Artist Michael Mayne is collaborating with comic veteran inker Rusty Gilligan on an all ages title Mac and Trouble. It follows the adventures of two always-in-trouble cats through time and space. Michael’s designs remind readers of Loony Tunes and other legendary animations. Michael took time from his busy schedule to talk to CBI about his career in comics and the upcoming Mac & Trouble project…
JMH: Where were you born and raised?
I’m from the Ohio River Valley, right where Ohio, Kentucky and West Virginia meet. MICHAEL: Born in Ashland, KY, I spent most of my growing years on the Kentucky side, with my first couple of grade school years in southern Ohio. Right now I’m living in Portsmouth, OH, about half an hour west of my hometown.
JMH: Tell CBI about yourself…
MICHAEL: When I was a kid I wanted the practical job of being a garbage collector.
Then I was going to be a professional chess player.
So far I’ve settled somewhere in between the stability of the former and the insanity of the latter and am doing freelance artwork.
Before getting into comics as a profession, I was illustrating small press children’s books—about 20 to 25 of them over the four and a half years I was in college. If you search my name on Amazon, you should be able to find some of them, if only so you can look at the covers and say, “Well that’s interesting.”
I have a few story ideas still waiting to be turned into working projects, at least one of them about ten years old. I’m hoping down the road I’m going to have opportunities to develop these ideas more and share them with a readership.
When I’m not working on freelance or (rarely) personal projects, I usually just try to occupy my free time with a night out on the weekend, preferably on karaoke night. Because Michael loves him some karaoke. Still a newbie to conventions, I’m getting ready for a few this summer and in the fall—always look forward to meeting people at cons, attendees and fellow artists alike. If you ever come across me at a convention, don’t be afraid to strike up a conversation—who knows! You may find yourself karaoke’ing with me after con hours! Because Michael loves him some karaoke.
JMH: How long have you been drawing comics?
MICHAEL: Technically I’ve been drawing them since I could (sort of) read and (sort of) write. I’ve always been drawing, so once I started learning how to mash the alphabet together to convey pretty basic ideas I began tempering that with my early drawing endeavors to make sequential stories.
Most of those early, elementary-school-era comics would shamelessly fall into the fanfic category. I made a lot of lengthy Battletoads comics, because I apparently felt there was plenty of untapped narrative potential behind the 8-bit, anthropomorphic frogs that could slapstickily embiggen their fists for maximum punching power.
Street Fighter also got a lot of panel-by-panel treatments up through my middle school years. I’m sure any of those would absolutely convince Udon to pick me up for their Street Fighter series—especially since those stories are emblazoned on wide ruled notebook paper.
High school and college saw more original, more serious attempts from me, but I never developed any of them enough to really be confident in carrying them to full term. Yet. They were just testing grounds for getting used to panel layouts and pacing and whatnot.
As for doing comics as a means of making some sort of living, I’ve only been working at that for the last three years since I’ve been out of school.
JMH: How did you break into the industry drawing comic books?
MICHAEL: After college, fellow graduate Tyler Fluharty and I were prompted by a mutual contract employer to collaborate on an original comic book which he was hoping to print and distribute for us. Ultimately budget restraints kept that publication plan from working, but that still prompted the creation of “Bonnie Lass.” I wrote, illustrated and composited the final product, while Tyler helped with the overall plot of the first arc and even collaborated on the artwork for the “first draft” of issue one.
Issue one finished up (after much experimentation, some initial shopping around, and even a complete redo at the suggestion of an early interested publisher) and I began sharing the pages online as I worked on issues two and three. Fan interest built and upon completing issue three the pitch shortly found its way to Red 5 Comics who almost immediately gave it the green light! Once that was official, I began work on the fourth and final issue of the arc so that Red 5 could roll out the whole series as the premiere title in their new “Digital First” line.
But before “Bonnie Lass: The Legend” was complete, I was also doing some work for Bluewater on a one-shot crossover of theirs, providing all the interior artwork from roughs to final colors. I really just got the gig by presenting completed pages of “Bonnie Lass” while it was still in full production, so I was actually working concurrently on the two projects for a while. The “VSS vs. Gearz” one-shot saw its print publication shortly after “Bonnie Lass” first hit the digital market. So I’d consider both of them kind of my breaks into the industry.
