Friday, February 17, 2012

An Interview With Jen Hickman

Today you guys are in for a real treat.  We'll be interviewing Jen Hickman, one of the contributors to Game Over: Please Insert More Quarters.  Jen hails from San Francisco and has worked in graphic design previous to her work in comics.  She has always had a strong interest in Sequential Art and science fiction and is now combining her interest in these subjects for her wonderful short comic called After.  Let's see what she has to say about comics, coffee, and whether unicorns can win against ninjas.

Can you give us a brief outline of your process?  How do you create your comics, and what do you feel is the most critical step in creating your work?

There's a lot of wiggle room in my process, and every project is a little different. Plus, I'm a student. Now is the perfect time to try different things to see what works and what doesn't! That said, I pretty much always write an entire story before I start drawing. Sometimes the story's ending will change while I'm drawing it, but when I start drawing I like to know where the project is going and what kind of scope it's going to have.

The story-writing process is slow and accumulative. Something (usually completely arbitrary and out of my control) will spark a story idea, and then for months I'll let it percolate, mulling over characters and worlds and events and central themes. From there, depending on my mood, I'll either write stream-of-consciousness about the story or I'll write random scenes from it. Then at some point it's time to corral all those pieces of paper and stray word docs into a cohesive script.

Thumbnailing is next, and I'm struggling to be more detailed with those. Often I will thumbnail with stick figures, or, worse, I'll write 'chair' or 'profile bust shot' instead of actually sketching it out. Too lazy for words! It's usually because I'm rushing to keep up with the flow of planning the pages, and I don't want to lose track of the overall rhythm. When I was first starting out, pacing and timing stressed me out a lot, so I guess my thumbnailing step still kinda reflects that.

From there the process is messy and it changes a lot. I won't bore you, but rest assured, there's a lot of re-drawing and referencing involved. I also always make myself color/tone my work once it's 'complete', if only for the practice.

What is the first thing you remember drawing?

Ponies. There's some kind of a 'horse phase' that kids go through, I think, right around the time that they all want to be veterinarians when they grow up. That phase was awesome. I loved books like Black Beauty, Misty of Chincoteague, and Seabiscuit, and all I ever drew was ponies. Usually the same horse over and over again- I could only handle about 3 different perspectives, all of which came from one of those cheesy 'how to draw' books where they break things into basic shapes and then gloss over the transformation from the shapes to the finished drawing.

What is the last thing you remember drawing?

I re-drew a panel that had been bothering me. I changed it from talking heads to slightly more dynamic talking heads. Sigh.

Caffeine is a sequential artists best friend.  What is your favorite way to get your caffeine fix?

Snob alert! I drink fresh coffee, preferably a light roast like harrar. I drink it black; that shouldn't be a surprise. It comes with the snob territory. I can't function until I've had a full pot of coffee, which (I've been told) is bad for you.

What is the most challenging aspect of sequential art to you?  What do you find the most rewarding?

On a technical level, perspective still kicks my butt. I always have to work really hard at it and while it's totally worth it, sometimes it can be really tedious. Theoretically speaking, though, I get really anxious leaving things up to the viewer. I want to make things obvious without being pedantic. Basically, I struggle with how much I can trust the viewer to infer. But it's kind of a fun puzzle, and occasionally it works out that I've said/drawn just enough to sketch out a thought and let the viewer do the rest, and then it's the best thing ever.

2 part question.  Unicorn Vs. Narwhals.  Who wins?  Pirates vs. Ninjas.  Who wins?
Well, for the first fight, a lot depends on the fighting arena. I'm going to assume that the fight will take place on land because that way the TV stations can easily get their cameras in there, which obviously is very important. At that point the fight is basically over; the unicorn would win in the first round. More mobile than its opponent, quicker, and not gonna die from lack of oxygen. The second fight isn't really influenced by fighting arena. Let's assume even numbers, and a neutral fighting ground. Ninjas are obviously going to win. I mean come on. Their whole M.O. is killing people. Pirates don't focus on that nearly as much as sailing, stealing, drinking, and swaggering. If it was a swag-off instead of a fight the pirates would probably win, but it's not.

Elimination round!  The winner of the unicorn/narwhal fight vs the winner of the pirates/ninja fight.  Who is the ultimate champion?
Unicorns. Those things are immortal. Also mainly the mental image of a unicorn with a skewered ninja on its horn is the best thing I've thought of all day.

Now that we've been able to get to know a bit more about her, let's look at some of her wonderful artwork.  Below are some character designs for After, as well as a page from her comic in 2 different stages of her creative process.

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