Howard Russell: The Art of Persistence

Howard RussellSo, at the time of writing this it’s 90 degrees outside, which in the tightly packed concrete oven of NYC, means it feels like I’m baking ever so slowly. As I’m drawing, and quite possibly falling into a heat coma, my phone chimes, cutting through the sound of Clear Soul Forces playing in the background. Howard Russell has just hit my inbox, the first artist I’ve approached as I try to get back on the blogging wagon. Allow me to introduce.

Growing up in Wilmington, Delaware, Howard attributes his biggest influences to Saturday morning cartoons, Disney, and animation legends like Hanna Barbera and Chuck Jones, as well as comic book artists Khary Randolph, Jack Kirby, Mike Manley, and character designer/producer, Bruce Timm. The evidence is there in every drawing, but Howard manages to take those influences and create a style all his own; one that is unique to him and is instantly recognizable. It wasn’t until his 11th grade year in high school that he realized cartoon and comic book art was something he wanted to do as a career.

“A friend of mine and I would often crack jokes during class about a character who always got into bad situations, and at one point I started to draw single panel images of the jokes that we thought were just hilarious,” he says. “Around 2004, I took a comic and cartoon class at a local art college in Wilmington, Delaware and met a fantastic comic/cartoon artist named Mike Manley. Being in that class opened my eyes a bit more and really solidified what it was that I wanted to do.”

Fast forward to present day, and Howard is actively pursuing the life of an artist, holding down two jobs, and freelancing on the side. ItThriller Tribute hasn’t been an easy or simple journey by any means, proving that the rewards and frustrations are just opposing sides of the same coin. Two things that Howard has plenty of, however – things that are arguably some of the most important skills that artists in any discipline will eventually need to develop – is persistence, and a thick skin. And in order to do that, you have to go through the fire.

“The hardest thing to deal with as an artist is, one, reflecting on your work knowing that you need to improve and keep working harder,” Howard says. “The second: rejection notices. I’ve been rejected nine times and every one of them were disappointing. That said, they were also motivation to keep pushing myself to work even harder.”

Howard continues to do just that, having worked with Philly Hip-Hop artist, Hezekiah, and producer Tone Whitfield who together make up the duo, Johnny Popcorn. Starting out as a fake name that Hezekiah and Tone would use at open mics, Johnny Popcorn was truly born when the two decided to use it as an alter-ego, allowing Hezekiah to return to his funk/soul roots, and serving as a side departure from his normal Hip-Hop projects. Howard is the mastermind behind the look of Johnny Popcorn, providing everything from character designs to album artwork, comic strips, and promotional material.

Johnny Popcorn“Hezekiah and I go way back. And I mean waaay back, since high school when he lived in Delaware. We both would draw in class, on the bus, wherever,” Howard says. “But with his deeper passion for music, and mine for comic art, eventually he went into his direction and moved to Philly, and I went into mine. Years rolled by, and it wasn’t until four or so years ago that I ran into him on Facebook. He was working on the early stages of Johnny Popcorn, knew of my artistic skill, and asked if I was interested in creating the look for the band. I couldn’t say no, and the rest is history.”

Because the band had such a different vibe from Hezekiah’s solo Hip-Hop projects, Howard needed to capture the feeling of that soul/funk sound, while maintaining the combination of personalities that made up Johnny Popcorn.

“I personally love the vibe that Johnny Popcorn brings to the table, and have much respect for the risk and daringness that Hez and Tone took in going in that direction with the music. Personally, I think there just needs to be more of it,” Howard says. “That said, I didn’t want to create some hip-hop looking characters since that wouldn’t fit the mold of what Johnny Popcorn was about. I had to create something that fit that rock/funk/soul sound, and what came out is what you see now. They certainly developed over time, because the first characters ever drawn up aren’t what you see today. But I’m pretty pleased with the outcome and feel they really portray the vibe of Johnny Popcorn really well.”

Howard went on to produce artwork for more independent artists like Joey Moon, Rocky Montana, and Primo Nellz. He’s been the Vescell Promo Pinupsequential artist behind El Negro Poncho and did pin-up work for Vescell, published through Image Comics. It’s clear that Howard’s persistence, even in the face of some of the most difficult rejection of his life, is taking him in the right direction.

He has a pretty big plate, and no shortage of work and personal obligations filling every square inch. I wondered if there was any room on it for his creator-owned projects, namely a comic he did years ago called Indego Blue, about a soldier living in a bleak future who becomes the victim of a gene splicing experiment at the hands of a corrupt government. Back in 2009, Howard released one issue from the series through Indy Planet, after which the book hit a hiatus.

“Artistically, I just felt that it was flat out horrible,” he says. “I wanted to really improve on my skill and get stronger, before I go and put out another issue, so I stopped.”

Fast-forward a few years later, and it seems like Indego Blue hasn’t left Howard’s mind.

“I’ve been working on the side for a new storyline and gearing up to self publish a rebirth of the series. The comic as a whole is getting chopped up and redone,” he says. He still has a sense of humor about the first issue, laughing about it in hindsight. “I still look back at the first issue and nearly cry as to how bad I feel that visually looked. The cover is probably the only highlight of it,” he says. “Visually, I feel I improved dramatically since then. Getting a better directing sense with character placement, taking time to learn more about anatomy and perspectives, and studying the processes it takes to do a comic page has been vital overall. This will create a much better product for Indego Blue than ever before.”

Indego BlueHoward is constantly working, tweaking, refining, and studying his craft. He’s walking the same road as many artists with his own set of challenges and obstacles to overcome, and a relentless perseverance through it all to become better. If studying the fundamentals are the building blocks of a great artist, then persistence is the other side of that coin – the building block of great character even in the face of harsh rejection, and the struggle to find the balance between personal obligations and your dreams.

“Balancing life in between artwork and my two jobs has its moments of frustration for sure, so I usually just take the battles I can win, which are mostly my days off, “ Howard says on trying to find this exact balance. “Life is so unpredictable, you really just have to have that moment when you are just on your A game and you ride that wave until you drop.”

Couldn’t have said it better.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to try and cool down by eating more ice cream than should be humanly allowed. Make sure you guys check Howard out at the links below.

Until next time!

-Kia

Howard’s Website:

 http://thesketchlab.com/

Howard’s Facebook: 

https://www.facebook.com/HowardRussell3rd

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The legal stuff:  All images and characters posted within this article are © Howard Russell and/or their respective owners. This article is © Takeia Dunlop and was written exclusively for spraypaintandinkpens.com.

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Shawna Mills – Creating Violator Union

Shawna MillsThe first time I interviewed Shawna Mills was back in October 2011, where we talked about her work with Titmouse, her feature in Black Comix, and how she used to hate animation, that is before she developed one of the freshest styles this side of moving line work (my words, not hers). This time around, Shawna has created a crowd-funding campaign for her personal comic book creation, something many artistic years in the making: Violator Union.

VU is a tale of four reckless criminals and their dog who fight, murder, and steal, becoming a prime target for the government as they try to find their way to a rumored paradise. I promise you that VU is one of the most eccentric, and truly creative properties you’ll currently have the chance to lay your eyes on. So likewise, the stage for the characters has to be just as crazy. VU can be summed up in one question: What if the power to destroy or change the world was given to irrational criminals?

