20 Questions With Comic Artist J.K. Woodward

J.K. Woodward is best known to comic fans for his extensive run on Fallen Angel with Peter David at IDW,...

Carl Jansson

Contributor

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J.K. Woodward is best known to comic fans for his extensive run on Fallen Angel with Peter David at IDW, but there is so much more to him than that.  For almost a decade he has been putting brush to paper for companies as varied as Marvel Comics, Digital Webbing, BOOM! Studios, and the aforementioned IDW. He’s painted Edgar Allen Poe, the X-Men, Doctor Who, the crew of the starship Enterprise, and monsters big and small. Due to his dedication to the medium, and a fantastic style, he has gained quite a following, and never seems to be looking for work. J.K. is always willing to have a conversation with fans over a few beers at a convention, and is very open about his life and creative process on his blog and on J.K.’s Happy Hour podcast. He takes what he does seriously, and his love for the medium just oozes from every new piece. He lost everything due to Superstorm Sandy, but not even that could stop him, and he was back to the drawing table within just a few days.

J.K. has graciously set aside some of his very precious time to answer some questions, tell some stories, and give some advice. So, pour yourself a drink, sit back, and let him entertain you.

You’ve been working professionally in comics for about eight years now? How did you first become involved with comics?
Actually, its closer to 10. I started a CSI mini-series for IDW in late 2003/early2004. Man time flies when you’re old.
How long have you been interested in art? Is this what you wanted to do when you “grew up”?
All my life really. I chose it very young. I’ve always been interested but never had an aptitude. It was a skill set I developed out of pure stubborn tenacity. I enjoyed reading comics, but could not be just a spectator, I had to be involved somehow and so I started writing and drawing my own comics. I knew my whole life I would eventually be a working artist. It was my hope it would involve, but not be restricted to, comics.
 
What did you do for work before comics kidnapped you and tied you to your drawing table?
I had more jobs than Bill Bixby’s David Banner. …and lived in about as many towns. I grew up near a small factory town in MA. In the mid 80’s I left home at the age of 15 and obtained a fraudulent ID to work in factories. In fact, I worked second shift in a small manufacturing plant my senior year in high school. I used to take the bus right from school and get there just in time for my 9 hour shift. Even back then I didn’t sleep. Since then I moved to 9 different cities (3 of which weren’t even in the U.S.) and had several occupations from retail, market research, custodial, multi-media producer, graphic designer…
 
You are one of the hardest working guys in the industry. When do you sleep?
I really don’t all that much. I usually get about 4-6 hours sleep and spend the rest of the time working. I don’t get weekends. I work in traditional media and I paint my pages. I enjoy the results I get but it takes a  lot longer to finish each page so sacrifices have to be made to make a monthly schedule. I’ll usually take 1 or 2 nights off every month and drink entirely too much to sort of break up the monotony, otherwise, its really just 1 non stop work day till I die. Also there are cons and even though I spend the whole time drawing, its only 6-8 hours and I can catch up on sleep as long as I don’t bring any work with me.
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Your artwork is very unique to comics. How do you achieve that distinct look? Do you have any unusual tools in your arsenal?
Generally its just ink and gouache on this watercolour paper from France that costs more than $2 a sheet but is well worth it. I will use assemblange and basically incorporate anything I can find if it works. I’ve used coffee, blood, cigarette ash, and fire on a horror cover (Necronomicon #1, I think?) for BOOM! before. You can get a look at the process on my blog. I like to share and try to do this with my work at least twice a month.
What or who has been the greatest influence on your life or career?
Captain Picard, Peter Parker, The Doctor…  I’m kidding, but only kind of. The creators of great works of fiction and the characters they create had a tremendous effect on me when I was young. As I got older, I started looking at other artists and that’s when I started to quickly evolve. I think Sienkiewicz, more than any other creator in comics. He showed me the medium could be much more than it was and he managed to do it in mainstream comics. It was incredible! I also had a fascination with Picasso for the longest time. (I even went through my own “blue period” with my own art). I like how he and Bracque invented something new, but Picasso kind of stole the show (much like Bowie and Iggy Pop both writing China Girl, yet most people only know the Bowie Version). I also read about his gradual decent into madness among other things and yet the art was always there. I admired that tenacity and to this day, hope I can emulate it. I want to be painting while the whole world burns.
 
