Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Brian Fies - Cartoonist Survey #113

Brian Fies is a freelance science writer, journalist and cartoonist. Brian created the serialized webcomic ‘Mom’s Cancer’ in 2004. ‘Mom’s Cancer’ is an autobiographical story dealing with his mother's fight against lung cancer, as well as his family's reactions to it. In July of 2005 ‘Mom’s Cancer’ won the Eisner Award for Best Digital Comic. Sadly, Brian’s mom lost her battle in October of the same year. Abrams Books published a hardcover edition of ‘Mom’s Cancer’ in 2006 which went on to win the 2007 Harvey Award for Best New Talent and the 2007 German Youth Literature Prize. Last June Brian’s second book, ‘Whatever Happened to the World of Tomorrow?’ was released and has been nominated for the 2010 Eisner Award for Best Publication Design and the 2010 Eisner Award for Best Lettering. Brian is also a science and technical writer with his work appearing in many publications such as ‘Physics World’ and ‘Sky and Telescope’ magazine. You can find out more about Brian's science and technical writing here. He lives in Northern California with his wife and twin daughters. Follow Brian on his blog here.

What is your favorite pen to use?
Mostly I ink with brush, Winsor & Newton synthetic sable. My favorite pens are Microns of the usual sizes. I also use Speedball nibs.
Do you draw in pencil first and if so do you use a standard pencil or a mechanical one?
Non-photo blue mechanical pencil from Pilot. Took me a while to find them!

Do you do your coloring by hand or on the computer?
Mostly PhotoShop.

If you do your coloring by hand, what do you use?
When I do color by hand, standard watercolor paints.

What type of paper do you use?
Two-ply bristol plate.

What thing(s) do you hate to draw?
Cars. They've got sneaky curves and proportions, and since everyone is very familiar with them they can sense when something is "off."

Do you buy your supplies from big chain art store catalogues/websites or a local one that you physically go to?
I've got a great local store that gets most of my business, though it doesn't have a few things that I buy online.

Are there any rituals that you do before starting to draw?
Besides staring blankly for days and drinking alone in the dark? Not really. But picking up the drawing board and putting a blank piece of paper on it feels like a ritual in itself. It is a holy moment filled with dread and awe.

Do you listen to music while you draw and if so what genre?
Music is too distracting when I write, but I do listen when I draw. Whatever comes up on my iTunes list: some adult contemporary, some oldies, some classical.

Did you read comics as a kid and if so what was your favorite?
Read everything, loved everything. Comic books: Silver-Age DC and Marvel (I have a complete collection of "The Avengers"). Comic strips--I especially remember loving Peanuts, Dick Tracy, Prince Valiant, and Gordo. The only thing I never really developed a taste for was Underground Comix, and I don't expect I'll ever care about manga, to my regret and shame.

What is or was your favorite comic strip?
All-around best strip: Walt Kelly's "Pogo." Very closely followed by Peanuts, Little Nemo, Krazy Kat, Polly & Her Pals, Terry and the Pirates, Calvin & Hobbes.

What was your favorite book as a child and do you still own a copy of it?
I had a book titled "You Will Go To the Moon" that I loved and which had a huge influence on my life. I sold it at a garage sale when I was young but decades later found another copy of it in a used book store and eagerly gave it a place of honor on my shelf of astronomy and science books.

Did you have any formal art training and if so where did you receive it?
I took all the art classes I could fit into my high school and college schedules, and they were very valuable, particularly at the university level. Pretty much self-taught otherwise and since, though.

Do you feel that the Internet is a blessing or a curse?
Both, of course. My day job is self-employed science writing, and I wouldn't have that career without the Internet. It just wouldn't be possible to do the research I do, and serve the clients I have--some of whom are on other continents--without the Web. Likewise, I probably wouldn't have a cartooning career if I hadn't started with a webcomic ("Mom's Cancer"). But I mourn and regret the damage the Internet is doing to traditional cartooning, journalism, publishing, and society in general. Some wonderful things are being lost--even something as simple and elegant as the hand-written letter (or hand-drawn cartoon)--and it pains me that so few people seem to recognize their importance and value.

