I have to admit that this is one of the perks of running the site, getting to talk with creators who I’ve been admiring from afar.  Dan Hipp, whose work always gets me very excited about the entire medium of comics, can be seen in The Amazing Joy Buzzards from Image, Gyakushu from TokyoPop and Ben 10 Alien Force.  His style is at the same time cartoony and fluid, but detailed and textured.  And he has a habit of drawing characters who speak in pictures.  He is, without hyperbole, one of my favorite creators working today.

What made you want to get into comics?  When did you make the decision to actually go through with making it a reality?  What were those circumstances?

I grew up reading comic books, so I loved to draw and didn’t seem to be terrible at it.  That made me the kid in class that could draw, so going to university for art seemed the natural thing to do.  Once I did that I had no idea what to do with myself, since someone is supposed to just hand you a job once you get out of school right?  I mean, that’s supposed to be how it works, so I sat around for a few years scratching my head until I figured out that if I really wanted to draw comics I better do something about it.  Within a few years I had a pitch thrown together with a writer, drawn enough pages to get a deal out of it with Image Comics, and started drawing comics full-time.

When you made that decision what did you do to make it happen?  Did you start going to cons?  Build up your portfolio?  How long did you keep at this?

I put together a portfolio of sample pages and went off to the fanciful San Diego Comic-Con where I tried to get into as many portfolio reviews as I could.  I received a lot of encouragement and was pushed in a positive direction, but I still wasn’t handed a job right away, dammit!  I did, however, meet the co-creator (Mark Andrew Smith) of my eventual first book (The Amazing Joy Buzzards) and we exchanged information.  He was in a similar position, having just finished school and looking to make a splash in the comics world.  We put some things together over the next year, he hustled them around at conventions, and a couple Comic-Cons later we had our deal with Image Comics.   So I guess you could say I did all the stuff I was supposed to, make a portfolio, go to a convention, make contacts, but thankfully for me I had a writer to run a lot of the material around.  I was lucky, as that helped get my foot in the door.  Getting beyond that point was it’s own struggle, but I don’t know how long it would have taken me to do that on my own.  As an artist, I love to create, but am generally unmotivated to tell people why they should look at what I do.  It’s the artist’s curse, to think the art should speak for itself.

What’s your job as an artist?  Responsibilities?  Creative goals?  What do you try to bring to the pages?  Feel free to expound on this.  It’s kind of a big question.

My job as an artist is to make each page as dynamic as I can, without taking the visuals outside the flow of the narrative (if that makes sense) all while hitting a deadline.  Luckily for me, most of the books/stories I’ve worked on, I’ve had a hand in creating, or done so entirely on my own, so the whole creative process has been rolled up into one big ball.  The upside to that is I get to see how every element changes the overall reading experience, from colors to letters.  The downside is basically the same thing, because if you screw up, well you’re kind of responsible for the whole thing, so oh well.  Still, if I’m going to fail, I say fail gloriously, so it is what it is.

Describe your first “pro” job.  What was it like?  The excitement, the anticipation, the fear.  What book was it?  How did you get the gig?  When was it published?

As artist and co-creator of my first book (The Amazing Joy Buzzards), it was it’s own comic-book-school experience.  I learned so much, failed, succeeded and then had to do it all over again the next month.  I learned more creating that first issue than I could have in a year of art-school.  Anyone who has followed the series can probably see me trying to figure out what the hell I’m doing over the course of the book.  There’s a big difference between drawing a handful of sample pages and drawing 22-32 pages of material in a month.  I learned that the hard way, but it was an excellent learning experience.  The first issue was published back in 2005.

As best as you can, describe the process and tools you used on that first gig.

I’m kind of stupid and have never allowed myself to try using a brush, so I more or less use today what I used then: a black Micron (.005) pen, and a Pitt brush pen.  Being penciller and inker, I would loosely draw out the page, then figure a lot of it out during the inking process.  Probably not the best way to do things, but once a deadline is thrown into the mix, you have to redefine “ideal.”

What was it like seeing your first printed work?  Did you buy a copy at the local shop or did you get a copy in the mail?  Where were you and what were you doing?

Seeing my first issue was a bit surreal, because it was super-rad to see the book in print, but then you kind of get hit with the: “now what?”  Ulp, better get back to drawing the next issue.  But yeah, it was really great to go into a comic-shop and buy my own book.  I received comps from the publisher, but there’s no way I wasn’t going to go into the local store and parade my first issue around on new-comic day.  Unfortunately when I arrived, people weren’t mobbing the store trying to beat each other to the last issue on the stands, but it was still nice to see it right next to “The Avengers.”  Then I headed back home to keep drawing.

Once you started working professionally how did you keep in the comics loop?

I don’t know how much of the comics loop I’ve ever really been in, but I made sure to frequent the message boards (as a lurker) and comic-book news sites.  I’ve always been a bit of a hermit with respect to the comics community, so I’ve tried to follow comic happenings online as best I can.

