Frequently Asked Questions -
Note: Many questions are also addressed in the interviews I've done.
How long does it take to write and draw each book?
Most of my books take 12 - 14 months start to finish, but there are exceptions. Merchant of Venice is shorter so it only took about 9 months, The Odyssey is much longer so it took about 20 months.
I do each book in stages, starting with a month or two for writing the script and designing the characters & costumes,
then rough sketches of the whole book at a rate of 3-4 pages/day, then finished line art 2-3 pages/day, then coloring
3-4 pages/day. My schedule is often interrupted for travel to schools, libraries, and trade shows. Once I deliver a book
to my publisher, it takes them another whole year (or more) to get it on store shelves, because it takes that long to go through multiple
rounds of copyediting / proofing / cover design, get printed overseas, advertised in various catalogs, sent to reviewers,
marketed in lots of different ways, and finally distributed to retail stores where you can buy it.
Why did you choose Beowulf?
Because it's an incredibly cool story! I was coming
off of Bearskin (see Ďwhy Bearskiní below), and I wanted to keep exploring the literary
adaptation vein, but I wanted something more heroic and action-oriented. I toyed around
with a bunch of ideas, and Beowulf was the one that jelled.
Did you do everything?
I did the script adaptation and all the drawing -- so basically everything except the lettering/typesetting, and writing & translating the original story.
Near the end of the second section, after Beowulf battles Grendel's mother and is
talking to Hrothgar, it looks like they are looking at the New York skyline with
the Twin Towers bilowing smoke -- is this a direct reference to 9/11?
I drew that panel 2 years before the towers were knocked down, so it's not a direct
reference to the events of 9/11 (and the smoke is supposed to be industrial pollution). However, the
reason I chose the image of the World Trade Center to go with that speech is the same reason
the terrorists wanted to destroy it: it was a peerless symbol of pride and economic power.
Do you have Beowulf T-shirts or other merchandise for sale?
I've found it impossible to keep up with making merch while writing and drawing new books, but I do have a small selection of merchandise available in my CafePress shop
, and I sometimes indulge requests.
Are your books available as e-books?
They will be, very soon. Email me if you'd like to be notified when they become available.
Have they been translated into any other languages?
So far, only The Odyssey
in Korean. (Why Korean? I have no idea.)
Why doesn't my local store have your books?
I don't have much marketing muscle, so in part I rely on folks like you to go and ask your store to order my books. I try to keep them available through big wholesalers like Ingram, Baker & Taylor, Diamond, and Random House, so stores should be able to order them; but sometimes you may just have to get them straight from me.
Why do you switch styles all the time?
I can't really help it. When I was in art school, all my teachers told us we had to pick a style if we wanted to get work as freelance illustrators, but I just never could do it. And then I had one teacher who instead told me that I should create my own projects and do them obsessively well, and I'd find a way to make money off them -- and he was by far the most successful of the lot, so who would you listen to? It's also worth noting that my job in computer games required working in different styles and formats from project to project (which was part of the reason it was a good fit for me).
How do you decide which books to adapt?
The decision involves a combination of my favorite classics, and the ones which are most taught in schools (since that is my primary market), plus whatever is most inspiring to me after I finish the previous book.
Do your books contain the full text of the original work?
No, the text is carefully abridged.
Why did you choose Bearskin?
I had been reading Robert Bly, and was very into fairy tales. I chose Bearskin because I liked the imagery and thought it would be short and easy. Two pages of narration came out to eighty pages of my style of visual storytelling. Good thing I didnít choose a long one.
How did you get started?
I got into drawing comics at an early age. I never thought of it as a career (I still don't), but I kept turning out stories, strips, abstract pieces, etc. In art school, I sent a lot of submissions to the big three. The only result of that was that I discovered I wasn't really interested in pencilling someone else's script, or inking someone else's pencils, so I started working on my first full-length graphic novel, Bearskin.
When I finished it, I sent it around to every publisher I could think of. No one was very interested (I did get one offer from a small publisher, but it was really lame, so I turned it down). The project sat on a shelf for awhile, then I sent it to the Xeric Foundation
-- that's an organization founded by Peter Laird (Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles), whose purpose is to distribute grants to comic self-publishers. They gave me $5000 to print and promote it myself. That was in 1998.
Why did you keep self-publishing?
