Original art for the upcoming Heroes Convention Art Auction. Have I mentioned how much I LOVE drawing the Turtles. ;)
Finishing an issue of “The Wellkeeper” is always a slightly scary thing for me. It’s exciting as all get out and the thrill of knowing I’ll have another printed comic in hand soon is exhilarating to be sure, but it’s what comes next that brings the fear: THE NEXT ISSUE!
“The Wellkeeper” is a finite series, planned to run for 12 issues, 7 of which are complete and self-published. I have, therefore, 5 issues to go to finish the initial series. I’m more then halfway through what has been an incredible marathon of storytelling and frustration and fatigue and super fun. And out of those 7 issues, I can say with near certainty that the hardest thing to do every time is that new first page.
I don’t really know WHY it’s so daunting. I wrote up the outline and doodled up the thumbnails for issue #8 easily enough. But it took me WEEKS to actually sit down and start to draw that first, intimidating page. As far as I can figure, it all goes back to that initial fear of starting ANYTHING. I know a LOT of tremendously talented artists who have great ideas that might never see the light of day because, in part, they’re talked themselves out of starting. They’ve looked at the mountain ahead of them and said “It’s impossible to climb. Why even try.” They’ve counted up every insignificant failure in life and rebuilt them in their memories as cinder blocks in an insurmountable wall. They’ve convinced themselves of every reason NOT to try: It’s too hard. There’s no time. Nobody will care. It won’t succeed. etc.
Now, I’m not saying this to lionize myself so much as pump myself up so I’ll believe it for another day, but the major difference between the creators that create and those that only think about it is actually putting pen to paper. STARTING. If you don’t start, you’ll never finish. But if you never try, you also can’t fail. And as strange as it sounds, there’s a comfort in that thought.
And I think that comforting but negative idea never really dies. Like any fear that you overcome, it doesn’t simply vanish never to rear it’s ugly head again. Like any good Green Lantern will tell you, fear is something that has to be overcome every day. And so, each new issue presents itself as another weird opportunity to give up. To not go forward. To fail in-between the steps where it might not be as noticed. And that creeps into the back of my mind every time I look at that FIRST blank page.
To which I have to say, screw you fear. Bite my pasty white posterior!
I just read a weird conversation on Facebook concerning a couple of comic creators and their fans arguing back and forth about issues of censorship and lots of “keeping it real” talk. I’m not going to name drop, but I am somewhat inspired to write a little blog post of my own because it made me think.
The one creator had sold his creation the the other creator, and the argument was centered around the new owner not “getting” the creation in question… of writing a watered down version to appeal to a broader audience and how that wasn’t “keeping it real”.
Without simply rehashing the entire discussion, I’m just going to talk about what it made me think about concerning creator rights and ownership. Years ago, when I was fresh out of school, the only thing I wanted to do was draw Spider-Man. I was chomping at the proverbial bit to draw for Marvel or DC on one of the many characters I loved growing up. I was drawing page after page of samples trying to “break in” and it was going about the same as a bazillion other stories. Lots of rejection letters for a while and for a while more a few really encouraging letters pushing me forward.
Then an editor at Marvel sent me a sample script of a 6 page sequence from an existing Spidey script to test me out. I was making progress and getting further along and did my level best to knock it out of the park. I submitted my pages and got yet another “good but not good enough so keep at it” letters and was crushed. Then I made a mistake. I went out and bought the actual comic this script was from. It sucked. It was drawn by an established artist and it was a hot mess. The anatomy was terrible. The storytelling was all over the place. I couldn’t believe that my pages were nit picked and slammed and the actual pages that were published were terrible. And I’m not saying this simply out of ego but some degree of empirical knowledge of what does and doesn’t look good. And I was fairly fed up. I gave up trying to break into comics that day and haven’t turned back since.
