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Interview: Jason Howard

Written by Outhouse Staff on Friday, May 04 2007 and posted in Features
By Mike Mumah Jason Howard is a busy guy these days. The 33-year-old Holt, Michigan resident is art department director at Dart Container. He’s also the illustrator for “The Astounding Wolf Man,” a new comic book that will be given away for free at comic book stores across the country on Saturday, May 5. I [...]

Astounding Wolf-Man 1 By Mike Mumah

Jason Howard is a busy guy these days. The 33-year-old Holt, Michigan resident is art department director at Dart Container. He’s also the illustrator for “The Astounding Wolf Man,” a new comic book that will be given away for free at comic book stores across the country on Saturday, May 5. I caught up with Howard about his latest project.

The Outhouse: Tell me about “The Astounding Wolf Man.”

Jason Howard: It’s a comic. The premise is of a werewolf superhero. The main character is bitten by a werewolf, so it’s got touches of superhero and horror elements. It’s written by Robert Kirkman, who writes “Invincible” and “The Walking Dead.” He’s very good at character-driven stories, neat plot twists and cliffhanger endings - all the stuff that makes for good comics.

Robert pitched it to me like: “I’m doing ‘Invincible‘ which is a straight-up superhero book and I’m doing ‘The Walking Dead‘, which is straight-up horror, and I kinda want to do something in between.” And we just started from there.

Outhouse: How did you meet Robert Kirkman?

Jason: I met him three years ago at the Wizard World Chicago con. … I’d been trying to get work for some small presses and sometimes it’s hard to get work when nobody knows who you were and my style’s a little different from what they were looking for or they didn’t quite get it. So I asked Robert if he’d take a pin-up. He told me to send one … and he said if he liked it, he’d run it, and if he didn’t, he wouldn’t. … I went home, did the pin-up that week, sent it to him and he e-mailed me back saying he loved it and he said he’d run it in issue #19 of “Invincible.” …

Three or four months later, he e-mails me out of the blue and asked if I had any samples of sequential work. … He was writing (an issue of the miniseries “The Pact“) and he was looking for an artist and he thought my style might fit the tone of the book. He said, “Do you want to do it? It’s not going to pay very much.” I was like, “Sure,” just for the opportunity to work on a book for Image and for Robert. … We had a lot of fun with it and did some goofy stuff … After that we were talking and I told him I was trying to get some work … I’d also sent him a “Science Dog” pin-up for “Invincible.” My son, who’s 4, is a big “Science Dog” fan and he’s always asking me to draw “Science Dog.” I knew Robert would run it if I sent it, so after I sent him the pin-up, he called me back and asked me if I wanted to do a book. That’s where “Wolf-Man” started.

Outhouse: I’m not going to make the whole interview about Robert Kirkman, but he’s like Eric Clapton for comics fans right now.

Jason: Yeah, he’s a big name.

Outhouse: What’s it like working with him?

Jason: It’s great. He’s pretty cool to work with. His scripts are really tight, for drawing. You work with some writers and spend a lot of time drawing stuff that doesn’t further the story. So it’s pretty groovy working with Robert. He’s really friendly, but he’s also pretty direct. If he doesn’t like something, he won’t just tell you it’s great, he’ll tell me it’s not working.

He’s got a pretty good eye art-wise. I’ve seen some of the sketches he’s sent me for some of his ideas for “Wolf-Man” and … he’s not a great artist by any stretch but he’s not completely unschooled in the ways of art. He’s got a good eye for comic stuff, a great sense for how things work in comics.

When he makes suggestions I try to take it with the kind of experience he has and the kind of caliber of artist he’s worked with. I try to take what I can to improve and suck any knowledge out of him I can use to get better.

Outhouse: What have you learned from working on “The Astounding Wolf-Man“?

Jason: Trying to hit a deadline. When you’re trying to break in (to the business), sample pages are four or five pages, you work on a short story, an eight-page or a 10-page story. But to do a whole issue and then get the script for the next issue … you’ve got to be able to crank out the pages and still have a good-looking page, but it can’t be exactly perfect like you have for your sample pages. You just don’t have the time. …

Outhouse: How do you feel about artists that are regularly late and delaying books?

