When it came to the art class side of things, I was not very fortunate. I moved around a lot but one thing stayed universally true: the art teachers I encountered did not consider comic illustration as artwork. They were looking to mold the creative talents of the next Rembrandt, perhaps, but most assuredly not the next Jack Kirby. Most of them sort of scratched their heads, looked puzzled (and often just a little worried about the quiet, polite kid with the glasses and whether or not he liked to eat faces when no one was looking) and then went on about their business.
I kept it up anyway. Persistence, am I right?
And then I started going to conventions. I met with artists there and I picked their brains and endlessly annoyed them with more questions than they likely encountered in most months, forget weekends. And I listened to their advice and I incorporated that advice into my regimen and I continued to hone my craft.
Sort of. Okay, now and then (Most of the time) I cut corners. I could learn to draw hands later, right? And perspective? In due time.
And then I went to more conventions and started looking for editors. I bugged them, too.
And one day I ran across a gentleman from Marvel Comics by the name of Marc McLauren. Marc was the editor for Clive Barker's Hellraiser and Nightbreed comics, as well as the rest of the razorbill line (Ecto-kid, Saint Sinner, etc.) We talked and after a few minutes of hemming and hawing I finally broke down and showed him the comic art I'd brought with me. What I had was a full issue of artwork for the DC Comics character The Creeper.
Marc looked the work over and after scrutinizing it carefully he said to me (and I'm paraphrasing as it's been a long while), "Your perspective is off. I can see that you used a ruler but there are almost no straight lines on your buildings. Your anatomy is crap and all of the faces look the same, except for the ones that should. You know, the ones on the same character from panel to panel." he said this with a calm voice, and he was kind. And then, he looked at me and said, "But you're telling a great story. Your action flows nicely and I can see where you're going with this page by page. Maybe you should consider be a writer instead of an artist."
I thanked him for his time and went about by business. Listen I'd heard slightly kinder versions of his criticism on a dozen occasions. And I was serious about it (if lazy), so I had developed the right level of calluses.
The next day at the convention I asked Marc if I could submit to any of his titles. The only one that was looking for stories at that time was Hellraiser. Okay, seriously, how the hell could I resist?
I worked through a dozen different outlines, each one page long as he wanted nothing longer, and then I submitted three possibilities to him, via snail mail as this was long enough ago that email submissions simply did not happen.
I learned my very first lesson on patience then. I waited several months for a reply.
Marc liked one of my outlines and I was given the go ahead to write an eight page story called "Of Love, Cats and Curiosity," which was accepted for issue fifteen of the magazine. I was in heaven.
I waited two years and spare change for the actual comic to come out. And in the meantime, I wrote a lot of outlines (one page only, per story) and did my best to make new contacts. Damnedest thing happened: I discovered that for a lot of companies getting published by Marvel Comics meant exactly nothing. And that for others it actually qualified as a legitimate publishing credit.
And I waited some more and then, when I got bored with writing submissions that no one looked or acknowledged, I decided to write something different. It started with an image I couldn't get out of my head, a scene in which a single heavyset boy is running through the woods and a pack of teenagers pursues him with all the civility of a pack of wild dogs. Eventually, they catch him and take him down. The image was strong enough that I felt the absolute NEED to write it.
And when I was done writing it, I decided to keep writing, to see what would happen.
That was my first novel, UNDER THE OVERTREE. It went through a lot of changes after the first draft, but that was the start.
I was going to be a comic book artist.
Sometimes things just happen.
The above are images from UNDER THE OVERTREE. Black and whites courtesy of Alan M. Clark.