Garry Brown broke into comics nearly a decade ago, and we’ve all been better for it. Garry has been prolific tackling everything from Gotham (Catwoman) to the deep sea (The Massive) to Vikings (Black Road) as well as a slew of cover work. He’s built a burgeoning creative partnership with writer Brian Wood and a new creative collaboration with Donny Cates on Babyteeth from Aftershock set to hit the shelves in a few weeks. Garry was kind enough to sit down with me for a chat about life, the universe and everything.
Hey Garry, thanks for chatting today. Let’s start with your origin story. When did you become interested in comics? What did you read as a kid? And when did you decide on illustration as a career?
Good to speak with you, too! I became interested in comics at about 5 years old. My grandmother bought me a Spider-Man comic that had a big fold-out poster. That was literally the only US comic I ever saw in my tiny home town in Scotland. I also had a bi-weekly subscription to 2000AD so that was 90% of the stuff I read as a kid. My mother joined a mail-in book club after that. The kind where you chose 5 books for free as long as you buy 4 full priced over a year or something. I got Batman: Knightfall Volumes 1 and 2 from there. I didn’t know there was a 3rd volume for years! I thought Azrael became Batman and stayed that way!
As to becoming an illustrator, I’ve been drawing for as long as I can remember. As a kid, I was extremely shy and introverted. Drawing was a great escape for my mind.
Did you study illustration formally in Scotland?
Yeah, sort of. I went to a shitty design school in Edinburgh. They were not supportive or open to the idea of comic art at all. I did meet a friend there who told me about the Kubert School though. So it was worth it in the end.
Were you already in the U.S. at the time or was attending the Kubert School the catalyst to get your over here?
Yeah, the school was my first time in the U.S. There wasn’t really a comic scene in the U.K. That I could fine. Other than 2000AD and that had a fairly small pool of artists that they regularly used.
I first recall seeing your work on Incorruptible, doing covers. How did you land that gig?
When I was in school I did a lot of covers. I always wanted to do cover work so I focused on that. I’d upload them to DeviantArt and that’s where I got contacted to do a SDCC exclusive double cover for Incorruptible/Irredeemable. They liked the covers and offered me the monthly gig.
Although you did interiors on Dark Matter (Dark Horse), the first interiors I saw were in Massive, with Brian Wood. If I’m not mistaken, you had solicited Brian by sending him examples of your work, which led to his asking you to take over for Kristian Donaldson with Issue 4, correct?
I did a few little things for Marvel and DC right out of school then I got the Dark Horse gigs. I’d been in contact with Brian for a few years before The Massive. I think I almost got a Northlanders gig (which would have been amazing). He contacted me one day about The Massive and asked if I’d take it on monthly for 30 issues or so. I did some samples for Sierra and she liked them, too. My first issue was #4 but due to some behind-the-scenes chaos I did a portion of #3 too, which then wasn’t needed because Donaldson handed it in.
From our prior chats, I know that Brian meticulously planned out The Massive, leaving you with little input in terms of characterization or plot. Now that you’re working with him again on Black Road, is this go around more collaborative?
Oh yeah that [The Massive] was Brian’s show. Kristian and I were work for hire. Because the story was so huge and intricate I’m glad I just had to draw it. With Black Road, Brian and I created it and co-own it so it’s a different beast. Brian’s open to me throwing ideas at him and stuff like that. It’s extremely collaborative. When we started working on the book there were times when we weren’t sure if it was going to happen. Scheduling and trying to nail a look for the book, etc.
Speaking of Black Road, it’s been a captivating effort thus far. What appealed to you most about the series? Was it the opportunity to work with Brian again? The chance to “do Vikings?” Or something else entirely?
Yeah, it was definitely the Viking thing. As I said I missed out on Northlanders and this seemed like a way better prospect to me. Instead of being one of many artists it was great being the only guy on the book for the entire run. I think it was at a signing at NYCC I asked Brian if he had any other books he was thinking of. The Massive was coming to an end and he mentioned a Viking book. I was sold.
Is there a definitive end in sight for Black Road, or will the series run for the foreseeable future?
