Monday, October 25, 2010

Thom Zahler - Cartoonist Survey #181

Ohio cartoonist and illustrator Thom Zahler graduated from the Joe Kubert School of Cartoon and Graphic Art. After graduating Thom moved back to Ohio and worked as a caricaturist at an amusement park. He then worked as an advertising artist at a suburban newspaper and later become an art director at an advertising agency. In November of 2001 he quit his job as art director and became a full-time freelancer with his Thom Zahler Art Studios. His artwork was used in the nationwide Prilosec advertising campaign and has appeared in numerous magazines and newspapers across the US. He has written and drawn three graphic novels: “Raider: From the Shadows”, "Raider: A Cold Day in Heaven” and “Raider: Dead Men’s Tales.” He has also created work for Marvel Comics, The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, the Cleveland Metroparks Zoo and the Cleveland Indians’ “Slider” comic strip.

Thom appears on both television and radio on the Cleveland broadcast media and was a contestant on the syndicated version of “Who Wants To Be a Millionaire?” where he walked away with a cool $32,000. Thom is best known for his Harvey Award-nominated comic “Love and Capes.” Described as a superhero romantic comedy, “Love and Capes” follows Abby an ordinary bookstore owner and her accountant boyfriend Mark who just happens to be the super-powered crime fighter, the Crusader. Two volumes of “Love and Capes” that collect the first 12 issues have been printed by IDW Publishing. On October 2nd of this year, Thom setup his art studio in the Great Lakes Mall for the 24-Hour Comics Day and in front of all the shoppers, he created a full 24-page comic titled “Haunted.” The complete “Haunted”
comic is available here as a pdf. See more of Thom’s work at his Thom Zahler Art Studios website, “Love and Capes” site and here on his blog.

What is your favorite pen to use?
For inking, I'm far more a brush guy. Raphael #2, sometimes a Windsor Newton #2 in a pinch. Pens in particular, I use the Microns. They have just enough flex to them to get a bouncy line.

Do you draw in pencil first and if so do you use a standard pencil or a mechanical one?
I do draw in pencil first. These days I start out with blue Col-Erase pencil and then tighten with a mechanical pencil with an HB lead.

Do you do your coloring by hand or on the computer?
I color on computer. I haven't worked by hand in years.

If you do your coloring by hand, what do you use?
Wacom Intuos 3 tablet with mostly Photoshop. I use Painter when I want some more textured effects, but it runs kind of slow on my Mac so I tend to use it sparingly.

What type of paper do you use?
I use Canson tracing paper to start. On Love and Capes I ink on Canson Marker/Layout Paper with the tracing paper taped to the back of it. For commissions and things that need to be on good paper, I use a Canson two-ply smooth bristol.

What thing(s) do you hate to draw?
Cars. I hate cars. Mechanical stuff leaves me cold and it shows in what I do, I'm afraid. I've found that using Microns and a French Curve to draw and ink gives a little more life than a ruler.

Do you buy your supplies from big chain art store catalogues/websites or a local one that you physically go to?
I go wherever the supplies are. Here in Northeast Ohio, we've got Pat Catan's and Utrecht. Catan's is good for staples like paper, ink and board. Utrecht only sells their own brushes, so I tend to avoid them. If I'm out of state and can hit a Pearl or especially the Kubert School store, I'll buy brushes there. I like seeing them in person and dipping them in water, seeing how they hold a tip.

I prefer to buy bulk things online at
Cheap Joe's or Pearl. Col-Erase pencils, pads, etc. I'll order brushes from Kubert online in a pinch.

Are there any rituals that you do before starting to draw?
Not really. At Kubert, one of my teachers beat into me that all you do at your drawing board is draw so that your brain associates work and the table, kicking you into gear faster. Working at my table is probably the biggest ritual for me.

Sometimes I roll my socks halfway down my feet. I don't need to do that, but it does seem to happen more often than not.

Do you listen to music while you draw and if so what genre?
I'm more a talk radio/podcast/news channel guy. It kind of simulates a conversation and keeps my mind engaged while I'm working, and satisfies part of my need to be around people.

