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June 22, 2014


CR Sunday Conversation: Dustin Harbin

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*****

This weekend is HeroesCon, and when I think of that convention and comics in Charlotte, North Carolina more generally, I think of Dustin Harbin. I was shocked to learn that it had been five years since we had interviewed. Since that time, Harbin has made the transition from full time employment by Heroes Aren't Hard To Find to a working artist and contributing craftsman to others' comics efforts -- work at Nobrow, AdHouse and Koyama; lettering on the last Casanova series. I've used him before on a couple of things here, and greatly enjoyed the experience.

I'm indebted to Dustin for turning this around so quickly, and I hope much less time will pass before we once again talk for publication. -- Tom Spurgeon

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imageTOM SPURGEON: Dustin, this interview is going to appear HeroesCon weekend if we did it right -- or soon after, if you did me wrong. You have a ton of experience with that show and shows in general. How do you approach your hometown show differently than others?

DUSTIN HARBIN: It's night and day, pleasantly. The main difference is the incredible savings of not having to travel somewhere. I know you know what I'm talking about -- you travel like a good two weeks to get to something like TCAF, right?

SPURGEON: [laughs] Something like that.

HARBIN: HeroesCon is not only in my home city, the convention center is a shortish bus ride from my house, so I don't even have to worry about parking once I've got all my stuff schlepped over there. And I bring all kinds of weird stuff I wouldn't to a show I travel to -- used books from my personal collection, pieces of furniture I stack on my table in arcane shapes, everything that isn't nailed down in my home that I can squeeze a few quarters out of.

HeroesCon is probably my best show of the year because of that proximity. And Shelton [Drum] and Rico [Renzi] are very kind to me, very helpful with little favors and access to things that a person of my somewhat limited name recognition normally wouldn't have. Although honestly, I think all the shows I do best at do the same thing -- I know I ask Chris [Butcher] and Miles at TCAF for little favors all the time, and they've always been very very accommodating. Same with Warren [Bernard] at SPX. The people that run the best shows are the nicest, most hospitable people, in my experience.

SPURGEON: One of the legacies of your time at the show is the health of its indie island element. While it's not TCAF south, Heroes has managed to hold onto a significant number of cartoonists from that world in a way that I think distinguishes the show from other shows of similar scope. Has that worked out the way you've wanted it to? What do you think an alt/indy comics maker gets out of Heroes when it's at its best?

HARBIN: Hm, interesting question. HeroesCon is, first and foremost, an art and creator-focused comics show, but historically it's not a slam dunk for indie stuff. That's not the show's fault, it's more the audience. What the show does really really well is cater to art collectors, people hunting through longboxes, families attending together, stuff like that. There have always been more "indie" creators attending -- Indie Island was just an attempt to kind of foreground that and build something sustainable. I'm still thankful that Shelton let me start that up.

I'm not sure that Charlotte is going to be a real hotspot for sales for someone like an Alec Longstreth or a Brendan Leach in the near future, but the people that shop at Heroes seem to reward repeat exhibitors. I know Alec told me he'd have people coming up to his table the second and third years he exhibited to pick up whatever was new, chat, etc. We're friendly people down here. But yeah it's mainly a mainstream art-focused show. On the other hand, Tom Scioli really slays at HeroesCon, maybe because he straddles that line between art comics and that mainstream art collector commission world. It's just a matter of figuring out which shows fit which people I guess.

SPURGEON: What are your thoughts about the growth of shows more generally, Dustin? When we first met six years ago, I could actually call my Heroes show report "The Last Great American Comic-Con," which would seem insane now. Why did this happen?

HARBIN: It's nuts how many shows there are now, isn't it? Especially considering that many of them do very well, apparently. Or at least they say they do. The increased number of shows is less surprising than the fact that the economy, and particularly the comics economy, seems to be able to support that. It's obviously pretty fertile soil. I'm guessing here, but I'd bet that a creator of middling recognition and middling work ethic can make in a decent con weekend what he might for an entire 22-page issue of a book at some of the mainstream comics publishers. Maybe we should start getting the successful conventions to start publishing books too.