Jason: Part of me empathizes with that, because I know what it can be like to get artist’s block. You get a script for a page and this page is just awesome, the story’s great, the plot’s great, whatever’s going on is awesome and you want to get to that level where you’re doing this script justice. And either you spend too much time or you hit a block and you’ve got to work through it and that takes time. … I guess my question would be what’s the reason for the delay? For me, I have a day job, I have a family, and I go and start my drawing, my comic book day, in the evening and work until midnight or 1 a.m. and get up and go to work and do it again.

… The artists I like aren’t the guys that can put out a monthly book. If they did do a monthly book, I might not like them as much.

Outhouse: Like Brian Hitch or Stuart Immonen?

Jason: Yeah, exactly.

Outhouse: How do you feel about having your “big debut” comic book be offered as Image’s Free Comic Book Day book?

Jason: I think it’s great. I mean, obviously it’s free, and the way the Image deal works is that the creators make money off the profits of the book. So there’s not going to be a ton of profit. It’s more promotional marketing … (since I’m) an artist not normally associated with projects. … When somebody like me who’s trying to get his name established has his name on a book that’s going to be out on a print run of 115,000 free comics, that’s a lot of people that are going to see it. It helps me as an artist. I think it’s great, and more people are going to see my work. There’s a better chance of it connecting with people, of people liking it and coming back for issue two.

Outhouse: What do you think of Free Comic Book Day?

Jason: I think the comic book industry needs more kinds of events that help promote itself. I think it’s a good idea … if I ran a comic book store, I’d be milking it for all it’s worth. I’d put signs out on the road to try and promote it and to get people out in the shop. I think it’d be a great opportunity to draw people in. A lot of people are into things similar to comics, but they just don’t know (the original source). They’ve watched the movies - “300” was just out. There’s a lot of people that would probably buy the comic if they knew it was out there. It’s great, the thick hardcover version, and I mean, you don’t know unless there’s this great place that you can go and get all this stuff. It’s not all just for kids, or it’s not all just superheroes. It just seems like good sense to me.

Outhouse: How did you get started drawing comics?

Jason: Same old story, I was drawing since I was a little kid. I was into comics when I was a kid, though I kinda got out of it during the high school years. I still liked the art but didn’t pick anything up.

And then I saw Todd McFarlane’s stuff on “Spider-Man” and I was like, “Holy smokes! That’s real art!” That got me back into it, saying, I can do that, without realizing how hard it was. But I’d always drawn, I’d always had an interest in art. Even when I wasn’t into comics I was always drawing something. So it seemed like a good way to channel and hone all that stuff.

Then I got an associate’s degree at Lansing Community College. I graduated and that fall I started at Dart Container as a designer. At the same time, I got my first comic book work. … I just bounced around wherever I could find stuff. I wrote and drew a big graphic novel for self-print, which was a good learning experience. Someday I’ll get that stuff up on my Web site, but I don’t even like to look at it.

Outhouse: Did you ever think you’d get to draw comics as a professional?

Jason: I was always foolish enough to think that one way or another I’d be doing it, whether I’d be making my living at it or I’d be writing or publishing my own original graphic novels, just to get them out there. I always knew it be happening. I’d been working at it for a while, and the problem with having a day job is that it’s caused me to turn down a few opportunities that were either big commitments with a small publisher that didn’t pay a lot that had a tight deadline … or were unachievable. The payoff didn’t seem worth the sacrifice.

Outhouse: With a full time family and job, how do you find time to draw?

Jason: Cut out anything that’s not work, family or comics. That’s pretty much what it comes down to. I haven’t been out to see a movie in awhile. I don’t watch TV at all. I don’t read for pleasure anymore. I barely read comics. Work, get home, family time, kids go to bed. Start drawing and try not to draw too late. … I try to take some time off, but still use Saturday as a day to get a lot done and get caught up. With “Wolf-Man,” I’m trying to take advantage of the opportunity and put a lot more time into it than I would if I didn’t have a project like that on my plate. It’s forcing me to draw a lot more. Hopefully I’m getting a little better and a little faster, but I’m doing it all, I’m penciling it, I’m inking it and I’m coloring it. It’s about finding that balance, finding where to draw the line. My wife lets me know if I’m not spending enough family time.

