Artist James Gilmer’s grizzly images and shocking panels can scare most any reader, daring you to turn the next page. His latest story centers around a rooster gone mad for revenge. James took time out of his busy schedule to stop by CBI studios and talk about his career in comics, Revenge Rooster, and where he’s headed…
JMH: Where were you born and raised?
JAMES: I was born inEastern Washingtonbut my family moved when I was young to the centralOregoncoast town ofNewport. It’s a really small fishing community, but famous for being one of the last homes for Keiko “Free Willy” the whale. I think having such a “big star” in my back yard during my formative years had made a lasting impression on me and the town. “If Keiko could become a star, why can’t I?” is the motto I live by. No, in all honesty I was lucky my family ended up inNewportbecause it turned out to be a place full of dreamers, and great artists, and a really supportive creative community.
JMH: Tell CBI about yourself…
JAMES: I live inSeattle, with my awesome fiancé and our cat and I’ve worked as a graphic designer for the last six years. I was in hardcore and metal bands for most my youth up until about two years ago, when I decided to focus more on design, and illustration. I’m also obsessed with film and have been studying screen writing for the last few years.
Comics of course have always played an important role in my life. Counselor, muse, teacher, friend, tormenter, comic books are a lot of things to me. The impact these books have made on my way of thinking, my creative process, and my life is hard to describe. Comics are kind of my religion.
JMH: How long have you been drawing comics?
JAMES: I know it sounds cliché, but I have been drawing comics for as long as I can remember. I think high school was when I first started doing sufficient work, the high school paper, indie comics, but I don’t think I really started producing decent work until a small run of cartoons I did for a weekly paper called The News Guard. I was the Designer and Production Manager at the time so it was easy to get my foot in the door and really have some fun with the opportunity.
JMH: How did you break into the industry drawing comic books?
JAMES: Basically I had done a project with some friends called Living Dead Targets, which are illustrated Zombie shooting targets. While selling them at a local convention I had the chance to network with a lot of the local comic scene guys and I think Fabian, the writer of RR, got my name from them. When doing freelance, you just kind of hope one project leads to another and that is exactly what happened. Fabian Rangel Jr. is the man, and will definitely be making an impact on the comic industry, I’m lucky I got the chance to work with him. The guy is a beast.
For the last year I’ve been working on a project with a writer named Colin Adamo called Hooking Up and Staying Hooked. It’s this really cool guide for high school guys with pointers on everything from starting a conversation with a girl to helping you build and sustain an awesome relationship with said girl. The project includes a graphic novel and a series of web comics and is turning out awesome. I got involved with that project by networking online and looking for people who wanted to collaborate. Simple as that usually. Looking for those opportunities and going into them understanding you will probably be putting in a good amount of sweat equity up front before ever seeing a nickel for you work. It’s all worth it if you love doing it though.
JMH: Do you have any formal art training?
JAMES: Yeah. I have the typical high school, and college stuff, but really, no amount of formal training will help you if you don’t decide you want to put in the work to learn and practice on your own. I have learned most of what I know from my dad, and spending countless hours lurched over my drawing table or in front of my computer monitor.I also pay attention to the world around me, and try to be cognizant of what is inspiring me at the moment. I can then use that energy and learn as much as I can about the subject and use it in my art.
JMH: Who are your artistic influences?
JAMES: My dad, Bill, is a big artistic influence. The dude is a blue collar designer and illustrator who has used his talents to put food on the table for the last twenty plus years. His durability, natural creative reactions and passion for the work that has influenced him is contagious. I blame him for getting me into comics and design and inspiring me to live a life of “just above” poverty wages and countless deadlines. Someone is making money at this…right?…RIGHT?My family are all pretty creative people, my mom is a really big dreamer and intuitively creative, my brother Kyle is a great guitarist and song writer, and is in a signed band Verah Falls, and my brother Shawn is really interested in illustration and design and making that a career. My fiancé Kendra is an absolute natural when it comes to photography I am really lucky to be surrounded my terrific creative minds.
Let’s see. As for comic creators, I just finished the two Darwyn Cooke’s Parker graphic novels and completely fell in love with his style. I’m really obsessed with Cameron Stewart’s Sin Titulo web series too.
JMH: How do you focus when drawing?
JAMES: That is actually my biggest challenge. Keeping focus. When I’m in the zone, it’s never an issue. I could get 10 pages done in one sitting in a wind tunnel. If I’m distracted, that is a whole different scenario. I mostly just try and relax while at the table. Vibe out to some music or get lost in some late night talk radio. Tea, or a delicious beverage helps. My setting is super important to me. I can’t have a ton of stuff going on around because I’m hyper vigilant and my mind starts to drift.
