The Spring Season

So, for those of us in the indie comics circuit, the summer lull is upon us. Summer usually has very few indie-centered shows going on, even though the mainstream comicons are going full blast. The consensus is that generally, indie comics are more dependent on the college and art school crowd, and when they all go home for the summer, it’s hard to gather enough interested folks to hold a show. It seems awfully stupid to join an industry whose main customer base is one of the poorest and busiest groups of people in society, but here we are, at it again, hoping to make a buck.

I enjoyed my spring season, though. First was PIX (Pittsburgh Indy Comix Expo) in Pittsburgh at the beginning of April, then I had CAKE (Chicago Alternative Comics Expo) in Chicago at the beginning of June, followed the very next weekend by the one-day MECAF (Maine Comics Arts Festival), in Portland, Maine.

Setting up at PIX

PIX was a lovely little show. Well, perhaps I shouldn’t call it little. It has a grand venue, and you can feel the aspirations Bill Boichel has for this show. Housed in the August Wilson Center for African American Culture, the space was beautiful and more than big enough. The crowd was steady and enthusiastic despite the quadruple-threat of: 1) a competing comics show in one of the Steel City’s immediate suburbs, 2) the Pirates’ home opener, 3) a HUGE anime/cosplay show just around the corner from PIX, and 4) the first absolutely glorious spring day, with temps in the 80s and barely a cloud in the sky. Proving that Bill and Copacetic Comics have tremendous pull, the guest list was full of heavy hitters: Anya Davidson, Jim Rugg, Ed Piskor, Lane Milburn, Connor Willumsen, Frank Santoro, Lale Westvind. Quite a line-up for a show this size. I got the chance to finally meet Connor in person, and we got to chat for a while as we drove through the rusted rat-maze that is Pittsburgh’s road system. I also got to meet the very talented Audra Stang. I crashed with the Comics Workbook crew, and it was especially nice that even though this was a one-day show, there was a bit of after partying and camaraderie. Next time I go to Pittsburgh, I need to finally arrange a couple hours of just me and Bill up in Copacetic. Bill is a comics oracle, and I need to drink from that fountain of knowledge.

CAKE!

CAKE in Chicago is always a great time. The crowd is usually lively and in a spending mood, and the neighborhood of Boystown in north Chicago is a really lovely place. I got to meet and chat with Simon Hanselmann (though he did the vast majority of the chatting.) I was lucky enough to table with Tommi Parrish, who has had books published by Czap Books and 2D Cloud, and has a forthcoming book from Fantagraphics. They are an incredible artist, and I thoroughly enjoyed their Ley Lines volume on William Blake and Lydia Lunch. I’m very much looking forward to picking up their longer works. Also, a very lovely tablemate. Excellent at sharing snacks.

Speaking of snacks, I also got to catch up with Alyssa Berg, who was tabling with the elusive Ron Rege, Jr. I met Alyssa at last year’s CXC (Cartoon Crossroads Columbus). Alyssa’s creating some really interesting works as she dives into the risograph process in an attempt to translate her mixed media comics into print forms that perhaps capture her vision a little better than scans of painted pages do. Really looking forward to what she comes up with during her SVA residency.

Alyssa Berg and myself – photo by Kevin Czap

I also got to table across the aisle from Kevin Czap and Cathy Johnson, who are two of my favorite people and a presence at nearly every show I’ve been to. Kevin, indie-comics’s self-styled Comics Mom, publishes a strong line of books that are heartfelt, thoughtful, and full of need-to-be-heard voices. Cathy is a fellow former Minnesotan living on the East Coast, making beautiful comics stories that are straight from the core of America.

I caught up for a few minutes with Ben Passmore. At last year’s CAKE, Ben dropped off a black and white mini called Your Black Friend at my table. In the year since, Ben has become a household name in indie comics. He’s busy with books coming out in the fall, and suddenly has a bunch of illustration work. It makes me so happy to see that coming his way. I was very sad to see later that he, Kevin, Cathy, and others went to do their usual con karaoke on Saturday night and I missed it.

I was exhausted from getting only a total of eight hours of sleep over the previous two nights, so after inviting myself along to a dinner with Kevin Huizenga, Tom Spurgeon, Rob Clough, Jenny Zervakis, Nick Drnaso, Noah Van Sciver, John Porcellino, and Dan Stafford, I headed to my friend Gene Ha’s house.

