Monday, June 27, 2011

Chris Schweizer - Cartoonist Survey #231

Born in 1980 in Tucson, AZ, Chris Schweizer is a cartoonist, writer and a college professor. He started drawing when he was very young and was lucky enough to grow up in a house full of comics. Surrounded by his dad’s trade collections of Peanuts, Dick Tracy, Calvin and Hobbes, Pogo and The Far Side; and his mother’s Cathy and For Better or Worse, Chris was exposed early to some of the greats of cartooning. He continued drawing strips and gag cartoons throughout his school years and during his studies at Murray State University, he had a strip in the school’s newspaper. He graduated from Murray State in 2004 with a B.F.A. in Graphic Design. At first Chris thought he wanted to do a newspaper strip, but after having his submission rejected and noticing the ever-expanding graphic novel sections at bookstores he decided against it. He researched graduate programs and chose the Savannah College of Art and Design (Atlanta). He not only received his M.F.A. in Sequential Art from SCAD, but he is now also teaching comics there fulltime. Chris believes that one of the things that makes SCAD such a great school is that all of the faculty “regularly publishes professionally” and therefore “know what's happening in the industry and have established relationships with editors”.

Chris’s award-winning historical fiction series of graphic novels titled Crogan Adventures (published by Oni Press) features different members from the Crogan family tree. These action packed adventure stories are set in different corners of the world and span 300 hundred years. When he pitched his idea for the series to Oni Press he included a poster size copy of the Crogan family tree with all 16 characters including a private eye, lion tamer, secret agent, pirate, gunfighter, ninja and more.

The first in the series is “Crogan’s Vengeance”. It stars “Catfoot” Crogan, an honest sailor who gets thrown into the world of pirates. A fun story filled with sword fights and naval battles, it contains a positive moral without being preachy. The second volume in the series, “Crogan’s March”, is set in North Africa in 1912 and tells the story of French legionnaire Corporal Peter Crogan who is fighting for France. The third book in the series, “Crogan’s Loyalty”, should be released this fall. Chris has created the Crogan Adventure Society for fans of the series. For $25 you receive a lifetime membership, an original inked 4”x6” drawing of a Crogan character of your choice, a quarterly newsletter and more.

Chris’s other comic works have been published by Top Shelf Productions, Evil Twin Comics, Nickelodeon Magazine, Image Comics and more. He recently wrote an upcoming six-book series for Lerner Publishing called “Tricky Journeys”. Recommended for ages 4–8, each of the “Tricky Journeys” books allow the reader to choose how the story unfolds. Look for the “Tricky Journeys” series to be out sometime in October of this year. Chris has also just released a 180 page sketchbook which is available for purchase here. This thing looks great! Be sure to watch the video preview of the sketchbook below. Chris lives in Marietta, GA with his wife Liz and daughter Penelope. He has a great website called the Curious Old Library where you can see many of his drawings and comics, read more interviews and even purchase original art. He also has a blog that is loaded with a lot more of his work.

What is your favorite pen to use?

It depends on whether or not I’m sketching or doing finished pieces. If the former, I use a size S or F Faber-Castell PITT pen. They’re filled with India ink, and I find that sketching with a pen comes much more naturally to me than using a pencil.

If I’m doing finished art, I use a Pentel Pocket Brush Pen. Pentel makes two brush pens – one with a soft plastic shaft, the other a hard plastic shaft with a tiny silver Japanese writing character on it. I use the latter. The soft one is called the Pentel COLOR brush, though a lot of people confuse the two. The pocket brush is synthetic, behaves like a real brush, and has a wonderfully consistent ink flow. It uses cartridges, and the ink works great on the paper that I use. It smears TERRIBLY on Bristol, though.

Do you draw in pencil first and if so do you use a standard pencil or a mechanical one?

