Part 4 of our 5 part Firetower Studios interview series. Action Lab has taken a big interest in this crew, and their fan base is getting bigger and bigger. This time around, we are talking to Charlie Harper about his two series Ennui of the Dead and Crazy Normal. He talks a lot about how his process has evolved, and some of the big creators that have influenced him.
CBotMP: What is your comics origin story? What’s the first comic you remember reading, and did it immediately make you put pencil to paper and start drawing?
Charlie Harper: I grew up in the country surrounded by fields and there were no comic books to be found. One of my mom and dad's old high school friends was moving to California and he was unloading a bunch of stuff and brought me a box of his old comics. I was probably 7 or 8. The first one I pulled out was Punisher. I remember thinking it was cool that he was all in black with the skull on his chest. Plus I was into G.I. Joe at the time so it clicked. There was a lot of Avengers and Justice League, all 80s, titles in there. I would say by far though, Iron Man and The Punisher were the ones I loved. I did draw them a lot.
CBotMP: Being secluded from comics only to have this box of color and light dropped into your lap, that must have been pretty mind blowing. In our interview with Jeremy Whitley, he said that you invited him to your artist meet up, how long had you been holding these before he joined you?
CH: Well Jason Strutz had actually started the art group via Craigslist. About 4 weeks after joining the group, I saw another Craigslist posting, by Jeremy, looking for someone who wanted to draw a comic with him. I answered it, and we met at the same coffee shop that the art group was meeting. Jeremy didn't live far from there, so I told him he should start coming to the group. I introduced him to Jason and those guys have created awesome work together.
CBotMP: As an illustrator who are your major creative influences?
CH: It changes all the time. One constant however, is Marko Djurdjevic. And this is from ConceptArt.org back in the day before he dropped the X-Men work. His pencils and concept art is amazing. I own his CA.org DVD and I have always been a huge fan of his. Right now I have to say I am really into Rafael Albuquerque of American Vampire . I love the ink work he does with the gray washes. As far as classic illustration Andrew Wyeth is my favorite. I am also a big fan of Nic KIein's work. His combo of different styles in the Viking books is fantastic.
CBotMP: What sorts of subjects do you like drawing most? Is there a particular project you would love to draw?
CH: I love ghosts and the supernatural more than anything. I am always saying to people that I love stories about the "intelligent dead". Not in the vampire sense, but in the "oh shit, I died and I now live in the underground as a ghoul" or something like that. I love the series Being Human on SyFy, to give you an idea. I am also a huge fan of Steve Niles. I have never read 30 Days of Night either. I am talking about Criminal Macabre, Doc Macabre, and his Ominibus book of short stories.
CBotMP: You should check out the first issue of Aleister Arcane by Neils. It's about a late night shlock horror movie host that seeks revenge against a town that killed him. The first issue is one of the best horror comics I've ever read, but it turns pretty quickly into a scare-fest that in no way lives up to the first issue. Also, you should check out DC's Showcase Presents House of Mystery Volume 3. There are some AMAZING artists in there and their work is truly chilling.
On average, how long do you spend drawing each strip?
CH: It really depends on the family and how tired I am. 1.5 to 3 hours normally. This is sad to say. I should be more consistant with how I do the strip. Some weeks I do it 100% digitally in Manga Studio EX 4. Then some weeks I do it traditionally. I have recently started doing the initial drawings and all the lettering up front in MSEX4, and then printing it out to do the final drawing and inking over blue line. I like this method best. Also in regards to color I have been toying with the idea of watercolor. I have just started introducing/LEARNING to do gray wash toning like my influences listed above.
CBotMP: You can see a bit of Far Side influence in Crazy Normal, is that intentional? Or are there other people you admire in the one panel gag strip/political cartoon genre that have influenced you more?
CH: I own every Far Side collection book out there. Jeremy had the idea that I change to that format because he knows how tight my schedule is. Since then, I have enjoyed doing it and it makes coming up with ideas easier. I lean on social issues for my ideas in general and sometimes those cross over into politics, but I do not want it to ever be just about politics.
CBotMP: The first strip of Ennui of the Dead was in color, and it quickly shifted to only black and white. Was there a specific reason, or just timing?
CH: Well I simply wasn't happy with the result in color. It is one of MANY things I need to work on to be a better artist.
CBotMP: Whose work (graphic novels or otherwise) have you read lately that you really enjoyed?
CH: Well, The Walking Dead is just fucking insane. I am reading the hell out of that series. Jeremy and Jason have been great at introducing me to some great Vertigo titles, which is by far my favorite label. Y the Last Man was great, but Preacher was amazing. Right now I am going back and reading Alan Moore's Swamp Thing in the late 80's on my Kindle Fire via Comixology. It is great and the art work is amazing too. The page design reminds me of Sandman where every page is a huge piece of art. And my wife got me the Star Wars comic art book at christmas and I have been through that thing a thousand times.
CBotMP: Thank you so much for answering our questions. And we can't wait to see how Ennui of the Dead develops as it continues.
Charlie Harper posts new strips of Crazy Normal every other Tuesday and Ennui of the Dead on Thursdays at Firetowerstudios.com.
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