Outhouse: What does your wife think about all of this?

Jason: She’s used to this by now. She likes it but she’s not thrilled. She went with me to conventions before we got married, not because she likes comics, but because I wanted someone to go with. Now she knows Robert, and she knows other artists and their wives. She understands and gets that part of it. She gets a little frustrated at times if she asks me to do something and I say I can’t because it’s a drawing night. … Right now, I’m just trying to balance things out for the time being and figure out what’s most important to do.

Outhouse: Does your wife read comics?

Jason: Not really. Every once in a while if I see something she’d like I’ll stick it in front of her. … It’s just not her thing. … But she’s really good at critiquing my stuff. For years, I’d go to conventions and go to portfolio reviews and she’d go with me, so she’d hear what the editors were saying and she’d walk up and listen to what they were saying to other people in line. So now she’s always critiquing my storytelling. … I usually find it annoying at first and then I come around to what she’s saying. I mean, if she caught that, everyone’s going to see it.

Outhouse: Who are your idols? Who got you drawing comics?

Jason: Todd McFarlane. Something about the art. The style of it, the coolness of it. Something about it just drew me in. Even though now, I look back and I see a lot of flaws and weaknesses in the storytelling - he’s not a perfect artist - but the energy of it, it’s still something I always try to remember as I’m working. … I don’t think I’m there yet. I’m not where I want to be with that yet. His work was just very inspiring for the age I was. From there, I went into Joe Quesada. Had a short stint trying to be Travis Charest. Brian Stelfreeze. Jason Pearson. Tony Hamner.

And Dave Johnson. He’s the one artist I identify with a lot. … He now works for Cartoon Network. His stuff is just amazing. His robots are cool. He straddles the fence between realistic and cartoony, which the artists I like tend to do. The art I like looks like someone drew it, not that they took it from a bunch of photos, even if they used a lot of photos. It might not be perfect, but it’s got that drawn feel to it.

Outhouse: Do you remember the first comic you bought?

Jason: The Todd McFarlane one … “Spider-Man #7” or “8″ that had Wolverine on the cover.

Outhouse: Are you reading anything right now?

Jason: I usually get to the comic book store about twice a month. I take my son or my daughter with me. My son picks out the most oddball things.

“I want this comic that has so and so on it,” whether it’s Krypto the Super Dog or there’s a Gumby comic. Last week I got the Loners from Marvel, I like the artist on that series. He drew the “Fray” series that Joss Whedon wrote for Dark Horse.

The books that I like are books like “Hellboy.” I really liked “Nextwave,” I thought that was a fun book. “Invincible” and “Walking Dead,” of course. I’m contractually obligated to say that. Anything where the art catches my eye, I grab it.

Outhouse: What comic shop do you normally go to?

Jason: Comics Utopia here in Holt. It’s five minutes from my house. Jerry the owner is a great guy. If I’m in a different part of town I’ll go into 21st Century Comics, to see if I’ve missed anything at Jerry’s or see if there’s anything different there. Or Clem’s Collectibles downtown.

Outhouse: Are you going to making any appearances anywhere?

Jason: On Free Comic Book Day (Saturday, May 5), I’ll be signing at Comics Utopia in the morning and I’ll be at Clem’s Collectibles in the afternoon. I’ll be doing the Motor City Comic Con in May, and I’ll be doing the San Diego Comic Con this year. … I’m also planning on the Wizard World Chicago, but we’ll see how budget and time look.

Ever said to yourself, “While I like to read interviews, I -Oooohhh!!! Pretty pictures!!! PRETTY PICTURES!!!” Well, Mike has you covered, you little sugar junkie (go to the your mother). Just click on the images below to see Mike duke it out with Jason all while getting him to submit to his bodyslammin’ questions:

To discuss.

Posted originally: 2007-05-04 14:31:55

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