Thursday, January 17, 2013

Fireside Chat with Michael Walsh from Comeback - Part 2

Welcome to part 2 of our chat with Michael Walsh.  Yesterday we talked quite a bit about Comeback itself, so today we branch out into more general topics of discussion.  We'll dive into Michael's background and history with comics, his creative process, some of his other projects, and much more.  The best part of all is that the whole thing is accompanied by some of Michael's excellent art.  If you missed Part 1 of the interview, feel free to jump back and give it a read beforehand.  Otherwise, dive in and we'll catch you on the other side.

GM: When you are working on comics and telling stories, what's the most important thing for you to get across to your reader?

Walsh: I think clarity more than anything, because even if you can draw a really pretty picture it doesn't mean you're a good comic book artist. There's lots of people who can render the hell out of a drawing of the Hulk, but they couldn't draw him opening a door to save their life. I want to make sure that, when people are reading the issue, everything is smooth and they're never taken out of the story wondering what the hell just happened. Clarity is far and away the most important thing to me.

And that goes hand in hand with storytelling. Keeping things interesting and keeping the characters acting. Making them seem like real, physical people who have faces and not a human-shaped mask. I think that's one of my strong points – the acting and the emotion for characters. So I guess both of those things are pretty important to me.

GM: And where do you think that comes from? Why do these things matter to you?

Walsh: I guess it's my influences. I find that with comics you need to be really, really absorbed with what you're reading or the comic can be ruined. It's not like in a movie where you're being attacked from all sides by sound and by visuals with nowhere else to go. With a comic, you're sitting there and you're reading this book and any one of a million things can distract you from it. So I try to keep in mind all the things that could take you out of the reading experience and make sure not to do them.

GM: On that topic, who would you say are are some of your influences? What  are some of the creators and stories that have been really formative for you?

Walsh: There's tons, actually. For me, I guess, looking back, Batman: Year One is pretty big. As is any of the Jorge Zeffino stuff. Things like his Winter World and Conan work. I also really like Mazzuchelli's Asterios Polyp that came out in the last few years.

GM: Oh yeah. That book was amazing.

Walsh: Yeah. I don't know if you've checked out his City of Glass book.

GM: No, I remember you mentioning it in the interview you did with Where Monsters Dwell.

Walsh: Yeah, it's so good. It's an adaptation of a Paul Auster novel. And the storytelling in it is – he's doing stuff that I haven't seen in comics and that book doesn't get any love anywhere and it's so damn good.

GM: Wait. This book is on my shelf. I own this book. I'll have to move it to the top of my reading pile.

Walsh: Do it. It's so good.

(I've read it since the interview, and Michael's right on the money with his thoughts on City of Glass. But that's a discussion for another day.)

GM: Speaking of your interview with Where Monsters Dwell, during the course of that conversation you talked about how you feel that there's a really good comic community in Canada. What do you mean by that?

Walsh: I mean that people are really supportive of each other. I don't think there's any animosity between people. You don't ever feel like you're fighting for a position. It's all super supportive. I first encountered it ago I think three years past Fan Expo. I had brought my portfolio to show people and I was just talking to some of the creators – I was talking to Francis Manapul and Marcus To who were sitting beside each other – and I was showing them some of my work and getting them to give me some feedback and stuff. They're both Toronto guys and they said, “There's this drink and draw thing we throw every Wednesday. Why don't you come by and hang out and draw a few pictures and make some comics with us?” There were tons of great people there. I'm not going to name drop, but it was a great experience. There was a lot of people that I like their work and what they've done. And there was a bunch of younger people like myself who were just starting out and could use a little bit of direction and – honestly – an ego boost from someone you respect at that age is really great because when you're just starting you're working your ass off and sending portfolios out and showing people your work and a lot of it's really negative and you kind of feel like crap. And so any encouraging push from a creator who you like and who you admire goes a long way to make you feel like this is a career that you could really like and work in.

And then there's Ed Brisson, Kurtis Wiebe, Ryan Ferrier, and company. There's a Calgary-Vancouver area community and I don't get to see them in person, but there's a huge Twitter and Facebook group of them where everyone's really supportive of each other's work and books. It's partly that Canadians are nice kind of people who support each other and I think it makes for a good community.