I had already established myself as a graphic designer and illustrator professionally at that point and chose to continue in that field where I work to this day. Of course, I still draw comics. But since that day, I decided to draw my OWN comics. Was it partly out of depression and disillusionment with the system and the rules of “making it” in the industry? Absolutely. Do I regret it? Not one little bit.
See, I LOVE comics. I love reading them and love MAKING them. I love telling stories with art more today then I ever have. And that love is ultimately what I decided to protect.
As a graphic designer, I work for hire. I draw what I’m paid to draw and I do what I’m told. Even if I think my first drawing was perfect, I’ll re-draw it over and over to make my client happy. And usually, the final piece (in my opinion) never looks as good as the first piece I submitted, but as a graphic designer and illustrator, I’m being paid to do what my clients want, not to satisfy my own creative drives or artistic integrity.
Which is why I create my OWN comics. Because I decided that I was starting to hate drawing samples. I was starting to hate second guessing every line. I was starting to hate changing panels, line weights and camera choices for arbitrary reasons I often disagreed with. And I realize that I’m not some kind of comics god, but I also don’t give a rat’s ass. I love comics. And I love MAKING comics and I’ll be damned if one of the biggest passions in my life ever becomes a painful chore because some editors or publishers or bosses want to give me shit or make me change what I want to do creatively in my own damn books. And that can’t happen because I do my own thing.
Maybe if I played by the rules and allowed myself to be broken, I could be drawing comics for a living and not have to split my time between graphic design and comics, but then I wouldn’t love comics as much anymore. It would become a real JOB.
So I self-publish. Currently, The Wellkeeper sells enough at conventions to support itself and pay for the conventions and the printing and a little more. It’s not a job but it’s not just pizza money. Am i investing more in my TIME then it’s worth financially? Probably. But I really don’t care. I’d be drawing these comics even if I wasn’t self-publishing them. I’d be drawing them if only me and my fiancee were the only people reading them. And right now, nobody can tell me to change anything. No publisher can tell me that “Comics with fat girls as leads don’t sell. Make Zoe skinny.” No editor can tell me to draw less cartoony. No higher-up can make me change a line and I wouldn’t have it any other way.
This time, I go from mild ranting to waxing poetical about my artistic longing for collaboration. But lets start this at the middle, because it doesn’t really become relevant or interesting until the middle.
When I was in high school, I took my interest in making my own comics and made the firm and unyielding decision to do so for the rest of my life. At the time, like many a wannabe comic book creator, I was drawing my own thinly veiled X-Men rip-off comics and just starting an “urban” super hero inspired by the then MASSIVELY POPULAR “Batman” movie. My street level hero was a ghostly crime fighter called Apparition. Around the same time that I was creating this guy, I met a fellow student named Earl Holloway who also drew his own comics. His were centered around a gun toting vigilante called Bullet-Head. Earl and I hit it off quickly, and in short order were mutually inspired to keep at our respective creations, each creating issue after issue throughout high school, frequently crossing over our books and having a grand old time.
These books were FUN, but they really sucked. We were drawing them with ball point pens on the backs of comic book backing boards and taping them together. Real low rent stuff. After a while, as we learned more and more, we wised up and began ACTUALLY penciling and inking our books on 11” x 17” paper like the real deals. It was a frickin’ revelation and a half and the both of us improved by leaps and bounds. Eventually, we took our crossovers to different levels, and began swapping chores. I would occasionally ink Bullet-Head over Earl’s pencils and he would ink Apparition over mine. It was AWESOME!
Fast forward to the future, and like most high school friends, we’ve moved on in our lives still occasionally gabbing and the like. But those high school days packed with creation are still an emotional fuel for me. One I have yet to recreate in my adult life.
I’ve been drawing comics of my own for YEARS now, finally taking my hobby out from behind closed doors when I started running my online comic,”Dandy & Company” in 2001. Currently, I’m more then halfway through my most current comic, “The Wellkeeper”. And while Dandy & Co. was both a comic STRIP and drawn digitally in photoshop, The Wellkeeper is primarily old school. Penciled and inked on bristol board. But like Dandy & Co., The Wellkeeper is just me. While I brain storm ideas with my fiancé Heidi, the actual creation of the book is all me: Writing, Penciling and Inking. (It’s a black and white book.)
