Wednesday, February 23, 2011
One Page At A Time Interview...Shawn Richter
This week's interview is with Shawn Ricther, artist on projects such as: Drive, A Trip To Rundberg, Against The Wall, and the upcoming Legends Of The Sunset People.
DC: So, what's the connection between your interest in comics and your love of creating art? Are the two intertwined or did they evolve separately?
SR: As far back as I can remember, I just loved drawing. Of course, I was influenced by comics at a very early age... when my dad wanted to help me learn to read, he bought me comics. I remember going to a sidewalk sale and the local book store had these Star Trek record comics, where the comic (with a Neal Adams cover!) told the story they had on the record. So there was an added audio option that you could read along with. I also read superhero comics, of course, the ones I remember being Superman and Peter Parker the Spectacular Spider-Man.
I was also a reader of Arak the Son of Thunder. One of the earliest "comics" I drew was a submission to the letters page for Arak, for which I received a nice rejection letter.
So, I guess the short answer is I loved those stories, just really absorbed them or became involved in them and that probably spurred on my artistic sensibilities. I know I drew other things around that time, but the comics stuff is pretty indelibly imprinted on my memory.
DC: Were there any particular creators or stories that you placed up on a pedestal as a young comics fan?
SR: In terms of stories, probably not. As far as creators, I know I loved John Buscema from an early age, as well as Mike Zeck and John Byrne. I loved Tony Dezuniga and Alfredo Alcala and I started collecting the Savage Sword of Conan before I was in my teens. I'd say I was drawn more towards genre than any particular single story. I was HUGE into Fantasy and Sci-Fi as a kid, reading books like the Lord of the Rings around age 11 and later getting into Asimov and Heinlein. I really dug on the animated hobbit, Nausicaa and the valley of the Wind and played a lot of Dungeons and Dragons (and I was constantly drawing armour and character designs for our campaigns). Later in life I became aware of other artists, like Norman Rockwell and J.C. Leyendecker and in my later teens I started getting into art and composition in a more serious, analytical way. I went through an Alex Ross phase in my early 20s (and I still do love his work - a modern master) and later Bryan Hitch (based on my admiration of Alan Davis, I suspect) but currently I think I'm trending more toward the chiaroscuro type artists, like Darwyn Cooke, Mike Mignola or Chris Samnee. The stuff those guys with light and shadow and limited line work blows my mind. i'd love to find a nice synthesis of all of that, the dynamics of a Buscema or Zeck, with the fine line of a Ross or Hitch blended with the mastery of lighting... that would be the ultimate. I'm still a work in progress however.
DC: What steps did you take in your efforts to make a name for yourself as a comic book artist?
SR: Ha! Every new project I do, I always think "well, this is gonna be my big break!", but of course the reality is, you have to do comics for the love. It's a really tough pill to swallow, but most people who start making comics aren't even going to become internet famous, so you just have to find stories that you want to tell and tell them. That doesn't mean you can't connect to an audience, but just don't expect it to be a large audience or a paying audience. But that's ok, because half of the fun is just making the comics, and only the other half is seeing how people react to them!
Of course, that doesn't mean I haven't stopped trying to make a name for myself (although I've recently changed my name from Richter to Richison, after I got married, and my wife and I combined our names!). I still send out samples occasionally and I try to be active on the 'net, via message boards and twitter and such. But I think the way you're doing it is still the best way - just put out as much work as you possibly can. I'm a little more slack in that area than I should be - not that I'm particularly slow, but with the passion projects (read: non-paying work!) I get easily distracted. The other stumbling block I find is that I prefer long form comics - I'm currently involved in a 150 page OGN, which I'm writing, pencilling, inking, lettering and designing myself - the only outside help is a colourist (and hopefully some other sets of eyes for proofreading/editorial assistance), so that's a job that will pretty well keep me off the publishing radar for the better part of two years. Who knows? Maybe it'll be my big break! ;)
DC: Speaking of long-form comics, you've done a few (DRIVE, A TRIP TO RUNDBERG, AGAINST THE WALL, and the in-progress LEGEND OF THE SUNSET PEOPLE). What is it about them that appeals to you?
SR: Well, to be honest, the first couple just came that way. For DRIVE, my understanding is that Nate (Southard, the writer of DRIVE and A TRIP TO RUNDBERG) originally conceived it as a screenplay, but couldn't sell it. So he thought, it's a great story, I love comics, let's make a graphic novel. When he first approached me for it, he'd seen my work on a website called penciljack.com and I think there was one image in particular that appealed to him that prompted him to contact me. At that point I had never been paid to make comics, so I just took him up on his offer. DRIVE was meant to be a three issue mini at first, but I took so long drawing it that they ended up just waiting and making it a full length graphic novel. Then when RUNDBERG came around, it was just a matter of staying in touch with him. So then, my rate went up a bit, not too much, but enough that it allowed me to quit my minimum wage job and work on the book full-time, which got it out a lot faster.