“I knew I didn’t want good guy protagonists,” Shawna says when I asked her about VU’s tagline. “I didn’t want aliens or magical super mutants. I wanted villains.” The choice to use a group of villains as the main characters in the story may not be entirely unique, but it’s definitely rare and a well thought out choice for the creative direction she is taking with VU.

“The characters sort of come from my own desires and multiple personas,” Shawna goes on to explain. “My mind is not a bad or violent place, but IViolator Union wish to find justice and humanity in places, so I create the world those things can come true in.”

I found it interesting that humanity and justice were Shawna’s choice of words to describe the development of VU’s universe, because at first glance the Violators don’t even sound like they know what those terms mean. But like any well-developed characters, there’s always something under the surface. Shawna admits that underneath it all, the Violators are just “lost souls.”

“Well, I feel that, like you and I, they are works in progress,” Shawna says when I asked her to clarify. “But unlike you and I, they lack empathy and morale. They want to have something that makes them human, but find it difficult realizing it. And like so many lost souls in our real world, they turn to escaping in violent, criminal, and cold ways. They don’t naturally know how to find their way to paradise.”

So, let’s run this down: cold-hearted criminals (check), being chased by the government (check), trying to find paradise (check). Also, super powers (check). Also, they have a dog (double-check). How can you NOT love that idea? You know you do.

But execution is everything, and Shawna is determined to put out a quality product as evidenced by some of the preview pages she has already released through her campaign. Vivid and wild, the pages are everything you would expect from Shawna’s bold and creative style, matching the energy of the animation perfectly. I asked her whether she envisioned the comic book or the animation first, and her answer was simple:

Violator Union Comic Page Sample“I didn’t envision either one coming first. I do what feels great.”

She reflects on old Violator Union pages she created back in the days as she continues, “I looked at them and laughed at how much I’ve grown as an artist and writer,” Shawna says, her excitement showing through despite the humor she finds in her old work. “I want to do it all right now. Everything! The only inconvenience is that I am one person.”

She admits that there has been stress in juggling the creation of Violator Union with her other obligations. “I hide the stress behind sarcasm and a nonchalant smile. If you’ve ever met me and I’m all smiles with half moon eyes, you are in the company of a stressed out Mills,” she says. “But a friend has shown me a bit of a new release. Dance. I dance while at work. And back massages.” At this point I can only imagine she’s sitting on a throne with an evil smile as only the sexiest of men gather at her feet. “I’m really happy about that. Mama needs her back massaged daily.”

While the process has not been without its ups and downs (and apparently dubious amounts of back massages), Shawna is keen on making Violator Union a name to remember. She’s ready to take over, starting with the comic book and perhaps a full animation on the horizon.

“I want this to be my first of many properties. I want merchandise, games, comics, endorsements, cereals and food snacks. I want cameos in music videos and anything I can think of. I have been working hard on creating content and that won’t stop.”

The potential marketability of Violator Union is definitely there, and it’s something that’s not easily forgotten once you see it. But according to Violator UnionShawna, it’s actually some of you guys out there in the artistic community who influenced her decision to finally bring VU to the world.

“I’ve been on VU since my second year of high school. When i started making a move on it being out there, it was more of a thing that was inspired by the online art community,” Shawna says. “Deviant Art. The beautiful and supportive artists there had been watching my illustrations and I grew the characters openly. People became interested, and I started dreaming bigger.”

And now, she’s on her way to really bringing VU to life. The journey has been fruitful in more ways than one. “Two years ago, I wasn’t in this place. Personally, I’ve grown more serious and no-nonsense about everything. I’ve become way more of a woman if I may say so myself. Still much to grow on, but I see my progress. Becoming more confident. I’m proud of myself. I should also mention that I’ve been meeting some really outstanding people and I feel like they are a part of my own growth.”

Shawna is humble, and her potential is boundless. Already receiving recognition from artists like LeSean Thomas (of Boondocks, The Legend of Korra, and Cannon Busters fame), she is well on her way to achieving all the goals she has been striving for. If you guys support any crowd funding campaign in your life, it should be this one. I’m not trying to sound like a PSA or a campaign billboard for a presidential candidate, but I don’t think you need me to ask you to support this KickStarter to see the potential in its creation. The evidence is there for you to check out for yourself. If you can, help spread the word, and make sure you follow Shawna at the links below.

Until next time!

-Kia

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Violator Union Promo

KickStarter:

http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/lazymills/violator-union-graphic-novel?ref=activity

Facebook:  

https://www.facebook.com/ViolatorUnion?fref=ts

Web:

http://lazymills.com/

The legal stuff: Violator Union and all respective characters are © Shawna Mills.  This article was written by Takeia Dunlop exclusively for Spraypaintandinkpens.com. You can link to this article as much as you want, as long as you don’t claim it as your own.

Claudia Aguirre – The Creative Nomad

When we’re young, teeming with innocence and untamed curiosity, the age-old question, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” is often met with surprisingly simplistic answers. A teacher. A cop. Doctor. Fireman.

Claudia Aguirre wanted to be a paleontologist. At three years old. True story.

I don’t even think I knew what a paleontologist was until Jurassic Park came out, and even then I probably thought it involved slowly being hunted down by a pack of intelligent velociraptors with incredible door-opening abilities. Or otherwise ending up like Sam Jackson or that guy that played Newman on Seinfeld. Either way, my vision of it wasn’t so innocent.

Which brings me to my next point: Claudia Aguirre has a body of work that is spilling over with child-like innocence, and yet she is still able to maintain an artistic range that can cross-platform into multiple genres. She is a true artisan of many hats, juggling her weight in animation, graphic design, sequential art, and illustration. But she says that her true devotion lies in one thing:

“I am passionate about being a good storyteller.”

It’s evident from her work, such as Cat Scratch and her new upcoming project, The House of Dreams, with fellow artist and friend, Eva Cabrera, which platform she gravitates toward when it comes to telling stories. “I love being a comic artist/graphic novelist the most,” she says.

Claudia’s passion for art and her desire to tell stories, influenced by her own experiences, has made her a nomad in her life as much as in her creative endeavors. She was born and raised in Mexico, where she openly admits that her affection for her craft is not one that was often shared by other people.

“I consider myself a nomad because I’ve never felt a sense of belonging to my own country,” she says. “My ideals and goals were not well-viewed by my family and in the first stages of my life.” Growing up in a land of practical thinkers and engineers, as she describes, Claudia felt the need to carve her own path and broaden her horizons. “My life here has made me someone who is always eager to learn and who knows there are no limits to knowledge – which is in turn adapted to my art, experiences and stories.”

Claudia has loved art since she was young. Even her short-lived dream of being a paleontologist, however cute and ambitious, fell to the wayside in favor of pursuing her artistic goals. And that she did, becoming Lead Characer Designer and Lead Illustrator at Luciérnaga Studios in Mexico.

“Basically, everything illustration related, I got it done. I also did some comics when we had these awesome projects a while back, and I designed video game characters and world development for Facebook games,” she says, but the stress was not lost on her. “Basically, I did anything needed at the moment. Being a small studio, we got pretty rushed deadlines and no one else to do things!” Claudia has since moved on to another studio called Playful Interactive, a cool animation and interactive gaming house in Mexico where she is continuing to create character designs and illustrations and assisting in the completion of various other games, like Gambetas for Windows 8.

Claudia’s personal projects, however, are the stuff of comedy, stylistic integrity, fantasy, and as she eloquently puts it, “the wonders of small things.” She pulls her inspiration from the world around her and her personal upbringing.

