Interview with Andi Watson

Tell me a bit about yourself. Where are you from? How did you decide to become an artist?

Graphic novelist Andi WatsonI’m from Kippax, a small town near Leeds in the north of England. I grew up close to streams and a wood and split my time between being active and ‘laking out’ (playing with friends) and staying indoors drawing. I enjoyed the company of my friends but also loved being engrossed in my own private world of drawing TIE fighters and other imaginative stuff. I would go through periods of being a ‘hermit’ and wanting to be left alone to draw and eventually that side of me won out.

Perhaps I answered the call of the Dark Side, to overextend this metaphor, but I find I work best when left to my own devices.

I became an artist because I enjoy writing, drawing and making stuff up. I still get a kick out of a good drawing or gesture, a line of dialogue or plot progression. There’s a lot of talk about the dopamine hit of social media, that little bit of pleasure from positive or reinforcing feedback. I think my brain is wired, or has been trained through obsessive practice, to get a little dopamine hit, or equivalent, from creating. Also, drawing and reading was all I really was interested in or any good at.

Kerry and the Knight of the Forest character trading card from back matter, written and illustrated by UK indie comics artist Andi Watson

How do you start your day?

Make breakfast in bed for my wife. She works a 9-5, although it’s rarely that short a day. So I make breakfast and would normally have made a packed lunch for my daughter during school term. She’s just graduated school so I won’t have that as a pillar of my routine anymore. In fact my life will be quite different when she goes to college. I’ve been a stay-at-home-dad throughout so it’s going to be weird.

Interior page from literary adult graphic novel The Book Tour by Andi WatsonWhat does your workspace/studio look like? What aspects of it are most important to you?

It’s the front room of our Edwardian terrace house. It has a handsome period fireplace. I have a writing desk as well as a standing desk I cobbled together from an Ikea bookcase. I have an uncomfortable wooden chair for when I’m drawing and a comfortable chair for when I’m writing. I try and keep the clutter under control but as it’s a workspace, I accept it’s not going to feature in a photoshoot in Elle Decor. I’m surrounded by books which makes me happy.

I have tried working away from home in the past but I find it more convenient to have everything close by. Like a couple of footsteps close by. I have often wrestled with separating work and home life but eventually accepted defeat. To some extent I’m always at work. My brain is whirring away in the background on whatever problem that day’s work has presented, regardless of whether I’m at home or in a studio. I am better at letting it go and taking the evening off now, though.

I like that I can shut the door. I’ve worked in a variety of spaces over the years, kitchen tables, a cupboard, I even had my own building for a while. It wasn’t part of our country estate but a small attached laundry room that was just big enough for me and a drawing board once we’d taken the washing machine out. It’s always nice to be able to close the door and not be interrupted, even if it’s only for fifteen minutes. Especially if you have small children.

Indie comics creator Andi Watson's home office in Worcester, UK

What’s your favorite medium, and why do you love it?

I guess my first love will always be prose. That’s where I first fell in love with stories. I admire writers and their mastery of language. I have always found writing difficult so am in awe of anyone who can work the magic with words that really talented writers do.

As far as my own favourite medium to work in, obviously it’s comics. The alchemy of words and pictures. It has its own magic in combining the two. I have hopefully created something greater than the words and images separately. It is also really really hard to master. If it was easy I would have gotten bored and done something else years ago.

Kerry and the Knight of the Forest interior page image, written and illustrated by Andi Watson: a middle grade fantasy graphic novel

What tool has improved your workflow or creative process recently?

For my most recent book, Kerry and the Knight of the Forest (out now from all good bookshops), I added the use of a chinagraph pencil to my familiar pens in order to develop more texture to the art.

As I’m struggling with writing a new graphic novel for grown ups right now, I’m not using anything more complex than a pencil and scrap paper. I’m wrestling with plot and character rather than mastering a new tool.

As far as software goes, Janna has introduced me to the full range of teleconferencing software out there to conduct meetings. Before that I’d avoided Skype and the like. I sometimes even manage to appear on screen at the right time.

Black and white page from Kerry and the Knight Forest, middle grade fantasy graphic novel by Andi WatsonWhen you’re feeling “artist’s block,” what do you do to get “unblocked”?

Usually blame myself for being talentless and assume no one else goes through this. Truly talented people have no shortage of ideas, right?

Of course not. Being blocked can mean all kinds of things, from struggling with a story (me right now) to feeling some effects of burnout.

I think the important thing to remember is that you are a human and not a comic-making machine. I know that’s difficult to keep in mind when it’s your job — you’re freelance and you need to make rent. But no one is 100% creative every hour of the day. Do this long enough and you will realize there are ebbs and flows. Sometimes you are peaking, everything has come together and you are doing your best work and it feels effortless. Others you’ve hit a trough, you feel like you are struggling to do the very basics adequately despite working harder than ever. That is totally normal. Do not beat yourself up.

It’s nice, if I can, to do some personal stuff unrelated to what the market wants. A mini comic, or something on the web, a poster or just give myself time to doodle in a sketchbook. Take time to remind yourself art is fun and pleasurable, not just another grinding march towards a deadline or a way to make money.

Even if you’ve created a dozen books you’re still going to have to start again at the foot of the mountain and begin something new. The good and the bad news is it never gets easier. But anyone who wants an easy life would not choose comics.

Interior black and white fantasy comics page by indie comics creator Andi Watson

What’s particularly inspiring to you right now? Where do you go when you need a dose of creative inspiration?

I have a bunch of prose books on the shelf facing my table, so if I’m feeling a bit flat I’ll pick up a volume of Pinter or Beckett and read a few lines. Or Evelyn Waugh or Lydia Davis or whoever. They are distant enough from comics I don’t have to worry about being overly influenced.

 

What’s a favorite project that you’ve worked on so far in your career? What did you love about it?

Often the project before last is my favourite. On a most recent project the wounds are still fresh. I see the flaws and I’m sick of looking at it after working so intensely on it.

