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Eisner Nominee Sean McArdle on The Führer and the Tramp

The cover to The Fuhrer and the Tramp, featuring Charlie Chaplin flanked by Hedy Lamarr to his left and Erroll Flynn to his right. Adolf Hitler stares at them all from the back.

The Comics Experience crew is excited to support alumnus and Andy Schmidt mentee Sean McArdle on his Eisner nomination for The Führer and the Tramp!

(And he’s not the only Comics Experiencer with an Eisner nomination – lettering instructor Erica Schultz and alumnus Amy Chu both contributed to Where We Live: Las Vegas Shooting Benefit Anthology!)

Sean is joined on his tale of celebrity and WWII intrigue with Dexter Wee on art and Jon Judy as his co-writer. And we haven’t even mentioned the best part yet: Comics Experience and Source Point Press will be publishing the trade paperback this year!

Sean spoke with us about the project and the honors it earned.

Comics Experience: How did you initially conceive of the idea of The Führer and the Tramp? What was your process like for finding a team?

Sean McArdle: I originally thought up the idea for The Führer and the Tramp back in 2015 while watching The Interview. Kim Jong-un had threatened to assassinate Seth Rogen for lampooning him, and since that was 2015, and the world was more sane, that struck me as the craziest thing I had ever heard. A world leader wanted to assassinate SETH ROGEN? Now today, 4 years later, that news would be the third craziest thing that would be reported on an average Tuesday.

I couldn’t get that thought out of my head. I tried reasoning with myself thinking “Well, Hitler never threatened to assassinate Charlie Chaplin when he made The Great Dictator. Which inevitably lead to the thought “What if Hitler tried to assassinate Charlie Chaplin when he made The Great Dictator!”

At the time, my best friend and frequent collaborator, Jon Judy, was fresh off his graphic novel, Swerve, and I was wanting to collaborate with him on a project. Jon and I are both fans of Charlie Chaplin, the Golden Age of Hollywood and Franklin Delano Roosevelt, so this seemed like the perfect fit.

We had been collaborating with Dexter Wee since about 2007, and we had developed a very collaborative way of working. Dexter is a fantastic artist, and even better friend. I love working with Dexter. I was creating this book first and foremost for myself, and I wanted to enjoy the process of creating it, so Dexter was the natural choice.

CE: How did your mentorship under Andy Schmidt help you with crafting the story?

SM: Andy is a fantastic editor and mentor. He has a real knack for finding every illogical plot beat and out-of-character contrivance. Under his mentorship, I learned quite a bit about narrative structure and character development.

Andy also helped guide me through the weeds of Act 2, the middle part of the story where I would usually stumble. He helped me realize that my problem was I was barreling through the plot via a straight line to the finish instead of allowing the story to breathe, and meander a bit.

He compared it to Raiders of the Lost Ark saying that I went from Marcus Brody talking to Indy at the college about the Ark of the Covenant, to Indy getting on a plane and immediately finding the Ark in the Well of Souls. Instead I needed to send my characters on mini quests as Spielberg and Lucas did with Indy — meeting Marion in Nepal, acquiring the Staff of Ra, meeting Sallah, bad dates, Marion getting kidnapped…

That bit of insight has completely changed the way I approach storytelling.

Andy’s expertise and experience has been an invaluable resource.

CE: How did you go from Kickstarter success story to publication with Source Point?

SM: I first released The Führer and the Tramp as a webcomic in order to start building an audience and awareness, so that when I launched the Kickstarter, I was starting from a base of fans. Between that fanbase, my network of friends and family, and utilizing every marketing trick I’ve learned in the past 20 years in my day job as a graphic designer, I was able to reach 300% of my goal.

I think it was important too for me to view the Kickstarter campaign as only one component, and as a marketing and publicity piece, not as the be all end all of the comic. I never allowed the Kickstarter to determine the fate of the project. Even if I didn’t reach my goals, I was still capable of printing the book myself.

I had tons of help and advice from other comic creators that have run wildly successful Kickstarter campaigns. Ted Sikora from Hero Tomorrow Comics spent hours with me helping me refine my campaign and especially helped me avoid costly and time consuming rewards. A former student of mine, Shawn Coss from Any Means Necessary, has taught himself how to weaponize social media like no one else that I know.

