When Newsarama alum Troy Brownfield and Sarah Vaughn launched Sparkshooter, the saga of a struggling local Indiana band, as a webcomic in 2012, neither one of them had any idea what else would be going on in their lives just a few short months later. Brownfield’s writing with Zenescope took off, as he’s clocked in sixteen issues since the middle of last year (with a seventeenth this month), and Vaughn’s long-time friendship with celebrated writer and artist Jonathan Luna blossomed into the project Alex + Ada, with a first issue out this week from Image. However, there was one downside: Vaughn’s struggle with tendinitis and related difficulties forced her to stop drawing.
While waiting for Vaughn to be able to return, Brownfield launched Solo Acoustic, a Sparkshooter side story with his friend Ben Olson, an artist and Indianapolis comics retailer. When it became clear that Vaughn would not be able to return to Sparkshooter, Brownfield faced a hard decision. Recruiting Olson to finish the last nine pages of the second chapter, Brownfield set about the business of finding a new artist that would match his former student’s passion and skill. On the advice of Zenescope artist JG Miranda (No Tomorrow, Wonderland), Brownfield looked in an unlikely place – Spain.
Today, Sparkshooter resumes with Olson’s pages. And when Chapter 3 picks up in a few short weeks at Sparkshooter.com, Brownfield will be joined by new artist Enkaru, the creator of the multi-volume Trisquel manga. In this exclusive interview with the gang of four (Vaughn, Olson, Enkaru and Brownfield), we talk about The Hand, the heart, and the music of Sparkshooter.
Newsarama: So, Sarah! Our first question is… how's the hand and arm?
Sarah Vaughn: It really has been named "The Hand" when it comes up in conversation. I'm doing much better. Not drawing for practically a year helped, as painful as that was emotionally. Massage therapy brought me back to working condition, and though I still can't draw for long periods at a time, it's a huge difference from last October.
Nrama: Troy says that you'll still be a presence, contributing covers and to the website. What can you tell us about that?
Vaughn: The Hand is in good enough shape to continue with art on a smaller scale, so the hope is to be able to continue with Sparkshooter art in one form or another.
As far as the website goes, we're getting [a new] Sparkshooter.com set up so there's a permanent and prominent home for Solo Acoustic. We're also making the transition and updating graphics so Enraku takes center stage as artist for Sparkshooter.
Nrama: The biggest Sarah Vaughn news is that the book that you co-write with Jonathan Luna, Alex + Ada, debuted this week. Tell us about how you got involved and what that has been like.
Vaughn: Jon and I have been friends for a while and, long story short, he wanted to make another comic and asked me to come on board to co-create. The journey has been really exciting. I've learned an insane amount being on the other side of a comic as a writer, and Jon's been a great partner. It's still a bit surreal.
Nrama: We know Troy. Is he a nightmare to work for? Er, we mean, will you miss Sparkshooter?
Vaughn: Hah! Troy's awesome to work with. Very flexible, understanding, super chill, and always open to suggestions while still knowing what he wants. I will definitely miss Sparkshooter. I love the characters and the story, and I always wanted to work on Sparkshooter because it meant I could read it that much faster. I'm really glad I still get to enjoy it.
Nrama: What's next for you? More Alex + Ada, we're sure . . .
Nrama: Heh, fair enough. Over to Ben. Tell us a little bit about yourself and how you connected with Troy for Sparkshooter.
Ben Olson: Well, originally I went to art school for furniture design, but after school I kept getting drawing and painting projects, so that’s the kind of stuff I’ve been working on. As far as Troy goes, I think we originally met when he came into the store for a signing for the 2011 Batman 80 Page Giant. We ended up talking a lot about cartoons and music all afternoon. When Sarah started having hand-issues on Sparkshooter, I offered to fill-in if they needed it. I think Troy gave me a thanks but no thanks kind of answer at first, but he kept me in mind. Later he asked if I was interested in a different, but similar project and here we are, 34 weekly installments later.
Nrama: What's the biggest advantage to doing the one-panel approach? In fact, how does that impact the overall creation of the art?
Olson: The biggest advantage for me is that I get to direct all of my attention at one specific image. It’s been nice because I work on Solo Acoustic in whatever free time I get, usually a couple hours on the weekend. It has been really helpful, especially when I don’t get a lot of time to work on it. For Sparkshooter, I am trying to work on a much stricter schedule to make sure I don’t mess up what Sarah has been doing!
Nrama: Was it shocking to shift from that style to the full-page style of Sparkshooter?
Olson: It hasn’t been too bad so far, other than coloring. The time it takes to color a page versus a panel is pretty huge!
Nrama: Do you have a particular character that you relate to the most? Troy sees a lot of himself in Jack (Spencer, the manager character that appears in both Solo Acoustic and Sparkshooter).
Olson: Shift has quickly become my favorite character. He definitely seems to have his stuff together better than the other guys, and he’s just enough removed that he can really see exactly how nuts everyone else is.
Nrama: You've got some other projects going too; anything you can discuss?
Olson: I’m doing some designs and illustrations for a miniatures game that will be announced around the end of the year and will be released sometime in 2014. I’m also working on two more comic projects, and I’m hoping to have at least one ready to go by March 2014 when we have our first Indianapolis Comic Con!
Nrama: How does your work in comics retail impact your creative process?
Olson: It’s definitely helpful to always be surrounded by fantastic examples of comic art and storytelling. But it can also be super intimidating when someone drops a J.H. Williams Batwoman or an Allred FF issue on the counter then asks how the webcomic is coming along!
Nrama: Now, Enkaru! Enkaru, you may be new to a lot of our readers. Can you tell us a bit about yourself and your previous work?
