Monday, January 31, 2011

Talking to Brandon Graham

Brandon Graham is what would happen if Hergé and Geof Darrow had a baby, he is the mastermind behind King City and Multiple Warheads, the characters in his comics feel real and the sets are amazingly full with infinite details, you'll probably notice something new everytime you read one of his works.

PS: If you really want to know about comics you should be reading his blog instead of this one.

CQ: What was your first published comic?

BG: I started getting stuff published when I was around 16, pin ups at first in Antarctic press books.
The first was in Joe Wight's Twilight X book that I'm still a huge fan of.

The first full length comic I got published when I was 19 was a 3 issue thing called October yen,
about a alien/robot spy investigating a planet in a pocket universe.
Antarctic press put it out (1996). It payed 100 bucks an issue.

CQ: About October Yen, how did it get published?

BG: I sent out a lot of photocopies, I think from when I was about 15 on.
I did a lot of different versions of it and had lots of false starts with friends publishing and other small press companies.

For the most part in the 90's Antarctic seemed at the time to be one of the only places interested in publishing new artists or non mainstream comics--or anything with a manga slant.

Derek Kirk Kim got started around the same time with them putting out his book Cell.

CQ: When did you start feeling like a comic pro? What was the project that made you think you were finally in the comic business?

BG: I've only started to feel like anybody knew my work this last couple years with King city.
And it's been weird because so much of my identity as an artist is about making comics separate from the industry.

Years ago , I think around 2001 I had a big Fuck all y'all moment with comics where every lead I had dried up and I couldn't even get my porn work published. I was just so fed up with trying to jump through hoops and getting nothing. After that I went back to making comics like I did when I was a kid, more for myself.

I like to think that I've held onto that mentality.

CQ: Most people get into comics because they like doing it, and like you said, as an artist you feel like you just want to make comics separate from the industry, nobody gets into comics for the money, but are you living by only working on comics?

BG: I'm making a living off of drawing and writing but it's always a scam. I couldn't just live off of doing my own comics. I take some side jobs.

This year I worked on some storyboards and did some coloring for mainstream comics, my lady got a grant--stuff like that.
For that matter I don't think I know anyone short of Brian O'Malley that lives just off of doing their own comics.

Like Sheldon was saying in the interview you did with him, so much of just getting by is having good friends. I've got a couple good comic book gangs.

My pal Justin "moritat" Norman is like a comic book godfather to a lot of my friends. He taught me a lot about how to pull the scam of living as an artist.
He taught me things like not showing your work to an editor when you're just hanging out at a bar. I once almost got a Batman gig with that trick until they saw my drawings.

And when I was in NYC the Meathaus guys were a huge help, Tomer Hanuka and Tom Herpich, Chris McD Farel Darymple and Becky Cloonan and the like have all taught me so much about how to do this and helped me get work.

CQ: What about finding new projects in comics, has it gotten easier, now that you've worked for such publishers as Image, Oni Press and Tokyo Pop?

BG: Yeah, Image and Oni seem open to pretty much let me do whatever I want. It's awesome but also kind of a tightrope to walk.
I can see how it'd be really easy to follow the money jobs ,turn it into a day job and forget why I do this.

I think the industry eats artists, you come in with your own plans and then you can make so much more just writing Aquaman or working as an inker or colorist than you can off of your own work.

CQ: You are working in comics as a freelancer, that can be a frustrating job, have you ever felt like, "enough of this whole business I'm gonna work at McDonalds", or something along those lines?

BG: I'm fine with being broke. I assume if I had kids I'd feel differently.
I'm really stubborn about doing comics, in the past whenever I've gotten a day job I just quit as soon as I could get more drawing work.
There's been some dry spells and I missed a lot of rent in my 20's.

CQ: Let's talk about King City, probably your biggest project yet, and with a few ups and downs along the way, tell me about the whole process.

BG: Yeah King city was the longest thing I've done by far.

Letseee-- I started it when I was living in NYC.

Just drawing it for myself while I was doing porn comics for NBM and the porn website, Slipshine.

My pal Becky Cloonan , who I knew through working at an afro centric animation company (that my friend Lesean got me a job at) and NY artists gang we're both part of called Meathaus.

She introduced me to Tokyopop. She was doing her book East coast rising with them.
I remember I sent them something like 160 pages of photocopies including the first 30 KC pages to show them I was serious.

I moved back to seattle to work on it and did the first book. I was originally going to be 3.
About 100 pages into book 2 (and after me moving again to Canada) a book store chain closed and TP decided to cancel printing most of their american made stuff.

