Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Tom Neely

Tom Neely has been doing comics for quite sometime, but most people know him from his comic the Blot. Neely refined the best parts of his cartooning for that book, and it was appropriately well received. He's also an accomplished illustrator and painter. Find more of his work here:

1. can you describe your drawing routine---how often you draw, how many hour
per day---how you break up the day with drawing?

It varies. I try to draw a little bit every day, but sometimes "real" work gets in the way. On a good day I go to the studio around 9 am and I spend 3 or 4 hours drawing or writing. Morning is always better for my creative brain and usually the phone doesn't start ringing with freelance work until after noon. After lunch I go do my freelance animation work. Most of the animation work is done on the computer, so it doesn't satisfy my drawing needs. Some days I have to much animation work and I don't draw at all. Those are usually bad days.

2. how much revision/editing do you do in you work?

I spend a lot of time thinking about my art before I execute it. I make lots of loose notes and ideas in sketchbooks and my brain. My sketchbooks have more notes than drawing in them. I think I do all the editing in that thinking phase. Then when I start to create I turn off the editor brain and try to draw in a free and spontaneous way. I like to keep the drawing part more stream of conscious and without too much critical thought. After the drawing, my editor brain turns back on and I'll spend a lot of time looking at it and thinking about it and figuring out what I did and if it's any good.

3. talk about your process---do you write a script or make up the drawing as
you go?

It's different with every thing I do. With The Blot, it grew out of a random series of paintings. I then started to see a story forming and I spent a lot of time working on a thumb-nail outline for the book. I then spent the next several months reading and editing that. Then I did the full size pencils as a final edit and finally inked it all.

I'm currently working on three very different books and all of them are using completely different writing methods. The first is completely free-form. It's loosely based on a series of paintings I did, but I'm writing it as I draw it. I'm drawing pages that may not make it into the book. Drawing whatever idea seems to work and when it's all drawn I'll edit it into something that makes sense. For the next book, I've been working on a heavily detailed outline for over a year. I'm almost ready to start the "thumb-nail" sketches for it, but I keep revising my outline. It's a very complicated story and has taken many different incarnations over time, but it's finally starting to feel like the right story and I'm excited to draw it. The third book is a series of short auto-bio stories that are completely different from anything I've done. I'm actually scripting them and doing more detailed pencil drafts. I think this series is probably the most "traditional" approach to making comics. It's interesting to try different methods for different ideas.

4. do you compose the page as a whole or do you focus more on individual
panel composition?

I think about the entire book as a composition. I think about how every panel falls on the page and how every page falls in the book. I want to plan how the timing works for every page turn to reveal something new. I think about how pages will look next to each other and where space is needed between pages. It's like the whole book is one continuous painting and the whole thing has to work harmoniously together.

5. what tools do you use (please list all)?

Isabey series 62272 #3 watercolor brush is my favorite brush. Sometimes I use the fancy Winsor Newton Series 7 brushes, but I always end up preferring the Isabey. I've been experimenting with some synthetic brushes because I have vegan-guilt over the sable brushes, but I've yet to find a synthetic that works as well for me.
Dr. Ph. Martin's Black Star "Matte" India ink is my favorite ink. I also use Bombay colored inks for different things (like the red guys in The Blot). I've recently started using Rotring Rapidograph technical pens for some detail stuff, but normally everything is inked with a brush. I'll pencil with any old pencil that's laying around, but lately I've enjoyed some cheap Staedtler mechanical pencils for when I'm feeling too lazy to sharpen a regular one. I love Sanford Magic Rub erasers. I have a weird thing with other erasers- they give me an unpleasant tingly feeling when I rub them on paper. But the Magic Rubs don't do that to me. Holbein and Old Holland watercolors. Watercolor masking fluid. And one of my favorite tools is a big soft brush for dusting the eraser crumbs off the page because I hate doing that with my hand.

6. what kind(s) of paper do you use?

I usually use Strathmore 300 series Cold Press watercolor paper for my comics. It's fairly inexpensive and I like the tooth of that paper. For painting I use Arches watercolor paper. I really like the thick 400 lb rough paper, but it's expensive, so I only use that for art that will be in a gallery show. I use various sizes of moleskin sketchbooks and usually have 3 or 4 of them going at a time for different projects.

7. do you read a lot of comics? are you someone who reads comics and then
gets excited to make more comics---or is your passion for making comics not
linked to any particular love for other comics?

