Ultraist Studios Blog Journal thoughts, musings and other rambling…

March 31, 2011

Now I’ll Ask YOU One… pt.8

Filed under: Mail,Now I'll Ask You One... — M Kitchen @ 10:41 pm

Blair: I didn’t have a chance to cut in on Mike’s last email, but I just wanted to add my opinion on the topic of you still enjoying comics after making them for all these years and Mike saying he has very little interest in movies and animation these days after working in animation for 14 plus years. I must say that I still have a real soft spot for animating and it’s probably one of my favourite things to do, art wise, even though I’d be a very happy man if I never had to animate for someone else again (just for myself). I’d love the chance to turn The Possum into an animated movie, (I picture it something in the vein of a Roger Rabbit, minus the live action… man that would look cool), but it would have to be done that way, and like Mike says, it would most likely require starting up a studio and getting private investors, because the chances of a big studio giving me anything close to the deal I’d want with the quality control I’d want is almost impossible. I actually have mostly storyboarded out a 2 minute short which one of these days I’ll get around to animating. I love the Dick Williams model of film making; working with a small crew over a longer period of time. I realize that’s not how most movies are made these days, but a guy can dream, can’t he?

You, Dave, were the first one to mention self contained stories to me back when I was working on The Possum #3, I think, but I was half way through a 3 part story spanning from issues 2 to 4 (I did feel very strongly to make issue #1 self contained, which I did, even if I had to make it 72 pages). When I met Sergio Aragones at the 2010 Wondercon in San Francisco, I gave him issues 1 to 4, and he read them that night. When I spoke to him the next day, the first thing he mentioned was that he loved the expressions in my drawings, but he said “how often are you putting these comics out? Once a year?” to which I replied, “pretty much”. He said “You’ve got to make them self contained stories”. I was already planning on switching to the self contained, stand alone story per issue format, but I figured if Dave Sim AND Sergio Aragones are both telling me this, I have no choice but to quit planning and start doing it right away, hence the next 3 Possum comics which I have loosely written are all stand alone stories (although, there is a greater story arc that weaves it’s way through all the issues much like Stan Lee did so well with Spider-man). Sergio went on to give me a half hour critique of my pacing, (telling me panels I could take out to condense the stories) and showing me examples of his own work where he’s done just that. It was a real eye opener for me, and hopefully I can implement his advice in all my future issues of The Possum, starting with issue #5. Mike told me how he asked you when all the inking techniques that you were showing him “clicked” for you, and you said, not until you were working on Glamourpuss. Mike here with an insert comment – Yeah, that blew my mind. I was expecting you to say Cerebus 38 or 86 but the fact it was so recent for you… wow. I was speechless. Back to you Blair. That was both reassuring to hear and disheartening at the same time. If after 300 issues of Cerebus, you still had things to learn, I’ve got a looooooong way to go, but at the same time, I can’t beat myself up too much if I haven’t learned everything after 5 issues. I know with animation, many things I’ve been told by very talented animators never sunk in until 5 years later, when I’d be animating a scene and then all of a sudden a lightbulb would go off in my head and I’d go “That’s what he was talking about!!” I’d go from understanding the theory of the idea, to actually understanding how to apply it properly and understanding why it was so important.

As for my process, the drawings don’t come to me nearly as effortlessly as Sergio Aragones makes it look, but I do keep my rough pencils very loose. I usually do sketches of 2 or 3 of the panels I’d like, in my sketchbook and then thumbnail out a very quick page layout so I know I can fit in all that I want to show on the page. From there I pencil straight onto my illustration board that I’m going to do the final inks on. As I’m inking, I’ll have a pencil close by so that I can fill in any details that I’m not sure about, or go over any poses that are a little tricky (pretty much anything that I can’t see clearly in my head what it’s supposed to look like). I tend to use a bit more perspective in my panel designs during action sequences than Sergio might use, so I’ve found it wise to figure the perspective out clearly before I go to ink as well. Usually in a 24 page comic, there’s 6 or 7 poses that I need to figure out on another sheet of paper and then transfer it to the illustration board. I think if I used the tracing paper like you and Mike do, I’d loose a lot of the life out of my drawings, so I don’t do it too often. Sometimes I feel guilty though, as if I’m being a hack and not spending the proper amount of time on figuring out my poses, so I’ll start pencilling a bit tighter, but I find it doesn’t make the drawings look any better. I’m getting to learn what parts I can pretty much go from stick figure pencils, straight to ink, and which parts I need to slow down and work the drawing out properly before I apply the final ink line. I don’t know what I’d do if I didn’t have white out though. When I first designed The Possum, I consciously chose to work in a style that came naturally to me because I knew that I wouldn’t be making comics full time at first, so I’d have to be able to work quickly when I could work, and also, coming from animation, I was always drawing characters that other people designed, so I was always working in other people’s styles. I didn’t even know what my style was at the time, and most of the drawings I did was trying to mimic other animation styles. I was always a big fan of Groo the Wanderer, but I hadn’t read the comics in years and it was kind of a shock to me that what came out of me was in that style. Since I started drawing The Possum, it’s been really freeing for me artistically. I would never caricature people at work or doodle, nearly as much as I do now, because I was always trying to make my caricatures and doodles look like other people’s work. Once I just let loose and stopped thinking how my drawings should look and just started making them look how I thought was funny, drawing became fun again.

