Welcome to my weekly column showcasing up and coming or undiscovered talent, bringing to your attention creators that I feel will be break-out stars in the near future. Some are already well on their way to super stardom, while some are just on the outskirts. Everyone has a favorite comic book creator. One they’ve discovered recently, or maybe followed from the very beginning of their career. Some have so many favorites it’s hard to choose just one.
Every single one of those creators started somewhere, be it by producing photocopied mini comics to sell at their neighborhood comic shop, getting a table in the artist’s alley at their local comic convention, publishing fan fiction, posting images to deviantart.com, or doing commissions through the internet or at conventions.
Mr. Tyler Crook has been wowing us for a couple of years now as one of the Mignolaverse’s stable of artists. His style has evolved over the years, while remaining as expressive as always. From his first work on Oni Press’ Petrograd I knew he’d be a star. His work on that book was highly detailed, yet not photo-realistic, and he nailed the time period in those details.
He was the perfect artist to follow Guy Davis on the B.P.R.D. series of mini-series’, with a style similar enough to not be jarring, yet different enough to take the book to even greater heights. He has definitely put his own spin on things, making those characters his own, while perfecting the essence of each of them. There is a reason he won the Russ Manning Promising Newcomer Award in 2012.
His most recent book, Bad Blood, also published by Dark Horse, has seen some of his strongest work in his short time in the industry.
Whether working with pen and ink, or washes of watercolor, his work has is infused with so much life and depth. He has a bright future in this thing we call comics, and is truly a Future Comic Rock Star.
I had the pleasure of chatting with him one year at San Diego Comic-Con when he was first starting out in this industry, and as soon as I began writing for FBN, I knew I wanted to interview him. I recently had that chance, and found him to be as forthcoming, and humble, as ever.
Let’s start with your origin story, as it were. Have you always been a fan of comics? What was the book that inspired you to draw comics?
I started reading comics as soon as I could read. I read a lot of Harvey Comics like Richie Rich and Casper the Friendly Ghost. It was the 3rd or 4th grade when I really started getting into comics as a serious thing. There was a junk store next to the 7-11 by my house that had a box of comics that were a quarter a piece. That was my go-to spot for months. That’s were I picked up a Australian black and white reprint of Swamp Thing. It has 5 or 6 stories most of them drawn by Nestor Redondo. That’s the book that first blew my mind.
I don’t think any one comic made me want to make comics but I remember when I first started drawing comics I was always trying to make my own version of either Jonnie Thunder or Firestorm. I was super into those characters in the 80s.
What were your biggest influences/inspirations when you were younger, and how have they changed or evolved as you grew as an artist?
Like a ton of other artists, I went through a lot of different stages. I wanted to be John Byrne for a long time. When I read Mage, I wanted to draw like Matt Wagner. I went through a Mignola phase after seeing his Alpha Flight covers. It wasn’t until I hit 30 that I started to find artists like Milton Caniff and Frank Robbins – guys with a classic brush inking style. That really got me going.
I find that the older I get, the further back I go looking for inspiration. I just recently started going bonkers for Franklin Booth.
Do you have any formal training in the art field? Do you feel it is important to take art courses or go to school to be a professional artist?
I went to art school for a semester and then dropped out because it was just too expensive. Over the summer break, I got a job doing graphic design and was trying to get the money together to go back. I called one of my teachers to get advice and he was like “Why would you come back? You already got a job that some of our graduates won’t be able to get.” Which was kind of true. I was doing graphic design and I kinda liked it but I was also doing stuff like yellow pages ads and really crappy soul crushing jobs like that.
I think I would be a better artist today if I had finished art school. But I don’t know if it would have been worth the money. Maybe the thing that art school is good for is getting you to learn the things that you would probably not want to do on your own, like learning perspective and real anatomy and stuff like that.
Nowadays, I don’t think there is any reason to go to school for art. In fact, I don’t know if I have ever met an artist who graduated from art school and felt like it was worth the money. No one has ever asked me if I had a degree. But every employer I’ve ever had, wanted to see my portfolio before they would even talk to me.
I used to live in Northwest Washington, and there wasn’t much to be had as far as a comic community then. In recent years a large, tight-knit creator community has formed in the Pacific Northwest, with many great creators, shops, and conventions moving or starting up. Why do you think that is? What is it that you love about that region?
We moved here a little over a year ago. It was a pretty easy decision because my folks live in the area, it’s cheaper than where we were living in San Diego and the two publishers I work with the most are here. It’s also ridiculously pretty. It’s probably the same for most of the other comics folks in the area. And comics people attract more comics people, it’s like a comics black hole.
Ha! How did you first get into this odd and wonderful industry?
