How did you get started in comic book art?
I wanted to be a comic book artist my whole life, from a really young age actually. I was drawing comic books on my own since I was a kid, but I got my first break in the business when I was a sophomore in art college. I took my portfolio and some sample pages I drew to Mid-Ohio-Con back in 1992, a comic book convention in Mansfield, Ohio. I showed my samples to an independent publisher there and a few months later I was drawing for one of their new books. It was a horror action/adventure comic book called Dead Kid written by Tom and Mary Bierbaum, who were the writers for Legion of Super Heroes from DC Comics. A few years later, right after college, I ended up getting my break illustrating Star Wars for Lucasfilm which eventually led to some other work for comic book publishers later on.
Did you have any formal art training?
Pretty much my whole life honestly. My mom noticed my aptitude and love for drawing very early on and put me in private art lessons when I was about 8 years old, I think. I took Saturday art classes all through grade school and high school as well and eventually enrolled at the Columbus College of Art and Design in Columbus, Ohio. I graduated there with a BFA in Illustration back in 1996.
What are your favorite comics?
I’m not really reading or following too many books these days, I’m too busy drawing for my regular projects. So I end up reading whatever series when my publisher sends me copies, since I’m usually just doing the covers and not always privy to the entire script. I would say some of my favorites are probably the ones I’m working on currently like True Blood, Farscape and Star Trek and I try to follow some of the Star Wars books from Dark Horse when I can. I like seeing all the great work my friends are up to on those titles. Though I loved a lot of Marvel and DC super hero titles growing up too and Batman is still a favorite I pick up from time to time.
Why True Blood Comics? Were you hired by HBO, or is this something you took it upon yourself to do?
IDW Publishing was interested in acquiring the license from HBO to produce the comic books, so my editor there asked me to illustrate a cover on short notice for their pitch meeting with HBO. My colorist collaborator Brian Miller and I had about a weekend to turn it around for them. Our artwork must have helped out with my publisher’s meeting since I found out later they were able to get the license from HBO and they started work on producing the comics. Since I was involved at an early stage and my editor knew I was already a huge fan from the very first episode, they asked me to contribute to the series. It didn’t take too much prodding, honestly.
Which character is your favorite to draw?
So far, I really enjoy drawing Bill the most I think. His angular features and dark brooding looks seem to fit my graphic drawing style nicely. But I like working with the female characters a lot too, like Sookie and Jessica. In most of my Star Wars and Star Trek art, I don’t get too draw too many strong, sexy female lead characters too often, so I’m enjoying working with these characters a lot.
Describe your style and take on the characters.
I work from life and photo reference quite a bit so my style tends to lean heavily on realism but with a comic book edge. It’s a sort of hyper-realism, I suppose, since I like to keep characters feeling animated as much as possible and not too stiff from any reference I might use. I like using dynamic light and shade on my figures too, exaggerating the shadows and light sources to amplify mood and expressions. Exaggeration of life is really what comic books, and movies, are all about. So I try to make my artwork as cinematic as possible and stay true to the characters and source material when I’m working on a licensed project like True Blood. I like being able to bridge the gap between the two worlds of the show and the comics with my comic book style and realistic approach with the characters.
Team Bill, Eric or Sookie?
It’s pretty hard to choose, I like all three characters a lot for different reasons. I like Sookie’s charm, vulnerability and stubbornness. I like Eric’s duplicity and ruthlessness, but if it came down to it, I’d have to say Bill because he’s the most tragic and complex of the characters, which makes him really fun to work with. Eerily relatable to some degree, which I can’t deny.
What do you enjoy drawing in your personal time?
I’m actually drawing all the time for work, doing this for a living day in and day out. So when I do get personal time I tend to do something else other than drawing like getting on X Box Live, hanging out with my daughter, going to the movies or out to eat, stuff like that.
What are some other comic titles you’ve worked on?
Just for IDW Publishing alone, I’ve worked on a lot of titles over the last five years. Star Trek, G.I. Joe, Doctor WHO, Fallen Angel, 24, Spike and Angel from the Buffy series to name a few. I’ve been illustrating Farscape for BOOM! Studios for the last few years and I’ve worked on Star Wars for Dark Horse Comics, Crimson Dynamo for Marvel Comics and The Phantom for Moonstone Books. I do other work outside of comics as well like illustrations for Lucasfilm on Star Wars and Indiana Jones, artwork for trading cards, posters, prints, magazines, pretty much whatever comes my way, but the majority of my work I’d say is for comic books.
Are you working on any other new projects?
Brian and I just finished the wraparound cover art for the True Blood Volume One hardcover collection. That was a really exciting and somewhat challenging project working out the artwork for the cover but I’m really happy with how it turned out and I hope the fans are too when they see it. Right now I’m just getting started on a new True Blood project for IDW. That’s all I can really say about it, but look for it early 2011. I have some more covers for Farscape coming out in the next few months as well, along with new artwork for Topps Star Wars Galaxy Six trading card series, which will be released in early next year too.
Do you have any advice for artists wanting to get into the industry?
It’s a very competitive industry. There are millions of talented people out there, everyone and their brother wants to draw for comic books at some point I think. So work hard, harder than you think you have to or even should if you’re wanting to break into the industry and do this for a living, because if you do break in ,you’ll end up working harder than ever before anyway. Push yourself and eliminate any unnecessary distractions that get in your way. It’s the best preparation you can probably give yourself. Besides, only the best things come from hard work like improving at your craft, taking your work to new levels and even better opportunities in life.
A lot of people have the illusion that drawing for comic books is a glamorous lifestyle and we live in mansions and drive BMW’s and hang out with celebrities all of the time, but it’s the exact opposite honestly. It requires a lot of time, months on end without a real day off, a lot of personal sacrifice and a lot of skill, luck and of course, hard work. It’s not an easy lifestyle and it’s not for everyone, you have to be passionate about the medium and the material to have any kind of longevity in your career. We don’t do this for glamor or the fame or unfortunately the money. We draw comics because we have to and we are artists because we are passionate about story telling, it’s in our blood. So when those dream projects like True Blood come around that are really fun and exciting it makes the all the sacrifice and hard work that much more worth it.
We would like to extend an enormous Belle thank you to Joe for taking the time to answer our questions so graciously. We can’t wait to see what work he has to show us in the future.