So I contacted everyone I could think of to try to find an out. It was insanely frustrating time because after the first book I'd gotten my work the attention of some publishers who were into publishing it but the rights were all tied up with Tokyopop.

I decided to run what I had on my livejournal, I put up the first 2 chapters and got an angry phone call from TP.
Luckily at the same time my pal Joe Keatinge (who I knew through Moritat working at Image) who was working doing PR for Image had shown some of my stuff to Eric Stephenson the headmaster of Image.

So I was able to tell Tokyopop that Image wanted to talk about publishing the book without taking any of the rights.

So after an insane 8 months of talks it all worked out and I was able to get it out as issues.
It was a fucking christmas miracle only made possible by me having friends that believed in my work and Image being such a fucking cool company.

CQ: Your LiveJournal is probably one of the best blogs out there, every post has huge amounts of information, you seem to take it very seriously, how much time do you spend on each post?

BG: Thanks. I usually do them slowly over the course of a day while I work on other stuff.

At first it was just fucking around but it's become really important for me to stay excited about what I do.
I like to say that my job isn't drawing comics as much as it's staying excited about drawing comics.

Also it's great that I can use it to hopefully get more attention to artists whose work I'm really excited about.
There's such a weath of amazing stuff out there.

CQ: What are you working on, now that you finished King City?

BG: I've been doing a thing called Multiple warheads with Oni press, I had a one shot of it out a couple years ago.

It's this fantasy russia/china about this lady named Sexica and her Werewolf boyfriend traveling around the country in their genius car
and getting caught up in a magical organ black market.

I'm 80something pages into the new stuff. And it's in color too.
I don't have an issue limit on it like I did with King city so the options on what I can do with it are really exciting.

CQ: Multiple Warheads is something that would fit really well in the French Comic Industry, and I know King City was released in french.
Do you ever considered a future in the French Industry?

BG: I've thought about it. French comics seem like some bizarre grown up scene.
Classy shit, I'm so used to our beer hat industry.
I'd love to do some books directly for the French. Something more serious maybe, with less puns.

There's some fun in imagining a possible audience and doing different work aimed at them.
When I was drawing porn I did this book called Perverts of the Unknown.
I was frustrated with it not coming out how I wanted it to until I decided that I needed to make a book that would ideally be read in the bathroom of an Auto mechanic.

I even tried to get the publisher to print it on crappier paper and smaller to fit my plans.
In that sense I would love to aim for what I think would work over there.

CQ: Porn is a subject that is sprinkled trough your works, and Multiple Warheads started as porn, now that you're working for "regular" publishers, do you feel like it's something you have to keep in check?

BG: I reigned it in a little in King city, with Multiple warheads I've been trying to get to a level of sex in the book that feels more real.

The french dude, Moebius wrote about how when artists are allowed total freedom, (like with 60's underground comics in America or what he was doing with Metal Hurlant in the 70's.)
the tendency is to just go for all the stuff you weren't allowed to draw before--sex and drugs and whatnot. But he was saying that's only the start and as artists we can do much more than that.

I always have to remind myself that I can draw whatever I want.
I think that's huge if you think about it. Whatever combination of words and pictures you can think of are at your disposal.
But yeah, that alows for lots of sexy drawings too.

CQ: Any advice for people who want to get into comics, and are trying to go pro?

BG: Mostly I think it's about meeting other like minded artists. The internet is great help to get work out there.
It doesn't have to be elaborate, I still only use Deviantart and Livejournal.

I think more important than that is doing good comics.
There's enough garbage comics out. Editors aren't going to stop you from putting out bad books, That's your responsibility.
Seriously, treat this art form with the respect it deserves, leave it better than you found it.

Also I think It's important to get cocky. Really own your shit and at the same time always remember that it's all bullshit. Treat your readers like you hope they treat you. Make this a culture that you're proud of.

You can follow Brandon Graham here:

Monday, January 24, 2011

Talking to Romantic Mr.Sheldon Vella

Sheldon Vella, aka Romantic Mr.Sheldon, possibly the nicest man alive, and the best way to kick this blog off the ground.
Born and raised in Australia, he's made a name for himself in the american comic industry, his work can be seen in comics such as Supertron, Kill Audio, Strange Tales v2, and coming soon Deadpool.

PS: Beware of foul language...

CQ: What was your first published comic?

SV: My first in-print history, that was in a book, that people had to pay money to buy and read was my 12 page short called SUPERTRON. It was also one of my first serious attempts at completing a proper looking story. I was pretty much drawing it for the hell of it until Chris "Elio" Eliopoulos plugged me on a forum for what would become the first POPGUN Anthology from Image.

