Creator Spotlight: Wes Black

L0l87UOi_400x400.jpgIf the name Wes Black doesn’t ring a bell, clearly you haven’t been reading this blog for very long! That’s okay, because we’re here to introduce the man/myth/legend/etc. in our very first Creator Spotlight. This series is exactly what it sounds like: I’ll be shooting questions at artists and writers behind comics and other creative endeavors, finding out more about what fuels their work. 

As a quick catch-up, Wes co-wrote Two of a Vine with me and both Post-Nuke Pre-School and Neon Starlight Express are his feral brainchildren. 

I’m going to pepper this spotlight with unseen Raisins art. I think this was one of the first drawings I shared in our Two of a Vine notes email.

subhumanzoids: Hey, you’re our first creator spotlight! No pressure, but this has to be really good. For right now maybe I should just write “Wes says something funny here” and fill it in later.

Wes Black: Remember when that homeless guy with the high-pitched voice chased us into a Japanese video store on his bike, and then sat parked in the doorway, taunting us by ding-dinging the bicycle’s bell? That was funny after we realized we weren’t going to get stabbed. I recall us having a good laugh about it.

Regular readers of subhumanzoids may know you from two of the “Big Three” on the site: Two of a Vine and Neon Starlight Express. What was your writing process like for each of these comics? 

I love giving myself lots of extra work. For Neon Starlight Express, I wrote a pitch (which I sent you to gauge interest) then a 17-page plot, followed by a full script — a script with way too many panels per page. After you sent me the finished art, I got mad at myself for using too many goddamn panels, and then rewrote most of the dialogue and captions, because half of it wasn’t needed. Despite this, I still managed to saddle you with pages and pages of overstuffed word balloons.

Two of a Vine didn’t have this problem so much, since we wrote that together. Except for the parts I went off and wrote on my own. Those definitely have too many panels. And words. For the past couple of years, I’ve found myself unable to read a comic without counting the panels and word balloons. I’m very good at ruining the things I love.

raisinslap
This was one of the first sketch samples I made to give an idea of how Vine might look as a comic. I guess that tall-headed Raisin is supposed to be Jamain.

Two of a Vine basically stars us and the California Raisins. Were you ever worried said Raisins would emerge from your TV screen to strangle you for twisting them into the deranged creatures we created?

That or a cease & desist letter. I went in fully prepared to make the comic about The Delaware Dried Prunes in order to appease big corporate lawyers or murderous California Raisins.

Prior to this, you had more experience writing spec scripts for movies and TV. How does your approach to writing comics differ?

There’s slightly less anxiety involved, mainly because I’m confident you’ll fix things to where I won’t look like a complete moron. Honestly, I wish you could just illustrate all my pilot scripts.

The fact that we practically share a brain definitely makes communication easier. Have you written comics for people who aren’t named Joseph Luster? How did that go?

I haven’t, but I imagine I probably wouldn’t be able to use “that thing Craig T. Nelson pukes up in Poltergeist II” as shorthand. Sounds terrible, actually.

I know you’re primarily a writer, but do you have any of your demonic drawings to share? I feel like that’s a little known aspect of Wes Black.

I think most states have some sort of law on the books preventing that.

raisingoo.jpg
This sketch comic was based on an early concept of, uh, some kind of goo the Raisins subsisted on? Our email chains are like spitball snowstorms.

Regardless of what you’re writing, what’s a typical day like for Wes Black?

Usually I start by staring at the ceiling, then I talk myself into writing, and try to get down as a much as possible before the self-loathing really kicks in. After that happens I still keep on writing, but things tend to move a tad slower. I like to follow that up with a nice long walk while listening to a podcast (Shock Waves and Pure Cinema are faves). Maybe slip in a movie late at night — most recently 1987’s Dragnet, which has aged wonderfully. Expertly strides the line between spoof and straight buddy-cop film in a way that I feel wasn’t fully appreciated at the time of release.

Alright, speed round time: What’s your current regular comic roundup looking like? 

Kill or Be Killed, Misfit City, Alien: Dead Orbit, Black Hammer, and Rock Candy Mountain. Plus early ’90s-era Valiant.

Favorite movie of 2017?

Does the new Twin Peaks count?

Might as well. Best kung fu movie ever made?

8 Diagram Pole Fighter.

Put 10 grand on it: McGregor or Mayweather? 

Mayweather in the third, unless he accidentally KOs Connor while toying with him in the first two rounds.

