1. Have you been interested in both writing and drawing since you were a kid--and when did you know you wanted to build a career in writing and illustrating?
I got into writing and drawing early on, especially at first. When I was about five, I discovered comic books. They grabbed my attention instantly and I had a passion for them. I started tracing characters into new stories and making my own. I was too young at the time to understand that I was also storytelling. I knew right away, from that early age, that I wanted to work in comics and creative ventures.
2. How did you come up with the idea for your latest book, Skidsville?
I wanted to tell a gritty crime story, but I wanted to tell it from a different perspective than usual. Most hardboiled crime noir features a protagonist that's a homicide investigator, or the stereotypical private eye. I wanted to take a look from the point of view of a criminal. He may be a bad guy, but readers can empathize to a certain point that he is a bad guy for the right reasons. As bad as Joey (the protagonist) is, he's nothing compared to the level of corruption and callousness of the antagonists that surround him. He's nickel and dime to the "real" criminals. There's some underlying themes I wanted to explore, basically the idea of a story without a "good guy," just various layers of "bad," but also that things and people are not always what they appear. The "hero" of a story may have to atone for their actions. I originally wrote it as a graphic novel script, but time and budget put it on pause for awhile. I did however get time to adapt it into a novel, which is the book I'm promoting now. Readers can find it at finer book retailers or their favorite online bookseller. Retailers can get it from Ingram Distribution.
3. What has influenced your definition of noir? Are there particular novels, comics, films, etc. that have especially inspired you?
There's a lot of things. Frank Miller's Sin City is a big one, Will Eisner's classic work on The Spirit, as well as the film adaptation. Bruce Willis movies, like Last Boy Scout, Die Hard, Last Man Standing. I'm currently working on the graphic novel version of Skidsville again. The graphic novel will be black, white and red, which may lead to some comparisons to Miller's Sin City work, but I don't think there's any similarity beyond that. I think Skidsville is its own thing. It's an idea, doing black, white and red, that I've had for a long time, before I discovered Sin City, but over time has grown into being also a nod, or homage, to Miller's work. There's also a pretty handy book I use in the classroom from time-to-time called How to Draw Noir Comics by Shawn Martinbrough.
4. What are some of the challenges for authors/artists in presenting visual work in an eBook format compared to print?
Well, let me tell you, it all depends on platform. eReading still isn't super image friendly, but there has been progress. Kindle, for example, has a comic creator, for creating and formatting comics for Kindle readers and apps. It can even allow you to set up panel-by-panel reading instead of page-by-page. It isn't perfect, mind you, and it can be a challenge when you want to set up reading for a page with a very dynamic or original layout to the art and panels, but it's better than nothing. Kindle has special creators for children's books and text books now, too, so they are recognizing the unique needs of each format. Comixology also works well and although it is now owned by Amazon, it seems to have a bit smoother system for panel-by-panel. Things like Smashwords can be great for getting your eBook distributed to multiple channels, but they still aren't set up and compatible with image heavy books in a lot of cases. DrivethruFiction/DrivethruComics is a good option for simply uploading a .pdf file that people can download and read.
The challenges are different for comics with print. In eBooks, you're struggling to make a sensible flow with panels and software programming to ensure readability, and with print you need to watch safe areas, margins, and bleeds so nothing important gets lost when the book is trimmed to its final size. The content is printed on larger paper and then cut to size, so if your pages aren't sized or aligned right, you can lose parts of your art that you didn't want to.
5. As someone who also works as a teacher, what's your best advice to those who want to learn to write and/or illustrate comics and graphic novels?
Never stop learning and never fear failure. We get obsessed and worried about our image in this modern social media age. Share your work and make mistakes. No one is perfect, and making mistakes is how you learn and improve. There will always be people who are just mean and comment and don't like your work. It will always be. Ignore them, they're not worth it. Understand that not everything is for everyone. Some people don't like crime noir stories. That's fine. It doesn't make them, or me, right or wrong; they just have their own taste. For every book or drawing or comic, someone is going to like it and get what you're trying to say. That's who it was for, the people who get it and enjoy it.
There are also some great and helpful books out there for people to help them get started in all aspects of comics and writing: The DC Comics Guide to Writing for Comics by Dennis O’Neill, Making Comics by Scott McCloud, The Business of Comics by Lurene Haines, Perspective: Made Easy by Robert Lee, and a ton more. You can find more books that I recommend as well as my own books and articles on the subject at www.mikegagnon.ca.