I need to do more shows; it's about the only time I leave the house, and it always makes me do a lot of work in order to have something to sell. There's your reason to get into comics right there! "Well I have to have SOMEthing to sell I guess."

SPURGEON: Have you given any thought about relocating to a different comics community, Dustin? I think we've had that discussion in the past. You're going to be 40 soon; is Charlotte where you're settled? What keeps you there?

HARBIN: I think about relocating all the time, but inertia has kept me here. HeroesCon is something of an outlier locally -- Charlotte is not really a huge comics community in terms of people making them. The local college (UNCC) is like half an hour away, so what would normally be a renewing cycle of young creative people trying weird stuff, sometimes staying in the city, keeping the blood fresh so to speak, doesn't really exist. Charlotte's whole art scene is pretty anemic, honestly. Lots of small galleries with a bunch of landscapes and muddy hotel art.

HeroesCon is probably as close as we have to that central organizing position a college would have in a creative community. Once a year a ton of super interesting people come to the city, both comics makers and comics readers, and kind of gooses everyone's gears a little bit. Shelton should start a program to subsidize cartoonists to stay in Charlotte, maybe give them jobs at his shop. I know I learned most of what I know about comics working there -- and look at how great I turned out!

But yeah I think about moving a lot, I just maybe lack the energy. And the money. Freelancing is pretty hand-to-mouth, so the idea of getting ahead enough on rent and bills to be able to contemplate a move to a different city, even one with a more energetic creative community (Toronto is the one I always fantasize about), is hard to think about. Maybe one day when I hit it big.

SPURGEON: What would you say is the primary virtue of that part of the country as a comics maker? If you could add or change one thing with a snap of a finger -- say a massively thriving alt-weekly, or a cartoon school -- what would you add or change and why?

HARBIN: The one virtue is that it's cheap to live here, more or less. I don't know what "massive thriving alt-weekly" is, other than a legendary idea from a time long gone, like a unicorn. But a cartooning school would be fantastic here. It's cheap, you have one of the best shops in the country right in the middle of town, I live here; why the perks go on and on! If I could wave a magic wand that would be one direction I'd flit it in, but probably the best thing would be having a large, healthy university close to the city. Charlotte lacks young people who want to do cool shit, whether it's comics or painting or films or whatever. I mean, we have all those people, but just a few of each, and we all get older all the time. We need some young blood to show us how to do things and make us want to excel. Young people are good for rushing old people into the grave and making room for new ideas.

SPURGEON: Are you comfortable with the role that all of these shows play? You seem to do well at them, but at the same time I think I detect among a lot of cartoonists a slight exhaustion with maybe doing all the shows every year, and some frustration that a big show doesn't really indicate anything beyond that big show. Is this the best we can hope for? What can change?

HARBIN: What an interesting question. I'm not exhausted with doing shows, although I'm very prissy and only do shows I feel pretty confident I'll do well at, because I depend on them for a certain amount of my income. But yeah I can definitely see that, especially from some of the road warriors I know who do pretty much every show.

I agree with the point you make a lot that conventions have evolved into a part of the comics-making economy. I think it's been like that at mainstream shows for a long time, and the indie shows are just catching up as comics readers get more literate and buy stuff from more directions. HeroesCon, for instance, was huge for a lot of mainstream artists in terms of commissions and general income when I first started working there, back in 1996.

So I don't know what more to hope for: I'm pretty satisfied with the existing group of conventions, and moreso with the idea of the shows like HeroesCon and TCAF and Emerald City, that are very well thought of by fans and creators, to push other shows to rise to that level of quality. And adaptability.

imageSPURGEON: When we talked a few years ago, you were thinking about making the leap from your Heroes gig and full-time into comics and freelance illustration -- or at least more extensively. Are you disappointed or satisfied in general with the progress you've made? What's surprised you the most about that particular transition?