Gene and I, 20 years apart

Gene’s been working over the past year + on his own creator-owned book, Mae. It’s a great book, full of crazy detailed sci-fi-fantasy adventure that only Gene could pull off. It’s like he’s channeling the same spirit that moved him to produce the insane beauty of Top Ten with Alan Moore, but on his own story and possibly with more love and care. Dark Horse has been publishing it, but killed the book a couple of months ago along with a batch of other titles. While Gene has rights to everything, Dark Horse has printing rights to the first six issues, and those will be held by them until January 2019. Despite acclaim, a growing fan base, and being featured as the YA book of the summer at last week’s ALA Conference, Mae is now stuck in limbo unless someone else picks it up and continues it without rights to publish the first six issues for 18 months. Here’s hoping someone will take that chance!

Artwork from Gene’s Mae

Sunday at CAKE was much better than Saturday, sales-wise for me. At the end of the day, I invited Alyssa to join Gene and me for dinner. Alyssa was keen to try the famous/infamous Chicago Deep Dish Pizza, so we headed over to the best spot in town. Over dinner, Gene and Alyssa and I had a great discussion about Alyssa’s work, her philosophy in creating, and how she likes to connect with readers through her books. Gene wowed Alyssa with some iPhone images of his work, and I was so pleased that these two friends of mine hit it off so well. Bravo, Chicago, and thanks for the heat wave!

My table at MECAF

MECAF was the capper to my spring con season, on June 17. I saw Shelli Paroline and Dan Mazur, the brains behind Massachusetts Independent Comics Expo (MICE), and Shelli’s partner in comics and life, Braden Lamb. Shelli and Braden have just released a book with First Second called Making Scents, and they had a couple of copies at the show. The book is gorgeous from beginning to end because Shelli and Braden are top notch cartoonists. It annoys me no end that they are listed as if they were secondary partners on the cover.

In fact, First Second has been annoying me in general lately. Their program of publishing everything in digest-or-smaller mini-volumes has been to the great detriment of works by great cartoonists like Paul Pope’s Battling Boy, and Christophe Blain’s Gus. Also, how are people supposed to look up the works of Christophe Blain and find Gus if he’s listed as “Chris Blain” in all the book data? I’ve had more than one CB store tell me they couldn’t find it because I’d forgotten that :01 had anglicized his name. Such weird choices by this imprint. Everyone I talk to about it is baffled by their approach.

The show at MECAF was decent. A pretty good day. In fact, better than any single day of sales so far this year. Not bad for a library show which was blocked off by the Pride parade for half of the day.

Coming this fall, I’ll be at CXC again, giving a talk in NYC at the New York Comics and Picture-Story Symposium at the Parsons School of Design at the invite of Ben Katchor, and also MICE, which is frequently the best show of the year for me. No dice in the SPX (Small Press Expo) lottery again this year, but I’m hoping to make an appearance at either CALA (Comic Arts Los Angeles) or CAB (Comic Arts Brooklyn) toward the end of the year. I’m continuing work on the science fiction graphic novel you may have seen thumbs for on my Instagram, and I’ll be shopping around a collection of short comics stories I’ve done over the past three years. Wish me luck on getting someone to pick that up. See you in the fall!

Kurt

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Kurt Ankeny makes comics in Salem, MA – his most recent book is In Pieces: Someplace Which I Call Home.

Kurt Ankeny on MICE Boston 2016

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Attendees on Saturday at MICE Boston 2016

Well, last night we wrapped up yet another lovely MICE Boston! MICE is my local indie comics expo, and it is the equal of any American event, as far as I am concerned. The staff, led by Shelli Paroline, Dan Mazur, Rebecca Viola (I couldn’t find a website!), Zach Clemente, and volunteers by the dozens, is the nicest and most attentive of any in the country, hands down. As cartoonists, we aren’t used to being spoiled by people coming around, asking us if we need snacks, food, or someone to watch our table while we take a short break. While other indie expos are starting to follow suit (CXC had a set of volunteers that were just as lovely as the MICE staff providing most of the same perqs, and Autoptic and CAKE provide lots of free snacks) I believe MICE was the first to provide this level of courtesy to the exhibitors, and it is the favorite show for lots of cartoonists for that reason.

MICE consistently packs in a widely varied crowd, full of people from every age group and background. Part of this is the fact that it is held in Cambridge, Massachusetts, which has one of the most highly educated and diverse citizenries in the nation (it’s home to both Harvard and MIT.) But MICE just has some magic about it. The show has been steadily growing over the past few years. Last year, they broke the 3,000 attendee mark for the first time, and preliminary figures for this past Saturday’s attendance were over 1600, so they seem on par to keep that streak going. People are there to immerse themselves in the comics culture, and to buy, which is always helpful.

