Most of us cannot do comic books by ourselves. Comics usually involve a handful of people doing specific jobs. While it isn’t unusual to see two jobs go to one person (especially pencilling and inking) it is extraordinary to see one person do every single thing it takes to put a comic together.
Jimmie Robinson is just such a man. He does everything and has been doing it for years.
I discovered Jimmie very recently, checking out his amazing series Five Weapons from Shadowline books at Image Comics. If I were to describe Five Weapons to somebody it would be along the lines of Encyclopedia Brown meets Harry Potter meets Fight Club. Coming from the a famous family of assassins, Tyler Shainline starts his first day later into the year and forced to choose between one of the five clubs that specialize in weapons in the school (consisting of knives, staves, exotic weapons, guns and archery if you are curious).
The first club he deals with in issue one is the knife club run by Jade the Blade. Tyler manages to quickly get on her bad side and the issue quickly ends on a cliffhanger showdown with the presidency of the knife club on the line.
That may seem like a simple plot, but this book’s greatest strength is the details. Lots of things that just happen on panel that you may not pick up on the first reading, but are subtle clues to what is going on in the story, so when Robinson does the big reveals about the characters and what’s really going on, you feel as though you know, as more often then not, you do. It’s right in front of you, which is what good mysteries do.
Speaking of characters, Tyler is quick witted, with a bit of a desire to show off. In spite of this, Robinson makes him a perfect character for the reader to sympathize and root for. All of the characters in this book are distinct, complex people. Most of all, this series like any kind of young adult book is fun. Something that is missing quite a bit in comics by and large. All in all, I cannot recommend this series enough. This is what comics should be like every month.
I asked Jimmie for an interview and he was kind enough to do it. This is a large interview, and so it will continue next week as well. In this I talk just a little bit about his process and just a touch about Five Weapons.
Joshua Pantalleresco: Describe your process on a day in and out basis.
Jimmie Robinson: Sadly, I don’t have a good answer to that, haha! I’m not a morning person, but lately my wife has been dragging me out of bed around 8 AM to go on walks with her. We live near trails and parks on the shoreline of the San Francisco bay area. After the walk it’s somewhere between 9 and 10 AM. I might eat something, I might not, but I get to my little art area in the back of the house and start working on whatever I have to do that month. Often I’ll get lost in my work and neglect things, since I’m so focused on my deadlines, but my wife is good about reminding me.
No kids in the house. They are grown and off to college or already in the working world. I used to have a cat, but other than the dog we have now I’m pretty much open to work at any hour. No obligations like picking up kids, and such. So I’m lucky in that way. I also don’t use the Internet as much. Sure I do email and such, but I’ve quickly burned out on social media. Don’t get me wrong, I like social media, but working at home requires a bit of self-motiviation and the Internet is a GREAT place to get lost. It’s fun out there on the web. There’s plenty of things to distract a person, however… none of it pays the rent. I also keep other vices to a minimum. I LOVE video games, however I gave away all my game systems and I’ve stayed game-free for years. It steals so much time from my work. I’m finding that I’m not as fast as I used to be so cutting out distractions is the best way to go.
I tend to wrap things up around 11 PM, however, if I’m close to a deadline (like within striking distance of the last 4 or 5 pages) then I’ll easily stay up to 3 or 4 AM just to finish it or carve a bigger dent in the goal. There’s something addictive about making it to the end of another issue. Otherwise, I’m in bed around midnight and I start the entire ball of wax all over again. I pretty much do this every day unless I have a social or familial obligation. I don’t know what weekends are anymore. Every day is a work day if I’m at home. I’m either writing, or drawing, or coloring, or promoting.
JP: What is the most enjoyable part of putting together a comic for you? What’s the most challenging?
JR: The most enjoyable is writing because the imagination is wide open. At that point the visuals are in my head and they kinda move…like animation. Sometimes I act out scenes in the house. I often talk to myself (something that raises my wife’s eyebrows) and figure out plot points and story structure. Writing is enjoyable because there are no limitations on the art. I can think big and I can think of all sorts of weird angles and ideas. I write a full script with panel description, reference and full dialog. I’m not a plot-first writer. I like to *know* what I’m getting into and I usually start at the end. However, when I actually get down to doing the art then my script becomes more of a guideline. Often I’ll change whole sections and even the story points if my mind wanders in a new direction at the art table. So while I tend to write detailed scripts I don’t draw specifically to it. I’m still open for new ideas, camera angles and even the amount of panel breaks per page.
The most challenging is the art. Mainly because in my mind’s eye I have an idea what I want, but often I can’t draw it the way I see it in my imagination. This is when I come up with new ideas. I want the art to be unique enough and detailed enough, but at the same time I want it to be open and not cramped. So I struggle to find a balance. Sometimes people think my art is too sparse and that it doesn’t have enough detail. Others think it’s okay and they read it more than once to catch all the Easter eggs and gags I put in the background. So yeah, the art is a challenge.
Recently I decided to just pencil my art and darken it up in photoshop. This allows me to skip the inking stage, but it’s a two-edged sword. I get to skip the inking, but I end up doing a lot of clean up in Photoshop to get the pencils tight and sharp for the colorist. It’s gotten to the point that I fix so many things in Photoshop that I’m wondering why I don’t just draw it digitally and give up paper. Of course digital art brings up its own challenges. It’s a bit like the Internet. There are SO many things that can be done that you can get lost. I’m still working out how to make my art less challenging and more productive. I constantly change styles and genres so often I feel like I’m reinventing the wheel every time I start a new series.
JP: Were you always this versatile with everything you did, or was it something you learned? It’s just so rare to see someone this skilled in every department.
