2014 Brings in the New Year and with it the return of Image comics/Extreme Studios Prodigal Son! Of course I'm talking about legend/veteran Dan Fraga! (Who'd you think I was talking about?)
Dan thanks for speaking with us.
DF: My pleasure
So this is your return to sequential storytelling with The Grave. To catch people up to speed what was your last work in comics? How long has it been?
DF:The last thing that I worked on was a Superman story which never saw print. Sadly the artwork was lost over at DC. As far as the last thing I worked on in comics that was in print, that was Black Panther #50 which came out in August of 2002. It's been 13 and 1/2 years.
Since leaving comics what have you been up to?
DF: Since leaving comics, I've worked in the entertainment business as a storyboard artist, visual effects supervisor, set designer, 2nd unit director, director and as a supervising director. I storyboarded a handful of movies and a lot of music videos and commercials. I started directing with the animated portions of an MTV show called The Hard Times of RJ Berger. Afterwards I directed two seasons of The Ricky Gervais Show for HBO, some pilots for Disney and Adult Swim, and I'm currently working at Mattel, Supervising animation for Monster High, Everafter High and Polly Pocket.
What was it that influenced you to return to this medium? Any particular event or was it a slow burn?
DF: I've always been a fan of storytelling. Visual storytelling specifically. I work in animation which is a very rewarding field for lovers of storytelling and art. I've had a few stories that I've wanted to tell for almost a decade now. With the amount of work I've been doing for clients, I found that there just wasn't any time to do other things. (Especially after becoming a father). What I found myself doing a lot was thinking about these stories. In the car. Laying in bed. Pretty much anytime I wasn't working I would be thinking about these stories. It was driving me crazy. What had stopped me in the past was I *thought* that I didn't have the time. I thought I would have to write the whole thing out, then lay it out, then draw it, then ink it, then color it…the works. It's a full time gig. But then I read a book called "The War of Art: Break Through the Blocks and Win Your Inner Creative Battles" by Steven Pressfield. In it he talks about a few novelists who wrote their greatest works, a page a day. Some writers, like Kafka, only had 30 minutes a day to write. That's when I realized that I could tell my stories if I thought of them as smaller manageable pieces. I could tell these stories, one panel at a time, one each day. The book wasn't the only inspiration. Inspiration hit with a multi pronged attack. At the same time I was reading (listening to an audiobook) the Pressfield book, I found some great work by Kenneth Rocafort where he was doing a daily sketch. The two sparks hit and that's what made me know that I *could* in fact do it.
Was there any specific reason to leave the medium at the time?
DF: I left comics because I wanted to work in movies. My ultimate goal is to direct feature animation along the likes of Frozen, Wreck-it-Ralph, Kung Fu Panda, etc… Comics was a great training ground, and I felt that storyboarding was the next step.
Let’s talk about The Grave! What’s the story about and how can people check it out?
DF: The Grave is about the lessons in life that we're supposed to learn, it's about transformation within ourselves, and ultimately human nature. The story revolves around a grave that a group of kids find on a neighborhood camping trip. Inside the grave they find a fully clothed skeleton and a cigar box with seven items in it. Through exploration of these seven items, we learn about the who the body in the grave belonged to, and the amazing life they had. The plot of The Grave takes place in 1933-1987. It's going to be a fun ride.
People can find it in several ways:
How would you say the artwork differs from say your work at Extreme or back in the Image days?
DF: Completely. I had no idea what I was doing back then. No slight on that work, but it was a lifetime ago, and I hadn't lived enough life to have my own idea of who I was and what I wanted to put out there as an artist. It was pure regurgitated pop. I would go on to say that the stuff I'm doing now comes from deep within my soul and is a reflection who I am and what I think about as opposed to reactions to whatever is "hot" at the time, like I did in my Image days.
I’ve been watching your experimentation with different mediums and on different surfaces. There’s truly a pure art essence there, how would you say your approach has developed?
DF: The approach evolved out of necessity. I bought the same book that Kenneth Rocafort was using for his sketches because I wanted to have all of what I was drawing to be in one volume. (Plus it had the day's date on it). When the book arrived, I was taken back at how small it was. I was also taken back the first time I drew in it because the ink was going straight through the paper. It bled through to three other side. So instead of throwing in the towel, I decided to experiment with the paper. I had to find out what the paper would or wouldn't take, medium-wise. Through a series of a few weeks, I dialed in on what worked best. There was still a problem. The book doesn't lay flat. I was finding that drawing in it, even for a short time, was making my hand cramp up. I realized that it wasn't conducive to what I wanted to do. I didn't want to limit what I could or couldn't draw because of dimensions of the book. What I ended up finding was trading card blanks. These blanks could take a beating, they lay flat, and they could be kept in a single box. Bingo! I found my paper, my pens, brushes, and paint.
Was there a development period that can now be seen or an influence on your current artwork? How about with The Grave specifically?
DF: I just doodle a lot, without a pencil. I just will go in with a brush, or pen and go. It's more truthful. With The Grave, I went back to my roots and cracked the old cartooning books my grandfather gave me. Most of them are from the 20's and 30's and I found that that sort of cartooning lent itself to the subject matter of the Grave. Specific artists that I'd have to mention in my research are Arthur Rackham, Edmund Dulac, George Herriman, and Winsor McCay. Those guys are the truth.
I was digging some of the pieces you were working on with the moleskin and watercolors. As an artist myself I’ve always been intimidated by watercolor, can you talk to us a bit about the process you use?
DF: I've been lucky. I've never had any difficulty with watercolor. It's a mindset. I see in my head what I want the thing to look like, and I reverse engineer it with watercolor's behaviors in mind. Water color likes to work light to dark. It behaves different weather it's wet or dry. You can change a tone's value by adding more or less water to your color mix. If I want a straight cartoon look, I just go straight in. If I want it to have a mood, I'll do an underpainting in monochrome of that particular mood's vibe. (All blue first, or all yellow…whatever) then I paint the "true" colors afterwards.
What tools are you using nowadays compared to your go to set of tools back in your comic book days?
DF: I've found that I still use most of the same tools, with the addition that I mix my own inks and I have better brushes. Oh, and also have found that I love to ink with brushes and brushpens. Really, it's whatever the scene or subject requires which dictates the tool (paper permitting;)).
Lastly Dan Fraga is there anything else you have that you’d like to talk about? Anything coming out?
DF: The last thing I want to talk about is other artists. Especially the ones who call themselves "aspiring": Don't beat yourself up. It's all experiments. Nothing is a failure, only a lesson for the next one. And to "aspiring" artists. If you make art, you're an artist. You only aspire if you aren't doing it. Go out and do it. One drawing at a time.
I want to say thank you for talking with us about your work and The Grave and welcome back Fraga Boom!
DF: Thank you.
We leave you with...."Le Black Flag".
J.M. Hunter/Indy Hunter is a writer/artist/painter who's just published the 400 plus page anthology featuring over 60 contributors, BAM TOO! (The Big Ass Mini-Comic) available now at amazon.com BAM TOO!