What that means is that while I enjoy all of the freedom that comes from being a one man show, I lack the charge I used to get from “in the thick of it” collaboration that I used to love. Growing up, I largely knew Marvel and DC comics, which are produced my committee more often then not with different talents handling each task. And in a weird way, I’ve always wanted that too. I LOVE seeing my art interpreted by the talents of others. When we worked together, Earl always had a fluid and slick line that created a unique look over my more chaotic and scratchy pencils. In the more recent years, I’ve had the opportunity to work with an inker only on a couple of comp pages and a pin up or two with friends Matt Wieman and Austin Janowsky, but that’s it. And while I’m something of a control freak and have become an insanely detailed inker, I still occasionally want to do another collaborative book. Something where I’m still writing or at least co-writing my own creations, but where I’m inking the pencils of another artist or having my pencils inked by someone else.
Ah well, there’s always the NEXT project. :)
“The Wellkeeper”. Pencils by Me and Inks by Austin Janowsky
Yeah, I know what you’re thinking. Another whining rant? What the BLEEP!? Is Fish off of his meds or something?
The short answer is “yes”. The long answer is that I’ve decided that tumblr is where I’ve decided to have an opinion on things. Every time I piss and moan about something on Facebook someone gives me grief so since nobody actually READS this, I figured why not piss and moan HERE.
That said, to get to the point, as an comic book artist, I’m really over this trend of comics forgoing the inking stage. I understand that there are a bunch of reasons that this is happening. In some cases, a book is a labor of love for it’s creator. A self-published or otherwise creator owner comic where the artist is trained as a penciler but not particularly as an inker. As such, they take advantage of the technology available to skip the inking stage by penciling tightly enough to go straight to colors with a little contrast manipulation in photoshop. I GET this. You want to create your own comic but don’t feel comfortable inking it yourself and can’t afford an inker. It’s a decision borne of necessity. Personally, I think it leaves most books of this type looking awkward and unfinished more often then not with a few exceptions. But I understand why it’s happening.
In some cases, It’s a decision mandated by the publisher, usually in order to save on production costs. It’s cheeper to NOT pay an inker then it is to maybe pay a penciler a little more to make their pencils super tight. And with comic sales slumping more and more each passing year, I can even understand THIS. I think it SUCKS, but I can understand it. At the end of the day, I’m not the average reader. I understand the process from the other side and notice things bluntly that the average reader is either unaware of or just don’t give a smurf about.
But the one that tends to bug me is when I hear stories of pencilers who not only don’t ink their own work, but insist on nobody ELSE inking their work because they don’t want the purity of their line compromised by another artist’s ink work. If you want your precious line to be THE final line, then ink your own work. Don’t cop out halfway and leave the final lie up to photoshop. It almost always looks weak.
Now, like I said earlier, there are almost ALWAYS excepting to every situation. There are a bunch of books that forgo the inking stage that look pretty darn good. I don’t believe either Craig Rosseau or Scott Wegener ink “The Perhapanauts” or “Atomic Robo” respectively, (I could be wrong) and they’ve cultivated a line style specifically designed to go from pencils to colors that works very well. Similarly, Jeremy Dale’s “SKYWARD” also goes from pencils to colors and looks great. Of course, I also think they’d look even BETTER with some nice, slick inks. But that’s just me. ;)
(THE FOLLOWING RANT INCLUDES SPOILERS FROM THE EXISTING 6 ISSUES OF “THE WELLKEEPER”. READ AT YOUR OWN RISK)
Like pretty much everyone, I have a personalized list of things that just bug me: People that use “Literally” when they mean “figuratively”. The use of the word “Ultimate” as a synonym for “really cool”. And ironically, grammar nazis.
