Ever since looking at a Romita (Sr.) Spiderman when I was eight, I’d been obsessed with comics. I’d been working on my stories ever since I was a kid, but really dove in head-first when I got laid off in 2008 from my job doing graphics for the fashion industry. I put all my energy into making comics. I won a Xeric and got nominated for an Eisner for the first two chapters of Power Out, but there was a lot of uncertainty about the future.
I got a substantial comics job when Hill & Wang needed someone to step in for an artist who got sick before he could finish a 150-page comic explaining the Affordable Care Act. I have an economics degree, so Thomas LeBien (editor at H&W) thought I’d be a good match with Jonathan Gruber, the health care economist who advised Obama on the ACA. Since my unemployment had long run out, I moved in with my parents to save money while I worked on Health Care Reform. I’m lucky to have parents I could stay with, but when my friend Sarah Glidden told me about a residency program she was doing at the Maison Des Auteurs in Angoulême, France, it sounded like a dream. I was shocked when I got in.
France didn’t feel like a completely different universe after living in America, but there were a lot of new experiences, like living in a 600 year old building and spending two hours at lunch. The food – I could write pages. French culture loves the arts, and comics in particular. When you tell people you’re a dessinateur (literally, “draw-er”), they’re really impressed, like you told them you were a doctor or something.
The MDA (Maison Des Auteurs) was incredible. I shared a studio with Julien Zanesi, and our studio was in a turret, so we had light from three directions and views of the city and river. There’s galleries and comics libraries and even a museum, but the best resource is all the different artists in the program with you. Everyone takes their work seriously but approaches it with their own unique method, so there’s a lot of good habits to pick up.
While I was there I took Frank Santoro’s correspondence course, which completely changed the way I thought about creating images. There were a lot of things about comics that were getting me down at the time, but I started having fun again, just focusing on the pleasure of creating images. I was in a good mindset for it. My off-the-plane French was hot garbage, and it simplified things. Some stuff that I used to be hung up on just seemed trivial when trying to deal with satisfying your basic needs while living in a foreign country. So I had a lot of energy to put into comics. I took more chances, both visually (like with Retrofit’s 4090) and emotionally (my diary comic BDVille). Honestly, it was a pretty big transformation in my process and outlook, which is why it’s so hard for me to finish Power Out. I was a different guy when I started that book, and while I still have a passion for the story and characters, it’s difficult to get into the right mindset to finish it.
My favorite thing I’ve ever worked on is my current project, Science Ninjas. It’s a Dragonball-style action-adventure that actually teaches science fundamentals to children. It’s totally legit too! I’m working with Dr. Amanda Simpson – she has a phD in chemical engineering and everything! It’s quite hands-on, which is unique for a comics project. I’m integrating it into a comprehensive science education program that involves lab experiments, science games, and design competitions. It’s a ton of work, but it’s fun stuff. I’m playing a lot with animation, which is a blast, and kids really respond to it.
I’m working with day camps next summer where kids can do science experiments, read (and create) comics, and maybe even learn karate! I know it’s not a traditional path for a cartoonist, who usually think in terms of books. But there’s something about projecting your comics on a screen while kids read the parts for the characters that is profoundly satisfying. Health Care Reform sold something like 30,000 copies, but I didn’t get to see one person really engage with it. Watching children enjoy – and learn from – my work in real time does a lot to reaffirm my love for making comics.