December 6, 2013

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Interview with 3 Artists from the Periscope Maiden Voyage Kickstarter

Long-time Panel Patter readers know that I'm a big fan of the creators that make up Periscope Studio, from writers like Jeff Parker and Paul Tobin to artists Colleen Coover, Erika Moen, Lucy Bellwood, and many more.

Usually working on projects for other publishers or self-published efforts, this time the studio has taken to Kickstarter to publish six art books from a half-dozen of their collective. Showcasing their variety of talents or giving them a chance to try something that may not work in the venues for where they are best known, these books provide a way for fans of art books or the creators themselves to own a fancier version of their stuff.

These six books feature art from Ron Randall (Trekker), Paul Guinan (Boilerplate), David Hahn (Erfworld), Natalie Nourigat (Home Is Where the Internet Is), Erika Moen (Oh Joy, Sex Toy), and Benjamin Dewey (The Tragedy Series). Each one is 32 pages long, sized 7.5" by 10" and will be in full color.

The reward tiers for the Kickstarter are extremely well put together. For only $5, backers can get digital version of all six art books, a nearly unheard of low price for a digital tier with that much content. (As of this writing, over 130 people have taken this option.) For $15, you can get one of the books (selected randomly) and for $50, all six art books can be yours in physical form. At $95, a special collection edition hardcover can be yours. There are other tiers as well.

I was able to pin down three of the very busy creators associated with the project, Erika Moen, Natalie Nourigat, and Ron Randall, to talk about their careers, working at Periscope Studio, and the Kickstarter.

Small samples from the artbooks
Panel Patter: For those unfamiliar with you, tell us a little bit about your prior work.

Erika Moen: I'm best known for creating autobiographical and educational comics about sex and sexuality. I've done this in my autobio series, DAR! (darcomic.com), and my current sex toy review/sex education comic Oh Joy, Sex Toy (OhJoySexToy.com)

Natalie Nourigat: I’m best known for Between Gears (Image Comics), but I have also worked on It Girl & The Atomics, and the comic adaptations of Husbands and The Thrilling Adventure Hour.  My new book with Jamie S. Rich comes out this month and it’s called A Boy & A Girl (Oni Press).

Ron Randall: Well, I started working back in the early 80's, mostly at DC. I worked on Swamp Thing, Warlord, Justice League International and lots of other stuff. I've drawn a Venom series for Marvel, Predator and Star Wars series for Dark Horse. And I've also I created the science fiction series TREKKER for Dark Horse and that's been my "signature project".

Panel Patter: How did you get involved with Periscope Studios?

Randall: I was one of the founding members. Some of the local cartoonists would get together occasionally over a cup of coffee for some "shop talk". Eventually the idea came up that maybe we should get a studio together. So, we went about collecting some of our fellow Portland cartoonists, found a space, and it just kind of took off.

Nourigat: I interned with the studio in 2008 and returned to the studio after graduating from college.

Moen: I started hanging there on my lunch breaks from work around 2007 and then became an actual member in 2009.

From Natalie Nourigat's Artbook
Panel Patter: Why do you prefer working as part of a studio rather than on your own?

Moen: It's an amazing resources, both in terms of collective knowledge (from business advice to artwork feedback) and the tools available (giant, oversize scanners and printers and cintiqs!). These people are my family and I look forward to seeing them every day.

Randall: Actually, I like the combination, so I have a home studio as well. Sometimes the isolation is good for creativity and productivity: fewer interruptions, easier to concentrate, especially if you are writing. But if you are lucky enough to be with the right group of people, the values of a studio are immeasurable. We learn from each other every day, we keep each other sane. We have tons of laughs together. You have solid pros all around you that can lend a hand if a deadline gets crazy, and you can return the favor next week. Also, for someone who's been in the business as long as I have, it's great to be surrounded by a lot of incredibly talented, creative younger artists who have a whole set of new tricks, ideas and skills that I can try to crib from. It helps to keep the work fresh.

Nourigat: It’s fun singing along to soundtracks in your pajamas for the first month, but after that you realize that you’d really rather spend your working hours around other people.

From Ron Randall's Artbook
Panel Patter: What's the funniest thing that ever happened in the studio that you can share?

Nourigat: The day Jeff Parker put on the Nekomimi stands out in my mind.

Randall: Oh, that's a tall order.  There are so many moments. We've had screaming howler monkey toys flying from one end of Periscope to the other. We've used a Sharpie marker to draw the Kool-aid Man ("Oh Yeah!") on a wall we were having removed when we expanded a couple years back.  But, okay, one of my fondest memories is from years ago. At the studio, every day there are periods when there's a lot of talking, bantering, etc.

Moen: I microwaved a bag of vegetables that had just turned and I totally fumigated not only the entire studio but also the hallway and even up to the elevators. They still talk about it to this day, even though it happened four years ago. GET OVER IT, PEOPLE.