As you'll probably recall from AGAINST THE WALL, the progress was slower, but I was stricken with a move right in the middle, so what did it eventually take, 8, 9 months? It was awhile anyway. Back to the question, I think the main appeal about doing a long form piece is the complete story aspect. You can do this thing, and whether it gets mainstream distribution or not, at the end, you have this fully formed story that you can show to people. And of course, if you're getting a paycheque, then you have sustained work for a longer period of time. If the first three issues of your mini-series don't sell, you might not get to see issues four five and six, depending on the publisher. So there's a pragmatic angle as well. You know, it can be somewhat difficult to pull off a long form work, just to put yourself in that world day after day, sometimes, but I suspect that on the whole, it's not that different from working on the same character for 12 issues a year. Perhaps the break between scripts offers the illusion of change?
Also, as far as Legend goes, it's a completely different beast. Number one, I'm writing it as well as drawing it. Number two, it's something that I've been thinking about for over 3 years now, just sort of gestating and now I have to finally do it, to get it out of my system. And number three, there is no pay for me, at least at this stage. So I have to find other ways of paying the bills until the book is out there. Hopefully it'll get a decent reception and I'll be able to make a bit of money or credit off it, but either way, it's a passion project, so it's altogether different, in my head at least.
DC: Is there a typical way for an indie or beginning artist to find gigs? Do you have any advice for artists who are looking to enter the field?
SR: I think there are two answers to that question. The first one is the trite, 'everyone gets into the business differently' and the second one is nearly equally as trite, 'well, here's how I did it'. I'll give you more details on the second one, since that's the one I know best. As I mentioned earlier, I had posted some pages on a website called penciljack and that got the attention of a writer and he offered me a job. That seems easy enough, right? Let's rewind.
I've been interested in comics since I was a kid. I've pretty well always wanted to draw comics. So when I was in high school, I started working on sample pages, which I'm pretty sure I never sent anywhere - of course this was pre-internet, so you had to actually mail out samples! Then when I was in my twenties and I realized that I was not going to be a rockstar, I went to my fall-back career again, comic artist! Yeah, mr. practicality, that's me! Anyway, I started going on the internet around that time, the late 90's/early oughts and I started visiting Wizard World's message boards. And I started posting art. Soon, most of the members from Wizard migrated to Penciljack, so I did too, and I started posting art there. At the time, a buddy of mine had written a comic script and I started drawing it. It was pretty bad, but good enough that it started getting some people's attention, which led me to doing DRIVE for Nate. Of course, I would still send in those submissions - I usually end up doing submissions once a year, but should probably do them more frequently (every 3 months or so, I suspect). Around that time, I started checking out digitalwebbing.com, where they have a "talent search" section. I got a gig for something called "The Book of Jesse" (http://www.bookofjesse.com/home.html) and some other smaller things, and I believe that's where I got the AGAINST THE WALL gig, too, if I'm not mistaken. The internet has proven to be a pretty invaluable tool for getting work I find, but my misses definitely outweigh my hits.
In general, the advice I'd give to someone starting out is: Draw as much as you possibly can. Draw sequentials, learn anatomy and perspective, draw from reference as often as you can find it. Post your work online everyday (or as frequently as you can) on a blog or message boards and go to conventions. Once you have the contact information of some editors, show them your work regularly (they won't give you contact info if they don't think you're ready or don't have potential). Get published, even if you have to do so for free, initially. Use every tool at your disposal, including instructional books, videos, magazines, the internet, drawing clubs, local art instruction, whatever, just draw, draw, draw, draw, draw, draw! Go to kinko's and make photocopy pamphlets of your sequential stories to give away at the local comic store, or supermarket, make a webcomic. Use any and all of these methods to get your name out there and keep at it until A) you can make a living at it or B) you die. It's just that simple.
DC: This is a question geared toward stories that aren't written by you...I'm curious about process ...once you receive a script, what steps do you take to turn it into a page of sequentials?
SR: Well, first I read it maybe a couple of times, just to get a feel for what's happening. I think it's good to get an overall impression of what you're working with before you start. Then I usually start thinking about what the characters look like. If it's a main character, I'll start with some sketches, just to warm up - I like to photo reference using actors, or if one of my friends has a look that might suit the story, that's even better - I can get them to pose for me. Of course, not many of my friends look like a superhero, but, for supporting roles I've used people I know in the past. So I do that for all the main characters, what do they look like, how do they stand, what sort of clothes do they wear, etc. If it's a character that is only going to be on one or two pages, then I might just draw them on the fly, but yeah, I like to do some character design as much as I can.
