It was cold, gloomy and rainy one day last week and I was blasting away dozens of Lambant hordes in Gears of War 3. As I watched them explode in a messy array of yellow, glowing goo, I thought to myself, “Life is weird for so many reasons.” Case in point: my articles never start off with anything having to do with the artist I’m going to talk about. I mean, really? Gears of War 3? What does that have to do with Matt Johnson? Trust me, I’m getting there.
But yeah, as I was saying…life is weird. Of all the artists I’ve interviewed and written articles about, I only know two personally. The others are voices over the phone, text messages, back and forth emails, or Facebook posts accompanied by photos to put a face to the abundance of conversational text that has become the means by which I get to know those people. Believe me, that’s not to minimize the relationship I’ve developed with the people I’ve written about, however big or small. I say that to say, despite the fact that I probably will never meet half of the people I write about face to face, what’s weird is that I don’t feel like I need to. Somehow, I’ve gotten to know all of those people in some way through their art before I ever placed a phone call or wrote an email to them.
The point of what I’m saying is that Matt Johnson lives all the way in Fresno, California, while I’m typing this from the bedroom of my apartment in a brisk, snow-dusted area of the Bronx, and yet he’s no different. The first time I talked to Matt on the phone, a long long time ago, I answered with something to the extent of, “Hey Matt! It’s nice to finally talk to you,” and he retorted with, “Hahaha! You said tawk instead of talk. You are SO east coast!” I nodded in approval from the opposite end of the phone, thinking, “I like this guy.” And now, years later, here I am writing about him. Right. Like I said – weird.
What’s not weird, at least to any person with an ounce of creative juice in their body, is the all too familiar way that Matt fell in love with animation and comics and realized that he wanted to pursue those art forms as a career. Like most kids at three years old Matt was all about cartoons, especially anything by Tex Avery, Bob Clampett, or the old Popeye cartoons by the Fleischer Brothers. “I would annoy the heck out of my family by taking up the ‘TV time’ to use our VHS to watch those cartoons frame by frame,” Matt recalls of his younger days. “When I wasn’t doing that, I was stuck in our upstairs room sneaking my dad’s Heavy Metal mags into my paws. The artwork blew me away!” I don’t think Heavy Metal was instilling any hard core morals and values in children back then, but Matt admits that it was worth the trouble he would get into with his mother.
I mean, hey, it had to count for something right? Currently, Matt is an animator at Synermatix Studios in Fresno, is the head of his own multimedia studio, Myndfury, has done work for Warner Brothers as a 3D animator on their web series, Chadam, and is hard at work on his own comic book property, Thrash: Rise of Shidou. Hear that moms? You should be thanking Heavy Metal.
That’s not to say that the journey has been easy or without it’s lessons, however. Matt has seen both sides of the spectrum when it comes to being an integral part of the creative business. “It was very stressful at points when the producers and directors are literally over your shoulder watching you animate,” Matt says of his time working with Warner Bros. “I’m telling you, that’s the time when you had BETTER deliver! The industry is cut throat and people are replaced on a whim. Luckily I did a decent enough job to where I stayed.” Matt enjoys working with a team, but admits that it doesn’t leave much room for creative flair, whereas going solo leaves loads of creative freedom, but doesn’t pay as immediately as studio work. “The price of freedom is steep,” he says.
It definitely goes without saying that the price of creative freedom isn’t cheap, but that’s not stopping Matt from building his own multimedia studio to make sure his creative freedoms go to good use. Even the name, Myndfury, was chosen to be purposely ambiguous as a creative business tactic. “Some people think they have to be direct with names, but it’s always served me better when you get the customer asking questions about you and your products. Questions mean that they’re interested,” Matt says.
He is not shy about his passion and confidence in Myndfury either, and rightfully so. While the studio specializes in multimedia design, it’s actually a big cover for Matt’s diabolical scheme to take over the world: making comics. The money that is generated by producing cutting edge work for a variety of clients goes right back into producing any creator-owned comic book that comes out of Myndfury. “I like being indy. It puts more of myself and my views out there and I want to give other artists that same opportunity – to put themselves out there!” Matt says of his business approach. So the plan is to take over the world, one comic book at a time, starting with his creator-owned property, Thrash: Rise of Shidou.
The book is centered around a masked man and his quest for vengeance as he systematically tries to topple the great kingdom of Suikon. However, the further down the path of vengeance he goes, the more he comes to realize that the kingdom did not become great on its own. Dark magic, nightmarish creatures, and even powerful Gods aided in its rise to power. This book will be an epic Japanese tale of the often blurred line between justice and vengeance, as well as the monsters both produce.
“It’s been an adventure to say the least!” Matt says of creating Thrash solo, taking on the dual responsibilities of writer and artist. “I try to be very systematic when making Thrash. I use a very ‘Marvel Style’ plot. Usually it’s drawn from the writer’s description, and sent back to the writer for dialogue. Since I’m both writer and penciller, I can shape and mold the story how I see fit; quicken the pace and allow the story to breathe as necessary.” Matt admits that the coloring process is the part of creating his own comic that he loathes the most. “I was so weak in it during high school and parts of college. Taking some tips from my good friend Kyle Chaney, I found a good process to get the pages how I want them.”
And speaking of Kyle Chaney, one of my former interviewees, Matt is currently working with him and artist, Scott Blake, on creating a mini-comic entitled Crossover Crisis which will feature flagship characters created by all three artists and will debut within the Thrash comic book series. Both are expected to be done by the end of the year. He is also currently collaborating with fellow artist and friend, Black Ant, on a number of projects including Ant’s very own entitled B.P.M. Matt hopes to jump back into creating motion comics as well, resurrecting another property entitled Gun Guardian that was created alongside artist Stephen Stewart. “I owe him for doing the dope character designs. Yeah bro! This is a call out! I would love to collab with fellow artists on the next one I do.” Matt says enthusiastically.
He has worked with so many different people in so many different lanes and in so many different mediums that I wondered which experience has been the most rewarding for Matt.
“I went to a local high school to do some motivational speaking and I showed the students my work. I told them my background and I thought that was it,” he says. “However recently, a student told me on Facebook that his teacher asked him to do an essay on someone that inspired him and greatly influenced his life. He decided to do his essay on me. I was floored.” Matt reflects on that experience, and adds, “It’s an extremely overwhelming experience when somebody says your work inspires them to do better. Mainly because I consider myself as pretty average, and nowhere near being the next Jim Lee.”
Well, you know what they say. Jim Lee wasn’t made in a day. I think it’s nice and pretty humbling to live in New York and still have the chance to meet someone who grew up in Fresno without much who truly believes that he can take over the world one comic book at a time. The weirdest thing is, that simple belief is responsible for the successes of many Jim Lee’s the world over. It always starts with simply believing that you can.
Thanks for reading, guys. Until next time.
Matt Johnson is a 2D/3D animator and independent comic book artist from Fresno, California who is currently the head of his own multimedia studio, Myndfury. Myndfury is currently offering services in 2D and 3D animation, 3D modeling, comic book production, character design, and more. For more information, you can email Matt Johnson at email@example.com or follow Myndfury on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/Myndfury.