Interview with Comic Artist Chad Cicconi

Chad Cicconi is one of those comic artists whose work you can easily identify, like a sharply dressed French man in a police line up of beggars. What I’m trying to get as is he’s got a cool, distinct (and dare I say, somewhat cartoony?) style that sets his work apart from the “typical” superhero stuff. His probably most well known comic work has been with Fracture, a superhero comic with a twist. I’ve been lucky enough to interview Chad, and so now you, too, can learn a thing or two about living the life of a successful comic book artist:

Convince us, in one sentence, that your comics are awesome.

If you like action-packed, thought provoking, funny, and brilliantly-drawn comics, you will love FRACTURE from Action Lab.

What is your favorite comic or graphic novel?
Other than my own work, of course, my all time favorite graphic novel is the original Marvel She-Hulk graphic novel from the late 1970’s featuring the best John Byrne art I’ve ever seen.
What (or who) inspired you to begin creating comics? Why did you begin writing and creating comics?
I’ve been a doodler my whole life, as well as a comic reader.  I’ve always wanted to try my hand at creating comics, but only got the courage to do so in the last six or seven years.  I only wish I’d done it much earlier.  In terms of my art inspirations, I’ve been strongly influenced by artists such as Art Adams, John Byrne, Kevin Maguire, Adam Hughes, and more recently, Stuart Immonen. 
If your comics had a soundtrack, what songs/artists would it include?
I’m going obscure 80’s on you here —
Swing out Sister – Break Out, Twilight World
Other artists — Chieftans, Basia, Howard Jones, James Taylor, Save Ferris, Aquabats
Tell me about  “Fracture.”
One man’s descent into madness as he slowly discovers he has multiple personalities — one of which is a supervillain, intent on destroying the city’s greatest hero, and the other of which is… wait for it … the city’s greatest hero.  The story follows the main character’s attempts to save himself without losing his grip on reality.
What path led you to becoming a professional comic artist? What was your experience with comics before taking this position?
As someone who loves to draw, and who has been a comic book reader for as long as I can remember, drawing comics was pretty much inevitable for me.  That I’m able to do so at a level where someone other than me wants to read them is just icing on the cake.  I’ve been working on drawing comics “professionally” since about 2006.  Before becoming the artist for FRACTURE, I drew a book called Mercury & the Murd for another independent comic publisher called PKD media, and prior to that, I drew a comic called “Baby Boomers” for Markosia, a comic company in the UK.  “Baby Boomers” was my first published work.
What was most intimidating about breaking into comics, and what tips would you give others who are hoping to break in as well?
As with many things, the first step is the most scary and intimidating.  Putting your own work out for someone else to see, rate, review and potentially criticize is a frightening thing, but it’s essential to do in order to become a comic artist.  So the best advice I can give anyone else is to draw as much as you can, learn as much as you can, and get your work out there, either in print or on the web.
What advice would you give other aspiring comic artists and writers in regards to getting their stuff published?
Just get your work out there.  The barriers to “publishing” are lower than they have ever been.  A writer or artist can create comics and publish them in small print runs or via the webcomic form, with little money or assistance from others.  And this is a good way to get your work in front of others who might want to work with you on other projects or to publish your stuff to a wider audience.  Don’t wait for someone else to “discover” you.  Get out there and do it yourself.
How do you think the experience of comic creating and publishing differs for men and women (if it does at all)?
As a male comic creator, I can obviously only speak from my experience.  I’ve been lucky enough to work with a number of talented female creators, both in my own projects, and as part of Action Lab Entertainment.  I know (or at least I hope) the opportunities for female creators are out there, and increasing, but I’m not naive enough to think that there’s an equal playing field yet.
What is your next project?
I’m hard at work on FRACTURE volume II, which is currently scheduled for a release sometime in 2013.  This will be a 4-issue story arc, and will take our main character even deeper into his own psyche.

