1313 Interview

1. What was it like growing up in Ohio? Did it help nurture your love for horror and monsters?

Yes, definitely. Ohio has a very spooky atmosphere, especially during the autumn and winter months. I grew up in a town called Fairborn, Ohio, and let me tell you, that place is Halloween-crazy. There's a famous, family-run novelty shop that has been in business there since the 1920's, called Foy's Halloween Store. Needless to say, I lost many hours of my childhood in that store, staring in wonder at their endless shelves of monster masks, and glass cases full of prop body parts and rubber creepy crawlers. It's open all year round and people travel from all over the Midwest to buy supplies there. So where I'm from, Halloween is a big deal. I'm not sure what Fairborn is like now, but when I was growing up, the whole town would sort of go happily nuts during October. You could drive around and see, not just decorations, but elaborate set-ups in peoples' front yards, with fake dead bodies hanging from their roofs, giant spider-webs all over the trees, and mannequins dressed as monsters and aliens set up on front porches. The Foy's family owned a big house right near the middle of town, and every October they'd park a hearse out front with bloody corpses hanging out of it. It was just great.

2. What sort of things were you into? Such as types of toys, comics, TV shows etc. Are you still into them?

Well, I always loved monster movies, as far back as I can remember. During my early, early youth there was a local TV station out of Dayton, that played Shock Theater (hosted by a guy called Doctor Creep) on Saturday afternoons. They played all of the classic black-and-white horror movies, so by the time I was in kindergarten, Dracula, Frankenstein, and The Wolf Man were already firmly in place as my earliest set of heroes. That was in the mid seventies. Not long after that Star Wars came out, which I instantly fell in love with. I was one of those kids who had all the toys and knew the names of all those weird Cantina creatures. I guess I discovered comics in elementary school. I don't really remember when that started. But I remember that my first comics were all monster-oriented things. Swamp Thing and Weird War Tales and House of Mystery, and of course, any issue of Spider-Man with The Lizard in it. I was lucky to have two sets of grandparents living in town, so I made a killing on Christmas and birthdays, and got a lot of toys. But mostly I just wanted the monsters. For me, the only reason to have a twelve-inch G.I.Joe was so that Bionic Bigfoot and the 1979 Kenner Alien action figure would have someone to kill. And yes, even now as an adult, I still enjoy all of this kind of stuff.

3. What kinds of unspeakable things did you enjoy drawing?

My early art was pretty far out, even when I was a kid in elementary school. I drew the monsters I loved in the movies, but I also made up a lot of weird stuff. My mother saved a lot of it, which I still have. There's one drawing I did, I must have been in the third grade, of a Grim Reaper with snakes falling out of his mouth and a word balloon that says, "You know my name - it is Death!" What kind of third-grader thinks of stuff like that? And also, I was obsessed with gore when I was a kid. I can only guess, now, as an adult, how disturbing this must have been to my parents and teachers. But keep in mind, we're talking about the late seventies and early eighties here, a time when even a lot of mainstream movies were very, very bloody. Seeing films like Raiders of the Lost Ark and The Sword and the Sorcerer in the theater at a very young age gave me an obsession with faces being melted or ripped off, and I went through a period where I drew a lot of melting faces with plenty of red magic marker blood. I drew lots of stupid stuff when I was a kid. At one point in the fourth grade I made a comic book called "Mr. Hyde vs. Swamp Thing!" which was just a fight scene, and Mr. Hyde tore Swamp Thing's head off at the end. I don't know what the hell I was thinking there.

4. Did you go to art school or take any art classes, or did you simply learn on your own?

I received a lot of art instruction. I was lucky that my high school had a big art department. For your Freshman year, they started you out in Basic Art, then, as you advanced through your Sophomore, Junior, and Senior years, you could take Drawing One, Drawing Two, Drawing Three, Painting One, Painting Two, Painting Three, and Sculpture and so on. They even had classes with names like "Art in Society" and things like that. We had three different art teachers in my high school just to cover it all. The most important teacher was a lady named Carol Walker. She was my main art teacher all through high school. She was the person who forced me to try pen and ink for the first time, when I was still just a Freshman and scared to death of it cause it seemed so difficult. So I owe her a huge debt of gratitude for that, because I ended up loving pen-and-ink, it's still my favorite medium today. She was a very tough and challenging teacher, who made me a better artist by not taking any crap from me and making me draw other things besides just Zombies and murderers - while at the same time never discouraging what she knew were my main interests. Without her help, I never would have made it into Art College. I was a total scatterbrain, and she taught me how to get organized and put a portfolio together and earn a scholarship. So, thanks to her, and the tireless support of my parents, instead of going to a regular college, and having to do boring stuff like Math, I was able to go to Columbus College of Art and Design. I attended there for four years.