And as per your request, I’ll post a bit of Rochelle’s artwork here:

MIKE: Blair’s e-mail didn’t have any pictures attached so I grabbed some of Rochelle’s Alphabuddies drawings since I knew where to find some… maybe Blair will send some other stuff later!

Okay, my turn. In SPY GUY’s defense; SPY GUY: Bootleg was self-contained, SPY GUY : Minis was self-contained and SPUD & HARRY was self-contained, but at this point I decided to just dive in and finally do the three part story I had been itching to do with The Unlimited Series. I had been sitting on “First Strike” for a decade and I wasn’t getting any younger… my solution was always to try and bring each issue to it’s own mini-climax. The ending to SPY GUY #1 is; the bad guy gets away. There is some closure there, or at the very least, that was my intent. Of course if I’m being successful at it or not is a different question entirely. The ending to SPY GUY #2 is a little more open ended. So I am hearing what you’re saying. All of this IS at the forefront of my mind. Lots to think about. Okay, enough of me playing “Spy-Guy’s-Advocate”…

Sparked by yesterday’s discussion, here are two other thoughts I had about getting comics into reader’s hands: Creating micro-distributors through readers by selling five packs of comics at say a fifty percent discount and allowing those readers to sell comics to their friends. Then they get a comic they like and can make some money doing it. Would it work? I don’t know. Or maybe comic swaps with other self-publishers – Trade a box of SPY GUY for a box of THE POSSUM and then I can sell Possum comics for a profit and Blair can sell Spy Guy comics for a profit. Expand that to other self-publishers and you’ve effectively expanded your reach to different geographic areas and can infiltrate conventions that you personally aren’t attending.

I was also thinking that participating in an “indie-brain-trust” would be a great thing to do in order to spark new ideas. Taking part in discussions like this is a good step in the right direction. Great to get ideas flowing. With so many indie guys out there, you’d think we could come up with something.

Okay, answering today’s question!

Self Publishing Marathon

The response to this comic strip was one hundred percent positive. At conventions I point it out to people who are flipping through Cerebus Readers In Crisis and it is always met with a good natured laugh. Of course I’ve also been told at conventions that I look like the mixed martial artist former UFC Champion Randy Couture, so maybe detractors are intimidated and simply bite their tongue. But then again, I’ve posted the comic online where all the internet trolls could have had a go at it, and even there it hasn’t received a negative response. Animation colleagues have told me that this was one of their favourite drawings I’ve done. Others have told me if I put it on a t-shirt they would buy it and wear it. Others have asked for it as a poster. Makes for a dull answer, I know. Would have been a lot more interesting if someone threw a hissyfit over it. Oh well.

Now I’ll ask YOU one…

So we talked a bit about distribution through Diamond, but now I’m wondering about self-publishing from a more macro view in 2011. I got thinking more about “making a living” self-publishing during your conversation with Steve Bissette over at MYRANT. As the discussion progressed I started looking for examples of guys who successfully self-published in 2010 and I was stumped.

Erik Larsen on Savage Dragon: As an Image Founder, would you consider this self-publishing?

I thought there were webcomic creators successfully self-publishing their own work, though it turns out many of them are being published through Image or Dark Horse or Del Rey etc.

David Petersen with Mouse Guard: That’s published by Archaia Studios Press.

Jeremy Bastian’s Cursed Pirate Girl: That’s published by Olympian Publishing.

Andy Runton’s Owly: That’s published by Top Shelf Productions.

Mark Millar seems to have the greatest success in comics these days, but his Millar World projects aren’t self-published and he seems to be going after the Hollywood cash infusions.

Mark Oakley is still self-publishing, but is he earning enough to support a family?

It sounded as though Jimmy Gownley was struggling with Amelia Rules! before Simon & Schuster acquired the publishing rights. Comparing Bone direct market sales to the 4.5 million BONE books in print from Scholastic is astounding. I found it interesting even that Cerebus: High Society was getting Spanish, French and Italian translations through various publishers! Which is great because all of these comics are getting into the hands of new readers, and the creators who own the work are able to make a decent living off their creator owned works. On one hand it tells me that people still want to read comics. On the other hand, it has me wondering “what’s a self-publisher to do?”

Are there any 2010 self-publishing success stories?

The most interesting 2011 example I can think of (for prose books) is the author Seth Godin who has started self-publishing his own work as “The Domino Project” in association with Amazon.com (I’m not sure exactly what “powered by Amazon” means, but when I asked, Seth told me he owns “The Domino Project”). I’ll be keeping a close eye on this one.

What about self-publisher with families?

Can you think of any successful self-publishers (earning enough to support a family above the poverty line) today in 2011?