Since that break, I’ve been working on finishing up my part (layouts/pencils and inking) on a comic called “Massively Effective.” There are four chapters total, and I’m just a few pages away from finishing up the last one. Once that is off my table, I’ll be kicking my collaboration with Rusty Gilligan into high gear and be churning out material for his “Mac and Trouble” project, which should be loads of fun for all the contributors and readers alike!
JMH: Do you have any formal art training?
MICHAEL: I almost always had art classes throughout grade school years, even some extracurricular and early college courses. Middle school introduced me to Dr. Tim Decker who really sparked my creativity and broadened my stylistic horizons, as well as driving in many of the technical fundamentals of visual art, even though at the time I was stubbornly fixated on mimicking existing, mainstream styles of select anime and comics that held my interest. To say I owe him would be an understatement!
I went to college at Shawnee State University and ultimately got a degree in Visual Design, but I feel that I took away more from the art history classes than most of the studio classes. Finding new influences myself and seeing from where others throughout history (and today) drew their influences has really given me more creative freedom than merely knowing how to compose an illustration or design a brand logo.
JMH: Who are your artistic influences?
MICHAEL: I love these kinds of questions! But at the same time I hate answering them myself because there are so many source of inspiration I look to that I couldn’t possibly list them all in any manner that could be considered enjoyably brief. So I must always regretfully cut corners…
From an early age I’ve been fascinated by the the creative process behind animation, so my early influences include animation greats like Winsor McKay, Walt Disney’s Nine Old Men, Chuck Jones, Don Bluth, Glen Keane, Andreas Deja and Hayao Miyazaki. Just the way they draw characters and give them life (even in a single frame of animation) speaks monuments of their individual talents!
Norman Rockwell does the same thing with his illustrations. Alfons Mucha (and practically any practitioner of art nouveau) and Leonardo da Vinci are easily high among the ranks as well, Mucha for his style and da Vinci for his technical genius and prowess. Yoshitaka Amano, Tetsuya Nomura and and pretty much the entire art team behind Final Fantasy IX also deserves notable credit.
As far as influences within the comics community go, they are plenty. Jim Lee’s style has heavily influenced me since elementary school days. Generally Todd McFarlane’s imagery is too gritty for my tastes, but I’ve always been able to appreciate his technique and apparent visual intuitiveness. Adam Hughes is really who piqued my interest in Mucha, because Hughes’ own work is consistently so great—I’ve been a fan of his for almost fifteen years, I’d say. Akira Toriyama, J. Scott Campbell and Joe Madueria have been long-standing influences as well. I’d also be remiss if I didn’t acknowledge John Buscema for teaching me “how to draw the Marvel way!”
And there are so many folks that are going against the traditional, über-anatomical norm in mainstream comics (obviously, not a look I really have a problem with when it’s still tempered with fun), artists that make really cool-looking characters and dynamic imagery with plenty of diversity and without churning out oversexed guys and gals in contour-accentuating, shimmering tights ad infinitum. Sean Galloway, Thomas Perkins, Skottie Young, Doug TenNapel, Scott Wegener, Nate Simpson, Jeff “Chamba” Cruz, Tyson Hesse, Brian Hurtt… and that list is far from exhaustive! I find new inspiration practically every week just by perusing through deviantART and blog links!
Of course that’s a lot of varied influences… If I like what I see, somehow or another it’s going to wind up filtering its way into my own works somewhere down the line. I’m always adapting my style to each new project.
JMH: How do you focus when drawing?
MICHAEL: Basically it comes down to just making myself start. If I can get myself going for about ten or fifteen minutes, oftentimes I may be able to run full-speed for a good chunk of the day with little to no outside stimuli. I’m prone to not eating as often as I should simply because I get so caught up in work that I may just forget to eat, or don’t even notice that I’m hungry. This is probably not the best state of mind to be in so constantly…!
If I think of it, I’ll queue up iTunes and have it shuffle through some preset, “creativity fuel” playlists—usually just evocative, instrumental music that can help set the mood for whatever I’m working on at the time. But just as often as my work will be accompanied by a soundtrack, I may go all the work day in almost complete silence.
