Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Dinosaurs and President Lincoln - Evan "Doc" Shaner

NickFury, by Doc Shaner

Waaaay back when, I'm going to say in April, I conducted an interview with the artist Evan "Doc" Shaner. He's completely freaking awesome in every way, a'la Mary Poppins, and you can find his art on his blog, Comic Twart, and his DeviantArt page, and I give you my word that it is all fantastic.

Various things happened between then and now that rendered me mentally incapable of posting this interview, but rather than giving excuses I will just shoulder the blame completely. It's my fault, and Mr. Shaner has been completely understanding and awesome - again - about the whole thing. So here, finally, is his interview, with some brief words from me beforehand.

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Fact: Evan "Doc" Shaner is a good artist. His style exists somewhere along the lines of "cartooning," but putting a label on it detracts from the sheer fun each image evokes. This guy is absolutely someone to watch, and I am confident sooner or later his name will be one of those household varieties. Currently he has it listed on his blog that commissions for September are open, but there's only one spot, so maybe read this interview after you go sign up for a commission. The art featured here was either posted on Comic Twart ("Sandmen") or his blog (everything but the "1990 Gettysburg" banner, which can be found here).Thanks again to Evan.

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Hideous Energy: First up, where'd you get the nickname "Doc?"

Evan Shaner: "Understandably, most folks think it's because of Doc Savage. While I like the character, I didn't even know anything about him until about a year or two ago. My father's a music teacher in the school district I grew up in, and my middle school band director called him "Doctor Shaner" for no real reason. Somewhere along the way he started calling me Doc and it stuck with the other kids."

HE: How long have you been drawing?

ES: "I've been drawing for as long as I can remember. As a kid all I ever wanted to be was a newspaper cartoonist, but when I started getting into music in high school I just stopped drawing as often. Somewhere in college I got the bug again and started thinking about it seriously as a career. I took a couple art classes and lucked into the staff cartoonist job at the university's newspaper and I've been drawing since."

Walking Dead by Shaner

HE: What instrument did you play in high school?

ES: "I played trumpet and piano. I went to college as a music major for the first two years. After two years of it it dawned on me that they didn't have the kind of degree I was looking for and at the same time I was more into cartooning. I still play regularly but I certainly enjoy it a little more now that I don't view it as a job."

HE: What's a normal day like for you?

ES: "I usually get up around 9AM and go to bed somewhere between 12AM and 2. The better part of the morning is spent answering whatever e-mails need immediate attention and then walking our dog. I'll work the rest of the afternoon until my wife gets home around 5, have dinner and hang out a little, and then go back to work. Right now I'm splitting time between commissions and pages."

HE: On your blog you list yourself as a "dinosaur enthusiast." So what's your favorite dinosaur?

ES: "Probably somewhere between the Triceratops and the Stegosaurus. I can't pick just one, they're all interesting. My brother and I had every dinosaur toy we could get our hands on as kids, because seeing that kind of stuff and being told it actually existed is mind blowing to a kid. T-Rex, Brontosaurus (or Apatosaurus, whatever they're supposed to be called), Pterodactyl; those are all cool but I remember seeing pictures of Triceratops and just thinking that was wild because it didn't look like anything else to me."

HE: I remember finding out about dinosaurs, and seeing pictures, and not knowing what to think. At some point I wondered how the artists knew what color the dinosaurs were. What if the T-Rex was actually neon-pink? Stuff like that.

ES: "I used to think about that stuff all the time. For all we know they were all covered in feathers and heads in the middle of their chests."

HE: Your blog has some art from a project called "1990 Gettysburg." What is that exactly?

1990 Gettysburg

ES: "1990 Gettysburg is kind of a joke journal about myself when I was 5 and my imaginary friend Abe Lincoln. When I was a kid everybody had their imaginary friends, and not wanting to be left out I said that mine was Lincoln because I couldn't come up with anything original. I mentioned this one year when I participated in Hourly Comic Day, and liked it so much I kind of put it to the side as something I wanted to revisit later. After getting out of college I stopped doing humor comics for a while and after a year or two of it I was really itching to write some humor stuff. I decided to dig up that concept and called it 1990 Gettysburg because I was 5 years old in 1990 and as a kid I thought the Gettysburg address was where Abe Lincoln lived. So technically "1990 Gettysburg" is a street address. I haven't been able to work on it recently, but I'm dying to do some more when I get the chance."

HE: Okay, I'm going to urge you to immediately begin work on a "1990 Gettysburg" book.