HARBIN: The only thing I'm really satisfied about is that my drawing chops have improved hugely over the last four years (I quit working for Heroes after the 2010 convention). Income wise, I scrape by barely, like most people, which is frankly a huge bummer. Partly that's my fault though. I'm curse with being snobby about the type and quality of work I'll take on, but then I feel like I rarely get excited about my own ideas, to the point where I feel pushed to get them out and develop them and so forth. Also I'm occasionally lazy, which doesn't help. This year I'm working on the latter of these curses though -- I have two things I'm about to start, once I get my site fixed, and some other irons in the fire.

SPURGEON: Who is the most whose work has most recently made you reconsider how you do your own? When was the last time you really stopped and studied someone that way?

HARBIN: At the risk of sounding incredibly treacly, I'm very privileged to count some of the artists I'm most interested in as friends, and a couple of them as close friends. There are cartoonists whose work I respond to and click with more than Joe Lambert's, but I don't think there's any cartoonist working whose work I think about more. Does that make sense? I mean it as a compliment, a big one. Joe has a thing I'm incredibly jealous of: beyond his crazy work ethic, he's constantly PUSHing himself, push push push. Sam Alden and Michael Deforge do the same thing. It's one thing to be prolific, but it's another thing, and a much much harder thing, to continue to strive for something out of your reach. Especially when everyone's kissing your butt about how brilliant you are all the time. I think that level of self-examination and self-challenge is what makes all three of those guys really really interesting, beyond of course the incredible quality of their work.

Of course I obviously am thinking about all the super-masters all the time too, especially Jaime Hernandez and Chester Brown and Seth and all those guys. But there's part of me that thinks all the best comics being made right now are being made by people under 30.

SPURGEON: What about your immediate age group, say cartoonists between 35 and their very early 40s? Is there anyone you admire there?

HARBIN: I never pass up a chance to say something nice about John Martz -- he's a huge influence on me and a really sweet person who's been very kind to me. So I guess he's an influence as an artist and as a person. Tom Kaczynski is my age-ish I think, or a least he has as much grey hair as I do. His work is such combo of deep thinking and raw edges. I remember reading him in MOME and being like who IS this guy.

How old is Eddie Campbell? He's probably closer to 50ish I'm guessing, but I'm working my way slowly through Alec right now, the big Top Shelf collection, and I'm just in awe of him. I feel like I had to age into appreciating how he sets up an image, what he leaves in and out. I'm still early on in the book too, so occasionally I'll look at a page and be blown away and then think "jeez, this guy was probably like 25 when he was doing this or something. I love seeing artists mature, but it's crazy how many of the best cartoonists seem to burst out nearly complete from the get-go. Eddie Campbell and Jaime Hernandez must have been the Sam Alden and Michael Deforge of their day.

SPURGEON: How do you feel like that generation of cartoonists with whom you identify has readjusted itself to comics-making over that same time? You can argue with some force I think that there's a whole group of cartoonists with whom you're friendly -- folks aged 28 to 34 now, maybe -- that have a different perspective on what making comics will entail moving forward.

HARBIN: What do you mean "a different perspective?" How do you see that current perspective?

SPURGEONK What I mean is that this generation of comics-makers right on either side of 30 came into comics with two avenues of significant financial promise: webcomics and the use of a community built through free digital distrbution, regular-publisher book deals. I don't see anyone thinking either one is a significant way out at this point. Do the people you talk to have the exact same plans they did six, seven, eight years ago? Do you? What's the best possible outcome here, Dustin?

HARBIN: Oh I see. Yeah 7 or 8 years ago everyone was getting book deals, right? That didn't last that long, except for the same guys that were getting book deals already.

What is the "significant way out?" What a bummer of a question, but you're right. The number of "outs" has shrunk hasn't it? As mercantile and greedy as I am, when I think about what I actually want to do, I think a big part of it is just making a big thing that I work hard on and am very proud of. The money would be secondary: I can always figure out a way to make money anyway. But being proud of myself, fired up about what I'm doing, feel like I'm putting something out there that has value and casts its own waves independent of me; that would be about enough for me. I also intend to continue making comics, some diary and some just general autobio, as a way to figure personal stuff out. Over time that work has had, or at least has started to have, a therapeutic benefit on me. Maybe one day it'll accrete enough mass to serve that other, first goal.

