SAI is excited to introduce this guest post from editor-in-chief/founder of BoomTube, Steven Miller. Miller was lucky enough to grab an interview with local sequential artist and rising star Stephen Green, an artist whose work is beginning to garner national attention. Check out the goods below and don’t forget to check out BoomTube for more interviews and thoughtful critique on your favorite comics & comic artists!
Stephen Green is a really great guy, and a humble one. To know him, you wouldn’t necessarily know that he has worked with some of the top talent in the comic book industry or he’s about to be a household name among comic fans. Stephen just completed a two-week apprenticeship with sequential superstar Sean Murphy (Joe the Barbarian, Punk Rock Jesus, The Wake) and has three major projects in the pipeline. I sat down with Stephen over some beers at Foxy Loxy Café and Print Gallery in Savannah to talk with him about how he got into comics, what he’s working on, and how he got to spend two weeks with one of his idols.
First off, what got you started doing comics? Was there something specific?
Yeah, when I was a kid, the X-Men cartoon and Batman the Animated Series got me into comics. The first comic I bought was X-Men Adventures #6.
Ooh, based on the Animated Series! (Wolverine and Sabretooth were on the cover)
That’s right, and I threw it away because my mom made me think they were Satanic. But, that was my first comic. I’ve always drawn, but I didn’t decide to pursue comics as a career until I was 25…so, much later. I didn’t know you could do comics when I was younger, I didn’t know people did it for a living. I knew who Jim Lee was and stuff, but I didn’t know he was a real guy that I could be. […] It was actually animation that got me into comics, not necessarily comics, but when I did it, I fell in love with it.
Now I know that you weren’t “classically” trained, so how did you learn to draw, what tools did you use?
I taught myself at first, by doing a lot of figure drawing. I bought a lot of figure drawing books. But eventually, I got my hands on Scott McCloud’s stuff. His books and the Will Eisner books– (laughs) which I’ve never read, but I know you like, gotta have ‘em to study comics. Scott McCloud’s Making Comics book was hugely effective and the Andrew Loomis stuff was really effective. [I did a] lot of copying other people. But teaching myself was really hard. If could go back and do it differently, I would, but you can’t do that. So, I just kind of begged, borrowed, and stole what I could. And I started going to shows, just like everybody else did. When I decided that I thought I was good enough to take my stuff, I put together some pages and went to a show.
Do you remember what show that was?
The first show I took a portfolio to was Dragon Con of either 2009 or 2010. That was the first show I took my work to. It was good and bad. No one told me to hang it up, no one wanted to hire me, but a handful of guys said, “you’ve really got something, keep working”.
I mean, that’s good feedback for your first time out.
Yeah, you gotta do it. You’ve gotta go to shows. You can’t be living in a bubble. You’ve gotta get it out there and let someone give it a thumbs up or down.
So you’re here in Savannah now, and you’re from Alabama. How did you find your way here?
I was at Auburn doing Industrial Design, and when I decided I didn’t want to do that, and I wanted to do comics, Kendra (my wife),mentioned going to SCAD (Savannah College of Art and Design). I did not know you could go to school to do this shit. I didn’t know you could go to art school to do something other than graphic design or something. I was completely ignorant of art…that’s what Alabama will do for you. (laughs) You can put that in the interview.
I didn’t end up going to school here, but I did love Savannah. I loved that all these artists lived in this small town.
Somehow or another, Rachel Deering saw my work and liked it. She asked me to do some work for it and I couldn’t. After I turned it down, I found out that Stephen King had backed the book, and then Scott Snyder (Batman, American Vampire, The Wake) was attached to it, and I thought “damn it, that was a mistake.” But fortunately, Justin Jordan (Luther Strode, New Guardians) sent me an email and said “are you sure you don’t want to do it?” and my schedule did clear up, so I took that gig…it was pretty much just getting cold called by Rachel. I took it, it’s a great way to get your foot in the door, in an anthology, because people might not give a crap who I am, but with Tim Seeley (Hack/Slash, Revival, The Occultist), Scott Snyder, and Tradd Moore (Luther Strode, All-New Ghost Rider), they’re gonna at least look at the book. My work will be right there with those guys. It comes out this month from IDW.
So Sean Murphy (who is also connected to Savannah in that he’s a SCAD alumni) developed an apprenticeship that would culminate in a book called Café Racer. How did you come across it?
I discovered Sean Murphy’s art on DeviantArt, before he hit it really big…around the time of Joe the Barbarian. Sean is definitely the person I’m most influenced by. […] When he announced the apprenticeship, I thought it was too good to be true. How awesome would it be, especially if you never went to school, to study under your hero, your idol, to hang out with this person and see how they work? I remember talking about it over some beers and said ‘I’m gonna enter’. I know I won’t get picked, because everyone wants to draw with Sean Murphy, but I’d give it a shot. Fortunately I had some pages that were fresh from an Image pitch I did, so I sent ‘em and he got back to me. So you could imagine how excited I was.
Tell me a little about this apprenticeship and what was involved.
There were six chosen, one guy couldn’t make it, he was a really awesome animator. Something happened and he couldn’t make it, so there were 5 of us. We went to Portland, Maine, we stayed at Sean’s house for two weeks. We all stayed together, ate together, drew together, we drank beer together. It was one of the best times I’ve had in my life.
What did you do while you were there, did you work solely on the book, or did he run you through skill-building exercises?