There was a great representation of different cartoonists at the show. Featured guests included Faith Erin Hicks, the ubiquitous-in-2016 golden-boy-of-the-year Nate Powell, the French husband-wife team known as Kerascoët, local art-and-comics phenom Raúl the Third, Wren McDonald, Sara Varon, Jeremy Sorese, and Drew Weing. Kevin Czap was in attendance, fresh off their amazing weekend at CXC where they took home the Most Promising Talent grant award. Tony Davis of Million Year Picnic was there with his wife and son, selling comics and generally being the hub of the local scene. Nobrow had a table, Neil of Radiator Comics was there, the Boston Comics Roundtable was out in force, alums and current students from the Center for Cartoon Studies were down from Vermont, and several Comics Workbook folks were either tabling or wandering around the show. Comics on parade at the end of a long con season!

Tony Davis of Million Year Picnic (seated right) and Marie Pommepuy of Kerascoët (seated left)

Tony Davis of Million Year Picnic (seated right) and Marie Pommepuy of Kerascoët (seated left)

Saturday was a blast. My new book In Pieces, debuting at the show, was a big hit, and I sold copies to lots of people coming up and telling me how much they had enjoyed the book on Comics Workbook’s Tumblr, and how they had been waiting to buy it! That was a great feeling. I had a great time tabling next to David Marshall, a local comics guy and someone I know from the monthly comics hangouts in Salem. David makes retro-homage superhero comics that are full of nerdy puns, references to UNIX coding, and Doctor Who in-jokes. He knows tons of people from the immediate neighborhood, and spent his time talking them up and accosting the attendees he didn’t know in the most jovial and pleasant way possible. David’s one of those guys who’s the life of the con. Someone truly at home among the comickers. To my other side was the lovely and talented Molly Dean, who makes webcomics and had several printed issues to sell. I waited too late to ask her if she’d like to trade, and she’d already sold out of all of her books! I will see her around though, and I’m looking forward to reading her webcomics at meedean.com.

Right of my table, including Kevin Czap in red shirt and matching wig, and Brendan Tobin and family.

Right of my table, including Kevin Czap in red shirt and matching wig, and Brendan Tobin and family.

Saturday night, MICE puts on a free dinner for all attendees at Lesley University’s neighboring art gallery, the Lunder Arts Center. (They also provide bagels, cream cheese, donut holes and coffee each morning… I’ll stop talking about the free food.) While I would have LOVED to hang out with everyone, I’d been fighting a sore throat for the last week, and after talking all day, I knew my voice couldn’t handle small talk in a loud and echoing cement room, so I met my wife for dinner in Harvard Square and we had a quiet night. Meanwhile, the party there continued until 9pm, and then the various groups decamped for other venues and watering holes. Much to my chagrin, I missed what Mimi Chrzanowski described as a “magical” night of karaoke at Limelight, near Boston’s Chinatown. I know for sure that Kevin Czap and Cathy G. Johnson were there singing their hearts out. I assume that Dustin Harbin also made it.

Sunday at MICE is Kid’s Day, and so the little ones made up a slightly larger percentage of the attendees than on Saturday. Kerascoët frequently had a line as they tag-teamed signing books with full-color sketches as the European cartoonists are accustomed to. I finally got to meet K.L. Ricks, whose illustration work and comics I deeply admire. I got to chat over breakfast with Maria Hoey, who is half of the brother-sister team behind Coin-Op books, and who I’d met for the first time at Autoptic in 2015. Maria’s looking forward to Comic Arts Brooklyn next weekend, and made me regret not taking up Whit Taylor‘s offer of sharing her table there this year.

At noon, I was a guest at MICE’s new feature, the Cartoonarium, which is a little table set up to project your drawing to a screen, where people can watch cartoonists work and ask questions about their process. Zach Clemente came around to record a brief Twitter interview.

Sundays crowds had more ebb and flow to them that Saturday, but the sales were steady and people were engaged and fun to talk to, which is always the best part of a con. Since MICE was on the weekend before Halloween, costumes were in effect more than usual. I counted four girls and women dressed as Kiki from Kiki’s Delivery Service, there was a very well done Daphne and Velma from Scooby Doo, Saga seemed to be popular as I saw at least three separate groups dressed as various characters from that comic, and there were several low-key Steven Universes and even a person dressed as Neil Gaiman’s version of Death, complete with parade of people with rainclouds and a concertina.