SPURGEON: You mention you feel you're a better artist. I know that with a lot of cartoonists, particularly working ones, finding ways to get better within what they use as a commercial style -- a way of drawing and making comics that attracts client and allows you to work quickly -- is really, really hard, especially after age 30. What are you better at now than when I met you six years ago, Dustin?

HARBIN: I'm better at everything than I was six years ago. People talk about drawing every day and so forth, but it's crazy how much better you get at anything simply by doing it a lot. It's also crazy how little all the stuff you think is important actually isn't. When I first started drawing more regularly, or at least with an eye towards developing it, I spent probably 4 or 5 years working through different brushes and inks and all that dumb stuff, all that craft and tools stuff. What a waste! If I had spent the same amount of time thinking about composition and storytelling and placing blacks and those kinds of less sexy ideas, I'd be a goddamn Superman now. But I didn't, and I'm not!

I recently worked on a little side project with Tommy Lee Edwards, and just being in the same room with some of his drawings (on my monitor, anyway) was hugely educational, especially when he'd point out little things here and there having to do with eye movement and depth. Same with lettering Seconds for Bryan Lee O'Malley. For my money Bryan has the best composition chops in comics, and getting to look at those pages from their sketched form all the way to final, especially getting to see what he changed and cut out or added, was immense. I'll be thinking about that experience for a long time.

SPURGEON: How exactly are you a better writer?

HARBIN: That I don't know. I would not characterize myself as a particularly strong writer, especially since the largest portion of my comics are autobio, and even worse, diary strips, where the quality of the writing can easily take a back seat to the tweeness of whatever important thing you think warrants making a comic out of. I've made a lot of slight comics; ideas that were barely there, or not there at all, where the style or fussiness of the drawing way outweighed any particular value the comic had as a piece of Capital A "Art." So part of the reason I've been making way less comics is that I'm working through ideas much more judiciously. I like to think that's a first step to being better at writing: thinking harder about what deserves writing.

SPURGEON: Can you talk about that a little more? I have a sense of you as a personality, and as an advocate for comics. I have a sense of your craft chops. I have a sense of your art. I'm not sure that I know what your strengths are in terms of employing words and building narratives might be, and most of the anthology work I've seen has be prescribed enough that I don't know that I have sense of the kind of stories you'd prefer to tell even.

Put it another way: if you could make any kind of comic, what kind of comic would that be, at least at first? Because I have no idea with you.

HARBIN: There are two kinds of comics I'm interested in making right now, in terms of longer and/or more serious work. I have a slew of diary comics coming once my website gets fixed, less in the what-happened-today vein and more in the here's-what-I'm-interested-in-talking-about vein. In terms of fiction, I want to make a big story, something wild and sprawling, something that sneaks up. I have tons of notes for two big stories; one will either be comics or a children's storybook, and the other one will either be comics or an animation pitch.

I'd like to write something for someone else to draw, too -- especially things I don't think my style and chops would serve well. The problem is, the few people I'm interested in collaborating with are already good writers and don't need some yokel to write for them.

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SPURGEON: You have a significant chunk of autobiographical work in your rear view mirror now. Do you feel that was strong work? How would that work be different if you were to start it today?

HARBIN: I'd say in the main, the work only started to get near strong towards the end. The story "Boxes" that I did, at the end of Diary Comics #4, was the first time I was making those little comics and felt like they were starting to have real worth, both to me, in dealing with the stuff I was trying to articulate into comics, and to maybe whoever happened upon them out in the wide world. I'm in the middle of combing through that work and sort of gleaning the strips that I feel like hang together and build something, for an eventual collection. Like actual memory, I have the luxury of selecting between bits to fabricate the narrative I want; or at least one that builds into Boxes and the more involved strips surrounding it.