You’ve lived in California, New York, and even Germany for a while. Have these very different experiences informed your art in any way?
 Of course.  Different experiences inform you in different ways and those experiences a provide you with a perspective you can’t otherwise learn. This applies to art and life.
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You’ve done a little work for Marvel, but it seems most of your work has been for smaller publishers such as BOOM! Studios, and then extensively for IDW. Do you have more freedom working for a smaller publisher, as opposed to DC or Marvel?
In my experiences, it really depends on the job more than the publisher, but I will say that with IDW I have more opportunities to work on the jobs that give me the room I need to do the kind of work I like to do. Those kinds of opportunities and the great people working there, are what makes IDW my first choice in most cases.
 
You’ve self-published before, when you were in Germany. Would you ever do it again? How do you feel about the way Kickstarter is seemingly changing the game as far as self-publishing is concerned?
Of course! I enjoy the freedom but not the business end so much. But times have changed a lot and its not just KS that’s opening the market for self-publishing, its all the different avenues of distribution. Digital, DCBS, etc. Not every retailer can take a risk on every small publisher, but the cost is negligible for online sales and digital formats. You can now get any comic you want anytime, in any format. Its an exciting time for comics! And since you mentioned Kickstarter, perhaps I should mention one of my up coming projects. http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/902770045/dragon-precinct-graphic-novel
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Your most recent project has been Star Trek: The Next Generation/Doctor Who: Assimilation2, again for IDW. How did this project come about, and how is it different working on licensed characters as opposed to, say, Peter David’s Fallen Angel?
Well, the major difference is the work needs to be approved by a 3rd party. Unfortunately that means that sometimes, someone can make the wrong decision, but its your name on the book not theirs. That’s unfortunate, but doesn’t really happen that often to be honest. There are also likeness rights and in the case of ST:DW, there were 2 companies and all their people that had to approve every painted likeness of every actor. This would slow things down sometimes and made things difficult. It was particularly difficult for Denton who had to mediate all this and still get the book to the printers on time. Its a crazy juggling act for the editors.
 
Are you a long time Whovian or Trekkie? If so, who is your favorite character to draw?
Oh yes! Both! In fact when I was 7, I used to watch TOS in syndication and then the Tom Baker Doctor on PBS right afterward. Even in ’78 I was dreaming about this crossover. I remember watching TOS and drawing the shuttlecraft Galleleo in crayon and then when Doctor Who came on, drawing the TARDIS right next to it. I think I wanted these world’s together and I just got a special thrill out of seeing what the comparative scale of both crafts look like when parked right next to each other. Flash forward about 35 years later and look at the cover to issue 3. Kirk and the Cybermen in the foreground, Spock and The Doctor in the midground, and far in the back… you guessed it! The TARDIS and the Galleleo.  It’s nice when dreams come true. My favourite characters to draw from Star Trek are the Borg and from Who, the Silence. I even combined them in some sketches I did for the book plates for the upcoming IDW Limited HC’s.
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I know how fans can be, especially Doctor Who and Star Trek fans. How has Assimilation2 been received?
Well, there are always the anti-fun types that shit all over everything, but I really didn’t hear any for this. I’ve done at least 1 con a month since I started the book a year and a half ago and I’ve only heard enthusiastically positive things. I looked online and in forums, same thing. I think because both I and the Tipton brothers are huge fans of both properties, it shows in the work and speaks to other fans. I agree it could have gone very badly, but we had a great writing team that was as respectful to the source materials as they were enthusiastic about them.
 
Your work gets better with every new piece. Do you have a favorite painting or series you’ve worked on?
The answer to that changes all the time. Crazy Mary was my first published piece that got any real attention so there is a special place in my heart for that little book that could. You never forget your first. Its also being collected and reprinted right now from 01 Publishing which is really exciting for me. Fallen Angel is a great thrill to work on too. I’m very proud of the work I did there, particularly the last mini series, “Return of the Son”. Peter and I are actually in the process of starting the new mini, but no details on that will be given until we make an announcement at NYCC.
We all have stories deep down about our favorite characters. Is there a property or character you’re just dying to work on?
Greatest American Hero. Seriously. I remember one episode where the suit allowed him to see ghosts. Or more accurately pierce some kind of dimensional doorway. It actually was just bad blue screen effects making it look like he was seeing another world by sticking his head through a wall. I’d like to do more stories like that. I feel like if he discovered the true power of the suit it would open up worlds and times and it could become a great sort of Odyssian tale of sorts. I’d love to explore that! Also Buck Rogers spin off, the 70’s version. I’d love to do a story about Hawk’s people.
 