“What first made me want to tell stories was my mother,” she says as she reminisces on her childhood. “She couldn’t stay awake due to my hyperactivity so she put on videos for me to watch while she took naps. I was absolutely in love with Don Bluth’s films and also some Disney ones. I always look back and get inspired by those old movies.”

Her webcomic CatScratch, which is inspired by her cat Oliver and his real-life comedic antics, is proof of Claudia’s ability to bring something whimsical and heartfelt to the sequential art form. Plus, it’s just so damn cute. Go ahead, look at it. I’ll wait.

Doesn’t that comic just make you want to hug something??

But no creative nomad is complete without exploring more than one realm of storytelling. Claudia decided to team up with Eva Cabrera to form Boudika Comics, a platform where each of these talented ladies can tell their own stories. Their first project you’ve heard me mention at the top of this article: The House of Dreams – a collaborative effort of short stories that has been in production for more than a year and is drawn and written by both Eva and Claudia.

“We’re celebrating life and death,” Claudia says about the project. “I draw inspiration from the things that makes us stronger, everyday situations mingled with magic. And she’s focusing on the things that drive us to temptation and ultimately, demise.”

Eva’s explosive style is the perfect complement to Claudia’s playful illustrations. “She’s a delight to work with usually,” Claudia says of her collaboration with Eva, “but she tends to be on the verge of over-perfectionist!” Still, the two seem to work well together. The artwork coming from The House of Dreams is absolutely beautiful. “We understand each other when doing comics, as if we’re talking in a different and secret language,” Claudia continues. “She’s the best comic book partner ever.”

Having a partner in crime is not such a bad thing when one considers herself a nomad in this game. Claudia has faced many obstacles in the wake of her desires to be a storyteller and comic book artist, including the notion that comics are not a viable form of entertainment. The other challenge, one she considers among the greatest she has faced, is a common one not lost on the comic book industry today.

“My greatest challenge is to overcome sexism,” Claudia says. “Even though people in the industry say they’re quite happy and open to have women in their ranks, they talk behind your back and treat you as if you’re not capable of doing a good job.” She adds to that statement with much conviction, “We’re fighting to change that.”

If being a nomad means carving your own road to success, despite the standards of other people or the current comic book industry, then Claudia is already on the right path. And teaming up with Eva Cabrera only makes the deal that much sweeter.

You can catch both Claudia and Eva at the Alternative Press Expo (APE) in San Francisco on October 13th and 14th at table 406. They’ll have plenty of copies of The House of Dreams with them along with other sweet merchandise. To learn more, check out the links below.

Until next time.

-Kia
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Claudia’s website: http://www.claudiaguirre.net/

Claudia’s Blog: http://www.thesapphorium.tumblr.com/

Claudia’s email: claudiaguirredz@gmail.com

Boudika Comics Website: http://www.boudikacomics.com/

Boudika Comics on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/BoudikaComics?fref=ts

Creating Blackguard: Willie and Jerrod Smith

It’s pretty rare that I’ll actually sit down and read a web-comic that I truly enjoy, mostly because reading comics on a laptop was never in my top five list of favorite things to do. But that’s exactly what I found myself doing at 3AM on some random day of the week. That comic was Blackguard, a comedic story written by brothers Willie and Jerrod Smith and illustrated by the former.

Willie had previously emailed me, requesting that I take a look at his work so that I could feature him in an article on the blog. That night, I baked some cookies, ate too many, and was absolutely wired. High on sugar at 3 in the morning, I started reading Blackguard and an hour later I was still laughing my ass off. I quickly emailed Willie to set up a phone conversation.

Besides talking about his adventures as a self-proclaimed emcee, and the state of Hip-Hop today, we got into a pretty deep discussion about Blackguard, what it’s like working with his brother, and the controversy behind the comic’s free use of the n-word. I’ll warn you guys now that Blackguard is not for the easily offended, so if you are, turn back now. Actually, don’t. You’ll be fine. We’re all adults here…sort of.

Art by Willie Smith. Blackguard is © Willie and Jerrod Smith

Anyway, not surprisingly, Willie grew up reading and studying popular comic strips like Calvin and Hobbes and Garfield. As a budding artist he picked up on creative nuances, like the way the characters’ hands and head shapes were illustrated. “Even as a kid, I knew I wanted to create my own comics one day,” he says. “Like, there was never any other career out there for me. I just knew.”

Jerrod was Willie’s partner in crime. They had been creating stories together from the time they played with action figures as kids. Both knew that it was only a matter of time before they would start writing comics together, but for the time being, life was calling them in different directions. “For a while, I was taking classes at the Savannah College Of Art and Design, performing at hip hop shows AND serving in the Army Reserves,” Willie explains. “Jerrod was studying Computer Science up at Clemson University.”

Willie spent the time honing his hip-hop influenced style of art as well as his skills with a mic. “My approach to character design is heavily influenced by the hip hop culture, and the key word there is culture,” he says. “Many people forget that hip hop is indeed a culture, a life style of sorts, so it makes sense that hip hop can be seen in my comics, ’cause after all, one of the founding elements of hip hop is the art style known as graffiti.” Coming from a musical background, Willie began incorporating his views and the spirit of hip-hop into his art. “As an emcee, I’m very proud to represent hip hop, so even if I’m not rhyming on a stage, I still want people to know it’s where I come from, so I showcase that in my art. And not just with the appearance of characters, but also with dialogue, and the approach to the stories themselves. Much like an emcee on stage, my style of art and the characters are very much in your face.”

Art by Willie Smith. Blackguard is © Willie and Jerrod Smith.

It was this “in your face” attitude that both Willie and Jerrod would bring to their comic, Blackguard, in the few months after Jerrod graduated from school and moved down to Savannah, Georgia with his brother. “Ideally, we both just wanted to make an easy going comedy that would be fun for the two of us to work on. We just needed a simple idea to get us into the routine of working on a comic together,” Willie explains as he reflects on the first time he and Jerrod worked on Blackguard. “The idea of doing a comedy about a team of black heroes seemed like fun to us. Even when we first mentioned the idea, jokes started coming out easily and we were laughing pretty hard, so that seemed to be a sign that we had something good to stand on.”

Blackguard was born as a story about a man named Eli Mercer, formerly known as Blackfist, the first African-American super hero to ever exist during the Civil Rights Era. After being cryogenically frozen towards the end of that era, Mercer wakes up in a world that is completely different from his own. People are praising rappers and athletes, but there are no black super heroes. So what does Mercer do?

“He decides to form an all black super hero team,” Willie explains. “However, he takes a shortcut and hires a group of former felons in hopes of training them to be his dream team. From there, it becomes an uphill battle as he must teach them to be morally courageous and keep them from killing each other WHILE they attempt to save the day.”

Of course, the team gives Mercer more headaches than actual results as each character’s personality comes into play. At first, it would seem that the characters are satirical versions of common stereotypes in the black community, but that wasn’t Jerrod and Willie’s intention when they began creating the comic.

Art by Willie Smith. Blackguard is © Willie and Jerrod Smith.

“We didn’t set out to necessarily address the stereotypes of the black community,” Jerrod explains. “It just sort of turned out that, by making a group of black characters with differing interests, backgrounds, and motivations, we covered many sides, both positive and negative, of the black race. The racist, yet proud Melanin. The cocky, yet talented Odan. The reckless, yet fearless Staples. The cynical, yet sensible Sequoia. The judgmental, yet inspirational Mercer. And the crazy, yet genius Darius Doome.”

