Questions From A Young Creator
I am almost done with post-production on the Essex County TV show! It has been a gruelling schedule in the edit suite and now in the sound mixes, but we have picture lock on all 5 episodes and two are fully mixed. And, I can finally see the light at the end of the tunnel after a very long and exhausting year of making a TV show.
There will be more details about the air dates of Essex County etc, very soon, but I thought I’d take the time to post something else here…
I owe many of you answers to the AMA questions you sent in December, and I am working my way though those, and I’ll be back soon with some updates on Little Monsters, Phantom Road, Royal City, Fishflies and The Bone Orchard…
but in the meantime, I received the below inquiry from a young comics creator, Xander Wise, last week and, with his blessing, have posted our exchange below (along wth a piece of his own art). Writing the answers to his questions made me realize how much the landscape has changed for young creators today compared to when I was getting my start…
It’s been a while since the last time I’ve emailed you. I’m not sure if you remember me, but you helped me a few years back with the comics I was working on at the time. Now, I’m currently in my third year in the Illustration program at OCAD University. I have an assignment right now that involves interviewing someone in the book publishing scene, and was wondering if you’d be interested in an interview over email? It would consist of 5-7 questions, all regarding your experience as a storyteller. Let me know if you’d be interested. Either way I hope all is well, and thank you for your time.
All the best,
Were comics/graphic novels your first choice as a career path, or did you have something else in mind before pursuing such endeavors?
When I was younger, in the mid-90’s, trying to pursue comics as a “career” was not a thing. Comics and graphic novels were still very marginalized and not a part of mainstream culture like they are now. Additionally. There was no internet social media, so no way of sharing your work or networking. So there was no real path to pursuing a career, especially for a kid growing up in a small town in Ontario.
But I loves storytelling, and movies, and there was a booming film industry in Toronto, so I thought that may be a career where I could still tell stories visually. So I went to film school in Toronto. But, by my third year at that program, I was pretty much spending all my time drawing. So my passion pulled me back t pursuing comics full-time. But I never thought it would be a career. It was my passion. And then, one thing led to another and eventually I did end up forging a creeper in comics just asocial media and the graphic novel boom happened.
Early on in your comics career, with your books Lost Dogs and Essex County, What hurdles had to be jumped in order for you to get your work published and gain exposure? (Whether it be finances, marketing, copywriting, etc…)
Like I said, there was no social media. So I was literally hand-mailing my work to publishers and hand delivering it to local bookstores and comic shops begging them to carry a copy or two. I started focusing seriously on comics around 2000. I didn’t make any money at all doing it until about 2007. So tat was a long seven or eight years in my twenties and thirties where I was working a day job as a one cook to pay rent, and drawing as much as I could in my off time. I did Essex County and Lost Dogs this was, I did them for myself with no publisher involved. I did them because they were my passion and, luckily publishers started to take notice after that.
So the biggest struggles for me were keeping the faith in myself during those long years of not making any money doing comics, and not really being able to get published or get any sort of validation in the industry,
What was your first experience with a major studio like, such as with DC Vertigo? Did you reach out to them or did they reach out to you?
I had published the Essex County Trilogy with Top Shelf Productions and they were very well received critically. One of the editors at Vertigo, Bob Schreck was pals with one of. The Top Shelf publishers, Brett Warnock and Brett shared my work with Bob. Soon after Bob asked me to pitch some work to Vertigo.
With your stories you have experience both as an illustrator and a writer. How does the interview process/portfolio review differ between the two art forms?
It’s much harder to have your work as a writer quickly reviewed. It takes time for someone to actually read and review a script. So, really, it is your art and visual storytelling that needs to catch their immediate attention. The visual storytelling in comics should be so strong that someone can almost “read” them silently at first glance.
On the business side of things, how does working on a story for large corporations like Marvel and DC Comics differ from Independently creating your own works? (In terms of creative freedom, profitability, ethics, etc…)
You always have much more freedom working independently or with indie publishers. But there are other benefits to working at al are cokmpanyt, including better pay and, often, higher exposure to your work. So the trick is to find that balance and to also find ways of keeping “your voice” inside of a large company and their characters. That can be a challenge, and I didn’t always succeed, but I learned more and more how to do that and how to select projects that allowed me to do that.
Of course, working on your own personal work will always be best creatively. But there are ways to find that balance. And working on the company owned characters can be very fun and fulfilling in other ways too.
What do you know now that you wished you had known earlier in your comics-making career?
Nothing. Everything happened for me exactly how it needed to. All the struggle and uncertainly I went through as a younger creator shaped me and and made me the artist I am today. I needed that struggle and needed to overcome it to find my voice ass an artist and my way into the industry. It wasn’t easy, but it was necessary. So, I wouldn’t change a thing!
Excelent interview! I hope to see your Tv series adaptation of the amazing Essex County graphic novel really soon on the tv screen!