Dawn: It’s time to get to know one of our newest members a little bit better. Chris, I could easily ask you all the typical questions (how long have you been drawing? Did you read Calvin & Hobbes? What motivates you?) but lets make this more fun. We are, after all, complete human beings with lots of dimensions. Tell me something about yourself that has nothing to do with comics, something you normally don’t share in one of the generic interviews you have done?
Chris: Not a lot of people know this but I used to be a university mascot. I went to Radford University and for two and a half years, I was Radford’s mascot. At the time, Radford’s mascot was called “Rowdy Red” and, basically, he was just a big, giant version of Elmo. Now, Radford has a mascot that looks more like the Michigan State Spartan mascot, only he’s a Highlander. Makes sense since Radford’s nickname is the Runnin’ Highlanders.
I did that because, at one time, I had aspirations to be the next San Diego Chicken.
How’s that for being totally off the cuff and unrelated to comics whatsoever? LOL!
Dawn: Wow, Chris with a big Elmo head. There’s a visual of you I wasn’t expecting to be burned into my brain. Lets chat about the sports-comics connection, since you were SUCH a fanboy you became a mascot! Some say the 2 don’t mix. Yet others who enjoy watching wrestling explain it’s “the ultimate bad-guy vs. good-guy storyline, live!” What is it about sports that entices you the most and do you think sports have a subtle link to comics?
Chris: Well, from a mascot perspective, it was all about entertainment. That’s what I always loved about The Chicken and what Ted Giannoulas was so good at. He’s still The Chicken, by the way.
Now, I couldn’t do some of the things he used to be able to do. I was told very much from the beginning that I couldn’t mess with the referees of a basketball game but I did a lot of other crazy stuff like “surf” on the scoreboard table and things like that. From a comics perspective, that’s pretty much how I write too… just try to come up with as many creative and interesting things that I think will make people laugh – or, at least, chuckle. As cartoonists, we have to exaggerate real life… make situations bigger than they really are. I think that’s what wrestlers do and, to some extent, that’s what NFL players do sometimes – or, what the NFL allows them to do, anyway.
I’m not a huge fan of wrestling but I have to admit, I DID really get into WrestleMania when it was Hulk Hogan, Mr. T and Cyndi Lauper against Roddy Piper. Showing my age a bit there but that first WrestleMania kind of proved what i was saying above… everything in that event, the “storylines”, the “drama” was heightened to such a huge point, it’s what made WrestleMania 8 through – what is it up to today? 78 or something? That first one was so great, it made ALL the others possible. In a way, it was “real life super heroes” so I can totally see why people like it so much.
“Showing a young athlete or young creator a trick someone showed you and then watching them have success with it, that’s one of the best feelings in the world…”
Dawn: Good points, all around. Speaking of “real life super heroes”, who is yours? Mind you, I asked for “real life”… not in comic-book-terms. Likewise, also name your “real life villain”, and lets REALLY stir the pot.
Chris: Oh wow… let’s see, how to answer the Real Life super hero question without getting too sappy or sentimental… Right off the top of my head is my wife and father. That may sound pretty sappy but there’s a little story for each.
My wife is inspiring because of all the individual work she does with my son, Tyler, who is autistic (for those that didn’t know). She does a HUGE amount of work with him, his therapists, doctors and school teachers and administrators. Taking care of him is a full-time job. I help out, of course, but she does the huge brunt of the work.
With my dad, a few years ago, he was in a pretty devastating accident that almost cost him his right leg. He’s fine now but watching what he went through in his 3 month hospital stay – it was that serious – was something I wouldn’t wish on anyone. And all the doctors and nurses that took care of him were pretty darn inspirational too.
Now, as far as real life villains go… man, this has been a hard one for me to answer. Used to be, when I was younger, I hated a bunch of different professional athletes but over time (or maybe it was free agency) that animosity slowly dissolved into “eh, I just don’t have the time or energy to spend on million dollar athletes that don’t even know I exists and that I could never relate to their life-style” kind of attitude. Sure, some athletes still bug me, but I don’t hold a disdain for them like I did when I was younger. Of course, I say all that now but once the NFL season starts, I might easily forget all about this answer. LOL!
Man, trying to name a real life villain is hard. Instead of naming a single person as a “villain”, I’ll tell you the type of people that tend to frustrate me or make me scratch my head. From a comics perspective, I dislike creators who have gotten very popular and then go to conventions and act either entitled or have a negative attitude towards the people who made them popular. There are a lot of pro athletes that are like this too but there are a lot of creators and pro athletes who aren’t like this at all.
Unfortunately, the negative ones always seem to get the most press or notoriety.
That’s sad too because I think it influences too many younger creators. They see this successful person being a rude, obnoxious jerk either online or in person and they think that’s how that person got his/her popularity so they think they’ll be the same way. I saw it too many times when I coached high school baseball. Kids emulated the stars with attitudes and adopted that particular athlete’s poor attitude toward practice or feeling entitled.
