The Comic Pimp: Issue #26

Fri, March 5th, 2004 at 12:00am PST

Comic Books
James Sime, Columnist

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HOMEGROWN HEROES

In the comic industry it's been proven time and again that one person's work and creative vision can radically change the course of the entire industry. These creators come from so many different backgrounds and walks of life that it would be impossible to create a formula to discover where the next one of these visionaries will come from, but one thing is certain, each and every one of these creators had to start somewhere.

And that somewhere is probably their local comic book store.

You never know which new potential creator is going to be this industry's next Stan Lee or Dave Sim. The new voices that enter the comic industry every year are the ones that propel the artform forward every year, and that's why I spend so much of my time and effort to encourage those who are just starting out.

Around the Isotope it seems like we're over-flowing with homegrown heroes, those brand new comic creators that seem to come out of nowhere and set the industry alight. Creativity breeds creativity and it's exciting not only for the people making these comics, but it's also exciting for folks like myself who are on the entertainment end of the equation. It doesn't matter who you are, it's hard not to feel the buzz when exciting things are happening all around you, and especially when you can feel that the momentum is only growing.

But it's not just the Isotope, and it's not just San Francisco. It's everywhere.

Our industry's homegrown heroes are in every comic store in every state in the nation. It doesn't matter where the comic store is, or how well it's run, there are people coming through those front doors every single week who are interested in making some comics. And maybe it's one of these undiscovered talents whose creative voices will change everything. Maybe…

Live DVD's or CD's or magazines or novels or videogames comic books are equal parts art, escapism, and entertainment, but unlike the businesses that sell these other amusements, comic stores are more than just places to purchase that entertainment. Whether intentional or accidental, the evolution of comic selling has brought the culture of comics to the forefront of retailing. The reality of comic retailing in the year twenty-oh-four is that the comic stores are populated by a customer base that has been whittled down until the majority of all that is left are those who also want to make comics of their own. This dramatic change in who the comic store customers are makes understanding the importance of the comic store as a cultural oasis all that more important. Some retailers may choose to ignore the rising tide, while others may embrace it, but either way the comic book store as a cultural environment has become more pronounced than ever.

With a customer base teeming with raw creative energy, every comic store has the potential to be wild environments of mad creativity like CBGB's or Andy Warhol's Factory were in their heyday. The industry is primed for it. Comic stores are already one-of-a-kind environments in which the art form can thrive and they already act as a nexus for our culture. There has never been a better time in the history of the comic book store to nurture our homegrown heroes.

I know, I know. Someone out there in internet land has their panties all a-bunched up because I'm talking fucking crazy shit that has nothing to do with an actual business again.

Except I'm not.

Run a search on my store on Google, and you'll see what kind of free advertising and incredible word of mouth concentrating on a cultural environment has done for my store in two and a half years. Email ComicBookResources.com's head honcho Jonah Weiland and ask him why he offered a weekly column to me instead of some more established comic retailer. Walk into my store any day of the week and randomly ask one of my guests why they shop at my store instead of one of the 18 other comic book stores in San Francisco. If you have to be cynical about it I suppose you could say that focusing on the cultural and creative aspects of a comic book store is my "marketing and advertising strategy." Perhaps it is, certainly no ads in the paper or 50% off sales will ever come close to being as good for business as an amazing reputation and great word of mouth. Who wouldn't want to put their money down for a business that offers you so much more than the other businesses do?

And besides… it's a fucking hell of a lot more fun than sitting behind a counter and just running a damn cash register all day thinking about how all your customers are going over to that fun store instead of yours. That's never going to happen to me, because I'm going to keep redefining what a fun store is until the eleventh hour has come and gone and they pry my comic shop from my cold, dead fingers.

Comic customers want an exciting environment, where maybe things will be surprising when they walk in the door, or where maybe they'll meet some other interesting and creative individuals that they can talk about comics with, or where maybe they'll get to lend their support to someone's book that they see at their comic book store every week, or where maybe they'll get to hang out with the next Brian Michael Bendis or Grant Morrison… or where maybe they'll "get discovered."

And speaking of getting discovered, a few weeks back I wrote about one such Isotope homegrown hero, Manny Bello whose original graphic novel "Hench" is going to be gracing the shelves of comic stores everywhere in only a few short months. I wrote about Manny, not just because I know the guy and I'm damn proud of Manny for breaking in to the industry and achieve his dream of being a professional comic creator… I wrote about Manny because I'm excited about what creators like him represent.

Because, to me, Manny represents every homegrown hero who comes into every comic store the world over. So this week I'm doing an interview with Manny, and I'm going to show you some preview pages from his book both finished and unfinished, and I'm going to show you some cool stuff from his sketchbook archive, and I'm even going to show you one of his pages from when he did the Kubert Correspondence School. Because maybe you're an undiscovered homegrown hero just like Manny was only a few short months ago. And maybe his experiences and his story will encourage your experiences and help shape your story.

