Comic Creator interview
with Victor Couwenbergh
Name: Victor Couwenbergh
City: The backwoods near Ottawa, Canada
Comics: Zik the Gallant Defender of Zoz, Cyko Kid
QRD – How old were you when you first got into comics & did you always stick with them or did you come back to them?
Victor – I drew my first comic when I was seven years old. It starred Commander Frogg, who was a special forces army frog fighting commies (it was during the cold war). I played with different characters over the years & invented Zik the Gallant Defender of Zoz during high school calculus class.
I took a break from drawing regularly in the late 90s & early 2000s. I wrote several albums of industrial music, started my career in TV broadcasting & made my B-movie Maggot Man, along with several shorts. My children were born in the mid-2000s, so I eventually dropped the other creative things I was doing & picked up my pencils again. Drawing became my portable creative outlet, & I’ve been working at it ever since.
QRD – What was the first comic book you ever bought?
Victor – My first comic was Tintin In America. I was hooked on Tintin & a bunch of other Belgian & French adventure comics throughout my youth. I was never really into North American comics until the early 90s when I saw how Norm Breyfogle was drawing Batman.
QRD – How old were you when you put out your first comic?
Victor – I was seven, I had sketchbooks & I had a blue Bic ballpoint pen. I cranked out comics like crazy back then! Of course, I was still learning to draw, but I drew story after story after story. I’m pretty sure I still have some of them in a bin somewhere.
QRD – What decade do you think produced the best comics?
Victor – Every decade since comics were invented has had great work done in it. I’m just happy that people still like to read comics! It’s a fun art form & it’s fun to read, & I sincerely hope it sticks around for a long time to come.
QRD – Why comics instead of just writing or drawing?
Victor – Good question! I just sort of started out that way. I’ve done prose, but it doesn’t come alive enough for me when I try to write it. I love drawing, but I have so many stories in my head that I gotta tell. Comics is a good way to do both & it’s a medium that I’ve played with all my life.
Actually, the closest thing to comics in my mind is filmmaking. I’m constantly thinking about camera angles & lighting while I’m drawing & comic art really informs my filmmaking. They’re both fun mediums in which to tell a story & I’ll probably go back & forth all my life. The world needs to see Maggot Man 2!
QRD – Do you see mini-comics & indie comics as paths to mainstream comics or as their own unique media?
Victor – Indie comics are their own thing. It’s not easy to be picked up into a mainstream comic & the big comic companies aren’t known for putting a lot of effort into picking up new titles. I like webcomics & other indie types of things because that’s where the fresh ideas can be found.
QRD – How much do you think comics should cost?
Victor – There’s always a balance between pricing it high enough to cover the cost to produce & low enough to maximize your reach. Titles with great name recognition can get away with charging a lot more & that’s fine. If the buyer thinks it’s a fair price, they’ll pay. If they don’t like the price, no one is forcing them to buy it.
For webcomics it’s a little tough, because until recently our fans had gotten used to us giving away our stories for free. It’s pretty hard to justify the work involved in producing a comic as anything more than a hobby when there’s little to no return. Ad revenue isn’t going to pay your bills unless you get really big. Merchandising is the same. Fortunately the pay-for-content model seems to be catching on, so there’s hope. My pal Adam Black of Locus Comics is running a for-pay site called Locus Godslayer & he has enough paying users to make it worthwhile.
QRD – Do you think stories should be serialized or delivered as complete works?
Victor – If something is delivered as a complete work, you retain your audience for the whole story. Serialization runs the risk of losing people partway through a story because they don’t buy the next issue, but it has the advantage that the next issue might get you new readers as well. There’s no right way or wrong way to do it; it’s a trade-off & often it’s a business decision. There are also comics with huge story arcs that just keep going forever & if it wasn’t serialized no one would get to see it until the creator died.
QRD – How are comic strips different than comic books & which medium do you prefer?
Victor – Strips are fun! Having grown up on European adventure comics & working in the film & TV industry for a living, I feel most comfortable creating a whole story & presenting it as one piece. But I have enormous respect for people who make gag-a-day type strips; I’ve tried it & I have a really hard time with it.
QRD – How long is it from when you start a comic until it’s printed?