Me? I always seem to gravitate towards people who wanted – and enjoyed – giving back… whether from a coaching, teaching or art instructor’s perspective. And, really, I always enjoyed DOING that as well. That’s why I enjoy doing podcasts and talking on panels… just like when I was coaching baseball, I really enjoy sharing whatever little bit of nuggets I have gleamed over the years.
And you know what? Showing a young athlete or young creator a trick someone showed you and then watching them have success with it, that’s one of the best feelings in the world – and something all of those other “villains” will always miss out on.
Dawn: Heh, you got all sentimental anyway, ya big sap! But that’s you, and why you always try to give back and show appreciation for the people who supported you along the way. Very admirable, if you ask me! Many know you because of your presence at a comic convention, and your positive attitude with readers. A convention is your time to rake in the dough, after giving away comics for free online. Yet, you still are a “giver”. Can you give some examples of how you “give back” at a convention?
Chris: Oh now this is the stuff I REALLY love talking about. At conventions, everyone who is arm’s reach of my table gets a promotional postcard from me. I give away my postcards like candy on Halloween! This year, I am also offering a 9×6” sketch postcard that I do strictly for tips. This was based off of a combination of your sketch postcards and the tip jar R.C. Mulholland suggested to me at Katsucon this year.
Also, every Friday before a convention starts, I put a note under the Friday strip that tells people that if they come to the show, find my table and mention the Friday strip, they get something for free. That free item is random… a button, a sketch card, a 9×6” sketch card… pretty much anything I can think of at the moment. This year at the Pittsburgh Comicon, I tied the Friday strip into the free gift. The punchline for that Friday strip dealt with Speed Stick deodorant and if you mentioned Speed Stick at Pittsburgh, you got the free gift. A young lady even brought me a bar of Speed Stick – which I thought was hysterical!
And I have a standing rule that if anyone ever wants to ask me anything about comics or doing webcomics, as long as I’m not super busy, they have free reign to talk to me or ask me anything they want.
“Don’t think of your table as a “table”. Think of it as your very own 6 feet by 3 feet store front.”
Dawn: With all these fun promotional ideas, interaction with readers and free stuff you give away at cons, you certainly come across as a seasoned pro! (Well, I know you are, just play along) Many people browsing through the Webcomic Alliance site are thinking about doing their first convention and are gigantic balls of nerves! And questions: “How many books do I bring?” “How do I get over my fear of people watching me draw?” “What if no one buys anything?” “I’m an introvert, how on earth am I gonna give a sales pitch?” Luckily, they have us to lean on, so they feel more prepared than maybe we did (I certainly threw myself right in the fire!) How about 3 Big Tips for a Con Newbie as they are just testing the waters, from Mr. Convention Master himself? (*ahem*, that’s you)
Chris: Mr. Convention Master? Oh? Me? Okay… I’ll give it a shot.
Tip #1: For people who think they are nervous, I would advise them to find a small, one-day show and get their feet wet that way without going through a lot of expense. One day shows are cheaper and have smaller crowds. Think of it as “practice for the bigger shows”.
Tip #2: For the more advanced people who are comfortable with crowds, don’t think of your table as a “table”. Think of it as your very own 6 feet by 3 feet store front. Make your store front look professional with your own table drapes and professional looking banners and signs. The more professional you are, the more likely you’ll make a sale. It’s not a guarantee but I always believed the more professional you can make your table look, the more likely someone will buy something from you and in this game, every little bit helps.
Tip #3: Lastly, have some kind of hand-held freebie with your art and URL on it to give to people as they walk by. Some people prefer fliers but I absolutely love 4×6” professionally printed, full-color postcards. They are extremely affordable, they are easy to transport from show-to-show and can fit in people’s back pockets. My postcards have a funny illustration on the front and one of my favorite strips on the back with all of my contact and URL information. I also try to have a new postcard design for every new con season as well.
“We purposely look for – and draw – the humorous aspects of life. That’s a generalization, of course, but all the cartoonists I have remained good friends with all had a sense of humor – and if you have a sense of humor, it brings people closer, it lightens everybody’s moods and it just brings out a positive feel within everyone.”
Dawn: Those are some awesome tips, I agree with all this advice. You and I have discussed at length our love for conventions- the buzz you get from selling your prized work, the new people you meet, the instant connections you have with other cartoonists. I mean, these are OUR PEOPLE, right? It’s amazing how this kind of connection doesn’t come easily, until you meet another cartoonist.. at least for me. What do you think it is, about us cartoonists, that links us psychologically?