Well, I suppose Iím idealistic, and at the time no-one else was stepping up to do it for me. In the comic industry (unlike the book industry) there is no stigma attached to a self-published book. It's harder to get it out there, of course, but because books are non-returnable in the comic market, and there aren't all that many stores or distributors, it's a relatively straightforward proposition.
Now I have a "real" publisher, but I still self-publish sometimes because I like the independence it gives me.
Will you publish other peopleís work? Do you accept submissions?
Are you going to do any original stories?
Someday, when I have written one that's good enough ;-)
Are you going to do any modern classics?
Possibly, but this is complicated by copyright and artistic control issues.
Will you illustrate my graphic novel script?
I am generally booked at least a year or two out, and you are competing with Shakespeare and Homer. So we'll just say it's a very long shot.
Do you answer your mail?
Usually, but please understand if it takes awhile or my response is brief.
Whatís your advice for young folks getting into comics?
Become a well-rounded artist (and/or writer). Don't narrow your horizons to just comics. Even now that it's a more popular artform, it still tends to pay incredibly poorly (especially for the amount of work involved), and it can limit you artistically. Once you are comfortable with yourself as an artist, then if you find yourself compelled to make comics, do it well. Read Scott McCloud's work, dissect the books you really like, see how they do what they do. Tell a story that is meaningful to ordinary people, not just another twist on existing genre work.
Whatís your advice on self-publishing?
First see if you can find a copy of Dave Sim's Cerebus Guide to Self-Publishing
. Itís really informative and thought-provoking, although it's very specific to the comic (as opposed to book) industry. There are some other self-publishing links on here
. If you have some specific questions about distributors, prepress, promotion, or whatever, you can email and ask me -- but I warn you that I'm not actually that much of an expert.
Also, you may want to seriously consider publishing on the web first. It's much cheaper and easier, and you can build up an audience before taking any big financial risks.
Who are your favorite artists?
I like lots of folks -- really too many to name, but I'll give a sample. In comics: Masamune Shirow, Lorenzo Matotti, James Kochalka, Paul Grist, Bill Seincewicz, Kent Williams, Dave McKean, Paul Pope, Nicolas De Crecy, Brian Ralph, Chris Ware, the crews at Meathaus, Actus Tragicus, and Le Cheval Sans Tete; Hayao Miyazaki, Mike Mignola, etc, etc.
In Fine Art: Picasso, Ernst, Giacometti, Klimt, Dali, Archipenko, De Kooning, Hokusai, Brice Marden, Henry Moore, Jim Dine, Richard Diebenkorn,... really the list is too long, I've just scratched the surface.
What are your favorite graphic novels?
I keep a somewhat-up-to-date list here
Did you go to school for this? Is art school a good idea?
I have a BFA from Parsons School of Design, in NYC. I felt that the first three years were largely a waste (and that was partly my fault), but they got me to the fourth year, where I relearned pretty much everything I know about art. School can be tremendously wasteful of your time and money, but it's also a very valuable experience, and without it, you won't find out what you really need to learn.
Do you sell original art from your books?
Yes, see here
. I also sell custom prints in the online store
(any image from my books or websites), and I have open studio events once in a blue moon.
What games have you worked on? Any I would have heard of?
See my resume
. There are also concept and modeling samples from various games I worked on in the Art
What is it like working in the game industry?
It's a good job. Like in many other jobs, You have to sit in front of a computer all day, and you have to pay your dues early on by working hard on boring stuff. But it pays well and the work environment is super cool. If you really love games, you will probably really love it. But there is a lot of unpaid overtime, and especially during the "crunch" time at the end of a project it can be a living hell.
I donít care about the living hell part. How do I get that job?
It's a lot harder and more competitive than it was when I was starting out, but it's still a growing industry, so there are a lot of game development jobs available out there. You just have to be good. To be a game artist, you need very strong traditional skills and/or you need to be able to build and texture objects or characters using a PC-based 3D program like 3DSMAX or MAYA. To be a designer, you need to be able to build and texture game levels in a popular game editor (Half-Life, Unreal, NWN, etc.) and you should have good writing skills and the ability to analyze the mechanics of a game and what really makes it fun or not. To be a programmer, obviously you must be able to crank out solid code (I think most places mostly still use C++).
Most companies also have departments for QA (testing), marketing, accounting, and desktop/network support, and that can be a good way to get in the door.