One of the great things about living near Charlotte, NC is Heroes Aren’t Hard to Find. It’s a terrific comic book shop—great selection, helpful staff, girl-friendly. Though I live too far from Heroes to go there on a regular basis, I do get to enjoy their work at least twice a year. Once is during Free Comic Book Day, which is wonderfully set right around (or on!) my birthday each year, and once is just about a month later, when Heroes puts on its popular Heroes Con.
This year at Free Comic Book Day, the delightful Chris Schweizer introduced me to an up-and-coming comic artist Jackie Lewis. Though her undergraduate degree is in theatre, she’s a recent graduate of SCAD (Savannah College of Art and Design) Atlanta with an MFA in Sequential Art. She’s currently working on a book for Oni Press to be released
next year. Jackie came back to Charlotte for Heroes Con June 10-12 and I had a chance to sit down and talk with her.
Good Comics for Kids: Thanks for taking the time to talk with us. Can you tell us a little about how you got started in comics?
Jackie: I guess it all kind of started when I was about eight years old. I started reading whatever X-Men and Wolverine comics I could find at the grocery store, but it was a pretty passive interest. Then, when the X-Men Adventures cartoon started in the early 90′s, I was completely hooked. I had grown up loving He-Man and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, and those pretty much prepared me for loving comics, but the X-Men cartoon is what made me such a committed comic book reader.
As far as actually drawing comics, I had been drawing since I could hold a crayon. When I started reading comics, it was like everything clicked. I knew that I wanted to be a comic book artist, that this was what I wanted to do with my life. Some time in high school, though, I started thinking that it would be impossible for me to actually do sequential art for a living, so I got into theater.
What got me back into wanting to pursue a comics career was meeting Shawn Crystal at SCAD Atlanta. He talked, in a very real way, about the business of comics, and I was like, “Yes, that is what I want! That is what I want my life to be!” Through Shawn I met James Lucas Jones at Oni Press, who ended up giving me a tryout for the (as of right now) unannounced book I’m working on for Oni.
GCFK: Can you tell us a little bit about that book or about other projects you’re working on?
Jackie: I can’t say much about my Oni book at this time, except that it’s written by the awesomely talented Christina Weir and Nunzio DeFilippis. Plus, I have the best editor in the world, Jill Beaton! I should be finishing it up in early Fall, so it should hit shelves early 2012. I’m also working on a couple of different story pitches to show to some editors once I’m done with my work for Oni.
I grew up loving preteen and young adult fantasy adventures, so most of my stories lean in that direction. I like to write and draw the kind of stuff that I like to read, so I think my stories are pretty heavily influenced by things like The Neverending Story, The Chronicles of Narnia, and The Wizard of Oz, to name just a few. The pitches I’m working on are still in early development, but I will say that they are fantasy stories with young protagonists, intended for all ages.
GCFK: Who are some of your comic art influences? Are they fantasy related also?
Jackie: Now that I’m thinking about it, most of my influences are fantasy creators. Hands down, my biggest influence is Jeff Smith. I love his line work and textures, and his characters’ acting is phenomenal. Smith’s story pacing is awesome, and he delivers jokes with such skill. I’m constantly looking at his stuff to remind me of how much better I could always be. I had the pleasure of meeting Smith at Heroes Con 2010, and that meeting solidified my appreciation of his work. He’s such a gracious and down-to-earth guy, and he hasn’t let any of his success get to his head. Smith’s art is wonderful, and you can tell that he really cares about everything he does.
Charles Vess‘ art is also beautiful. I’m mostly familiar with his illustration work, but I recently picked up Rose, and Vess’s work in that is gorgeous. I love the delicacy of his line, and his painted work does a wonderful job of setting the mood in every panel. Of course, I can’t deny that I’m very influenced by Disney movies, especially Glen Keane‘s work on The Little Mermaid and Beauty and the Beast. Keane’s work is in animation, but he’s in the business of storytelling just like I am, and his character design is great. I definitely draw a lot of inspiration from artists that are mostly known for their superhero or slice-of-life work, but there’s something about Smith, Vess, and Keane that really speak to me.
GCFK: Do you have any advice for young comic creators, especially those who might be interested in going to an art college?
Jackie: My best piece of advice is to read as much as possible! Read every book you can get your hands on! Read reviews of books online. Find out which books inspire the people that have inspired you, and read those too! Observing what great creators have done and are doing is invaluable. Learn what makes good storytelling, good acting, and good art. A great place to start is with Will Eisner, who is a comics legend. Pick up Eisner’s Graphic Storytelling and Visual Narrative, and work your way out from there.
Also, go to comic book conventions! You’ll get to meet people working in the business, and you can glean so much information from them. Bring your portfolio to the conventions. Editors sometimes have scheduled portfolio critiques, and they’ll give you feedback so that you can learn how to improve. (With that said, don’t approach a creator at their table and demand a critique right then and there. Wait for the scheduled critiques. That’s just etiquette.)
Also, read comics news blogs like Comics Alliance, Newsarama, and Robot 6. Stay informed about what’s going on in the business. If you are interested in art school, you have to find the right one for you. Learn as much as you can about the schools you’re interested in, and visit them if possible. I thought I might want to go to art school, and I liked SCAD Atlanta’s reputation, but I wasn’t sure it was for me. However, when I visited the school and met with Shawn, I knew that SCAD was exactly what I was looking for. Getting my MFA has opened so many doors for me, and I’ve met so many editors, writers, and artists that I would not have met if I had not gone to art school. Art school has been the best decision of my life.