GM: Okay, I definitely see what you mean there. Building on that a little, what is something from your background or development that you feel has played a role in who you are and how you create?

Walsh: Maybe being a kid in the 90s? Specifically, growing up watching the X-Men cartoons and the Spider-Man cartoons and the Batman Animated series. Being a kid as those first came out on the air on Fox and YTV and all that. Maybe that's one of the reasons that I love comics so much and I love those specific superheroes especially - X-Men, Spider-Man, and Batman - because I was glued to watching them every Saturday morning. I would get up just so excited to watch those shows. My Dad had gotten me into comics already, but I think those shows were the final touch that made it be the thing that I was the most interested in forever. As a comic creator you've got to love comics and having that nostalgic love for something makes it that much more rewarding.

GM: So then would you say that your Dad is the one who kind of got you into comics to start?

Walsh: Yeah, I don't know why though. He's not really a comic guy. I mean, I'm sure he likes superheroes. When he was a kid it would have been the 60s, right? So maybe he watched the Psychedelic Spider-Man show that was on back then.

He didn't have any comics. He didn't buy or read any comics, so I don't know why he would have got me reading them, but I know that as a young kid he was buying me Superman and Batman comics and reading them to me. There was a comic book shop just around the corner from my parents' house growing up, so I just went by that store and said “Hey Dad, can we go in and can we buy a comic?' I don't know what it was, but he was buying me and reading me comics as a little kid, so it's his fault that I like comics.

Colours by Jordie Bellaire
GM: Well, you should give him a big thanks on our part. Building from your love of comics, how long have you actively been pursuing working on comics?

Walsh: I graduated 4 years ago from university, and for the first year after graduating I knew that I wanted to do comics, but I'll just say that I was lazy and I wasn't actively putting myself out there at all. That first year after graduating university – okay, hold on, I'm going to backtrack a little bit.

In university I wanted to do comics, but they pushed me away from doing that. I had proposed for my thesis project to do a 40 page graphic novel that was four 10 page short stories and my thesis teacher had denied me saying that I wasn't going to be allowed to do comics for my thesis because you don't make money from comics. It's stupid and you're better off doing editorial comics and advertising. That was kind of the general thought of illustration at the school I went to.

I didn't come out of school with much practice in comics, although I had tried and I had wanted to. I took a few sequential narrative courses, but the teachers for classes hadn't even done comics before. They were children's illustrators, so they didn't really have much feedback that was pertinent to what I wanted to do. So it took me, like, a year, and I was lazy and I was, you know, partying a lot and kind of having fun. I graduated when I was 22, right? So I just wanted to party and I backpacked through Europe and stuff.

Colours by Adam Metcalfe
So it took me a year to draw a 30 page comic, which was a big learning experience. I pitched it, but only to a few companies and I didn't really get much feedback. I actually had an editor from Top Shelf who was super supportive. He said that it wasn't something that they'd publish, because it was a horror book, but he told me that I had some very promising stuff and that I should keep trying, because if I did, things would work out eventually. And that was really supportive and that was the first kind of feedback I got, and I was feeling down on it at that time, so that motivated me to keep going. When and as it became something that I wanted to do, I realized that I needed to start making some income from it if I wanted to do it full time. So I went balls to the wall, and started working like crazy.  I did a lot of short stories to keep learning and I started doing my own pitches, which is when I met Ed.  I was drawing a pitch of my own and I had got him to letter it, and he was digging my work on the pitch, so we did a Murder Book story together. From there we started pitching to publishers. And it eventually worked out.

But a lot of work, so I guess I've been working hard for three years, learning and adapting, trying to make myself into a good enough illustrator to work full time as a comic book artist, because comics is unlike any other form of illustration. The amount of work you actually need to do on a monthly basis is insane compared to other forms of illustration, so you need to find a method of working where you're able to draw a book a month if you're wanting to work full time in comics. I learned that early from one of my Marvel portfolio reviews. The editor said you need to be able to draw at least a page a day if you want to be a comic book artist. It took me about a year of just working on it to find a method where I could produce at that pace.

GM: Out of curiosity, when you were working to get up to a page a day, what would you be drawing?