JR: I wasn’t always as versatile. I decided to learn everything from beginning-to-end because of my lack of confidence. I’m old, so when I was trying to get into the industry comic books had a *style*. Marvel and DC had a house style. You had to know how to draw at a certain level just to be considered. You couldn’t draw Spider-Man how YOU wanted to – it needed to look at least close enough to the last guy working on it. Marvel wasn’t hiring folks who would learn-on-the-job. Also, I didn’t have a burning desire to draw any of the major league superhero icons. I didn’t grow up with comics like most kids. I got in late, so I didn’t have that childhood connection or desire to draw the heroes of my youth. So when I decided to get into making comics I figured I just had to do it my way because my art and stories didn’t fit the style of comics at the time. Today it would be no problem. Comics are all over the place in style and substance and presentation. It’s great, but it wasn’t always like that. Kids today are lucky.
So when I set out to make my contribution in comics I did it from the ground up. That meant writing, pencils, inks, hand lettering, zip-tone, coloring, logo design, whatever. For 13 years I worked at a commercial printing company so I learned how to produce and set up comics for publishing. Camera line shots, film negative, blue-line proofs, color keys and learning off-set press color saturation and screen percentages. It took a long time, but I ended up writing my own ticket in comics because I’ve got all the keys to do any aspect of it — and I’ve kept up with progress and technology along the way. I started learning when comics were all processed by film, likewise I was there when the desktop revolution came to the printing industry and I rolled right along with it.
Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying I’m good at all these things! After all a jack of all trades is a master of none. However, I’ve figured out enough of each aspect of production that I can confidently make a book from beginning to end and cover to cover all by myself. It’s even easier nowadays thanks to technology. I’m blessed that Image Comics allows me to work in MY way and in my mode where I can take the reins on whatever I want.
JP: You’re working on Five Weapons right now. You just made it to issue eight. Congratulations first off, and second, what are the plans for the next two issues and beyond?
JR: Image Comics wants the series to continue. Currently, Five Weapons is green lit to issue 15. I tend to work in 5-issue story arcs which is perfect for a trade paperback collection. It also helps me if the book starts to tank. I don’t want to aim for a 30 issue epic saga and only get to issue 5 before the doors close. Even now the sales on Five Weapons are really low. I get by because I only have to split profits with the colorist. If there was a whole team (writer, penciller, inker, letterer, colorist, etc) then this book would be deep in the red and already cancelled. At this point I’m doing Five Weapons for the love. Making an all-ages title isn’t easy. This is my second all-ages book. The sales are miserable on both. I also did a children’s book for Image and that was even worse. It’s a tough market if you don’t do superheroes, crime, horror or something sexy.
Don’t get me wrong, I want all those genres to be in comics, too. After all, I contribute to the violence, sex and gore with Bomb Queen. I want mature titles out there. But I also want more all-ages books for people, too. I’d prefer and balanced industry than something built off a stereotype. This is a great time for comics. Print and digital are reaching new audiences with new concepts and stories. Comics can be anything. That’s one of the reasons I do Five Weapons — even if it struggles. I know I can get better sales with Bomb Queen, but I want to leave my mark on comics with more than that.
JP: In regards to YA…it’s strange. It sells phenomenally well as novels, yet doesn’t have the same ring anymore in comics. Why do you think that is? What can be done?
JR: I don’t know what can be done. I got into a debate with someone once because they were upset that so many people cosplay in sexy clothing (or lack of it) at comic conventions and it was hard for him to bring his kids to the shows. While I agreed that his concerns are valid, I had to disagree that sexy cosplayers should be eradicated or shunted off to a con of their own. Basically he was on the slippery slope of separate-but-equal discrimination. However, what I did say to him that I think stuck was the fact that a lot of people dress this way at conventions because that’s what’s reflected in the comics, video games and whatever. Comics have gotten pretty mature — which is a good thing, but while that has increased the content for mature audience, other kinds of content has not. So there are more people cosplaying as Power Girl than something else. It’s just a simple reflection of what’s popular. Nothing wrong with that.
I’ve also seen a good amount of all-ages titles rise up. However, I will say that most of the all-ages content is usually based on a TV show or movie (Adventure Time, My Lil’ Pony, Ninja Turtles, etc.) or something that has held on by tradition (Archie, etc.). I don’t mind that all-ages books aren’t #1 sellers in the Direct Market. As long as they find their audience then that’s good enough. I like it when kids and adults see me at conventions and they talk about Five Weapons. These are the same people who also read mature books.
I’m not trying to separate readers or demand for a change in audience. A good all-ages or YA book is for everyone, just like Harry Potter was for everyone and just like The Hunger Games, Twilight, and several Pixar movies was for everyone. It’s just a matter of finding the right book at the right time.
So yeah… it’s a hard sell in the direct comics market but it’s not completely dead. Others are doing good work, too. A lot of great content can be found on the Internet with webcomics, and self-publishing and print-on-demand. I see things popping up at conventions — books I’ve never seen listed in Diamond.
I think things will iron out and I believe the market will be what it is. As much as I’d like to see it change I won’t realistically demand it. Complaining about it is like a ship’s captain upset with the sea. It is what it is. Plus, it helps me stand out a little. This is a great time for comics, especially for Image Comics. They’re having a golden era right now with many best sellers in the top ten. However, they don’t have many all-ages titles, so that gives me a small boost.
But I’ll still do my part to help.
Then… back to the sex and violence of Bomb Queen. Hahahah!
Call me selfish, but I don’t want to see Bomb Queen come back quite yet. Five Weapons has reached issue 8 and is available at comic shops everywhere. Next week I talk to Jimmie about Bomb Queen, how he broke into the comic business, and more. Jimmie has a webpage you can see some of his past work at http://jimmykitty.com/.
His twitter is @jimmie_robinson and his tumblr is at jimmie–robinson.tumblr.com. Check him out.
See you guys next week with part two.