Comic Creator Interview
with Mike Dawson
Name: Mike Dawson
City: Fair Haven, New Jersey
Comics: Troop 142, Freddie & Me
QRD – How old were you when you first got into comics & did you always stick with them or did you come back to them?
Mike – I was a little kid in England, reading British weekly humor comics (or should I say “humour”?), like The Beano & The Dandy. When I was nine or ten, I started reading The Transformers comic published by Marvel & then I was a serious Marvel Comics reader for many years. I probably only stopped reading comics for a year in college, probably around the time I transitioned from mostly reading superhero stories & began picking up black & white alternative books.
QRD – What was the first comic book you ever bought?
Mike – It would have had to have been The Beano.
QRD – How old were you when you put out your first comic?
Mike – Six or seven? I would write & draw funny comics & fold & staple a pile of them into a little magazine. An edition of one. I’d pass the copy around school & presumably need to ask for it back after all my friends had looked at it.
QRD – What decade do you think produced the best comics?
Mike – I really don’t know. It depends on your taste. I will say that I agree with those who say we’re in a bit of a creative “golden age” right now.
QRD – Why comics instead of just writing or drawing?
Mike – I think of making comics as a form of writing. I always liked writing stories & I really like the kinds of stories you can make using comics. The drawings are part of the story. All the drawing details & visual information add to whatever narrative you’re constructing. I’m not sure comics is capable of creating the sorts of narrative experiences prose enables - but I also don’t think prose writing can create the same sorts of stories that comics allow. They’re very different. I think there’s an economy of storytelling in comics. As a reader, it’s a way to engage a story, or a point-of-view, or a perspective, in a very immediate & to-the-point manner.
QRD – Do you see mini-comics & indie comics as paths to mainstream comics or as their own unique media?
Mike – Their own unique media.
QRD – How many copies of your comic do you print in your first run?
Mike – I suspect the print run of Troop 142 would have been in the low-thousands. I don’t know the exact figure.
QRD – How many books do you produce a year & how many would you like to?
Mike – Freddie & Me took almost four years. Troop 142 took about a year & a half, or two years. I’d like to keep working at that pace, but I’ve already been working on my current story for about that long & probably have another year of work ahead of me. I had a couple of false starts in there though & there’s not much you can do about that. Just keep going.
QRD – Do you think stories should be serialized or delivered as complete works?
Mike – At the moment I am adamant about my next book being delivered complete. I am not posting anything online & I’m not making mini-comics. I did both of those things with Troop 142 & I think it was good for raising the book’s profile, but I think it’s detrimental to the storytelling - especially the way I write. I don’t script or thumbnail ahead of time, so there’s an element of discovering the story along the way. When I serialized Troop 142, I felt much more wedded to material in the book that I might otherwise have edited more; because it had already appeared in some form, either online or as a mini. With the new story, I’ve been more willing to scrap false starts, or make major revisions to the story structure, because none of it has been seen yet, so nobody will know. There is a character in the book whose gender I changed recently, even though I’m in the last third of the story. I had to go back & edit all the earlier material to switch the he into a she. The change has improved the story. I wouldn’t have done that if I’d been posting the work as I went.
QRD – How long is it from when you start a comic until it’s printed?
Mike – Secret Acres seems to be capable of a pretty short turnaround on that. As short as 4 to 5 months, I think.
QRD – What do you do better with your comics now than when you first started?
Mike – I’m trying to get better about going off on tangents. Troop 142 was more streamlined than Freddie & Me. Tangents are okay, I enjoy them, but I want to be better about recognizing when I’m going off on one & not be doing it without realizing it, because I’m a more inexperienced writer.
QRD – Do you do thumbnails?
Mike – No.
QRD – At what size do you draw?
Mike – The pages are 5.5 inches by 9.
QRD – What kind of pens do you use?
Mike – I’m not totally sure what the proper name is. I think it’s Deleter Maru, which is a crow-quill pen made by Jet-Pens. It’s very similar to the Hunt 102, but needs less breaking in. They don’t seem to last very long though, so I buy them in packs of 10.
QRD – What does your workstation look like?
Mike – My drawing table is in the basement, in the same room as the water-heater & the furnace. It’s a little grim down there, but it’s the only room in the house where I can hang all my pages on the wall as I work & I think that’s a very valuable thing to be able to do.
QRD – At what point in the artistic process do you work digitally?
Mike – I’m trying to keep it to a minimum. I’d like to have the pages looking very close to final on the actual page itself (employing old fashioned tricks like white-out & rubber cement), so that I am mostly just using Photoshop for a little bit of cleanup & formatting the files to get ready for print.
QRD – What do you think of digital comics & webcomics?
Mike – As a reader, I think webcomics work best if they can be digested in short bursts. I don’t often read graphic novels online. I also don’t like reading books on my Kindle or iPhone. I like having the book. But, that’s just my personal taste - I have no strong feelings about the existence of digital comics.
QRD – Do you prefer working in color or black & white?
Mike – Black & White. I was working in color for a little while, but became frustrated about how I felt it was making me skimp on the drawing stage. I’d put less down on the paper, knowing I could beef things up in Photoshop. It doesn’t make a comic any better or worse if it’s been worked over in Photoshop - it’s just a personal need I have to do a certain amount of satisfactory drawings in a week. I felt like I was cheating myself by taking shortcuts.
QRD – How do you find collaborators?
Mike – I don’t currently collaborate, but it’s something I wish I had time to do more of. I did collaborate at one point with a co-writer on a comic in the early aughts, but I’m no longer on speaking terms with that person. I don’t think that’s because of the nature of collaboration however, I think it had more to do with the nature of that particular collaborator.
QRD – What comic book person would you be most flattered to be compared to?
Mike – Maybe the Hernandez Brothers?
QRD – What do your friends & family think of your comics?
Mike – My parents wish I didn’t put so many swear words in some of them.
QRD – What conventions do you try to attend & why?
Mike – I like the “alt-comics” oriented shows. I try to make it down to every Small Press Expo. I’ve had a great time at shows like TCAF, BCGF, & a convention they had one year in Minneapolis called MIX, which was a one-time thing, but they’re doing something new there this year called Autoptic, which looks really great.
QRD – What do you do to promote your books?
Mike – When a book comes out, I’ve made an extra-special effort to get to conventions to try & sell it. I occasionally appear on panels or do interviews. I also have a weekly humor podcast called The Ink Panthers Show!, which isn’t about promoting my comics, but probably does help get my name out there as a side-effect of doing the show.
QRD – Do you think your comics are well suited to comic shops or would sell better elsewhere?
Mike – I like comic shops, especially really good ones.
QRD – What other medium would you like to see some of your comics made into (television, film, games, action figures, etc.)?
Mike – Sure, all of those would be fine. I am not opposed to being paid.