Victor – Good question! I’ll let you know when I’ve printed my first book. It’s going slower than I anticipated when I started this first issue of Zik. There have been some health challenges in my family that have taken precedence over drawing & right now I update when I can as opposed to producing pages on a regular schedule. Fortunately, my fans are very understanding of that & are always there when I post a new page.
QRD – What do you do better with your comics now than when you first started?
Victor – My art & writing skills have certainly progressed. The first comic I published online, Cyko Kid, was basically just doodles. I moved on to Zik the Gallant Defender of Zoz because I felt I was ready to take on a greater artistic & storytelling challenge. I’ve been working hard at it & I’m starting to see results.
QRD – Do you do thumbnails?
Victor – Absolutely. I’ve got a little sketchbook I carry around just for that. It’s a great way to figure out the flow of a page & plan the action & pacing before starting to pencil it out. I did storyboards for my B-movies the same way.
QRD – What does your workstation look like? At what point in the artistic process do you work digitally?
Victor – After I get things figured out in the thumbnails, I go straight to digital. I work on a portable tablet so that I can take my comic making with me wherever my busy family life takes me. During karate or ballet or piano practice for my kids, I’m sitting in the back of the parent’s area drawing away. At lunchtime at work, it’s the same. Drawing doesn’t pay my bills yet, so I have to work it into the little corners of time where I can.
QRD – What do you think of digital comics & webcomics?
Victor – I love them! Webcomics are such a great way to discover new artists & new ideas. & if you really dig the story, you can contribute to the author’s progress by donating or buying their books. Most webcomics have comment areas where you can interact with the author(s) as well as other fans & that’s also a lot of fun. Sitting down with a finished book is always great; you get to experience the product in its finished, polished form. But webcomics make up for that with the immediacy of seeing pages as they are finished & the ability to interact with the creator(s).
QRD – Do you prefer working in color or black & white?
Victor – Right now I’m working in black & white. This is partly because it’s cheaper to print without color & it’s partly because I’m trying to concentrate on other aspects of my artistic ability. I’m still trying to make sure I’ve got my anatomy & linework skills firmly in place; I’m saving my coloring lessons for later.
QRD – How many different people should work on a comic & what should their jobs be?
Victor – I work alone & always have, so I don’t have any experience collaborating on a comic. I’d like to try it out, though. How many people work on it really depends on what the deadlines are & what the budget is.
QRD – How do you find collaborators?
Victor – You need to have either a good budget, a great story, great friends, or have some other way of compensating them for their time working on your project. “It’ll be great exposure” is anathema to any self-respecting artist or writer. Unless you have a budget or a *really* good script, it’ll be a challenge to find someone, because most people are already busy working on their own stories.
If I were looking to collaborate with someone, I’d try to pay it forward. I’d find someone who needed help on their project in an area I could help with & offer a swap. Something like, “Hey, here’s a synopsis of a plot idea I had for your comic that I’d be happy to write for you. I’m looking for someone to draw my idea & I thought perhaps we could help each other out.” It’s a tactic that will probably strike out a lot, but one that’ll be far more likely to work than “Draw my story, it’ll be great exposure!”
QRD – How tight do you think a script should be as far as telling the artist what to draw?
Victor – If you’re writing for someone else to draw, get the script fairly tight, especially the dialogue; but leave room for the artist to express themselves & help tell the story. Get a good working relationship going so you can negotiate back & forth to get the best possible end product. If you get too attached to your script & start getting bossy, you’re going to be looking for a new artist pretty quick.
QRD – Do you think it’s important to have a full story arc completely written before starting to draw?
Victor – It isn’t mandatory, but you should at least have good idea where it’s going. The advantage of having it completely written out is that you can hide Easter eggs that foreshadow big events in later issues. On the other hand, if it’s too rigid, you won’t be able to sneak in new ideas later on.
QRD – What comic book person would you be most flattered to be compared to?
Victor – I’m hoping to be famously incomparable. I aspire to be the best I can be on my own terms without people being able to compare me to another master. I admit, it’s a lofty aspiration, but I’d rather aim high & fail spectacularly than ape someone else’s path to success.
QRD – What do your friends & family think of your comics?