MICE 2016 swag and trades.

MICE 2016 swag and trades.

Thanks again to all involved in making MICE such a smooth and friendly and successful show for everyone! Until next year!

Kurt

Kurt Ankeny on CXC 2016

Editor’s Note: Kurt Ankeny came to CXC as one of Comics Workbook’s workshop leaders. Comics Workbook hosted four sessions over the course of the festival, and Kurt presented on his work and on modifying your tools and materials to suit the story. He had an engaged audience who dug into the exercise he led after the presentation, which was right out of Ohio’s history of comics correspondence schools – a riff on the comic gag spinner.

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Kurt sharing the comic he made for the Santoro Correspondence Course at his CW-hosted workshop

And now, the rest of Kurt’s CXC experience in his own words.


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Whit Taylor and Kurt Ankeny tabling at CXC 2016 (Alyssa Berg and Kevin Czap behind)

Well, I’m back from Cartoon Crossroads Columbus, and caught up enough to sit down and write a few words about the experience. MUCH thanks to Frank Santoro for funding the vast majority of our trip out there as part of the Comics Workbook crew!

THIS IS THE START OF SOMETHING BIG.
The show being created by Jeff Smith, Tom Spurgeon, Caitlin McGurk and the staff of the Billy Ireland Cartoon Library and Museum is still in its nascent stages. But if the project that they are all working towards comes to fruition, this is going to be a major event on the comics schedule, and may even put indie comics on the national media radar in much the same way that San Diego used to for mainstream comics. It’s exciting to think of how this show might grow.

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Kurt teaching his CW-hosted workshop

BY, FOR, and OF THE ARTISTS.
Shows are not always necessarily about the sales. There are money-maker shows that cartoonists need, certainly. But there are also shows that cartoonists love, because those shows feel, as Kevin Czap put it in his acceptance speech for the Most Promising Talent Award, “like a big family reunion.” SPX is one of those shows. In only its second year, CXC is becoming another. The really special thing about CXC is the programming that happens before the market opens on Saturday. The academic discussions of comics by smart people who love what we do, the peer workshops that convey useful info to working cartoonists, the in-depth evening interview events, all create an atmosphere that is so rare at a con: one of relaxation and appreciation.

It is hard to put into words the acceptance I felt being surrounded by so many people who love the form, not just as makers, but also as readers and academics and archivists. THOSE are the people we do this for, and as cartoonists we so rarely get to see those who really care about the work we do.

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THESE ARE THE PEOPLE IN YOUR NEIGHBORHOOD.

Wow, it was really great to put names with faces and add IRL time to my relationships with Alyssa Berg, Juan José Fernandez, Sally Ingraham, Caleb Orecchio, Sacha Mardou, and Emil Friis Ernst! Tabling with the lovely Whit Taylor was a treat. It’s always good to have some time to talk to Ben Passmore and Kevin Czap, meet Caitlin McGurk, have a conversation with a nearly catatonic Tom Spurgeon at about midnight on Sunday, and have Ben Katchor stop at my table for a good 15-20 minutes to chat about the State of Comics.

In other words, I had a pretty good time.

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Kurt Ankeny makes comics in Salem, MA – his most recent book is In Pieces: Someplace Which I Call Home.


For the rest of our complete CXC coverage check out the special “round up” report HERE.

The Black Callus Interviews: Tyler Landry

Tyler Landry has been working at a furious pace lately. I feel like every time I look up from my own drafting table, Tyler is dropping some new comic on the scene, usually oozing mood and style, and generally being just great exercises in atmosphere and design. He’s had work published online by Study Group, as well as many projects on the Comics Workbook Tumblr. In print, he’s published several well-received works under the shared label Clavicle Cocoris, and his latest work, Vile #1: The Coward’s Hole is coming to stores in May, also from Study Group. 

 

BlackCallusLogo2Kurt Ankeny: I know you work sometimes digitally and sometimes in analog media. What are your preferred tools for each technique, and how do you lay out your workspace?

Tyler Landry: I was asked something similar recently, and I’ve been thinking about it a bit, and I really don’t have any set in stone prescribed standards when it comes to tools and workspace. I’m sure this will make a lot of people angry, especially those who wanna know which pencils to buy, or which brush-set to use, or shit like that. I know that if you’re looking for certain specific, consistent final results your choice of tools can be critical—but the more comics I draw, the less I care about those kinds of things.