Dream project? 

A live-action Gantz TV series.

Screen Shot 2017-07-25 at 11.35.04 AM.jpg
This is a good example of your average dumb email idea we shoot back and forth. In this one, the Raisins created a bridge across some sludge in the flooded shower room. They LOVE doing stuff like this, of course.

Alright, thanks for not messing up our first Spotlight, Wes! I’m writing this in advance assuming we didn’t totally beef it. Any parting thoughts or plugs?

I have a towel stained with the sweat of professional wrestler Kazuchika Okada that I keep hidden in my closet. Since I don’t have a will or anything, I’d just like it in writing somewhere that I want to be buried with said towel in the event of my death. It’s yellow and was made to look like a $100,000 bill with Okada’s face on it. That’s all, really.

Follow Wes on Twitter for a closer look at what watching a ton of wrestling and mainlining movie marathons will do to even the boldest of brains. 

inside the buckwild sun bakery oven

I’ve been a big fan of Corey Lewis ever since I first read his Sharknife graphic novels. His art and storytelling both have an intense energy about them that’s hard to nail with the right level of sincerity, and he’s only gotten better since. His current project, Sun Bakery, has become one of my favorites, and it recently moved from the self-published zone into the gin-yoo-wine world of Image comics.

That means issues are even easier to pick up now, and I highly recommend doing so.

Besides Lewis’s incredibly bold artwork, the best thing Sun Bakery has going for it is its overall structure. It’s essentially a one-man anthology, so every comic within is a shotgun blast straight from the same barrel. It’s like Image’s Island anthology… if every comic in Island was drawn by the same dude. Or maybe it’s like Creepshow 2, except it’s a comic and it’s more Redline than The Raft. I probably could have just left this at “it’s a one-man anthology,” but I really like anthologies in general!

sun-bakery-cover-1-rgb.jpg

I’m really into Lewis’s anything-goes approach to making comics, from the broad strokes to the tiniest details. There’s a lot of imagination in each issue of Sun Bakery, and most of the stories carry on with new chapters throughout the run. Dream Skills, for instance, is exactly what you get when you give a fighting game fan free reign to unleash his own world. In this case it’s a world in which swords rule as the ultimate weapon; just like in real life, guns are for wimps and you won’t find any here.

Look at this Dream Skills-based cover issue #3 sports. It’s one of those images you can get lost in, and I love all the movesets pulled straight from a 2D Capcom fighter.

FullSizeRender (1).jpg

Arem is another standout. It’s basically a Metroid fan comic that skirts all the nasty copyright issues associated with a typical Nintendo property. Only in this story, Arem Lightstorm—the Samus Aran analog—travels to exotic planets for the perfect Instagram snaps. Arem is as solid an argument as any for Lewis’s expert handling of color and powerful layout decisions.

Here’s a cool splash page from Arem:

sunbakeryarem.jpg

And a second example of that instruction manual aesthetic I dig so much:

sunbakeryarem2.jpg

There’s also choice content here for those who prefer their comics in black and white. Batrider stars a hero with a supernatural skateboard, which is about as much of an elevator pitch as I need. The layouts and direction are particularly strong here. Just dig this two-pager that’s straight off the screen. You can practically feel the animation when the Beetle crests the hill and slams down next to Batrider.

IMG_5505.JPG

There’s plenty more within the pages of each issue, but I’ll leave the rest for you to discover on your own. My key takeaway from Sun Bakery is nothing short of a boatload of inspiration. The one-man anthology isn’t just a great idea, it would make for a killer exercise for comic artists of all levels. Do you have a ton of ideas you want to workshop all at once? Why not do exactly that? Focusing on one story is all well and good, but sometimes you just need to break out your Contra Spread Gun and fire away with reckless abandon.

That’s what Corey Lewis is doing, and maybe everyone else should, too.

You can see more of REYYY‘s work on his website and tumblr. His GI Joe one shot is also rad. And get Sharknife, because he’s coming back in the next Sun Bakery! 

 

cut. it. out! crafting comic flashbacks from construction paper

The latest update for Big Dumb Fighting Idiots may not have clocked in at a whopping 10 pages like the one before it, but it had a few tricks of its own. Besides playing around a little more with colors and shadows, I decided to do something special with the Mayor’s flashback sequence. Going against the traditional style of the comic for flashbacks—whether they’re a single panel or multiple pages—has been my goal since the early pages, and this time I busted out the construction paper and got to cutting.

