Back in 98 was that your 1st comic convention if not what and where was it?
J.M: That was an early one in Seattle, but not my first. I think I started going to shows, both as an attendee and as an artist, around 93 or 94 with some friends, and I’m not sure if Seattle or Portland, OR was my first. That Portland show was a Dark Horse show, with guests like Cam Kennedy, Tim Sale, John Byrne and others. Dark Horse was promoting Star Wars and Aliens pretty heavily, and it was my first look at pro pages.
I went there with a friend or mine, Carlos Lopez De Victoria (there’s a Rafael in his name too, but I can never remember in which order). I had done a bunch of character designs and a few pages for Carlos on some titles like The Lawless and The Vandals and we had a table there split between 4 of us if I remember correctly.
One of the show highlights was Tim Sale commenting on one of my costume designs, for a character called Dr. Eternity and really liking it. Dr. Eternity had sort of a Dr. Strange look in the face with a black spandex suit, a little red angular design work down the sides, a huge red spawn-like cape and a red ‘eternity’ symbol on his chest. He was hovering in the background with 7 or 8 other Vandals characters all in a power charge pose, exit stage left, at the bottom that all kind of blended together in a flurry of linework. Eternity stood out to Tim, and his comment on my work was ‘Use more black.’ Ha! Duly noted, Tim.
I showed my work around a bit at the show and the other comment I remember was either Karl Kesel or Randy Emberlain saying ‘ Well, I wouldn’t want to be your inker.’
Both Tim and either Karl/Randy were saying the same thing, but in two different ways.
What was the biggest change in your life you had to make to brake into the industry?
I think for me it was finally saying ‘yes, I think I’m ready’, and ‘yes, I can make a living at this’ and having faith that the right opportunities would be brought before me. Those points had to be tested and proven. What you consider ‘ready’ and what I consider ‘ready’ and what any given editor or art director consider ‘ready’ are all different things. If you’re good, you’re good, and there is a place somewhere for you in a growing market climate. But if things are rough out there, and there’s only so much to spread around, things can be a little more difficult. Me finally ‘deciding to do it’ led me down the eventual path to ‘breaking in’, and that happens many different ways.
As far as life-impact, what that meant for me was putting in a few hours of work in the evenings and weekends after coming home from my day job, doing a ton of study, comparing, contrasting, seeing what was working in comics, what wasn't, prayer, etc. So, basically, putting in the hours to get better and know more. It wasn't until years later that I heard of the 10,000 hour rule, that somewhat agreed upon benchmark of time & effort put into something before you become proficient at it. I've roughly calculated things backward, and 10,000 hours seem to apply for me now, with more and more all the time.
What do you prefer when your inking your work or another?
Flexibility and the authority to improve the penciled work. When I’m inking my own stuff, my pencils are a lot looser with scribbly indications as to shading and line patterns, which is fine since I know my own work. When I ink others, clarity is important, but I want whoever I’m collaborating with to know that I am going to put my imprint on things. I really don’t ink others’ work too often, as I am preferring pencil gigs.
Do you remember when you decided that you said to yourself I want to draw comics?
I’ve always wanted to draw, and have been drawing since I was 3 years old. I think I knew I wanted to draw comics in the early 90’s, with the launch of Image. But wanting to and knowing I could draw comics for a living were two different things. The knowing came years later after proving my work to myself. My early stuff stunk, it was all wonky, disproportioned, muscles on top of muscles, weak backgrounds. I had to iron all that out before I knew drawing comics could work for me. So I whittled away at my skill while starting my first career in Construction Management, estimating and managing multi-million dollar construction projects in and around Seattle. I did that for over 10 years before jumping into comics and art as a full-time thing.
Now there is that saying a man's/woman's home is his/hers castle?
For creative minds this is very true about their studio. It's amazing to see each view of his/her castle can be different from person to person on what is in there studio.
One artist stated that all he has is a drafting table, but another artist stated that her setup is massive. Is it true that you can get a climps into the mind of the creator? What does your castle say about you? It says I study a lot, I respect history and those who come before me, I’m reverent, I’m a little bit messy and a little bit organized, but I know where everything is.
Now what I noticed about your work is it is so rich details with such complex lines. Now I do know and I mean your work is very complex, because Im an inker myself. I have tackled pin-ups done my David Finch, Jim Lee, and now you pieces. I will say it right here and right now the work you put into your pencils would drive me crazy, but instead I find it incredible and inspiring. I know you tend to ink your own drawings, but have you ever inked another artist work?
Yes I have – when I was teaching myself how to ink, first off, what I did was not ink on another artists’ pencils. Instead, I inked over other inkers’ inks to learn their inking styles. Partly because raw copies of pencils weren’t really that available in print and were hard to come by. I would take any copies of a Scott Williams inked piece or one by Batt or Joe Weems or Terry Austin and I would head off down to kinko’s and get them printed out in blueline on some Bristol board and then I inked over their inks. That forced me to grind down into what they were doing. It wasn’t until a few years later that I found pencils showing up here and there in print form and I was able to see what the inkers were seeing and understanding how much interpretation and finish they were contributing to the final art.
I have talked about this topic with many colleagues on what it really means to be creatively independent vs company dependent. I know this topic is very broad snf covers so much ground. But lets start off with what would you say if this question was ask to you?
It’s a tradeoff really, known vs. unknown, security vs. freedom. It depends on what you value and how you want to structure your life.
From traditional to digital art many artist have to become a master of both, but many still prefer paper over digital. Knowing what you have done for the past almost 15 years have you consider doing everything digital?