5. How did you get the job as a story board artist?

Well, after I got out of college, I moved to California. Not long after that, Dave Hartman, who had become one of my best friends at CCAD, moved out here, too. Dave had a friend who already worked at Sony Television Animation who helped him get into the business as a storyboard artist. I was curious about animation, but I was looking for work in other areas. I was really interested in freelance illustration. Plus I loved working with kids, so I got a job as an elementary school art teacher. Teaching art didn't pay well, but it was okay when combined with income from freelance illustration. Well, it sounded like a good plan, but - can you see where this is going? - Over the course of the next two and a half years, the small publisher that I had been doing most of my illustration work for went out of business. Without any regular freelance gigs, I started getting poorer and poorer. So I said, all right, I give up, I'll try out for storyboards. That's where the real money is, anyway. But I took a few storyboard tests and I just didn't get it. There's so much more to storyboards than just drawing. There's a whole technical side to it, with strict rules about screen direction, staging, and hook-ups, and you can't cheat your way out of them. It's a totally different system than comics, and it takes time to learn. And at first, I couldn't get the hang of it. So I couldn't get a job there and I became even poorer. I'd pay the rent and the bills and find myself with thirty bucks to live on for three weeks until my next paycheck. If I needed gas for the car, the only thing left to subtract from was the grocery budget. So there were phases where I had to settle for one meal a day. I'd go to work hungry and just have a 25cent frozen burrito or a pack of ramen noodles for dinner when I got home. It sucked. Those were some very depressing times. So, by that point, breaking into the animation business had almost started to feel like a matter of survival. It was never a "pursuing a dream" kind of thing for me. It was just something that I knew paid well, and I was sick and tired of being hungry! It was the strangest mindset to be in, like, "Okay, I HAVE to get a job drawing cartoons for television or I think I am going to STARVE!" Anyway, around this time, Dave got moved up to the level of director on a new show - that was the Starship Troopers show - and he was suddenly in a position to ask the higher-ups at Sony Animation to hire me as a storyboard guy. Because we had been friends for so long, Dave trusted that once I was in the business I would find my way. And once I got hired, I not only learned how to do storyboards, I found that I really enjoyed it, too. So I will always have Dave to thank for that. He helped me get into the business the same way his friend helped him get into the business, and so it goes. But, my God, when Sony finally hired me, I felt like I had won the lottery. My annual income tripled - which isn't saying much, considering how broke I was beforehand. But it was nevertheless a huge leap for me at that point in my life. That was five years ago, and I have continued to work in animation ever since.

6. What led you to create Wulf and Batsy? And why did you choose a werewolf and vampire girl as your two lead characters?

I love to write stories and I love to draw, and comic books are the one place where you can do both at the same time. So I tried to figure out what would be "my favorite comic book that doesn't exist". I wanted to figure out what that was, and then create it. It had to be something that I would never get bored of. And for me, the only thing that fit that description was monsters. As far as why I chose a Werewolf and a Vampire specifically, well, Werewolves have always been one of my all-time favorite monsters. I guess it's the duality part of it - the idea of a seemingly normal person who changes into a terrifying, savage thing and eats people. So that was a given. But I also wanted the two main characters to be a guy and a girl, so there could be flirting and sexual tension. So then it was just a matter of thinking up a type of monster that would work well as a female. I almost made her a cute Witch character. But I didn't want anybody to think I was ripping off Scary Godmother. So I decided a female vampire would be darker and bloodier, and therefore, more fun for me, anyway. So you see, the comic book is meant to be sort of a monster story told from the monsters' point of view.

7. What's been the response you've gotten so far on the comic?

So far, the response has been positive. People seem to especially like Batsy. In many cases, even before they actually read the story. Everybody I've shown the comic to has made some kind of comment about her, like "She's cool," or "She's so cute" or, "Ooo, wow, who's she?". I got some good reviews for the short stories I did for Zacherley's Midnite Terrors, and there again, the main thing the reviewers said was that they liked the characters.