I could probably leave it at that and most would get the picture, but I didn’t start out with this exact idea in mind. The reason I went with it is entirely thanks to the way I drew the thumbnails for the page. I was originally just planning to make the Mayor’s flashback consist of purposefully bad drawings, but the sketch accidentally gave me a better idea.

FullSizeRender (1).jpg
My sketches already looked enough like cutouts…

The second panel sparked the idea: Why not just get a bunch of different paper and start cutting directly with scissors? Sketching the characters out beforehand would be too accurate. I wanted it to look kind of bad, which is a great way to turn your brain off and avoid overanalyzing whatever it is you’re doing. In fact, if you really want to just mess around, you might want to do the same kind of exercise in a sketchbook. Not with paper cutouts, but with extemporaneous drawings that may or may not go anywhere.

I ended up doing four panels like this. I cut the shapes I wanted for each character—separate cuts for arms, torso, clothes, and facial features, for instance—and used a cheap glue stick to put them together.  I didn’t bother gluing any of the figures to the background itself, because I wanted the freedom to move them around if I didn’t like the composition. The final results came out exactly how I pictured them in the first place.

FullSizeRender.jpg
Clockwise, L to R: Mayor Mustang socks a frog, Trunk looks dumb, a robot goes ballistic, the Mayor is surrounded.

The pressure was off to make these the very best. I knew if they even looked marginally decent they’d serve their purpose and look cool next to digitally-illustrated panels. Once I took photos of each collage, I opened the page up in Clip Studio Paint and simply imported them into their respective panels. I made sure to have room in each for text, which is something you should always keep in mind in advance when laying out panels.

And now I have Mayor Mustang himself on my shelf!

IMG_5536.JPG
Also starring: Finn, Rush, and a head-splitting Garbage Pail Kid

So, to recap, I:

    1. Drew thumbnails
    2. Cut out individual shapes
    3. Assembled characters with glue
    4. Placed and photographed each panel
    5. Imported photos into Clip Studio Paint
    6. Added text overlays and polished the page

Hopefully I’ll get to do something like this again, but I don’t know if there are really any flashbacks coming up! (pssst, I’d do clay for the next one if I could.)

the silent journey of sam alden’s haunter

It’s no secret that Sam Alden is an incredible cartoonist. Like other top-tier talent, he eventually made his way to storyboarding for Adventure Time, which is like the mothership for people who are great at comics. This post isn’t about Finn & Jake, though, it’s about Alden’s 2014 Study Group Comics release Haunter, a 96-page journey that reads like a dream.

Haunter.jpg

Anyone who regularly follows Alden’s work is probably like, “yeah, DUH, Haunter is rad as hell.” After all, this was his first long-form work, but it’s also something I just happened to stumble upon at NYC’s Forbidden Planet. The story follows a young woman who runs into an ancient evil while exploring, and from that moment on the two are entwined in a fierce hunter x hunted chase.Haunter01_01.jpg

As the title of this post suggests, Haunter is a completely wordless comic. These are tough enough to pull off even marginally well. Comics are by no means dependent on dialogue or narration, but without them you really need someone who specializes in visual clarity. Alden demonstrates his skills as a soon-to-be storyboard artist with a comic that flows perfectly from moment to moment. When the action picks up, your reading pace follows suit naturally, and Haunter takes a few opportunities to dial it down and change the timing of panels to what’s practically a frame-by-frame piece of animation.

Haunter01_10.jpg

Sam Alden is some kind of wizard with brushes and watercolors, or whatever was used to create Haunter. Streamlined characters intermingle with deep environments, and the stark black ink outlines are used to great effect, almost like an animation cel. The color scheme is reminiscent of Katsuya Terada’s classic Zelda art. Appropriately enough, it’s also been compared to a video game. I can see that; it has kind of a Fumito Ueda (Ico, Shadow of the ColossusThe Last Guardian) vibe to it.

Haunterbanner_0215.jpg

The act of reading Haunter flies by in a flash, but it’s also a comic I’m more likely to revisit from time to time. Do yourself a favor and pick up this and pretty much anything else by Sam Alden. I also highly recommend his Frontier book, which is available from Youth In Decline. Actually, it’s out of print, but maybe you can dig around and find it somewhere. That’s half the fun!

His site isn’t showing up at the moment, but you can check out more of Sam Alden’s comics on his tumblr.