If I started doing that work today, I would never do the one-strip-a-day thing. Like a lot of people, I run my mouth too much, and more than most. The last thing I need is another reason to bleat out my life every day; much better to speak up when I have something to say. The strips that I'm making now come out when I feel like it, and they're all much much better for it.

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SPURGEON: What makes character design so pleasurable for you? What makes a good character design, in your opinion?

HARBIN: Oh man. Character design is where I think I want to go, income-wise. It's SO pleasant. All the things that I'm good at are valuable in character design: quirky drawings, weird sense of humor, fussy attention to details. And the things I'm not great at, like layout and composition and thinking up interesting stories and just thinking about movement in general, I don't have to worry about that much. Perfect! Character design is like sciencey cartooning, you have to think about all these things like silhouette and how details move the eye around, and scalability and simplicity and so forth. I want all the character design work I can get -- an ideal future for me would be making good money doing that as a dayjob, and then working on my own stuff at night. I think I did more comics when I was working for HeroesCon full-time than I've done since I went freelance. The whole "more time to make comics" thing is a bunch of hooey!

SPURGEON: I can't tell if that's a joke or not. Is that true? Are you not getting as much done as you'd like? Why is that?

HARBIN: Nowhere near. When I worked at Heroes I made good money, enough to not worry about money when I got off work. I could make whatever, fly to shows, buy fancy art supplies, try weird pens, whatever I thought cartoonists did. Freelancing means a lot of working on little piddly stuff, or giant projects that take every second for weeks, or stuff you don't get paid for for awhile, or you get paid but then the advance runs out. I hate it. I hate freelancing. I like making and selling my own comics -- once I can block out enough time to get a flow going, posting things, printing things, selling and mailing them, that'll be fine. But as long as I have to drop everything when a big job comes along, it's hard to get in that groove.

SPURGEON: What don't you like about your composition?

HARBIN: I'm good at drawing stuff, but I just start drawing and then I ink it and then I'm done. The under-parts, the planning and thumbnailing and the science of composition, that my brain is not really great at. I want to take Frank Santoro's course one of these times -- I'm super interested in all that grid mojo he talks about, even if I suspect it's a half happy accident and half people just knowing subconsciously where to place figures in a frame for maximum impact.

I'm sure I'll get better at it given time. There are smart people like Frank and Kali Ciesemier [http://kalidraws.tumblr.com/post/32953413185/today-i-gave-my-students-a-quick-presentation-on] whose writing I refer to a lot. Kali should write a book. I'd sell that thing on the street for her like I was witnessing to sinners.

imageSPURGEON Before we get too far away from this, can you tell me about a character design of your that you like, and why you like it? Or maybe a couple, if that's easier. Is that a skill you develop, or is that one of the natural strengths you had going in? Is it possible to get better at that?

HARBIN: [I'm including the Paul Bunyan I'm referring to here with the other images I'm sending you.] The thing that I enjoy about character design is trying to combine mundanity with weirdness. One of the bigger stories I mentioned working on is a series based on the Paul Bunyan tall tales, both existing ones and some I'm making up out of more or less whole cloth. Paul Bunyan is one of those things where there's a real physical quality to him, like as soon as you say Paul Bunyan you think "huge." So one of the early drawings I did of him, which I actually ended up using as one of my one-hour drawings, was just trying to work out how I'd draw a person who was giant, impossibly giant, but still friendly, kind, smart, "sagacious" as my favorite childhood Bunyan book would say, etc. How abstract will he be? How real? How will he move? Like if I'm going to show him scooping out the Great Lakes, how big is he really, and how would he relate to the other lumberjacks, most of which are fairly normal-sized by comparison? All that stuff is really fun to work out. Almost as fun as the drawing.

Working on my design of stuff, even just the way I've drawn myself over the years, is one of my favorite things about cartooning. Stripping out all the lines you don't need, adding back in a few that don't make sense just to keep things lively. I've gotten better at it over the years, probably mainly because I do a lot of commissions where I have to come up with something based on a brief prompt like "bear." Drawing an interesting bear is a character design challenge, but moreso it's just a cartooning/abstraction challenge.