At first, we did a couple of conceptual drawings. Every day, Sean would give a lecture and we would take some of the things we talked about in the lecture and put it to use in the artwork. Initially we were doing character sketches and environment sketches, and we did work on the pages there, as well. Sean was right there with us working on his book. We did a lot of work on the book there, primarily.
How was the work divided for the project?
Sean and his wife, Katana Collins, co-wrote the book. Sean is doing maybe 10 pages of the book, Joe Dellagatta is doing some work on the book, too. He wasn’t at the school, but he’s a good friend of Sean’s (and mine, coincidentally). He’s doing the work that the guy who couldn’t make it was doing. Sean picked all these artists that were completely different. I think the artist I am most similar to is Jorge. But he picked Clayton McCormack from Boston. He does a horror web comic. It’s great. Tana Ford from Boston as well, does a lot of self-published lesbian slice-of-life stuff, fantastic stuff. He picked Corin Howell, also from here in Savannah. Corin has a great webcomic. She was the youngest and really awesome. She has kind of like a Disney-animated style. And Jorge Coelho from Lisbon, Portugal. And Jorge has been a professional artist for 10 years. He’s done work at Marvel and Boom Studios. He’s a seasoned vet, but who wouldn’t want to study under Sean?
You had Skype sessions with Fiona Staples (Saga), Scott Snyder, and Becky Cloonan (Demo, Demeter). And I understand that you were joined by a special guest?
For one weekend, Sean brought in Klaus Janson, who really needs no introduction. He is most famous for being Frank Miller’s inker in the late 70s and 80s. He worked on his Daredevil run and Dark Knight Returns. He is one of the greatest inkers of all time. So he’s just a hugely influential comics artist with a 30+ year career. He has inked some of the most important comics that Marvel and DC have ever made. So he came in to lecture and critique our portfolios, which was crazy. Just for the record, I did not gush at him. But I wanted to. Klaus looked at our work, gave us pointers, lectured on having a career in the industry. He took time with each student to ask questions “why did we do this, why did we do that?” Klaus is incredibly wise and just an incredible teacher and charming person. He was fantastic. To see Klaus Janson ink a Sean Murphy drawing was the most– you know, as an art aficionado and comics fan, –was just unbelievable to see. Sean has never been inked by anybody really, I don’t think, and to have it inked by one of the grand masters– who is one of his influences– is kind of a circle of awesomeness.
What can you tell me about the story of Café Racer?
Café racer was a style of British motorcycles in the 30s through the 70s. The racer culture, the rocker culture, was the biggest in the 60s. So the book is a historical fiction. Based in London, and café racers were these rebellious teams that would race from café to café, hence the name of the bike. They were reckless and it was just a really fascinating culture of motorcycles and rock n’ roll. Sean’s main character is Orchid. She’s half-Japanese, half-British. She’s kind of a…I don’t know if refugee is the right word.. She’s the beautiful girl you see on the cover. She has this amazing motor bike that has all the strengths of a Japanese speed bike and a British café racer, and everyone is wondering where this bike came from and why it’s so fast. So that’s what the story is about, her and her bike. It’s one story split into vignettes, which is why we each got do it, and each got to design a character in our vignette. My character I got to design was Rei, Orchid’s dad. He’s the guy that designed the super-bike. Orchid weaves all the stories together.
Who else contributed? Was it just you?
Sean, you know, knows everybody…he called in some favors. There’s a nice pinup gallery in the book featuring the who’s who of comics. You’ve got Dave Johnson (100 Bullets, Detective Comics), Fiona Staples, Dustin Nyugen (Lil’ Gotham, Justice League Beyond), Andrew Robinson (The Fifth Beatle, also a SCAD alum), Matteo Scalera (Secret Avengers, Black Science), Tommy Lee Edwards (1985, Bullet Points)… A lot of big time people contributing to this.
What did you take away from the experience?
Sean is an incredible teacher; he knows so much and is so good at transferring information. It would be impossible to talk about everything I learned, but the biggest thing was what is important and what isn’t…just talking about art, specifically…what things matter, and what things don’t. Teaching yourself, you kind of develop your own sense of what is important…sometimes that’s good, sometimes it isn’t. Learning to prioritize things really helped me out a lot.
And probably with a group like that, you experienced that everyone has some shitty drawings sometimes…
That’s right! Well you know, there weren’t many with this group, I felt like the weakest link there– I don’t if any of the other artists would say that too– but yeah, we all failed on a couple of things, but we were there to support each other, too. So I definitely learned to be more confident.
My last question is, for those aspiring artists reading, what is your advice to them?
I would say…all the clichés are true. Practice a lot, go to shows. But I think the best thing is, a common thread among my favorite artists–Sean Murphy, James Herren– they all draw with conviction. Sometimes they don’t have the most realistic or beautiful drawings, sometimes they do, in fact. Just like a good punk rock band with a terrible singer, it’s just about conviction. Drawing with a real sense of authenticity I think, that’s what I would tell people to do. One thing that Sean preaches is if you’re just generic, you’ll be just another cog to be replaced, and that’s true. You can’t replace Sean because he draws in his own way and I draw in my own way– I’m trying to still figure out what that is–but you know, I would encourage people to do that. It’s good to draw with conviction and that’s the biggest thing.
Stephen Green is a sequential Artist working in Savannah, GA. In The Dark will be released this month (April 23rd) by IDW and will be available at your local comic retailer. Café Racer will be available soon directly from Stephen (email), at conventions, or through Sean Murphy’s dealer, Essential Sequential. Stephen is currently working on some other top-secret projects, including one developed by Stan Lee.