Andy also was a great source of advice, and he and Source Point helped me navigate some of the legal issues regarding the property even before we had any agreement on publishing. That willingness to help without any guarantee from me about signing with them gave me all of the confidence I needed in believing that my project would be in trustworthy, capable hands. I really appreciate all of the work they put into helping get The Führer and the Tramp out to a wider audience than I could on my own. They have been fantastic, tireless advocates of us and our project.

CE: Kind of an obvious question, but what does it feel like to be an Eisner nominee?

SM: Becoming nominated for an Eisner Award was a huge shock to my system, one that I’m not sure my heart has recovered from.

I didn’t create this book and dedicate three years of my life to crafting it for any monetary gain or critical awards. Every line I wrote, every sound effect I lettered, every cover I colored and every page that I colored with grey washes, I did with an audience of only one in mind — me. My barometer for success was being able to finish it, and hold it in my hands, and look at it on my bookshelf. Anything beyond that is a totally unexpected treat.

I struggled for more than a decade, working on other people’s books, and creating a half dozen issue Number Ones and pitches with no success. Everytime I stepped into Artist’s Alley and set up my booth, I was humbled and in awe of all of the creators I perceived as being far better than myself, and started every convention — and frequently ending a convention — doubting my worth and place in this community. The Führer and the Tramp is the first comic I created, not to be published, not with an editor in mind, but I created it for me, and for the love of creating comics.

If there is anything that I have taken from the privilege of being selected as an Eisner nominee, it’s that I finally feel like I can honestly call myself a peer of all of the amazing comic creators that have inspired me my entire life. Hopefully I won’t feel so insecure the next time I set up in Artist’s Alley. It’s a fantastic piece of exterior validation coming from an illustrious committee. I hope to continue to live up to that honor.

The Eisner nomination also made me so eternally grateful to my collaborators, Jon and Dexter, as well as my mentor Andy Schmidt. These guys have been terrific, and I am always astounded that they have the patience to put up with my neocrisis and flights of fancy.

My journey is just beginning though. The Eisner nomination encourages me to continue chasing my dream of creating comics. I still have so much to learn, and hope to improve in my skills as a storyteller and continue to create even bigger and better comics.


New Courses Open for Enrollment!

Comics Experience logo

We’re almost halfway through 2019! How are those New Year’s resolutions coming along, eh?

Look, we’re not here to judge! We’re here to help, and we have four new classes beginning in August to make sure you meet (maybe even exceed!) your comic and screenplay creation goals. Enrollment is open now, so make sure you sign up as soon as you’re able to if you want to guarantee your spot.

Introduction to Screenwriting | August 12 | Instructor: James Janowsky

This course covers the fundamentals of how to structure a screenplay, with lessons on strong characterization and storytelling. Sign up here.

Perfecting a One-shot | August 14 | Instructor: Andy Schmidt

You only have 20 pages to tell a complete story. What do you need to know to make sure your characters stand out and their arcs conclude satisfactorily? Andy Schmidt builds on the basics taught in the introductory writing course. Sign up here.

Introduction to Comic Book Art | August 14 | Instructor: Phillip Sevy

At the conclusion of this course on the fundamentals of great comic book art, students should be able to draw their own 5-page story with the sure, dynamic hand of a professional. Sign up here.

Advanced Comic Book Coloring | August 19 | Instructor: Chris Sotomayor

For graduates of the introductory course on comic book coloring, this follow-up presents lessons on customized digital brushes, special effects and layering, experimentation, palette design, and more. Sign up here.

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If you want to make comics, write, draw, letter, and color comics, or improve as a comics creator, you’ll find like-minded friends and colleagues in our online workshops and courses. We hope to see you there!


Owen Welsh on Designing Great Characters

Learn to design Great Characters. Online course taught by artist and animator Owen Welsh. Starts June 8th. Learn more at Comics Experience. Picture of a person in a red, brown, and cream robe and headband casting a spell.

Think about the most memorable elements of the last comic book you read or cartoon you watched. No doubt the characters stood out to you in some way, right?

Veteran designer Owen Welsh (Flagship Studios, EA, Qalang) is once again offering his course on how to create memorable characters, beginning June 8! For aspiring and experienced artists alike, this class focuses on the basics and philosophies of an important aspect of comics and animation.

We spoke with Owen about his views on what constitutes strong character designs and his approach.

Comics Experience: What’s your process like when designing characters? For such a complex undertaking, what makes for the ideal starting point?