JMH: What types of technology do you use to draw?
JAMES: My right mitt, a mechanical pencil (no size preference.),Staedtler Eraser, Micron Pen, ruler, and I use the Adobe Creative suite for various stages of post ink work. Mostly photoshop and indesign for illustration. If the project is less illustrative and more design based I am typically in Illustrator most of the time.
JMH: What was the first comic book you ever read?
JAMESUncanny X-Men #240 made a huge impact on me when I was a kid. I was familiar with some of the characters already, but jumping right into the awesome Inferno saga at like six years old completely sold me on comics. It kind of made me feel like I was getting away with something, it was more mature then any material I was exposed to at that point so naturally I was into it.
JMH: Do you read any of the new comic books that are being published today? If so, which ones?
JAMES: Yeah, for sure. I’m really into anything Darwyn Cooke does, like the “Parker” series. I’ve always been a Marvel guy so I pick up anything that looks interesting over there, mostly X-Men books. I am into anything Mike Mignola does, and try and follow guys like Steve McNiven, and Leinil Francis Yu to wherever there penciling.
JMH: Print vs. Digital. Your thoughts…
JAMES: I love print, and I think there will always be a place for it. You know, I follow a few webcomics, and all though I enjoy the content and price (free), I always hope that the creator will collect the stores as a printed trade, or in issues. The thing with the digital medium, especially when it comes to publications, your looking at replacing a tangible, physical experience with something much more finite. On the flip side, because of the increased price of comic issues, I have become nearly exclusively a “trade paper back guy” so I think there will be further challenges for monthly titles in the future, including the time when they become much too price prohibitive for the general consumer.
JMH: What sources do you use for a cover image?
JAMES: As a designer I try and use what I have learned about layout. I literally reduce all the elements to shapes and make like a million little roughs until I can’t stand looking at any of them. Then I dig through the concepts and choose the one I feel works best for the given issue.
JMH: What other mediums or genres have you drawn for?
JAMES: Well, working with clients as a designer, illustration always plays a key role in developing and crafting the work. Among other things I have worked with bands, and record labels developing merch and promotional material, co created a line of novelty zombie shotting targets (livingdeadtargets.com), and had a comic strip in a weekly newspaper.
JMH: Talk about working with Fabian Rangel…
JAMES: The Revenge Rooster concept immediately appealed to me. I have described RR to other people as if the Ninja Turtles had aMAXtitle or something. I mean, the content is truly brutal, but it’s fun and ironic. Fabian wrote a really great script, that never takes itself too seriously. He was great to work with, encouraging and creative. We also share a lot of the same interests outside of comics and I hope to work with him again someday.
JMH: Revenge Rooster is dark and violent. Is that genre easy or difficult to draw?
JAMES: It was incredible easy and fun. I think spending years working on merch designs with deathcore, and metal bands helped the process. I have more then enough experience drawing blood and guts.
JMH: What project are you currently working on at now?
JAMES: Right now I’m working on a web series with this great writer Colin Adamo for a project called Hooking Up and Staying Hooked. Basically, the web comic will include excerpts from a graphic novel that has been in development for the last year and a half or so. Fingers crossed, the project will be published in the near future. hookingupandstayinghooked.com
In addition to that I am developing new merch for this incredible surf band from theOregonCoastcalled The Retroactive Gamma Rays. I have done work in the past for them and have always loved the experience. They have an interest in tiki art, science fiction, and horror movies so I always get to work in a realm where I am really comfortable and excited.
JMH: What future projects do you have in the works?
JAMES: Possibly more merch designs for a few bands. Some short film work, and working on a series of my own.
If anyone is interested I have a blog I try and keep updated with such things.jamesgilmer.tumblr.com/
JMH: Do you have any words for aspiring artists?
JAMES: I would say when your first starting out, don’t let “not getting paid” stop you from doing what you want to do, but also, never undervalue yourself, or let people take advantage of your skill and passion. Make sure to be open and upfront before starting work for someone about your expectations and what you are offering. It’s not the most comfortable conversation when first starting a project but completely necessary for the future success of the project and relationship.
Above all, you have to make sure to keep yourself busy and keep working. Along that journey, you will learn valuable lessons and hopefully make some contacts. Don’t be afraid to put yourself out there or completely fail at something. It’s good for you.
JMH: James, CBI appreciates your time. All the best.
JAMES: Thanks for the opportunity John, it was my pleasure.
About the interviewer –