Each character’s personality has deep roots, if only partially, in the personalities of their creators. While the perceived stereotypes have not been social commentary altogether, the use of the n-word by some of the characters has caught the attention, and offense, of some readers. So much so, in fact, that Jerrod actually wrote a lengthy entry on his blog about it. But what kind of writer would I be if I didn’t ask the creative team how they felt about it for myself?

“This could stem from the fact that I’m an emcee, but I’ve always been about saying exactly what’s on your mind,” Willie says. “I’ve always been drawn to ‘controversial’ entertainers such as Eddie Murphy, Eddie Griffin, Martin Lawrence, Richard Pryor, Dave Chappelle and Aaron McGruder. And not because they were considered controversial, but because they said exactly what they felt. Many of those same comedians, who were once seen as rude and inappropriate, are now praised for sharing their point of view.” Willie goes on to relate his experiences with Blackguard, and the open use of the n-word, with those aforementioned, controversial entertainers. “BlackGuard is just another example of two young men expressing themselves,” he says. “If anything, I think it may throw people off because such language and slang is being used in a comic. But it’s really no different than when Richard Pryor first came out with his comedy routines, or when N.W.A  first arrived in the hip hop scene, or when Aaron McGruder had Huey Freeman saying the n-word in the Boondocks comic strips, and eventually, in the Boondocks television show. At one point, these were all controversial.”

Art by Willie Smith. Blackguard is © Willie and Jerrod Smith

Jerrod also chimes in to give his stance on the use of the word in the comic, stating, “Simply put, we see the n-word as a joke. Not just the word itself, but the reaction that people tend to have towards it. ‘Ass’ and ‘Bitch’ may or may not be offensive based on the context in which they are used. The meanings of those words have gone through changes over time. Now compare those to the n-word. Not only is it also used today in a different context, it’s even spelled and pronounced differently. To claim that a word should never be used because it had a different meaning at one time is ridiculous to me. To the British, ‘fag’ means cigarette. Are we going to tell them not to use that word because some people interpret its meaning differently? Maybe the n-word does have harsh origins, but I think we have to get over it eventually. Why not start now?”

So far, no readers have come out and stated that they disliked the comic solely based on its use of the n-word, but many have questioned why. “It’s not like we just say the word out of ignorance. We often use it to portray ignorance,” Willie says. “But even more so, Jerrod and I don’t believe in giving power to a word. It seems ridiculous to us to ‘erase’ a word. If we as human beings have the power to create language, then we have the power to re-create it.”

“Bill Watterson apparently received angry letters about a few Calvin and Hobbes strips that seem entirely innocent to me,” Jerrod says, giving his thoughts on the offensive perception of the n-word. “If even he offended a few readers, then we’d be crazy to think no one would find Blackguard controversial. I think you have to realize that no matter what you do, someone, somewhere, is going to be offended. There are people out there who look for things to complain about. The sooner you realize that, the less you worry.”

At the end of the day, Willie and Jerrod just don’t want Blackguard to be taken too seriously. “The problem I have with many forms of African-American entertainment is that we often seem to try too hard to make ourselves look good. It’s like we’re trying to make up for years of negative portrayals,” Jerrod says. “Will and I aren’t trying to make a statement about stereotypes. People are drawn to BlackGuard because the characters are both flawed and bad-ass at the same time.”

Art by Willie Smith. Blackguard is © Willie and Jerrod Smith

While some controversy might have come out of the comic, Willie prefers to focus on the positives that have come his way as a result of creating Blackguard, instead of the negative. “My greatest reward has been knowing that even in the beginning stages of Blackguard, which have been the past two years, I’ve managed to inspire some people, and in particular, other Black kids who draw comics. It really warms my heart when other younger artists in middle school and high school ask for my feedback on their own comics that feature black characters.”

Despite the controversial nature of the comic, Willie and Jerrod both approach it like everyday professionals, making sure that they’re serving their readers with a healthy comedic dose every Wednesday. “I take my deadlines very seriously and I know that every Wednesday, there are about two hundred some odd people who want to read BlackGuard. I don’t like for people to ever have to wait on me, “ Willie says.

And as a team that doesn’t like to keep people waiting, tomorrow Willie and Jerrod are debuting a brand new Blackguard storyline called Psycho Therapy. Yep. That means now would be a good time to catch up on what you missed. And I know some of you are reading this on your lunch break, so you don’t have anything better to do, right?

Work?

Pfffft. Tell your boss to read Blackguard. He’ll understand.

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Willie and Jerrod Smith are a creative duo based out of Savannah, Georgia and co-writers of Blackguard. When he’s not drawing Blackguard, Willie leads a secret double life as Righteous The Poet, one integral part of the hip-hop collective, Dope Sandwich. You can easily find their music on iTunes and Youtube, and download Willie’s solo EP for free at his Bandcamp site below. The first installment of Blackguard, entitled Monkey See, Monkey Free, is available in print on Indy Planet, or on the Blackguard website for your viewing pleasure.  If you want to keep up with the comic, what Willie and Jerrod are doing, or get a taste of some of that dope sammich, you can follow the team with the information below. 

Email: righteousthepoet@yahoo.com

Personal Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/#!/profile.php?id=508763179

Deviant Art: http://suicidalassassin.deviantart.com/

Web Site: www.bosccomics.com

Bosc Comics Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/BOSCComics

Bosc Comics Twitter: https://twitter.com/#!/BOSCComics

Blackguard on Indy Planet: http://indyplanet.com/store/product_info.php?products_id=6260

Willie’s Bandcamp: http://righteousthepoet.bandcamp.com/

Meet Julius Dean Abrera

Since I started this blog, I’ve interviewed artists from all different walks of life, each with their own individual styles and unique experiences. Now, as much as I would love to take total credit for finding some of those artists, I have to give it up to my good friend, Kyle Chaney, Jr. Usually, when I want to break things up a little bit and diversify the artists that are featured here, I’ll email Kyle and say, “Hey , I’m looking for more artists to interview. Any suggestions?” I’m expecting he’ll respond with maybe one or two, if that. This guy comes back with like ten to twelve dope artists, drops them at my feet, and says, “Take your pick.” Then I imagine he walks off into the sunset, back to whatever lair he operates Plan B Comics out of, and continues to push out awesome artwork and stories while saving orphans from burning buildings in his spare time.

Am I exaggerating a little? Nope. Not at all.

So it was by Kyle’s recommendation that I was able to interview today’s amazing artist, Julius Dean Abrera. Growing up in Malaybalay Bukidnon, a small town in the Philippines, Julius was inspired by the 90’s X-Men and Spiderman animated series.

Krossfire Pinup. Krossfire is ©Florentino Santibanez. Art by Julius Dean Abrera

“I fell in love with the characters right away, they were the reason why I picked up a pencil and started to draw. I have been drawing since I was eight,” he says as he reflects back on his younger days. Ever since, drawing became a long time passion for Julius. “Growing up in a small town, I never thought it would be possible to pursue comic books as a career,” he says. “It wasn’t until I knew that a very good friend of mine made it to Marvel and into the mainstream that I decided to take things more seriously.”