Heh – I guess counting the question marks, there’s more than one question up there… but despite being somewhat of a scattershot question, it is one train of thought…

Now I’ll Ask YOU One… pt.7

Filed under: Mail,Now I'll Ask You One... — M Kitchen @ 9:05 am

Hey everyone. Mike here. If you’re enjoying this conversation, and know of anyone else that might enjoy it, please share it with them! Facebook it! Retweet it! E-mail a url! (you can even use the share button at the bottom of this post). It would be great to drum up some added buzz.  Thanks!  Okay, now on to Dave Sim’s latest fax:

CerebusTV: Episode this Friday!

Filed under: Announcements — M Kitchen @ 8:49 am

CEREBUS TV CROSSOVER! “The Kitchen Family Players” sneak preview meets THE LAST SIGNING coverage as Mike (SPY GUY) Kitchen, Blair (THE POSSUM) Kitchen, their wives and seven (count ’em) seven children drivefrom Southern Ontario to Halifax, Nova Scotia for Dave Sim’s THE LAST SIGNING. A lead-in to a LOST BUT NOW FOUND CEREBUS TV EPISODE from July 2010, “Head Sketches R Us” CEREBUS AS BLAIR KITCHEN’s THE POSSUM with guest appearance of all-the-crazy-stuff Indy mini-comics genius Ralph Kidson sends from England. And what was up with Alex Raymond and all the photos of him with pretty young models?
It’s the fasted half-hour of Internet Comic Book TV!

Begins showing at 10pm ET / 7pm PT on Friday, April 1st at http://www.Cerebus.TV/

March 30, 2011

Now I’ll Ask YOU One… pt.6

Filed under: Mail,Now I'll Ask You One... — M Kitchen @ 9:35 pm

Mike: Regarding movies and movie reviews; very interesting. It made me think of Jimmy Gownley’s question to you about enjoying comics after making them for all these years, and your short answer was “yes” you still enjoy comics. For movies and animation, I’m the opposite; I have very little interest in movies and animation these days (unless they’re truly exceptional). I think movies ruined me for a lot of the reasons you wrote. That and production shell-shock… and working on stories that aren’t my own. But I’m still as obsessed with the comic medium as I was when I picked up that first Andy Capp collection printed by Fawcett Publications off the shelf at my grandparents cottage.

And I know your aversion to thinking in the superhero vein. But I don’t see why you couldn’t do a short Rip Kirby, X-9, Heart of Juliette Jones, James Bond, Charlies Angels photo-real style short. My experience at Comic Con tells me they’re looking for that stuff. Actually that could even work in glamourpuss… anyway – just random ideas. Being of the Dave Sim School of comics myself, I totally understand NOT wanting to bother with that at all.

Regarding Diamond, I don’t mind discussing it at all. These were the boxes that were checked off on the form letter I received from them:

  • The writing is not up to the comic industry standards. The following aspect(s) of your writing could use improvement.
    • Story Concept (our market is slow for this type of product at this time)
  • The publication specs you have chosen for your title have proven difficult sales-wise for out consumers and retailers. Please reconsider the print size and/or production quality of your publication.

The story concept comment, is strange to me because there ARE crime-drama stories (Criminal), and there ARE comics with cartoony characters (Bone, etc.) so I’m not sure what they’re getting at here. It sounds to me like they’re asking for superhero comics, which I’m not interested in doing.

For publication specs, I get the sense that what they’re really looking for is a graphic novel trade paperback OR a colour comic. I have no interest in making SPY GUY a colour comic (well, that’s not entirely accurate; I have TWO ideas for one-shot SPY GUY colour comics, but that’s it – absolutely no interest in a colour unlimited series.), so my thoughts for this suggestion were to collect the First Strike story into a collection. I even wondered if it would be worth while to see if another publisher would want to reprint it as it seems any comic with an Image “i” or an IDW or an SLG etc. on the cover gets more respect (insert Rodney Dangerfield routine here). Maybe that would help break through the direct market blockade…

Recently I’ve been thinking that my best course of action would be to post images of pages as they are completed online as a webcomic. I had been resisting this because I like the idea of a story coming out all at once on paper, but doing so would kill a few birds with one stone; it would help with exposure to expand the fan-base, it would force a certain amount of momentum with frequent updates, it would force me to complete a page before moving on to the next one and it would ease the gap in between getting the next comic done, since it does take a while making these comics during moonlighting hours. The BEST solution of course would be to get a comic done every month, or every two months, but when it doesn’t provide living expenses, it’s kind of like keeping your head underwater… you can only do it for so long.

Of course meanwhile over at HAVEN DISTRIBUTORS (where stores everywhere can order ALL of the SPY GUY issues to date) they gave a glowing review of SPY GUY #1 and made it the STAFF PICK! So when it comes to building bridges half-way, I’m thankful they reached out to me, and right now I’d like to do whatever I can to help build up their distribution. I think that would be healthy for comics as a whole.

When I talked to the folks at Midtown Comics at MoCCA Festival last year, they told me that the SPY GUY comics they picked up directly from me for Indy Comics Week sold REALLY well. And I should mention that it was Gahl Buslov at Midtown Comics who made the single largest purchase of SPY GUY and THE POSSUM to date. I’m eternally grateful that they took a chance on our books, and I’m thankful that it worked out well for them.