Did either of your parents draw?
No. My grandma could draw a little, and encouraged me. But I was pretty entirely self-motivated. The bottom line is that I can't *not* draw.

Who in your life is/was the most supportive of your art?
My wife Karen. Couldn't do it without her.

Do you keep a sketchbook?
Yes, but I use it a lot less than I used to. I'm not sure why. When I was in college, I'd run through a sketchbook every several weeks; now they last me a year or more. Maybe I'm tired.

Have you ever taught cartooning/drawing and if so did you enjoy the experience?
I've not taught formal classes, but informally, yes. I enjoy speaking and teaching a lot. I've taught other subjects in other contexts, and think it's something I'm good at. Sadly, no one's asked.

Do you feel that talent or passion is more important in drawing?
Passion. Talent's a good start, but passion drives you to practice and improve. Hard-working passion will beat lazy talent every time. On the other hand, hard-working talent will beat them both.

Do you collect anything and if so what?
As I said, I used to collect the "Avengers" series, and have a complete set from #1 to 400-whatever; Marvel's foolishness in the '90s, including canceling and restarting the series, gave me the perfect excuse to stop. I never looked back and haven't cared about mainstream comics since. In recent years I've gathered a nice little collection of original comic art, much of it by friends or people I know, others by people I consider the greats in the business. The first thing I bought with my "cartooning money" was a cel from Winsor McCay's "Gertie the Dinosaur" film (1914). I've also got a lot of "Star Trek" crap, but that's more an accumulation than an actual collection.

If you were an animated cartoon character who do you think you would be?
President and CEO of the Acme Co.

Are you a righty or lefty?
I am all screwed up. I started life completely ambidextrous. My third-grade teacher insisted I write right-handed (she said that my writing the left side of the page left-handed and then switching the pencil to write the right side right-handed was the laziest thing she'd ever seen), so I still write and draw right-handed. I play most sports left-handed and do many other things equally well with either. I can occasionally be found in the kitchen paralyzed into inaction because I can't figure out which hand to open a jar with.

If you weren't an artist what would you want to do for work?
I'm already doing it. My day job, whose income allows me to be a cartoonist (along with my wife's income and benefits), is self-employed science writing. I am lucky. It took me years, but I finally figured out a way to make my interests in writing, science, and cartooning into some weird kind of career.

In one or two sentences describe your drawing area.
My office has two desks: one a rolltop whose little drawers are packed with art supplies, and the other a cheap student desk with a computer. I draw at the rolltop using a lap board, then scoot four feet to the computer for Photoshopping.
Do you play any musical instruments?
I tried violin and guitar as a child, never practiced or got good. It's on my bucket list.

If you could give one piece of advice to someone who wants to pursue drawing as a career what would it be?
Draw from life. Draw what's around you. People complain that drawing hands and feet are hard; there's no excuse for that. You've got hands on the ends of your arms and feet at the ends of your legs always available to model for you. I think drawing from life is especially important for cartooning because cartooning is the art of simplifying and distilling reality to its essence. It's amazing how many people can draw a galaxy-sized machine devouring a planet full of laser-mounted dragons but can't draw a woman in a business suit talking on the phone.
Also, nurture interests outside of art and comics. You've got to be a smart, informed, well-rounded person with knowledge and opinions. I know a lot of people who can draw better than me who never got the art career they wanted because, although they could make pretty pictures, they had no other interests and nothing original to say about anything. Readers want that special point of view that only you can bring to the table; develop *you*.

Who is your favorite artist?

All-time, Leonardo da Vinci. Comics, Winsor McCay.

Thank you Brian.

Coming up is comic book writer and artist Bob Fingerman.

1 comment:

P.L. Frederick said...

Brian, your advice to folks just starting out is really great, Thank you.

Great interview, Dave. I had missed this one before.