Breaking into comic books is no easy task – perhaps that’s why they use the seemingly criminal-sounding “breaking into” verb to describe getting work in the industry. But a new anthology project is aiming to foster the next generation of artists – with the mentorship of some of the top artists and writers today.
Dare2Draw New Talent Mentoring Anthology Featuring Nexus features short stories written by top writers like Ron Marz and Amy Chu, then drawn by aspiring comic book artists chosen from the Kubert School's student body and elsewhere. In addition to working from professional-quality scripts, these aspiring artists were mentored by those writers as well as industry artists such as Steve Rude, Adam Kubert, Andy Kubert, and Simon Fraser. The anthology spun out of a long-running Northeast mentoring program called Dare2Draw founded by former Kubert School student Charles D. Chenet.
Newsarama spoke with Chenet, as well as anthology editor Brendan Wright and mentoring artist Simon Fraser about Dare2Draw New Talent Mentoring Anthology Featuring Nexus and the current Kickstarter fundraising campaign.
Newsarama: Charles, what led you to do Dare2Draw New Talent Mentoring Anthology Featuring Nexus?
Charles D. Chenet: It's part of a three-tier plan for the Dare2Draw’s mission to mentor and spotlight new talent. The first part is an ongoing series of live events, which we’ve hosted for several years now. The second is the creation of Dare2Draw: The Series, which is like an American Idol for cartoonists, and the pilot for which was successfully kickstarted in 2013. And now, the third is providing printed, guided work project for the artists to show potential employers, helping them bridge the gap to pro level.
Nrama: And why should readers be interested in this anthology?
Brendan Wright: There are three main draws for the book. I think many readers will find two or even all three appealing, but I think any one of them is exciting:
1) The chance to help launch a bunch of new comics careers and get a front-row seat for some of the first work from very talented people. This book is a very direct way to contribute to the future of comics.
2) Along with our new artists are a team of name writers whose various fan bases should cover just about everyone: we have Ron Marz, Alex de Campi, Corrina Bechko, Amy Chu, Eric M. Esquivel, Teel James Glenn, and Jason Starr. If you like any of these writers, they all brought their A-game and clearly had a lot of fun with Nexus.
3) And, of course, Nexus himself is a great character with a ton of fans, and this is a rare opportunity to see him interpreted by some of the best writers of today and the artists of tomorrow.
Nrama: So for Dare2Draw New Talent Mentoring Anthology Featuring Nexus, how did you land on using Steve Rude and Mike Baron's Nexus?
Chenet: When I first found comics in the '80s, I came across Nexus and wanted to do work at that level, inspired by what I saw. I started to work really hard to get there. Many years later, after starting Dare2Draw, I was able to actually have Steve as a mentor and guest at an event, and pitched him the idea about a mentoring anthology—he loved the idea and said yes immediately. He's been involved and supportive throughout the process.
Nrama: Are Steve and Mike involved in Dare2Draw New Talent Mentoring Anthology Featuring Nexus beyond just signing off on the use of their character?
Chenet: Absolutely! I reached out to both Mike Baron and Steve Rude and they've both been very enthusiastic about sharing their character and letting us play in their Nexus world. They’ve provided additional rewards for the Kickstarter, and Steve drew the cover for the anthology.
Nrama: Simon, what led you to get involved with Dare2Draw to begin with?
Simon Fraser: I went to the regular Dare2Draw events every month, it was good to get out of my studio, to meet up with people and practice drawing from the model. It's important to keep your skills sharp. Charles is very persuasive so I ended up doing a couple of talks, one of using facial expressions and another on creative use of architecture in storytelling. I got excited by the mission of the organization and I wound up presenting the live event and mentoring a lot of exciting and passionate young talent. It's been challenging and a lot of fun.
Nrama: What are you doing exactly for the anthology? You're no student artist!
Fraser: I'm mostly advisory, helping rope in talent, I've done some mentoring with the artists and I did some early sketches for the cover that Steve Rude eventually drew.
Nrama: Do you wish something like this was around when you got started in comics?