JMH: What types of technology do you use to draw?
MICHAEL: Right now I’m running off a four-year-old Mac, aided by a Wacom Bamboo (6″x9″ I believe). As for software, I’ve been using Photoshop for about a decade now, currently utilizing CS2. Up until recently I’ve done almost all my line drawing traditionally, inking it on paper and then scanning it in to be colored in Photoshop. But just in the past few months I’ve started using Manga Studio which has way better tablet functionality than Photoshop, and so I’m actually starting to work almost completely digitally, doing initial sketches and even the final linart in Manga Studio, and jumping back over to Photoshop for the majority of the coloring.
JMH: What was the first comic book you ever read?
MICHAEL: I still have it! It’s a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles comic from the late 80s. I got lost in K-Mart because I was flipping through it while inadvertently walking away from the toy section. It wasn’t anything directly from Eastman and Laird, just an adaptation of the first few arcs of the cartoon—definitely catered for the kids, but it’s probably around 80-some pages and really helped build my understanding of comic book storytelling.
JMH: Do you read any of the new comic books that are being published today? If so, which ones?
MICHAEL: I try. I’m loving Atomic Robo and I recently got into The Sixth Gun. Mostly I’m interested in independent titles that are told in more concise, volumized chunks rather than ongoing series. Unfortunately, a lot of it comes down to what’s the most affordable for the most entertainment—I’d love to keep up with some of the superhero comics these days, but indefinite story lengths and cross-series narratives really make it an expensive luxury I just can’t afford for now…
Also, with smaller, more concise stories, I can appreciate the more personal reflections of the author that work their way into the narrative. I like being able to relate to other authors through their personal works.
JMH: Print vs. Digital. Your thoughts…
MICHAEL: I’m always going to favor the tactile nature of print. The easiest way to sum up my thoughts on the matter is that while each format has their pros and cons, I’d really like there to be some sort of equilibrium where the two support each other, not undermine. After all, Bonnie Lass made her debut digitally, and it’s because of that that she is going to print in the fall!
JMH: What sources do you use for a cover image?
MICHAEL: On Bonnie Lass I really wanted to have this Art Nouveau aesthetic to emphasize the series’ focus on the heroine thinking quite highly of herself. It’s not Art Nouveau to a tee, as there are a great deal of 21st century stylings mixed in, which also reflects the series’ blending of genres and anachronistic design elements.
Any time I do a cover, I just get a good grasp of what the story itself is trying to convey, and then try to play off of stereotypical genre elements while still creating something fresh. I’m not always of the mind that the cover should provide a glimpse of the story, and at least just as often as not I’ll just try to get across the general mood of the story inside, be it adventuresome, frenetic, sexy, or just plain cool.
JMH: What other mediums or genres have you drawn for?
MICHAEL: In comics I’ve done work on a superhero pastiche called Massively Effective. It was fun because I got to create some modern superheroes, but I wasn’t pressed or obligated to adhere to a conventional superhero look, both in terms of design and style.
I’ve also done some more straight-up Japanese manga-styled comics within an action-spy motif. Before comics I’d done lots of work on small press children’s books—all kinds of styles and genres therein!
JMH: What project are you currently working on now?
MICHAEL: I’m working with Rusty Gilligan on an all-ages, multi-faceted property—Mac & Trouble. The title characters are two cats who play out everything from slice-of-life, gag-a-day comic strips to all-out action-adventure pages. The project is building up steam and I’m going to be getting into the thick of production very soon!
JMH: Do you have any words for aspiring artists?
MICHAEL: Draw a lot. And have passion for what you’re drawing. If you’re only drawing half-heartedly, it’s going to show in the final work. If you only draw with calculated technique and without inspired gusto, the enjoyment you and others get out of your work will be more fleeting.
And for advice that I too need to start following: don’t worry about time. Just make it look good. Time is another technicality that, when given too much attention, will impede the quality of your work.
JMH: Artist, CBI appreciates your time. All the best.
MICHAEL: Thank you very much! It’s been great fun (and self-enlightening) to answer all these questions. Do take care!
About the interviewer –