Let’s see now…

Stories come out of thin air for me, so where I begin can change—but generally I’m drawing, thumbnailing, or mocking-up sequences on whatever is close by. I’ve got heaps of sketchbooks, index cards, sticky notes, paper scraps. I wanna record these ideas as quickly as they come, so it’s literally whatever’s available. I suppose I prefer pens and fat markers for this work, because it’s gotta be fast, man. No silly lingering. Whether I plan on working digitally, or on paper, I’ll always start out this way. If I can’t touch the work, especially at this raw idea stage, it has no permanence for me, and it will slip away. This work happens anywhere—at lunch, at the coffee shop, at my desk at work, or while I’m watching TV in bed at night.

Kurt: I get that, completely. There’s often a sense as an artist that you don’t want to miss that initial spark that makes an idea exciting. For me, however, I often find that ideas that I churn out immediately fade in importance to me, where ideas that keep bubbling back up in my mind tend to create…more lasting? satisfying? work. Have you ever run into that, or do you just find your mind works oppositely?

Tyler: There’s always a few duds in the initial deluge, but even the less complete drawings and snippets of words tend to be seeds destined for big growth. I find too, that if I linger on an idea and work it over too much that it turns into garbage, and I’ll either scrap it or return it to its first version. I think most of the best stuff comes at the beginning for me because I’m not inhibited by what I’ve begun turning the story into, subconsciously censoring myself.

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Kurt: Interesting. So you find your stories best in a Jungian sense, by tapping into that primal dream-world that we all have floating within us, is that fair?

Tyler: That’s not a bad way to put it, yeah. Every comic story I’ve ever done has come out of nothingness. I’m slowly learning how to interpret and condense all of the chaos and more efficiently transform it into useful material (pictures/words/narratives).

Kurt: Ok, so you have all these condensed ideas on various scraps of paper/notebooks, and then?

Tyler: I spread these scraps and cards all over my drawing table, or on the living room floor, and just start arranging. At this stage the only real workspace requirement is…well…space. I just need lots of room to arrange things. Whatever sat in sketchbooks gets translated to cards or sticky notes or whatever so it can be sequenced too.  Always on papers, always drawing by hand. This hands-on arrangement is the best way to make sense of my ideas, by far. I find I have to revisit this process a number of times before I get what I want—always adding a new bit here, cutting an old bit there—till it feels totally complete.

Kurt: How much space are we talking? Because I often like to do this as well, but I run into the problem of “if I lay out the whole thing at once, I have to step so far away from it that I can’t read it”, and can only process it on a macro level. Are you processing at a macro level at this point? Just trying to see large shapes and spread layouts for whatever it is your after? And what is it that you try to capture on a macro level, design-wise?

Tyler: I always consider it per spread. The biggest picture anyone will ever get of the work, visually, is per page (in a web/phone scroll) or per spread (in print), so that’s how I arrange at this stage. I end up arranging by moments, or by scenes—essentially by spreads or groups of spreads, depending on the length of a discreet scene. I’ll work one out, set it aside, and spread out another. I’m looking for the pacing and completeness of ideas first, then I adjust the visuals—flipping cards for position/direction of forms, replacing a drawing with a different image representing the same moment/idea, or adding new drawings to lengthen a moment. I only consider things between spreads/scenes once I begin to feel like I’m covering everything story-wise and I really know exactly what I’m dealing with chronologically. Then it becomes about things like intensity in one spread, versus breathing space in the next, or whatever sorts of dynamics or glue the story feels like it calls for.

Kurt: So, not the whole story at once, gotcha. Just spread-by-spread…

Tyler: If I plan on working digitally, I’ll photograph these arrangements, and use them as rough guides under my digital drawing. They don’t need to be precise. Analog setup might involve a light table and redrawing overtop of the cards, or just translating them by eye, in spirit, to paper. I have an old animator’s cartooning wheel, and I just stick a lamp behind it. For a while I would do some underdrawing in coloured pencil, mostly just to make sure I was nailing the layout and proportions, but I’ve all but given it up—it’s just too slow and fussy for me, and it can really contribute to flattening my results, so I just straight draw over the sequences in ink. Here’s where people are gonna get pissed off at me…
Pretty much every comic I’ve drawn naturally in the last few years has been on regular old shitty copy paper, often with a photocopied grid on it, inked with dying sharpies of all sizes and whatever smooth, black pens I can find. There are a handful of reasons for this, but the biggest one is speed. I just want to get the work together so I can scan it, and have it set up for reproduction. I also tend to draw a page, or a portion of one, and get that “I fucked this up” feeling, so I trash it and restart. Much easier when your materials are dirt cheap. My space for doing this is a standard drafting table. I’ve got a rubber cut-mat, heaps of paper, things that make marks, tape, my story cards, and I just draw. Page after page.

