This month sees the release of two comics I have drawn, Back to the Future #1 and Howling Commandos of S.H.I.E.L.D. #1. They come out a week a part on October 21st and October 28th. Back to the Future is one of my favorite films of all time. The chance to work on that property in any official capacity is a great honor. And to do a story with Bob Gale the creator of the films, surreal. Then there’s Howling Commandos. My first monthly comic project. I’ve been working towards this goal for as long as I can remember. After graduating in the early 2000s from the Minneapolis College of Art and Design I started collaborating on a creator owned project with my fellow art school pal Brandon Terrell on a book called Horrorwood. The project ended up at Ape Entertainment and taught me a lot about how hard this medium works. Pouring your guts into something, traveling to cons only to make fifteen dollars, coming up with any angle you can to help get eyeballs on the book. Drawing hundreds of sketches for people who pre-ordered the trade in hopes to hit sale numbers high enough to justify a printing. Cold calling comic shops only to have them hang up on you because they didn’t care. It was a ton of hard work that was fun as hell.
I ended up having much of the same experience on Astronaut Dad shortly after. We were lucky this time that we had a publisher covering the costs of printing. But still the results were very much the same. Writer David Hopkins and myself did our best to swim in the big pool with all the major publishers but following up your comic debut with a black and white historical comic about the space race was not going to catapult me much farther in the industry. Still, I was having a blast and I really felt like the book we made had some substance with a subject matter that I loved. I would do it all again in a heartbeat.
Around this time a crossroads hit me. I still wanted to make comics but freelance work in advertising illustration was really picking up. I had artist representation for the advertising work and I was doing a variety of different things. Storyboards, project illustration, concept design. I was a jack of all trades in style and subject matter and it was paying off. I was covering student loans, rent, and a upcoming wedding to my then girlfriend, Nicole. Within a year we had purchased a house so now there was a mortgage as well. Somehow all these random projects covered it all. It was a whirlwind but I could handle the 16 hour work days and little to no days off.
Over the the next couple years the projects kind of blurred together. I did a lot of comics but nothing on that large of a scale. Single issues here and there, maybe two. I drew a great graphic novel called Mr. Murder is Dead with Archaia right as my first daughter Josie was born. It received great praise but once again, I was still kind of stuck on the cusp of where I wanted to be when it was done. I was still having fun but the wear and tear of balancing the commercial work and comics was starting to beat me down a bit. I knew I couldn’t keep it up forever. But the responsibility of a kid and paying the bills keep it going out of necessity.
Around 2012- 2013 things kind of hit a low point. The comic projects I had were fine but mostly fill in stuff. I was hungry for bigger and better projects. I had friends and colleagues who I had started in the business around the same time or even after me leap frog me in the industry with quality of work and great books. I wasn’t hitting conventions as hard as I could or should and overall just wasn’t doing all I could to get my name out there in comics. Commercial work sucked up a lot of time on top of parenthood. I was stuck in the hamster wheel of taking whatever came to me in comics and advertising work. I was seriously thinking of finding a nine to five gig (Working for a beer distributor as a beer truck delivery driver was and still is kind of a job I’d love to have). It would allow me to come home, and create whatever art I wanted in my free time.
While returning from a comic convention I got an email from an editor at DC Comics. He had seen a Superman drawing I had posted from the con that weekend. He wanted to know if I could do ten pages of a Superman story for Adventures of Superman. I was stoked. This was pretty much a dream gig for any comic artist. It was a much needed kick in the creative pants for me. I was able to take the profile of that project and snowball it into a consistent string of projects that has lead up till now. I also decided that in order to make a good go trying to make comics my only job, I needed to have complete control of my schedule. I left my art rep that was providing me consistent commercial art projects. It was scary but I needed to in order to give this an honest try. I kept a few regular clients and still have some just because it’s a good safety net.
The Superman story rejuvenated me. Not long after that I started to work on characters that I dreamed about drawing since I was a kid picking up my first comic at WALLDRUG, South Dakota. Characters like Batman, The Punisher, and The Phantom. I was having a lot of fun again. Now I just need something bigger to do. Shortly after a trip to C2E2 in Chicago this year, I was asked to do Howling Commandos of S.H.I.E.L.D. for Marvel.
This may all sound like a victory lap, but trust me it’s not. A good friend of mine, Skottie Young, who’s worked at Marvel for over a decade now, said one of the best pieces of advice I’ve ever heard. “As hard as it is to break into comics, it’s even harder to stay in them”. It’s so true. With all the young talented creators coming out of art schools these days it’s harder than ever to keep relevant. If sales numbers aren’t where Howling Commandos needs to be it’ll be over before it starts. Who knows if there will be another shot at doing a monthly book? So there’s no self congratulating going on. Just have to put the head down, pencil to paper, and get back to work. hopefully we get a good run on this because I think it’s a really fun book. I know that comics are what I was meant to do and it’s been a crazy trip to get to here. But well worth it. Thanks for reading.