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While I was at the Art Institute of Pittsburgh, sitting in a class about the principles of design, another student sat next to me who would soon become my good friend. We quickly learned that we shared a similar sense of humor and a fondness for comic books. Our similar, non-linear style of thinking took us down many fun rabbit trails of good laughs and could turn something as simple as the company name on a box of staples into a cowboy caricature called “Bo Stitch.” That other student was Drew Geraci.
At the time, Drew was developing his own cast of super hero characters. His ambition was to be an artist for a comic book company. After graduation, we eventually lost touch as we went down different career paths, but I recently reconnected with Drew and was happy to learn that he is living his dream. I asked Drew for an interview for my blog and he agreed. He shared with me some of his background, his insider’s view of the comic book industry, some of his techniques working with ink and advice for those who are starting out where he did a little over 20 years ago. This is what he had to say:
MJ: From the first time I met you at the Art Institute of Pittsburgh (back in 1984 or 1985) you wanted to be a comic book artist. Just how far back does that dream go?
DG: Since I was 7 or 8 years old. I just fell in love with the medium immediately. This was the 1970s and both Marvel and DC had these tabloid-size collections that were 10" x 13" which looked extra big to me as a kid. Also, back then, comics were everywhere: The drug stores, grocery stores, book stores, record stores, convenience stores. I was lucky to be living in a location where they were all a short bike ride away. Once or twice a week, I’d make my rounds. If one store didn’t have something I wanted, another would. One day my enthusiasm made me try to write and draw my own comics and that’s when I discovered I could draw. And I kept making my own comics (with letters pages, even!), and stapling them together.
MJ: Is comic book artist the correct term for me to use? How do you describe what you do to others?
DG: Inker. I take a comic book page already drawn in pencil, and add depth and texture to it with a variety of techniques. If I'm inking debris, I ink rough and craggy, but if I'm inking hair, I'll use thin-to-thick orderly brush lines.
DG: Jack Kirby. When I first started reading comics, I was more attracted to Marvel. Their cover trade dress was more garish than DC, who had hyper-realistic covers by Neal Adams and Nick Cardy-which scared me. Kirby was then working at DC, but the work he was producing there was also scary to me-lots of ugly monsters and haunting faces (I’ve since come to appreciate that period of his art). But at that same time, Marvel was reprinting a lot Kirby’s work from the ’60s, such as Marvel’s Greatest Comics, Marvel Double Feature, Marvel Spectacular, etc. His work was so magical. This cover hooked me in as a fan forever. The Thing from The Fantastic Four has to be one of the top five greatest comic creations, visually. And comics is a visual medium. I was much more attracted to the reprint comics from the ’60s; they had a “pop art” feel that appealed to my childish sensibilties. You can look back and see styles that came and went, but Kirby’s work is timeless.
MJ: What steered you toward the Art Institute of Pittsburgh?
DG: I had taken art vo-tech classes in high school, and felt I needed to learn more. AIP had commercials on TV, so it made sense to check it out. It was the only art school I knew of in the area.
MJ: How did AIP prepare you for what you are doing now?
DG: It shook me out of my “art is only a hobby” mentality to making it a career. I learned perspective, lettering and lots of other things I hadn’t been exposed to before. Some of it, like doing key art boards/paste-up turned out to be a waste of time, because in a few short years, with the advent of desktop publishing, it became antiquated.
Henry Koerner Time Magazine Cover
MJ: Looking back at you art school experience, would you like to tip your hat to any specific teacher?DG: Henry Koerner. As you remember, he would have us do figure drawing without the safety net of pencils and instead draw in ink with rapidographs. At first I was terrified, but when I got over it, it helped my artistic confidence level. Henry really liked my work, and actually called me a “master of line-art"” (I know this sounds self-serving, but it’s true). This also gave me tremendous confidence, thinking: “I can do this!”
MJ: Do you find that the larger percentage of artists in your field have some formal training? Is there a specific academic background that best prepares one for working as a comic book artist?
DG: A lot of comic artists are self-taught, for better or worse. As far as schooling prep, the Joe Kubert School in New Jersey has many graduates who’ve become top names in the industry. When I went to AIP, I still had lots of doubt. I never believed I’d be a comic artist – it was too lofty a goal. So I thought I’d use my interest in art for advertising, which seemed more realistic, even though I was never that enthused about advertising. What I should have done was gone to the Kubert school. It would have saved me a lot of years trying to break into comics. But it was in another state, and I was afraid of moving so far after high school, plus the lack-of-confidence thing. So I never even brought it up to my parents. I probably would’ve gone there instead of AIP. But AIP did help me get acquainted with art-as-business.
