Monday, July 19, 2010

Stephen DeStefano - Cartoonist Survey #144

Photo credit: Stephen's wife Siobhan.

From the upcoming graphic novel, 'Lucky in Love.'
Storyboard artist, character designer and cartoonist, Stephen DeStefano has been drawing professionally since the age of 15. He began his career in the mid-1980's working for DC comics where he contributed to 'Blackhawk' and 'House of Mystery’. In 1986 DC started publishing the series 'Mazing Man’ which Stephen penciled and co-created with Bob Rozakis. When ‘Mazing Man’ ended its run in 1990 Stephen and Bob teamed up again and created the limited series, ‘Hero Hotline’. During the early 90’s he also worked on Disney Comics, Marvel’s ‘Bill and Ted’ and Dark Horse’s ‘Screwball Squirrel’. From 1992 to 1995 he worked at SPUMCO as a layout artist and background designer on the Ren and Stimpy cartoons.
Over the years, Stephen has worked on many other animation projects including storyboarding and character design for Nickelodeon, Universal, the Cartoon Network and Warner Brothers. He was the storyboard artist on the first season of Adult Swim's ‘The Venture Brothers’, and later returned to oversee the storyboard department, as well as manage the character and prop design department. As the licensing artist for King Features Licensing, he creates images of Popeye the Sailor for a wide variety of merchandise and products. There is a great interview with Stephen about his work drawing Popeye in issue #16 of Hogan’s Alley magazine. Stephen’s most recent project, scheduled to come out this September, is the graphic novel, ‘Lucky in Love: Volume One: A Poor Man’s History’. He co-created and drew ‘Lucky in Love’ with scriptwriter George Chieffet for Fantagraphics Books. Stephen lives in New Jersey with his wife Siobhan. You can see more of his work here on his blog.

What is your favorite pen to use?
Off the top of my head, I can't think of the nib #. I prefer a stiff, sturdy nib, something that will give me a bold pen line.

Do you draw in pencil first and if so do you use a standard pencil or a mechanical one?
I most definitely begin with a pencil sketch before I go onto inks. I switch off between standard and mechanical pencils. When drawing for animation, I used to prefer a very soft, dark Tombo pencil, like a 4, 5 or 6 pencil.

Do you do your coloring by hand or on the computer?
I was never really comfortable working in color. I respect color so much; I'm almost frightened of it. I did very minimal color work in the past, although the computer has loosened me up a bit, so if I do any color work today it's usually on the computer.

If you do your coloring by hand, what do you use?
I used to be most comfortable working in marker and colored pencil.

What type of paper do you use?
Depends on the job. If it's a job for animation, I'll use punched-animation paper, or "storyboard" paper, which has storyboard panels printed on it. For comics I'll use a sturdy bristol board, switching between vellum and plate finishes. The majority of my graphic novel (LUCKY IN LOVE, coming out this September from Fantagraphics Books) was drawn on high quality recycled paper, although sadly I can no longer find it. I must admit, the paper that I've been finding since I consider to be really, really poor in quality.

What thing(s) do you hate to draw?
I really, really stink at perspective. Consequently, the majority of scenes that I draw are exceptionally claustrophobic.

Do you buy your supplies from big chain art store catalogues/websites or a local one that you physically go to?
It depends. If I'm walking near an art store and recall needing a supply, I'll stop in. If I want something specific, I may order it online.

Are there any rituals that you do before starting to draw?
Other than procrastination, no.

Do you listen to music while you draw and if so what genre?
Again, whether or not I'll listen to music depends on the job. If it's straight technical drawing, like inking, or designing a character, prop or background for animation, I'll listen to pretty much anything in my iTunes catalog. If, however, I'm trying to figure out a bit of storytelling, or laying out from a script or plot synopsis, I can't listen to music at all. Then I need as much silence as I can get.

Did you read comics as a kid and if so what was your favorite?
OH, did I read comics as a kid! Batman was my absolute favorite character. I religiously collected DC's BRAVE AND THE BOLD. I also adored JUSTICE LEAGUE OF AMERICA and WORLD'S FINEST. Although I primarily followed DC comics, I also collected Marvel's CAPTAIN AMERICA, the AVENGERS and an occasional SPIDEY or two.

What is or was your favorite comic strip?
I loved reading the Sunday Funnies as a child, although I'm totally drawing a blank trying to come up with my "favorite". For whatever reason, MOTLEY'S CREW keeps popping into my mind, so I'll stick with that.

What was your favorite book as a child and do you still own a copy of it?
Absolutely. My favorite book was D'AULAIRES GREEK MYTHOLOGY. I think I now own two copies of it. When I was thirteen, I bought THE SMITHSONIAN BOOK OF NEWSPAPER COMICS, and I was mesmerized by it. I think I own two copies of that as well today.

Did you have any formal art training and if so where did you receive it?
I attended New York City's HIGH SCHOOL OF ART AND DESIGN for one year. That's about the length of my formal artistic training.

Do you feel that the Internet is a blessing or a curse?
Depends! I recall when I first got to DC Comics as a teenager, Joe Kubert lectured me on starting my reference file. This way, no matter what I wanted to draw, I always had a photo to reference. In this age of Google Image Search, the idea of a reference folder seems positively quaint! In terms of research, support and networking, the Internet is a miracle. Of course, if you're a perpetual procrastinator, or someone in constant need of distraction (my hand is now raised), it can be a curse.

Did either of your parents draw?
No, neither of my parents had much interest in art or culture.

Who in your life is/was the most supportive of your art?
My wife Siobhan! And my cats. My wife and my cats. And my friends! My wife, cats and friends.

Do you keep a sketchbook?
I keep several. I just don't ever draw in them. I don't enjoy recreational drawing at all. For me, drawing is work. If I'm working, I'm drawing. If I'm not working, I'm not drawing.

Have you ever taught cartooning/drawing and if so did you enjoy the experience?
I've never taught professionally, other than training people who've worked on my staff at various jobs in animation. I'd love to teach someday.

Do you feel that talent or passion is more important in drawing?
A little bit of both helps. Honestly, I think more important than either is discipline. If you want to draw, you just have to draw, and draw, and draw, and draw some more. You have to share your work, be open to criticism, and then draw, draw, draw and draw.

Do you collect anything and if so what?
Oh, gosh, every week I find myself bringing home graphic novels, and hardcover collections of comics, and I can't figure out why because I have no space in my home to put them.

If you were an animated cartoon character who do you think you would be?
Jeez Louise, I dunno. Popeye the Sailor, maybe? I'm not that strong, but I like spinach and I can be scrappy. I hates unkindness to animals. I hates bullies. I'm short, and my language skills are limited. Probably Popeye. Which is good, because I've made part of my living for the last 20 years drawing him for King Features licensing.

Are you a righty or lefty?
I am a righty.

If you weren't an artist what would you want to do for work?
I've always said, I would've liked to bake bread professionally. Or have been a doorman at a swanky hotel.

In one or two sentences describe your drawing area.
Books and papers everywhere. Often there's a cat on top of something it shouldn't be.

Do you play any musical instruments?
No, sadly I've zero musical talent.

If you could give one piece of advice to someone who wants to pursue drawing as a career what would it be?
Start drawing, and don't stop.

Who is your favorite artist?

Can't possibly pick one. Can't possibly. I've three favorite artists. E.C. Segar, Milt Gross and Harvey Kurtzman. They're my three favorite cartoonists.

Thanks again for your time Stephen.

Next time on David Wasting Paper is freelance artist and cartoonist Ben Towle.

1 comment:

David Martingale said...

Great interview! I love his work.