The plan is to do issues 1 through 10 without a break, with #10 being the end of that particular story. Then we’ll take a break and come back with the start of a new arc. It won’t necessarily be a direct continuation of the initial story. It will probably be a whole new adventure.
Let’s talk about your process. What’s the lifecycle of an issue for you? Do you layout the entire issue before starting on finished pencils? How much of your process is digital, and do you envision relying on digital tools more heavily in the future?
I try to do the layouts the first time I read the script. That way I get the images I see down immediately. I do layout and pencil digitally, then print the pencils on Bristol board blue line and finally I ink traditionally. I’m actually doing a book (Babyteeth with Donny Cates on writing duties) fully digitally. It’s been a fun experience but unlikely I’ll fully transition.
I’m personally thrilled to hear you aren’t planning to fully transition to digital, but unpack that a bit…why isn’t that the direction you see your career going?
I love original art and the digital stuff just doesn’t look as good, in my opinion. It can be interesting but it’s not really my thing. I think Sara Pichelli is the best at making digital inks look traditional. I don’t know how she does it.
What are your favorite tools of the trade?
I really don’t remember the name but I love this Japanese sumi ink. Not sure of the brand, or if it’s called sumi ink. I also use rough Carson Bristol board.
One of the things I appreciate about your style is an unending confidence in spotting blacks. What’s the secret to maintaining a vibrant, dynamic narrative when working so heavily with blacks?
I’ve no idea, haha. I’ve always liked black and white art. It probably started when I was younger and I saw Frank Miller’s stuff. I tend to be drawn to the noir aspects of a story. I think there’s the “70-30 idea” that either 70% of the page is black and 30% is white or vice versa. That helps the reader’s eye focus where you want it.
I can personally attest to the awesomeness of your commission work. Do you still enjoy doing commissions? How do you find the time to do commissions and maintain a regular schedule?
Oh yeah, I love it. It gives me a chance to draw characters I’ll never be hired to draw professionally. I’ve got a fairly good work ethic and when I’m working on a commission it’s more fun than work.
How important are conventions in both supplementing your income and as a networking tool to further your career?
Honestly, I have no idea. I don’t think I’ve ever got a job (that I know of) from meeting someone at a con. I met a lot of writers and artists I’ve come to be friendly with though. On the income front my art rep Felix Lu (Felixcomicart.com) handles all my commission and art sales so I mostly go to cons to see my friends and hang out.
That’s interesting, it shows you how every creator’s path to success differs as other creators swear by the importance of networking at shows.
Do you still read comics? If so, what are you loving?
I still buy comics but it’s tough to find the time to read them with all the work I have going on. I just read Roughneck by Jeff Lemire and that was excellent. I really enjoying anything Tom King writes, too.
You’ve dabbled in superhero comics with a terrific arc on Catwoman, but mainly you’ve worked on creator-owned comics. Do you have any interest in doing more superhero work in the future?
I’d love to do more superhero books. It just always seems to be a timing thing with the Big Two. There’s only so many books and so many artists.
Artists are usually their own toughest critics. Are you tough on yourself?
Absolutely. I’ve ripped up so many pages/covers/commissions it’s insane. Felix was making a video of me working and halfway through I ripped up the drawing (haha!); he wasn’t happy.
What’s the one thing about being a freelance cartoonist that fans should know, but probably don’t?
Skype is your new best friend. Working 6 days week in a studio by yourself is rough so being in a Skype group with other artists is a life saver.
Okay, this Skype group intrigues me. Spill it, who is in your group? And what kinds of things do you guys chat about to keep busy? Life, the universe, everything? TV? Movies? Women? All of the above? Our fans demand to know! (haha)
It’s me, Chris Mooneyham and Nick Pitarra. Sometimes we rope James Harren into it. We pretty much talk about anything: what we are currently working on, movies/tv shows we’re watching, etc… There’s no limit to the random crap we talk about.
What other advice do you have for young, aspiring creators?
Just keep creating. It’s never been easier to get your work out there.
And there you have it! Where can fans follow you and your work online?
Thanks Garry, we’re looking forward to seeing you at Heroes Con next month. In the meantime we’ll make sure our 11 O’Clock Comics faithful pick up Black Road and Babyteeth!