And this just came in via wireless internet from Blair somewhere between here and Texas…

Blair: The “Dave Sim the pariah” thing has always amazed me. It seems the people who claim to be the most “liberal” are the first people to get violently offended when someone does not agree with their liberal views. I guess I’m just not liberal enough to expect everyone else to think like me.

Seeing as though I’m somewhere between Cincinnati, Ohio and Louisville, Kentucky as I’m typing this (on my way to Texas with the family), I don’t have access to my “Diamond rejection slip”, so I can’t quote it word for word, but essentially what they said was:

  • They didn’t like my paper quality
  • They didn’t like the cover to issue #1, and
  • They said they’d like to see it as a trade paperback

To be honest, I didn’t send them issue #4 when I completed that one, but I’m planning to contact them after issue #5 is completed early this summer. You’d think that my solutions would be quite simple if I changed the paper quality, redid the cover to issue #1 and combined the first 5 comics with a square binding, wouldn’t you? I’m not entirely sure what they’re looking for though, as far as paper quality goes, because their critique is kind of vague. Are they looking for glossy white paper, or just a thicker newsprint? Can Jeff Smith get away with using newsprint on Rasl, because he’s Jeff Smith, or is he using the specific type of newsprint that Diamond likes? As for the cover to issue #1 I do see their point and I would have no problems redoing it and making it a little more dynamic. I like the current cover to issue #1 personally, but next to all the flashy covers in the Previews, I can see how it might get overlooked. As a collector’s standpoint, I don’t like the idea of having multiple issue #1’s out there, but maybe if I do get into Diamond one day the first printings or “non Diamond” versions can be the collector’s items (And I’ll be rich because I’ve got boxes of them in my basement!). On a side note, I bought Usagi Yojimbo #1 (first printing) off of Stan Sakai at last year’s San Diego Comicon for $5.00, and he must have had them since 1986, so I don’t feel too bad having a basement full of comics, as it’ll give me something to sell at conventions for years to come, at least! – Mike: Cutting in with an insert comment here; I remember us discussing this on the drive back to Kitchener, and the idea of creating scarcity in a collectors market with an issue number one. I knowingly printed an excess number of SPY GUY #1 with the intent of getting it into as many hands of new readers as possible, though my solution for creating a collectors item was to create the limited foil-stamped platinum edition à la glamourpuss #1. Okay, back to you Blair… I’m also not a fan of trade paperbacks that only collect 3 or 4 comics at a time and I’ve always pictured the first Possum trade as 10 or 15 comics at least, so the dilemma is finding a way to keep your artistic vision and make Diamond happy at the same time.

My plan as of now is to print issue #5 on my own using a similar format as the first 4 Possum comics (with a slight change of paper), and then figure out a format that Diamond likes. Your baseball analogy works really well. There’s a part of me that is waiting for the timing to be right, because if I ever DID get The Possum into Diamond, I’d have to be ready to go out all guns a’blazing and put everything I have into marketing and sticking to a bi monthly schedule at least. I think it’s a matter of being scared that I would only have one shot at making it work once it makes it into Diamond, and if I don’t have my sh*t together when that happens, I could miss the boat completely. Mike: Cutting in with another insert comment – I can’t say there is any fear for me. It’s strictly a tactical analysis. This is where my military analogies kick in. If I’m going to take a shot, I know I’d better make it a kill shot. If circumstances are not providing the shot I need, then I’d better reposition myself and keep my finger on the trigger. Until then I’ll just keep going ahead with the carpet bombs. Once the defences are weakened, then it’s time to send in the ground troops. Back to you Blair… Plus, there’s the matter of 3 little Kitchen’s and a missus to feed, and I haven’t wrapped my head around how I would do that if I was to start making comics full time, starting tomorrow. With all that said, I’m feeling that with 5 comics under my belt, the time is coming where if I’m going to do anything, it has to be soon, and I’m realizing that there’s a big difference between being someone who makes comics, and being a pro. It’s always a battle, deciding if the 3 or 4 hours a week I have to dedicate towards comics is going to be researching who to contact at Diamond and how to organize those damn barcodes, or if those 3 or 4 hours are going to be dedicated to inking page 8, but sooner or later the answer has to be “both”.

With all that said, I realize that there is no guarantees that if I make the changes I’ll even get into Diamond, and even if I do get into Diamond that my orders would meet the minimums, and even if they did meet the minimums, there’s no guarantee those orders would pay even a fraction of my bills. But as Mark Twain said (I think it was Mark Twain anyways) “Looking back, you’ll be more disappointed at the things you didn’t do than with the things you did do”…… and then there was something about sailing in there after that. If I wasn’t typing this from a car on Highway 71 (don’t worry, Rochelle took over driving duties while I type this), I’d look the quote up on the internet and quote it exactly so I sounded smarter than I am.

Now, after watching the last two episodes of Cerebus TV, I really would like to know where you learned to dance the twist!!, but keeping with a similar theme, I’ll ask you this one: What were your first impressions when you saw our books, and after hearing what Diamond thought and our reactions to it, I’d really like to hear any further thoughts or suggestions that you may have.

