What is your formal training?
I have a certificate from the Atlanta Institute of Music and Media in Performance, BM and MM from Belmont University in music composition, and an MFA from the Savannah College of Art and Design in Sequential Art.
But I’m not sure I recommend going to school. I recommend learning. If you want to go to school (and there are as many reasons to go as not to go) I recommend finding an art school that encourages exploration and experimentation in a wide variety of mediums and disciplines unrelated to the intended outcome of the specialization of the degree (which was true at Belmont U for me). The world needs content. It very rarely needs an illustrator who doesn’t understand storytelling, or a storyteller who doesn’t understand cinematography, or a cinematographer who doesn’t understand sound. I could go on, but my point is that all that stuff is the same thing now, it’s media creation, it’s content creation.
However, art schools are under unprecedented pressure to show that students are getting jobs after graduation. Almost universally their solution is to force students into very narrow specializations. This may be a good idea for some disciplines, but it is not a good idea for art. Artists often need to branch out to make a living. I got the idea for a “3 tiered income stream” from a mentor when I was younger, and that concept has always served me well. The 3 income streams on which I rely are: Teaching, Performance, and Visual Storytelling. In my 20s I made most my income from teaching. In my 30s I made most my income from Music Performance. In my 40s I made most my money from Visual Storytelling. I make money from all three streams, but the dominant stream emerges based on things like physical location or supply and demand. There is an ebb and flow to all things.
I say this because I have experienced the horror of trying to go to school because one is excited about learning one’s craft, only to be forced into slavish mundanity that has everything to do with a specific teacher’s belief that some specific set of skills will get the student a job, rather than allowing the student to find their own path. This has everything to do with that teacher’s own insecurities, and nothing to do with the student’s goals.
I don’t believe in that. I believe that doing the work well, getting the work done on time, and being easy to work with are the keys to success. Therefore the artist will be helped if they are exposed to a wide variety of ideas and techniques, tools to do the work with, rather than being forced to learn a specific technique, or even worse: a specific software.
What advice would you give someone who wants to draw comics?
The main advice is that aside from some page design and visual composition concepts, which can be learned in a single comic book course, is that the rest of making comics is multi-disciplinary. It’s drawing and painting in a variety of mediums, it’s calligraphy and typography, it’s digital art skills, it’s book design, it’s creative writing, it’s dramatic writing, it’s cinematography, it’s color theory, it’s narrative. Frankly, in today’s market it’s also web design, entrepreneurship, advertising, public speaking, performance, and business management.
My advice is: learn everything you can about all of that. Along the way imitate the artists you like. Hopefully, you’ll merge all of that into something uniquely you by the time you put it all together. Don’t get ahead of yourself. It will take you approximately ten years from the time you begin trying to learn how to make a comic to the point when you make something good, assuming you put a lot of time into it along the way. Everyone I’ve ever seen who jumped that time frame was a flash in the pan, forgotten once the initial thrust of their marketing campaign was forgotten. Or the work was elevated by the help of serious professionals around them who had put in the time (a course of action I abhor…why would an artist put that much time building someone else’s empire instead of their own?). Work hard, be patient. The world doesn’t need another comic creator who barely understands craft and isn’t willing to learn. It needs people with vision and grit, and above all: something to say.
Last idea: Learn the fundamentals. They are always more important than contemporary comic production techniques. Figure drawing, perspective, landscapes and architecture, animals, vehicles, etc. These are the things to learn first. Image composition and visual communication/cinematography concepts are next. After all of that I think page design, layout, and how to manipulate the digital tools is next.
The truth is that you’ll likely learn all that simultaneously, and that’s ok.
Some people intuitively understand one piece of the puzzle or another, but you really can’t be a complete creator, someone who can work consistently, unless you have all these skills.
What advice would you give an aspiring musician?
You know, I’m the wrong person to ask.
I’ve never enjoyed the success I’ve observed in many less skillful musicians. But universally, those musicians were better performers than I was.
My problem as a player is that I got good enough to know I wasn’t as great as the greats, but I stopped there instead of pushing through and becoming great myself. Still, that makes me a better musician than 90% of the guys out there trying to do it, but not nearly as good as the top 1%.
My advice is to ask them. Either the people who are the great players or the people who are the great performers, depending on what actually attracts you.
That having been said I think of myself as a composer/multi-instrumentalist more so than a “player”. I have a lot to say about making stuff.
The advice I would give there is to learn to play an instrument as well as learning to use the computer. Learn to sing as well as you can. Reinterpret the greats, but find something new you can do with it, even if its just moving the material to a different voice or context. My sound design work came alive once I understood acoustics. My composition became “accessible” when I learned (relearned?) something about emotional communication.
I believe that technique, interpretation, improvisation, and concept of multiple styles are the keys to everything. My pop playing/writing dramatically improved when I studied jazz. The emotional communication in my playing dramatically improved when I studied folk music (like Irish and Bluegrass), my ability to play things I read improved when I studied classical music. These musics (along with other forms of ethnic music like Latin, or Afro-Cuban, or Indian music) are the foundation of other forms of music. I have rarely seen someone get better as a singer songwriter by playing contemporary singer-songwriter material, but I’ve seen them explode with technique and creativity when they studied Irish and Bluegrass.
Learn foundational music. Don’t believe the hype of the music industry.
Who are your main influences?
Tough to answer. There are too many.
I started playing the bass because of guys like Steve Bailey, Victor Wooten, Tommy Simms, Gary Willis, and John Pattituci. I keep playing music because of Edgar Meyer, Mike Marshall, Claude Debussy, Hector Berlioz, Chris Thile (and all the American acoustic artists who have sprung up around him), Chopin, Shostikovich…I can keep going for a really long time.
I started making comics because of guys like Dave McKean and Alex Maleev, but as I kept at it I discovered Walt Simonson, Sergio Toppi, Berni Wrightson, Windsor McKay, Marcos Meteu-Mestre, Bill Sinkevich, Jose Munoz, Degas, David Aja, Chris Samnee, Neil Gaiman, Greg Ruth, Pascal Campion, Dean Cornwall, Bob Peak, and Drew Struzen, but again, I could list guys I’ve studied for a long time.