SPURGEON: You mentioned to me that you had been doing some lettering; I know the Casanova comics are a significant gig for you when those are going on. Is there a design aspect to that work? From where do you derive pleasure doing that kind of straight-up craft work?

HARBIN: I don't get a lot of pleasure out of lettering. Lettering is one of those things that almost anyone can do now with just a few bits of software and a decent font; so hand lettering is a lot of work for a result that's only slightly better than the same thing done with a font of your writing. Which isn't a bad thing necessarily, except that since any dumdum can letter their own book now, there's not really a market out there for hand lettering -- you have to explain to someone why $15 a page is a slap in the face.

I've been lucky in that the two big books I've worked on, Casanova and Bryan Lee O'Malleys' "Seconds," which comes out next month, both Matt Fraction and Bryan worked with me on how much it would take to be economically feasible.

That's important too, because when I work on something that's not mine, that freelance check is all the money I'm going to get. I don't get paid again when Casanova goes to TP, so that paycheck is all the income I'll see out of that work. I don't think I would enter into that kind of agreement with anyone unless I either was making tons or really believed in the work, y'know? It's appalling what people will accept as pay in comics. 

It makes me pretty mad, actually. Half of the people I know have done Adventure Time alternate covers for Boom and happily accepted checks I would never take from even a small company for a freelance gig. Maybe it's good exposure, I don't know. But I do know that Adventure Time sells a zillion copies, and that those artists sign away any rights to that image. I regularly hear about people seeing something they got paid $300 to do as a comic cover appearing on a t-shirt or a totebag or something without anyone even informing them. That's good exposure though, right?

SPURGEON: There's something being exposed there. Hey, do you have a pantheon of comic-book letterers, or anyone whose particular virtues in that area of comics-making impress you? Describe someone's lettering work you like and what you like about it.

HARBIN: I'll tell you who my favorite letterer is, and that's Dave Gibbons. If you go through Watchmen and just look at how many words he squeezes into those panels -- and there are a LOT of words -- without them ever becoming illegible or even cramped. When I was first lettering Casanova I used Watchmen as my style guide, whenever I was wondering how to do a linebreak or how to draw a number just so.

SPURGEON: Most of the work I've seen from you recently is single images, a lot of prints. Is that an interest you have concurrent to comics, is that something you see as the same thing, is that just following demand a bit?

HARBIN: Single images are easier to do, frankly. Or rather, they're easier to do and be done with, and easier to do something with if you want to sell the art or make prints out of it or something. This week I listed this new hand print, which was just something I drew in my sketchbook as a warmup, then redrew because I liked the image, then drew again to get just so and make a print out of. There's something about the austerity of a single image that's a good rest after working out all the timing and eye track and so forth with a comic.

Also I'm for sure following demand. I'll always do comics, but bringing 25 prints that I'll sell for $25 apiece to a show takes up a tiny sliver of my luggage, as opposed to 50 88-page minis that I'll sell for $10 apiece.

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SPURGEON: The one image of your I saw recently that I liked quite a bit is "The Figure Drawers." Can you talk about that one a bit, how it developed, and in general how you complete these drawings that you do like that -- what tells you to stop? How do you know an image is ready for commercial purposes? Are you one to worry over individual images?

HARBIN: I'm glad you like that. That was for a figure drawing show at the gallery I go to weekly figure drawing group at. I usually draw the model a little and the other drawers a lot, so that was an interesting drawing to work on, both in terms of composition and color -- I don't use color a lot or with particular confidence, so I built those colors up really gradually until they felt right. It's just a few colors of acrylic ink that I kept going over and over in transparent layers.

The cool thing about that though was that it was for a specific and finite audience: whoever walked into the gallery the month it hung, and the other figure drawers, many of whom are in there and recognized themselves. In comics you almost never think about working towards something hanging on a wall, or how far away an average person will be standing when they look at it, or what the lighting will be like. So it was a fun challenge. And the painting sold, so biff bam pow I guess I'm a painter now.