Fraser: Oh absolutely! There was nothing even close to this when I started out. I had to pick up my art education in a very ad hoc manner. The only professional advice I could get was once a year when I went down to London to the UKCAC conventions. The rest I had to work out for myself. It's been a great thrill for me to meet a lot of our mentoring artists over the years because many of them were people whose work inspired me when I was a rookie. It's great to be able to play it forward just a little bit.
Nrama: Is Dare2Draw strictly for artists, or is there plans to mentor writers as well?
Chenet: Yes, the reason for the three-tiered approach is to be able to give all creators ways to develop their skill sets in creating comics—writers, colorists, inkers—all aspects of creating amazing new stories using the sequential arts.
Nrama: Dare2Draw New Talent Mentoring Anthology Featuring Nexus is done with the Kubert School. Are all of the artists involved students there?
Chenet: Many are, but not all of them. When I went to the Kubert School, at close to 40, and got to work directly with Joe Kubert and study with Adam Kubert, I was supremely inspired and at the same time worried, as an adult that needed to pay his bills. I saw that there was an important question: once you got the training, what do you do with it?
So I wanted to bring something to the students that would be faced with that very question, right after graduation—namely the third-year students, who are drawing two of the stories.
I also wanted to include some second-year students, to get them thinking about the business of comics, so we have a few of them participating with pinups. We also have amazing artists that have come from the Dare2Draw live events and shown enormous potential, and who could definitely benefit from this process and step up to the plate to do pro-level work, with some mentoring and guidance.
Nrama: There are a number of mentoring writers & artists listed. How are they mentoring the artists here?
Chenet: There are different ways of mentoring people. By communicating directly with the pro writers and our experienced and talented editor, the artists learn the collaborative skills for working closely with a team and meeting deadlines. This is our first anthology in our series and we plan to develop and build on the processes to mentor all the participants, formalizing them as we see what we can improve, to structure the process and best practices we discover along the way.
Nrama: Since Charles gave you that compliment, let me ask you: how did you get involved with this project?
Wright: I started working with Charles Chenet on the anthology back in January after being referred by my former Dark Horse colleague Shawna Gore, who like me is now a freelance editor. The fact that she is busy enough to pass projects on to other people gives hope to someone like me who’s still fairly new to the freelance game.
Dare2Draw is currently best known within New York, and being in Portland I wasn’t very familiar with it before, but as I talked about its mission with Charles and learned of his plans for the New Talent Mentoring Anthology, I was very impressed with the program and its goals. I’ve also previously worked with Mike Baron and Steve Rude on Nexus stories in Dark Horse Presents, so between the familiar faces and the opportunity to work with new artists, which has always been among my favorite parts of the job and something I prided myself on at Dark Horse, it was a natural fit.
Nrama: What part of the process did you do exactly for this anthology?
Wright: When I came in, some of the writers and most of the artists had already been selected. Alex de Campi and I work together a lot, so the fact that she was already in made my joining even more of a no-brainer. I set about filling out the writing team, and Charles and I together selected the Joe Kubert students who contributed art for two of the stories, Cecilia Liang and Idan Knafo.
Other than that, my job’s pretty much what it is on any other anthology: making and keeping the schedule, giving notes on the scripts and art, finding colorists, and overseeing the design. I edited Creepy and Eerie for years, so it’s pretty second nature.
Nrama: As someone who has edited titles for major publishers in the past, do publishers look for potential new hires in student showcases such as this?
Wright: Editors look everywhere, from DeviantArt to showcases sent to us by places like the School of Visual Arts to the blind submission pile, and this book is definitely intended to get noticed by editors, so in addition to the work itself, there’s a bio of everyone in the back with pictures to make them easy to recognize at conventions. That said, there aren’t really other books like this right now, making the kind of professional collaborators and backing of the majors available to up-and-comers, so our book gives an even better sense of what these artists can do under those circumstances.
Nrama: What is the big thing publishers look for at this stage with young artists?
Wright: I can mainly speak to creator-owned comics, which is what most of my career has been, but for me, voice is the big one. Now that house styles are less prominent outside of shared-universe superhero comics (and fading a bit even there), artists showing that they have a unique eye is really important for standing out. Naturally, the fundamentals are important too, and especially as you’re starting out, demonstrating that you can keep a schedule and are good with feedback are essential. If people like your work and you develop a reputation for being timely and collaborative, you’ll go far.