I’ve thought about it, sure. I have a couple pieces that are 100% digital, but have stuck to producing traditional linework at least, then digital color work. I spoke with a very well known fantasy artist a few years ago who had, after years of traditionally painting his covers and images, converted to digital. I asked him how he’s liking the switch – his work is fantastic either way. His response was, ‘I don’t miss the paint fumes, but I really miss having an original piece of art in my hands when I am done with all the work.’ I tend to agree with him. I want something tangible in my hands when I’m done putting effort into it.
What do you enjoy about the creative process? Have you ever considered working in animation?
All the up front work is most enjoyable for me – the thoughts, the notes, the initial sketches, story ideas, plotting, etc. The groundwork, the foundation. It can also be the most difficult. Once things are worked into a script and it’s just down to drawing covers and pages, most of the heavy lifting is done. Page layouts are fun for me too, just another step in exploring possibilities and creating a foundation. Each step in the process has its exploratory and refinement side to them. I tend to lke the exploratory aspects more, but not by much.
Animation? I have considered it, but the tediousness of drawing one still after another after another after another and spending a whole week on 10 minutes of product vs. what you could achieve in that time working on comics bores me. Or at least my perception of it bores me.
Now it shows that you had a lot confidence and it shows in your work. But I know many young artist can get lost with all the books on how to draw. Or many seem to wonder should I or shouldn't I go to college? What type of training did you have? What books did you start reading?
I’m a self-taught artist. I had maybe one or two painting sessions when I was 8 or 9 years old where I painted a waterfall in a leafy-treed ravine with some rays of light shining through. Boring – no knights or dragons or anything an 8 or 9 year old boy likes, so that kind of turned me off on ‘classes’. I took another art class when I was in college getting my degree in Construction Management. It was a drawing class, and what I wanted to get out of it is direction on how to improve my drawing, anatomy, linework, etc. I ended up getting a ‘C’ in the class, mainly because the instructor didn’t like how realistic I tried to draw everything. Models would go around the room after a session and look at how we drew them and they’d stop at mine and say, ‘Wow, that looks exactly like me!’, and my instructor would frown. I’d say there was a bit of ego there. So, then again, this time in my early 20’s, I decided instruction wasn’t for me and continued self-teaching. I have a ton of books, everything from anatomy and perspective to books on castles, cities, weapons, animals, armor; I have a bunch of clip art books with great photos of landscapes and all sorts of things. Books on gothic architecture, advertisement composition, historical battles, mysteries of the solar system, writing structure, pen & ink instruction, medieval folklore, athletes in motion line the shelves. I’ve got a fair amount of other artists’ collections too – classic and comic, traditional and digital. I study everything because sooner or later I’ll draw it.
How do you approach a blank page?
Whether it’s a cover, a sequential page or a commission, I always start off with small thumbnail sketches. Covers and commissions are easier, and seem to come pretty quickly.
The sequential stuff is more interesting and involved as far as starting from blank and going to fill. When I’m reading through a script, my mind is working visually. I’m reading, and my mind is flashing camera shots. When those shots come, I sketch them down in the side margins of the script, or wherever they fit, and make some quick notes. I’ll go through the whole script this way, and I have a stack of them in my studio files with all the initial panel shots and notes I’ve taken.
Sometimes I’ll jot things down like ‘reference the Chrysler building’ or ‘Natalie Portman in the face’ – things like that to go back to later when I’m building the page.
After the script notes and scribbles are done, I go to a layout page, usually ½ the size of the final 11x17 art board, but not nearly as detailed. I’ll take all the script notations and begin arranging them on the layout page. If I have any thoughts or questions, I talk to the writer, and much of our fine-tuning comes out when I send off all the layouts to have them approved and/or tweaked before I go off to the final page art.
I don’t like modifying final page art, so I work hard to make sure everything is ironed out in the layout process.
From there it’s just a matter of transposing the layouts to the final page and digging into spotting blacks, gestures, props, lighting, facial expressions and rendering. And BOOM! Finished page. Really, it’s that easy.
Many artist have odd hours, but some have a 9 to 5 schedule that they work with. How to you structure you time?
My time is structured around my wife’s work schedule and our sleep time, and is maintained my our little dog Ginger, who lets me know when it’s time for breaks, lunch, play time, dinner time and family time. Seriously. If I need to burn some mid-night oil I will, but I try to get things done during the day.
I usually spend my mornings corresponding, reading, paying bills, packaging orders, booking hotels & flights, filing, updating websites and other ‘busy work’. Elf work. That’s what I call it. I need more elves.
When those things are done, and my mind is clear of clutter, I get to my studio. I have a 16-step commute down to my basement every morning with a big cup o’ joe firmly in hand. I’ll usually sit down, pray for guidance, turn on la radio, look around a bit, look at some art, some comics and summon up some creative energy from my surroundings.
I have a ton of art books, and reference books surrounding my drafting table and I’ll take a look at my excel spreadsheet work schedule and see what’s up for the day and start pulling reference and inspiration.
I generally have 20 or so things to work on at any given time, and bounce around from one to the other. This is for the non-published stuff with no editors involved.
I’ll work a few hours, and then nature of some form calls; either my brain is tired, I’m hungry, my dog is begging for us to change things up, or that ‘other’ thing. Most days I’ll have 3 or 4 sit down sessions of 2 to 3 hours with breaks in between. Saturdays and Sundays are just like Monday through Friday for me too, unless there’s a special event like a convention or a Seahawks game.
All in all, I try to maintain a good balance of faith, family, and fun, as all three are important, and fit my work in around all of it.
© 2016 Images Provided Jason Metcalf . IMages the Property & Characters Off All respecting Property. All rights reserved.
interview: D.Goines October 12, 2012
© 2016 Images Provided Jason Metcalf . IMages the Property & Characters Off All respecting Property. All rights reserved.