It’s been 10 years since I defined myself as a comic book artist with a day job. The change from that identity to one of a graphic designer had its beginnings as soon as I started self publishing in the mid Nineties and was tied to the rise of personal computers powerful enough to do graphic design on.
Archive for May, 2010
In addition to self-publishing mini comics and sending those off to publishers as a way of promoting my work, I also had an idea for Captain America and worked on a few things with other creators.
I’ve always liked Captain America, though I’m not a fan of when he’s written like the ultimate American patriot. As a Canadian, that really doesn’t resonate with me. But when he’s written as an adventurer who represents decency, honesty, justice and good leadership – the American way without the propaganda – I’m on board. Steranko’s few issues were great, and Roger Stern and John Byrne’s much-too-short run on the book in the Eighties was magnificent.
Even if you’re a very serious comic book artist – Okay, scratch that. If you’re me, there’s still a part of you that is a snickering, puerile schoolboy.
I came up with the idea for Atomic Fruit while still attending ACA, which is across 10th Street NW from North Hill Mall in Calgary. North Hill looks better these days, but back in the mid 80s it was very run down. The Safeway was pretty decrepit. In winter the whole complex looked like a bleak post-apocalyptic gulag.
Producing my own comics taught me how to package information, a valuable skill that forms the backbone of much of my work today. Older comics always had text features, letters pages, fact features and so on. DC did it really well during the beginning of the Silver age, and it gives the reader a much richer experience than just telling stories.
The Global Gazette Special #1 featuring Captain Africa came out in May 1996 and followed metrOwerks in The Global Gazette #2, and it was my most ambitious comic. It combined a Nigerian comic my penpal Francis U. Odupute sent me with my own story about the character, as well as fact pages and an essay about my penpal and his life in Nigeria.
The Global Gazette was conceived of as a Showcase-style book. I had a lot of ideas over the years and I wanted to get all of them out there.
metrOwerks appeared in the second issue and was my take on the high-adventure comic strip. If Three was my response to the super-hero comics I read growing up, metrOwerks drew upon newspaper adventure strips, Tintin, science fiction, and European comics I had first read in Heavy Metal magazine. I like to think of it as Time Tunnel meets a twisted version of the Green Lantern Corps.
I have certainly done better drawing before and after, but I never did a better comic than The Global Gazette #1. Years of ideas and enthusiasm were packed into the mere 12 pages that made the first story of Three & the Historical Society, and unsurprisingly it is the work that has resonated most with readers. Ultimately, comics – good comics – are about great storytelling and not necessarily great drawing. And you must say something true, regardless of the genre you’re clothing your story in. I don’t know if I consistently lived up to that, but that is the belief that guides me.
The end of 1993 and all of 1994 were rudderless times for me. The failure of how I handled myself on Nightmark – and the deeper failure of not getting back up – led me to believe that I wasn’t going to be able to make it as a comic book artist, and that had been my only plan since I had been a teenager. It seemed like that was now very much out of my reach.
“There’s not a day goes by I don’t feel regret. Not because I’m in here or because you think I should. I look back on the way I was then… a young, stupid kid who committed that terrible crime. I want to talk to him. I wanna try to talk some sense to him. Tell him the way things are. But I can’t. That kid’s long gone, this old man is all that’s left. I gotta live with that.”
– Red from The Shawshank Redemption, 1994
Nightmark was where I started to grow up. Just a little, and it was pretty painful at the time. In these posts on my comic work, I’ve been focussing pretty much on the work, and only speaking of personal things as they related to the work itself. Without being too much on the counselling couch, I need to talk about what happened in my life around Nightmark to give the context. Five years of experiences since school were about to come together in one final act.
It used to be that you could call DC Comics and ask them to send you a script to work from. You’d send copies of your work back – in my case pencils – and sometime in the future you’d get a response. The form rejection letters always came in cool DC logo envelopes and on DC comic character stationery. It made it doubly worse to get excited to see one of those in your mail only to have it be an anonymous “No,” without any explanation why your work was being rejected.
DC no longer accepts unsolicited submissions, preferring to use their comic convention sample review for new artists, as well as artists that have proved themselves by getting work with other publishers. The web now also offers an easy way to gain exposure and come to the attention of publishers. But in 1992 it was still all done by phone call and mail.
I believe it was Tom Grummett, who was a friend of a friend, who introduced me to Ron Fortier during one of the San Diego Comicons I attended. Ron told me about Dave Darrigo, of Wordsmith fame, and his young publishing company Special Studio. Dave is a Canadian and was based in Brantford, Ontario. Ron was helping Dave find an artist for a story for the premiere issue of Black Scorpion. The Black Scorpion was a black version of the Green Hornet. Not that the Green Hornet was green, but you know that, right?