Elio is like my intercontinental twin brother, and in many ways, I owe a big part of my success in comics to him. I had self published a couple of books before this that garnered minor attention, but SUPERTRON was my first real print gig.

CQ:Your first gig was for Image Comics, before that did you ever imagine you'd be working outside Australia, and specially for an American publisher?

SV: Haha HELL NO. I sure as shit WANTED to, I just didn't think I could actually DO IT.

I was in school, I worked construction, and took any freelance art gig I could get my hands on, while using any free time I had left to make comics. School was for animation and I loved writing concepts and short films but really hated animating, sound recording, teamwork and all that other shit, so I kind of fell back on comics as a default thing, that is, I could do them myself and (I thought) get the story across just as well as a film could.

I ended up having so much fun making them, I wanted it to be a full-time thing. All my online buddies in the states kept pushing me to get out there and go to cons and what not, so in 2007 I did just that. Again, I can't emphasize how much I owe to my friends in getting anywhere in this biz.

CQ: So you went to America and started attending comic conventions, most people think that's the best way to get your work published, or at least to get to know some people in the business, what about you, did you have any luck there?

SV: "Luck" is the right word to use there. In my case I think I had plenty of it. Luck, and FRIENDS. People who would introduce me to other people, share contacts, sneak me into parties, etcetera and so on. I will say this though, out of the 8 odd conventions I've attended, I've only ever been offered a job once, and that was in a bar, at 4 in the morning, and it had nothing to do with comics.

My advice to anyone attending a comiccon is to expect nothing, and treat it like a party. Remind yourself that you're not there to find work, you're there to make friends. The convention is useful to drop in on contacts and have a quick catch up, but remember, these guys are there trying to make a living. Unless you've organised an appointment, they're not going to have a whole lot of time to sift through your work, let alone offer you a job.

Based on my experience, wake up at 2 pm and head to the bar at 6. Instead of your folio, carry business cards and a lot of cash. Buy as many drinks as you can carry, and talk to strangers. It all might sound a little shallow, and again I stress that I can only speak from experience but seeing as I can talk and drink a lot better than I can draw, it's no surprise my career only ever started picking up some real steam after I went out and had some adventures with random people.

Naturally, once your new friends go back to work and receive an email from you a month later, IF any work comes from that, that's when you need to prove that you can walk as well as you can talk.

Just attending cons and talking shit in bars won't get you published, but drawing comics alone in your room won't either. Unless you're
James Stokoe.

CQ: Nobody gets into comics for the money, now that you're a pro, are you living by only working on comics?

SV: Well, yes and no. The guys on exclusive deals where they are guaranteed a paycheque, even if they're not working, that would be how to make a proper living off of comics, but that is the REAL hardworking men and women. Also, unless you're working for the big two, you're unlikely to receive payment during production, for example a smaller publisher like Boom! only pay once the book is completed, and worse yet Image will only pay you once your sales exceed the production costs. So you're looking at nearly 5 - 6 weeks without being payed.

For another example, last year, Kill Audio was all wrapped up and so was Zuda, so both of my regular gigs were done. Lucky I had squirreled away some dockets because it would be SIX MONTHS before I was paid for any work again. That's not to say I wasn't working the entire time, but it was on smaller projects for much smaller or no pay at all.

If you're not on a monthly, or signed to a contract, then you're a freelancer and you should act accordingly. Right now I'm working on 5 separate projects, 3 in comics and 2 in television, and still, it's a grind. I wouldn't have it any other way, but it's naive to think everyone can survive on comics alone.

CQ: So now that you've been published by the big two, do you feel like work finds you, or is it still hard to find new projects?

SV: Work has been finding me since I first got published by Image back in 2007. It all comes down to how much and how fast you can crank out pages, as well as owning a reputation. If everyone knows you to be a slacker cry baby who can't take criticism, who the hell is going to want to work with that guy, right? So again, walk as tall as you talk.

My surrogate father and mentor (he knows who he is) always told me that "...comics will never make you rich, but they will make you famous." And in the comic industry, I think fame is a little more valuable than dollars. And I don't mean Alex Ross fame or Rob Liefeld fame, just having your name floating around certain office spaces and twitter feeds is all you need to have people eventually take notice of you, and hitting you up for work.

Keeping a steady stream of work coming in will save you from begging for your job back at Wendy's, you know? And if you bust arse in everything you do, then the scale and prestige of your work will only elevate. You just need to know what gigs to take, which gigs to knock back, which gigs to do for free and which gigs to do under a fake name.