Mike: “Brace for impact!”

Now I’ll Ask YOU One… pt.5

Filed under: Mail,Now I'll Ask You One... — M Kitchen @ 8:22 am

March 29, 2011

Now I’ll Ask YOU One… pt.4

Filed under: Mail,Now I'll Ask You One... — M Kitchen @ 8:55 pm

Blair:  Well, I agree with you 100% about trying to control people. My fear about bringing someone on to collaborate, would be that it automatically means giving up a portion of control. A huge lesson I learned from marriage, is that no matter how hard you try, it’s a losing battle if one spouse tries to control the other. It seems to me that you and Gerhard had the ideal partnership and it really is a feat what you two accomplished by making it to issue 300 and crossing the finish line together! (Kudos to you two on that!)

And yes, as we speak I’m getting ready to drive down to Texas with the family, early tomorrow morning, although it would take a lot more than a road trip to keep me from participating in a discussion like this. It seems with me these days, there’s always 2 or 3 pots in the fire, so I’ll just pretend it’s all business as usual and take part of the blame for planning a road trip the same week my episode of Cerebus TV is running.

Now, about my lovely wife, Rochelle: We met at Sheridan College in Oakville, while we were both taking the animation program there…. There were 4 or 5 girls in our graduating class, and somehow I managed to convince one of them to marry me. We actually worked together at many of the same animation studios once we graduated, which was a good thing, because with the hours we worked at some of those studios, we never would have seen each other if we weren’t working together. I’m not sure how familiar you are with the animation world, but depending on where you work it can be a pretty competitive industry with some very long hours (Much like comics I guess), and after 8 or 9 years of it, Rochelle was getting tired of the politics. Once we were married, and Rochelle was pregnant with our first child (Avery, or “Tex” as a few people we worked with liked to call her), she was more than happy to become a “full time mom”. It’s funny, because we had never really talked about whether or not she would stay home with our future kids until the inevitable discussion needed to take place, and I really, really didn’t like the idea of daycare. Luckily we were both on the same page with our thoughts and she was the one who suggested that she stay at home. It’s sad though, because a lot of women feel pressured to return to work, and I’m not sure if that pressure is real or if it’s put on them by themselves because of the unreal values that are in their minds of what a woman should do, but it’s definitely there. I understand that not all families can afford to live off of one income, and many things in this world don’t work the way they should, but from the children’s point of view, having a mother there to greet you when you get home from school is the best case scenario by far. I don’t even think that a stay at home dad can fill that role the same way a mom can. Rochelle is definitely not a comic book reader though. She can appreciate the art, but as far as interest in sitting down and reading a comic book goes, there’s not much there. I got her to read Jaka’s story once, but I’m not sure if she made it all the way through, and she read a few issues of Invincible, but that’s about it. I must say that it is nice to have a fellow artist in the house when I can’t get an expression right, or just to have a second pair of eyes. She always gets frustrated with me, because I tend to ask for advice a lot and when she gives me her opinion, I often say “no, I think it should be like this” and then do the opposite of what she suggested. (sometimes you just need to hear someone else’s opinion to actually realize what it is you wanted in the first place), although I did take her suggestion on the Possum’s expression for the cover of issue #5 which will be ready for Comicon this year. Rochelle still draws when she can though, during those rare moments when the kids are in bed and the Kitchen’s cleaned and the laundry is done. (much like me when my animation work is finished, and the garbage is put out, and the house is in working order). She has a sketchbook full of great children’s book ideas that she would really like to illustrate as soon as our youngest is in school (which is still a few years off). A few times when money has been tight, she’s toyed with the idea of picking up some animation work, and she still gets calls from studios from time to time, but I know she really doesn’t want to do it right now, and I think her time is much better spent working on her own artwork. As for her getting stuck with the babysitting duties in Halifax, that was her call. We were staying with an old friend in Halifax, and also visiting Mike and my sister who was living there at the time, and I think the thought of a nice quiet evening watching a movie trumped hanging out in a comic shop till 2:00 am with 3 tired children. During the Glamourpuss event, I think she was over at my sister’s place with the kids and their cousins, hanging out. By the grace of God, Mike and I did OK with finding wives that will give us their blessing as we run around from convention to convention, pretending we’re comic artists. All joking aside, it takes a lot of evenings, weekends and sacrifices to make these comic books, with no assurance that we will ever see a profit from them, and having a supportive spouse makes all the difference in the world.

Mike: My turn. The sports analogy is a great one. Personally, I always tend to think in military analogies for some reason; combat being a “young man’s game” as well. As I see my own youth slipping behind me, I find I’m tending to look at Will Eisner for inspiration – “The Plot” was a masterpiece. It keeps the thought in my head “it isn’t futile… keep going…”.