So my book before last was The Book Tour which came out in France in 2019. It’s coming out in English from Top Shelf in November and it’s the book I’m most proud of at the moment.

It’s a book I did without telling anyone about it. I just decided to go ahead and make this one and didn’t really worry about publishers and whatnot until it was done. It came together really well, the art and story are in perfect sync. It was one of those rare occasions where I knew I was working on something good while I was working on it. Usually there’s lots of self doubt and second guessing myself, but this one I was happy with throughout. I managed to balance the dark and light, drama and humour and dialogue and action.

French edition of The Book Tour by Andi Watson

What is your dream project in the future?

No one single project, I just hope I get the opportunity to make more books, tell more stories and get better at it along the way.

 

What advice do you wish you could give your younger self?

Probably what I periodically remind myself: remember that it’s supposed to be fun. There are any number of other ways to earn a living, or half a living, so if you are gonna choose this one, enjoy it.

Fantasy adventure graphic novel for kids Kerry and the Knight of the Forest by Andi Watson

How do you balance work and art with personal life?

See above. Sometimes I feel I’ve got it right and others I know I’m out of whack but perhaps the circumstances, a tough deadline for instance, means there’s not much I can do right at that moment. It’s a constant struggle. The pressure to produce can be intense, externally and internally. The worst thing I’ve done in the past is stress out at stressing out about work/life balance.

I wrote and drew a monthly book by myself for a year when my daughter was a toddler so I’m probably not the best person to ask. In retrospect that was super dumb. But it did teach me that I had to put family first. I’ve done a fairly good job since then. Not always perfect but I haven’t felt that same intense mixture of frustration and guilt I did then when I was working harder than ever and still failing on the important stuff.

I try to take evenings and weekends off.

I just recently discussed some thoughts on this subject in my newsletter here: https://andiwatson.substack.com/p/the-real-thing

Sketch page by indie comics artist Andi Watson

What’s an example of a past rejection or “failure” that ended up helping you? How did it help?

I’m not sure I subscribe to the idea that iron sharpens iron. I’ve never got a harsh crit or review and thought “I’ll show them”. My ego likes a good review as much as the next person and rejection still stings, but I’m not really the type who when they receive a critical kicking, shuts myself away, weeps tears of rage and produces my masterpiece. I just keep working away trying to get better.

To be honest, I have enough self-doubt of my own not to get overly concerned about external criticism. Of course, I’m also small enough of a person to wish painful gout on all my critics 🙂

The only thing I used to do in the days of rejection letters was keep them as scrap paper, flip them over and sketch or write new ideas on the back. That was my revenge, keep making new stuff.

 

How do you maintain your art career? Either in terms of marketing yourself, or developing multiple income streams?

I have maintained a, I hesitate to call it a “career” — a career assumes some sort of upward trajectory whereas mine resembles the flight path of a butterfly — through sheer stubbornness. Or lack of transferable life skills.

I have made it difficult for myself in switching genres, art styles and age groups. It might have been more sensible to find a niche and stick to it. Of course one person’s niche is another’s rut and I’m keen to avoid those.

I don’t have any specific practical advice, but broadly I would suggest the best way to maintain a career is to maintain enthusiasm. For some that might be drawing Batman everyday for the rest of their lives. For me I like to try new things.

Follow your passions, hunches and interests whenever possible. Returning to personal projects and putting aside commercial concerns can help refill my enthusiasm for the medium.

Graphic novels by Andi Watson, one of the best indie comics creators

What are you working on now?

Right this minute I’m working on this script for a graphic novel for grown ups. And I also have a pitch out with publishers for a new middle-grade book. Whatever happens, I’ll keep on making comics.

Punycorn by Andi Watson, a middle grade humor fantasy graphic novelConnect with Andi Watson:

andiwatson.info

Andi on Instagram

Andi on Twitter

Andi on Substack

Read Andi Watson:

Kerry and the Knight of the Forest

The Book Tour

Glister

Princess Decomposia and Count Spatula

See more art by Andi Watson!

Contact Me About Andi

Interview with Debbie Fong

Tell me a bit about yourself. Where are you from? How did you decide to become an artist?

My name is Debbie Fong. I grew up in the New Jersey suburbs, went to college in Boston, and moved to NYC in 2012 to start my first real job as a graphic designer at a small company making digital products for kids. I had always loved art and loved drawing, but I never really considered it a possible career path when I was younger. (For my traditional Taiwanese parents, convincing them to let me study graphic design was already a stretch!)

While working in NYC, I decided to go with a friend to check out a local comic festival (MoCCA Fest), not knowing anything about indie comics at the time. Instantly, I fell in love with the idea that artists could publish their own work on a small scale (in the form of minicomics and zines) and sell it directly to people. And, of course, I was amazed at all the different kinds of comics that were being sold – most of which looked nothing like the superhero comic books I was familiar with!

From then on I started exploring zines and comics as a format for my own work and found that I loved being able to create small and self-contained stories that were easily shared. I opened a small online store called POMMO Press to sell my zines and began tabling at zine fests and comic shows around the country.

Pommo Press: comics, charms, stickers and more by artist Debbie Fong

As my store grew I began to dream about taking on bigger projects as an illustrator/cartoonist, and eventually, I left my graphic design job and decided to pursue freelance full time.

 

How do you start your day?

My days usually start with me taking my dog Cooper out for his morning walk. Then, while Cooper and Murray (my cat) have breakfast, I make myself tea and sit down at my desk to start working. In the mornings I like to focus on administrative things and/or maintaining my online shop. Often I’ll have orders to pack up, which is a nice task to ease into my day since it doesn’t require much thought! During this time I’ll also plan out social media posts and answer emails. Generally, the real art-making begins after lunch and extends into the evening!

Artist Debbie Fong's office assistant, her cat Murray

 

What does your workspace/studio look like? What aspects of it are most important to you?