CQ: Working on comics as a freelancer is hard work, have you ever felt so frustated that you thought, "this isn't for me, I'm gonna go join the army" or something like that?

SV: HAHAHA FUCKING. OATH. I HAVE. Sometimes you miss the security of a regular job, with regular pay, with the government managing your tax for you, benefits, super annuation, all that shit. But you miss it like you miss an ex-girlfriend: you only remember the good times and forget how much of a rag she was.In comics, the work is intense, the hours are long, the pay is often pretty poor, and your position is never really guaranteed. But if there's two professions in the world who can't, or rather shouldn't complain about their job, it's comic artists, and male pornstars. Drawing cartoons and fucking chicks in heels...FOR A LIVING has to be two of the cushiest existences on the planet. As hard as it might get for me, there's always some poor bastard who's got it A LOT worse.

HEADS UP! BORING STORY AHEAD!. Last year, I was whinging and whining a little too much about workloads and what not, being a bit of a sook, and the sink in my bathroom happened to be clogged. So, to take a break from it all, Igrabbed some tools and a bucket and attempted to clean out the S-bend, which for some reason, weighed more than my head.

Having worked in construction it was almost fun and nostalgic in a way. Until the S-bend came loose. The smell was that of fiction, I've never experienced a smell like that, new senses were awoken. I shook the S-bend to no avail, and realised that whatever it was, would have to be fished out of there with my mitts. I daintily pinched one of the protruding clumps of hair, and as I pulled, a foot long, 2 inch thick sausage of pubes, soap, mould and ohmygodwhatthefuckisTHAT slid out.

I counted the years since my parents built this house and realised this thing had been growing, and fermenting for close to eleven years. It fell into the bucket unceremoniously, and as it did, the water it was holding splashed up onto and into my mouth. I threw up a little, put the sink back together and threw the bucket and its contents over the back fence. I then brushed my teeth about eighteen times.

Needless to say, I don't complain much about comics anymore haha.

CQ: So if you're in comics or porn businness don't complain. And you're working on a project called Blazing Fantasy, what a brilliant idea, it's an interesting mix of comics, photograph and porn, what's the process when creating a page?

The idea itself was the brainchild of one of "Norman Guerre". He was/is one of the leading spread photographers in the industry, along with the writer Tom Guise, who pretty much made Penthouse Australia what it is today. That's a good thing haha.

The actual process behind these pages is, in every sense, a labour of love. Neither Norman or I had attempted anything like this, but like all good things, it started with a script. Tom wrote up a hilarious ten pages, then I sketched out some thumbnails accordingly. This was probably the most difficult part seeing as correct anatomy and perspective were never my strong points, and I would be surrounding these photos, which have no anatomy or perspective flaws, with my highly flawed illustrations. Any incorrect angles or laws of perspective, and Loretta (our model) wouldn't mesh with background convincingly.

So once the thumbnails were done, we all got together and started shooting: Norman behind the camera, Viki on makeup, Loretta striking the poses, and me coaching her through them. Loretta was an absolute star through the whole ordeal, because some of the shots were nearly impossible to get. The vespa shot on page three was particularly memorable. Loretta was standing on a chair in the "I'm riding a vespa" position, Norman was holding the camera and some fishing wire that was rigged to a coat rack and tied to Loretta's ponytail to lift it up, Viki was lying underneath the chair with a blow-dryer shooting air up Loretta's skirt, while I stood there yelling at Loretta to lift/lower/spread the position of her arms to match my Vespa handles. We had to get the shot off quickly because the blow-dryer started burning Loretta's legs. The shoot for ten pages took two days, and was as strenuous as it was fun.

With all the shots collected, Norman and I went separate ways, and while he edited the photos to make Loretta "less real", I pencilled the pages. I layed the unedited photos on top of the thumbnails, and then traced her outline off of my screen and drew around her. My page looked like a bunch of miniature ladies had died on them and the mini police put those white lines around them. My pages looked like barbie doll crime scenes haha. Then inks. Then once Norman got back to me with the photos, I started colouring the pages, and adding effects on top of Loretta as I went. Chucked the letters on there and shazam. We had a comic.

Looking back, it's crazy how close we all got to the thumbnails. Truly a successful team effort.

CQ: What are you working on now, any interesting new projects, or any shamless plugs you want to make?

