As a lead-up to the Emerald City ComiCon some of the guests, members of Periscope Studios, agreed to answer some questions for us. Based in Portland, Oregon, Periscope Studios is home to nearly two dozen comics creators. Participating in this interview were Steve Lieber, Ron Randall, Jeff Parker, David Hahn, Dylan Meconis, and Terri Nelson. Check out what they had to say!
Steve Lieber: I blame David Hahn and Matthew Clark. They started it.
Ron Randall: Periscope grew out of a few of us meeting at a local coffee shop once a week. Eventually, Matthew, David, and I believe Pete Woods floated the idea of a studio. The thing has grown up incredibly well. It’s amazing to have this many creative and temperamental artists that get along as well as we do.
Lieber: I’ve gotten this one wrong every time it comes up.
PCZ: What are the biggest benefits to having formed a studio?
Lieber: Feedback and backup.
Jeff Parker: I can junk up this office with all my comics material instead of my home.
Randall: Both of those, sure– a place to bounce ideas, drawings, and work experiences off of an extraordinary pool of experienced fellow-professionals.
David Hahn: I have people on which to take out my anger. And also, it’s a good place to bounce story ideas around.
Lieber: There’s a lot we can learn from each other, and it ranges from simple fact-checking and “does this hand look okay?” stuff to weighty questions about the meaning of a story or the direction of a career.
Dylan Meconis: The mentoring has been pretty amazing. There isn’t much space for coyness in a room that small, so everybody’s pretty free with both compliments and criticism, and you know what’s coming out is honest.
PCZ: Peter David has mentioned a few times that there was an attempt to form something like a Union for Comic Book professionals a few years ago and Dave Sim (along with others) came up with the Creator’s Bill of Rights nearly twenty years ago. Do you foresee a time when there is some sort of Union or coalition for Comic Book creators or do you think that the studio dynamic is as far as things will go in that respect?
Parker: Lieber actually has better thoughts on that, but he’s not sharing. I think creators could get a lot of the results they want from publishers without having to unionize, and joining groups like artist studios is the way there. Being more informed of the whole industry instead of being alone in your attic imagining how it all works, that goes pretty far.
Lieber: I’ve got more, but it’s all so inchoate. Suffice it to say, at this point, it’s still a enough of a battle just to get cartoonists to read their own contracts or have a lawyer look at them. the studio dynamic, which fosters greater trust and communication between freelancers, can help quite a bit.
PCZ: Do you think the current trend of Marvel and DC signing creators to exclusive contracts is good or bad for the industry and why?
Lieber: I think the trend of not offering me one needs to end now.
Randall: It’s a good thing. Ideally, it influences creators to stay on their titles for an extended– which these days means one or two years– run. This gives some creative continuity to the title. I think that’s something the regular readers enjoy.
Parker; Hear hear! I don’t really see a downside except the occasional annoyance like I can’t work with Pete Woods on one of my Marvel books because DC has him wrapped up.
Terri Nelson: Exclusives, short of a spouse with a straight job or paying out of pocket, are one of the only ways that a creator can get health insurance. So if you believe that, you know, keeping the creators alive is good for the industry, then yeah.
Lieber: Absolutely. They use a LOT of artists.
Hahn: The number of people not under contract far out weigh the number of creators that are under contract. That’s part of the reason it’s called “exclusive”.
PCZ: What would be your advice to someone wanting to break into the comics industry today?
Lieber: Work constantly, and be alert to any opportunity.
Hahn: Strive to be at least as good as the best in the field. Don’t look at the pros who suck and say “I can do better than that.” That should not be your benchmark.
PCZ: How do you think the advent of on-line digital comics will affect the Comic Book industry and is the industry behind the curve in embracing the digital medium?
Lieber: I think that’s Dylan’s question. Dylan? You’re under forty. What do you think?