Randall: And then there are times when it's absolutely quiet. Everyone is lost in their own creative process, maybe listening to headphones, maybe just concentrating on a task. During one of these quiet episodes-- I mean, it was just silent. A roomful of cartoonists all hunched over their tables, working away. And one of our former members suddenly raised his head and out of the blue just declares, "You know, I think J Lo's star is gonna rise again." Everyone stopped drawing, looked at each other for a second, and then we all just exploded. It was pretty classic.

Panel Patter: Who are your creative influences?

Randall: I could list a ton of folks here, but the two poles that I move between are Al Williamson (EC Comics, Flash Gordon)  and Joe Kubert (Tarzan, Sgt. Rock, Hawkman, ect). Al has immaculate craft, elegance, balance, restraint. Joe has passion, power, vitality. And both are consummate draftsmen.

Moen: Ellen Forney, Dylan Meconis, Lucy Knisley, Dan DeCarlo, Jeff Smith

Nourigat: Miyazaki.

From Erika Moen's Artbook
Panel Patter: Talk a little bit about your particular art book. What can potential backers expect?

Moen: People know me for drawing limited palette comics that tend to be of an adult nature and/or irreverent. My artbook is a total departure from that type of work; it's a collection of my iconographic mixed media paintings. I'm a huge fan of medieval saint portraits and have reinterpreted that artistic style into my own lighthearted take, featuring a diverse array of people with every day objects that I portray as "sacred", from artichokes to anal beads. They're lushly illustrated, incorporating watercolor and fancy patterned and metallic papers.

Nourigat: People have really liked the straight-to-pen sketches I’ve been making of people I see on the street over the last year, and I colored a lot of my favorites for my art book.  There are a couple of comics, some illustrations, and character designs, too.  I wanted to show my range and include something for everyone.

Randall: People will see a lot of different aspects to my art than is on display in the comics work I've done. In comics, I always try to put the "storyteller" first-- to sublimate any individual drawing to the needs of the story and have it work in the context of the other drawings around it. In the art book, the illustrations get to stand on their own. And they are all over the map-- hobbits, headless horsemen, mermaids, dragons, you name it. Sketches, pin ups, commission pieces, things in pencil, things in full color-- it's a pretty exhaustive collection of previously unseen stuff.

Panel Patter: What does an art book offer fans of your work that maybe your other creative projects have not?

Nourigat: Have you ever tried to describe an artist you like to a friend?  It can be tough.  Like, “I’ve got this one-off issue she did, but normally she draws in this other style…” With my art book, you can hand that to someone and they’ll see exactly what I do.  And you will have a piece of history, assuming my plans to go on and dominate the world of storytelling come true.

Moen: This is a look purely at my illustrative artwork, something I rarely do.

Panel Patter: Why do this project as a Kickstarter?

Randall: Printing books ain't cheap. On our own, we couldn't finance a project like this. And none of us are in the business of being a publisher. Kickstarter gives us the freedom to work together on a special, unique project and bring some of our best, most fun work into fans that could never otherwise get their hands on it.

Nourigat: Kickstarter allows us to be very accurate in our numbers when we order the book.  It’s such a gamble self-publishing, KS takes a lot of the risk out of it for us and allows us to make a quality product.

Panel Patter: How are Kickstarter and similar outlets changing the nature of making comics?

Randall: It opens up the potential for cartoonists to appeal directly to the fans-- to fund the projects that are closest to their hearts, that they feel the most passionate about, that are the most personal to them, without the concerns of broad commercial appeal that so often hamper and compromise a creator's best, unique vision. This is how we'll be seeing the very best that many cartoonists have to offer in the future.

Nourigat: Good ideas from little-known creators have more of a chance of coming to fruition.  The audience has a direct effect on what gets made.  Creators have an option for self-publishing that won’t break them financially, and allows them to know their demand before ordering the product.

Panel Patter: What's the next project from you that readers can look forward to seeing? 

Nourigat: A Boy & A Girl!!!!  I’m serious, buy this book.  I am so proud of it, and I think so many people will like it

Moen: I'm cranking away on my current series, Oh Joy, Sex Toy! (OhJoySexToy.com) That eats up all of my time and I absolutely love it.

Randall: I've been extremely luck to be able to return to my own personal favorite project lately, Trekker. And Dark Horse has partnered up with me to help with the return. In April, a brand new Trekker trade paperback is coming out, "The Train to Avalon Bay". I'm very excited to be back to telling Trekker stories after a long absence, and looking forward to getting the book into the hands of a lot of new readers!

Panel Patter: Thank you all so much for your time, and best of luck on the Kickstarter.

If you'd like to back the Periscope Studio Kickstarter, you can do so here.