This friend was Harvey Tolibao, an incredible artist who has worked on Ultimate X-Men, among other Marvel titles, and Star Wars: Knights of the Republic published by Dark Horse. Julius openly admits that Harvey’s mentor-ship directly influenced and changed the way he approached art. “I’ve known Harvey for like 17 years now. Hes more than a mentor, more like a brother actually. Before Harvey took me under his wings, I had no idea on how the comic biz would be,” Julius says. Before Harvey began working with him, Julius believed what any budding young artist believes – that drawing well is the only key to being a great comic book artist.

“Comics have a lot that goes into it. Harvey taught me the basics of anatomy, especially on women, the importance of layouts on your work, and making dynamic poses. Even if it means bending and damaging some of his most prized comic/book collections just for me to learn, that’s how generous this guy is. He’s currently teaching me how to make cool ‘story telling’ and ‘ how the flow works’ when doing sequential art.”

A Marvel cover commission with art by Julius Dean Abrera

Julius was falling more and more in love with comics, but he had already developed a prior relationship with school, where he was studying architecture – a four year relationship that wasn’t going to be easy to break off. “I pursued architecture because it was the only course, which is related to drawing, that I could find close and near enough in my hometown, “ Julius says. “I remember the time when we were told to do research about building designs and structures in the library, but instead of doing what I was told, I was researching on human anatomy and books on how to draw heads and hands.”

Things were getting heated. If I could put it one way, architecture was Julius’ wife, and comic books were his much more entertaining mistress. If I could put it another way, comic books are just awesome. Julius had already been seduced by those energetic panels, and lush story-telling, and there was no turning back. “It was really tough working on school projects and at the same time drawing superheroes and comic characters. It felt like I was torn between doing what I love to do and doing what I have to do,” Julius says.

In the end, he changed his major after four years and left architecture to pursue his love of comics. It wasn’t an easy change, however.

Z: The Dream Warrior page 4 with art by Julius Dean Abrera

“Lets just say it was hard and easy at the same time,” Julius states as he thinks back to that moment. “Hard, because, my family was greatly affected by the decision I made. It wasn’t easy for me to make them understand the comic world. Easy because, drawing comic characters and comics has been a long time part of me. And finally I’m able to do something with my heart and talent in it.”

Julius eventually moved on to become a freelance artist, working on commissions and sequential art for independent labels, including Plan B Comics. His ultimate goal, however, is to work for the Big Two.

“I think every young and new comic artist like me wants their name published and wants to be known as having worked on mainstream comic industry titles from Marvel and DC publishers. For me, as of now, that’s the current goal, to be able to work with the big names on comics.” I’m personally confident that Julius is not that far off from having his name on a major title from DC or Marvel, and I say that with the utmost sincerity. Ever since reading Frank Miller’s Daredevil: The Man Without Fear, it has been Julius’ dream to work with the man himself on another Daredevil title. “Frank Miller is such a great writer that he captivates the character not as a super hero, but a living, breathing normal human being, who like us, has problems that needs to be dealt with in our daily lives,” Julius says.

A Daredevil Marvel cover commission with art by Julius Dean Abrera

Like many artists, he has faced a great deal of challenges and obstacles as he continues to grow and improve in his creative endeavors. “The greatest challenge for me as an artist, especially as a new artist, are the adjustments. You have to be able to work much faster to reach the deadline of a book,” he says as he reflects on some of his personal experiences. “I have this latest experience where I was pulled out as an artist of a book because I wasn’t able to produce the required number of pages, and I didn’t reach the deadline. It was an awful feeling and experience for me, but as an artist, it is all part of the deal. Because of this situation and what happened, I have pushed myself even more to work faster without risking the quality of my artwork.”

Julius is clearly a hardworking person who is dedicated to his craft, and is even able to flip a difficult situation into a learning experience and thus, something positive. He has his own personal rewards, as well, which might not be as extravagant as one might think. “The most rewarding experience for me as an artist is when I receive messages from fellow starting/new artists that they have been greatly inspired by my works. Its always an honor when you can share a couple of tips and tutorials on how you draw,” he says.

Julius is obviously well on his way to achieving his goals, both as an artist and as a person. Not only does he have passion, and some amazing skills with a pencil, but he has a fortitude to continue improving in his craft that one could argue is the most important aspect of success. I look forward to seeing his title on the shelves someday. I’d pick up a copy of that book in a heart beat.

Thanks for reading, everyone. Until next time!

-Kia

_____________________________________________________________________________________________________

Julius Dean Abrera hails from the Philippines and is currently a freelance artist who has done everything from small commissions, to cover art, to sequential work. You can find some of his work on Plan B Comics’  Z: The Dream Warrior, as well as on his Deviant Art page below.

julsabrera@yahoo.com
julsabrera@gmail.com
juliusdean.deviantart.com

Get To Know Lana Andrade

I first peeped Lana’s work in a book called Black Comix, an anthology of sorts dedicated to independent African-American comic book artists. Her comic strips had this quality to it that I can only describe as genuine. I don’t mean that they were in your face or controversial like The Boondocks, or somehow too over-the-top. I mean they exuded a quiet realness in each panel, transforming them into a window of how Lana sees the world, her circumstances, and the obstacles that she has had to overcome as both an artist and a woman in this game.

Ironically, Lana owes much of her current success and ventures as a cartoonist to those very obstacles and the absence of “yes” in a vast sea of “no’s” throughout her life and career. What she has proven, however, is that she is a master of flipping the negative in spite of the naysayers – even those who may be closest to her. “I got the ‘when are you going to be done with this art stuff and grow up and get a real job’ thing,” Lana says as she reflects on statements from her parents and friends that threatened to completely discourage her at one point in her life. Among a burdening workload at the University of Bridgeport where Lana is currently studying, unfortunate job rejection letters, and prospective clients who are ultimately looking for nothing else than some quick nookie, Lana decided to quit as a cartoonist.

Well, for about 2 weeks. Let’s just call it more of a vacation.

From Chronicles of a Broke Ass Artist. © Lana Andrade

“I got tired of bitching about my life, so I decided to draw what I was bitching about!” Lana says. It was then that she decided to make her comics semi-autobiographical, following an often overlooked philosophy that she learned from another comic book artist – draw what you know. Lana started writing a strip called On The Real, where she takes slices from her own life and plants them into the world of her characters.

My personal favorite, though, is Chronicles of a Broke Ass Artist, for obvious reasons. “I was inspired to do this after I ‘quit.’ I had a guy approach me on Facebook to do a book cover, but he was starting to drag out the project before it even got started and took forever to approve the contract,” Lana explains. “I had to cut him loose.”

From Chronicles of a Broke Ass Artist. © Lana Andrade

I think that any artist who exists in the daunting world of freelance design knows what that is like. For any freelancers who are passionate about their art, being a broke ass artist comes with the territory at some point in their career. Lana has managed to transform client horror stories, minute ridicule from all sides, and disappointment into the fire behind arguably one of her most entertaining and relatable comic strips to date. She couldn’t have been doing too bad either, because her work gained her entrance into the Glyph Award winning comic book anthology, Black Comix:African-American Independent Comics Art and Culture alongside notable artists Eric Battle, Afua Richardson, Mshindo Kuumba, and former interviewees, Shawna Mills and Shawn Alleyne. “It was an awesome experience!” Lana says as she reflects on her excitement at being asked to participate in the book. “When I got the book, I screamed so loud I woke up my upstairs neighbor’s dog! It was a humbling experience to be in a book with so many people I admire.”