Enkaru: I am a professional comic book artist and illustrator. I've liked drawing and playing video-games since I was a child, and I think this is what awakened my vocation about comics. I published my first manga called Trisquel back in 2010, with my own art and script, and I actually keep on working on this series. I've also made several illustration works for different Spanish companies and for a German publisher too.
Nrama: How did you come to collaborate with Troy for Sparkshooter? What interested you about the project?
Enkaru: My friend Javier García Miranda (a.k.a. JG Miranda, you can find him in some Zenescope's stuff) told me that Troy was looking for a new artist for Sparkshooter, so I contacted him and sent him my portfolio. After several messages, he confirmed that he was interested in having me in his team, and I couldn't believe that! I was very happy because I think it's a very exciting project. I read the first chapters of Sparkshooterto know about the story and the characters and I liked it for its lighthearted tone and its musical background. I also ended up hooked on the story.
Nrama: Sparkshooteris a fairly specific story set in the United States in Indianapolis in 2003. How do you approach that from the perspective of someone that lives in Spain?
Enkaru: Well, the truth is that I don't know too much about Indianapolis, but I know about United States' culture thanks to films and television, and I really like your country, your language and I think American people are very enterprising, and this is something I really admire. So I consider myself a lover of United States, and I hope to visit it someday!
Nrama: Describe your work process; we assume you'll be working with a lot of reference material.
Enkaru: I usually draw the traditional way. First off, I make the sketches and then I clean it up in my light table. After that, I ink the pages and I scan it and, finally, I Photoshop the final image and add colour or grey tones, depending on whether it is an illustration or a manga page I'm working on. Sometimes I do all the process the digital way, but I much rather feel the touch of the paper. If I need some references to draw, I search them on the Internet or I ask a relative to pose and take some photos. (laughs)
Nrama: You come on board Sparkshooter with Chapter 3. What's your take of the story so far and how do you feel about working in a regular webcomic format?
Enkaru: I think the story in Sparkshooter is very interesting and enjoyable, with a very well-defined characters with their own personality, so the relationship between all of the members of the group and those around them, is [the hook]. For me, character development is very important to get involved in the story, and this is something that Sparkshooter got. About working in a regular webcomic format, I have to say I'm very excited because it is something new for me and I consider it a challenge and, as I said, it is a script that I really like.
Nrama: Since so much of Sparkshooter is about the music and local scenes, we have to ask what kind of music you're into and what the local music scene is like where you live.
Enkaru: The truth is that I like Heavy Metal a lot, but I also listen to rock, Celtic and instrumental music... I really like different styles of music, but I usually listen to Heavy. I feel very inspired mainly if I'm drawing a fighting scene (laughs)! When I'm working in a calm or emotive scene, I listen to another kind of music, more relaxing.
Nrama: What are some of the other projects that you have in the works?
Enkaru: I'm working on the 3rd volume of my manga Trisquel, and I'm also preparing another comic project to show at the Angoulême comic festival, in France :)
Nrama: Troy F’n Brownfield. What do you say?
Troy Brownfield: I say that I’m insanely lucky to work and have worked with such talented people. That’s a true thing that runs through this, through the Zenescope books, and through other projects. There isn’t a time that I don’t feel lucky to be doing it; working with people like this is one of the best things about a collaborative medium.
Nrama: There have been times where you could have called Sparkshooter off, and people probably would have understood. But you’ve really fought to keep it alive, wouldn’t you say?
Brownfield: Sure. It’s important to me. It’s a very personal story. While it’s fictionalized, there are a lot of things about it that draw from this well of experiences that I’ve had or things that my own friends and I went through. I got involved with bands in my teens, I was putting on shows and festivals at Indiana State by the time I was 19, and I was basically doing stuff with bands well into my 30s. And elements of all of that go into Sparkshooter, and at this point, I feel like I sort of owe to the characters and story to keep it going. The upside is that I think that it’s going to build from Sarah’s work, and Ben’s work, and now Enkaru’s work, and I think it’s got the ability to thrive.
Nrama: So, catch us up. When people tune in, what’s happening now?
Brownfield: Chapter 2 winds up the really long night that began on the first page of Chapter 1. If you recall, Crazy Yeats broke up after finishing eighth in a city-wide battle of the bands. They split from their lead singer, and Jack, their former manager, suggests that they get together with a new female lead singer, Sondra Li. Chapter 2 shows the boys meeting Sondra; the remaining pages cover what happened to Michael’s acquaintance Elizabeth and the aftermath of the first big night (think: hangovers. And head injuries. Possibly unrelated). Chapter 3, which is Enkaru’s first, will have Sondra and the guys practicing together, trying to fix on that critical bonding element that all new or reconfigured bands go through.
Nrama: What’s the difference in your approach between, say, Grimm Fairy Tales and this?
Brownfield: With Zenescope, I’m serving the vision of someone else. With Sparkshooter, it basically comes down to navigating this story myself and hoping that everyone else has a good time. I have a longer vision for kind of the ultimate story of the band, and I hope that people will just enjoy riding along with it.
Nrama: In the past, you’ve mentioned digital collections of the “chapters” as ‘issues”. Is that still a goal?
Brownfield: Absolutely. It’s the next priority after the new website goes up in a few weeks. That, and writing the rest of Volume 1. It’s plotted and dialogue exists; I just need to tie it together. It’s a more low-key process that other projects, mainly because I’m sort of my own editor. I argue with me frequently.
Nrama: What’s the most important thing that you’ve learned in the process so far?
Brownfield: Lead time. It helps. (laughs)
Nrama: What’s next for you apart from all of this?
Brownfield: More Zenescope, I’m sure. More stuff with Matt Brady. And probably another thing that I can’t discuss yet. But it’s very different. I’m sure someone will complain about it. (laughs)