Artist and graphic novelist Debbie Fong's workspace

My partner and I share a home office in our Brooklyn apartment where I have a desk, workbench, and many storage containers full of inventory (prints, zines, enamel pins, patches, etc) and shipping materials. My desk and the surrounding area has gotten very cluttered with treasured objects over the years, but I like the feeling of being surrounded by things that bring me joy. It definitely helps to have a lot of art inspiration all around as well.

In terms of my workflow, my most precious tools are a Wacom Cintiq drawing tablet, my iMac, and a label printer for shipping labels. Recently, I’ve also started to incorporate my iPad into the equation, using Procreate to thumbnail/sketch comic pages and sometimes to ink as well. It’s definitely nice to be able to leave my desk and spend a few hours sketching in the living room for a change of scenery now and then.

 

What’s your favorite medium, and why do you love it?

I do all my drawing digitally, but my favorite print medium is risograph! It’s a very popular print method among indie cartoonists who self-publish their work because it’s cheap, fast, and the overlaying of the transparent inks can give you wonderful color effects along with a very tactile print texture that resembles screenprinting. These days I print most of my posters and zines at SVA Risolab in Manhattan.

When you’re feeling “artist’s block,” what do you do to get “unblocked”?

This is still a tough one for me! I’ve found that the best way to reinvigorate myself and gain new perspective on a project I’m struggling with is to talk things out with fellow artist friends or to go to an industry event like a book release or networking night, since seeing what other people are working on always motivates me. The challenge for me is to actually make the plans to do these things, being a socially-awkward introvert!

 

What’s a favorite project that you’ve worked on so far in your career? What did you love about it?

How To Be A Person by Catherine Newman, illustrated by Debbie Fong

My favorite project to date is also the biggest project I’ve worked on so far: a 160-page middle grade illustrated book called How to Be a Person (out on May 26th).

From the outside, this book is a handy and fun field guide for navigating all sorts of adult skills, like doing household chores and how to wisely save / spend your money. But my favorite parts of this book are the chapters devoted to teaching compassion and thoughtfulness and generosity, which I feel like are such valuable and crucial skills these days.

How to Write a Condolence Note from interior spread in How to Be a Person by Catherine Newman, illustrated by Debbie Fong

How to sweep the floor from interior spread in How to Be a Person by Catherine Newman, illustrated by Debbie Fong

How to bring a little sunshine to older folks from interior spread in How to Be a Person by Catherine Newman, illustrated by Debbie Fong

 

As an illustrator, the most satisfying projects to work on are ones where you are 100% behind the content of the work, and that was certainly the case with this book where I felt honored to be able to bring the pages to life with my drawings. I’m very excited for this book to be released and get into the hands of kids.

 

What is your dream project in the future?

As an avid player of many delightfully-illustrated modern board games, I would love to someday be hired to do artwork and design on a tabletop game.

 

What advice do you wish you could give your younger self?

Don’t be so worried about sticking to a well-defined artistic style! Let yourself evolve where your tastes take you.

Luchie Innovations illustration by children's graphic novel artist Debbie Fong

How do you balance work and art with personal life?

I’ve found that the best way to maintain that balance is just by sticking to a set schedule even though I work from home, so I can have at least a few evenings free every week. I’ll admit I’m not always the best at this, but time management is key.

 

How do you maintain your art career? Either in terms of marketing yourself, or developing multiple income streams?

For me, my goal is to make a certain amount of monthly income from my online shop while also working on long-term projects. Thankfully this means that my work varies a lot and encompasses a lot of different activities and projects that keeps things interesting! Besides working on books I also divide my time between product design, production and manufacturing, risograph printing, exhibiting at festivals, social media marketing, and more.

Pommo Press online shop logo by Chinese-American illustrator Debbie Fong

Debbie Fong comics festival table with products from Pommo Press

 

What are you working on now?

Right now I’m working on the manuscript and art for a new story which will hopefully be my debut graphic novel! Stay tuned 🙂

Sample art from Debbie Fong's middle grade graphic novel, When We Get There

Connect with Debbie Fong:

www.twitter.com/debbiefongdraws
www.instagram.com/pommopress

Read Debbie Fong:

How to Be a Person by Catherine Newman, illustrated by Debbie Fong

See more art by Debbie Fong!

Contact Me About Debbie

Interview with Elizabeth Jancewicz

Tell me a bit about yourself. Where are you from? How did you decide to become an artist?

I grew up in Northern Quebec with a family of artists. My parents always made sure to have lots of art and craft supplies readily available and were very encouraging. The dramatic snowy landscapes around me and the abundance of wildlife fueled my creativity and my love for both nature and art.

How do you start your day?

I try to give myself a quiet hour to wake up. Coffee, cat on my lap, and a book next to our picture window with the fire going (if it’s a cold morning).

Coffee making comic by Elizabeth Jancewicz

What does your workspace/studio look like? What aspects of it are most important to you?

I have an office that I share with my partner. On my side I have a window that looks out onto a pond with a spot for one of our cats to lay in the sun. I have 4 different “stations”: my easel for oil painting, a small table for my laptop, a large drafting table where I draw and make comics, and a large desk for miscellaneous “other” art. Plus lots of shelves for supplies. And lots of art hanging all over the walls. Everything is always pretty messy, but I also know where everything is.

Cat comic by graphic novelist Elizabeth Jancewicz of The Touring Test

 

What’s your favorite medium, and why do you love it?

I go back and forth between a lot of different mediums, and I love that I have the availability to do so. At the moment I love oil paint for vibrant colours…

Northern lights with deer oil painting by Elizabeth Jancewicz

… but I love making comics for being able to express my thoughts through storytelling.

Northern lights comic by Elizabeth Jancewicz

What tool has improved your workflow or creative process recently?

Inheriting my dad’s drafting table has been a real help to my work and my mindset. Since I work from home, I love having a place that motivates me to be productive.

 

When you’re feeling “artist’s block,” what do you do to get “unblocked”?

Being outside helps me the most. Either for a hike or even just stepping into my backyard. I like the quiet and being away from screens. The fresh air reinvigorates my mind.