From there, Lana was the mastermind behind Press Start, a video game themed art show that featured work from a variety of talented artists. “It was an extremely rewarding and frustrating experience, but the show turned out to be a hit! I’m brainstorming another show to do this spring.”

Soul Sistah by Lana Andrade

So far, Lana has had a myriad of ups and downs, self-doubts, and personal struggles. “My greatest challenge so far is proving the validity of the type of art I like to do,” Lana admits. “Many people do not see cartoons and illustration as art so a lot of times I don’t even get a chance right away. I have to blow their minds, then they recognize me as an artist.” Despite those challenges, however, Lana has managed to gain some pretty notable positives in her budding career as a cartoonist. “I love doing a piece or a project for someone and seeing their face light up because I did exactly what they wanted,” she says of what she considers the most rewarding aspect of being a cartoonist. “When I want to stop, I think about Frida Khalo, and how she was literally on her deathbed and she still attended her last art show. Despite the physical and emotional pain in her life, she still managed to create. I’m trying to get to her level.”

Lana hopes to finish school as soon as possible so she can get back to focusing on her comic strips, her career as a cartoonist, and getting a job in her field. “The simple things in life, like eating, are nice,” she says. I’m sure we’ll be hearing about her journey as an artist, and the ongoing struggle for basic meals in her comics soon enough.

Thanks for reading, guys. Until next time.

-Kia

___________________________________________________________________________________________________

Lana Andrade is currently a freelance artist and creator of such comic strips as On The Real and Chronicles of a Broke Ass Artist. Follow her as she expounds on her life as an artist, friends, colleagues, and the basic necessities of survival. Lana’s work can also be found in Black Comix: African-American Independent Comics Art and Culture.

Email:andrade_lana@yahoo.com

Chronicles of a Broke Ass Artist: http://brokeassartist.tumblr.com/

Lana’s art-blog thingy: http://lanandradeart.blogspot.com/

Get To Know Steven Sanchez

It’s amazing how easily a simple statement like “I won’t be posting anything on the blog next week” turns into almost a month of not posting anything. Between taking a trip with the family for Thanksgiving, injuring my back, and catching up on work with clients, a week off turned into something of a missing-in-action hiatus. My picture should have been plastered on the back of a milk carton. And for that, you have my sincerest apologies. Well, until I have to take another break in favor of taking care of life and other things outside this blog, but I promise not to let that happen too often.

So I thought it was only right that I came back with an artist whose work I personally admire, and one many of you might know pretty well: Steven Sanchez. You might recognize him as one essential part of Onixan Productions, along with artists Kermit L. Gonzalez, Scotty Shoemaker, and Noel C. Torres. If you don’t know him, then it’s time to get familiar folks.

“I was around 15 years old when I decided to do this seriously,” Steven says as he reflects on the humble beginnings of his chosen career path as a comic book artist and animator. “Although my bank roll wasn’t big enough to get into an art school like I would’ve liked I invested in comic books when the big tycoon artists at Marvel Comics were running things. Jim Lee, Todd McFarlane, Rob Liefeld, Marc Silvestri, Whilce Portacio and a few other smaller cats… those guys were my biggest influence in comics.” While he continued to admire the work of such near-veterans of the industry, Steven would eventually gravitate towards Japanese animation in favor of his current anime influenced style.

Fast forward one year shy of the turn of the millennium, and he would already be stacking the building blocks of Onixan’s future presence in the industry. “I began in 1999 doing Onixan after a few failed attempts at upstarting with other people,” he explains. “I wanted to run things myself from that point on and Onixan was born.” Five years later, Steven would meet Kermit L. Gonzalez and Scotty Shoemaker, and as if by some weird movie cliché the hands of fate would start to turn. The catalyst that almost literally held the current manifestation of Onixan in the palm of it’s hands was one of the mega-est of comic book conventions – the Orlando Mega Con in Florida.

“Kermit was a spectator just going to the shows for fun and had commissioned me to do a piece. I didn’t finish it but he didn’t live too far away so he picked it up. After that we’d be stuck ever since,” Steven says with a smile. “Scotty Shoemaker knew my works through a mutual friend and we spoke over the phone a few times. Then BAM, it was around 2006 we all met Noel C. Torres at the Florida FX Show. We hooked up and BAM again – Onixan was born with a full cast.”

Ninja 51 is © Onixan Productions. Art by N.C. Torres with colors by Steven Sanchez

And there you have it. Onixan was created with four amazing artists at it’s helm, destined to break industry molds with only their passion, artistic endeavors, and love of their craft to guide them into a Disney-like happy ending complete with singing bluebirds and rainbows. End of story. Roll credits. Right?

“Being in a studio is a true pain in the ass,” Steven laughs.

Cue the record skip.

“I really don’t care about all the B.S. other upstart studios say about it being fun and great and blah blah blah… I don’t want to give an interview here and sugarcoat it by saying all that mess when it’s not. It takes hard work and after that hard work is done add more hard work to that,” Steven says.

But I wasn’t lying when I said all that stuff about their passion and love of their craft guiding them. Oh yeah, add one more thing to the mix: determination.

“Reason why Onixan still exists even without anything out is due to determination,” Steven continues. “What I mean by that is wanting to have a good enough story to merit a good following. Not that we’re trying to be perfectionists, but we’re trying to give quality in order to succeed with something right off the bat. So with each project we do just that. We hash out the acts of the story as a team and collaborate on ideas etc… Just the way a production has to work.” Steven even admits that part of the frustration, however, is just life in general. “Life has a funny way of turning things around so we just work on what we have until we’re done. Yeah, you can say we don’t have any plans for the year or years to come but only time will tell,” he smiles.

Marshmellow Robots created by Scotty Shoemaker with Kermit Gonzalez as writer and Co-creator. © Onixan Productions

Despite the fact that Onixan is still growing in terms of becoming a full-fledged production company, the team is still making their individual creator-owned properties under it’s umbrella including Steven’s own, Armata:

During the fast changing pace of technology the world had come to a most horrifying halt as regions around the Earth were being annihilated all at once! No one had the answers to these actions but something was found through the rubble that would change everything..

Starting off as a funny short, Steven has been working on the project off and on, and it has easily become one of the primary focuses of his art career. “Kermit began doing some write ups and we started to collaborate on the idea but as Scotty entered the picture I told Kermit to aid on his story while I helmed the ship. Shortly I decided to scrap the story and re-do the entire thing. Now I’m currently done with the 2 acts and wrapping up act 3 to finalize,” Steven says on developing the project.

Armata production sketches by Steven Sanchez. © Onixan Productions

“First drafts are always imperative to any project and trying to hit that home run with the first draft is always the dream but sadly revisions must be made to correct holes in the structure. So yes, I constantly keep revisiting my stuff and read it as much as it takes.” Very meticulous when it comes to creating proper story structure and an entertaining plot, Steven is not one for just plowing through. “Plowing through is a very unwise thing to do, I mean the whole point of doing your own project is to succeed, right? If not one’s just gunning for the all mighty dollar and that’s not why I’m in this business after all.”

He also takes the time to really get involved with his characters, an important trait for any writer. “As humans we’re masters of mimicry, from when we can first remember. So putting yourself in other characters’ personalities is the fun part – to become that character and put yourself into situations and figuring out how to come out of them. You see how one can get lost in creating alone.”

