A little while back I was lucky enough to have the opportunity to interview the writer of Neozoic, Paul Ens. Today I'm happy to say I had the chance to converse with the artist on the same book, J Korim. J was nice enough to take the time to give us some insight into the art side of Neozoic. As I'm a big fan of this comic book I'm pretty happy I've had the chance to speak with two of the creators so far. Enjoy!
Gwen: How did you first become interested in drawing comics?
J: I was always drawing for as far back as I can remember, cartoonish kinda stuff cuz I grew up on the Looney Tunes and strips like Bloom County but I didn't get into real comics and drawing in a comic book style until I was about 11 or 12, which feels kind late. I remember exactly what got me into it. Way back in the early 90's there was a commercial for Levi's 501 'Button Fly' jeans, one of 'em starred Rob Liefeld hanging out with Spike Lee. Rob was drawing his X-Force characters and Spike was filming him in that early 90's 'shaky-cam' indie-style, it all looked really cool to me, especially the drawings. Pretty soon I started hitting my local comic shop and picking up the various X-books. It was a good time to do that for an aspiring artist too, Jim Lee was drawing X-Men, Wilce Portacio was on Uncanny X-men and Liefeld was doing X-Force. I know it's more fashionable to bash Liefeld these days but his X-Force issues are some of the first comics I ever picked up, they’re freaky and weird and over the top and I still love ‘em to death! So I dunno how long it would've taken me to finally walk into a comic shop if he didn't show up on TV sketching his characters and talking about his 'button fly'.
Gwen: What's been the most enjoyable project you've worked on up until now and why?
J: Neozoic has a great look that I’ve had more input in designing and developing than anything else I’ve worked on so this would be it. And I’m not struggling as much with my art & style the way I used to. I think the first time I drew comics I definitely wasn’t ready and the quality of my work dropped off too much. Now I’m getting the hang of it and it's getting fun.
Gwen: Many artists take quite a bit of time to develop a distinctive style and tend to pull heavily from the work of their predecessors for inspiration. You already seem to have a unique style to your work. How did you manage to find your own artistic niche so quickly? Are there artists who have influenced your work in the past?
J: Y'know, if I was better at imitating other people's work I probably would but I'm not that talented so I'm stuck with my own 'style' and trying to squeeze every last drop of juice out of it that I can. I learn a lot from looking at Scott Campbell's work, Joe Mad, LeSean Thomas, French artists like Olivier Vatine and Phillipe Buchet, and lots of Japanese artists. I guess whatever style I’ve fallen into comes from not getting too hung up on one particular artists approach. And being formally educated as an animator definitely helped too.
Gwen: Are there any already established comic book series that you'd like the chance to work on ,or any specific writers you'd like the chance to work with?
J: X-Men has always been at the top of that list for me cuz I grew up with it, and definitely anything Star Wars. Those are the two groups of characters I’m most attached to personally and I think my art style would work well in those worlds. I’m also a huge fan of Sergio Leone’s movies so I’d love to draw ‘The Man With No Name’ sometime.
Gwen: How closely do you work with the team on Neozoic?
J: Well, Paul works in Calgary and Jessie Lam (colorist) is on the other side of Toronto from where I live so it comes down to some creative messaging back and forth. I think I get about 80-90% of what Paul writes in his script onto the page, if I leave anything out it's usually to make room for some visual idea I wanna run with and Paul’s been good about letting me do that. Jessie's a fantastic colorist, always comes up with great textures so I only offer a few vague suggestions when I hand her a page and she brings back gold.
Gwen: What's the most challenging part of creating the visual world of Neozoic?
J: There’s a lotta characters, lots of story, lots of subplots with even more characters and crowd scenes, lots of everything. It’s kinda disorienting. With the exception of Lilli (the main chick) I haven’t had the chance to draw any one character long enough to really become comfortable with them visually. So every time I start a new scene I’m still looking for reference material on my own character designs(!!) "How is this guy supposed to be drawn again?" Creating a fantasy world with a huge main cast is a bit overwhelming for a rookie like me. Still got a lot to learn.
Gwen: How did you end up working with Red 5 Comics (Paul said he originally found you by searching the web for images of girls with swords)?
J: Yeah, Paul found my work online and I was looking to get back into comics so it was just good timing. He found some Kill Bill fan art I made a while back that keeps floating around the net, the same piece that’s now on the side of Atlanta Thrasher’s goalie Kari Lehtonen’s mask. Paul found that mask too, the Toronto Maple Leaf’s are my team and they barely ever play Atlanta so it would’ve taken me forever to find out my art was on Kari’s mask.
Gwen: A number of my friends are aspiring artists and a few of them have expressed concerns about going into art as a career. They seem to be concerned that their art would become less enjoyable if it was a job. Have you found this to be a problem? Is there a way you've found that helps your work stay enjoyable?
J: If you struggle with your own art it can be very demanding and emotionally draining but if you're flexible and one of those lucky bastards who can be creative on cue, it could feel like you're getting paid for nothing at all. I fall somewhere in between but the more I learn, the more enjoyable it gets. I like the part where you're forced to learn and develop, maybe that's not for everyone cuz it can get very discouraging when improvement doesn’t happen fast enough.
Gwen: What do you have the most fun drawing so far within the world of Neozoic?
J: The opening scene in the second issue has Lilli doing some serious acrobatics, a great action sequence with lots of flipping & jumping among a huge pack of creatures. That’s my favorite kinda stuff, I love drawing the very basic running/jumping/sword swinging adventure, making characters very agile and that scene turned out perfectly. The covers have also been a blast, we just finished with the 4rth issue cover and it’s a knockout. It’s always fun to take a break from pages and do an ass-kicking pin-up.
Gwen: If I become incredibly wealthy, will you draw comic books for me?
J: Jeez, I don't think I'm very expensive at the moment but yeah, you go ahead and get wealthy! So you can pay me way more than anyone else would! How could I not support that?
Thanks again to J! I look forward to seeing more of his artwork.