TL_markersKurt: So what are the other reasons other than speed in your choice of these materials to make the final work? And are all of these dying and fucked up markers just naturally occurring, or do you do stuff to them to fuck them up to the point where they’re making the marks you’re after? If you don’t fuck them up on purpose, what’s the point at which you know they’ll work for what you want them to do?

Tyler: I can’t remember a time when I didn’t have destroyed markers, rotten brushes, or crusty old ink bottles lying around. I don’t wreck ‘em on purpose for any specific effect, I just never throw them out until they’re actually not making marks anymore. With that said, I suppose I just pick up something when I think it’ll work for me. For instance, dying markers are great for tonal gradient in otherwise flat black work, and one of my favourite parts of them is that they’re a little unpredictable, so I use them sparingly and in places where I can let a little chaos occur. They also translate well to high-res bitmap art. Crusty gross magic happens when the software has to decide between only black pixels and white ones. Another thing I like, and am just learning how to use to my advantage, is the uncomfortable balance between tools that really aren’t meant to compliment each other. Fat bent marker tips, leaving bled out blobs on the ends of their lines mixed with a mutilated dried out brush, mixed with ballpoint pen, slightly bled out in more deliberate strokes, and hair-thin where i’ve drawn more quickly. Yup.
There are a few exceptions to this cheap and dirty rule. When I did Likeness I used a Pentel brush pen. Primarily because of the ease of getting mixed thick and thin lines with a single stroke. It’s a little more organic than mechanically building up those thicks and thins, and it served me well for that project. I also used it a bit for portions of Clav City—again, a case of ease with thicks and thins, and separating organic content from more rigid stuff. Otherwise it’s been sharpies, miscellaneous brands of thin ballpoint/gel style pens, and a few occasional heavy-handed dumps of crispy, ill-treated, cheap brushes and dried up rehydrated india ink. My original pages are probably disintegrating as I type this.

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Kurt: All the best artists rarely care about what their originals are going to look like, years down the road. I’m often paranoid that my insistence on using stuff that’s going to last is keeping me from doing my best work…but anyway. Let’s talk about line quality. What do you look for in your linework? I see a copy of Domu on your desk, and you often work in what Toth would’ve called a “dead line” which is just a line with little to no variation in it. Like from a ballpoint or felt-tip pen. And then you flavor it with spotted blacks that are rougher and contrast with those clean “dead” lines. So are you after different things when you choose to use the brush pen, and what drives your decision about which tools to use on a particular story?

Tyler: I borrowed Domu from a friend, and only just started into it, so I couldn’t say much just yet. Otomo has always had a very deliberate, precise, line-quality-aware rendering style, though. I think I used to try to work that way, but I’ve really been trying not to climb anyone else’s tree these past few years. I’ve been trying, bit by bit, to strip all of the style and decoration and residual aping from my work, and reduce it to its barest necessities. When it comes to mark-making tools, I choose based on what kind of visual language I think will benefit the feel of the story. There’s a certain smooth elegance to the brush (or brush pen), something I used heavily in Likeness because it dealt with things in the natural world, human bodies, flab, muscle, jungle creatures, and the moods varied from sad, to furious, to tender. There’s a more rugged quality to writing pens, which is I what I used when I did Lonesome, about a crusty old prospector, scrubby, unforgiving nature, and fear.  I try not to think about flavour in every stroke. I choose some tools overall, and apply them in the moment as best I can to compliment each other and the thing I’m trying to convey in any one panel or drawing. I’d say just as much as the tools, the way in which I compose and control the drawing has a lot to do with the final flavour of it. Where Likeness and Clav City have more structured, controlled, clean setup, even a bit of underdrawing, Lonesome was all off the cuff, ink on the page, no preparation type drawings—full of energy and mistakes all the way through.