Getting lost in your work is arguably one of the best things about being an artist and a creator. It’s like a drug without, you know, stupid side effects like death. So if art is like a drug, then deadlines must be like the weekday afternoon PSA to that drug. It’s like the Agent Smith to the artist’s Neo – it keeps multiplying in insurmountable quantities, but you’re still expected to save the world despite it. “Deadlines are the only obstacle I’ve ever known in this industry and it will always be due to peoples’ demand for commissions and /or comics,” Steven says with what I can only imagine is a hint of disdain. “In the artist world time goes much faster for some odd reason. I guess it’s all due to trying to stay on top of what one does.”

Armata production sketches by Steven Sanchez. © Onixan Productions

The rewards for Steven, however, prove to trump the suffocating pressure of deadlines, and his number one reward is amazingly simple. “Meeting all the cool fans at the conventions and making new friends. Some folks say networking but nah, I don’t care about that. I like to help young artists out in understanding this world and hoping to try and make it a better one. That’s why I’ve released many videos on how I illustrate in hopes for more to learn and get jazzed up to get back into doing more art.”

I think that right there is what drew me to Steven and made me want to write about him. Seriously. He’s one of the most helpful artists you’ll meet, and that’s fast becoming a hard thing to come by in this industry. He even left me with a couple pieces of advice for anyone who is trying to start a creator-owned studio and make it big in comics. “Count your prayers and unleash them all at once and hope it all goes well. A studio is like a small gang and you watch out for one another but at times others begin to lose a bit of faith and things slow down. That’s when all of you have to pull together and kick ASS! Stay confident and full of energy and most importantly, COMMUNICATE!”

He adds, “Many upstarts over think about being great and having fame and fans and frrrrrt…. who cares about that. It’s not Rock N Roll it’s comics for goodness sake! Enjoy the process and draw the best stuff that you think you can do. Confidence has to be your strongest part of you then your art. Know what you want and go for it.” And the last piece of advice he had to offer?

“HAVE FUN!! I can’t stress that enough!”

Told you he was a great guy.

Thanks for reading! Until next time.

-Kia

____________________________________________________________________________________________________

Steven Sanchez is a freelance comic book artist, animator, and the founder of Onixan Productions. The team is currently in the process of producing their other creator-owned properties, including Ninja 51, Marshmellow Robots, Armata, and Koga Warriors.  The company has currently revamped its website and is hard at work on two projects and something special for March of next year. Sorry, that’s all I’m allowed to tell you. Don’t want Steven to break my knees. But you can feel free to stay up to date with all of Onixan’s current projects by following their blog and website.

Steven’s DA: http://stevensanchez.deviantart.com

Onixan’s DA: http://onixan.deviantart.com

Onixan’s Website: http://www.onixan.com

Onixan’s Blog: http://www.onixan.blogspot.com/

Introducing Justin Martin

So, let me tell you a story. One day, I signed on to Facebook and was tagged in a note called Freestyle Friday. Justin Martin had previously invited me to drop a couple of raps in a little freestyle session he hosted weekly on his page. I’m not going to say that I’m the heavy weight rap champion of the world, but I had proven that I had skills to people who doubted me because I’m a girl. So when I saw the note, I walked into it with my chest all puffed out thinking, yeah, I got this!

I was the first to drop a few bars. You know, the usual braggadocious flows that you commonly hear in any cypher. Not this one, my friends. I started noticing that people were dropping these sick rhymes about the state of hip hop, the plight of the world, how to make it a better place, the human condition, and the unconditional love of God.

 Uh-oh.

Here I was spitting rhymes probably in the vein of,

my Bic’s a Beretta, I’ll silence u like a Moretta for thinking you can flow better,

The Story of Peter - Art by Earnest Graham, story by Justin Martin

while everyone else is talking about helping his fellow man. I stood out like a sore thumb while crickets chirped in the backdrop of my hubris. This wasn’t your regular, prove how much better you are than the next person type of cypher, but a collaborative one instead. For those of you who might not be into hip hop, I can’t tell you how incredibly easy it is to write a rhyme where all you do is brag about yourself. But to write about something with substance, something that is going to make people think, is infinitely more difficult because it actually requires you to reflect on the root cause of a problem, break it down, and reconstruct it into an interesting rhyme that people can vibe to and at the same time understand.

Justin’s approach to doing away with the self-fulfillment of simply bragging in cyphers, and instead introducing a platform where people could raise pertinent social dilemmas through the art of rhyming, is what made me interested in what he was doing as a writer of Christian-themed comics.

When Justin was young, his father worked on oil rigs in Alaska and was gone for two to three weeks at a time. His mother also worked full-time, so as a result, he spent much of his formative years growing up with his Aunt Dottie. It was she who instilled in him the Christian values and beliefs that would eventually find its way into his writing. However, Justin faces a unique challenge in that, unlike mainstream comics, Christian-themed comics are often disregarded before they are even given a chance.

The Story of Peter - Art by Earnest Graham, story by Justin Martin

“I think when something is labeled ‘Christian’ or ‘religious,’ people tend to conceive of that thing as having certain characteristics. I feel like some of the most common associations with these characteristics are corny, preachy, close-minded, and discriminatory,” Justin explains. “But just as we as Christians need to do a better job of not being close-minded to non-Christians, I think some non-Christians can also do a better job of not lumping all Christians into one stereotypical category, especially the same category as the Christians who historically and to some degree currently tend to judge, ostracize, and harm others in the name of religion.” Justin is doing everything in his power as a writer to not be lumped into that category, while understanding that some of the responsibility will inevitably fall on the readers themselves. This is the approach he has taken while writing his story, Lightweightz, about a group of teenagers who develop a unique set of interpersonal abilities that will test their beliefs, worldviews, and interactions with other characters, for better or for worse.

“The problems they will face stem from me trying to reflect the real world the best way I feel I can at the moment, as I am still growing and working out some things with my own faith,” Justin says on the development of the characters. “On some level, each of the characters will be tested with regards to their faith in humanity, relationships, and themselves.”

Lightweightz is © Justin Martin

Justin hopes to approach the writing of the comic from a character-driven, human point-of-view making it relatable to everyone no matter what their beliefs are. “Regardless of the genre, I think at the end of the day, the connection between the readers and the characters is what gives a story the most potency.” Justin says. “The common ground is the characters, and the things they experience as they try to make sense of themselves, their role in the world, and how to relate to others. And it’s that common ground that I hope my readers will find both relevant to their lives as well as entertaining.”

Lightweightz is © Justin Martin. Art by Przemyslaw Dedelis with colors by Lya Cuello

Justin has admitted that he believes that the biggest challenge in being a creator of Christian-themed comics is not getting boxed into a particular genre or category that would significantly limit the amount of potential readers. “This is actually the main reason why I decided to label my comics Christian-themed as opposed to Christian comics. I believe the former approach better enables me to tell stories that are relevant to all people, regardless of their background or belief system,” he says. The truth is, generally speaking, once people hear any interjection of religion as the central theme of a comic book, it turns many potential readers off. One thing that I sincerely love about Justin’s approach is that he is not trying to spoon-feed anyone his beliefs, but instead approaches his writing from the common experience of the human condition.

