of hard work goes a long way.  Or- with the democratization of access to customers that the internet can provide, anyone with a good enough idea can make it, if they know how to parley a single viral hit into a continuing business model.  In some ways, it is the death-knell of the old gallery system.  The customers are on-line, no one NEEDS a physical gallery now.  That sounds strange coming from me, as I have relationships with a couple galleries- but it's true.  I've seen so many new galleries pop up to take advantage of this new market though- they understand that people want good and accessible art- and that market is much larger than the normal 'gallery crowd' that can drop 10K on a painting.  It's become a much more dynamic and scrappy business out there, and it's very exciting.  At the same time, galleries who just grind pop-show after pop-show are going to burn out their audience pretty soon- there's only so many good group show ideas out there... It's one of the reasons I like SpokeArt so much- they have a smart balance in that regard. 

It would be hard to underestimate the importance of self promotion for many Staple! Exhibitors.  Your presence on the web is one of the keys to the success of Nakatomi Inc.  Everyone's style and audience is a little different but is there anything out there that you would suggest folks try or try to avoid?
Don't just bust up into a blog or message board to advertise your wares.  Make sure you understand the customs and the ins and outs of what a website's particular culture is before you start blasting away.  I've seen people flame out so fast on a few sites, it's stunning. Cultivate real relationships and connections online.
But let's back this up for a second- I meet so many great artists who don't work the social media.  I tell them they NEED to do it.  They usually say 'Oh, I hate Facebook/tumblr/twitter/whatever- I can't do it."  That's cute, I'm so glad you don't need all the free advertising and networking opportunities these sites provide.  Now, please step aside, I've got customers.  If you don't have a tumblr, a blog, a webstore, a facebook, a twitter feed- then you are most certainly going to be ignored. There's a select few artists who don't do this who are also successful- but unless you're as good as someone like Aaron Horkey, the world is not going to beat a path to your door.  So grow the fuck up and start Tumblr'ing like a 14 year old girl.  This might sound harsh, but I'm not telling you these things because I hate you (hypothetical artist I'm talking to right now)- I'm telling you these things because I want you to succeed.  Anyone who tells you different is a succubus who wants you to fail.  I'm on your side, and that's why I'm kicking you in the nuts.
Also- another hard lesson that I've had to learn within the last year or so- some people online will hate you if you're successful, and you need to now extricate yourself from all those great communities you used to interact with in your early days, because A-you've now outgrown them and B- there will now be people who just hate you and can't stop talking about it. It kills me to not defend myself regularly on a couple message boards, I can drop a troll hammer like the Odinson- but at some point, you're going to spend your whole day policing haters, and not be drawing. And, you'll now appear to be just as bad as the person you're fighting with- and the thing is- they're really happy you're fighting with them.  You are providing them entertainment, and all you're doing is getting an ulcer. As much as it pains me, I can no longer tell people online that I'm sorry I fucked their Mom last night.  The price of success, I guess.  
Also- never overestimate the importance of one particular website or community in regards to your art business.  It can be very important to cultivate a particular audience online, but if you find that you are only marketing and selling to that ONE audience, you've put all your eggs in one basket- and sometimes that basket is made of jerks that can't wait to hate on you.  It's a jerk-basket.  The smart thing to do is to go wide, not deep- get in front of as many people as possible- consignment shops are your friend.  AND- the people coming into those shops just want cool art- they don't give a crap about everything else that goes on in this crazy market.  THOSE are the people you really want.  Art collectors can be snobby and say that the people buying at craft fairs are just house-moms and they don't know anything about the market.  But you know what else house moms don't know?  They don't know to go on to the internet and call you an asshole all day.  And their money is just as green.  I'd take a legion of house-moms who want a drawing of Bill Murray over a volatile internet group any day.

Since October part of what I've been doing for Staple! is following and promoting confirmed exhibitors on social media.  Not feeding trolls, hijacking other peoples threads, and not let oneself get baited by haters is great advice.  I have noticed that there is a balancing act between too much sharing and coming across as robotic.  Also between jumping on every soap box and coming across as apolitical and apathetic.  How have you manged to strike a balance and how important do you think it is?
I really don't know how I've struck a balance, and I can't say that I actually have- I probably put too much of myself out there into the world, to be honest. But I guess the important thing is to be genuine.  If you're genuinely excited about a new release- it'll come across.  I don't have a PR firm working for me, I don't have an employee or intern working my twitter account- it's all me.  And I'd like to think that helps a bit.

I am guessing that ten years ago you were not expecting to have one man gallery shows on the West Coast while having your work headed to Off-Broadway.  In light of that, what are you expecting for the next act in your career?
Man, I have NO idea.  I've been getting more and more freelance gigs coming in, and I'm doing less and less personal projects- which is a good/bad thing really.   I'd like to scale back the outside work at some point and do more personal stuff, but that's just me talking without really planning.  So much of what I've done is just gut and intuition responding to situations in front of me- no real careful analysis at any time, so take anything I 'plan' to do with a grain of salt.

You've been part of the Austin scene for about a decade.  What has having access to retailers like Austin Books and Drangon's Layer and institutions like Sketch Group and Staple! had on your work?
I've actually never been to a sketch group meet-up, sadly.  It might have something to do with the fact that I draw only late at night in my underwear. I've never been much of a public artist in that regard.  I will say being in such a comic-book friendly town as Austin, with it's several world-class retailers has been amazing.  The community of creators in town is stunning.  I used to run a few comic book shops myself in Austin, back in the day- but I wouldn't call any of those world-class. But it was educational.  I can't really put a finger on anything in particular that being in Austin has influenced my work- but at the same time, I know that I wouldn't be doing it like I do if I hadn't moved to Austin back in '99. Something in the water, I guess. 

What impact do you see Nakatomi Inc. having on the Austin scene?
No idea. I'd hate to overestimate my importance, but at the same time- I know a lot of people view Austin as a silkscreen pop-art print capitol because of my work running Mondo and now Nakatomi.  I try not to think about it too much, though- that way leads to madness.  I also don't leave my house much, so it's easy to think you're some anonymous dude walking around HEB when I do get out.

Who are you looking forward to seeing at Staple! 2013?
The usual gang of friends that I've made over the years- Austin's got a really strong comic and creative community, but we all work in our own private studios and rarely get to see the sun, much less each other, really. So Staple! gives us a great, no excuses-reason to hang out. Love it.

What do you think of the resurgence of dark fantasy and monster comics and its representation at the expo with guests and exhibitors like Bernie Wrightson, Steve Niles, Cody Schibi, Fabian Rangel Jr, Jeremy The Artist, Jon David Guerra, Mark Nasso and Paul Hanley to name a few? Not to mention Nakatomi Inc members James O’Barr and Robert Wilson IV.
Well, I do love me some Hellboy and BPRD- so I'm all for it!  Bernie's just signed on to do some prints with us, so that's a big deal for me- I've always been a fan of his work, and now we get to work together.  I'm always surprised by how approachable these people really are.  

In closing what can you tell people to expect from you and the Nakatomi gang at Staple 2013?
We'll be there with our display of prints that are in-print- a lot of stuff not available on our site, and what not.  I'm hoping to have some cool new exclusives and pre-releases as well!

Mr Doyle's work is for at  Archives of his work can be browsed at and on  tumblr at  He updates the Nakatomi Facebook page pretty regularly and tweets under the hashtag @NakatomiTim.