An Interview with John Hageman

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At first, The Woodland Welfare Manifesto looks like something you might see in the children’ section of your local comic shop. The colors are vibrant, and most of the characters are … cuddly-ish animals.

And then, the main character urinates on a government document.

The Woodland Welfare Manifesto, narrated by Uncle Stas, details the adventures of Burnt Bear in his quest against the Capitalist Government. The pacing is quick, the characters nutty, and the artwork is brilliant. 

I got an interview with artist John Hageman on the process of creating a comic that will be released June 18 on Comixology. Web comics are getting bigger, and it’s given artists and writers a more level playing field to show off their talents, tell their stories, and to play alongside the big boy. Taking a look at Hageman’s art, there’s a beautiful polish to it that rivals the computer-designed artwork prevalent in many Flash-cartoons.

But, as Hageman warns: The comic isn’t E for Everyone.

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Can you tell us about yourself?

Well for starters, I’m 38 years old. Married with 3 kids ages 12, 8, and 5. By day I work for an ad agency, and by night I’m doing my art into the wee hours of the morning sometimes. Kind of like a Batman that doesn’t patrol the streets, doesn’t know how to fight, and stays up watching random documentaries on Netflix streaming.

What’s your background as an artist?

When I was 16, I knew I wanted to be a cartoonist. I used comics strips like Garfield and Mother Goose & Grimm to teach me how to draw. As I got older, TV shows like Ren and Stimpy influenced me in how to use expressions in my characters. When I got to community college, I took as many different art courses as I could from printmaking to painting and even sculpting. My final two years there, I was drawing one panel cartoons and various illustrations for the school paper.  During the last year, I was continuing to do the one panel strips as well as a three-to-four panel strip toward the inside of the paper. I transferred to San Jose State for about a semester and a half then had to drop out. Years passed, and I was trying to develop a comic strip for newspaper syndication. I then discovered the world of Webcomics in early 2006. From 2006 to 2013, I posted a weekly webcomic called Social Vermyn. The story was about being anti-social and the problems that causes in everyday life. From that work, I was able to get attention from others to work on different projects, so my site has been on hold. Aside from the comic I have participated in many art shows selling a few paintings here and there.

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How did this project get started? 

I attended a Free Comic Book Day event at the Slave Labor Art Boutiki last year. I met with and sat next to Justin Sane who had already published many books through SLG. We connected on Facebook, and he asked if I wanted to do the illustrations for his script. The rest is history.

From the get-go, it seems like the comic is meant for humor — from the name of the writer to fake record. Is humor something that’s difficult to do, more so than drama or an action comic with superheroes?

For me humor is the easiest. It starts with my art style which allows me to contrast it with darker or more adult humor. It throws people off because they see this very kiddie cartoon style, and they think it’s E for Everyone. I like throwing people off with that. I think it makes for good entertainment.  This particular comic takes its inspiration from the Rankin and Bass Claymation specials you usually see during a holiday. Justin’s dialogue comes from the narrator Uncle Stas who is a Russian that speaks broken English. For me, it added a nice layer of humor that went perfectly with the story and the art.

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Can you explain the method to your madness? Did the art come first, or was it more of a direct/indirect collaboration with others? How long did it take from start to finish?

Justin had the entire script written out. He sent it to me, and right away I knew this was something I wanted to work on. I created the character designs and the first four pages to pitch to SLG for publishing. Once they liked what they saw, I began to work on pages. I penciled, inked, then scanned the pages into the computer, then used a Wacom Cintiq tablet to do the coloring. Once all 50 pages were done, I did the lettering. Once I finished all that, Justin would go back and look over the pages to make sure the story flowed, corrected any writing he wanted to tweak, and even added a page here and there to help the overall story along. The process on the whole took a little over a year which wasn’t bad considering it was the largest comic project I’ve done to date.

Your comic will be listed on Comixology. What was the process like working with them?

Luckily, SLG handled that process. What I hear from the editor is that with the advent of comics going digital, there’s a lot of formatting that needs to be done outside of the normal work you would be doing if it just went to print. From what I understand SLG does this process with all their books now as a way to publish digital as well as print. So from my stand point, it’s great when you can pass that task on and just focus on doing the art.

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What are some of the challenges you’ve faced from creation to finish? What lessons have you learned?

Mainly the size of it. ‘Til [now], I had only done weekly comics which was like a page a week from drawing to lettering. A 50-page book seemed like a lot at the beginning, but once I got into a rhythm it became much easier. My next challenge was making the pages look dynamic and interesting so the story would flow in way that wouldn’t seem stagnant while you read it. Justin’s writing made this task easy since he didn’t cram too much story/dialogue onto each page. This allowed me to push myself and try things I had never tried before artistically on my own comics. I was proud of the outcome on certain pages in particular, and I think it made me stronger as an artist so that I can use what I learned to push myself further on the next project I get to work on.

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