Is there anything else you’d like to add?
Only that it’s been great fun so far working with Shawn Gabborin (the writer of FRACTURE) and all of my colleagues at Action Lab.  In addition to FRACTURE, I’ve also been involved to a minor extent in helping to put out the other titles that have been released in the last year or so by Action Lab.
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Review & Rating of Jack Hammer, Issue #1

Book One: Political Science, Part One

By Barrows and Ionic

Publisher: Action Lab Comics

Jack Hammer is a crime noir style comic book with a unique superhero twist, reminding me a little bit of both Watchmen and X-Men as well as the new series Fatale. The crime noir style comes out most evidently in the storyline, which centers around a self-employed detective, Jack Hammer, who—and here is were things get unique—has a superhuman activities license. The dramatic silhouettes, the clothing style of the characters, and even the dialog nod to crime noir. And while I’m a fan of crime noir, even as it is attempted today in comics like Fatale, I’m not completely sure if Jack Hammer makes it work. The first issue does little to define itself as a unique noir comic, one that borrows the elements of traditional crime noir and shapes them into a unique story. The concept of people with superpowers kicking butt in this noir world, however, does intrigue me, and I’m hoping that Jack Hammer’s world continues to develop in a unique way with issues following

The art is perhaps more compelling than the storyline.  Reds are a prominent color throughout, while sepia-toned flashbacks make for a dynamic read. I’m most compelled by the “sketchiness” of the lines, something I haven’t seen before in a superhero comic. The artwork infuses into the story a tone and attitude (fast-paced, urban, rough) that is trying desperately to match a storyline that still hasn’t come into its own.

Ultimately, I have high hopes for the future of Jack Hammer, as the story—hopefully—begins to define itself as a unique twist on the noir style.  If you are a crime noir fan who also enjoys the superhero genre, it’s worth a read no doubt. You can pre-order a copy here:

% Panels Devoted to Women

23%

Women in Action

★ ★ Women occasionally participate in plot-moving action.

We’ve got a couple of apparently important women in the story, but it remains to be seen if they truly are big players.

Women as Leaders

★ ★ Women depicted occasionally as leaders.

Women as Sex Objects

★★★Women are depicted as sexy (or their sex is not emphasized at all), but their allure does not define their purpose as a prominent, plot-moving character in the comic.

I’m happy to give Jack Hammer three stars for this point. There are only a couple of important female characters thus far, and while they are certainly attractive, their sex isn’t overemphasized.

Men Deviating from Male Stereotypes

★ Men never express their emotions; they engage is mostly physical action. They are depicted as logical and apathetic. 

It’s a crime noir comic that mostly sticks to the stereotypical rough and gruff detective character.

Interview with Comic Artist Bill Blankenship

I was perusing samples of Bill Blankenship’s work, and I literally said aloud, “Wow! Awesome art!” Really, I seriously did. Bill’s work is technically awesome while maintaining a strong sense of personal style. So, it is my honor to introduce Bill Blankenship, comic book artist.

Convince us, in one sentence, that your comics are awesome.

My comics are made by someone who loves comics and is devoted to the craft, and he is chained to a desk in my basement.

What is your favorite comic or graphic novel?

Nextwave. That book is a combination of everything I like.

What (or who) inspired you to begin creating comics?

Greg Capullo was a huge influence on me as a kid. I was reading Spawn probably way younger than I should have. I think 11. That and The Maxx around the same time. I think this is around the same time I was a Power Rangers fan so it’s mixed. Ghostbusters was a really early influence and one that I think stuck.

If your comics had a soundtrack, what songs/artists would it include?

The Black Keys, Dr. Steel, Gogol Bordello Ronald Jenkees, Die Antwoord, Fugazi, B-52’s, The Like, DJ Shadow, Hockey, Muse, Radiohead, Puscifer. That’s some of stuff on my go-to work playlist.

Tell me more about “Abigail and Rox.” I saw the sample pages online and found the comic’s tone/themes familiar—with clear Alice and Wonderland inspiration—yet somewhat haunting.

