BREAKING INTO COMICS: AN INTERVIEW
I first "met" Derek Fridolfs on-line in September of 1996. We were both members of the FAO - Fin Addicts On-Line - a mailing list for fans of Erik Larsen's SAVAGE DRAGON comic. He's been the most serious of all the comic artist wannabe's I've ever known in my time in comics fandom. As of this week, he's a "wannabe" no longer. His inking can be found gracing 11 of the pages of the current issue of WOLVERINE (#147). That's just the beginning, though, of a promising career.
Like many, he first started reading comics as a result of G.I. Joe and Transformers, almost 15 years ago. His artistic leanings have been evident since way before then, though. He grew up as that kid in school who could draw stuff. It didn't get serious until his last year in high school when he realized that drawing stuff wasn't just something he liked to do on the side, but something that he actually loved to do. And although he went to college as an English major on a full music scholarship, art became an even bigger interest for him, thanks in large part to another animated series, BATMAN. Soon, he joined up with a group of fellow artistic souls and began to push his creativity. It was there he first started learning how to be an inker, and for a pretty pragmatic reason.
"I was one of the last ones that joined the group," Derek says. "Most already were pencillers, but they needed someone to ink them. It was only by that chance that I was introduced to starting out as an inker. And I've loved it ever since. I think my own pencils and inks favor my own tastes and were more for my own enjoyment. But I feel that I can bring more as an inker to those I get the chance to work over. Plus, it's a joy getting the chance to work over so many different talents and trying to make a total package."
After receiving his Bachelors in English, Derek went to animation school near Los Angeles. In today's comic market, this isn't a bad backup plan. More and more comics artists are finding work outside of comics, particularly in animation.
So how does an English degree and an animation school background get one the job inking on Wolverine? It's a curious mix of skill, good timing, and networking. Like so many young hopefuls, it begins at the annual International Comic-Con: San Diego, a/k/a San Diego Comic Con.
"After the San Diego Comic Con this past August, I had high hopes that I would finally, after a few years of trying, land something," Derek explained to me in an e-mail conversation. "I showed my samples around to various editors and companies, and had a few places interested in what I could do. And keeping my options open, I hit up both comics and animation.
|"After the San Diego Comic Con this past August, I had high hopes that I would finally, after a few years of trying, land something."|
- Derek Fridolfs
"On the animation side of things, I met with Sony and WB, both of whom I received storyboard tests to work on (for STARSHIP TROOPERS and BATMAN BEYOND respectively). I worked on those first, since those were the places I heard from right away. But animation, like comics, is very tough to get in... not only due to the need to have great talent and ability (which I still have much to learn), but also due to how the companies hire. They're very seasonal, hiring enough to work on a show for a given amount of months and then laying them off until production begins either on another season or on a new show. In any case, I was pretty much out of luck on both, but was happy to have gotten the opportunity to at least get tested."
In San Diego this year, Derek ran across the DC Booth, where a signing was being held with STEAMPUNK co-creator Chris Bachalo, whom Derek had previously talked to and inked samples from. Bachalo was interested enough to ask Derek to do some samples for him for his then upcoming STEAMPUNK series. Derek didn't get the job, and Richard Friend eventually filled the position.
Shortly thereafter, in stepped CrossGen Comics. Derek had met with art director Brandon Peterson at the convention and submitted samples there. After being one of some 900 inking submissions, Derek made the cut to the last 6 inkers for the position. Derek described the process to me:
"They took all the submissions and judged them off of the talent itself and not off of the names... be they long-standing pros or first time amateurs. I made it to the final phase, which [meant] they'd be sending me 3 sample pages to ink over and send back."
In the end, Derek didn't make the cut.
"Needless to say, by this point of time," he continues, "I was pretty much in a state of depression. It's one thing to spend a few years working on samples and mailing them off to companies only to not get a response back or to get a form letter saying they didn't have a position available. But it's another thing to actually have a few very high profile chances, one right after the other, just not get close enough to land themâ€¦
|"Needless to say, by this point of time, I was pretty much in a state of depression."|
- Derek Fridolfs
"Well, eventually I decided to send a few emails out to some pros for some advice on what I should do next. One person that I talked to was Tim Townsend. I was pretty much surprised to hear back from him, that he had just talked with Chris whom mentioned my inks on the STEAMPUNK samples...how close I was to inking STEAMPUNK...but that they understandably wanted to go with a more proven talent on such a high profile creator-owned book. It lightened up my day to hear that. And I think just out of sheer pity from hearing my long sob story, Tim made me an offer that if I sent him a few enclosed samples, that he would get it into the right editors' hands at Marvel. It wasn't a guarantee for a job, but it was going to get through the door to the right people. It was a great opportunity and I jumped at it.
"It was only a week after I sent [the samples] to him that I actually got a call from Marvel. Editor Mark Powers received my samples that Tim passed to him, and he liked my samples over Joe Madureira that I sent, and thought I'd work well inking over Roger on Wolverine. Never would I have dreamed that a call, much less a high profile title like Wolvie, would come my way...and quickly. So how's that for inspiration? Sometimes, things actually do work out alright in the end. Keep pluggin' away on samples, and attending conventions, and anything is possible."
Don'tcha just love a happy ending? Come back here next week for part two of the interview, with plenty of tech talk about the art of inking.
In the meantime, pick up WOLVERINE #147. Derek inked pages 1, 4, 6, 10-16, and 22. Then let him know what you think.