8. What sort of things inspire you to create? Any music, movies, toys etc?

Just watching any kind of horror movie gets my imagination going and gets me in the mood to draw. I'm basically a sucker for all horror movies. Throw any sort of monster into a movie and let it eat a few people and you've got me by the heartstrings. On the other hand, I'm very picky about comics. I mostly look at a lot of the older ones from the 1950's to the 1980's, for artistic inspiration. I'm an insatiable reader of "regular" books, though. When it comes to fiction, I don't really have favorite genres so much as favorite authors. But I do enjoy horror fiction, and crime fiction. I read a lot of nonfiction, too, mostly biographies and true crime. The most inspiring music for me has always been the music of Skinny Puppy. I first heard them on (appropriately enough) Halloween night, 1987. They instantly became my favorite band and have remained so ever since. Their music is loaded with scary sound effects and heavily experimental, electronic rhythms. So discovering them as a teenager was very powerful for me. Skinny Puppy was the purest voice of horror and weirdness I'd ever heard. It's still my favorite high-octane imagination-fuel to this day. I guess it puts me in the right mood or something. Over the years the bulk of my artwork has been created under the influence of Skinny Puppy and their various side projects. I don't know them personally so I have no idea if they would be flattered or embarrassed by this.

9. Every artists works totally different from each other. What are the steps you take when creating something like a comic book or pin-up art?

When it comes to doing a comic book story, the first thing I do is write a very basic synopsis, that just nails down all the major events in the plot, but intentionally leaves out all the finer details because I like to make up those things as I go along. For the artwork, I do lots of thumbnail sketches really small, on Post-It notes, until I get the basic composition I want. Then I'll draw it on the final board, in pencil. But I never go too tight with the pencils, I keep my pencils really, really loose and sketchy, because I like to do as much drawing as I can with the inks. For me, that's the best way to keep up a spontaneous, fun, unpredictable energy to it. Instead of it looking like something that was rendered to death in pencil and then simply traced over with inks, which, in my opinion, makes comic art look stiff and lifeless. No matter how long the story is, I only focus on small chunks of like, four to six pages at a time. I know most other guys like to layout the entire comic in sketches before ever starting page one, but I prefer to work in small chunks, half sticking to the plan, and half making things up as I go along. I like not knowing what the next section of pages are going to look like until I get to them. Finding out how the thing unfolds visually is what keeps each story exciting for me. If I plan everything out too far ahead, then there's nothing left to discover, and I lose interest. I have the attention span of a kindergartener, so with both the story and the art, I try to work in such a way that there is always some unknown territory up ahead to venture into.

10. What's your most memorable Halloween experience ever?

There seem to be memorable Halloween experiences every year. We always set up a haunted house at Dave Hartman's place and scare the trick-or-treaters. We've been doing this together for about ten years now, and it's always a huge project. We plan for Halloween the way most people plan for Christmas. We get really creative with our costumes, and the decorations, and every year we try to have a different theme. The most memorable one was about four years ago. We decided that our theme was "The Classic Monsters". So, Dave did a character called "Frankenstein's Bones". We also had a female Mummy, Phantom of the Opera, a bloody Mad Scientist, Mr. Hyde, even the Fly. Well, I was the Wolfman, and I made this great werewolf costume - using a high quality mask with moving mouth, and a body suit I made myself with big muscle-pads in the shoulders and arms and fur bursting out of the torn clothing - it was pretty elaborate. So I'm crouching in the shadows, and here comes this nice little mom with her nice little daughter. This little girl's doing OK, a brave little kid, but the mom is nervous and trying not to show it. She's telling her kid, "Don't be scared, it's all just pretend, don't worry, blah blah blah." They make it through the gauntlet at the front of the house where most of the monsters were, and there at the end of the path is a box of candy. And the mom says, in this overly calm voice, "See, we made it. Nothing to be scared of. There's the candy, let's go get some." Well, they saw the candy, but they didn't see me. I was hiding in the dark off to the side. And I just thought, this mom is acting way too calm. She needs a good scare. So as they came up the path toward the candy, I jumped out at the mom instead of the kid. I made this big loud werewolf roar. And the mom screamed and then peed herself. I swear it's true. We had a video camera going that year, and the camera just happened to be positioned right behind the candy box. So this glorious moment was caught on tape. You can see the mom grab her crotch on the video. That was so great. Over the course of my life, I have scared the hell out of a lot of people on a lot of Halloweens, but that was a high point.

11. What sort of diabolical projects are currently on your slab?

Let's see. I always have a couple of different projects going at the same time. Right now I am working on another "How to Draw" book for Watson-Guptill, this time focusing on Science Fiction characters. That's my main responsibility right now. The second Wulf and Batsy graphic novel has been finished for some time, but it hangs in limbo until we find out how well the first book is received. I really hope the first book is successful so I'll be able to put out the second one right away. It's a much longer, and much more involved story, with a lot more characters and different kinds of horrors throughout. And because I've got an easy schedule right now, and I like to stay ahead of the game, I am currently drawing what will be the third Wulf and Batsy graphic novel. Oh yeah, and then of course, there is the stuff I'm doing for 1313, including the new comics feature, and a few pin-ups. So, as you can see I've got lots more monsters, werewolves, monsters, vampire girls, and more monsters on the way.

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