That was a collaboration that helped me work out my environments. It had a lot of amazing and creative settings that you could elaborate in order to show what kind of world you were dealing with. The story had this feeling of the loss of childhood and I wanted to portray that as best as I could.

How have you developed your personal style, both as a writer and artist?

A lot of work and study of the techniques of artists I like for starters. I mean years of work. Study of the craft of cartooning, the science of it, to get that base to work from. For a while I really didn’t allow myself to really play with style because I knew the foundation wasn’t there. I’d also see a lot of young artists use it as a crutch and as appealing as that can be it’s not serving the story and I knew that. My simple page layouts are probably a symptom of that.

What was most challenging about self-publishing your novel, Special Edition?

Promoting it and scheduling. I really didn’t plan ahead as well as I should.

What advice would you give other aspiring comic artists and writers in regards to getting their stuff published?

I’m probably the last person you want to ask for advice but I think it’s pretty evident that doing it yourself is the smart thing. I’d recommend learning all the parts of the trade. Don’t just be a penciler. The next generation of creators to succeed are those who control their works and go directly to the audience. Make comics. Put them out there. Promote them. Listen to feedback. Strive to improve. Expect to work for 5 years before anyone cares about you. You have to be devoted to the craft.

How do you think the experience of comic creating and publishing differs for men and women (if it does at all)?

I think it’s pretty obvious that mainstream comics lacks a woman’s voice, but the reaction to that has been a swarm of amazing women creators in the indie world. That indie world is going to be a lot more important to comics as a craft and business in the next few years in my opinion.

What is your next project?

Without saying too much it’s going to be done with Action Lab, as with every other project for the foreseeable future. I’m hoping to put some things I’ve learned and things I suspect to the test. It’s something I’ve had in planning for a long time and something I think a lot of people will be excited to see.

Is there anything else you’d like to add?

I do hope anyone still reading this continues to support Action Lab and our projects in any way possible as we strive to make comics that people want to read, and I’d like to thank everyone who’s supported us so far in his endeavor. It’s been amazing so far.

And mostly I’d like to thank my wife Darcy, without whom none of this would be happening.

Comic Books 101–Part Seven

Collaborating with Artists

The panel of five comic creators I mentioned in the previous Comic Books 101 had much to say on the topic of collaboration.  I say this often, but one of the major reasons why I love comics is because it’s a naturally collaborative medium. Only in rare cases is a person able to write, draw, print, promote, and sell her comics all on her own. Unlike traditional writing, which is a generally solitary endeavor, comic creating is a dynamic, collaborative process. I love it (and, yes, it kinda weirds me out at the same time) that what I write isn’t actually what my readers see when they read my comic. Rather, my readers see how my artist interpreted my script. Comics are collaboration at its finest!

Here are some gems of wisdom regarding collaboration from some seasoned comic professionals:

“It’s always easier to start a fight than end one.”

Find an artist who balances you out. If you’re shy, find someone who’s more talkative. If you’re immersed in the fantasy genre, find some with experience writing noir crime.

Don’t confuse collaboration with friendship. Your friend might not be an ideal collaborator. An idea collaborator might not end up being your friend.

Listen to your collaborator. Respect can go a long way.

Have a contract ready before you show your artist anything. More on contracts here.

And my advice (I’m currently working with student artists willing to draw the first six pages of my graphic novel in exchange for collaboration and an addition to their portfolio.):

Find an artist you can trust. DO judge them by how promptly they reply to emails or if they often skip out on meetings.

DON’T just judge an artist by her art. A novice artist who is willing to work her butt off for your project is better than a brilliant seasoned artist who can’t meet deadlines.

DO cast your net wide. Tell everyone you’re looking for an artist. Put up posters. Advertise on Craigslist. Find artists on deviant art. There are artists willing to work at any price point, so don’t be discouraged (although, DO consider the trade offs).

Look out for next week’s Comic Books 101 about online resources for comic writers!