Owen Welsh: Before we begin to draw we first must know what goes on inside a characters head. I would first start with a script, character bio or profile. Often times we are so eager to begin drawing that we will skip this crucial step by overlooking the psychology of our character. At this starting point the we should ask ourselves one simple question, “What is my character’s object of desire?” Answering that question will inform us on many personality traits that will be needed to supported this ambition, want or need. Form and content go hand and hand.

CE: What elements all go into great character design when it comes to specifically animation, specifically comics, and both? What are some particularly standout examples, from any form of media, that exemplify your views on character design?

OW: There are many elements or principles that we will discover during the class that help guide our process towards designing a character. First and foremost, drawing is a language and wither you are drawing for animation or comics you are communicating something very specific and intentional to your audience. Be deliberate! Animation and comics are mediums and both of them share stylistic qualities. Given the striking similarities between the mediums I would say that appeal is king of all the elements in design characters for either medium. If your character doesn’t look appealing, keep searching. Milt Kahl was an expert character designer at Disney, Jack Kirby created amazing characters for Marvel, and Heinrich Kley gave us some of the most interesting characters as illustrations to name a few.

CE: What are some misconceptions about character design held by artists? Newcomers and veterans alike.

OW: Some believe the holy grail of character design is unending pretty detail and realism. We must push past that into the world of caricature. It’s so often that we as artist do not push our designs to more extreme caricatures and as a result, the designs are easily forgotten. The best way to capture realism and detail is with photography, as artists we have the opportunity to give the world something they haven’t seen before and with that, our perspective on things. Don’t miss your opportunity.

CE: What’s some advice you wish you had gotten when you first began designing characters that you’d like to pass down to aspiring comic book artists and animators?

OW: Copy, copy, copy! Don’t feel guilty about copying other artists when you first begin. This is how we learn. Also don’t be discouraged if your character doesn’t look exactly like the original. If character design was easy everyone would be doing it. Every time you complete a new drawing reward yourself, you are one step closer to creating even better drawings. When you copy another artist you will build a dictionary of lines and shapes in your mind that’s you can pull from when you begin to design your own characters. With hard work and practice you will eventually find your own style and voice, which will be a result of the various influences you researched over time along with a special ingredient, you!

Ready to learn how to craft memorable character designs? Reserve your spot in Owen’s class here!

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If you want to make comics, write, draw, letter, and color comics, or improve as a comics creator, you’ll find like-minded friends and colleagues in our online workshops and courses. We hope to see you there!


Alum Frank Gogol Launching DEAD END KIDS With Source Point Press!

July 24, 2019 will mark the debut of  Dead End Kids — a limited comics series penned by Comics Experience alum Frank Gogol, with art by Nenad Cviticanin and lettering by Sean Rinehart (also a CE alum). A coming-of-age murder mystery told in three issues, Dead End Kids is published by Source Point Press and available to pre-order from retailers now!

Over the last few years, Frank has established a writing career built on hard work, talent, and a commitment to growth and collaboration — exactly the qualities that Comics Experience strives to support and develop. Currently balancing a busy convention schedule, Frank took time out to answer our questions about Dead End Kids and his development as a comics writer.

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Please give us a short overview of how you began making comics, and how that brought you to where you are now.

I’ve known that I wanted to write since I was a kid and that I wanted to write comics since I was 18, so tried to plan my high school and college educations around writing and other topics, like graphic design, that I thought would be helpful in a comics career. But after I finished my second master’s degree, I spent the next 4 years talking a lot about writing comics, but not actually writing any comics. Then, in December of 2015, I told myself I need to either write comics or let the dream die and that’s when I enrolled in my first Comics Experience class.

Your projects seem to address weighty and sometimes dark themes, but with a consistent sense of hope and human connection. Would you say that’s accurate, and if so, how has that affected your relationships with readers?

I would say that very accurately describes my work up to this point. And it’s definitely been a factor in which readers are interested in reading the comics I write. But the upside is that when the work speaks to readers, it really resonates and, to me, that’s more important than a royalty check or movie deal.

What would you like readers to know about Dead End Kids?

I like to talk about the book in two ways–the pitch and the point.

The Pitch: It’s 1999. Ben, Murphy, Tank, and Amanda are four screwed-up kids from broken homes, but they have…had each other. When Ben is murdered, Murphy and his friends set out to find who killed him and find themselves in the cross-hairs! Dead End Kids is a dark coming-of-age murder mystery set in the ’90s, from the creative team behind 2018’s critically acclaimed Grief.

The Point: This story is about the very real traumas of childhood. It’s about four messed up kids with traumatic home lives and the stability they find in their friendships and what happens when that stability is torn away because one of them is murdered.