Victor – My kids are Zik’s biggest fans. Some of their ideas are in the comic, with their permission. For example, the character James Anchor, a mercenary who captains the warship Kodiak, was invented by my son. My kids often ask me to read Zik to them for bedtime stories as well. It helps me a lot, not just for the ego boost, but to know that the story is entertaining for their age group.
My webcomic artist friends also seem to really like Zik. I’m really fortunate to have some great friends & mentors among the other artists out there. The Iron Tiger Comics friends I have are all great people & very supportive of what I’m doing.
QRD – What do you think of superheroes?
Victor – I’m not a fan of the genre, but I respect that others are.
QRD – Marvel or DC?
Victor – Le Lombard.
QRD – What comic characters other than your own would you like to work with?
Victor – Any of the characters in Iron Tiger Comics. My Iron Tiger pals make such amazing comics I have to force myself not to spend all my time re-reading their archives all the time. I’ve done some fan art for them & I’ll be doing more in the future. I’m working on a piece for Hominids right now that’s really dark & gory, not my usual style, but I’m having fun with it.
I’d also love to draw a Dan Cooper or Tintin adventure, but Albert Weinberg & Herge are dead, unfortunately.
QRD – Ideally would you self-publish?
Victor – I already do! I have no idea what it’s like working for a publisher, but I’m not certain I could live with their restrictions. This is the crowdfunding age; so really, big publishers aren’t going to be necessary for much longer.
QRD – What do you do to promote your books?
Victor – Not much right now, unfortunately! I’ve been so focused on nailing down my art skills & cranking out pages on my first book that I haven’t really been pimping it as hard as I should. Hey you! Yeah you, reading this! Go check out Zik the Gallant Defender of Zoz! & if you know someone who might like it, tell them about it! There, am I doing it right?
QRD – Do you think your comics are well suited to comic shops or would sell better elsewhere?
Victor – I’m trying to keep my comic accessible to a young audience while also being entertaining for an older one, so I’m hoping that it’ll appeal to a wide range of people. Most of my sales will probably come from online customers.
QRD – What other medium would you like to see some of your comics made into (television, film, games, action figures, etc.)?
Victor – Well, I make B-movies, so don’t be surprised if I try a Zik B-movie one day. I’d also like to make a comic out of my Maggot Man film. Zik would probably also work well as a video game. The possibilities are endless!
QRD – Do you consider yourself a comic collector or a comic reader or both?
Victor – I’m a reader. I don’t collect things for the sake of having a collection. I like great stories & I’ll pay money to own ones I want to read over & over. That said, I do have every Tintin & Asterix album & I’ve been buying Dan Cooper, Lucky Luc, & a bunch of others. They’re great reads & there’s some great art in them, especially in Dan Cooper & Barbe Rouge. I’m also hooked on Mark Shultz’s Xenozioc stories. Do yourself a favor & look that one up!
QRD – What do you see as the most viable mediums for comics distribution 10 years from now?
Victor – In ten years we’ll probably have some kind of crazy computer techno-voodoo that will make smartphones look like how we see a 286 today. Who knows, maybe we’ll be beaming comics straight into our brains by then. I’ll probably be one of those luddites that refuses to get the techno-implant & insists on chopping down trees for paper.
QRD – What would you like to see more people doing with comics?
Victor – I have the same response for all storytelling mediums: new, fresh ideas & great writing. A compelling story that takes the audience in a new, unexpected direction. Also, let’s have some fun again, eh? It doesn’t always have to be grim & bloody.
QRD – Anything else?
Victor – I’d just like to invite everyone reading this to check out irontigercomics.com & read the titles on there. Iron Tiger is full of great titles with great stories & art. I find a lot of truly inspirational work in those titles & I’m honored to be associated with them.
If you’re a creator & are interested in being a part of Iron Tiger, send one of us an email & we’ll check you out! It’s a link-sharing thing, so we can help each other build audiences & support each other’s efforts & it’s full of great people. We’re open to all kinds of comics & if you do quality work & you’re a cool person to associate with, you’re probably a shoe-in.
Thanks Brian, for the great questions & the interview. It’s been fun, & I appreciate the opportunity to share with your readers!