I read comics all the time. All kinds of comics. Today I bought some X-Men comics and that big Krazy Kat volume. I look forward to every Wednesday when I'll meet some friends for lunch and a trip to the comic shop to see what's new. And every time I go to a comic convention I come home with a suitcase full of new comics that I'm excited about. I usually come home from a convention inspired by all the cartoonists I have been hanging out with. But I don't necessarily find inspiration within comics to make my own comics. Making my comics is a more personal, isolated experience. When I'm writing my own comics, I usually stop reading any other comics and focus on my own ideas. Or I'll read some mindless super-hero stuff that I know won't influence me. So, I'm inspired by other comics, but they don't directly inspire my work.

8. do you make comics for a living? if not, how do you support yourself, and
how does this relate to your comics making process?

Sometimes I wish that I made comics for a living. But most of the time I'm glad that I don't. I'm glad that I have a "day-job" that is not totally related to my artistic pursuits. My day-job is doing a lot of freelance animation work for Disney and Nickelodeon and other clients. I spend half the day making 30 second animation clips of Winnie the Pooh and Mickey Mouse that will appear on Japanese cell phones. It's a soul-sucking grind sometimes, but it is different enough from my personal work that it doesn't use the same creative energy. Freelancing allows me lots of time to make my own art, and I'm very grateful for that. Sometimes I'm tempted to try to make it as a full time "Artist" but I know that that will come with a lot of sacrifices and compromises that I'm not willing to make. But wouldn't it be nice to just do what you wanna do all the time and not have to worry about a job? I dream of that happening someday, but I can't complain about my current situation to much.

9. do other artforms often seem more attractive to you?

Yeah... I'm often distracted by the allure of the "Fine Arts" and I try to do gallery shows with paintings and stuff. But every time I go down that road, I end up realizing that I prefer the world of comics. I've had a couple of brief peaks in my gallery career, but I'm always more satisfied with what I do in comics. Last year was an interesting year- I had my first graphic novel and my first solo gallery show around the same time. Both were personal successes, but to compare the two I'd say I enjoyed the graphic novel experience way more than the gallery experience. That seems to be a pattern with me. I went to art school for painting and ended up doing comics. I have a few art shows and I end up happier with comics. I'm beginning to think I should give up the painting stuff and just do comics... but the paintings often end up being the inspiration for the comics. Dealing with galleries is a big head-ache and I really hate the way that system works. When you make comics, you're in control of everything. It's much better. I'm also obsessed with music and I wish that I had more talent for that. But my brother got all the musical talent and I got the visual art talent.

10. what artwork (or artists) do you feel kinship with?

"Kinship" is a weird thing because it implies some kind of mutual relationship. But the following artists are a constant inspiration and I only hope that one day I'll be as great as they are. Off the top of my head: Rene Magritte, Lucien Freud, Philip Guston, George Grosz, Egon Schielle, James Ensor, Herman Melville, Albert Camus, Kurt Vonnegut, Franz Kafka, George Herriman, Floyd Gottfredson, Otto Nuckel, Lynd Ward, Renee French, Anders Nilsen, Zack Sally, John Hankiewicz, David King and many, many more.

11. is a community of artists important or not important to you?

That's a tough one. It's weird living in L.A. where there are so many great cartoonists, but we are so far apart and I never see any of them. The only local cartoonist I have regular contact with is Levon Jihanian. A few years ago we started an "art fraternity" called The Igloo Tornado. It was a lot of fun to meet regularly to critique, support and drink beer with each other. We also had a couple of art shows together. I think it is good to be around other artists because they understand you better than non-artists. But it can also be frustrating because all artists think differently. Every time I go to a comic convention and I get to hang out with other cartoonists, it's so inspiring and exciting. But sometimes I don't know whether a local community of cartoonists would inspire me to do more work or distract me from doing that work. I think about moving to Portland all the time. I'd love to be a part of that cartoonist community.

12. what is your parents/family's reaction to your work?