Meconis: Well, it’s certainly become a great testing ground – both for comics and for the talent producing them. People who previously would’ve had no easy entry into the industry can acquire an audience, showcase their work, receive critical feedback, sell merchandise, and just generally build up a great case for having their work marketed professionally, where previously they might’ve been looking at ten years of rejected submission letters.
So far though, it’s still been a much greater boon to indie comics creators using that momentum to move to the book publishing industry (or to make a mint on merchandise sales), rather than to people looking to join the mainstream comics industry as contract talent. I’m not sure Marvel, DC, etc really understand how to tap the web yet, whether for recruiting purposes, promotion, or profit. To be fair, not much of big entertainment does yet, either.
PCZ: How digital are the projects you work on?
Lieber: Right now? Line art in brush and ink, touch ups and toning digital. Sometime in the next decade? Probably straight from the wacom to the publisher.
Hahn: I scan and manipulate my pencil drawings in photoshop, then print out and ink traditonally, then digitally send them to the publisher. My paycheck is analog, though. There is no direct deposit for freelancers.
Meconis: Close to Lieber – drawing by hand, corrections and color by computer. Digital is still a bit slippery when it comes to producing line-art; there’s less friction and sensitivity drawing on a pad or Cintiq. However, I have drawn entire pages digitally when technical demands call for it. And it rocks.
Nelson: Judging from the amount of fistfights over the Cintiq that happen here daily, I’d say every project in the studio is at least partially digital. I just finished a bunch of character designs done mostly on the Cintiq and it’s wonderful for fixes, but it still doesn’t give the same line quality that you can get out of a bottle of ink and a paintbrush.
PCZ: What do you enjoy most about attending conventions?
Hahn: No curfew.
Meconis: I’m on the planning committee for Portland’s Stumptown Comics Fest, organizing all of the speaker panels. I have to say that my favorite part is getting to see all the artists in one communal place; there are always crazy group dinners and hotel room parties and elaborate napkin drawings.
Nelson: The aroma.
PCZ: Without giving specific store names do you frequent local comic book stores and, if so, do you find them a good place to connect with fans?
Lieber: I used to go weekly, but not so much anymore. If I’m connecting with fans, it’s online or at a con.
Hahn: I go weekly, but no one really cares who I am, no matter how hard I try.
Meconis: I ran into you once, David. I care who you are.
Nelson: I go once in a while but I am generally in disguise.
PCZ: What do you love most about Portland?
Lieber: It’s full of book people, and beer nerds, and volunteer bike mechanics. Our next mayor organized a show of comics art at City Hall.
Meconis: This is a city where it’s almost strange if you’re not an eccentric. Everybody has at least four bizarre passionate interests, so saying you’re a cartoonist elicits an “awesome!” rather than a nervous step backwards.
Nelson: There’s a vacuum cleaner museum. That’s kind of cool.
Randall: It’s a tough town to live in. If I were legally allowed, I’d be out of here in a heartbeat.
Lieber: Ron’s got one of them electronic whosits on his ankle, but he’s good people.
PCZ: Lastly, the most important question, Krispy Kreme or Voodoo Donuts?
Lieber: Stumptown coffee. When the coffee’s that good you can skip the donut.
Hahn: What? We can’t mention the names of specific comicbook stores we like, but now we are expected to endorse one of these donut shops? What gives? For the record, it’s Krispy Kreme. Voodoo Donuts= Emperor’s new clothes.
Meconis: I can handle exactly one half of the Voodoo Doughnut with the chocolate and the peanut butter and the Rice Krispies before I go into insulin shock, and I have to say, it’s a beautiful thing. But the maple bar with the bacon on it? That scares me.
Nelson: I’m sad that Voodoo Donuts aren’t allowed to make Nyquil donuts anymore. I’d eat a Benadryl donut, actually.
Thank you to the folks at Periscope Studios and especially to Steve Lieber for facilitating things. Stop by and say hello to the terrific creators of Periscope at the Emerald City ComiCon!