I know you lost a lot during super storm Sandy. It was great seeing your friends and fans rallying to help you out. Has your life begun returning to any semblance of “normal” yet? 
Yes! Thanks for asking. That was a horrible moment and I really thought we were going to die at one point. Then the next morning, I wished we had. But I … blah blah…boot straps and such and such and soldiered on. Two nights later I recorded my podcast (JK’s Happy Hour) http://thetaylornetworkofpodcasts.com/2012/11/02/jks-happy-hour-jks-day-at-the-beach/ and I was telling the story to Darrell and mentioned I needed clothes as I’d been wearing my 1 and only outfit for 3 days, 2 days later I had piles of boxes with clothes sent by kind folks in the comics community. It was  great. I later did a print sale to raise money to get us  a new home and back on our feet. Now we have a place in Long Beach, CA and its sparsely furnished and we have a long way to go as far as rebuying our “things”, but its a home, its ours, and its permanent. No more drifting. We couldn’t be happier!
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I love that after all of these people rallied behind you to help, you turned around and did the same for Peter David. Are you always this awesome?
HA! Sure. Why not? Yeah, I am always that awesome. Seriously, it was really horrible to hear Peter had a stroke as I, myself was still struggling to get back on my feet. I felt helpless as I was working 20 hour days already to try and keep my head above water so I felt powerless to do anything for him. Then it occurred to me, since so many people were coming to me to ask what they could do, why not ask them for art. So I organized an art auction on eBay to help with medical bills. In the mean time I was in daily contact with Kath (Peter’s wife) to get updates on his condition and recovery. I would announce what I knew online and on my podcast and then direct people to where they could donate or buy creator owned books from Peter so he could get the money directly. As it turned out he made a speedy and miraculous recovery and we couldn’t be happier. We even had him on the podcast when he was feeling up to it.
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Here are all the links to my blog entries at the time if you want to do additional research: http://jkwoodwardart.blogspot.com/search?q=peter+david
 
Can you tell us anything about Omerta, the book you’re working on with Tony Lee?
Just that its going to be (expletive deleted) BRILLIANT!!! We actually came up with the idea on twitter. I mentioned that my art style lends itself to horror and crime with it’s film noir atmosphere and wondered aloud why I never worked on a script like that. Tony answered back. We talked back and forth via email and hammered out a rough plot idea and then met at London Super Comic Con and polished it a bit over a couple of pints and fish finger butties. Tony says it best on the promo poster we made. “Five Criminal Organizations. One Police Precinct. 6 Elder Gods. A City lost to Madness. Omerta: Gods and Gangsters. Summer 2014″
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Do you have anything else coming down the pipeline? More Fallen Angel? Something else?
Whoops. I already jumped the gun and answered that in previous questions, I think.  Yes Fallen Angel, a project called Dragon Precinct, Omerta with Tony Lee and 2 others I can’t yet talk about.
 
I know you probably get asked this a lot, but what kind of advice would you give someone trying to make comics as a living?
If anything is more important than your work, go do that and give up on comics. It demands everything. Be prepared to work hard, put your life on hold and make sacrifices. The people that have made it in this business have done so because they are willing to do that. The rest get their hearts broken. Its important to understand that there is at least a thousand other people as good as you who want your job. The question you have to constantly ask yourself is, why should an editor pick/keep me. Do what needs to be done, make your deadlines, and never get complacent or discouraged. Also, don’t be shy. Put yourself out there. If your’e on FB or twitter, let everyone else have fun with the dumb jokes and stupid memes, but you post your work. Be genuinely excited about what you do and try to pull as many people into that excitement with you as possible. This is NOT a job, this is your life.
 
Thank you for taking the time out of your insanely busy schedule to answer a bunch of stupid questions. Do you have any parting words?

Adieu. Tschus. Au revoir. Auf Weidersehen. Take Care. Cheerio. Goodbye. see you later. … These are all parting words. Will that be enough, cause I got more.

 

You can pick up many of J.K. Woodward’s books at your local comic shop, book store, or online retailer. Also, keep your eye out for Omerta, which looks fantastic!  And if you see him at a convention, buy the man a drink. He deserves it.