There’s something so funny about meeting people on a plane. The plane rides to and from San Diego Comic Con especially. That’s where I met Nichol Ashworth; at the time I was a newbie to conventions and talked to everyone I met, and she talked to me about her work and some of the things she saw at San Diego. I can safely say she was the very first comic talent I’d ever known and it left a great impression on me. Today she’ll be answering some of my questions about being an artist in the comic book industry and how she’s gotten where she is today. Come see!
How did you become an artist? Did you seek formal training or where you self-taught?
I actually wanted to be a veterinarian! I was taking all the honors and advanced science classes in high school so I could get into a good college and spend my life being the superman for Dogs and Cats and small rodents! However, life is strange and I suddenly decided that wasn’t the way to go for me. I was in a bit of an existential quandary. I thought – well, what the hell else am I good at?
I like to draw dragons and unicorns. *snort, wheeze*
Right then, do that.
So, I actually have formal training from the Art Institute of Boston. I own my own BFA, britches. W00t.
That being said, I really feel like my style developed mostly after graduating from college. I think that teachers try to fit you into an easily digestible mold and it’s only once you have freedom (and grades aren’t riding on it) that you can branch out and develop your personal style.
If you had to sum up your experiences developing as an artist so far, what would you say?
It’s a roller coaster ride. I’ve laughed, I’ve cried – full holiday fun.
What sort of materials do you look at to help reflect on your own work? Do you seek inspiration from any other forms of media?
This is an interesting question. I’d like to say that I don’t reflect on my own work very much – rather I try to just keep pumping it out and learning from the process.
As self-depreciating as I can be, if I look back and analyze too much, I’ll be waaay over-critical and will then be stuck in analysis-paralysis every time I try to generate a new page. “How can I make this buttocks be the hottest buttocks that I’ve ever drawn!?!?!??”
I guess, at best, I quickly review my body of work and note that, “I’m improving, good-great-awesome. What’s next?” I believe that I would lose agility if I tried to identify my “blue period”.
As far as inspiration goes, however – I take it from anything and everything. For example: I was in the ER for something stupid (I tend to injure and ail myself periodically) and I was taking pictures of my IV and other medical equipment with my cell phone, trying to loop an ER scene into one or more of the storylines I have prancing and cavorting in my head.
Of course, I also take inspiration from pieces of art (I love you Hi-Fructose and Vladimir Kush!), books, movies and real life scenarios… but my biggest inspiration seems to come from my dreams and nightmares.
Being an artist means you would have to practice honing your skills, what sort of activities do you do to keep yourself consistent and improving?
I just keep drawing!
I think that the illustration process itself is a learning process. As I draw comic book pages, my original rough layout sketch may be the coolest idea, but I may not know exactly HOW to make that idea come to life on the page. Sometimes, it takes me several renderings to get a shot “just right”. I’ll even admit that there are times when I look back on work just a few pages ago (meaning that I completed it only days prior) and I can already wish that I had done it differently. But, as a comic book illustrator with deadlines, sometimes you’ve got to keep pressing forward and filing the faux pas away as “don’t do that again next time”.
I think this process has served me well. I will admit a certain guilty pleasure comes from taking a quick look through comics that I’ve put out and watching my own growth. Both in writing and in illustration.
Are there any favorite tools you prefer using?
Truth be told, nothing beats pen on paper. I’ve decided that I want to ink digitally, but I find that it actually slows down my inking and can make it a bit stiff. There are also a lot fewer “happy accidents”.
When you work in ink, there is always a chance for a major eff up. Sometimes you have to scrap everything and start over… other times, you can salvage it OR you’ve even made some cool, unexpected effect. Those are happy accidents.
There are no digital happy accidents. And if you want to recreate a real happy accident that you’ve achieved in the past, it takes a looooooooong time.
How did you land your first project in the comic book industry?
I was one of the few, the proud, the Rising Stars of Manga before Tokyopop went teats-to-the-sky. They held an annual national contest for wanna-be manga-ka. The top 20 submissions for the year were put on their website for exposure and public voting. The top 10 made it into a collected volume that was printed and then certain creators were also allowed to pitch a series idea to Tokyopop, itself.
I was lucky enough (and I am so grateful) to have made the top 20 with a dark and risqué story called “Muse” and the top 10 with a story called “The Chronicles of the Big Feet”. Totally different stories, totally different vibes. One was about child abuse, the other was about Big Foot’s search for the elusive human. I’m eclectic. 🙂
I was also very lucky to able to meet some of the editors who liked my work at a portfolio review once. Through those connections, I was able to start providing illustrations for the back of some of Tokyopop’s graphic novels.
Being consistent and really wanting any and all work helped me develop a real personal connection with some fabulous editors like Lillian Diaz-Przybyl, Tim Beedle, Paul Morrissey and Rob Valois. That personal connection has been able to land me more popular work (like “Fraggle Rock”) and has earned me more than one life-time friend.
What can you tell us about your experience working on Fraggle Rock?
I can’t say enough about it. It was a dream for me. It was a property that I have loved since I was a child – one that probably shaped me into the person that I am today! A person that, even when the chips are down, can be found dancing her cares away and washing socks on a regular basis.
First of all – Archaia is a fantastic publisher. They put out such high quality books, filled with rich color and folded in hardcover so that you can love them for years to come.
Second of all – the cast of artists and writers that they hand-selected for these novels make for books that are true to cannon, great for all ages and vary enough in style to keep even the most ADD of children interested! 🙂
Lastly – I was able to work with some of my favorite people in my work with Fraggle Rock. Every time I do a signing, I’m blessed to sit next to people with such awesome personality, talent, drive and chutzpah. I’m inspired by them.
Working on Fraggle Rock was a moment when I had to say, “Damn… this is actually happening, isn’t it? I’m really working in comics.” 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂
If you could work on one project, real or fiction, that you could work on with anyone, alive or deceased, at any time, in any place, what, who, when, and where would it be and why?
Oh man, I want to speak from several parts of myself as I answer this:
Myself as a comic-book-nerd would have loved to work with Stan Lee and Spider Man. Stan Lee is epic and the first pages I ever drew in college were Spider Man pages. I have a certain sense of nostalgia there.
Myself as a fantasy-lover beats the crap out of the nerdy me and says that it wants to have worked on Stephen King’s Dark Tower series. (Though I’m not sure that I want to change it – it’s gorgeous.) I’m a Stephen King lover, anyway, and if you asked me how many times I’ve read the Dark Tower series; I couldn’t answer you. Hearts.
Myself as an artist would have loved to work with and learn from David Mack on the latter color portion of Kabuki… because it’s stunning and I respect him so much. There is a stream of consciousness to the writing and a stunning sense of expression through rare mediums (like gel pens)! If I ever take a watercolor class again, I want David Mack to teach it. I don’t think I learned right the first time – since I don’t paint like him. 🙂
Myself as a realist will take almost any (paying) job that passes my way, though – because the process itself is a ride, and I like to ride the ride. 🙂
Thank you for your time! I really enjoyed this interview!