Once I get past that part, I start thumbnailing the pages. I just take some, split it in half and draw loose boxes and stick figures to indicate who is in what panel, and how big they are in the panel, if there are any props there, that sort of thing. Then I do the reference, I'll try to find pictures on google that look like the locations - I really hate to try to make things up, I don't have that kind of imagination. Let's just say I'm no Wally Wood. Now, as a rule I don't light box that stuff, I try to draw it freehand. I think that if you lightbox it, it really shows. What I might do, if it's a really complex panel, is just trace out the outlines of things, so I know what the proportions are going to be. But then I still like to go back and draw it in by hand, I think it just gives it a little more life. So at this point, I'm working right on the page. So I rule out my panel borders, and because I work in blue pencil, I don't worry about being too clean - my pages are tremendously messy, but I don't have to erase too much, so it's fine. Then I do the figures, then the backgrounds and props and things.
Once the pencils are done, (and although my pencils tend to be messy they are also tight, in a weird dichotomy), I'll ink the page. I tend to work top left to bottom right and I used to do the panel borders in Photoshop, but more recently have started doing them on the page with a technical pen. That's for two reasons, 1) I like how the finished page looks better now (the more I actually do on the page, the nicer the final page looks) and 2) It allows me to be more creative with my panel designs. Anyway, I started doing the panel borders in photoshop to make them cleaner, but I think my hand work has gotten a little better, so there you go. At any rate, Then I hit the figures and other organic stuff (clothes, plants, animals, etc) with a brush. I use the Windsor & Newton Series 7 #3, because it keeps a great point. Then I go through and do all the machined stuff, man-made, technical stuff with a tech pen - I'll use different sizes to indicate depth, but I like the dead line to indicate non-natural or man-made items. Then I scan in the page to photoshop, remove the blue line colour and save the file according to the publishers specs. And that is it! (off to the letterer or colourist!)
DC: With "Legend Of The Sunset People", you're adding 'writer' to your resume. How does the process of creation change when you're the one writing the script? That is...are you actually writing a script for yourself, or are you using a method of your own devising?
SR: Yeah, I'm writing a full script. I'm starting out at the outline/rough stage and then once that's polished enough, I'm going to write it out, page by page ad panel by panel. Only once that is finished and edited and checked for whatever it needs to be checked for (like does it make sense? Does it hang together? Is it a good and interesting story?) will I move on to sitting down and drawing the thing. which is why there is no art (Well, that's not exactly true - there are two pages so far: Page one and Page five, which is about as much as I want to commit to drawing before I have a finished script!). That actually made it a bit of a hard sell when I ran my “Indie Go Go” campaign, since it was like, hey here's an idea I have, but I can't show you any progress, because it's all just at the script stage and I really wasn't very comfortable with showing that off without it being finished.) As you may imagine, I am a very slow writer, since I've never done it before. It's all about confidence, right? And as I haven't done it before, I'm a little short on that. But it's getting better, the more I do it...
DC: What was your inspiration for taking on Legends of the Sunset People?
SR:A few years ago I moved to Northern Ontario and I was looking for a new project to work on. The town I moved to has a small paper and it was suggested to me that I do something with a local flavour, to be published in the paper... I discovered that the town has a legend associated with it; there was allegedly a historical battle that took place across the bay from the town beach. As I started researching the story I got more and more intrigued with all the myths and legends of the area, which are predominently aboriginal stories and I started weaving a narrative out of them, in my head. I let that gestate for three years or so (never ended up putting it in the paper) and last year, after i finished up some other obligations I had, I started to take the plunge and began writing it all down.
DC: What role does research play in your construction of scenes? How specific do you like to get with cars, guns, clothing, etc?
SR: I tend to find, the longer I do this, the more research I do, the better the art looks. I haven't gotten to the point of hiring actors and building or buying props (well, not for every panel!) but I probably would if I had the money. Google is a tremendous help - I don't know how people drew comics before it! If I can, I pick a model of car or gun or what have you, or I go through catalogues (I have a few extra Ikea and Sears catalogue lying aorund) and I pick things I like the look of and use that as inspiration. I'm more consistent with it with guns and cars, etc. but I'm working at using reference for fashion more and more.
DC: Personally, I'm having a hard time coming to terms with the "Digital Revolution" in comics. I guess I'm a traditionalist at heart. But the quality of the E Readers is improving so quickly, that it's only a matter of time before digital becomes commonplace. Who knows, it may have already happened by the time this interview goes public. I know there will always be a place for floppies and trades that we hold in our hands, but the future's coming quickly. So...as a creator and a fan...what are your thoughts on paperless comics?
