A clumsy vigilantly hero who's afraid of heights. What could go wrong? Denver Brubaker discusses his webcomic Tales of a Checkered Man!
1. For the poor souls not already reading, please give a brief synopsis of your comic.
Tales of a Checkered Man is about an average guy who has an early mid-life crisis and decides to become a masked crime-fighter with the hope of helping to make the world a better place. The problem is he has no discernible crime-fighting skills, he isn’t in the best of shape, and suffers from a slight case of acrophobia. In other words he has the making of a terrible caped crusader. Despite the best of intentions, his actions come with consequences and reactions that eventually find him in way over his head!
2. What materials and/or software do you use?
I work half “analog” and half “digital”. I pencil and ink the comics on 11x17 Strathmore Bristol. I pencil using a traditional 4h lead pencil and ink using a combination of these great Mitsubishi brush pens I get through JetPens (shout out!), Micron pens, and India ink and brush – but about 90% of the inking is done with the brush pens. Then I scan them and finish up digitally. I use Photoshop for my clean-up and toning with a Wacom Bamboo tablet and then I letter everything in Illustrator using a lot of Blambot fonts.
3. Are there any books, movies, toys, artists, or authors that have inspired or continue to inspire your comic?
Oh heck yeah. Books? Alice in Wonderland is my all-time favorite book. I find something new in it every time I read it. Movies? So many to list…I love the original three Star Wars films, Hitchcock’s stuff, the Universal monster movies, lots of campy old sci-fi and horror B-movies especially from the 50’s, Pixar…man I could go on and on. Toys? As a kid of the 80’s I had all the great toys: Masters of the Universe, G.I.Joe, Transformers and lots and lots of Legos.
I could list off a slew of cartoonists I love, but as far as who/what inspired Tales of a Checkered Man more specifically…Charles Shultz, Sergio Argones, Bruce Timm, Mike Allred…probably Frank Miller and Mike Mignola as well. I have been told that my comic is a pulp/noir world filled with Peanuts characters. In fact someone even said that the Checkered Man is like Charlie Brown if he were a superhero.
I’m also a big fan of The Shadow old-time radio show. I love that stuff! I try and listen to it as much as possible while working on TOACM.
I listen to a lot of different types of music too, but I’m a sucker for a singer-songwriter like Bob Dylan. Dylan is a big influence on my work too, which seems unusual to people when I mention it. Did you know that the Changing of the Guard story line and all the strips in that arc are named after a Dylan album, song, or lyric? Trivia is fun!
4. Are any of your characters based on real people in your life?
Sure! I find a lot of my personality has manifested into the Checkered Man, though his acrophobia comes directly from my mom. Penelope shares a lot of elements with my fiancée, Jillian. Norb, the Food-O’s clerk is almost a direct caricature of a friend of mine back in Kalamazoo (you can find him on the forums over at hcrealms.com). Dougy and Sgt. Mulveny also share some qualities from people I know too.
5. Are there any actors you know you would want to play or voice certain characters in a movie of your comic?
You know I’ve never really thought about it much. I guess the only person I’d lock down would be Jillian as Penelope because their voice is one and the same. It helps that my fiancée is a darn fine actress to boot! I just cannot hear anyone else voicing that character...
6. What songs would you like in a soundtrack of your comic?
Something groovy and jazzy like Henry Mancini’s Peter Gunn theme…
7. What is your overall goal for your comic?
Mega-fame and riches, obviously.
Seriously, my goal at the onset was to make the type of comic I would want to read. That, and develop and improve my skills as a cartoonist along the way. I never really thought too much about a target audience or theme or goal beyond that. I never thought I’d find myself with a readership that spanned the globe! That’s crazy! Crazy, but really cool…I’m glad there are other nerds out there that like the same junk I do!
I know lottsa folks out there want me to put out a TOACM book(s), and I eventually will. I’m in no rush. I want to make sure it’s done on my terms. After that we can talk action figures, plush dolls, video games, pogs, and the like.
8. How has managing a comic impacted your life?
Well I’m still broke, so not too different!
It’s a little more difficult for sure. I spend a lot of my free time working on producing the comic. I don’t draw comics for a living. I have a 9-5, M-F “normal job” that pays the bills. Depending on the day that’s either a curse or a boon! LOL!
I will say that since TOACM launched in ’10 I’ve never been happier. Yes, I often times find myself stressed and frustrated; but never happier. I love making comics and I’m glad to be a part of the webcomics movement during this comics renaissance.
9. What do you do to advertise your work?
Not a lot really. Most of my readership comes from word-of-mouth. I tried ads and stuff with mediocre results. I have been an occasional contributor to the Comics Coast 2 Coast podcast and that helped, but mostly as of late it’s been Twitter. I’ve really found a lot of great comics, and picked up a lot of new readers from there.