Winter oil painting by Elizabeth Jancewicz

 

What websites, social media accounts, podcasts, or books are particularly inspiring to you right now? Where do you go when you need a dose of creative inspiration?

One of my all-time favourite series is Octopus Pie by Meredith Gran. I love her storytelling and art style. I have all the books and I can read those over and over again.

 

What’s a favorite project that you’ve worked on so far in your career? What did you love about it?

My favourite project has been my ongoing comic, The Touring Test. It’s the first project I’ve worked on in years that has been completely and totally for myself.

The Touring Test comic by Elizabeth Jancewicz, about life on the road in a small indie band

What is your dream project in the future?

I’d love to have some published books of comics.

 

What advice do you wish you could give your younger self?

Don’t worry.

Couple in a field watching birds flock into the sky; oil painting by artist Elizabeth Jancewicz

 

How do you balance work and art with personal life?

I try to be very purposeful about scheduling personal time. If I don’t schedule it, it would be easy for me to overwork myself. It’s something I’m still learning to do.

 

What’s an example of a past rejection or “failure” that ended up helping you? How did it help?

I can’t think of one major rejection or failure, but I do try to keep a balance between optimism and caution.

Snow cat comic by Elizabeth Jancewicz of The Touring Test

 

How do you maintain your art career? Either in terms of marketing yourself, or developing multiple income streams?

My partner and I are constantly trying to think of new ways to push ourselves creatively. We spend about half our time touring in our band Pocket Vinyl, and trying to connect with people face-to-face at shows. To keep our fans engaged when we can’t see them in person, we have a Patreon account that we keep updated with news about songwriting and art. We’ve also started holding regular livestream shows from our home.

I take on quite a few freelance art jobs as well, ranging from personal paintings and portraits, to album covers and shirt designs for other bands, artwork and logos for local businesses, and illustration jobs for educational and historical publications.

I also have an art shop online, where I sell prints and original art.

Outdoor camping fire under the moon; oil painting by illustrator Elizabeth Jancewicz

Fox atop a boulder surrounded by raging fire; oil painting by artist Elizabeth Jancewicz

 

What are you working on now?

I’ve got a handful of commissions going at the moment: I’m working on a few final illustrations for a tabletop board game that will be released soon, I’ve got a t-shirt logo to make for a local book shop, I’ve got a handful of comic portraits to complete, and I just finished a set of illustrations for a book of historical stories for a First Nations community in Ontario.

And I’m writing and illustrating an autobiographical graphic novel about a big, crazy tour that my band did recently.

Sample art from Elizabeth Jancewicz's graphic novel about Pocket Vinyl's 50 states tour

Connect with Elizabeth Jancewicz:

www.instagram.com/thetouringtest
www.twitter.com/thetouringtest
www.facebook.com/TheTouringTest

See more art by Elizabeth Jancewicz!

Contact Me About Elizabeth

Interview with Hmong-American graphic novelist and illustrator Duachaka Her

Interview with Duachaka Her

Tell me a bit about yourself. Where are you from? How did you decide to become an artist?

I am a Hmong-American cartoonist and illustrator from Wausau, Wisconsin.

Hmong-American graphic novelist and children's book illustrator Duachaka Her at home in Wisconsin

My whole life, I have been surrounded by art. When I was little, my older siblings and cousins drew. I read a lot of Japanese manga and watched anime and Saturday morning cartoon shows. All of these influences caused me to write and draw my own stories.

After graduating high school, I didn’t know what else I wanted to do besides art. I knew I wanted to go to college, but didn’t know what to study particularly, so I ended up following my siblings to the University of Wisconsin-Stout. I initially went for a Multimedia Design degree, but during my second semester of freshman year, the university opened a new program for Comics and Sequential Arts. I knew I had to jump into that new program because it’s what I’ve always dreamed of doing! During my time in college, I also took a Children’s Literature course and found a love for children’s books.

I knew drawing and storytelling was something that I wanted to do and make into a career, so that pretty much kickstarted my journey as a cartoonist and illustrator.

Hmong New Year sketch by Duachaka Her

How do you start your day?

My day usually starts out with me going to my day job. I work as a prepress technician at a local commercial printer. Pretty much I prepare files for print and do some designing here and there. After I get off work, I make dinner and spend time with my kids and then finally get to work on personal or client projects.

Hmong-American cartoonist and illustrator Duachaka Her's self-portrait

 

What does your workspace/studio look like? What aspects of it are most important to you?

My studio space takes up a corner of a room. My favorite part of my studio space is definitely my large white desk! There’s a ton of space to put stuff on it (although I usually prefer to keep it clear of clutter) and I can adjust the incline of the table top, which makes for easier drawing.

Graphic novelist and children's book illustrator Duachaka Her's white work desk at home.

Next to the desk is an open closet shelf where I place my favorite children’s books, comics, and resources! I love having books displayed because I can just easily grab something when I’m feeling stuck or in need of inspiration.

Hmong-American illustrator Duachaka Her's "inspiration bookshelf" next to her work desk.

 

What’s your favorite medium, and why do you love it?

Currently, I’ve been loving brush and ink because it allows me to do so much. I love that I can vary my line widths, do dry brush, washes, and ink large areas of black.

Pen and ink on children's book and graphic novel creator Duachaka Her's desk

 

What tool has improved your workflow or creative process recently?

Recently, I turned on the “Downtime” feature on my phone to set time away from the screen. I have a tendency to get distracted easily, so having this option to physically show me that I shouldn’t be on when I’m not supposed to is a helpful reminder. Also, my phone does this thing where it’ll show me my average screen time for the week. I like to review my screen time each week and try my best to reduce it! Less screen time means less distractions and more time to focus on actual work.

 

When you’re feeling “artist’s block,” what do you do to get “unblocked”?

Usually when this happens, I step away from drawing or writing for a bit. Sometimes I watch a movie, read a book, or just do something else besides art, like clean the kitchen.