Occasionally, if I’m doing a for-the-heck-of-it drawing, I’ll use a Col-Erase Blue pencil. Col-Erase pencils are nice because, unlike a lot of colored pencils, they are not wax-based. Have you ever tried to draw with ink on top of, say, a prismacolor or crayola pencil line? It breaks up, beads up, won’t lay down. That’s the wax. The Col-Erases allow you to avoid that. I use the blue, NOT the non-photo blue. The latter is TOO light, and I can’t do a really light sketch and build, the value just won’t shift the way it will with regular blue.

I don’t use graphite for a lot of reasons, most of them having to do with strip tradition, but also for the practical reason that I don’t like to erase, and levels rarely get rid of graphite on scans in the digital stage with the success that I want. Most of the time, though, I sketch with pen, scan that into the computer, blow it up, and print it out in light blue. Then I ink on top of that, often cleaning it up a little with a col-erase.

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

I use the computer almost exclusively for coloring, using a Cintiq screen to draw my colors. I’d like to learn watercolor, though, but I doubt my ink would stand up to it.

What type of paper do you use?

I use a commercial printing heavy paper stock, Hammermill 11x17 100# Color Copy Cover. It goes through my printer, which is important, but because it is a color copy/laser paper, it has a coating that makes it slick (which I like) and that makes ink dry fast (which I also like). Since it’s designed to go through printers in high volumes, the ink has to dry fast or otherwise it will gunk up the rollers. This helps me because I drag my hands all over my page while working, and when I used Bristol it would ALWAYS smear.

I get mine at a commercial paper supply company called XpedX. I don’t know how widespread they are, but they have them in Atlanta and Austin, TX, so I assume they’re in a lot of places. It’s around thirty bucks for 250 sheets, which comes out to WAY cheaper than Bristol.

What thing(s) do you hate to draw?

Hands. I stink at hands. I practice, but my big problem is that my hands are shaped weird. My knuckles become concave when my hand it relaxed. It makes for an efficient fist – I’ve never broken anything boxing or fighting – but a REALLY lousy model, and as such I’ve always had trouble with them. I’ll keep trying, but they’ll probably always look a little wonky.

Do you buy your supplies from big chain art store catalogues/websites or a local one that you physically go to?

I mostly buy from a local store, Binders, that carries LOTS of comic supplies. If I know I’m gonna be on a tear, I’ll order a bunch of Pentel cartridges from Jetpens, but mostly it’s Binders.

Are there any rituals that you do before starting to draw?

Not really. I’m drawing pretty much all of the time, so I do it whenever I have a spare minute.

Do you listen to music while you draw and if so what genre?

The music that I listen to is generally instrumental, and generally relates topically to the subject matter on which I’m working. When I did the pirate book, I listened to lots of pirate movie soundtracks. Phillipe Sarde’s Pirates, John Debney’s Cutthroat Island, Eric Wolfgang Horngold’s stuff, Hook, Pirates of Dark Water, plus swashbuckling-sounding music like Willow. For the Foreign Legion book I listened to a lot of North-African-inspired music, again mostly working to film scores. I have a real affection for Jerry Goldsmith, who can keep to comfortable western structure while incorporating a lot of regional/ethnic elements into his pieces.

When I’m inking I listen to podcasts, NPR, and audiobooks. This American Life is a perennial favorite, as is Stuff You Missed in History Class, which I think is produced just a little way down the road from my school. Lately I’ve been working my way through the Patrick Tull readings of O’Brian’s Aubrey/Maturin series.

Did you read comics as a kid and if so what was your favorite?

I read a lot of strips. Calvin and Hobbes was at the forefront, and from middle school onwards I really dug Bill Amend’s FoxTrot, which is a significant influence on my dialogue pacing. I also liked looking at Kelly’s Pogo as a kid, but didn’t really READ it until later. Ditko’s first ten Spider-Man issues.

I also had that Burne Hogarth comic adaptation of the first half of Burroughs’ Tarzan of the Apes. It was a big, hardcover book – not a collection of his Tarzan STRIPS, but a genuine book (I guess you’d call it a graphic novel – it was huge, and drawn to fit the format). I don’t know how much it influences my work – Hogarth is EXTREMELY stiff and beautifully illustrative, and I don’t think I’m either – save for my penchant for making my protagonists fight exotic animals hand-to-hand.