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SPURGEON: You have to tell me about the dinosaurs. What little I've read seem to indicate this is a previous project since revived, but other than that I don't know any of the backstory. Can you talk about its germination. What are the unique challenges of working with a set of visual images that are of such concern that you have experts from 8 to 80?

HARBIN: Those dinosaurs I've been posting are for a forthcoming leporello from Nobrow called Behold! The Dinosaurs! that will be out this fall I think. It's just under 100 dinosaurs, marching along over about 13 feet of image over two sides, when folded out. It came about because Sam and Alex at Nobrow had seen the print I did a few years ago that Sam Bosma and Kali Ciesemier colored and wanted to do a larger thing based on that idea: a procession of dinosaurs, with little labels saying who they were, when they lived, how big they were, etc. Unfortunately I had to color this one myself, which took one million years.

The challenge of experts wasn't too bad -- the history of paleontology is a mess of reversals and backstabbings and erroneous data. So my research, while pretty exhaustive, was limited mainly to reasonably dependable physical attributes like length or height or wingspan. Even those are usually expressed in ranges -- after all, they're basically totally guessing, right? The hard part was deciding out how to draw them all in scale with each other without having the line weights being different and messing up how the figures relate to each other in the picture plane. Initially I thought one month, maybe two at most, would be enough; it ended up taking about five solid months to research, draw, and color all the dinosaurs.

SPURGEON: How did you approach color with that print?

HARBIN: I colored that print differently from in the book, where there was an overarching color scheme and not the time to paint every little scale. Dinosaurs are weird for color. It's fun to make them any old color, but a lot of the existing rules for animal coloration would probably obtain back then -- predators want to blend in, there are signals for mating and aggression, and so on. I love triceratops so I just colored him how I thought he looked coolest.

SPURGEON: How far in advance are you booked? What's the next thing that's due?

HARBIN: Let's see, right now I'm trying to get my website fixed then I'll be posting new strips next month. After that I have no big book planned or anything, but I will be working on my Paul Bunyan thing, maybe shopping some pitches around to the animation world, maybe hunting up a new day job. Then, getting ready for SPX.

SPURGEON: Given your variety of comics experiences, is there anything you wish con organizers could tell creators, or that creators could tell retailers. What do you see that we don't?

HARBIN: I think con organizers should tell creators how to sell books. Most of the people I know are terrible at it. All that self-deprecation and shyness isn't great in a retail interaction. I was lucky in that I worked a million comics conventions before I ever made a comic. They should do panels at shows. I'll moderate.

Creators should tell retailers to take chances on new books, and to get out and support weird stuff that their customers might not have noticed. There are so many ways to buy comics now, most of which do not involve walking into a comics shop, right? For me, when a store not only has a cool book, but it's a book I'm discovering specifically because someone pointed it out to me, or a staff member has really made it his or her mission to make that book successful, that's the kind of thing you don't really get outside of a store.

I strongly believe the comics shops that survive the next few years of digital platforms and Amazon and whatever new menace to retail or print (or both) pops up, are going to be the ones that offer not only a personal touch, but who go out of their way and spend the money to make their store a destination. Stock minis, stock handmade books, stock weird prints that someone who's never read a comic before can walk in and respond to just sitting there on the wall. 

And for god's sake, when you read something like Jesse Jacobs' Safari Honeymoon and think it's the best thing ever, order 50 of them immediately and hand sell them to your customers. Turn your customers on to new shit and they'll remember you. I still have old Heroes customers who come up to me at HeroesCon and remember me and fellow former employee Matt Fraction selling them Preacher and THB and Vagabond back in the '90s. It wasn't just the books, it was that we'd wanted to share those books with them, and they were thankful for it.

Every time I go into a comics shop and they're not interested in me I think "Bah, I'll go home and order it cheaper on Amazon."

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posted 4:00 am PST | Permalink
 

 
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