What was your first comics script, and how has your approach to writing changed since then?

My first comic script was for a story called “Embrace” and it was about a day in the life of an autistic boy and his father and just how hard their relationship can be. I wrote that in the Intro to Comic Book Writing class with Andy. I’d, honestly, say that my approach to writing hasn’t changed all that much since that class. Andy laid out some very strong fundamentals and they’ve served me well. I do, however, write longer, more complex stories now, but those all still based on the fundamentals.

What advice would you give aspiring comics writers?

The one piece of advice I give to every aspiring writer I meet is to stick with it. Comics writing is a marathon, not a sprint. It’s a monumental task to become a writer, but it’s something that can be worked at a little bit every single day, whether it means writing a page or two or studying a comic book issue that’s got some great craft on display. But you only chip away at that monument task my sticking with it and putting in the work.

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Our thanks to Frank for talking with us, and congratulations to the entire creative team! To pre-order Dead End Kids, ask your comics retailer to use Diamond code MAY191908. Issue #1 will be available in stores July 24, 2019!


Erica Schultz Teaches Lettering!

There's no comic without Lettering! Erica Schultz teaches professional lettering! Online course starting June 4th. Learn more at Comics Experience. 

Drawing of a small child in pajamas who fell out of bed and exclaims, "Oh, Mama, Help! That was a bad dream for sure.

Lettering is one of the most crucial elements of the comic book creation process, and an art in and of itself as well. Erica Schultz (Batman: Odyssey, The New Avengers) will be teaching our Introduction to Lettering course beginning on June 4.

Aspiring comic book letterers, editors, writers, producers, and artists are encouraged to sign up and learn all about fonts, placement, and all the factors that go into making a comic an enjoyable reading experience. Erica pulls from her experience with Marvel, DC, Dark Horse, and more – as well as her knowledge of editing and publishing – for a comprehensive overview of the basics. By the end, you’ll be able to letter your own 8-page comic!

We spoke to Erica briefly about the upcoming class.

Comics Experience: What excites you the most about this upcoming lettering course? What are some especially exciting topics students can expect from the course?

Erica Schultz: I’m excited to teach this because lettering is often an overlooked part of comic creating, and that’s really sad. Comics, not unlike a lot of television series, is collaborative. Unless you’re the writer, artist, colorist, letterer (which there are some people that do it all), you have to rely on others to make the finished product.

Also, lettering is very easy to do badly. You have phenomenal writers, artists, and colorists that are incredible at their specific spoke on the comics wheel, but lettering can sink a good book so easily. I’ve stopped reading stories because of bad lettering, and that’s a sad thing. Lettering is as integral to the comic as any other piece of the puzzle.

In terms of exciting topics, I hope to show the students that there are different styles for lettering and how you can break every rule but two of them (but you’ll have to take the class to find out which ones).

CE: What’s a piece of advice you wish you had gotten when you first started lettering? What are some of the most common myths about comic book lettering that students should know?

ES: Definitely check for overprint issues. If that doesn’t make sense to you, take the class and I’ll tell you all about it.

A myth about comic book lettering is that anyone can do it. Sure, anyone can do it badly, like I said before, but not anyone can do it. There’s a flow to it that gets easier and more intuitive the longer you do it. Good lettering should fly under the radar. Nothing should jump out at you. Good lettering is like good make up. You shouldn’t LOOK like you’re wearing it… unless you’re Ziggy Stardust, and then you can do whatever you want because you’re a God.

Also, the industry-standard program for lettering is Adobe Illustrator. I know there are other vector-based programs coming out, but I don’t know if they’ll ever overtake Illustrator… though they said that about Quark back in the 90s, so who knows.

CE: How has your experience as a writer, editor, and publisher informed your lettering work, if at all? Are there any interesting overlaps that people might not realize?

ES: Having worked in all aspects of comics has helped inform me in whatever comics hat I put on. Having been a letterer informs my writing work when I’m writing dialogue and when I’m editing a script for someone else. It also informs when I look at art to see if the artist left enough room for the dialogue. There is overlap in everything, you don’t make comics in a vacuum. Unless you’re making comics in space, and then… well, I don’t know what to say here. But I’m a firm believer in being at least moderately aware of the other links in the chain so you can be better at what you’re doing. When I worked in advertising, I made sure I understood what the account managers, producers, copywriters, art directors, art buyers, retouchers, etc. did so that made me better at what I do. If you’re making comics, don’t isolate yourself from the process. Be a part of it.

