A while back I had an idea I thought was very clever, as I always consider my own ideas. The Outhouse has something I have never seen at another comic site, a forum dedicated to aspiring indie creators and artists to show off their work. Having always been fascinated with the artists on that forum, I thought it would be loads of fun to sit down with some of them and talk about their experiences and upcoming projects.
And for my first article, I picked Pedro Mendes a.k.a Contramundi. You may know him from out forums, or as that guy with the awesome signature. Pedro is an upcoming artist hailing from Portugal. He is also a former Portuguese Marine, proud husband, and the father of a beautiful girl. I couldn't be any happier to help share his work with the world.
Pedro's currently working as the artist on a controversial book called Little Girl Black. It's a project he shares with James McCulloch, a indie horror writer best known for his work on City of Lost Souls. Little Girl Black is a thriller that centers around a despicably racist and misogynistic man who kidnaps, imprisons, and abuses young women. There's no easy way to say this, Little Girl Black is not for everyone and there were times where even I was forced to look away from the page.
That being said i found it to be a very interesting book. After the interview, Pedro has agreed to let me create a gallery out of some of his art, so I hope you stick around for that part. Now let's cut to the interview:
Chad: You mentioned somewhere that you realized as a child you wanted to be an artist. Would you mind sharing that story? What led to that realization?
Pedro: Well, I guess it might be similar to many other people's childhoods. I was an easy kid to entertain, just give me a pencil and paper and that's all I needed. My mom always said that I'd stay quiet, scribbling for hours, and that was the root of it all. I graduated over the years from the random scribbles to the stuff we grew up watching on the weekends, like the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and Biker Mice from Mars. The thing that really sealed the deal was when I saw Uncanny X-Men #274 with the cover by Jim Lee, and that was it. That was where it clicked for me.
Chad: What was your experience growing up as an artist?
Pedro: Well artist might be a strong word here, but I always had an easy time drawing. Even when it was a chore to others, to tell stories and share experiences through a sheet of paper was magical. And it still is! <He laughs>
But then again, I find lots of people can relate to this. In school you tended to stand out when drawing was the subject. Not like a genius or someone would, but as someone who draws fairly easily. I mean we all have a friend that was rather good at drawing. I was that guy.
Chad: What were your experiences like in school? Does Portugal favor art education?
Pedro: When it comes to art and drawing in particular, I always tried to go for that. I tried to explore it, and try to maintain that open as a path to a future career. I had History of Art, History of Design, and hated Geometry with a passion. In general, I had the same education most teens my age had, and I just kept drawing whenever I could. Recently I did a Concept Art course to try and keep learning, keep improving.
Sadly, Portugal is not very "artist friendly". There is loads of talent here, but when it comes to comics, the market is a joke. You can count the creators that work solely in comics, and that launch multiple books in a year, on one hand.
People are forced to look for other ways and work abroad because here the comics that are being sold are the same year after year. Countless Asterix and Lucky Luke are sold here. We have a strong Franco-Belgian presence in comics here and an older crowd that collects comic books. Either by distribution shenanigans or any other hindrance publishers are afraid to take a risk with newcomers. Even though there's a demand for something new, people end up driving miles to buy Marvel and DC Comics rather than search for something different, something local.
Chad: Lisbon is as beautiful and artistic as a city can get. Do you feel that European culture is more supportive of artists?
Pedro: Regardless of my bottomless pity for the Portuguese comic book market, I do feel that Europe as a whole is rather supportive of artists considering that artists historically tend to be looked down upon. Even just next door in Spain, I feel there is quite a difference there when it comes to the treatment artists get. The more economically stable the country gets, the more support art has of course. Germany is outstanding when it comes to supporting artists, with funding from the government if you produce art-related content. Also, while a bit further away, I attended a recent Comic Con in Glasgow with James to launch the #1 issue of our book and the sheer vibe among creators was insanely good. Everyone was friendly and supportive; the competitive side of things was non-existent there. It was truly humbling to stand there with the likes of Gary Erskine, John Wagner, and Frank Quitely.
All in all, Lisbon with its hundreds of years of beautiful history deserved better from the current politicians, but at least we got good weather. <Laughs>
Chad: You've partnered with James McCulloch, Author of City of Lost Souls. How did you two meet?
Pedro: Well, I'm very active in Facebook, and James posted in a group that he was searching for an artist for a short story in a horror anthology (The Grime #2), and I replied. I replied hundreds of times before to similar posts by other folks, most of them tended to be dead ends for several reasons. I can say that James was the most honest guy I ever worked with in comics. He never failed to deliver and also showed me, from day one, that he wasn't afraid of tackling hot topics like that short story that related to bullying in schools and Little Girl Black with all its dark themes.