I think having an artist’s block means I need to recharge and come back refreshed.

 

What websites, social media accounts, podcasts, or books are particularly inspiring to you right now? Where do you go when you need a dose of creative inspiration?

I love listening to Dan Berry’s Make It Then Tell Everybody podcast where he interviews cartoonists from all around. It definitely helps hearing from other artists about their journey, struggles, and any advice they may have.

When I’m in need of creative inspiration, I usually go on Instagram and browse through all my favorite artworks or artists. Sometimes I would poke around and find new artists to follow.

Hmong children wearing traditional dress on a bookmark illustrated by artist Duachaka Her

What’s a favorite project that you’ve worked on so far in your career? What did you love about it?

One of my favorite projects I’ve worked on is not a client project, but a group project that I’ve recently done with some artists online. The project was basically illustrating Tarot cards (the major arcana). It was fun because I was able to interpret the piece any way I wanted and the only restrictions were the size of the piece and the fact that it had to portray the card I chose. I think being able to do personal projects helps remind me of the reason I love making art in the first place, which is being able to just dive into your imagination and explore the possibilities!

Tarot card illustrated by Hmong-American illustrator Duachaka Her

What is your dream project in the future?

My dream project would probably have to be a long-form graphic novel.

Then and Now graphic novel page by Hmong-American graphic novelist Duachaka Her

What advice do you wish you could give your younger self?

Stop comparing yourself to others and just make work! Also, stop being hard on yourself and enjoy the process.

 

How do you balance work and art with personal life?

I find this very hard to do especially now that I have kids. All I can say is having family or someone close by to help babysit has definitely helped me get more work accomplished.

Also, time blocking and working when the kids are sleeping is the only way to get things done! This is something I will forever be working on, since every day brings new challenges.

Small child sucking thumb by Hmong-American children's book illustrator Duachaka Her

What’s an example of a past rejection or “failure” that ended up helping you? How did it help?

In the past, I was writing a graphic novel for a publisher, but the project ended up getting terminated. I was devastated, because I thought the story had a chance to shine. For a while, I doubted myself and questioned if I was indeed a good writer after all.

Now that I look back, I believe things happen for a reason. Maybe this setback was an opportunity for me to work on greater things. The best thing I can do right now is to continue refining my craft and write about the things I love.

 

How do you maintain your art career? Either in terms of marketing yourself, or developing multiple income streams?

This is hard to answer because I still find myself struggling and experimenting with what works best for me. In terms of marketing myself, I try to keep a presence on social media and stay up to date with the latest news in the kidlit and comics community.

In regards to income, it’s always about keeping my eyes peeled for opportunities that may come my way. I am involved in several online communities and once in a while someone will post about an interesting opportunity.

Stimulus check comic by Duachaka Her

What are you working on now?

Currently, I am working on a children’s book and planning my next graphic novel! I am also planning to get some personal projects that I have planned completed.

Connect with Duachaka Her:

www.facebook.com/duachakaher

www.instagram.com/duachakaher

See more art by Duachaka Her!

Contact Me About Duachaka

Children's GN 101 webinar with literary and illustration agent Janna Morishima

Children's Graphic Novels 101

Very early this Thursday morning, I was supposed to be getting up and going to the airport to fly to Las Vegas for the Nevada SCBWI conference.

I was very excited about this. It was going to be my first time visiting Las Vegas. It was going to be my first official public appearance as a Literary and Illustration Agent. It was going to be my first talk to an audience of SCBWI members.

On March 6th, only about seven weeks ago -- when we were all in a state of denial about what was coming down the road -- I sent the organizer a cheery email.

"I currently have no plans to cancel my travel to the conference! Looking forward to it!"

Four days later, the conference was cancelled.

But before you start feeling sorry for me, as it turns out, Cynthia Mun, the head of SCBWI Nevada, is an AMAZING PERSON. We ended up getting on the phone together and strategizing how we could still go ahead and do something fun for her SCBWI chapter.

The answer, of course, is to deliver a talk virtually. I.e., a webinar.

I had been planning to give a talk about career development, because I wanted to offer something of value to all the authors and illustrators there. But Cynthia reminded me that I have an area of expertise of great interest to many of her members: graphic novels.

"I'm not sure if we've ever had someone give a 'Graphic Novels 101' presentation before," she said. "I think that would be extremely useful."

So that's exactly what I'm going to do.

At 10 am PST/1 pm EST on Saturday, May 9th, I'm leading a webinar on "Children's Graphic Novels 101."

Be prepared for a jam-packed introduction to everything I can think of that you need to know if you're thinking about breaking into children's graphic novels.

  • How are graphic novels different from illustrated books? What's the difference between "comics" and "graphic novels"?
  • Why are graphic novels so popular? What's selling particularly well in the category right now?
  • What do you need to include in an effective graphic novel submission? How do you format a graphic novel script? What are agents and editors looking for?
  • Who are the major players in kids graphic novels? Which publishers are doing what, and where might the industry go in the future?
  • What's different about promoting and selling a kids graphic novel versus a children's book?

The best part about this webinar is that you don't have to be a Nevada SCBWI member to sign up! Registration is open to anyone.

If this sounds intriguing to you, please join me on May 9th for the webinar. You must pre-register at this link:Children's GN 101 with Janna Morishima webinar hosted by SCBWI Nevada May 2020

http://bit.ly/kids-gn-101

Please share this information with anyone who'd be interested!


P.S. Do you have a specific burning question about children's graphic novels that you definitely want me to answer? Leave a comment below so I make sure to include it in my presentation.


The Future of Children's Book and Graphic Novel Publishing in the Covid-19 Era

Kristen McLean Interview: The Future of Children's Book and Graphic Novel Publishing in the Covid-19 Era

Last week I interviewed Kristen McLean, publishing industry analyst and VP of business development for market research firm NPD Group.

