Why Yes, I AM a Comic Artist!

Any good story begins in the 1980s.

What’s my biggest failure as a comic artist? It’s not that I haven’t drawn the best drawing or drafted the finest, Eisner-award winning tale. Nothing like that. My biggest failure as a comic artist is that I don’t tell people that I’m a comic artist. I’m the worst at it. I’ll lug some art supplies into work to get some drawing done over my lunch break, and an officemate will inevitably walk past, see what I’m doing, and exclaim, “I didn’t know you were an artist!” Likewise, an old friend or coworker will bring their kids to Cape Comic Con, stop by my table with a look of wonder, and say, “What?! This is all your work?! Gosh, I didn’t know about any of this!”

It’s true. They didn’t know. Could there possibly be more telling evidence that I’m bad at marketing myself? Any time I have to explain to someone that I make comics, I scrunch into a small ball and explain myself as quickly and concisely as possible, like I’m confessing to eating the last brownie. My hesitancy is partly out of embarrassment (as though I’m worried some jocks are going to spill out of the nearest locker room and pound me for making comics, even though I’m 34), and partly because I’m afraid that admitting to all of the hours of work I’ve put into comics is going to come off as bragging, and that I need to just keep my mouth shut and stop bothering people.

It’s a completely irrational and dumb fear, right? Making comics is my pastime, my hobby—everybody has hobbies. Why would talking about that be bragging? It’s not like I won Olympic gold or ate the hottest wings at B-Dubs or anything. Talk about a guy taking himself a little too seriously. It’s no wonder I don’t sell very many books.

So, it’s time to conquer this fear, this roadblock. Yes, I am a comic artist. I’m going to tell you how I became a comic artist and the comics I’ve created. (I’ll give you the abridged version—I know you have stuff to do.) Even if you’re reading this and you’re not interested in comics, my hope is that if you struggle with some of the same mental hang-ups as me, you’ll be inspired to find the courage to talk about what you like to do, as well. Don’t be afraid. Own your passion.

Everything's a sordid tale with you.

From Mike and the Ninja, Volume 2: Painfully Employed

How I Got Into Comics

My older sister was an artist, and my older brother read comics. He also drew some comic covers featuring baby versions of popular Marvel characters like Wolverine, Daredevil, and The Incredible Hulk, that I found pretty inspiring. I became a fan of comics at a young age, maybe five or six, and with these talented siblings in the house (and supportive parents who encouraged reading and hard work), it was only a matter of time before I picked up interests in writing and drawing and creating my own stories. In fourth grade, one of my friends started making comic books when he finished his work early. I stole the idea and started making my own comic books. We collaborated on a number of stories, some of our other friends and classmates joined in, and I’ve had an interest in creating comics ever since.

Kail #1 Cover Art

Cover Art for Kail #1, circa 1993. Hey, gotta start somewhere.

Early Works

Most of my early comics, from ages nine to sixteen, centered around a guy named Kail, who was a mash-up of Cable and The Punisher and any other popular, gun-toting superheroes of the 1990s. These comics were heavily influenced by all of my favorite franchises, and were oozing with violence and trademark infringement. Characters, settings, and technology from X-Men, Star Wars, Star Trek, and other properties all intermingled in one steaming mess of a story. There were Death Stars in just about every issue, a wedding issue, a fight with Dracula, and I even lifted some scenes from Transformers: The Movie wholesale and just replaced Megatron and Optimus Prime with my own characters. The comics were ludicrous, but a lot of fun to create, and they laid the groundwork for future (and original) stories and taught me the very basics of comic creation. In college, as part of a publishing project, I revisited the Kail universe and tied up all the loose ends in a single, all-in, existential crisis-filled final issue. It wasn’t perfect, but it brought closure to the mishmash of stories from my youth.

Mike and the Ninja books

All of Mike and the Ninja collected into three graphic novels.

Mike and the Ninja

Mike and the Ninja is a webcomic that ran consistently from 2008-2013, and my flagship series. It’s an action-comedy starring Mike, who meets a mysterious ninja named Stu at the unemployment office, and they have adventures together! It’s a world of bureaucracy run amok, where everything is organized, but dysfunctional. There’s a Ninja Union, but they’re on strike. There’s a Hired Goon Association, but they toe the line between legitimate business and ruthless terrorist organization. In spite of the chaos, it’s a story about friendship and finding one’s place in the world. It’s pretty rough to start, as I didn’t have a plan for where it was going and didn’t care all that much about quality, but it eventually comes into its own as a fairly competent, reasonably amusing series. Again, its creation was a learning experience, so while it never quite had the polish or strong storytelling necessary for wide appeal, it’s a fun read, and at 305 total pages, a major undertaking to create.

Six Legs, No Heart Cover Art

Six Legs, No Heart Cover Art. It was as disgusting to draw as it is to look at.

Six Legs, No Heart

Six Legs, No Heart (or just Six Legs, for short) is a single 26-page comic book about a young couple’s house being overrun by killer cockroaches, and the drastic measures the couple takes to defend themselves and their home. Inspired by a true story about a real cockroach problem my wife and I faced years ago, it’s very much in the campy horror vein (think The Blob or Them!), but many find it genuinely creepy and/or gross. I took everything I learned from Mike and the Ninja and applied it here, and I think it’s my best work, to date. Despite everything I learned from Mike and the Ninja, I learned even more making Six Legs, No Heart. It pays to never stop learning.

What’s Next

I haven’t worked on comics in earnest since wrapping up Six Legs in March of 2017. However, I’m hoping to change that in 2019. I’m ramping up pre-production for two new comic projects. One will be about dodgeball, based on a league my friends and I put together in high school and college. A lot of interesting stories, rivalries, and fun came out of our dodgeball experience, as well as a lot of friendships that may have never happened, otherwise. While the characters, setting, and circumstances in the comic will be fictional, I feel the stories upon which they will be based need to be told, one way or another.

My other project is a reboot of the Kail universe, but with an original premise and original characters. Space and superheroes are involved, and probably a bit of that bureaucracy run amok from Mike and the Ninja, as well. More on that another time.

I’d like to throw out the occasional one-off comic strip, too, based on things going on in my life or in the world around me. They’re great for getting gripes off my chest, and great for quick social media content, as well.

Thanks for bearing with me this week as I struggled through the discomfort of having to talk about myself and what I like to do. Such torture (for whatever reason). However, since I talked a lot about the comics I’ve made, I thought it would be appropriate to cover the creative process in my next entry. From concept to finished product, I’ll tell you about how I bring a comic to life! See you then!