What is or was your favorite comic strip?

These days, it’s a toss-up between Roy Crane’s Captain Easy Sunday run and Richard Thompson’s Cul de Sac.

What was your favorite book as a child and do you still own a copy of it?

It may have been that Tarzan book. If so, yeah. I had a lot of favorites.

Did you have any formal art training and if so where did you receive it?

I studied art at Murray State University straight out of High School, but aside from a few things here and there it didn’t really inform the direction that I ended up going. It gave me a basic overview of Photoshop, which helped a lot later. What was most beneficial about my time there were the peripheral classes that I took – a LOT of English classes, history classes, theater and film. I changed majors half a dozen times.

When I figured out that I wanted to do comics, I applied to SCAD-Atlanta for my MFA. Every craft has rules and structures, and I wanted to actively study them so that I could be the very best that I could be. My primary professors were Shawn Crystal, who does a lot of Marvel work, and Nolan Woodard, the colorist. I learned a LOT from both of them. Now I teach alongside them, and am proud to do so.

Do you feel that the Internet is a blessing or a curse?

Oh, a blessing. It makes everything so much easier. I can order reference books easily and find just about anything I need. Well, no, I still have to hunt for a lot of stuff, but it does make it a lot easier. I don’t care for its insistence on brevity. I’m terrible at returning e-mails because I treat them like letters, writing quite a bit. But that’s how correspondence should be, I think. This survey is a good example. I’m sure everyone else would write one word or the other for this question, and I’m too full of hot air.

Did either of your parents draw?

My dad can draw, but doesn’t, never really developed it. He took his storytelling in different directions – he’s a mystery novelist, and a choral music composer, and often a librettist. My mom’s a violinist. My granddad drew. He was an architect. He designed Epcot’s Mexican Pavilion, and a lot of mid-century modern buildings in the Orlando area, including that angular Cavalry Church off the interstate downtown, and a chunk of the airport. He did a painting of Kelly’s Pogo reading to all the little animal children; it’s in my dad’s office. A lot of my relatives are architects, and I have an aunt who is an illustrator.

Who in your life is/was the most supportive of your art?

There really isn’t anyone is ISN’T. My wife is at the forefront. She’s very patient with me, and has allowed me much freer rein to pursue my career than her logical and pragmatic nature probably felt comfortable with, with no complaint and lots of encouragement. My parents were always supportive. Both have creative jobs, but treated them like jobs. They were always fine with me doing anything provided I treated it like work, put in the hours, did my best. No waiting for the muse to hit.

Do you keep a sketchbook?

I fill up about four a year in addition to the project-specific ones that I keep for the Crogan books. Most of what’s in there is terrible, but a quarter or so usually yields good results. I make my own sketchbooks using the department’s perfect-binding machine, using Bristol for the cover and Hammermill 28# color copy paper for the interior, usually around 200 pages or so. Before we had the glue-binder, I used the contact cement-and-clamps method of binding. The sketchbook is where I work out all of the pre-production for the comics – designs, dialogue, thumbnails, as well as preparatory sketches and from-life observations, that sort of thing. I’ve collected a lot of my sketchbook work into a book that I have on my website – if anyone is interested, it can be found on just about any current blog post.

Have you ever taught cartooning/drawing and if so did you enjoy the experience?

I teach currently, at SCAD-Atlanta, and just finished my third year as a professor. We have an undergrad and a graduate program. I love it. I love being in a position to help these students (who show a real single-minded devotion to their craft) learn to hone that craft, as well as help them with the career side of things. They’re really an incredible bunch. Teaching also helps me to articulate principles that I find affecting my own work. It keeps me constantly examining our medium and striving to better it through my own work and through instructing the next generation.

Do you feel that talent or passion is more important in drawing?