Hell Boy: Pencils by Gene Colan, Inks by Drew Geraci
MJ: What advice do you have for aspiring comic book artists.
DG: Be honest with your abilities. Hone the abilty to spot your weaknesses and attack them. Don’t get defensive during portfolio reviews.
On a personal level, know this: Especially when you start out, make all other things secondary. Deadlines mean everything. Comics are not a 9-to-5 job. You can’t plan every Tuesday as bowling night. Also, particularly if you’re on the tail-end of the assembly line as inkers, colorists and letterers are, don’t make any weekend plans.
Thor: Pencils by Scot Eaton, Inks by Drew Geraci.
MJ: I’ve always pictured comic book artists working in a large, New York City studio filled with other talented artists all enveloped in an enviably fun and collaborative atmosphere, with Stan Lee looking over their shoulders. But I understand that you live with your lovely wife in Atlanta, Georgia and work out of your home. Explain to me an average work day for Drew Geraci.
DG: My day’s pretty dull. I’m basically a shut-in when I’m working. One of the dogs wakes me up to go outside, then I grab coffee or a soda, turn on the computer and surf for an hour or so until I wake up. Then I’ll start working on a page for a few hours, break for lunch, maybe run some errands, then resume inking. Karen comes home at 5 pm and we hang out until supper. Some days I’ll go back to work for a few more hours, some days I’ll just chill. I think I’ve finally gotten some balance after so many years doing this. I usually work weekends, but I’m not working the 14 hour days like I did the first five years of my career. Back then, I took every job offered to me, just to see how many comics I could be in before they realised I was a fraud and shut the door on me (LOL). Currently, I don’t have a monthly book, but I pitch-hit on a variety of books and special projects, a few pages here, a few there. So it’s a slower pace, but I’m glad to still be working.
Stan Lee and Drew Geraci.
DG: Well, I did have that experience, twice. In 1998 I was invited to join Eisner-winning artist Tony Harris’ Jolly Roger Studio in Macon, GA with 3 other artists and jumped at the chance. It was an hour away, but I really liked a) getting out of the house and b)sharing techniques and gossip with fellow comic pros. I spent 2 years there until we had a rift. There was a lot of drama. Bills weren't getting paid, and maybe I complained about it too much, but I was asked to leave.
Donna Troy: Sketch by Adam Hughes, Inks by Drew Geraci.
Less than six months later, I was invited to join an upstart comics company in Tampa Florida called Crossgeneration Comics. Several pros I knew personally had moved there. The pay was better, they paid our moving expenses, the art supplies were free, and I could again experience the studio environment without paying for studio bills. Also, I would be a salaried employee. I have never been fully comfortable with the freelance lifestyle, where you have to hunt down editors for work. At Crossgen you were assigned a title, and if it wasn’t a comfortable fit, you could ask the art director for a latteral move to another title. I started the first month of 2001. Some people may sneer at cubicles, but ours had lots of great artwork pinned up on them. I got to make friends with other pros I had only admired from afar. For me, every day was like a comic convention, because we had a lot of top writers and artists you could chat with and show the day’s art with. It was our own little mutual admiration society. It was a friendly competition that elevated everybody’s game. On Wednesdays, we’d all run out at noon to hit the comic shop and eat lunch. Also, the boss would arrange barbeques once a month and bowling nights, kareoke nights, little motivational extras. Unfortunately, there was a large sweep of layoffs in September 2003, including me. I was later asked back at a reduced salary, but turned it down. Instead, I called up a Batman editor at DC and got a Batgirl issue right away. I could see the writing on the wall for Crossgen, but I’m forever grateful for the amazingly talented people I got to rub elbows with there.
From, The Path: Pencils by Jim Fern, Inks by Drew Geraci.
DG: Monthly Deadlines is why. Most freelancers can only do a page a day and have a normal life. Few pencillers ink themselves, but not on a montly basis. There’s 20 pages in a comic, 28-31 days a month, so the math wouldn’t work. Usually each issue there’s a few ultra-detailed pages that require extra time, so you might spend two days on a page. Comics are extremely competitive for the entertainment dollar, with movies, video games and costs of everything going up. So we artists are very aware, and strive to part you from your money over the next guy’s comic book.
Some artists can pencil, ink and color their work, but only on special, limited-series projects or graphic novels. And those don’t get put on a publishing schedule until most of the work is in.
MJ: What are the tools of your trade?
