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Drawn to life

Some people out there might be wondering what I’m doing drawing a comic strip. I’m a writer, right? That’s what I’ve been known as for the duration of my professional career and (mostly) adult life. Well, it hasn’t always been that way. First and foremost, before anything else, I’m a visual artist.

As early as I can remember, I’ve had paper in one hand and a pencil/crayon/pen/marker in the other. After inexplicable bouts of wanting to be a baseball player and a scientist (not at the same time), by 8 or 9 years old, I was set: I wanted to be an artist. I didn’t really know what that meant, though. One of my relatives (great uncle, maybe?), Mike, was an illustrator by trade. I remember going into his basement studio one evening, and it was the coolest place ever. He had years of reference materials everywhere. A well-worn drafting table. All sorts of papers and pens and implements. He was old school and did the type of hand-drawn ads we don’t see anymore in this digital age.

Superman sketchBut, of course, the same way I first learned to read as well as draw was through comic books. And that seemed the obvious path for me: Drawing comics. It’s what I did with most of my spare time not spent skateboarding, hanging at the mall or watching Transformers. From ages 9 to about 15, I created, wrote and drew an entire universe of handmade comics, featuring an amalgamation of existing characters from the Marvel and DC comics I grew up with and creations of my own design. I got better at drawing, better at writing. I even submitted penciling samples, quite prematurely and ignorantly, to Marvel Comics when I was 13. I got a rejection letter. But that was an awesome thing to have.

In junior high and high school, I was known for my drawing skills. That’s about all I was known for. By the middle of high school, I started branching out into poetry and journalism. I was still being tapped to do things like design themed decorations, but as I entered adolescence and focused more on sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll, my drawing became limited to illustrations for ‘zines, cassette J-cards and page filler between poems and short stories. Though I entertained the idea of attending art school after graduation (I seriously looked at Otis in Los Angeles), my academic performance was less-than-stunning and my family didn’t really have any money to pay for college.

After failing to become a rock star, I applied my artistic talents to graphic design, but it wasn’t quite the same experience. Though designing album covers and fliers can be fun, the more mundane stuff — book page layouts, technical drawings, etc. — lacked the flair of those renderings scattered around my Uncle Mike’s studio. Shortly thereafter, I began my climb in the world of journalism and left behind the drawing tablet for years to come.

Eventually, I went back to school, and while working on degrees in journalism and sociology at UNLV, I took a number of fine arts courses, including an introduction to drawing. Of course, I needed no introduction and kind of blew ahead of the class, but the semester opened me up to new media such as charcoal, which led me to think differently about shapes and lighting. And in the midst, I came to realize I missed drawing. I missed the strange combination of serenity and frantic energy that comes with it.

So when I outlined and decided to start pitching a comic book series solely as a writer a few months ago, I realized I still have to work visually. After trudging through the plot of a six-issue series I’m working on, I could not advance to the script stage without doing thumbnail breakdowns of each page. And as I started work on character designs, I felt like I was up to dipping my toe back into the realm of drawing. Hence, we have The Utopian.

At first, it was rough. I had started working on a Wacom Intuos tablet a few months ago but there’s a learning curve involved in getting the right “feel” for the virtual pen. Initially, I tried doing full pencils for the strip, and realized I have a mental block when it comes to doing detailed breakdowns as opposed to a finished product. So the inks — done by hand — were rougher than I’d hoped. But I loosened up, decided to do rough breakdowns in pen (I’m much more comfortable with ink than graphite), scan those pages, and digitally finish the strip. (You can see the difference in finishes between pages 2 and 3 of the first installment of The Utopian.) And I’m still trying to find a style that sits comfortably between realism (my leaning) and cartooning. But … I think it’s going to work out.

I expect Pop! Goes the Icon to grow organically as an entity and website, and works such as The Utopian will do so as well. To me, it’s more exciting to see an artist grow in increments (look at the difference between Jack Kirby’s work on Fantastic Four #1 and when he hits his stride closer to issue 50), because you feel as though you’re growing with them. And I hope you will stick around, grow with me, and become part of the PGTI community. Because it WILL take a village to raise this internet child.

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