The Future of Children's Book and Graphic Novel Publishing in the Coronavirus Era-kristen-mclean-interview for Kids Comics Meetup April 2020

She answered a lot of burning questions about what's happening in the children's book and graphic novel market right now, like:

  • What's happened to book sales overall since the coronavirus crisis began?
  • What's the biggest "white space" in the book market at this time?
  • How have comics and graphic novel sales been affected in 2020?
  • How might the comics distribution system in the US change in the near future?
  • What categories of books are selling best during this crisis? What's been negatively affected?
  • Which trends might be accelerated by this crisis?
  • How is the crisis causing innovation to happen, and which innovations might change the publishing landscape once the acute crisis abates?

It was a fascinating discussion. Click to view the full interview on YouTube.


interview-with-matt-loux

Interview with Matt Loux

Tell me a bit about yourself. Where are you from? How did you decide to become an artist?

My name is Matt Loux. I’m from Eastern Connecticut originally, but I have been a New Yorker since 1997.

I wanted to become an artist at a pretty early age. In fact, there really wasn’t a decision to be made. My artistic interest and abilities have always been the most important part about me, if that makes sense. It’s the earliest thing I can remember doing and the earliest thing I remember being good at. There was really never any other option in my mind besides doing some sort of artistic career.

I think part of what formed this singular frame of mind (other than ignorance) was that I had very supportive parents in this department, particularly my dad. Both my mom and dad loved the arts (and still do) but my dad sketched and painted when he was younger, and all through my childhood, he carved wooden folk art pieces like whirligigs and bird and duck decoys.

At a very young age, I emulated this by making my own carvings in the basement workshop. When I was a bit older I started trying out Dad’s fine art materials like his old oil or acrylic paints, and began studying his many drawing instruction books. I even went to the same high school, which is famous in the area for having a comprehensive art major, and where he also took art classes as a teen.

Another seminal thing my parents always did was treat my artistic interest seriously. Even when I was young Dad would tell me that I was an artist. In retrospect I can’t tell you how important it was to be told that the thing you care about the most is valuable. Because it was the thing I cared most about myself.

How do you start your day?

I am a night owl and not really a morning person, so I begin my day late and slowly. When I get up I make coffee and sit and sip while catching up on social media and the news, and these days watching Andrew Cuomo’s daily Covid-19 updates. This can last over an hour normally.

Depending on if I’m hungry, I will either eat, then get ready, or just jump into my work day. How and when I start working also depends on which stage my art has been left from the previous night. If I am happy with how things are going, or I’m close to finishing a stage in the process (inking, painting, coloring etc.), then I am more motivated to get back to it. If I have to begin a stage, particularly inking, I’m less motivated and will take more time with my coffee.

 

What does your workspace/studio look like? What aspects of it are most important to you?

I am lucky to have a dedicated room in our Westchester apartment as my art studio. Not big enough to experiment with anything crazy like oil painting, woodworking or sculpting, unfortunately, but plenty big for illustration, comics and watercolors.

I have a nice big flat desk where I can spread out while staging my most frequently used materials, like ink, brushes and pens. When watercoloring, my paint sets sort of spread down onto a stool. Everything on my desk has it’s own zone, if not specific place. That’s my OCD way of managing things and it’s also why I don’t like working anywhere else.

To the left of my drawing desk is a flat file my Dad built me, housing my comic pages and paper. To the right I have a little drawer set with my extra materials and the less frequently used art stuff. On top is a papers organizer where I keep my current comic script and the thumbnails I work from, and above that I’ve been hanging recently finished pages for reference and work consistency.

Matt Loux studio space with works in progress on the wallsFurther to the right is a little shelf for all my sketchbooks, full and empty. I often need to revisit the original sketches of a project so it’s convenient to have them close by. I also have sketchbooks dedicated to future project ideas, and sometimes when taking breaks I’ll add some art to them. I also stage books here that I’m either trying to read, or am using as artistic inspiration. I don’t use them as something to work off of but it’s nice to look at someone else’s comics to get you feeling ready to make your own.

Matt Loux sketchbooks in studio space

Turn 180 degrees from my drawing desk and you have my computer station. It is a pretty old iMac where I still use a CS4 Photoshop to do all of my file prep and computer coloring, but I am set in my ways and would rather not have to reinvent my methods :). On either side are a pair of scanners. The left one is a large, basic-but-good-for-line art, oversized flat bed scanner. On the right is a normal-sized scanner, but it’s newer, faster, and much better for scanning color. This is what I use for my watercolor paintings.

Matt Loux graphic novel artist studio space computer workstation

And in the other corner of the room, taking up probably half of my studio space, is my retro game themed lounge area. For years I’ve been building a modest collection of retro video game stuff (NES, SNES, famicom, Atari etc.) and I am happy to finally have a proper, usable place to display and enjoy them. It is definitely not as impressive a space as most hardcore collectors would have, but I’m glad I’ve got it.

Vintage video games in Matt Loux's studio lounge area

The art on the wall, toys, and objects of interest I’ve collected over the years are displayed all around me. It’s a creative person’s nest and it really helps me feel comfortable and motivated to keep working. The most important aspect of my studio is that I have one.

 

What’s your favorite medium, and why do you love it?

Watercolor is my favorite medium that I work in. I love it because of the organic and imperfect looks you can get with it, and how different your results can be from other watercolorists. It’s a tricky medium, but it has a classic beauty to it that digital, even now, can’t really recreate.

Prunella graphic novel illustration by Matt Loux in watercolor

My favorite artistic medium in general, honestly, might be pixel art video games or 2D animation, two things that formed me as an illustrator and cartoonist far more than any other art, I’d say.

3D animation usually bums me out these days, so whenever there is a quality 2D animated movie or show I am very happy. Same with pixel art video games, which are usually only done as indie games now. Despite the technology being far, far beyond that, I’m grateful they are still being made.

 

What tool has improved your workflow or creative process recently?