ES: "It's something I really want to get to at some point, no matter what the format. I love doing the comic book stuff, but my heart will always be in newspaper strips. That medium took up a great deal of my childhood and is a large part of the reason I'm doing any of this."

HE: You contribute to a blog called "Comic Twart." What exactly is a "comic twart," and how did you become involved with them?

ES: "The Comic Twart started on Twitter (Twitter + Art = Twart). Declan Shalvey, Mitch Gerads, Chris Samnee, Tom Fowler, Mitch Breitweiser, and myself started using the same themes for daily sketches to the point where we were writing each other on Twitter and deciding the next day's theme. Within a day or two, someone suggested putting a blog together to post everything on the same page, and Chris and his wife Laura were nice enough to set up the whole thing. Then very shortly the group ballooned to 16 guys, all of which are extremely talented artists that I'm very proud to be associated with."

"Sandmen" by Doc Shaner.

HE: That sounds like a great creative exercise. Have you ever used the site to help you get past a creative roadblock?

ES: "It is a great exercise. I'm not sure that I've used it to break mental blocks, but it's definitely helped me stretch creatively. Plus, the best thing about the way we've done it so far is it really pushes all of us to do something new. Francesco's usually the first one out of the gate on any given week, and from there we're all trying to top him and each other."

HE: Aside from your personal blog, Deviant Art page, and the Comic Twart blog, where can someone who likes your art find more?

ES: "As of right now the three you mentioned is about it. I'll occasionally post thumbnails and roughs through Twitter but for the most part there isn't usually a whole lot of finished stuff."

HE: Would you say the internet is a valuable resource for an illustrator now? I saw on your Deviant Art page you had some problems with idiots using your art without your permission; do things like that ever make you want to pull back? Abandon the blog and lessen the online presence?

ES: "The internet is absolutely a valuable resource for an illustrator, but like everything it has its ups and downs. I've made connections in the last two years that would have been impossible without the internet, connections that have allowed me to keep doing this and grow as a professional. The downside is occasionally your work will be taken and used for t-shirts or what have you, and unfortunately that's a risk you take when you post art on the internet. I've only had it happen to me twice now (that I know of) and both times it's been resolved amicably, but I know that it's not always that easy. The best you can do is try and keep on top of those kind of things, as long as it doesn't take up too much time. The problem is obviously I don't own most of these characters so it's tough to come at it from a legal standpoint, but most of the time these guys are ripping off the folks who own the characters too. I'm definitely more careful now about which work I post and how I go about it. It can be a mixed blessing and one of those issues that's still kind of problematic concerning how things are distributed online."

HE: "What's the illustration process like for you? Do you use a lot of digital tools, or are you more old school?

ES: "I try to spend as little time on the computer as possible. It's nothing against technology, my eyes just tend to hurt after staring at a computer screen for too long, so I try to do as much without the computer as possible. It all depends on what's right for the piece in question. Nearly everything is penciled and inked traditionally, then scanned and colored in photoshop. I work in ink wash and watercolor as well, but like I said it depends on what I'm working on at the moment."

HE: Do you have anything in the works that readers can expect on comic shop shelves?

ES: "I'm working on a couple things right now, one of which I'm not sure how much I can talk about. I've also been working on something with the guys at Mysterious Adventure Magazine, who have been very patient with me and my schedule. Things are just starting to ramp up right now so at the moment I'm in the process of figuring what I can get done in the coming months."

HE: Are the pages you're working on Top Secret Stuff?

ES: "The pages I'm working on currently are for a short story in JAM! Tales from the World of Roller Derby. It's not that it's a big deal secret, I'm just not sure how much I'm supposed to be saying about my involvement in it."

HE: Would you say you've already "broken in" to the industry?

ES: "That's a tough thing to quantify. I'm getting work at a couple well-known publishers, but that doesn't necessarily mean I've "broken in". Certainly compared to a couple years ago, or even one year, I feel a lot more rooted in this community. I've met and talked with a lot more folks in the industry, all of which have helped me further my career. So I guess that's my long winded way of saying I'm not sure. It may be a while before I could even begin to know."

HE: Conversely, do you view yourself as an "up-and-comer?

ES: "Again, I'm not sure. That's up to other people. In that I haven't been doing this long I suppose I could be labeled as such, but it's really not up to me. That's for publishers and readers to decide."

HE: What's the most difficult aspect of illustration for you?

ES: "The concept stage. Part of the luxury of getting to draw all day without having a specific gig all the time is I've got the time to work out technical problems. So now it's mostly the design aspect of whatever I'm working on. Not that I've got the technical part down 100%, but I definitely spend more time on the concept."

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