I looked up the stats on Gordie Howe:

– Oldest player to play in NHL: 52 years, 11 days (no other player has played past the age of 48)

– Only player to play in the NHL in five different decades (1940s, 1950s, 1960s, 1970s, and 1980s)

– Another milestone in a remarkable career was reached in 1997 when Howe played professional hockey in a sixth decade. He was signed to a one-game contract by the Detroit Vipers of the IHL and, almost 70-years-old, made a return to the ice for one shift. In doing so, he became the only player in hockey history to compete in six different decades at the professional level, having played in the NHL, WHA and IHL from the 1940s to 1990s.

The formative years of SPY GUY were the late 1980’s. At that time the action hero cop genre was all over the place. Lethal Weapon, Beverly Hills Cop, Die Hard, et al… so the Action Movie was a HUGE influence. It doesn’t show so much in the one panel gag comics I created at the time, doodling in my sketchbook at Milton District High School, due to the limitations of the format… but in my head, that’s where it was going. When I discovered manga comics while at Sheridan College (shortly after I discovered Cerebus with issue #166) it became the moment everything crystallized in my mind. I wasn’t thinking SPY GUY so much at the time (I had moved on to a Cyber-Punk idea called ULTRAISTS) but the handling of black-and-white half-tones, and decompressed storytelling and manga action tricks started to fall into place like Tetris blocks in my mind.

“When I get this story arc done I’ll have a blueprint for a movie” is at the opposite end of the spectrum from where my mind is at. My experience with Hollywood definitely has me avoiding that, to keep SPY GUY strictly my own. A video game or something? Maybe (it would be something to pay the bills). But I can’t see SPY GUY surviving the Hollywood movie process intact.

An interesting aside; At San Diego Comic Con I was approached by someone who was apparently involved with the Bourne Identity movies, who was looking for new SPY material to be made into feature films. He asked if I ever though of having SPY GUY turned into a movie, and I told him that if it were ever to happen, I’d see it as an animated movie, at which point he visibly lost interest, though he gave me his card, and I gave him a comic. But the thought of having something like “Bruce Willis as SPY GUY” was a funny enough idea to keep me amused for quite some time after that.

Back to the question; I should also quantify this answer by saying my experience working on HELLBOY was a career highlight for me, so THAT wasn’t at all a factor. There are places where the HELLBOY movie went off the mark compared to the comic (which I was a huge fan of – so I was wanting it to hit the mark EXACTLY), but not NEARLY as off the mark as so many other comic-turned-movie projects. Tippett Studio (where we handled the animation) operation was analogous to a sports team. It was lunchbucket effects. A studio that brought out the best in artistic people. A place that encouraged us to exercise our creativity. Unfortunately I can’t say that about every other animation studio I’ve worked at. Those other studio experiences I can say have definitely been a factor. I always saw SPY GUY as my Mickey Mouse, or Bugs Bunny, or Charlie Brown… a character that I can keep going with… that can be dropped into any situation to get a story from… a character that can express what’s going through my head at any given moment. I’d hate to lose that.

I wouldn’t be against creating some other project with the intent of having a Hollywood blueprint to sell. Cash it in and ride the wave of success? Beats working the day job! But this is where the control freak nature for me comes in: If SPY GUY were to get the Hollywood treatment, I wouldn’t want it butchered, so I’d want some part in the creative process, which would probably require starting an animation studio, and next thing you know I’m running a studio and making the money-men happy rather than doing the hands on creating. Seems like a lot of hassle when I could be putting some of my own ink on some S-172 Bainbridge and telling the same story. Now if only I could earn enough of a living doing that to take care of my family…

Now I’ll ask YOU one: Since we’re speaking of creating “a blueprint for a movie”… Have you ever considered doing the Mark Millar “MILLAR WORLD” thing, where you create a comic mini-series of 3 to 8 comics to tell a short story that you’re not as attached to (as say Cerebus or glamourpuss) with the idea that it could be released into the Hollywood meat-grinder for a quick buck? I mean, the question seems moot, now that you’ve got your drawing board full with glamourpuss and Cerebus Archive… but I remember years ago via the Blog And Mail you had mentioned that Cartoon Network had been asking you about intellectual properties that you’re not as finicky about, and you mentioned a movie idea you had… AND I see that Jeff Smith just recently had the RASL movie rights picked up AND Doug TenNapel seems to be doing well with this model… and, well, I’m curious: What are your thoughts about creating a (disposable) comic mini-series as a blueprint for a movie?

ps. The tech people managed to solve my missing fax pages problem (so you can send them all at once like you did the first time), and now this whole exchange should go off without a hitch… God willing of course.

Now I’ll Ask YOU One… pt.3

Filed under: Mail,Now I'll Ask You One... — M Kitchen @ 1:37 pm

March 28, 2011

Now I’ll Ask YOU One… pt.2

Filed under: Mail,Now I'll Ask You One... — M Kitchen @ 9:59 pm

First of all Dave, I just want to say “thanks” for initiating this instalment of “Now I’ll Ask YOU One”. Very interested to see where the conversation leads us.

The Aardvark-Vanaheim support staff (Oliver and Margaret) helped hook up Ultraist Studios with a virtual fax number 206-202-3112 so we should be good to go.

The whole family and I enjoyed doing that reading before Christmas as well.

How did I come up with the idea of getting the kids to come up with their own members of the supporting cast?