Kurt: Ok, so what should I make of the fact that one of your most visceral works, Shit and Piss, is done in the dead-line/crusty spotted blacks style? Is it because this is less warm than the Pentel brush style….less…human? Or should I just not make anything of it at all? (laughs)

Tyler: You more or less hit that nail on the head, yeah. When I set out to do Shit and Piss, I had intended for it to be much more sloppy and mean in its execution—but I lost a certain level of visual clarity there. That’s my super anal, “all things must be perfect” nagging voice guiding me a bit too much. I didn’t have the confidence to proceed with the madness, so I decided to go for something so plain that it was almost dull—pretty far down to the other end of the spectrum. It was partly its lack of humanity, and partly a bit of a challenge in simplification (in some aspects).

Kurt: Ok, I have this pet theory, and it pertains to this thing I think you’re describing. And that is: it’s very difficult to make an “arty” SF piece, because if you want to explain/guide the reader through a weird/foreign/alien world, you need to be clear so that they know something is weird, or alien, and so that they don’t just throw their hands up and say “what the fuck is going on???” And that need for clarity imposes certain limitations on the way you present the story. Do you find yourself running up against this in your work? I feel like you tried to get past this with The Jaundiced Eye

Tyler: This is a REALLY GOOD question. In retrospect I think I’ve played in the same sandbox as your pet theory, but never interacted with it directly. In Shit and Piss, the desire for clarity I’m speaking of was purely (initially) a visual one. The ability to describe a creature, a room, a pile of bones, etc. as clearly as possible felt essential to me. It’s also lent the story a particular layer to its identity, overall. But that’s all surface. Those things don’t require the absolute to-the-detail clarity I had originally aimed for, and their purpose as devices, lending/bending meaning to certain aspects of the stories really only requires their mere suggestion—something I really felt I succeeded in achieving to a much larger degree in The Jaundiced Eye—thanks for noticing. The limitation I see in overindulgence in “clearing everything up” like that seems to be one of potential. When reducing everything to its technical, clinical definition (which is what it feels more and more like to me), you lose the potential to let it speak for itself and add its own depth to the story. You also run the risk of beating people over the head with identifying things, or shifting the balance of focus onto less important aspects of a given thing. Comics has so much room for subtlety, a veritable mille feuille, and I feel like i’m just lifting the topmost layer.

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Kurt: I liked The Jaundiced Eye because it really felt like a weird style, like cut out stencils that were sprayed with a fucked-up airbrush. It was jarring and disorienting, which I felt added to the story’s mood tremendously. I also am interested in what you said about “Crusty gross magic happens when the software has to decide between only black pixels and white ones.” So you’re using the computer’s choices in the final art too? Do you play with the Threshold settings (in Photoshop) a couple of times to find the best version of the bitmapping to your eye?

Tyler: Thanks! The Jaundiced Eye was a tough nut to crack. I had these little ideas about pointy hats and an oppressive fear cloud hanging over a village for a while, and I actually boarded out the whole story a bunch of months ago and it’s just been sitting, waiting for the right treatment to justify its existence. I drew the first spread 3 or 4 times in a different hand/tool/style to try and figure out how it wanted to be shown, but no luck. Stuff was too fussy, too contrived, didn’t serve the feel I was hoping for. One evening I was doing some wicked loose drawing with really dull pencils and had a proper eureka moment. The idea of swaths of crumbling noise with just minimal detail for recognition’s sake punched out—that was it. I found a couple of PS brush tool combos that worked and the thing took me no time at all to draw—just painting in huge fields of mess and cutting back silhouettes from them. This story didn’t see any of that black and white magic transformation because it was done 100% digitally, and I kept the greyscale very smooth and soft and anti-aliased, so everything was kinda set up ahead of time to do its job. The magic tends to happen for me when I’ve scanned art with gradients, or when I decide to paint tone or gradient digitally, in a soft, greyscale sort of way—and then convert to bitmap. It’s just how hard I hit the threshold. Usually just a matter of adjusting levels a bit for the results I want.

TL_digitalKurt: Since we’re on the topic anyway, let’s get into how you work digitally…

Tyler: When I’m working digitally I work in a more reductive way. What I mean by that is that I generally apply much more black than I will need anywhere, and shave it back with an eraser—something that differs a lot from my analog drawing process. Workspace in this sense is pretty sparse—I use a Cintiq and work in Photoshop. I draw primarily in one black layer, often with one additional black layer set to 40% opacity so I can get that secondary tone in there. I usually use just a couple of brushes I made myself from scans of old drawings—a couple for ragged lines/blobs, and a couple of others for spatter and gradient tones. Recently I made use of some of the famous Kyle Webster’s brushes to do The Jaundiced Eye, but that’s about the only deviation I’ve made to date.