My parents have always been a great support of my interest in art for as long as I can remember. My dad is an English/Lit Professor and he always encouraged me to read interesting books. My mother was always encouraging creative activities like drawing and making puppets or costumes when I was a kid. She always encouraged any creative idea I had and I'm so grateful that they encouraged my love of art. Today they are still very supportive of what I do artistically. I'm not sure if they completely understand what I'm doing, but they are always behind me 100%. I love talking to my dad about books. I think he's read everything. A few weeks ago my dad was helping me cut up some boxes for the recycling bin and we discussed the anti-church themes of Moby Dick and whether or not Herman Melville was gay. How cool is that? For the past several years I've been giving them graphic novels for x-mas so they have a better understanding of what I do. My dad is now a huge fan of Joe Sacco, but my mom thinks I can draw better than any of today's cartoonists (even better than Chris Ware!).

13, what is more important to you---style or idea?

I'll usually take idea over style. I have known many artists who have great style but no ideas and they bore me. Ideas, even without style, can be inspiring. I can read a poorly drawn comic with good writing and be happy. But a poorly written comic with great art can be very disappointing. Sometimes I think people give style more credit than it deserves. It's like fashion. It might look great, but that doesn't mean it has any substance. Style gives you a more immediate reaction, so people tend to be more attracted to that. I think the best art and comics have an integrated use of style and idea. I strive for both in my own work.

14. is drawing a pleasure to you or a pain?

When I'm not drawing it's a pain. I will spend days avoiding it. Making art is a really hard process for me because I think about it so much. I often find myself very intimidated by the act of drawing. I'll agonize over every reason not to do it. I sometimes have weeks go by with no drawing and I start to get really depressed and listless. The longer I go without drawing, the harder it is to start, and the more depressed I get. When I start getting stressed or depressed I'll forget why I feel that way. Then my wife will tell me "Go out to your studio and draw!" And as soon as I pick up a pencil or dip the brush in ink, I'm the happiest I've ever been. I love the feel of dragging a brush full of ink across a toothy sheet of paper. That's pure pleasure.

15. when you meet someone new, do you talk about being an artist right away?
do you identify yourself as an artist or something else?

I don't usually offer it up right away. For my whole life I was always uncomfortable defining myself as an "artist" or "cartoonist." I didn't know which term to use or if I was worthy enough to call myself by such a title. But lately, when I'm at a random social event full of "normal" people who have "normal"careers like marketing or computers, I often find myself anxious for someone to ask me "What do you do?" After years of uncertainty, now that I have a couple of books out, I find it very satisfying to answer "I'm a cartoonist."

16. do you feel at all connected to older comic artists like steve ditko or
jack kirby---or does this seem like a foreign world to you?

I love everything they did. I grew up on that stuff and I will always think of that as "real" comics. But I don't feel any connection to it artistically. One thing I get from them is the inspiration to work really hard at what you love to do. I always have this vision of Jack Kirby being this insane, steam-roller of a cartoonist who never stopped drawing. I like to think this constant output lead to his more insane concepts like The Tomorrow People and Teen Turbo (the Saturday morning cartoon about a kid who turns into a car when he gets hot and bothered). I'm always inspired by the quantity and the quality of the work these guys were able to accomplish. But knowing what it's like to work for a studio makes me sad to think that such immense talents were exploited for corporate schlock. How different would the world of comics be today if Kirby and Ditko had been completely untethered? But they were a different kind of artist with different goals and ideas. So, I don't feel much of a connection.

17. do you ever feel the impulse to not draw comics?

NO. I've wanted to draw comics since the first time I saw a comic book. I made my first comic book when I was 6 yrs old. I've made side trips into painting and animation, but I always come back to comics. COMICS!!!

18. do you draw from life?

Yes. I think life-drawing is an important fundamental to everything. I draw from life all the time. I also look at a lot of anatomy books and study how the body works. Even though I draw cartoony characters, I like to think about how their muscles and bones would work. But life-drawing is part of a process. I'll draw something from life, then draw something from that drawing. And on and on... By the time it becomes a finished piece, it is very far removed from the original source, but it is still informed by the original life drawing.

19. do you pencil out comics and then ink? or do you sometimes not pencil?

I always pencil, but my pencils are really, really loose. Sometimes my pencils are just stick figures to lay out the composition of the page. I like to reserve a lot of spontaneity for the inking.

20. what does your drawing space look like?


tom Neely said...

i use "quotes" too much.

Unknown said...

Tom neely joined us to discuss his book, The blot. The blot is one of the more original comix I have read in awhile, and an enjoyable surreal journey.
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Annie Curtis said...

Fascinating thoughts right here. I appreciate you taking the time to share them with all of us.

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