Walsh: I was writing my own short stories actually – well not short stories. I won't call them webcomics as I never showed them to anyone because they all sucked. I would have strips where I was just writing the script myself - very basic, just a little bit of the dialogue in the script, how many pages it was going to be, and what was going to happen - and I would draw it myself as quickly as possible without forfeiting any of the quality of the work. 

I'm a fan of Edgar Allan Poe's work, and one exercise that I thought was good for someone trying to learn was adapting stories.  I really love his story The Mask of Red Death, so I took that story and adapted it into a 5 page comic. I brought that to Fan Expo, I think 3 years ago now (when I first met the Toronto Drink and Draw group) and that was what was showing people to get work in the industry. This 5 page short that was this adaptation of The Mask of Red Death by Edgar Allan Poe.

Looking back on it, it's not that bad, but it's still kind of shoddy. I was proud of it at the time, but that just goes to show how much you grow at that early stage of your career.

GM:  Very cool. When you're coming up with a new project, what do you find is your biggest challenge?

Walsh: Biggest challenge... You know, I don't think I'm prolific enough of a creator to give too detailed a response, just because I haven't had that many projects that I can say intelligently what is going to be my issue every time. I think that going forward, trying to give each new book or characters its own look and feel is going to be hard to do. I'm going to be trying consciously not to be repetitive with my work. I want everything to feel fresh and new and to feel that I'm treading new ground, so I guess that's going to be a hurdle to jump moving forward.

GM: Very humble of you there. I wish you the best of luck with the proposition. What about the most satisfying part of the creative process? What would you say that is?

Walsh: When you get your comps mailed to you by Image. (both laugh) That for sure has been probably the most satisfying part so far.

I have my comps mailed to my parents' house and not my apartment, because I'm always worried that the mailman is going to leave the boxes on the porch, and I live in a busy downtown Hamilton location where someone could just walk by and take the box off the porch. So for the first issue I got a call from my Mom and she was like, “You have a package here, and it's from Image and America,” or something similar. So I went home and picked up the comps and was just opening them and there was the 25 issues with the plastic seals and Image stamp with your name on it. It was pretty satisfying.

GM: I could see how that would be a bit of a highlight.

Walsh: Yeah, and it doesn't really change. Every issue so far where I've gotten my comps has been exciting.  I think I was even more excited for issue #3 than for issue #2, because I liked my work in issue #3 more and I was excited to see how it printed to see how certain pages and splashes looked in the comic format.  It was pretty exciting and I was pretty happy with it.

And of course New York Comic Con in October. Being there as a creator with a booth and doing an Image signing and stuff was pretty amazing.

GM: And do you have any other projects on the horizon that you can tell us about?

Walsh: Yes, I do. As soon as I finish this last issue of Comeback, I'll be starting on the first issue of a new book called Zero. It's a spy-thriller-espionage type book written by Ales Kot – the writer of Wild Children and Change. The first issue is going to be a double-sized issue. I'm going to be drawing half of it – 22 pages – and Mateus Santolouco will be drawing the other half and he's amazing. He's such a different artist from me, so I'm very curious to see the response to having my work next to his. I'm just hoping I don't look too amateur in comparison. He's pretty accomplished. He's done a lot of great work. He's just released the first issue of The Secret History of the Foot Clan, a new Ninja Turtles book, and it's gorgeous. He's actually co-writing it as well.

How the series is working is that Ales has a different artist on each issue and each issue is one standalone story in this spy's career, with it all building towards a multi-issue conclusion. The amount of artistic talent that he has lined up for this book is unbelievable. I'm not allowed to say all of the artists Ales has recruited, but Michal Gaydos, Riley Rossmo, Tradd Moore, and Nick Dragotta have already been announced. And that's not even half of the artists that he has lined up, so just being involved in this project is pretty amazing because of that amount of artistic talent. And Ales is a fantastic writer. I've loved everything that he's done so far. I can't wait to see what that guy does moving forward in his career.

We've talked a bit about what happens in the issue and it's very different than what I've done on Comeback, so I'm looking forward to mixing it up and trying some new things. What I want to do, moving forward, is try to reinvent myself, change, and grow for the better with each new project. I think that's a way to have a career in comics - you have to adapt to the industry.

