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The Early Years

This is the story of how I started making comics. If you want to know “how I broke into the business”, I answered that HERE.

pre-2001: I drew comics as a little kid, I drew comics for class assignments in school, I drew my own superhero “parody” series on lined paper in grade 7-8. I did a comic strip about my friends in grade 11. I was still submitting comics for assignments when I was in university. In my late teens I first got on the internet (in like 1996-97) and made a few friends who were doing the same thing and started to see it as a potential way to reach an audience.

I started putting my half assed comics online and running a site called “impromanga” where one artist would write & draw the beginning of a story and then pass it off to another artist, and so on and so forth. (This wasn’t initially my idea, but I took over from the site’s creator and I think did a pretty decent job expanding on the concept and making it a viable and fun thing for online wannabe comic artists in the late 90s) I tried to draw a chapter of each story that came through the site, attempting lots of different genres and art styles. (The image above is from a never-quite-started later impromanga story written by Stefan Gagne and drawn by me)

pre-2001 (cont’d): Despite my whole web-based existence in the late 90s, I never really “started a webcomic”. My basic problem was I couldn’t commit. My dream in my late teens was to do a big fantasy epic. Every kid on the internet had their 10-volume opus planned out but hardly anyone sat down and drew page 1. Drawing even one page of comics is a massive undertaking. When you finish you feel like there should be a parade and you should get a medal. My thing was I could never get past page 13. By page 13, I was bored and realized pages 1-12 were lousy and everything started to seem impossible / pointless.

At some point I started scaling my ideas back and tried to do smaller stories with a limited scope. In summer 2000 I did this thing called Glorious You that was heavily Paul Pope inspired and was just a little tiny story about some girls talking in a bathroom. I drew it really small with a sharpie or whatever I had lying around - I stopped worrying about paper sizes and using the right pens and brushes and ink. It was dumb, but I was really pleased with myself for having executed a complete story, and I banged the whole thing out in less than 2 days. There was a feeling of accomplishment, which I can now report is a rare and fleeting thing in comics. Anyway, I recommend starting and finishing a short story ASAP if you’re a young cartoonist.

2001: I was 22 and I dropped out of university in Canada to go hang out with my internet best friend in Northern California. (not good life advice) Around that time, my friend L0cke and his roommates were starting a book called LAST SHOT at Image. They were nice enough to let me do lettering and graphic design on the first few issues, even though i clearly had no idea what I was doing (my only experience was in designing my own websites and lettering my own webcomics).

Long Vo was the lead artist (and had designed the logo and lettered the #0 issue that I used as my bible), Charles Park and Saka supplemented with backgrounds and color, and L0cke was the writer. Derek Liu was the brains behind the operation. My job was mainly drawing the word balloons and sound effects, plus the title page for each issue, and I did a few ads and poster layouts. I learned lots of photoshop stuff from these guys. They went on to do lots of interesting things (like founding Gaia Online and being big shot Capcom artists). Last Shot was my first “pro work” and I tagged along to a few comic conventions that year, which is how I met James Lucas Jones (Oni Press) and Erik Ko (Udon).

2001 (cont’d): During that time I started a followup to “Glorious You”, a story called Locked In The Trunk Of A Car that I never finished. I tried to apply the same “quick n’ dirty” approach from “Glorious You” to a longer story, but I started spontaneously and didn’t know where the story was going. It was all so easy at first but as the story grew it collapsed under its own weight. I realized if I’m going to do a story of any length I need to do some planning beforehand.

2001 (cont’d): I returned to Canada and got a few odd jobs from both Oni Press and Udon. Udon had just started up and they were doing some Marvel projects at the time, which is how I ended up drawing a Spider-Man children’s book. It was one of those “board books”, printed on heavy cardboard. It was the first art job I did that paid decently. It was enough of a nest egg to get out of my parents’ house again and move to Toronto - in fact, my soon-to-be-roommate Chris Butcher helped me color Spider-Man while we figured out the logistics of our future rooming situation.

2001 (cont’d): Meanwhile, I inked a comic book (Queen & Country #5) for Oni Press and started pitching them various things. The thing they were most interested in was called "Lost At Sea" and was about some girl on a road trip. They asked me to do some Lost At Sea web comics for the Oni Press website in anticipation of doing it as a 4-issue series.

2001 “Lost At Sea” strips: 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5

2002: Before I started on Lost at Sea, I was offered a job drawing the miniseries “Hopeless Savages: Ground Zero” at Oni. This was the sequel to a popular series by Jen Van Meter and Christine Norrie (with Chynna Clugston), and they wanted to rotate the artists - Christine and Chynna would draw 6-page flashback sequences in each issue, while the main story would be all me. I realized pretty quickly that I was completely unprepared to draw 96 pages of complex multi-character comedy/drama from a full script, based on existing character designs. I was in over my head right away, but it was an incredible learning experience. It was insanely hard work and I’ll always be grateful that Oni and Jen gave me the opportunity. I learned a lot about storytelling, about working with other people, and mostly about W-O-R-K-I-N-G on comics in general. Much of that book is really hard for me to look at, but its best moments are kinda the beginnings of the style I’d develop through Lost At Sea and Scott Pilgrim.

2002 (cont’d): That summer I did a 2-page Lost At Sea strip for the Oni Color Special and after finishing Hopeless Savages in the fall I did a new series of web comics for the Oni Press site. The “Style” comics grew out of another web comic I’d started (and abandoned) a few years earlier. This new version was light and goofy colorful strips about three ridiculous girls in high school. This is pretty much a direct precursor to Scott Pilgrim, including an early Kim Pine and Lisa Miller and a similar level of silliness.

2002 Lost At Sea color strip

2002 “Style” strips: 1 | 2 | 3