That’s an interesting question, and will make for a long winded answer… Years ago Blair showed me a copy of Jim Henson’s Designs and Doodles: A Muppet Sketchbook and I was amazed at how such simple crude drawings had so much charisma and were turned into such appealing iconic characters as muppets. It made me think of The Art of Star Wars book I had, and how those original Star Wars designs also seemed crude and yet appealing and were turned into such iconic characters in the movie. Contrast that to the most recent Star Wars movies that had designs that were amazingly slick and polished in comparison, and yet the final product that we see in the films came across as over designed and devoid of appeal.

Somewhere along the line, I also noticed that it was Steve Ditko that had created most of my favourite superhero designs (especially in the Spider-Man Universe), and while John Romita Sr. may have polished them all up on his run, there wasn’t anything quite as iconic (in my opinion) created afterwards. Very interesting… Then just a couple years ago, over in the Marvel camp, The Amazing Spider-Man got the Brand New Day reboot where they promised to introduce all new villains, and echoing the above Star Wars scenario, we got (in my opinion) slick polished art with over-designed characters devoid of appeal. They didn’t hold a flame to the Ditko classics!

I began to wonder how much a part of innocence and naivety and child-like wonder plays into creating appealing characters and concepts…

Meanwhile over in the Spy Guy Universe, I was finding similar things happening. Spy Guy was a character I had created back in high school. So were most of his villains. All crudely drawn but (in my opinion) high in appeal. However I noticed the new characters I was creating were starting to lean into the over-designed and devoid of appeal side of the spectrum. Yikes. That’s not good.

A couple years ago Anika (my oldest daughter) designed a superhero called “Zap Girl”.
The design of “Zap Girl” reminded me of a Ditko character. Again, very interesting…

For fun, not too long ago, I asked all of my children (who were old enough to hold a crayon) to each draw their own characters, to see what they would come up with this time around. Anika created “Katie Whips”, Raina created “Fire Girl”, and Erikson created “Frosty Guy”. I then did a redraw of those characters in my sketchbook and I liked the results. A LOT. I mean how can you not? Who thinks of a pre-teen in high heels, khaki shorts and armed with a diamond tip whip? It’s brilliant!

Also I should mention that Mike Mignola and his daughter Katie’s “The Magician And The Snake” is one of my favourite short stories. AND I was well aware that Ethan and Malachai Nicolle’s Axe Cop was tearing up the webcomic scene so all of this had been percolating in my mind for years. There was something to all this…

Enter INDIE COMICS MAGAZINE (which is where THIS story will be printed and available at all fine comic shops in April – just in case anyone wants to grab it).

Gary Scott-Beatty asked if I would be interested in contributing an 8 page story for Indie Comics Magazine #2 which would be distributed through Diamond Comics. This was just as I was about to take 2 and a half months (unpaid) off from my animation “Clark Kent Day Job” to finish up SPY GUY #2. Given that SPY GUY has yet to break through the Diamond Comics direct market blockade, I knew I had to take advantage of the opportunity… but what story did I want to tell that was interesting enough to take me away from my focus of finishing the next comic? I had ideas, but none of them were as interesting as the work I was in the middle of. Then I got to thinking about how I had been wanting to do a project with my kids, and I got to thinking about how fast they’re growing up, and how slow I’ve been producing new comics and how that was THE ONE thing I would rather work on than what I was in the middle of. So that’s what I did. Katie Whips already fit into the story I had in mind. But Raina and Erikson’s characters weren’t going to fit. I told them the sort of story I was thinking of doing, and they presented me with “Two-Gun Tiny” and “Super Shooter And His Army Men Lightning Hawks”. Perfect! They designed the characters and helped write their character’s dialogue and I crammed it into the basic museum heist story I had in mind.

And THAT is basically how I came up with the idea of getting the kids to come up with their own members of the supporting cast! I look forward to collaborating with them again in the near future!

After that long winded answer, I’ll turn the text over to Blair…

Blair: Hi Dave! First of all, thanks for allowing us to have this dialogue. I really enjoyed the conversations you’ve had with Steve Bissette and Jimmy Gownley, so I’m thrilled that Mike and I get to have a go at this ourselves.

