Please note that this interview was conducted via email in 2003
What made you decide to become a (comic books) artist?
I loved comics since I was 5 years old and I discoverd that one of my favourite cartoons “The Archies” was based on a comic. Archie comics lead to Spider-man and then it was all over….I was obsessed with the comic medium.
My first words as a baby were (no kidding) Batman….I loved the Adam West show growing up and I loved the Bakshi Spider-man animated series and that lead to incessant drawing… I didn’t really decide to go into comics…. I had no plan and I never thought I was a good enough artist to even try to get into the field. At best it was a pipe dream that I never thought would get fulfilled.
How did you “break into” the comics industry, and how hard was it?
I went to New York Technical because I didn’t register in time for the School of Visual Arts and they had an intern program and Marvel was a part of it. Only one other kid in the whole school was interested in it and he’s the one that actually mentioned it to me and we were the only two that ended up in the program.
A month into the internship I was ghosting portions of comics and then it lead to sporadic inking and colouring and one day one of the editors needed a story drawn and I asked if I could take a crack at it and the rest is history.
It typically is an incredibly difficult industry to break into. However the fact that I was there everyday and wasn’t in peoples faces about getting them to look at my work helped tremendously. Also important to mention was that this was the hey day of comics. The speculators were out and buying everything in droves. Everything was selling… everything had a gimmick cover or a trading card… there wasn’t a single book that wasn’t selling… Brother Vooddoo would have made money. So if you could draw decently and tell a decent story you got work…they couldn’t find artists quick enough.
That all changed in 1994 when the industry imploded in upon itself and the work dried up. And it once again became a difficult industry to break into. I could sense many of my friends frustration that wanted to be in the industry and couldn’t get in…. and I having made the connections I did when the industry was healthy was able to barely eek out a comic book living for several years after.
Who have been your influences?
Oh there have been so many. John Romita Snr and Jr were two of my favourite artists growing up and later on I completely was under Adam Hughs’ spell. I absorbed a lot from the way he drew figures. And I was lucky enough to have Carmine Infantino as a teacher at SVA and he is a comic genius.
Also while I was working at Marvel I was lucky enough to be able to watch such artists like Mark Texeira and Jim Lee work and even had Jimmy Palmiotti give me some inking lessons..
What are you currently working on?
I haven’t been active in the comic industry in at least 4 or 5 years….I’ve been working at Nickelodean for the last 6 years. I started as an artist for the Rugrats and Catdog for commercial uses and moved up the ladder, designing toys and other products and video games until I got to my current position as a Director of Animation for ON-air. Which basically means I make animated shorts and packaging for the network.
I still work on my own projects on the side just to keep my sanity… you can only draw a child in a diaper or a talking Sponge for so long before the madness sets in.
What would be a dream project for you?
Um….well having one of my personal projects take off would be a dream. Most likely an animated show. I had a dream of doing a creator owned comic but alas the industry is just not strong enough to sustain another comic book.
What qualities do you think comics bring to contemporary entertainment (compared to movies, books or television)?
Comics have to be the most powerful visual medium accessible to us. Using sequential pictures to tell a story of epic proportions is a medium that has been in use since man first walked the earth. The ability to tell story with unlimited special effects, unlimited cast of characters… well it’s just the most amazing way to communicate these outrageous ideas.
It’s a beautiful art, leading a viewer down a path, having them fill in their own blanks at times or purposely leading them in directions unexpected… it’s exciting. It’s sad to think that the comic audience isn’t recycling itself. That the audience is aging with no new audience coming in.
Comics have been replaced by video games and other forms of interactive media and entertainment. The act of physically turning a page and moving ones eyes is becoming a thing of the past. Kids are being assaulted from every direction by all sorts of eye candy and unfortunately still pictures on newsprint just doessn’t have the potency to compete with the bells and whistles of Grand Theft Auto(bot).
There is so much magic inbetween those covers, if only kids would pick it up and give it a chance… Then again, at $2.95 a pop, I think I would rather see a movie myself…
How did you come to work on the Transformers Generation 2 comic?
My friend Rob Tokar was the editor on the book and he knew I was an extremely reliable and fast artist. He had given one of my first jobs and when the artist assigned to Generation 2 (I can’t remember his name) Derek something or other…. well anyway, when he started to fall behind after issue one Rob asked me if I could pitch in and help finish issue 2. I handed in my pages in record time and when it became obvious that the book was fallling way behind schedule he asked if I could do some fill ins to get the book on schedule so I did. And eventually I pretty much just did the majority of the book until it ended with issue 12.
It was really good fortune being in the right place at the right time and being fast and reliable that got me not only this job but the majority of my jobs in general.
Prior to that, did you have any exposure to the Transformers, and what were your thoughts on it?
The Transformers first came out when I was in 6th grade. Man o man did I want one of those toys! I just couldn’t afford them…. For a while there I got some cheap knock offs from my mother, Go-Bots and the like….until I finally traded a bunch of toys for Huffer with a friend of mine, then when I graduated from 6th grade my mother got me the mutha of all truckers, Optimus Prime!!!! I was so happy!
And that was kind of the end of that… I was a huge GI Joe fan and I couldn’t partition my money any more so I had to pick one so I stuck with the Joes.
I still watched the cartoon religously though and read the first mini-series. I immediately fell in love with the idea of cars that turned into robots. It blew my little mind! Two toys for the price of one… the whole concept was staggering… Two of my favourite things rolled into one!
What was your approach in portraying the characters?
Here is the unfortunate part. I was asked to match the establishing artists style (Derek?) as much as possible and that was my downfall. I’m really good at aping another artist style now but at the time I wasn’t, and Derek’s style was so specific… I couldn’t get into his mindset of design or story telling… I tried my best and some of the readers did catch on.
I remember one letter in particular saying that I should just let go and draw in my natural style. I should have listened… I probably would have enjoyed working on
it much more. I should have at least slowly intergrated more and more of my style as the book went on but I didn’t… Hey I was like 22 years old what did I know?
Here is the kicker… I loved drawing metal and plastic and had I actually drawn it in my style I would have probably made the fans happier along with myself. My best friend in the industry, Dan Slott, thought it was such a shame that I was such metal master and I wasn’t exploiting my natural skills.
How did you get away with such violence?
I never had a problem with violence. I think because the characters are ultimately robots that the comics code never made a big stink about the violence.
… And what was with all the wires?
Again this was something that Derek had established and I was just trying to mimic the style. I thought it looked pretty cool though. A good way of hiding complex joints.
Who were your favourite Transformers characters to draw?
Optimus, Megatron and Hot Rod. That was his name right? Hot Rod? I really like Prowl as a kid too.
Are you surprised by the longevity of a toy line like The Transformers?
Not at all….the basic idea of giant robots never grows old. I was a little concerned there during the Beast Wars years, I thought that was soooooo lame. It’s so not cool to turn into an ape for no reason… the idea of turning into a truck and hiding in plain sight is awesome. Noble thought but just not as cool as a big ass truck.
Would you work on a Transformers project again, if asked?
I would certainly love to do a pin-up or something along those lines if asked, just to show what I could really do with the Transformers. After all it’s been 10 years since I drew them last and that was in someone else’s style. I know I just wouldn’t be able to do a full fledged story with them… I just haven’t the time anymore.
I really cut my artistic teeth on Transformers and believe me I know what an honour it was to work on it and be part of such a huge cultural phenomenon. It was one of the first books I worked on and one of the first series that got me fan mail… I answererd every piece of it by the way.
Thanks for the interview and the blast from the past!
May your luster never dull, and your wires never cross!