Passion. I never use the word “talented” when describing someone, because it almost doesn’t matter. To me, saying that someone is “talented” is no more a compliment than noting someone’s height. It’s a given. One is born with a certain degree of innate ability, and whether or not it is developed has more to do with passion that what’s initially there, though folks with talent are probably more likely to cultivate their abilities. But I’ve seen a lot of talented folks whose work doesn’t amount to anything, and some folks who have had to teach themselves to draw through uphill struggle and who make fantastic comics. If teaching has taught me anything, it’s that the ones who try the hardest produce the best results. Flaubert said, “Talent is just long patience,” and the “developed” talent we see is just that – patience and tenacity.

Do you collect anything and if so what?

I don’t collect anything as objects for their own sake, only for what they can do. I do have an inordinate amount of books, but I read them and ruin them. Books are the one big thing on which my wife and I disagree. I want to keep any book that I may someday return to, or pull a fact from. Though I can rarely remember exact quotes, I’ll remember exactly where in a book I read something, and usually be able to flip to it and pull out a quote. The Flaubert quote above is like that – I remembered the quote but not who said it, and so I picked up the book in which I read it (L’Amour’s Education of a Wandering Man), flipped to that page, and pulled it out. I hate to get rid of books, because each one yields gems worth retrieving. And I love having them at easy disposal. Were it up to me, you wouldn’t be able to see our walls. That’s my ideal house.

Liz is more minimalist, and more of a sharer. She thinks books should go out into the world. She also doesn’t like clutter. So I keep adding shelves to my studio and trying to keep the upstairs rooms from being overwhelmed, and provided that I’m not ridiculous about it we keep a comfortable neutrality in which I’m granted a great deal of leeway.

If you were an animated cartoon character who do you think you would be?

The old guy from the Aristocats, only about fifty years younger. Or Gomez Addams. Either way, I’m enthusiastic and tend to knock things over with exaggerated gestures, and challenge dinner guests to fencing matches.

Are you a righty or lefty?

Righty, though every couple of years I try something with my left hand to make sure I can still work if something happens to my right. I can usually scratch out some legible image, though to develop it would require a great deal of time.

If you weren't an artist what would you want to do for work?

Whatever field I went into, I knew I wanted to teach it at the college level. My dad did that, and it was my one career definite. Geez, I can’t think of anything I’d like to do a tenth as much as what I get to do. Maybe prose, maybe animation preproduction, but I guess those are still almost the same thing. I planned at various points in my life to be a martial arts instructor and an Episcopal priest, but I’m too out of shape for the former and ill-suited for the latter. Let’s hope comics don’t disappear any time soon. What a terrifying prospect, to find a career you love with all your heart and have to pick something besides.

In one or two sentences describe your drawing area.

Meticulously organized, not because I’m an organized person but because I’m so naturally disorganized that if I don’t have a place for absolutely everything then I pile everything up and lose track of all of my tools and papers.

Do you play any musical instruments?

I play a lot of instruments at a very amateurish level. Guitar, piano, bass. I can scratch out a song or two on violin, cello, concertina, and accordion, but they sound terrible.

If you could give one piece of advice to someone who wants to pursue drawing as a career what would it be?

Follow through. Practice, read, take classes, practice, practice, practice. Nothing substitutes for output.

Who is your favorite artist?

Geez, that’s a tough one. Comics-wise, probably Pierre Alary or Guy Davis, on a purely aesthetic level. Ridley Scott and Wes Anderson for film. Glen Keane. Geez, I can’t answer this one. If we encompass all of the arts, including writing, then George MacDonald Fraser wins, hands down.

This is Chris’s awesome submission for the Team Cul de Sac project. You can learn more about Team Cul de Sac here.

Thank you very much for your time Chris!

1 comment:

Mike Rhode said...

I love Chris's work because Chris and I love the same underlying source material - heroic historical adventures like Beau Geste or Captain Blood or Hornblower. If you recognized these names, or you're just looking for a good pirate tale, check out Crogan's family.