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- Kristen Bell
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MIKE CHOI IS ONE OF THE HOTTEST THINGS
this side of on the East Coast - and he’s not a bad artist, either. Mike hams it up with CF to talk about learning on the job and why editors want to kill your baby.
How did you break into the business? I know there’s a swirling controversy involving a foosball table. What’s the real story?
It’s a secret. Honestly, I think that the way I got in wouldn’t help anyone else, and is not really a good thing, even if it is kind of funny. If I hadn’t made it, it would make a really sad and pathetic story, in my opinion. But it does involve a foosball table.
What’s the thought process between translating a script into continuing panels? What are the things you, as both an artist and storyteller, have to consider?
I’m still at the stage where I’m learning new tricks as I go along. Ron Marz’s scripts are very precise in what elements he wants in a script, but he has provided me with a little bit of freedom to interpret these. Basically, I can change stuff if I think it’d look better, so long as it doesn’t interfere with the story.
In the end, the number one point of any comic book is to tell a story. Making it look good is secondary to that, in my opinion. Clarity over cuteness.
I think one of the coolest tricks, in order to liven the characters up a little and make them better “actors” if you’re working off a full script, is to say the lines in the panel, then look at your face and try to copy the expression. It keeps the faces from looking static, and it adds a little realism to the art. It also makes your people look like you sometimes, which might be good if I was better looking.
What is it like being a relatively young artist in the field?
I don’t really know if I’m all that young. I’m 26, making me the oldest penciler in the Top Cow bullpen, other than Marc (Silvestri). However, as a guy who’s relatively new in the field, it’s always great meeting professionals whose work you’ve admired, especially when they recognize you and compliment your work. Some of these guys are really convincing liars.
Seriously, it’s really a unique experience, hearing something that is really flattering from someone whose work really humbles you at the same time.
What kind of specific terminology did you have to learn when you started?
“Falling in love with” or “marrying” something that you’ve drawn. I didn’t realize there was a name for it. I used to be very precise in my artwork, and painstakingly drew out everything from scratch. Therefore it was very hard to erase something that I had drawn, even when it was “wrong” or didn’t fit with the other elements on the page.
Sometimes you just have to erase that arm or that face, for the good of the entire page. We call it “killing your baby.” We have no regard for social decorum whatsoever.
How long does it take you to do a page? What are the variables?
Ideally it should take a day for any artist to do a page, especially on a monthly book. I can probably turn around four to five pages in a week comfortably, but I have done nine pages over a week before.
It really depends on how much work you feel like you can afford to put into a page. An action shot splash page can look really boring but be done in a matter of hours, whereas even a talking heads page can take days if you’re experimenting with angles and perspectives. I’ve only been a full-time penciler for the past year, so I’m still learning as I go.
What is the hardest part of your job?
Learning as I go, going as I learn.
If you could only give one piece of advice to a young artist, what would it be?
You really have to want it. From what I’ve experienced, the ability to draw something that looks cool is such a small part of it. You have to be willing to learn and to take criticisms and incorporate what you learn into your work. Sometimes that can be the hardest thing to do. I’ve seen people who’ve had the luxury of having seasoned professionals give them advice and then not take it.
Looking back at your work to when you first started — is there anything you see that you’d do differently now? What were some of your early mistakes?
Honestly, no matter how many people say I’ve gotten better, I really don’t see it. Even stuff I do now, I can see that I still have anatomy issues on how body parts look from different perspectives. I still need to vary camera angles and pull back to show the environment. I know I still have a long way to go before I can hold my own against some of my favorite artists, but hey, everyone can improve, right?
How does the relationship between a penciler and a colorist work?
Brian Buccellato lets me give him as much input as I want to give, mostly because he’s a lazy bum who can’t think for himself. I try to keep the input as minimal as possible where taste and technique come into play, as Brian’s an artist as well, and he usually has a lot to add to the overall picture. After making sure he knows where I meant the lighting to be, what time of day it is, storytelling elements, etc., I just let him go at it. I’m color-blind, after all.
The thing that we work closest on is when we sometimes try to get a special effect, which requires very specific penciling work integrating with very specific coloring effects. Sometimes it doesn’t work, but often we get these cool results that we couldn’t have achieved without working together.
How do you know if something you draw is good?
Marc (Silvestri) starts nodding as soon as he sees it. And then makes someone else get coffee and doughnuts. I think that’s happened once since I got here.
How do you practice?
I really haven’t had the chance to practice in a long time. I guess I practice by doing, which sometimes sucks when you find yourself turning in something which you actually know to be a “failed experiment”.
The reason why I love conventions so much is that doing sketches for fans really is the only opportunity I get to draw a lot of things at a quick pace and experiment with them. Some of the things I’ve done that I was proud of the most were quick con sketches. Who am I kidding? I have no fans.
You’ve only been drawing comics a few years. How did you make such a transition so quickly?
Immeasurable talent. Seriously, I think a big reason is that I love comics, and I love drawing them.
I’ve never really wanted to learn anything nearly as much as I want to learn to become a better artist. I really believe that anyone can become a really good artist if they’re willing to put in the time and effort, and that if I could be a professional penciler, anyone can. However, working under the Top Cow roof with Tony Robbins, I mean, Marc Silvestri as well as the other guys at the studio was probably the number one catalyst that propelled me to a point where I could con editorial into giving me a book. Suckers.
Being in a studio environment is so inspiring in that you see the incredible stuff the other people around you produce, which instills in you an urge to either show them up or throw yourself off a building. A little friendly competition never hurt anyone. You’re also in a place where you literally learn by simply being there, through osmosis. It’s like an accelerated learning program, but one where you actually want to learn.
What do you say to someone who’s edited and re-edited his stuff and submitted it everywhere and still can’t break in?
Listen to editors when you show your stuff. Don’t think they have anything against you. They are looking for the next big thing, and they know that the odds that they see anything polished enough to put on a book immediately is really slim. They want to help you become good enough to draw a book so they can hire you.
If they tell you that you need to work on anatomy, it means that they really see a problem with your anatomy and not that they don’t like you.
If you really were as good as Professional Artist X, you’d have a job. It’s as simple as that. If no one’s hiring you, it’s a sign that you need to get better, not that you need to attend more cons. Don’t give up. I never took any art classes in high school or in college, but I can program the crap out of your computer. I had absolutely no drawing skills whatsoever — some might argue that that’s still the case — when I made the decision to become a professional penciler, and it took a year of doing nothing, and I do mean nothing, but drawing to get to where I am right now.
But that decision turned out to be the best decision of my life, and every second of work that I put in has been worth it a thousandfold. I am literally living out a dream, where I draw by day and do interviews by night. I’m a happy man.
—Interview by Tim Leong