When did you feel like you were working consistently enough to call yourself a “comics pro”?  How did that come about?  Were you satisfied with your work?

I didn’t allow myself to feel like much of a “pro” until I had my first book deal as artist/writer that I was paid upfront for (GYAKUSHU! from Tokyopop).  Once I was able to pay bills exclusively from my advance checks, I felt like I had a bit more than my foot in the door.  That said, I haven’t allowed myself to admit I’m satisfied with my own work until recently.  I’m an artist, so I will probably always be a bit self-depricating (it’s what we do).  I LOVE creating, but I don’t want to ever be too satisfied (just secretly satisfied).

Describe your production process now.  Do you use specific techniques, tools, programs?

I try and keep things as simple as possible.  I thumbnail a page, I map it out in pencil, I ink it with the tools I mentioned earlier, I scan it (in photoshop), clean it up, annnnd done.  If I’m coloring my work, which I love to do (again, in photoshop), I keep things very quick, simple and clean, sticking with flat colors, and relying on color choice to make it pop.  Technology has allowed for some amazing pieces of work to be created in comics, but I still do things as simply as I can.  I find for myself that the more simple a piece, the more obvious it becomes if it doesn’t work.  It’s harder to hide my crap when it’s not dressed up.

How has advances in technology (i.e. faster processors, faster uploads, Cintiqs, etc) affected how you work?  Have things gotten easier?  Anything that you can do now that you couldn’t before?

More accessible/affordable computer memory, faster uploading, and the world relying on email have all been things that make things easier in the long run.  Aside from that, for me personally, at this point in time, it’s all just extras.  I love seeing the things other artists can do with all the new tools at their disposal, but they’re not for me.  That said, it’s easy to put it that way now that the world operates so quickly via technology.  The more appropriate thing to do would probably be to slip on a toilet, have a vision of the flux-capacitor, build a time-machine out of a Delorean, then go back in time five years and ask my younger self the same question, as my current-self has probably been spoiled by technology.

A panel from the upcoming "Stray Days"

What are you working on these days?

Right now I’m working on an all-ages graphic novel for Hermes Press called “Stray Days.”  It’s written, illustrated, colored, and lettered by me and should be out later this year.  It’s my first dive into full-color, so it’s been a really fun experiment, and I’m excited for people to see it.  Anyone that’s been enjoying the color work I’ve been doing for giggles on my blog should get a kick out of this.  Plus it has the most adorable characters I’ve ever drawn in it, and a healthy dose of monsters, so it’s definitely going to be worth a look (artist self-promotion, success!).

It’s no secret that comics doesn’t pay the largest amount of money, what keeps you in the industry?

I love making comics.  I’m still at a point in my life where I can get away with doing something mostly for the love of it, so we should probably use that time-machine again and ask my future self the same question.  Hopefully by then all my comics will have been made into movies, I’ll be a rich sell-out, and I’ll only have to tease drawing a long-gestating graphic novel every ten years or so.  Sound like a plan, now I have to get back to drawing…

Show us around your work space.  What have you been putting together and why does it help you with your work?  Show as many specific tools as possible.  What has changed or been phased out or added as the years have gone by?   As much detail here as you can.

My work space is my safe-haven of nerdiness.  It’s loaded with posters and prints of movies and things I love. My work is watched over by my toy-army, mostly made up of Mighty Muggs and other assorted affordable goodies.  I’ll splurge on the occasional vinyl figure, but I gravitate more towards well designed, affordable toys that I can amass.  There’s nothing like walking down the toy aisle at Target on your weekly shopping trip, you know?

Anyhoo, there are a fair number of graphic novels and comic books in every cranny, though they’re thankfully not confined to this room, as my wife is sweet enough to enjoy seeing them elsewhere in the house.  All in all my work space warms my nerdy heart so that when I sit down to work I might be inspired at any moment.

Speaking of the actual work, my work table, adorned with pencils, pens and markers, is shared by my imac and giant scanner.  It took me years to figure out that I should have a giant “mustek” scanner.  They’re more affordable than I thought, and weren’t too hard to find online.  Scanning a page all at once really beats scanning a page in segments.  My imac isn’t too fancy, but it has a huge screen and a lot of memory, so that keeps things pretty quick, which is nice.  Practically everything I need to make comics is on this table at any time.  If I’m illustrating, I may head out to the couch in the living room and throw a blu-ray on the flat screen (so snobby, Dan!) to keep me company while I’m drawing (on a drawing board).  Good movie, bad movie, it doesn’t matter, as there are narrative lessons to learn from them all.  I prefer to draw on the couch, but if the work calls for something more extensive on the page than just ink, I’ll stay in the studio.  For example: right now I’m working on a book that I’m illustrating and coloring on the actual page, so I have to stay at my work desk to contain all the tools I may be using at any time (prismacolor pencils and markers mostly).  If I spread it out about the house, my wife might not be so sweet about the graphic novels, you know?  Speaking of which, I think I have some dishes to clean…

For more Hipp goodness hop over to his blog which he updates regularly with great pinups and drawings.

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