Up and Coming: Daniel Krall

Up and Coming: Daniel Krall

While some of us may be delighted by the biggest and the most popular in the world of comics, we all realize that for every popular book, writer or artist there has to be a beginning. While there are many ways to success with each story finding its own route, there is one attribute that can be found in each one: talent. Up & Coming is a regular feature at Newsarama.com that seeks out the next generation of comic creators and profiles them today.

Now you see him, now you don't. That's one way to describe artist Daniel Krall. He burst onto the scene several years ago with the Oni Press graphic novel One Plus One and contributed short stories to Project: Superior and Madman Super Groovy King-Sized Special. A new book, entitled Follow Me Closely was solicited but ultimately never released. Fast forward several years and Krall is an in-demand illustrator for magazines and newspapers, and he's slowly coming back to the fold of comics. He had a story in the recent Tori Amos anthology Comic Book Tattoo, and has several projects in the works. For what comes next, we talk to the artist.

Newsarama: After a bit of a hiatus, you recently jumped back into comics with a story in Comic Book Tattoo. How was this experience for you?

Daniel Krall: It was really great. Rantz Hoseley was kind enough to invite me to contribute and I thought it would be a good opportunity to collaborate with my friend, Neal Shaffer. The concept of starting with a song as the catalyst for a sequential narrative was a cool challenge. Neither of us had heard "The Beauty of Speed" before, but we sat down and worked out a plan for a story that focused on a character whose life had moved beyond his control both literally and within the structure of his relationship. It was nice to work with Neal again (which I hadn't done in comics since One Plus One), and I'm pretty happy with the results. The book is a really nice collection, and the design and printing are beautiful.

NRAMA: Like you said, this isn't the first time you've worked with Neal Shaffer. Why do you think you work together so well, and do you plan any future collaborations?

DK: Well, Neal and I have been pals for years and we have a good organic collaborative process down. We typically have fairly different ideas about what makes a story work, and with a little tweaking those ideas tend to work together pretty well and create a sense of balance. Also, there's a mutual respect there for our respective skills that allows for input without being heavy handed. No overblown egos in play, which can be hard to avoid when creative types work together. We've been talking about working on another project for a while now. Most likely something new and different from One Plus One. More recently we've been working together on some graphic design stuff outside of comics.

NRAMA: Speaking of future projects, what do you have planned next in comics?

DK: I don't have anything nailed down at the moment, but for the first time in years I'm feeling fueled up and ready to get moving on something in comics. I've got a number of my own projects I've been tooling around with for a while now. I've got some adult oriented stuff and some kid-friendly projects I've been working on. I've also had some exciting ideas thrown my way from some industry folks lately. It's funny to say, but I feel like I shouldn't really spill the beans on that just yet. I really feel most artistically fulfilled when I'm telling stories. I love doing that visually, but I enjoy writing too. I've been working on some scripts that I'm thinking about shopping around. Maybe work with another artist for a change?

NRAMA: I can't draw, Daniel. Sorry to break it to you. Maybe someone else will step up?

Continuing on, your biggest work to date has been on the graphic novel One Plus One for Oni with writer Neal Shaffer. Your style has really evolved from that book - what would you chalk up that to?

DK: Well, I did One Plus One nearly eight years ago. I think I just hadn't put the hours in. My work was pretty raw at the time and I think I just hadn't done enough of it to develop a level of comfort in mark making or storytelling. After One Plus One I concentrated on fixing the parts of the machine that I thought needed work.

I guess between the time I spent doing freelance illustration stuff and working as an instructor at the Maryland Institute College of Art here in Baltimore, I've had a lot of opportunities to evolve. I think what I do now is an improvement on my prior work, and I hope I'll be able to say that every couple of years.

NRAMA: There was a second graphic novel planned called Follow Me Closely - what happened to that?

DK: That book and my failure to produce the pages for it is really one of the things I regret most. It's a little bit of a black mark on an otherwise pretty complaint free career history. Neal and I had just wrapped up One Plus One and I was itching to get out and tell some stories of my own. I loved working with Neal, but at the time we had developed really different interests story-wise and I wanted to stretch my legs. The mistake I made was to write and pitch a really lengthy and really personal epic sort of thing as my first solo project. Jamie S. Rich was my editor at the time and he and the other Oni guys were really supportive and dug the story, so I got to work. The book was solicited and I was producing some of the best pages I had done at the time. Unfortunately things took a turn for the worse in my personal life, and the book became kind of a strangling monster. I felt like I had to step away from it and sort things out. Luckily the guys at Oni have been more than understanding. I still have a good relationship with them (that includes occasional ribbing). I actually have a big pile of never been seen finished art for it lurking in a box next to my desk. It's become a bit of a bad joke in my friend circle, but I do intend to do something with it someday. I just need the cloud over it to clear for me. At this point I'd most likely start over from the beginning or at least give it a fresh coat of paint.

NRAMA: What led you to take a break from comics?

DK: Well, the Follow Me Closely thing sort of sent me for a spin. Like I said, I had a rocky period in my life to contend with and I decided I needed a break. I was pretty green at the time so I actually took time off from doing art professionally and did some other things. I did a little traveling, worked a variety of temporary jobs and eventually got stuff cooking again. I went back to illustration first (again), because it's my old comfort zone. I think the attitude there is a little different. Quality of work and one's ability to stay ahead of the curve with style holds a lot of currency. I've been doing regular freelance again for some years now. I'm excited about finally starting where I left off with the sequential stuff. A lot of comics folks talk about it being a labor of love more so than a great way to cobble together rent money (unless you're doing a monthly title). I think that's a good mind set to have. There are so many people trying to break big in comics. It enforces this attitude that you're lucky to be where you are and you should just take a couple of acorns, stick them in your tree, and be happy. I think I'll keep doing a variety of things and try to keep them partitioned in my mind. It's only really worth your while if you can capture the feeling that work time is playtime and hold onto it.