Because that's what it's all about. Creating something that will give the homegrown heroes out the encouragement, support and motivation to bring their dreams to life, and share their art with our industry.

Comic Pimp: I've heard Larry pitch "Hench" (the original graphic novel you're doing for AIT-PlanetLar), and I've heard author Adam Beechen pitch the book in a recent interview here on ComicBookResources... but I'm interested to hear what you think "Hench" is all about. Don't be afraid to inspire my imagination and my pocketbook, baby!

Manny Bello: "Hench" is about Mike Fulton, a promising athlete whose sports career never gets started because of an injury suffered in a college football game. He becomes a working class joe and starts a family, but misses the rush he got from playing football. Through a friend, Mike becomes hired muscle to a colorful variety of super-villains. He throws a punch or two, but he's not a murderer. He's really there for the grunt work. Although he started working with the baddies to satisfy himself, the good money becomes necessary to support his family. Things just get worse when he is thrust into a situation where he must decide if he should shoot a "hero" in order to escape. This is the critical decision that the book revolves around. Mike goes over in his head exactly how he got into this mess and he takes us along for the ride. Adam's story really blurs the line between good guys and bad guys and once you see the characters we came up with, it's easy to understand why that is. Mike, a very desperate man, just doesn't fit in this world of super-humans. When you get down to it, 'Hench' is a story about redemption. But, here's the kicker: It's also an homage to classic super-hero comics. Adam worked in the script several splash pages that "borrows" from the covers of famous hero books. You'll see homages to Action Comics #1 and Amazing Fantasy #15 and others. It's a nod to the great books and the artists that drew them.

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Comic Pimp: With this book being your first professional gig you kind of jumped feet first into the deepend. What was that like going from complete unknown to getting offered a graphic novel from AIT right off the bat?

Manny Bello: This has been a dream come true. Honestly, it really hasn't sunk in yet, but the more I see my name and work on a variety of comic websites, the more giddy I get! I was really lucky to get Adam's script. His own fame as a successful cartoon writer just adds to the excitement of it all. The response so far has been really positive and Adam and I are really proud of the project.

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Comic Pimp: Doing a whole original graphic novel has got to be a little terrifying…

Manny Bello: A lot terrifying! This book is over sixty pages in length and I'd never drawn a story longer than twelve pages before. Adam and I started slowly, exchanging ideas and once we decided on character designs, we jumped into the layouts. I would e-mail him a few pages at a time until the majority of the book was done and then I would go back and detail everything. Now, I'm in the process of darkening lines and adding grays.

Comic Pimp: So what did you do to convince yourself that you could do it? And more importantly, how did you stay disciplined enough to finish it?

Manny Bello: Divide and conquer, man, divide and conquer. That was the plan. Of course, I also took some time off from work, stopped playing video games, and for awhile, I didn't even visit my local comic shop, Isotope! All distractions were set aside and I maintained my focus.

Initial Character Designs

Comic Pimp: I won't lie, we missed seeing you around the shop, but I couldn't be prouder of you or happier for you. "Hench" looks great and you approached your first industry gig like a real pro, man.

Manny Bello: Thanks!

Comic Pimp: You've got a very interesting art style that really stands out, Manny. For the purposes of my column, we've scanned in some of your original pages in various states of completion so that my readers can check out your process. Hopefully giving folks an inside look at what it takes to make a book like "Hench" will inspire some more new creators to put pen to paper. Looking at your originals here I can see that you're working at the printed size and that everything's right there on the page. Nothing's digital, and you're not even inking it! How do you achieve that look with only pencil?

Manny Bello: Yeah, man, what you see is what you get! I've always been neat with a pencil, so just using a softer lead allows me to get a variety of tones, from very light to very dark. The real tough part is avoiding smears. I am left-handed so I have to keep a piece of tracing paper under my hand to make sure everything stays clean. When I took art classes at CCSF I mostly used pencil. I guess it just stuck with me but I'm also pretty good with drawing pens, too.

Unfinished Preview Pages

Comic Pimp: It's pretty obvious that you don't have a traditional comic art background. What are the artists who have influenced your work the most?

Manny Bello: I have a massive art book collection that I always look through. I have books on Gustave Dore, Aubrey Beardsley, Michelangelo, Egon Schiele, and Eadward Muybridge just to name a few. As for comic illustrators, I love Moebius and Herge. Their line work is exquisite. Old school John Byrne and Steve Dillon are also inspiring. And I also enjoy Scott Kollins, Paul Grist, Becky Cloonan, Ryan Yount, Tony Moore and Rob Osbourne.