And seeing as word-of-mouth is a great way to get the word out I gotta take a moment to plug some of my favorite webcomics and creators! My absolute favorite webcomic has to be Ellie on Planet X by James Anderson. That guy is crazy good and far too humble! I’m also a big fan of Mike Maihack’s Cleopatra in Spaaace!, Tom Dell’Aringa’s Marooned, Brock Heasley’s SuperFogeys, Adam Huber’s Bug, Mike Norton’s Battlepug…there’s so many great webcomics out there! Sean McLean’s Underwhelmed, Chad Sell’s Manta-Man, Jeff Couturier’s Horde of Neurons…I could go on and on…Little Guardians, Monster Isle, Space Base 8…man, I know I’m leaving some great stuff out here…
10. Web comics can be very time consuming and sometimes expensive to keep up. Often there is little reward in regards to money and sometimes public attention. Why do you do it?
Like I mentioned before, it’s because I love making comics. Webcomics are great because of the vast audience you can reach. Yes, it can be expensive and time-consuming but you can find rewards in the form of great comments from readers or discovering another cartoonist you admire/respect digs your work. I guess I do it because I don’t know what else to do? This feels most right. This feels most like what I should be doing and that’s A-ok with me!
Plus, making my own webcomic has introduced me to a wonderful group of fellow webcomic-making cartoonists! It’s a great community to be a part of!
I also would be remiss if I didn’t mention the fact that I’ve had some terrific help on the website building/maintenance side of the coin starting with my brother Brandon, then Nick Jobbitt, and now Doug Redman. Their help over the years has been paramount! Kudos all around!
11. Got any other projects we should know about?
Sure! I just finished up another set of original sketchcards for Rittenhouse Archives for their Marvel: Bronze Age trading card set which was a lot of fun!
Currently I’m working with Brock Heasley on one of his SuperFogey’s Origins bonus comics (colored by Jeff Couturier) which starts/ed on 8/10 and will run for several weeks. I’ve also recently begun a “Sketchcard of the Week” series where I take suggestions from people on Twitter and draw up a sketchcard based on one of the suggestions and offer it up for sale over on my StoreEny store.
In the near future I’ll also be contributing comics to Art Baltazar and Frano’s new Aw Yeah Comics series which kicks off in September 2012.
Beyond that I’m still working on putting together that TOACM book project too.
12. What advice would you give to aspiring creators?
Beyond drawing as much as possible, the advice I wish the younger me would have heeded would be to a) don’t be afraid to fail, b) don’t be afraid of constructive criticism, and c) keep moving forward.
Oh, and don’t take yourself too seriously. Have fun for Pete’s sake!
Thanks Denver! I have a follow up question for #2
Mat- I also ink traditionally then scan my pages. I started inking on vellum but began to question using such expensive materials only to scan my page and have no evidence of its quality. Now I ink on marker paper which seems to work identically for me (but I use brush pens). What are your thoughts on quality of paper when scanning and editing.
Denver- The rule of thumb I apply to my artwork in terms of supplies and material is whatever works.
I like Prismacolor markers, but I hear from people about how I should use Copics. Why? I like Prismacolor. That works for me. Whatever works. My frame of thought is that a good cartoonist can make good comics just as well with a ball point pen and a sheet of typing paper as with a fancy Cintiq. I don’t believe it’s the materials or the supplies as much as it is the artist wielding them. Ambition and talent are more at work there than a stylus or a Micron pen. A crappy cartoonist is going to be equally crappy drawing in Manga Studio as they would be on bristol board but I digress…
I pencil and ink on the Strathmore 11x17 300 series smooth Bristol for TOACM. Why? After trying out several different kinds, I felt this paper held the ink from the brush pens best in my opinion. As far as scanning goes, I’m a little odd because I don’t mind the scanner picking up the dirt, dust, and debris or any of my pencil lines, etc. I like it. I think it adds a rougher edge to the work. I scan at 600dpi in a grayscale setting on a Canon Imagerunner C5051 in one pass/scan. More often than not when I threshold out the line art, I keep most of those little ancillary lines, marks, etc. I guess I’m weird like that.
I suppose my point (if I have one) is that the “quality” of the work is in the eye of the beholder. I wouldn’t give up the quest to find that one paper stock that works best for you and the brush pens you’re using! It’s out there! And don’t be afraid to mess with your scanner and settings. It’s important to get what you want out your machines. They work for you, not the other way around!
Some good advice. Thanks again for taking the time Denver! Also thanks for the shout outs to other webcomics. That's what we're all about :)
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Thanks as always for stopping by! I hope you're learning a lot from these talented writers and artists. I know I am! If you have additional questions for our guest please drop us a comment in the comments section. Then head over to Tales of a Checkered Man as he dishes out a heaping helping of justice!
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