As for your question about The Possum being my first super hero, the answer is definitely not. Mike and I have been coming up with super heros and cartoon characters for as long as I can remember. Way back to the first grade, I remember having characters that were pretty much pom poms with eyes and feet that I’d draw all the time, then it was funny roman soldiers for a while which took up large sheets of paper where they performed elaborate battle scenes. Then as I got older (around 3rd or 4th grade), a porcupine called Spike (I know….. real original) became my trademark character. Spike was inspired by Garfield, and he’d always be accompanied by some sort of witty caption that consisted of him wanting a hug or something like that (ha ha ha…. Real original again). I remember drawing Viking characters at the dining room table, using the Armour All logo as reference and Mike turns to me and says “I’ve figured out a way to draw any kind of character!” I was sceptical, but Mike being 13 years old and a whole 2 years older than me, I thought I’d see what he was talking about. Mike had a standard cartoon man that he could draw, and he turned him into a business man by drawing him a brief case and a tie. Then he made him into a scuba diver by giving him a mask, flippers and oxygen tank! This was a revelation to me! I now had the knowledge make up characters from my head, rather than seeing something I liked and just making a cheap knock off character out of it! Most of my characters were still imitations of what Mike was drawing, and by this time Mike had started to draw Spy Guy, so I made a knight character with the same proportions as Spy Guy and called him Sir Lance. This was around the 6th grade I think, and I filled sketch books with one page gags, made Sunday morning style comic strips, and even started writing a novel about these knight characters (I think I completed 8 or 9 pages of it even). Sir Lance was the most developed of any character I had created before The Possum, and he was my “go to” character all the way through high school. Once I discovered Cerebus in my high school days, I even got through 10 pages of a revamped Sir Lance comic book, complete with my version of Gerhard cross hatching and a cartoon proportioned hero in a world of realistic proportioned people. I guess if you want to get technical, The Possum was my first fully developed “Super hero” as all of my other characters were of the Sunday strip variety. I had created tons of super heroes throughout my childhood and would fill sketchbooks full of super hero characters, but I’d mainly design their costumes and powers, draw a cool pose and then move on, and The Possum was really, no different than that at first.
I touched on how The Possum came to be in the introduction page of The Possum #1, but I condensed it down to a sentence or two, so I’ll give you the full version: I’m not sure how I did it, but somehow during high school I managed to maintain good marks despite the fact that my note taking to doodling ratio favoured doodling by a considerable margin. My memory of each class that I attended consisted of me drawing and whoever was sitting beside me, looking over my shoulder and offering their suggestions of what should be drawn next. During Mrs Trickey‘s math class, it was comics of me and Howard becoming so board that we’d turn into skeletons or we’d start bleeding out our eyes. In Mr Warcholak‘s history class it was Geoff Grimwood and I drawing 101 ways to kill a Happy Face (I still think we were on to something with that one, and if we had the ability to make posters and buttons back then, we would’ve been millionaires). I remember drawing the first drawing of the Possum in either English class or History class, but for the life of me I can’t remember if I was sitting with Geoff Grimwood, Howard McGill, or Jay Jackson, but the three of them were the usual suspects anyways, so one of them gets partial credit for at least inspiring the character. We were coming up with the lamest super heroes we could think of, while we were supposed to be learning about the Russian revolution or something that at the time I thought would have no relevance to anything in my life. The Possum did nothing more than entertain us for the 40 minutes it took to get through that class, then I turned the page in my sketchbook and moved on. It wasn’t until ten years later that my wife, Rochelle (a talented artist in her own right) and I were moving from downtown Toronto where we lived at the time, to Burlington, Ontario. I was wanting to draw a comic book for some time, but everything that I was experimenting with seemed contrived and without purpose. I was going through our closets while packing and I came across my old sketchbook from high school, and as I flipped through the pages I saw that old drawing of The Possum. It immediately brought a smile to my face. I sat down on the stairs and, in my (at the time) current sketchbook, I drew a new version of The Possum. At that moment the Possum’s world became clear to me and I spent the next 20 minutes or so laying down the backdrop of what would become the world in which The Possum takes place. It’s funny how ideas come to you. I was racking my brain for months and months, trying to come up with an idea for a comic and then within 20 minutes of seeing that picture, I had my character. There’s something about youthful imagination and energy that we just can’t duplicate as adults. All of those characters that I created growing up were poorly executed, but each one of them has a charm and an innocence to them that makes them special. I’d love to do some back up features in future Possum issues, staring some of my favourites.

OK, now I’ll ask YOU one:

I know early on in Cerebus, you experimented with getting Deni to fill in blacks for you, and that you were less than happy with the results. Being a bit of a control freak myself, my question to you is how hard was it to hand the job of drawing backgrounds over to Gerhard? Was it merely a case of survival, or did you lose sleep over it?

PS. Mike here with an added comment to Blair’s question: When it comes to my own comic work, I’m a control freak as well. Maybe that’s partially due to doing the “team sport” of animation for most of my waking life. Obviously Gerhard’s results speak for themselves AND you managed to cross the 300 finish line together, so “mission accomplished!”. I always saw the Dave & Ger team as being a high watermark in collaboration (maybe Blair and I can attempt some of that when we do our SPY GUY / POSSUM crossover). What I’m curious about is; how do you find the dynamic different between doing the collaborative work throughout the run of Cerebus compared to your current solo projects like glamourpuss?

Now I’ll Ask YOU One… pt.1

Filed under: Mail,Now I'll Ask You One... — M Kitchen @ 3:19 pm

Stay tuned for Mike and Blair’s answers… coming soon.

Now I’ll Ask YOU One… A dialogue with Dave Sim & The Kitchen Bros.

Filed under: Announcements,Mail,Now I'll Ask You One... — M Kitchen @ 3:12 pm

Happening all this week (March 28 – April 1) and next (April 4 – 8).
Only at Ultraist Studios and Possum Press!
Stay tuned to the blogs as the conversation progresses!

spy guy cerebus the possum

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