After that first short story, we remained in contact and James asked me if I was interested in doing Little Girl Black. He warned me that other artists had frowned at its gritty content, but my view is if a story is good, it doesnt matter if its dark or if its gory. If the story is good, it's worth being told, and boy...was the story good!
After all, what happens in the comic can be happening right on the next block, or at the next house. We never know until it makes the news.
I will be eternally grateful to James for the opportunity to work with him. He's such a talented writer that I can really see him working some high profile gigs in the near future, and he's just an awesome guy to hang out with.
Chad: As a pair, your partnership lends itself well to the horror genre. Do you two plan on collaborating on any other projects in the future?
Pedro: Yeah, I guess we both love the genre. I love Stephen King and Neil Gaiman. James, as a huge horror movie fan, has got that covered. He's even seen those movies we think nobody watched, the B-side of horror, and the grind-house style of film. Yeah he's got that covered. <Laughs>
There is talk of future projects. Nothing is set in stone as of now, but I'm all for it. I love working with him. It's challenging and allows me to work, and at the same time, to grow as an artist. Even though we are not confined to horror, it would be a real treat to continue to work with him.
Chad: Has modern technology made it easier for two people to collaborate in different parts of the world?
Pedro: It sure has, and I mean, we met through Facebook. We chat regularly to get things right so that I can draw what he sees in his mind, to bring his ideas to paper. We exchange emails and stuff. I attended Glasgow Comic Con and James was super cool. We got to hang out and have fun. It was technology that made that trip available in all its aspects, and it is part of our way of working. Technology lets us communicate faster and easily.
Chad: How did you get your start?
Pedro: Well, I have always sketched, but when I was finishing school I looked to actually work with my drawings. Ideally making comics was my goal, but boy... was I in for a rough ride.
For a very long time I kept hearing no after no. No local publisher even replied. The few folks that did politely refused, saying that maybe I should look abroad. To make matters worse, at the time there was no school or course that had comics as an option. Graphic design was the nearest it got. I knew nobody that would teach me and there was no internet; well not like today at least... so I became frustrated with it, lost faith, but I kept drawing.
What I like to do is draw short stories with themes such as fantasy, medieval stuff, monsters, and noir. Doing that allowed me to draw pages for fun, and to keep grinding. Then I started collaborating with some folks here and there, always on an amateur level, but it's the only way that we grow, the only way we learn.
The first thing I got published was actually digital only, a pdf story of 20 pages. Then it grew to being published in zines and local anthologies. Then last year, I placed second and third in two different contests and won the prize money. I took it as a sign to keep going, to keep at it.
This year I did work for a horror anthology, and drew all 76 pages of Little Girl Black. I am finishing issue #3; did a 22 page pitch for a comic, and am keeping a story going about some awesome sword wielding mice. I also have some test pages and other stuff to get done before the end of the year. It's been an awesome year!
Chad: Is your sole job as an artist?
Pedro: Currently I'm unemployed. When I finished school I drifted from shitty job to shitty job. There was something missing, drawing seemed to forever be doomed to be just a hobby, so I took my second passion and ran with it.
I enlisted in my country's Marine Corps and served without regret for 7 awesome years. I can say for sure it was the best time of my life. Drawing stayed right there with me, soaking all of it up and turning it into drawings. Besides a room full of drunk Marines, it is the best kind of company. Everybody wants a Tattoo, or a drawing for a T shirt, and you would not believe the bets these guys make.
Nearing the last year of my contract, the famous economic crisis dropped and my options became very limited. Even if I wanted to stay, there was no way for that to happen. I married while serving and became the proud father of a little princess. So I dreaded the future when I got home, but my wife and family have been awesome and encouraged me all the way. I can say for sure that I would have never been able to do this without her support.
I'm always looking for new gigs, and more comics to draw. Even if I get a job in the future, the plan is for it to be part time so I can keep drawing. It's drawing or die trying!
Chad: I'm a bit curious about something. It seems many "professional" artists struggle with even lax deadlines, but you seem to manage. You always seem like you're working on your art. What advantage do you think you have that makes it seem so easy?
Pedro: I think being unemployed is the key here. <Laughs>
I do try to keep my page running, so I can update it with regular content and show what I'm currently doing. Also it's a rather small crowd of 700 followers, so I try and reply to everything I can there.
The thing is I know how daunting a deadline and a blank page can be. I try to set micro-goals, and not look at the full number of pages I need to draw. I just do it one drawing at a time, I reckon.
Chad: What led to the decision to publish Little Girl Black using Kickstarter?
Pedro: Well James thought it would be a perfect medium to bring all 3 issues of Little Girl Black to life. He has done other successful campaigns, so I'm confident in his ability to bring the graphic novel to life. Plus it's a perfect way to give back to the fans, we have pledges that come with the book and original art used in it, it's awesome!