Lightweightz is © Justin Martin. Art by Przemyslaw Dedelis with colors by Lya Cuello

“That doesn’t mean I’m going to hide or water down my beliefs, but I’m not going to over-saturate my stories with those beliefs either. If your target includes non-Christians as well, then you have to make sure your stories deal with issues that those readers care about,” Justin says as he reflects on the challenges of being a writer of Christian-themed comic books. “If someone reads my comic and decides to investigate who Jesus is for themselves then great! If not, then hopefully they enjoyed the comic because it was a great story, and addressed issues that they care about. At the end of the day, my goal as a writer is to tell the best stories that I can, and do so from a Christian worldview.”

I’m a pretty simple person. A good story + delicious snacks = a happy Kia. I can tell that Justin really cares about creating and writing comics as a craft, and the fact that his approach is simply to write good stories that anyone can relate to means that he’s already golden in my book.

What more can you ask for?

Thanks for reading, guys. Until next time.

-Kia

______________________________________________________________________________________________________

Justin Martin is currently a writer of Christian-themed comic books living in Oakland, California. He is currently working on The Story of Peter with illustrator Earnest Graham and is continuing his own property, Lightweightz. He is also working on a one-shot entitled Hydroland: Aftermath with artist, Mel Todd. You can follow Justin on his blog, where he conducts interviews with independent creators as well.

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100002500240421&sk=info

Blog: http://rsquaredcomicz.com/

Email: rsquaredcomicz@gmail.com

Twitter: @RsquaredComicz

You can also check out Justin’s full interview with me here.

 

Meet Sean Tate

I’ve heard someone say before that if you can’t remember how you met a friend, you’re destined to be friends with them for life. I have no idea how that makes any logical sense, but I do know that I can barely remember how I met Sean Tate, and yet we’re still good friends to this day. We both attended the Art Institute in Philadelphia and got to know each other somewhere between watching random Youtube videos in the computer labs and debating about how Philly Hip Hop will always be inferior to New York Hip Hop.

Oops. I was never supposed to let those words leave my lips. It’s ok, though. I’m just joking. Kind of.

But that topic of conversation was all in fun and even after I came back home to New York, we stayed in touch and would make a point to hang out anytime I was in Philly. He encouraged me to be a little more public with the fact that I could rap, even when I wanted to keep it a big secret (and to some extent, I still do), and he introduced me to the best cheese steaks in the city – Max’s Steaks in North Philly. Matter of fact, that should be the new standard of friendship. If you can’t remember how you met a friend, but he treats you to a cheese steak from Max’s, you’re destined to be friends for life.

Yep. My friendship can be bought. With cheese steaks.

Sean showed me where he grew up in North Philly, a neighborhood that didn’t exactly have the best reputation, but that influenced him greatly as an artist all the same. “I find myself incorporating many of my life experiences in North Philly into my ideas, like character personalities, environments, and events,” he says. But the real trigger to Sean’s appetite for pursuing a career in animation was a popular Super Nintendo video game featuring work by another of his greatest influences: Akira Toriyama, the mastermind behind Dragon Ball. In case that incredibly corny hint didn’t jog your memory, or in case you’re just unfamiliar, the game was Chrono Trigger, an RPG developed by SquareSoft back in 1995. “Its pretty ironic but it wasn’t until I played a game called Chrono Trigger in middle school that I decided to do animation!” Sean says. “That game was so dope that I wanted it to be an animated movie or series, and I began coming up with cartoons similar to it.”

Oh Snap! is © Sean Tate

Drawing much of his inspiration from Japanese animation as well as creators such as Lesean Thomas, Aaron McGruder, and Don Bluth, Sean has developed a style of illustration that is immediately recognizable as his own. Even if you subtract all of Sean’s biggest influences, what you’re left with is a guy with a Wacom tablet and a colossal imagination. His web comic entitled Oh Snap!, produced under Ground Up Studios, features a sword-wielding pirate in slippers named Jazz and her band of thieves as they sail the world trying to sell hair care products. In some really weird way, it works. “Oh Snap! was originally designed to be an animated series, but the idea was so dope that we wanted to see how it would come out as a comic first,” Sean explains. “There are a number of concepts behind Jazz’s design. She is kind of made to resemble African and Japanese culture, 80’s pop America, and the hood! I wanted to take a ghetto-natured character and put her in a Final Fantasy-like universe. So that’s why the world and ideas behind Oh Snap! are so bizarre.” Sean pokes fun at the people he was around and things that he experienced growing up in North Philly, but as long as I’ve known him he has also been heavily influenced by Hip Hop, African culture, and black history.

4 is 4 is © Sean Tate

I saw many of those influences when I came to Philly and Sean showed me his concepts for his latest series entitled 4 is 4. “It’s planned to come out the middle of next year. It’s another one of my fantasy series based on ancient African culture with a little bit of Hip-hop influence in it,” Sean says. But it looks like the premise for this one is going to be kept under wraps until we’re a little closer to it’s release.

In the meant time, Sean is producing work with Ground Up Studios, a small Philadelphia based multimedia company specializing in 2D and 3D animation, VFX, Illustration, Comic Books, Graphic Design, and Concept Design. “Henry Wilson, one of Ground Up’s staff, was the one who pulled me in,” Sean says on how he became a part of the Ground Up crew. “I met Henry back when I was a student at the Art Institute. They had a comic book club, which Henry was a part of. He is someone who I respect and look up to as an artist, mentor, and friend.” Ground Up Studios will be the production team behind Sean’s Oh Snap! animated shorts to be released next year.

Zuniko is © Sean Tate

I guess if you could break down Sean’s experience with animation and comics into a randomly invented analogy, comics would be the vacation spot, but animation is what he calls home. “I enjoy doing animation more than comics. Although animation requires a series of frames for one scene, from my experience of producing comics, I learned that there are a lot of things that goes into a comic to make those still images look good,” Sean says.

However, his experiences in producing work as a freelance animator have not always been easy. “One of the biggest challenges I’ve faced was producing an enormous project within a short deadline,” Sean says. He worked on an animated commercial for Pastry Pop Stars, a division of Vanessa and Angela Simmons’ Pastry shoe line for children. “It was kind of crazy because I pretty much produced that project as a one man army!” Sean says of the experience. “In fact, Kia, don’t be surprised if I contact you for some animation work in the future!” he laughs.

To which I give a firm no thanks! 

Nu and Star are © Ground Up Studios

But Sean has clearly proven that he can handle the pressure of producing animation as a one man battalion or as part of a creative team. I definitely wouldn’t mind collaborating with him on a project in the future. For right now, though, he has his own goals of seeing his creator-owned properties produced for television. If there’s one thing I’m certain of, it’s that you will see Sean’s work in some form, whether it’s behind the scenes bringing his concepts to life, or right in your face on the big screen. After interviewing him and gaining more insight into his life as an artist, there was only one possible question left:

When can you treat me to another cheese steak?

Thanks for reading as always. Until next time!

-Kia

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Sean Tate is a freelance animator and illustrator who is currently an integral part of the Ground Up Studios team. He is open for commissions and freelance work for animation, concept design, logos, and more. You can contact Sean with the info below:

Web: http://groundupstudios.com/

DeviantArt: http://groundupstudios.deviantart.com/gallery/8395284

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=500509534

Sean’s email: Seanime4@gmail.com

Studio email: groundupstudios1@gmail.com

Introducing Matt Johnson

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.

Warchyld is © Matt Johnson

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.

Thrash: Rise of Shidou is © Matt Johnson

“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.

Thrash: Rise of Shidou is © Matt Johnson

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.

-Kia

 

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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 myndfurydesigns@yahoo.com or follow Myndfury on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/Myndfury.