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.