GM: I know that you also worked on Brothers James with Ryan Ferrier, having done the interiors for the first issue and now the covers going forward.  What can you tell us about that project?

Walsh: What happened was me and Ed finished the pitch for a different project and then me and Ryan did the pitch for Brothers James and we sent that around. It didn't look like anybody was going to pick it up, so Ryan said, “Let's just finish an issue of it.” It didn't look like anything was happening with the pitch that Ed and I had done, so I drew that first ten pages of Brothers James, then I did the Comeback pitch with Ed, and then I drew the next ten pages of Brothers James. Right after that, before I started on anything for the second issue, Comeback got picked up. So it was just the time didn't work out and I knew that I was going to be needing to do Comeback full time. At first I thought I was going to be able to do both, but it just didn't work out.

It was nothing  about the relationship between me and Ryan. He's a fantastic writer. He's amazing, and I'm really lucky and happy that I'm still working with him and doing covers for that and that I'm also doing the cover for the third issue of his book Tiger Lawyer. Hopefully I'll be able to work more with Ryan in the future, because I think he has a lot of good things coming up ahead of him. It just didn't work out timewise for this project.

The first issue of Brothers James turned out great. I had a lot of fun working on that with him, and I'll be involved in all the issues to come. I just won't be drawing any interiors for them. From what I understand, he's releasing them all through Challenger, the publishing imprint he's started. They've got some webcomics out there and they're doing some stuff for print as well. I think it's something to pay attention to, because Ryan has a really good eye for talent and I think that he's going to do some good things with this company. Hopefully people notice and it takes off the way it deserves to.

GM: They've definitely been doing some cool things, so hopefully it catches on. With all these things that you have going on, do you have much time for reading at the moment?

Walsh: Kind of. I've been listening to audio books and doing a bit of reading. I did a batch of signings for the first issue of Comeback, and every signing I'd be at a comic store. Seeing as I really like comics a lot, every time I'm in a comic store, I have to buy something, right? So because I was at all these comic stores for the signings, I ended up buying a ton of comics and I got more comics for Christmas. So I've got trade paperbacks coming out of the ears right now.

I've got a bunch of 20th Century Boys, because I'm about 10 volumes into that. I just read Dancer, which came out last year, and that was great. I love Nic Klein's art on that, so I look forward to what he's doing next. He's doing Winter Soldier with Marvel and that was really good.

A pretty solid read, to be sure.
In terms of actual novels, I just read Horns by Joe Hill. Semi-recently, I listened to the audiobook for Ender's Game, which was really, really good. I'd obviously heard of it, but I just hadn't given it time and I was in the mood for something science fictiony, and I randomly picked it up on a whim and I loved it. I'm not sure if I'm going to read all of them, but the first book was fantastic.

I listen as I'm drawing, so I can read and do the actual, physical drawing at the same time, so I was inking a page, and I remember at the end when that twist happened I just put down my pen, and was all "What?  Hold on a second," and had to rewind the audio book to hear the last 10 minutes again, because I wanted to get the full effect of the entire sequence.  So I guess that's one of the negative parts of listening to an audiobook and working, but I'm glad to be exposing myself to more literature that I haven't been able to read since I just don't have the time now.

GM: This is actually a pretty decent segue to the final portion of our interview, a little thing we call the Literary Rorschach Test.  I have ten words to present to you, and I want to hear the first thing that comes into your head for each one.  It can be anything you want - a word, a sentence, or even an entire paragraph.  The key is that you give me the first thing you think of.  Ready?

Walsh: Sure.

Comics – Ink
Community – Comics
Heist – Ed Brisson
Cold – Canada
Past – Children? I don't know. Yeah, I guess that's what I said, so children.
Future – City. I'm planning on making a move from Hamilton to maybe Toronto or maybe another big city, so city was the first thing that came to mind.
Mistake – This is horrible, but let's say school.
Art – Happiness
Next – Bigger things
The End – Far away. It's not anytime soon.

GM: I like it, I like it a lot.  Thanks so much, Michael, for taking the time out of your busy schedule to sit down for this chat.  It was a lot of fun and I think we touched on some interesting topics here.

Walsh: Thank you.

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