I was trying to get into comics off and on for a dozen years or more. I was making video games most of that time and making good money. So it was hard to get motivated enough to really focus on it. Eventually, around 2009 I decided that making games was putting money in my pocket but not really making me happy. So I took a few months off in between games and started working on comics. There was one page in particular I remember, when things suddenly started to click in my brain and I felt like I was making professional level pages.
When I had what I thought was a bunch of good pages, I went to the Stumptown Comics Fest. They had an awesome portfolio review system setup so I put my name on the list. The first person I showed my portfolio to was James Lucas Jones from Oni Press. He flipped through my stuff and said he had a script on his desk that I might be perfect for.
That ended up being Petrograd. Phil had pitched the book to Oni a few weeks before I met them in 2009. They knew they wanted to do it but they still needed an artist. So I just stumbled into the right place at the right time. I met with a few other publishers and they basically said I was good but not right for them. But everyone gave me pointers and info that really helped me later on.
You’ve worked in video games for a number of years. How is that field different than the comic industry? Which is more fulfilling for you, as an artist?
I really liked making video games but I LOVE making comics. On games I was almost always on big teams; I was only 1 of 50 or 60 artists. So I was working pretty much anonymously. I was an art lead a few times but even then I was never defining the look of the games or anything like that. And video games cost so much that it’s really hard to get anyone to try anything new. You always end up feeling like a cog in a machine. There’s good stuff though, a steady paycheck, health insurance (sometimes) and I really enjoyed working with programers and getting into the technical stuff.
Comics is a whole different beast: small teams, no money, tons of room for creativity, quick turn around times. It’s AWESOME.
You have some very impressive books under your belt, between the Hellboy universe stuff, Bad Blood, and Petrograd. How different for you is it working on anothers creation as opposed to something creator-owned?
The only creator owned book I’ve worked on so far has been PETROGRAD. So it’s kind of hard to say if I approach them differently. I tend to go into every project with an idea of the things I want to do differently than my previous projects. And I’ll have ideas for new things that I want to do. Lots of times that just is me trying to be better at stuff. For instance, I noticed in the past that I rarely did full body shots of characters so I’m making an effort to get more of those. And I’m thinking of how I layout pages differently.
You perfectly captured the clothing, architecture, and mood of the era. How much research went into it for you?
A lot of research went into it but I still ended up faking a lot of stuff. I basically took the point of view that it needed to feel real even if it was fake. For example a lot of the architecture was based on buildings in Prague rather than St. Petersberg just because the photos were better and easier to find. And I was only able to find one photo of a car in Russia from the period so that’s the car I used. A lot of other stuff was intuitive or just made up all together. Like I said, I just wanted it to feel right.
Your style is perfect for the B.P.R.D. How did you nab that book? Was it hard coming along after Guy Davis and the other great artists that previously or simultaneously worked on those books?
That was a weird one! I was getting close to finishing PETROGRAD and I went to the Long Beach Comic Con with a bunch of pages. Mignola was there too so I asked him if he would be interested in looking at some of my artwork and giving me some pointers. He kind of rolled his eyes and said sure. So I showed him my stuff and he seemed to really like it. He gave me his card and we kept in touch. In the meantime, I finished PETROGRAD and was trying to figure out what to do next.
Then one day I got a call from Scott Allie. He explained that Guy Davis was leaving the book and they needed someone new and they thought I’d be a good fit. It took me a couple days to say yes, mostly because I wasn’t sure I was ready for the job. And in retrospect, I don’t think I was. I just didn’t have enough pages under my belt. I’m getting closer though!
How is your working relationship with Mike Mignola, Scott Allie, and the other people behind the scenes?
I think it’s pretty good. I really like and respect everyone who works on Mignola books. And the longer I work with them the more I respect them. There is a lot of passion and attention to detail. There is a lot more back and forth on character designs and story layout than other books. And it’s more of a team effort that other books. I think it’s a lot of fun.
How did Bad Blood come about, and how is it working with John Maberry?
That was an easy one: my editor, Daniel Chabon came to me and said “I’m trying to get this project going. Do you want to draw it?” and I said yes.
Every comic fan has that one elusive dream book or character they’d like to work on, whether it’s a big superhero, or something completely original. What’s your dream book?
I know this might sound weird, but I’d really like to draw an Archie story in their house style. There are some folks who do those stories that just make amazing comics. And no one else is doing comics like that any more.
And I’d have a couple stories bouncing around in my head that I really need to do. I’m hoping that I can maybe do that next year.
We’ve seen where you’ve been, but what’s next for Mr. Tyler Crook?
Right now I’m working on a new Witchfinder series. Dave Stewart and I are doing a new thing with ink washes that I’m super excited about. And I really like doing period stuff. I’m not sure when it’s coming out though.
Thank you Mr. Tyler Crook. We look forward to what the future holds for you. And just announced, Witchfinder: The Mysteries of Unland, written by Kim Newman and Maura McHugh, will be out in June.