NRAMA: Digging through your website I discovered a comic idea you're working on called Megamoon. What is that about?

DK: One of the things I've been doing over the past couple of years is just laying down a bunch of concept work for stories I'd like to work on. I've put together a few different pitch books for kid related animation projects. Megamoon is a story I'm working on with my old college pal Joe Meyer. When we started laying down episode ideas for the show I thought it might be a good fit for a comic too. It's a story about a planet and its adjacent moon on the far end of a galaxy that's embroiled in a space opera style power struggle. Lots of alien families get tired of dealing with living in a space war zone so the planet was converted into a giant gated community sort of place. The moon was hollowed out and turned into an enormous intergalactic mall. The story follows a teenaged alien boy named Sam, his little brother Gibbley, and their respective friend groups. It's like Fast Times at Ridgemont High, Goonies, and some kind of really awesome space thing all mashed together. It's a comedy/ adventure. It's also got a little bit of a message in it about the value of exploration and real life experience vs. hiding behind a computer in your neat little corner of the world. I'd like to find a home for it one of these days.

NRAMA: You've done a series of anthology stories. How do you feel about doing these short length projects as opposed to "feature" length OGNs or miniseries?

DK: I like doing stuff for anthologies for the same reason I like doing illustration work. It's really a small serving adventure. I'm not sure it's an easier task to do well. When you have a limited amount of space to deliver something that someone will invest some thought into after the fact, you've got a difficult task on your hands. It's fun though, and I've been lucky to get to work for and share space with some really incredible creators. I also really enjoy reading anthology books. There's usually at least a handful of really great things in them, and they're a great place for new comic artists and writers to get started. One Plus One is my only feature length project to date and it was a miniseries. I've got no experience doing an ongoing monthly. I have an awful lot of respect for the folks who can do that and do it well. I think I'd be willing to give it a shot if I found something I was really invested in that required that sort of length. I am looking forward to doing another ogn or miniseries sometime soon. I think it'll be less of a sophomore effort and more like starting from square one on a new degree plan.

NRAMA: Although you haven't done a lot of comics work as of late, you've been busy doing freelance illustration and design work for magazines, newspapers and books. How would you compare this discipline to comics?

DK: I've been doing freelance illustration and design stuff for years. I actually started doing that right out of school well before I worked up the nerve to give comics a go. I think the draw to it for me is the chance to solve problems creatively. Illustration is a pretty tough field, but I think it's rewarding. The big differences come in the way the industries operate, and the sheer variation of the sorts of projects I get as an illustrator or designer. I've done lifestyles sorts of things for Details Magazine, YM, and others. I've done op-ed types of things for the New York Times and the Village Voice. I did concept work for a toy company. I even had the opportunity to draw a map that appeared in the movie National Treasure 2. Every week holds the chance for something new and unexpected. It's pretty fun in that way, and the payment for it is descent. Comics work differently I think. We all know about the kinks in the business end of comics, and the discussions that have been had about the medium expanding beyond it's niche. While I think those things leave a funny taste in my mouth sometimes, I still believe in comics. I know I'm not the first person to say it, but it's a way of telling stories where all things are possible. You aren't limited by a special effects budget or the abilities of your actors. It all comes down to the imagination of the people working on the project. When you have good people with a good editorial staff behind them you sometimes get treasure. I also think that while illustration has gotten me more mainstream exposure, comics readers have offered me the most rewarding feedback. It's been really nice to talk to people who care about what you're doing. A crossover sort of thing for me might be doing some comics covers. I've been wanting to give that a try for a while now, and I think it might be a fun way for me to stick my toe in the comics pool as an illustrator. Cover-work combines my interest in design, illustration, and storytelling into a neat little package.

NRAMA: Being a illustration artist with a foot still in comics, have you noticed an uptick with magazines wanting "comic booky" type illustrations in the past few years?

DK: That's funny. I was just talking with some friends about that. It seems like the lines between the two (comics and illustration) are really blurring. When I first started in each it seemed like a little bit of a stigma to mention the one in the company of the other. I would say there's been a palpable shift. I see work all the time in print that has a clear and readable comics influence, but that only seems natural to me. Comics and animation are such a visible and unavoidable presence in our culture. For none of it to soak into the vocabulary you build as an illustrator, you would have to draw a line and actively avoid it. I think it's important for illustrators to be aware of what's going on in popular culture around them and be the most effective communicators they can be. I've been hired in the past specifically because a magazine was looking for a "comics" style. I always feel funny about that. It's not that I resent the implication that I'm into that. I just see myself as a guy who draws this way and also happens to sometimes do comics. Comics were a huge influence on my development as an artist, but I draw from a lot of influences new and old every day. Fine arts, classic and modern book and magazine illustrators, comic artists, artists and writers I know personally, my very talented girlfriend who gives me fantastic advice. I try to soak up as much interesting stuff as possible and let myself get really excited about it. Some of those things are comics for sure, but I think it's important to look at stuff outside of that to allow for development.

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