Q: First, give us your bio-where you spent your formative years, when you started drawing, where you went to school, et cetera...
I must've been around 6 or 7 years old when I started drawing, and even then my scribbles resembled strange mutant like creatures. As I got older, I started getting into comics - some superhero stuff, but I was really into the old EC books, Tales from the Crypt and the like. I think that's what got me into the medium. That and Spiderman. I had a mail subscription, the ones from the back of Marvel comics, and no matter what else I ordered I got Spiderman. It wasn't until I was 15 - 16 that I even considered the idea of drawing comics for a living. After high school, I ended up going to the Hussian School of Art in Philadelphia, where I graduated with a major in Illustration.
After that I did a few spot illustrations for local things and cd covers for a couple of real indie death metal bands. But I was always doing pages and writing stories. Nothing that I would ever submit, mostly because I didn't know where to start. Then I was introduced to the comic convention circuit and it was like a whole new world opened. I showed off samples to everyone who would look at it.
Q: What are your influences? What spurs you on? What inspires you?
I try to take a little bit of everything in, so it's hard to narrow one specific thing that I use for inspiration. When I started really considering comics, I was into Todd McFarlane's art. Then I was floored when Bruce Timm's Batman cartoon aired, and around the same time, I was introduced to The Sandman and the covers were just mind-blowing. So I studied up on what Dave McKean was doing and I wanted to try to find away to do a simplified look with the addition of photographic realism.
It wasn't until I was exposed to German expressionism that my mind really opened up. The silent films of the 1920's like Nosferatu, Phantom of the Opera, and The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (my personal fav) really struck a creative chord with me with their warped sense of reality that I just found fascinating, so I guess that started me on really looking at films. When I was in school, an instructor told me that the best way to be inspired is watching everyday life. The problem is that real life moves too fast. So while I'm sitting through a film and I see the composition of a scene that fits in a particular story or I find interesting I'll pause the DVD and use that as a base or a starting point.
Music is another heavy part of the creative process for me. In my late teens, it was Nine Inch Nails, Bauhaus, Front Line Assembly and Sioxsie and the Banshees, now it depends on the mood that I'm trying to convey in whatever work I'm doing. For a while I was listening to a lot of Goblin and soundtracks of those Italian Horror films from Fulci and Dario Argento.
Q: How were you approached to do THE DARK GOODBYE?
About 3 years ago I was at Wizard World Philadelphia and I was showing samples around. At the end of the day, I cam across that Tokyopop was having a portfolio review. Now, I would never consider my style of art part of the manga scene or at least what it resembled back then, but I wanted to show my work to anyone that would look at it. The editor took a look and gave me some strong critiques and I was off. Because it wasn't a genre that I felt I belonged in, I never really gave it a second thought.
A year later, I got an email from Bryce Coleman, the editor for The Dark Goodbye, from out of the blue asking me if I would be interested in working on a project he felt was perfect for me. Needless to say I was shocked. At the time I had just finished the first issue of my creator owned project Sullengrey, published by Ape Entertainment, an up and coming independent company, so the thought of a major publisher with a catalog like Tokyopop has seeking me out was just insane. After thinking about it for -oh - five seconds, I agreed and they sent me the script to try out.
Q: What is your process, once you get the story? How much interaction do you have with the writer in terms of getting "the vision" across?
It started out with creating the look of the characters, so there was a bunch of research to do. Since this story called for a particular look, I rented as many Noir films as I could find and studied set lighting, locations, and how the actors interacted with each other. Once I got the actual script, I read through the whole thing and try to think about it in terms of a movie. How would the director compose the scenes so that the storytelling is smooth and easy to follow and can also able to get the best possible reaction from the characters? From there, I break down each page into thumbnails, which I send off to Bryce and Frank Marraffino (the writer). Other than working with my wife writing Sullengrey, this was the first time I actually was collaborating with another writer so I wanted to stay pretty close to Frank's original script. After all, he created the world, I was just there to watch. I won't lie though... I got away with throwing in some fun little twists for the reader to pick out.
After Frank and Bryce approve, I get into the real fun - fleshing out pages, creating the mood and bringing this tasty nugget to life. I like to draw most of it in the real world since I prefer a sort of organic feel, but on the other hand I do a lot of layering of tones and textures in the computer. I also try to keep things rough looking, almost as if it's being drawn for the reader right in front of them.
Q: What was the most challenging aspect of working on THE DARK GOODBYE?
There was this one particular scene -- I had to draw a couple of cows. I can draw drooling monsters, tentacles, creeps and weirdos with rotting flesh and their guts hanging out of their stomachs, no problem- but cows... I was ready to push pencils into my eyes from frustration!!
All kidding aside, the biggest challenge came from adjusting to digest format that mangas are generally printed in. I like to put a lot of little details in my work and when the book is printed the small details can get lost or look muddy. So I found myself trying to limit myself due to the size.
The other hurdle I had to overcome was the page count. Coming in at around 160 pages, it's a whole different monster from the standard floppy comic, pacing a story that's only 25- 30 pages. When I finished, it was such a relief and almost kind of sad because working on this story is such a big part of my life now. I'm really glad that there's a volume 2.
Q: What other projects are you working on?
Well, I'm currently working on the second mini-series of my baby, Sullengrey, with my wife Jocelyn, who writes some of the most grounded scary stories I've ever read, and Chandra Free, who's sharing the art chores and taking the story to a whole new level of spookiness. Ape Entertainment is hoping to have that out sometime in winter of this year. Speaking of Ape, they just released the first volume of Teddy Scares, based on Applehead Factory's popular toy line, which I provided the back cover, art for a disturbing short story and acted as Art Editor. Also I'm continuing work on Disney's Haunted Mansion, being published by Slave Labor Graphics, which is just crazy amounts of fun. And I've just finished the character designs for The Dark Goodbye volume 2 -- can't say much about that now, but I will say that if you thought the first volume was messed up, wait till you see what we cooked up next.