Kurt: And let’s talk real technical: how do you set up your pages for print: dpi, scan rates, any special tricks you use that give you the print job you’re after with these projects? Does it vary significantly between black & white or color?

Tyler: Whether scanned or straight digital, I usually work at 600dpi. I’ve been told to work higher, but with a bunch of layers and large(ish) pages, I tend to get drawing lag which makes it pretty unworkable. I work pretty much exclusively in Photoshop, because I know it, and I can achieve pretty much anything I care about in it. I also tend to save my pages as individual PSD files. I know some people do some major huge spread files, or entire story files, or use smart objects or whatever, but I keep it pretty simple. I don’t like all that shit getting in my way. As for the work itself, anything that’s straight black, or flat coloured, I work in plain bitmap—that is no anti-aliased edges. Every pixel is black, or white. Gives much more crisp end result when going to print—I’ve found. I’m not a pressman, though, so my tricks don’t go too deep there. I don’t do much “color” work, other than flats like I’ve done with Likeness and Hermit Crab Real Estate, which are essentially straight black layers printed in a color other than black. In that respect, it really doesn’t vary much at all between straight b/w and color work for me—except that I trap my colors properly (combination of applying a stroke and hand painting in some of the non-uniform stuff) since they’ll be printed in separate passes. Shit and Piss has been totally black and white, right down to the textures I crafted and paste into the “tone” layer. When I do the covers, it’s a free-for-all, methods-wise, anything goes, eventually creating a duplicate, baked flat, converted to CMYK and tweaked for balance as best I can. Clav City, and Lonesome use a couple of transparent colors/tones that overlap to give an additional color/tone—but being made for the screen as they were, they’re just plain old PS layers with multiplication/transparency applied to them. Translated to the page, I’d be reworking them similarly to the previous examples, flat layers, trapped, relying on transparent inks, or a full 4-color process to keep the balance and legibility. All of the setup/process I just described is becoming a bit stale for me, as most of my recent work has been done with slight variations on the same methods—so I may be exploring a new approach soon. Something to refresh me, and the work.

Kurt: So, what’s coming up for you as far as work, and what are your personal struggles in your art as you see it? What are you trying to attain that you feel you haven’t yet? I’m curious as to where artists are aiming, how they envision their “perfect” masterwork and what it contains. What kind of influences or ideas are you trying to put into your art that you feel you haven’t figured out yet?

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Tyler: Upcoming work includes quarterly (I hope) installments of Vile, via Study Group. Each of these will be a unique story, under the common banner of Vile. I also plan on doing two more Shit and Piss tales, then to collect all five in a single volume. Those are the hard commitments I’ve made. In addition, I’ve got a pile of stories in various states of early note-taking, card-drawing, narrative building. They’ll all find their way into finished-ness sooner or later. I’ve got a story about future life on Mars, a sort of “interview” with a vampire, a folly of youth story with heavily relevant societal undertones, a book of landscapes, more chapters of Clav City, and so on…

My personal struggles stem from and guide my aspirations. I grew up copying style. Always. I was a fan of so many painters, illustrators, cartoonists, and spent years just learning how to execute like they did. The fundamentals came later when I realized I hadn’t any voice for sharing my own ideas, and needed to build up from the ground again. I’m forever trying to shed the trappings of stylistic shackles—either by purposefully altering my visual approach every time I draw a new story, or by drawing at such a base level that style doesn’t even come into play. I’d love to someday be able to execute my drawings on a completely raw and primitive level, using only the bare necessities. With those ideas constantly nagging at me, my deeper more longterm aspiration is really just to continue to expand on and really develop my ability to tell relevant (I hope) stories within the medium of comics. It really is capable of so many wonderful, dynamic, and infinitely subtle things, and I want to explore, invent, and master them all—built up around stories that actually matter. To someone. Somewhere.


Many thanks to Tyler for taking the time to discuss all of this over email! 

Kurt Ankeny is a cartoonist working in Ipswich, Massachusetts. He’s the co-author of the Santoro School Handbook for Making Better Comics, and the author of Saltwater Snow, A Bomb, and the upcoming In Pieces: Someplace Which I Call Home, which is currently being serialized on the Comics Workbook Tumblr. You can find him on Tumblr as well as at www.kurtankeny.com.