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


  1. Great to see another gingerkid from GINGERBOX totally slaying comics

  2. Amen to everything Sheldon said, glad to see someone with passion doing it right. I'm going to go out and buy his shit/

  3. Some great insight and I loved the drain story. I have a slightly different take though since I am still working my way up in the comics worls while working a day job. I have read a lot about creators that refuse to do "real" work and admire the zeal of their beliefs. Unfortunately for me, not working a "real" job would mean moving back to my parents house in Jersey. I will keep chomping at the bit until my day comes and I can quit my day job. On the other hand the day job pays the bills and also the rent for my studio where I get waay more work done.

  4. Geez!
    You can't imagine how inspiring Sheldon is and was to me ever since some of the first good publications on deviant art, way before Supertron!!! in my books there's Jamie Hewlett and then there's Romantic Mr. Sheldon.
    And I can say this, because I cant get past this fact that regardless of the size of his body he's not big-headed.
    So Much Power, So much Humility and insight!

    Damn! Thanks for the inspiration Mr. Shelde5000!