Comic Pimp: What was the hardest step to go from just doing art for your own pleasure to adapting Adam Beechen's script?

Manny Bello: When I'm drawing my own stuff, I have an idea of how things should look. Drawing "Hench," I had to get into Adam's mind and come up with images that met his expectations. We worked closely in the beginning, though. He knew this was my first book and Adam was really patient. We were pretty much on the same page so things went pretty smooth. But, that's really due to the fact that Adam writes clearly. I just read it, then drew it.

Comic Pimp: You punched "Hench" out so fast it blew my mind. We're talking just over two months, and on your very first gig! I hear you've taken to icing your arm down at night. Do you have any other techniques that you use to keep you going?

Manny Bello: Yeah, I ice down my arm and I've started using Icyhot. I just went nuts as the deadline approached. Fortunately, I was able to get some time off from my retail job and concentrate on the book. I drew so much, so fast that my arm always got sore by the end of the day and I had to ice it up to stop the pain. It made me feel like a major league pitcher!

Comic Pimp: (Laugh)! Why don't you tell me about your art background? Do you have any kind of formal training?

Manny Bello: I took art classes in high school and at CCSF. I enrolled in figure drawing, illustration, and design. The courses were cheap and the teachers were good. That's a great combo when you can't afford the Academy of Art! I met friends at CCSF that were interested in making comics and over the course of a few years we put out our own books (about six of them) and even took them to Wonder-Con and APE. We went our own ways but we still keep in touch via e-mail. A couple of years ago, I also signed up for two Joe Kubert Correspondence Courses.

Comic Pimp: That's pretty cool! Tell me more about the Kubert Correspondence School, I always wondered what that was like. What kind of classes did you take?

Manny Bello: I took Story Graphics and Heroes and Super-Heroes. Each course came with an instruction book and a video with tips by Joe Kubert himself. Basically, you would mail in your assignment and in a couple of weeks they were returned with critiques. All of my returned pages were helpful and encouraging, my instructors told me I had potential and to keep practicing.

Kubert Correspondence School Page w/ instructor comments

Comic Pimp: How much did that cost you?

Manny Bello: The courses were a couple of hundred bucks each, I think.

Comic Pimp: Do you think it was money well spent? Would you recommend the Kubert Correspondence School to other aspiring comic artists?

Manny Bello: If you've got the money to spare, sure, it's worth it. I use tips today that they recommended when I took the classes a couple of years ago. But, on the other hand, if you just keep a sketchbook and draw every day, you're in good shape. Just drawing a still life for half an hour when you wake up in the morning is great practice for any artist, regardless of style.

Comic Pimp: I'm a guy who's always interested in what's coming up in the future, so let's talk about where you're going from here. Now that you've broken down the door and are on the inside of the industry, what's your next move?

Manny Bello: Larry Young has got some more scripts in mind for me. And I would love to work with Adam again, I thought we made a great team.

Comic Pimp: What about dream projects? Any dream projects you're dying to work on? Or creators you'd really like to work with?

Manny Bello: I love to draw mucky monsters, so Swamp Thing or Man-Thing would be awesome! But, there are a lot of talented writers and artists associated with AIT/Planetlar, and I would love to work with each and every one of them.

Man-Thing sketches

Comic Pimp: Since the whole idea behind the column is about all the other undiscovered homegrown talent this industry's comic shops have to offer, what advice or inspirational wisdom do you have to pass down to the aspiring comic creators out there who might want to follow in your footsteps?

Manny Bello: Just draw (or write) what you love. Somebody will notice. But, you have to show someone first, I can't stress the importance of that enough. I wouldn't have a book coming out at all if I hadn't taken that step to show someone my work. If they don't care, just move on to the next person. But keep showing people your stuff. I happened to get lucky on my first try, maybe you will too.

Comic Pimp: The soapbox is yours, baby. Anything else you'd like to add?

Manny Bello: I'd like to thank a few people. I want give a shout out to everyone at the Isotope (James, Kirsten, Jared, and Ryan) and AIT/Planetlar (Larry and Mimi and Brian Wood for working on the Previews ad). Hey, Adam, my partner in crime, we are definitely doing something special here! And last, but not least, there is Jennifer Lutes… I couldn't have done this without you.

Now that's a beautiful end to a beautiful column!

Thanks to Manny for sharing so much of his work and his experiences, and thanks to you for taking the time to join us again this week. And for all you creators out there who have been too shy to share your work remember… the comic industry proven time and time again that one person's creative vision and talent can radically change the course of the entire industry.

Don't you think it's time you took your shot?

You know the routine. You can pontificate on industry issues, preach the gospel of the great comic books or discuss this article on the Comic Pimp Forum.

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