I’m pretty set in the way I do things, which is something a cartoonist in particular has to determine early on for consistency, I think, so there isn’t much new to add. But a few years ago, I did invest in expensive wireless noise canceling headphones that I practically live in now. They are great for focusing and especially good if you have tight living arrangements or are in a noisy city apartment situation. Since I live above the City in Westchester now, it works great for blocking out lawn care noise.

 

When you’re feeling “artist’s block,” what do you do to get “unblocked”?

Well, there are three ways of dealing with this for me.

The first is to force myself to work through it. I’ll try and do this no matter what, but I will usually afford myself more break times.

The second is, take a day off to play games, watch shows and have a treat dinner of some kind.

The third, and probably the most effective thing to do, is meet up with artist friends for drinks or dinner or something and talk about what we are working on. That really works the best as long as you combine it with step one and two.

 

What websites, social media accounts, podcasts, or books are particularly inspiring to you right now? Where do you go when you need a dose of creative inspiration?

I’ve tailored my Instagram so I mostly follow artists that I admire and it’s a good way to keep track of what projects they are working on or have released to the public.

I also watch the NHK World app very regularly. I am a lover of all things Japan and there are so many good shows to watch, with topics including traditional folk art, food, tourist locales, even trains. There is also a four-part documentary following ten years of acclaimed animation director Hayao Miyazaki as he works on his movies. I watch this one regularly for inspiration.

I think now, since travel is on hold for a while, these sort of international travel and culture shows can be very important to a creative person’s upkeep.

 

What’s a favorite project that you’ve worked on so far in your career? What did you love about it?

That would have to be the Yo Gabba Gabba board comic and anthology shorts I illustrated for Oni Press a few years back.

When I was still a teen in college I became a big, big fan of a band called The Aquabats. The Aquabats is a SKA band from SoCal who dress up like surfer superheroes and would often fight kaiju-style monsters on stage.

The band leader, Christian Jacobs, is the co creator of the hit Nick Jr. show Yo Gabba Gabba. If you haven’t seen it, it’s a super pop/stylish kids show with lots of music and it is so much fun to watch. When I found out Oni Press was planning on collaborating with them on comics I demanded to be a part of it (which is very unlike me), and I was so thrilled that they did decide to include me. It was a dream project which landed me on my first San Diego Comic Con panel with Christian and the rest of the Gabba team. It really was a wonderful experience!

Yo Gabba Gabba board comic cover by Matt Loux

 

What is your dream project in the future?

I’ve been very lucky in my career that almost every graphic novel I’ve illustrated has been my own story.

Salt Water Taffy kids graphic novel by Matt Loux

So, since that is my norm, I would say a dream project for me would be to do children’s book covers, or maybe my take on some of the classics like Treasure Island, Ivanhoe, maybe some of the Wizard of Oz series.

And though they are not kids books, I would love to try illustrating one of the P. G. Wodehouse Jeeves books. I think that would be great fun.

My other dream project would be to design my own video game. As you’re probably gathering from this interview, I love video games and have since I was a kid, and they are probably the biggest influence on my own storytelling. I would love to create a game with my art style and ideas under the guidance of talented people who actually know how to program games.

 

What advice do you wish you could give your younger self?

Value yourself more, realize that people take what you say and do more seriously than you think, and take business classes.

 

How do you balance work and art with personal life?

I don’t do this well enough, ha ha.

The first big lesson after art college that I and my serious-minded friends had to learn was to not go out and socialize as much, and to stay home and do the work. To make it in comics you simply have to make comics, and there were lots of classmates of mine who didn’t really learn that first simple, yet still challenging, lesson. The ones who did, would not see each other as often, and we lost friends because of this, but when we did get together we understood each other more and connected better for it.

I think the best relationships for artists, especially cartoonists, are those who understand this aspect of the business and are patient with it or who also experience it. Of course you obviously have to allow personal, non-work, times or else your brain will crack, but you need friends and loved ones who understand that comics and art comes first.

 

How do you maintain your art career? Either in terms of marketing yourself, or developing multiple income streams?

This is very much not my strong suit. I think most artists struggle with this too. We just want to be able to do our thing, be left alone and create, but the world of marketing and selling projects is a very different muscle to flex. This is something I think non-artists don’t totally understand, but it’s like asking them to paint a picture. They wouldn’t know how to even start without guidance.

It’s the same with creative people and marketing. That said, I’ve gotten better at it over the years and it’s easier to feel confident in promoting or shopping a project when you’ve successfully completed others before. Still, it’s an ongoing search for the right way to go about it. And of course it’s often advantageous for an artist to hire someone who can do these things better than them (if they can afford it of course).

 

What are you working on now?

I am currently doing my first fully watercolor painted graphic novel for First Second Books. It hasn’t formally been announced yet but it is a fantasy story for younger Middle Grade readers with lots of beautiful wooded nature and interesting monsters. It’s been a dream of mine ever since discovering Alex Ross’s gorgeously painted comics to make my own someday, and I can’t wait for it to be finished and ready to share with the world.

Prunella graphic novel by Matt Loux, to be published by First Second: monsters

Prunella graphic novel art by Matt Loux, to be published by First Second

And while I’m painting furiously, I am also plotting out the next volume of my Time Museum series, which will continue Delia and the Bean Team’s epic time travel adventure as they get to some pretty cool and unexpected plot points, some enticing relationship stuff and a bunch of fun new time periods to explore.

 

Connect with Matt Loux:

instagram.com/mattloux

Read Matt Loux:

SideScrollers

Salt Water Taffy Vol. 1, Volume 2, Volume 3, Volume 4, Volume 5

Yo Gabba Gabba board book

Time Museum Volume 1, Volume 2

See more art by Matt Loux!

Contact Me About Matt

Remind Yourself of Your Mission

There's a lot of fear swirling around out there, and it's not irrational. We're facing a silent, deadly virus that is causing health systems to collapse, and the entire global economy is in a deep freeze from which it may be difficult to recover.

Even if you're a naturally optimistic person, you may still be feeling deeply uneasy right now.

When external events disorient you, it helps to have a North Star that gets you back on track.