DG: Depending on the style of the penciller, I either use a quill or a brush. Since a lot of modern artists do such small details, I find myself using a Hunt #104 quill with Dr. Ph. Martin’s Bombay black india ink. I’ll also use Raphael 8404 series #1 and 2 brushes with Dr. Ph. Martin’s Black Star Matte india ink. Different inks have different viscosity, so that’s why I don’t use the same inks for quills and brushes. Koh-i-Noor rapidographs for tech and buildings. Pro-white for mistakes.
Batman: Pencils by Tom Derenick, Inks by Drew Geraci.
MJ: When Marvel or DC send you a page for inking, what is the process. How does it arrive? How do you pass the work to the next artist?
DG: It used to be FedEx, but shipping has gotten too expensive for most books. It’s still used, but it’s reserved mostly for the ‘hot’ artists. Now a lot of pencils are sent as scans via YOUSENDIT or Dropbox or a folder on an ftp site. Then I take the pencilled image, print it out as a nonphoto blueline, ink that, then scan it and post it in (example: DC comics) ftp site, which has a folder with my name on it.
MJ: So, now you have a new page with some masterful pencil work and you are about to touch your pen to the page. It seems like an enormous responsibility, taking the pencil artist’s drawings to the next level. Is your hand shaking a little? How do you approach this pressure?
DG: Well, I've been doing this since ’94, and I’ve had the honor of inking some pretty big names in the industry, so I’m fairly desensitized. However, if it’s a penciller I’ve never worked with, there’s always a slight adjustment period. With comic book deadlines, there’s no real time to adjust, so I’ll warm up directly on the page by just inking strait-edge stuff, like buildings and machinery. This is with a bevelled triangle and rapidographs.
Green Lantern Corps #26: Pencils by Pat Gleason, Inks by Drew Geraci.
DG: Never had a huge mistake that made me start over. I’ve had pages where I find I’m going in the wrong direction, so I'll put it aside, start a different page, then come back to the other later.
MJ: Have any mistakes made it into print (which issue)?
DG: A few minor mistakes got printed, but extremely minor. I still remember a panel that had a small black area between two people walking that I didn’t fill with black. It was Birds of Prey #8 (1998). Usually, I ink the contours of the figures and other elements on the page, then when I’m warmed up, I do the feathering and other details. After everything is detailed, then I fill in the blacks. I happen to miss this one panel and it still drives me crazy, as it was an otherwise high-point in my inking abilities.
MJ: How much freedom do you have to add you own “touch” or your own details to the pencils?
DG: It depends on the penciller. Most modern pencillers draw very tight on every detail, whether it’s clothing, backgrounds and even debris! I suppose it’s done this way so that even a bad inker can’t ruin the art. I was born too late. I’d love to have been an inker in the ’60s or ’70s when the inker was purposefully assigned a book to add their own flair. Now that’s mostly the burden of the computer colorists, who can add special effects like blurs or flares.
MJ: I recently read an interview of Julien Hugonnard-Bert* where he names you as one of his influences. I can only imagine how flattering, and humbling, such a compliment must be for you. Who are your influences?
DG: A lot of the late ’70s Marvel inkers: Klaus Janson, Terry Austin, Bob Layton, Bob McLeod. Also, when Moon Knight artist Bill Sienkiewicz started inking his own work, it was eye-opening. They all had distinctive styles
Flash: Pencils by Carlo Barberi, Inks by Drew Geraci.
MJ: I understand you have done your share of touring the conventions and signing autographs. I have a nephew who goes to the ComiCon conventions to meet the artists. He tells me he has your autograph. What do you enjoy most about meeting your fans? And how do the fans enter into your thought process as you work on a piece?
DG: First, it’s always a kick to have someone ask for your autograph. Fans are very polite, like saying: “Would you mind signing this?” I don’t know who would mind, but I always smile and thank them for taking an interest in my work. Maybe it’s a needyness on my part, but when I’m getting praise from somebody, I feel pretty confident while working on a commission. But if the show’s turnout is low as well as the energy level in the room, I’ll apologize about not doing commissions and just sign stuff.
MJ: Would you like to say anything to your fans now?
Thanks, both of you!
Wolverine: Pencils by Marco Djurdjevic, Pencils by Drew Geraci.
MJ: I understand you are now accepting commissions. Tell me how that works? How does one commission you for your art?
DG: Contact me through www.drewgeraci.com or on Facebook https://www.facebook.com/drew.geraci1
For more details about commissions, please visit http://comicartcommissions.com/Geraci.html
MJ: Thank you so much, Drew, for taking the time to share your insights from the world of comic book art.