SV:Inside of comics, I'm working on a couple of things for Marvel, one of which needs to stay quiet, while the other MIGHT be another Deadpool issue. Nothing is set in stone just yet. As well as some more Blazing Fantasy Pages, a short story written by Joe Kelly, an Orc Stain backup for my baby (James Stokoe), and some other little ideas that have been growing in the back of my head. I'd LOVE to auteur my own mini-series, but I just don't have the time. I think we might start drawing Kill Audio 2 soon as well.

Outside of comics, I'm working on two different shows for Disney, and developing a few ideas to pitch around to some studios when I get back to Burbank in the summer. This may sound important, but really it's just me and microsoft word, jotting down silly ideas haha.

CQ: Any advice for people who want to get into comics, and are trying to go pro?

SV: The game (that is online presence, favour-jobs, schmoozing at parties etc) is just as important as making awesome comics. There is no one without the other.

You could spend weeks, months and years of your life writing and drawing your magnum opus, without editors, labels or the man with their inherit restrictions and conditions. And your book could come out to critical acclaim and awards and reprints and movie deals and all that good stuff. It has happened before, it'll happen again and its happening right now.

But what if it doesn't? Nobody reads it, nobody reviews it and nobody buys it from the bargain bin its sure to end up in. And not because your comic isn't any good. Its because you're an "indie artist" making an "indie book" in an industry dominated by mainstream material and demand. And although there is nothing wrong with doing your own stuff, the few cases that indie artists have gone on to succeed and prosper with their own material is dramatically overshadowed by all the indie artists who live in their parents basement. Or in fucking Portland.

If you want to make comics, and that's all you ever want to do, then this is how you do it. If you make good stuff, there are plenty of places who will publish you, or you could just publish yourself, and who knows you could be one of the lucky ones who ends up hiring me to clean your pool one day.

But if you want to make a living off of your comics, then you need to start from the bottom. The bottom of the bottom. You need to take the shittiest job you can find, AND EXCEL AT IT. Be it colour flats, or even worse, actually colouring pages, or background artist, or assistant inks or pencilling elves or designing furries (all jobs I have had by the way), ANYTHING. And you take whatever experience you can from that, you take whatever money you can from that, you exploit any contacts you make, and you focus on moving up. Justin "Moritat" Norman quotes the "itty bitty spot" speech to me all the time. Because it's completely fucking true.

Basically, it's saying get your head out of the clouds, and get to fucking WORK. Pay your dues first, party later. Three years ago, I was Eric Roberts, and Moritat was John Voight. I had pitched and failed to Image, and was this close to signing with Tokyo-poop on an OGN no one would buy. I was running out of money (which I was scamming from my own government), and sleeping on James and Marley Z's couch. Then Justin took a job that I did for him, colouring some bullshit warhammer comics, and the rest is history.

Nearly four years and over five hundred pages later, both comic and tv studios are asking me for MY ideas. And that's not a boast (because it could all disappear tomorrow,) its proof. Look at the floor, clean that spot, and get that shiny clean long enough, and it's only a matter of time until you're the one giving the orders.

Born to Lose. Live to Win. Hard work conquers all. Bust arse. Make comics. Never look back.

Sheldon Vella is a true Gentleman here's how you can follow his work:
Wordpress Blog

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Comics Manifesto

"We are sick and tired of the communication media and their self-proclaimed role as the guarantors of public freedoms, as the guardians of the public spirit, the popular sensibility and conscience. Under this cloak of words they are concealing a thoroughly sinister complex: the manipulation of public opinion, the numbing of popular conscience, the substitution of genuine commonality by the logic of economic forces!

And what can you say about common mortals? Frozen in their present, assuming their role without protest: Politicians and terrorists, bishops and rock ‘n’ rollers, pedophiliac internet predators, students, workers, and executives, writers and artists, all utterly predictable and bored, all contributing to the same chorus of tedium, incapable of creating anything genuine!

Where is the virtue? Where is the love?

Wake up, O cartoonists, wake up from your Marvel-ous dreams! Create comics even though no one pays you for them, even though no one reads them! Cartooning is an act of virtue!

Let us undermine the syntax of sense, the logic of profit!

Drawing is an act of love, free, anonymous, and automatic!!

It’s free because no one can ever pay what it is truly worth. It’s anonymous because it’s aimed at the world in general and no one in particular. It’s automatic because, indeed, it’s done with no rhyme or reason whatsoever.

It’s an act of selflessness and purity!

"When the government is evil, the wise man practices virtue in his own home. When the government is good, the wise man does the same.”

We refuse to play your game! Even though no one needs them, even though no one buys them or reads them, even though no one ask us or thanks us… WE SHALL DRAW COMICS!!"

By Max in Bardín the Superrealist.