Chad: So, you're using the Kickstarter to cover the printing costs of the paper version of the graphic novel and the shipping costs. How many graphic novels are you producing in total?
James paid my page rates beforehand, and the Kickstarter money would be used only to cover printing costs and shipping costs. Depending on the final amount we plan to further compensate the artist for the cover.
We are looking at getting about 500 graphic novels printed.
Chad: Are you working with a local printing company on this?
Pedro: Yeah, our printer is ComicPrintingUK and they are based in Wales. They specialize in comic books, and really do top notch work there.
Chad: Now, let's talk about Little Girl Black. This is a very provocative subject even for a horror book. What led to the decision to discard the traditional supernatural antagonist of the genre and go with a more realistic monster that kidnaps and abuses young women?
Pedro: Yeah, I realize the tone of the book is quite dark. The decision to use a more familiar and realistic monster comes from what surrounds us. I mean it moves us, it crawls under our skin that this kind of thing can be happening somewhere in the world. It's not as fictional as we might think, and it's not quite as surreal as it might first appear. We can relate to the sense of danger that comes off the book better by using a familiar monster, one that can be right around the corner in contrast to the supernatural antagonist.
Again my hat is off to James. It was his call and a good one at that.
Chad: How difficult was it to collaborate on a subject matter so dark, and figure out how where to draw the line on the art?
Pedro: The script is very well-written and we took that into consideration. I mean it is dark without being cheap, and it's gritty when it serves the story, either to set up the villain as a serious threat or set the tone for the remaining portion of the story. We tried to maintain a sense of good taste while portraying a dark theme, and we both have small daughters so we knew what we were doing and that it had to be done properly.
James lost some hair while getting the script done. He researched for a long time about serial killers in articles, bios, interviews and such. I had to do a bit of research to get some stuff right for the script and look at some graphic photos, crime scenes, abandoned buildings. All good times. <Laughs>
Chad: I feel that despite the horrors I witnessed, this book has an important underlying message. Can you elaborate?
Pedro: Yeah, some folks get lost on the horror aspect of it all. Where people see a horrible situation, I see a strong protagonist. The story is not about a man doing horrible stuff, the story is about a teenage girl; a female protagonist in a world where male leads tend to shine most, overcoming this threat. There's a running sense of dread but at times also hope. This is a story of a struggle.
Chad: I understand that while you seem to be getting good reviews so far, yet some people don't seem to think this book should even be made. Do you feel this sort of negative reaction is an impediment to creating comics that deal with controversial subjects?
Pedro: The book has many warnings on the cover labeling it for mature readers, but I guess it's not for everybody. If I don't enjoy a horror film, I try to stay away from it, and the same with books.
If people are interested in the genre I don't think they should dismiss it without reading it though, and that was what was happening. We had very good reviews, but as I stated previously a good story is always worth telling. Alan Moore touched on some sensitive material with Lost Girls, and Neil Gaiman had trouble when he was 27 cause of a comic he wrote that dealt with religion. I mean the material being controversial should not be synonymous with being bad, and I'm not even comparing myself to either of those big names. I'm merely stating give it a chance, but I guess there will always be an angry mob with pitchforks chasing something.
Chad: You also sent me some cool pages of what appeared to be a Viking story. I'm afraid I don't read Portuguese, but the art looked incredibly interesting. Would you care to elaborate on the subject matter?
Pedro: Well, apologies in advance for the pages in a foreign language. Those are some of my personal projects. I like to come up with a short story that combines many elements. That one actually will be published in November in a Sci-fi/Fantasy Anthology called H Alt.
Its deals with some rough Viking men that are hired to hunt a beast that has troubled this village since the men left for raiding and pillaging. The village's chief took action when his daughter went missing, but alas, not all is as it seems.
Chad: Do you have any other projects you plan on working on in the future?
Pedro: Right now I'm finishing issue #3 for Little Girl Black, and then there's some projects coming up that I can't speak of yet. I´ll be attending Portugal's Comic Con in early December so if anyone is over there in Porto, come to the Artist Alley. I'll buy you a beer.
There's also the mice adventure that I would love to see printed, but things take time. Hopefully this is only the beginning, and I will be able to continue my work doing comics.
Thanks for the interview, Chad. It was a real pleasure. You did a very good job, and I hope folks will like it at The Outhouse.
Chad: Thank you for the Interview Pedro, it was as enlightening as it was entertaining!
Well, that turned out to be a lot of fun. Pedro graciously permitted me to share some of his work in a gallery, and Little Girl Black will make up the first four pages. I made sure to keep it clean, enough for The Outhouse anyways. Enjoy!