Chris: First, we have to accept that cartoonists are simply “different” than other artists. We are different than illustrators, we are different than painters and we are different than designers. Now some of us dip our toes in all of those skills (I know I do) but strictly speaking about cartoonists and why so many of us get along with each other is humor. We purposely look for – and draw – the humorous aspects of life. That’s a generalization, of course, but all the cartoonists I have remained good friends with all had a sense of humor – and if you have a sense of humor, it brings people closer, it lightens everybody’s moods and it just brings out a positive feel within everyone. And as you can probably tell from some of the answers I’ve given already, I’m all about being positive. Maybe that’s my baseball background because baseball demands that you be positive despite all evidence to why you shouldn’t. You have to be mentally tough to be successful in baseball because if you’re really, really great, that means you’ve still failed 7 out of 10 times. I think cartoonists can relate to that because it’s tough work being a cartoonist and most of us will see more rejections than acceptances but the humor… the positive vibes… keep us going. So when a bunch of us come together at a convention or something, we’re already energized from getting away from our studio but we sort of become these magnets where we gravitate towards others that have humor in their hearts, minds and souls.
Dawn: Ah, so we’re kind of underdogs of the art world. Being a Cleveland sports fan, I can relate, no doubt. I always root for David the underdog to beat out big bad Goliath! So, as an underdog cartoonist, what is your idea of “winning”? What kind of unlikely victory are you striving for, wielding your pen as your sword?
Chris: Ahhh… I get what you’re saying about the “underdog” tag. I guess, in a way, cartoonists can kind of be considered underdogs in the world of art. I try not to look at it like that though because cartooning is still the oldest form of art known to man. Some could argue cave paintings were a form of cartooning or that the ancient Egyptians had a pretty sophisticated cartooning style too. But I get what you’re saying. In fact, sometimes this can be painfully obvious when you’re at a convention and you see another artists who has a more realistic artistic style making a killing selling prints, original art or whatever.
But I’ll share a little story with you – and I’m not sure if this would really qualify as “winning” but in my book it is…
Way before I started Capes & Babes, I wanted to be a more realistic style artist. I loved guys like John Byrne, George Perez, Arthur Adams, Rick Leonardi, Frank Miller, Howard Chaykin and Neal Adams – to name just a few. And for years, I tried to draw like them but a few things always happened:
- It would take me FOREVER to draw even a single super hero panel
- I would always get very, very frustrated and was never, ever satisfied with the results and
- Sometimes, I would even throw my sketchbook away and “take a long break from drawing”.
Then, during my college years, artists who had a more cartoony style started popping up all over the place. Matt Wagner and Mike Wierengo are two that really influenced me. Around that same time, my college design professor started to encourage me to put more cartoony illustrations into my design projects and a weird thing happened to me.
I started to embrace being a cartoonist!
Another weird thing happened about that time as well… I started to suddenly realize that my design projects that included my cartoon illustrations suddenly started getting better grades than my more traditional design projects. I also started to get a lot of freelance caricature work around that time too.
It took a long, long time for me to realize that, for whatever reason, I just wasn’t meant to be a “realistic” artist. Humor and facial exaggerations were my strong suit so if I wanted to be any kind of successful illustrator, I would have to play up on those strengths and learn how to mold and grow them as well. For me, self-discovery is the best form of “winning” and that’s what happened to me when I finally embraced my cartooning style and chucked any aspirations of being the next Byrne, Perez or Miller.
As far as “victory” goes, I never had any super strong aspirations to be a syndicated comic strip artist. In fact, when I got to college and did my own comic strip, I realized that pretty quickly. It was brutal coming up with new “jokes” every week and that was just a ONCE A WEEK strip. I couldn’t see how people could do it every…single…day. A similar thing happened to me when I took my first animation class as I also had this idea of being an animator until I nearly lost my mind drawing the same thing over and over and over again for an entire month just so I could watch my cartoons move for one minute of film time.
Now, with a son who has autism, unless Capes & Babes suddenly hit Penny Arcade, PvP, Dilbert or Garfield status, I don’t realistically see myself doing Capes & Babes on a full-time basis mainly because of health insurance and other stuff my son will continue to need throughout his life. So I really have to keep doing the “web designer by day – cartoonist by night” gig for the foreseeable future.
But that’s not a loss in my book – rather, it’s the opposite. I have the very best of both worlds… I get enough time off from my full-time job that I get to go to plenty of conventions (which I love to do) and I get to continue to grow Capes & Babes on my pace. Sure, I would love for there to be no need or worry about money and there’s still a ton of things I would love to do with Capes & Babes that I just don’t have either the time or money for yet but overall, I have things pretty good.
Six years ago, I was feeling pretty miserable because I was obsessed with the feeling that even though I was making a living as a full time graphic and web designer, I was wasting my cartooning skills. But then I decided to start Capes & Babes and go to my first convention. And now I have three book collections of my cartoons and, in the past year, I have probably drawn more consistently and more creatively than I ever have at any time in my life – including college.
For me, that’s a victory with a capital V.