Did you read comics as a kid and if so what was your favorite?
I've been reading comics since two and a half. I love Superman and always have, and being the first book I read will always have a special place in my heart. Firestorm is probably my favorite character, though, because I got to jump on his adventures from the beginning.

What is or was your favorite comic strip?
Bloom County, hands down. I learned most of my comedy from that. These days I dig Fox Trot, and I think Rose is Rose is one of the best drawn strips out there.

What was your favorite book as a child and do you still own a copy of it?
I don't recall having a favorite book. I know I liked that Grover "Monster at the End of this Book", but I don't own a copy anymore.

Did you have any formal art training and if so where did you receive it?
I'm a graduate of the Joe Kubert School of Cartoon and Graphic Art. Before that, I took all the art classes my high school had.

Do you feel that the Internet is a blessing or a curse?
Technology is neither good nor bad, only characterized by how it's used. For me, though, it's indispensable. It's my art library and allows me to promote my work more fiercely and directly than I could have years ago. I would not have been able to do the work I do. My "Love and Capes" series, and before that "Raider" would not have been possible before the 'net.

Did either of your parents draw?
My Dad drew, even went to art school. His sister is an artist, too. My whole family is pretty artistic and crafty, from woodworking to cake decorating to crocheting. I'm the first one to go professional, though.

Who in your life is/was the most supportive of your art?
I've got a pretty good support network. My maternal Grandmother was my biggest fan, and it's her that I named my publishing imprint for. But both my parents, whole family and friends have always been as helpful as can be.

Do you keep a sketchbook?
Yes, but not religiously. I use it for idea capture more than technique.

Have you ever taught cartooning/drawing and if so did you enjoy the experience?
I have, and in fact I'm teaching a cartooning class to fifth graders right now. Its hit and miss based on the students. A good group is energizing, and a group that needs a lot of discipline… well, that's not my forté. Generally, I find I'm far more comfortable with one-day workshops than I am with multiple classes.

Do you feel that talent or passion is more important in drawing?
Passion overall. But in the talent vs. passion, I liken it to baseball. You may be born able to throw a 95 MPH fastball (talent) but you've got to apply yourself to learn how to spot the ball and play the game (passion). Passion will fill in the gaps in your talent.

Do you collect anything and if so what?
I collect some glasses. I've designed most of the Toon Tumbler glasses, so I've got a complete set of those. I have a bunch of action figures, too. Mostly the DC set. I've slowed down my purchasing of those, though. There are only so many Supermans I need before I have enough. But give me a Blue Devil or Captain Atom and I'm all over that.

If you were an animated cartoon character who do you think you would be?
Kyle Rayner from the Superman Animated series. He looked like me, talked like me, and dressed like 90's me. Plus, he was an artist.

Are you a righty or lefty?

If you weren't an artist what would you want to do for work?
Writer, for sure. I think that's part of being a cartoonist. Past that, stand-up or acting. I'd love to play one of those small character roles, like Kevin Pollack in "A Few Good Men". Unfortunately, I'm cursed by these leading man good looks.

In one or two sentences describe your drawing area.
Hardwood floors, brick walls, glass and metal furniture. Honestly, it kind of looks like Michael Newman's place from "Now and Again."

Do you play any musical instruments?
I played a little bit of guitar when I was a kid. I'm no good at it. It's one of my regrets, and one of these days I'll learn to play something.

If you could give one piece of advice to someone who wants to pursue drawing as a career what would it be?
You can always get anything you want, it's just a question of what are you willing to do to get it. If you do the work, the practice, the networking and sweat equity, you'll carve out a piece for yourself. Lots of people have unwritten stories and undrawn masterpieces. Don't be them.

Who is your favorite artist?

Curt Swan's the biggest influence on my art overall. Right now, I'm leaning towards Darwyn Cooke and Claire Wendling.

Thanks again Thom!

Cartoonist Rina Ayuyang is up next.



Can Thom give me a loan that I'll payback on Tuesday.

Ryan Carpentier said...

Good blog here, lots of good stuff

David said...

Thanks Ryan!