I was unbelievably stoked when Marc Jackson forwarded me Tyler Crook‘s E-mail address. I have been ogling his gorgeous artwork on the Dark Horse comic B.P.R.D. Coming in after Guy Davis was no small feat, but he managed to keep fans interested and coming back for more! I got the opportunity to interview the AWESOME artist and learn more about his process and influences. I had a blast learning more about him and hope you do too!
Tell us a little bit about yourself Tyler and what got you into comics?
I have been into comics for as long as I can remember. My mom used to buy me Richie Rich and Casper comics when I was really little, but as soon as I had my own money I started to buy the “good stuff”. I was a Marvel kid back when that meant something. In about the 4th grade I got into superhero comics and started buying Alpha Flight, Fantastic Four, stuff like that. I really got into Arthur Adams, John Byrne, Walter Simonson. I would get my allowance and go straight to the grocery store to raid the spinner racks. Eventually I got into high school, discovered punk rock, girls and started smoking so I no longer had money for comics. It wasn’t until I was in my 20s that I started reading comics seriously again. By that time I had dropped out of art school and I was working as a 3D artist in the video game industry. The books that really pulled me back in were THB, Acme Novelty Library.
The first time I ever tried to get into the comic book industry was in 1999. I got laid off from my job and was trying to figure out what to do next. I was working on my portfolio and I thought I should do some illustration work to round it out a bit. I ended up writing and drawing a 30-page story that I sent around to a few people. It was pretty horrible, so it didn’t really go anywhere but I learned a lot doing it. Then I got another video game job and ended up working there for a long time. Every few months I would get fed up with video games and start working on a comic book portfolio. But I inevitably lost interest, or would get distracted with other work. Really I just wasn’t ready. I was a pretty good artist – good enough to make a living at it – but not really as good as I needed to be to get attention in the comics industry.
Then in 2008, I found myself without a job again. I sent out my demo reel to all the local video game companies and while I was waiting for someone to get back to me, I started working on making some comics. I don’t know why, but this time things really seemed to click for me. The pages started to come pretty easily and I was more willing to sit and work on a single page for 10 – 12 hours. Anyway, I ended up putting together a portfolio of about 12 sequential pages and a few spot illustrations that I had done in the past and I went to Portland to the Stumptown Comics Fest. I showed my stuff to James at Oni Press and he said he might have a project that I would be perfect for. That ended up being Petrograd, a 250-page graphic novel that came out last year.
I worked on Petrograd on evenings and weekends while holding down a full-time job for two and a half years. Just as I was wrapping it up I got offered the job of working on BPRD. That was enough for me to quit the day job and start working on comics full-time.
Speaking of B.P.R.D., give us a glimpse into a day in the life of a Dark Horse artist.
Every day I wake up, shower, feed the pets and check my emails. Then I go to the gym. I try to be back at my desk drawing before 10:00 am. I work at home (you can see a picture of my studio up on my blog) and my studio has pretty much taken over the living room. On weeks that I’m penciling, I try to get two pages roughed in before lunch, which is usually around 12:30 or 1:00. Then I finish the pages after I eat. I try to be done before 7:00 pm. I eat some dinner and hang out with my wife and go to bed. I usually work 6 days a week, and lots of time end up working later either because I am enjoying myself or because everything went wrong that day. All-in-all it takes me 5-6 weeks to layout, pencil and ink an issue.
Some days it’s a real struggle to remain focused and other days it’s real easy. If I hit a wall and start feeling real frustrated, I might go to the dog park or the library to clear my head.
Where do you draw your inspiration?
I don’t know if I have ever been truly inspired. I think at best I have been really curious. Curiosity can lead to some neat discoveries. In college they always talked about “developing an art process” and I never really understood what they were talking about. It wasn’t until I was in my 30s that I really figured out that process is how you get around needing inspiration. If you are sitting around waiting for an idea to come out of the blue you will be sitting there for the rest of your life. But if you have a process for developing an idea, you don’t need any inspiration. You can just get to work exploring all sorts of bad ideas until you get a good one. The best way to get an idea is to look at something and ask yourself, “Why is that like that and how could it have happened?”.
With BPRD, I am lucky because John Arcudi gives me a script. He’s already done the hard part, all I have to do is read the story and imagine it in my head as best I can and then draw it.
What advice do you have for artists who want to follow in your footsteps and work for a comics publisher?
The best advice I ever heard is to do good work and put it on the Internet. No one is ever going to hire you if you aren’t good and no one is going to hire you if they don’t know you exist. Besides posting stuff on the Internet, going to conventions seems to really work. I got the Petrograd gig as a direct result of meeting people at Stumptown Comics Fest and I got the BPRD gig because I met Mike Mignola at the Long Beach Comic Con.
You also have to have a healthy respect for how hard it is make good comics. There is really no secret to becoming a good comic book artist, you just have to work at it really hard. If you are like me, you will have to draw hundreds of comic book pages before you draw a good one. So the more time you can spend with you butt at your desk, drawing the sooner you will get to that first good page – the sooner you will get to that page that will win you a job.
What projects are you currently working on?
BPRD is pretty much my full-time job right now. I’m in the middle of a 3-part story called The Devils Engine that’ll start coming out in a few months. And I have a 5-part BPRD story scheduled after that. In my “spare” time I’m also doing a short story for Occupy Comics with Ales Kot.
What great comics have you been reading lately?
I just re-read Skim by Mariko Tamaki and Jillian Tamaki. Every time I read that book it knocks me on my butt. The story is structured in a way that feels kind of like it’s just wandering around. Then it comes together at the end in a way that feels both powerful and subtle. Jillian Tamaki’s drawing is so beautiful it makes me ache. Her sense of composition is gorgeous and her brush line is really confident but somehow tender.
I’ve also been reading Pogo: The Complete Daily & Sunday Strips. Walt Kelly has one of the most beautiful brush lines in the history of comics. I’ve been reading his stuff since I was a kid and I never get tired of it. The way he uses language is really funny to me.
I met Stan Sakai at the San Diego Comic Con last year and realized that I had only ever read a handful of his Usagi Yojimbo books. So I bought the next one I saw and have become completely addicted. He’s one of the few people who can fit a complete, well crafted story into 24 comic pages. And he still hand letters his pages which is how it aught to be done.
What events/conventions can fans find you soon?
Man, That’s a good question. I’m pretty sure that I’m going to be in San Diego this summer. But I have been avoided making convention plans this year. I have a lot of work to do and on top of that, we are hoping to move sometime this year. But if I make any sort of plans, I’ll be posting about it on my blog: mr.crook.com and my twitter @superskoda.
Any last words?