Because one thing is eternally true: life is change. This crisis will pass. New problems will arise.

If you have a strong, clear sense of purpose, you will be able to navigate any set of circumstances more easily. Including really scary ones, like now.

So, during Office Hour, I'm going to lead an exercise in reminding you of your mission.

For me, there's something interesting about the difference between "a mission" versus "a mission statement."

"A mission statement" sounds like something a corporate committee would develop.

But "a mission" sounds like something Luke Skywalker, Princess Leia, and Han Solo would undertake against all odds to save a beautiful planet from extinction.

I want you to figure out your mission.

What is the adventure that you are beginning right now?

Who are you trying to save?

What are the stakes?

Cue dramatic music....

You are the hero. Where are you going and why?

 

 

 


Getting Creative Work Done During a Time of Uncertainty and Stress

Creative work is hard.

Even in the best of circumstances, it’s hard work translating your imagination and raw emotions and jumbled ideas into something structured and tangible, and then sharing it with the world.

And right now, we’re not in the best of circumstances.

In fact, it’s easy to say that our current circumstances feel downright terrifying. The coronavirus pandemic is inexorably making its way into every corner of the world. The global economy has collapsed. Political views seem to have hardened into vicious polarization.

Scrolling headlines on the internet reminds me of Henny Penny, the little hen who ran screaming, “The sky is falling! The sky is falling!” and soon recruited a host of terrified followers… who all ran breathlessly straight into the fox’s den.

The moral of this story is: the herd mentality is very, very dangerous. It almost never leads to anything positive.

Creative work, on the other hand, almost always leads to positive things.

For you, the creator, it leads to feelings of accomplishment, confidence, and the joy of touching other people’s lives. For your audience, it leads to insight, camaraderie, and the thrill of experience.

Therefore, now more than ever, it is critically important for you to continue creating your work. Because you are a force for good in the world.

But how can you create your work when it feels like the sky is falling?

We all feel overwhelmed when we embark on ambitious projects, but it can feel especially impossible when the TV is blaring bad news and headlines are a non-stop barrage of dire predictions.

I have two simple pieces of advice:

  1. Break your work into manageable chunks
  2. Connect with your peers

1. Break your work into manageable chunks

This advice holds during extraordinary circumstances just as much as it does during normal ones.

If you find yourself thinking, “OMG, I’ve got to finish writing, penciling, inking and coloring this entire graphic novel by the end of the year, and I was so distracted/freaked out I didn’t even finish one page last week!!!”...

Stop. Take a deep breath. Say to yourself, “Let’s focus on this week, not this year.”

I recommend that you spend 20 minutes or so every Friday afternoon, Sunday evening, or Monday morning deciding exactly what chunk of creative work you want to finish in the upcoming week.

Be realistic. It’s better to set smaller goals that you can definitely accomplish rather than consistently fall short.

Then, schedule it. Even if you’re on lockdown and have no other meetings and you’re thinking, “I have all the time in the world right now, why in the world do I need a schedule?”...

I’m telling you, make a schedule. Write it in your calendar: from 9 am to 11 am on Monday morning is Creative Work Time (for example). Tell your family or your housemates in advance and gently ask them to be respectful and not interrupt you during that time.

Come Monday at 9 am, you’ve already decided: you know what you need to do. You sit in your chair and start working.

Even if at first you feel distracted or unmotivated or worried about something else, you’ve pre-determined that this is work time, so you don’t even need to think about it. You only have one task: put pencil to paper (or stylus to tablet, or whatever your tools may be!).

If the work you do is crappy, so be it! You did your duty. If you continue to show up and work as planned, day in, day out, you will make progress.

2. Connect With Your Peers

During a time of enforced isolation like we’re experiencing now, it is imperative that you proactively reach out and connect with peers on a regular basis.

Social connection is a basic human need. It is also amazingly important for creative work -- even creative work that we typically think of as a solitary endeavor, like writing or drawing.

Talking with your peers is the gasoline that keeps your engine going. It’s what keeps you motivated and inspired.

And as most of you would probably agree, your mom or significant other or best friend usually isn’t the right type of person (unless you’re unusually lucky). You need to talk to people who understand what you’re trying to do, and who are trying to do similar things themselves.

For instance, when you say, “I’m trying to figure out this shading technique on Clip Studio Paint but having issues with XYZ,” it isn’t helpful if your conversation partner looks at you with a blank expression and says, “Huh?”

Instead, you want someone who leans forward enthusiastically and says, “Oh yeah, I know who you should ask about that!”

So, in addition to scheduling time for your creative work, make sure you schedule some Zoom calls or FaceTime with fellow artists/writers/creators you trust. Every single week.

Keep going. Keep creating your work.

The world needs it.


Looking for a place to meet your peers? Join Me for Office Hours

Office Hour is happening again this Monday, March 30th, and next Monday, April 6th. All are welcome.

Please join us Monday at 11:30 am EST: https://zoom.us/j/846524330


How to Promote Your #Kidlitquarantine Event

The coronavirus pandemic is the first time in history that so many people, and so many children, have been quarantined at home. Millions of families are sheltering in place. That means millions of kids -- most of them normal, healthy schoolchildren -- are forced to sit at home all day long.

We aren’t used to thinking of authors and illustrators as “first responders,” but in this crisis, they have already started playing an important role. The children’s book community has stepped up to the plate in amazing ways, quickly organizing live-streamed readings, workshops, and activities to entertain young people stuck at home. (Search #kidlitquarantine to get a glimpse of the action.)

You can do it, too! Read your book on Facebook Live. Do a drawing demo on YouTube Live. Teach a poetry workshop on Instagram Live.

Do whatever lights you (and the kids) up.

But you want to make sure kids are actually watching, right? 

It’s important to get the word out in advance. Otherwise, you might be alone… and that wouldn’t be fun.

I've created a checklist to help you promote your #kidlitquarantine event effectively. Follow it step-by-step, and I guarantee you’ll have an eager audience waiting for you.

Download the checklist and get started.