SR: I love digital! Love it. I think it's the wave of the future and it will revolutionize the industry, if the industry lets it. Here's an analogy. I was watching TV today and this Ford commercial came on and my wife said, "What was that?" She was talking about the song on the commercial. So I googled it and sure enough I found the answer, the song was by a group named Derby and I found the video on YouTube in like, 5 seconds. So now I can go to iTunes and download that song, but even if i don't, I will talk to you and tell you about this band that reminds me of the Sam Roberts band and you'll go and check them out. And that is the power of this digital age we live in. I don't have to watch Muchmusic and hope this band comes along and go to the store and buy their album. It's all about access. Now what if we can do that with comics? The potential is there.
I honestly think that copyright is dead. And I don't think we should really care about it. Traditionally, copyright only protects the corporations, not the artists. Take radiohead. They don't need a label, they just put their music online and people give them nearly the same amount of money as they would have gotten from selling the record in stores, but with a greatly reduced overhead. the only question that remains is, how do you reach people? Well, you have to get creative. That was one of the reasons I wanted to do the indiegogo.com thing. I wanted an excuse to post non-stop about this project. Now everyone I know knows I'm doing this book and I haven't even finished the script. And then it's going to go online, and if I can, in the local paper as a weekly strip. If I can get some other papers too, I'd love to do it, who wouldn't want a free story to run each week? But it works for me, I don't need the money from it, right now, I just want to create a buzz.
Like you say, Trades and floppies aren't going away. Maybe the DM will die, or the market for print will diminish, but there will always be an element who want the tangible product in their hands. Right now, that's still the majority, but there are silent masses who read comics on the web and love it. They own iPads and Kindles and they are hungry for product. I see two markets. It reminds me of Larry Young talking about marketing Astronauts in Trouble. He said he did it as a miniseries, then the trade and then the hardback and then the annotated collection and then at conventions in a six-pack of the floppies. You know, because different people like different things. One person wants the serial and another want the collection. Now add the digital version and you've got another, huge, mostly untapped market out there that will read your books, if the price is right.
DC: You've worked in a wide range of genres thus far in your career - everything from horror to drama to action/thrillers...what other types of stories would you like to work on at some point?
SR: Well, of course Superheroes, not only for the paycheque, but also because I grew up reading them and I haven't done a cool hard sci-fi story yet, along the lines of Star Trek. I'd also LOVE to do something fantasy, ala Lord of the Rings. I really wanted to draw the Raymond Feist Magician series, because I was a HUGE fan of it growing up. I wonder if anyone has done an adaptation of the Shanarra series? We could be the first ;)!
DC: I'm a big fan of Bloom County, Peanuts and Calvin and Hobbes. I've always viewed the four panel strip as a second cousin, twice removed to the comic book. Same basic medium, but such a difference in the pacing as well as the general acceptance level among the general public. Are there any strips that you followed way-back-when, or any that you follow today?
SR: Like everyone, I was a huge fan of Calvin and Hobbes... and I did read a lot of those 3 panel strips when I was a kid, like Hagar the Horrible or the Wizard of ID. Today, I'm more online... I like Butternutsquash, PVP, Penny Arcade, Girls with Slingshots, the Abominable Charles Christopher to name a few. I think that even though there are fewer and fewer 3 panel gag a day strips in newspapers, they will survive forever online.
DC: I've had the pleasure of hanging out with you a couple of times at cons, and one thing I've noticed is that you're very social and outgoing with attendees. What's your view on the importance of attending conventions? Any notable "con experiences"?
SR: I love the convention scene. I think the con experience is invaluable, not only in terms of networking and getting to know people who you otherwise wouldn't have an opportunity to hang out with, but also just in a sense of charging up your creative batteries. There's nothing like having a shared experience of love of comics and pop culture with 100,000 other people to make you want to make comics. On the other hand, they still tend to be exhausting, with the noise level and the sensory overload and the walking and carrying your goodies around. And of course, they aren't cheap unless you have a local one that doesn't cost hotel, food and transportation... but in the end the benefits far outweigh any negatives.
DC: Shawn, thank you so much for your time and insightful answers. I'll make sure to check in regularly at www.wonderealm.com for updates on "Legend of the Sunset People" and any other projects you're working on!
SR: No problem. I really enjoyed our little chat. Anytime you want to talk, just give me a shout! And thanks for this opportunity to let people get to know me a little more. It's great to be able to reach people I haven't had a chance to connect with and hopefully some of your readers will like what I have to share with them!
Check out Shawn's website at www.wonderealm.com.
For a detailed look at Legend Of The Sunset People, look here: http://www.indiegogo.com/Legend-of-the-Sunset-People