There’s still time to sign up for Erica’s lettering course! Slots tend to fill up quickly, so ensure your spot here.

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If you want to make comics, write, draw, letter, and color comics, or improve as a comics creator, you’ll find like-minded friends and colleagues in our online workshops and courses. We hope to see you there!


Carlos Giffoni on Writing Space Riders!

Space Riders cover by Alexis Ziritt

Creators Workshop member and Comics Experience course alumnus Carlos Giffoni is writing Space Riders for Black Mask Studios! Joined by Alexis Ziritt on art and Ryan Ferrier on letters, the new volume hits shops on June 26. Taking place 20 years after the previous Space Riders tales, the titular team must band together again – this time with a little help from cybernetics – and save reality.

And that other reality.

And another reality over there.

We talked to Carlos briefly about his upcoming project.

Comics Experience: This volume of Space Riders takes place a full two decades after the previous. What strategies should writers take into consideration when working on such a large jump? What are some of the challenges you’re facing?

Carlos Giffoni: Because of that large gap, I had some freedom to evolve the characters and imagine the kind of life they had each experienced since the years after those initial stories. That was an enjoyable part of the process, as it helped me make them my own a little bit since I wasn’t the original writer for the series.

On the other hand, they are still the same characters, so a big challenge became to distill their essence down to find the recognizable and important elements within each of them that I needed to keep untouched. They still needed to feel like the characters the readers of previous volumes of Space Riders know and love.

Once I broke each character down to the essence of who they are, it was a matter of applying some emotional filters to their lives to bring them forward 20 years. Failure, obsession, love to name a few. I had to put myself on the shoes of each character and imagine how their decisions changed them, and think about what they still want at this point in their lives, what their motivations are.

It was vital for me to start the process of writing this story with evolving each of the characters first, and only after I felt I had them right, begin crafting what the actual story was. Thankfully I have been in this earth quite longer than 20 years, so I did have a personal experience of what aging 20 years feels like to use as a starting point.

I also listened to a lot of heavy music. Starting with King Crimson, and moving on to the Melvins, Darkthrone, Neurosis to name a few. Music was an essential inspiration to get my mind in tune with the vibe of this series.

CE: How did your time with Comics Experience and the Creator’s Workshop help with putting together Space Riders?

CG: The most significant help from the workshop has been to have a community of other creators available to have discussions with, analyze the latest developments in comics and related fields, and having access to a group of people pursuing the same goal: Making comics.

I went to a lot of conferences this past year and a half as I had a few projects I was pitching around. Being a new writer in comics, I wanted to meet as many creators as possible and get their opinions on what I was putting together and get any advice I could use. The workshop made it so that there already was a handful of people I knew going into these conferences, a starting point. Usually, there are meetups at each big conference from the workshop self-organized by members or Andy, which become opportunities to network and share experiences with other like-minded creators. Breaking in is very difficult, and there can be a lot of disappointment, so it has been beneficial to be able to have an avenue to communicate with others dealing with similar challenges.

I have also taken a few of the master classes, and those have been great. Having a long and intense session of learning from someone that has already been there and done it is really valuable. [Editor’s Note: Carlos will also be attending our upcoming Master Seminar on writing team books with James Tynion IV!]

CE: What is your working relationship like with the rest of the team?

CG: Alexis, who is the artist and original creator, has become a good friend. I met him first at C2E2 last year and then kept running into him at conferences, and since we are both Venezuelan, we had a lot in common to talk and joke about there. I was already a big fan of his art and notably the Space Riders series when we met. I shared one of the other series I am working on (which has a publisher now who will be officially announcing it in May) with him and kept in touch through social media, and we discovered we had shared tastes in comics, food, and music. One day he called me out of the blue and offered me the opportunity to write the new volume of Space Riders, and here we are. I was thrilled.

It’s been particularly interesting because Alexis is leading the creation of this book, so I haven’t worked closely with Ryan Ferrier (who is doing the lettering) or the people at Black Mask.

Alexis called me early on to discuss where we should take the story; He had a few elements he already wanted us to explore, like the time jump and the idea that this was a different type of mission for the Riders. I took a few different explorations on my side before we had an idea for it and an outline for the series that we both were jazzed to execute. I think we found a twist to the Space Riders universe that is both exciting and culturally meaningful to both of us, and more importantly, it is metal and bloody as hell. I hope fans of the series and new readers get their minds melted along the way!