That said, this post is about a couple of things that have been bugging me in direct regards to my own comic book, “The Wellkeeper”, and the preconceived notions about it that pop up INSTANTLY when I say the following words anywhere: “The Wellkeeper is a FANTASY adventure for ALL AGES.”
First off, I’d like to address what I mean when I say “ALL AGES”. (A descriptor I think I’ll be DROPPING soon as the content is getting darker in subsequent issues) I don’t mean “THIS IS A KIDDIE BOOK!”
The Wellkeeper is an adventure that does not include graphic violence, nudity, or excessive language. But it’s not a saturday morning cartoon. Spoiler alert: characters die. For good. The villain is purposely frightening and not messing around. His primary weapon, the Withering flame, burns away the soul of whomever he touches. His pet is a dog that is perpetually engulfed in black flames. The deuteragonist is killed by this in the second issue. Yes, his spirit is saved in the body of a raccoon, but his human body was buried. This is not Disney’s The Gummi Bears.
That said, the few shops that have carried the book place it NOT in the indie section or with the other new releases. They push the issues over on the kids rack: The phantom zone of interest. Shockingly, the book becomes a hard sell because it just doesn’t fit over there. It’s APPROPRIATE for children of a broad age range, but it’s not a KIDS book. Like a lot of “All AGES” entertainment, it evolves from the early issues being more light hearted to a much more somber tone as the adventures advance. Thematically, I would compare it to Jeff Smith’s BONE, The SECRET of NIMH or even the HARRY POTTER novels. Stories that appeal to young readers that grow WITH them and work in serious content, conTEXT, authentic danger, and real consequence.
That all said, it does kinda bug me when mentioning that the book would be appropriate for a 12 year old automatically categorizes it as nothing more then “kid’s stuff”. Maybe it shouldn’t, but it does. If you’re a store owner, stock “The Wellkeeper” with you regular comics. Don’t hide it just because it’s appropriate for younger readers because it’s also really interesting for your older readers.
And that brings me to my second peeve: FANTASY.
From Wikipedia: “Fantasy is a genre of fiction that commonly uses magic and other supernatural phenomena as a primary element of plot, theme, or setting.”
Did you see the word “ORC” or “HOBBIT” anywhere in there? Me neither. At what point did “Fantasy” become simplified to define ONLY psudo-mideval, Tolkein knock offs? I think the most common question I get at conventions after I describe the book as a “fantasy adventure” is: “Oh, like Lord of the Rings”?
No, not like “Lord of the Rings”. There’s WAAAAAAY more to fantasy than simply the work of J.R.R. Tolkein and his many, many, MANY imitators. When I was younger, such stories were often sub-sategorized as “sword and sorcery”, which is a much more specific description that does the job well. IS “Lord of the Rings” fantasy? Of course. Is it the sole defining property of fantasy? Of course not.
Of course, both peeves are systematic of a different issue of categorization. As a culture, we seem to CRAVE little boxes to put everything in. In part, it’s just based on how the mind works by simplifying the intake one information into comfortable areas that are already established. I get that. But on some level, it irritates me that I have to pull off such bizarre mental gymnastics to describe my comic to people because I also have to fight against their preconceptions of the language.
Of course, it wouldn’t bug me at ALL if I didn’t have my own prejudices regarding the terms now would it? ;)
Greeting fans and new readers alike! If you’re going to be in the Orlando area on the weekend of March 15th, be sure to visit the Orlando MEGACON for the World Premier of “The Wellkeeper #7”!
Trapped in-between the world of the living and the spirit realm after the shocking destruction of the Wellspring at the hands of the evil Withering Man in the last issue, Zoe learns more then she ever wanted to know about the responsibilities of being a Wellkeeper and the chilling origin of the monster that stalks her!
This is a MUST HAVE chapter in the unfolding tale of “The Wellkeeper”! Get it first at the ORLANDO MEGACON this March!!!