Bleeding Ink: Local Comic Artists Speak Out, Geek Out


necrogaira_vs_sandanator_title_art_by_fbwash-dcmu3e3Cartoonists, comic strip creators, sequential narrative artists … call them what you will; they walk among us, even here in Rhode Island. In this season of Rhode Island Comic Con, Motif assembled a virtual roundtable of local comic talent to answer questions that drill to the core of who these people are and why they do what they do.

  • Frankie B. Washington is a graphic illustrator and comic artist
  • Steve Mardo is a comic artist/illustrator who publishes his work under Angry Baby Comics
  • Tim Jones writes and draws the comic Sour Grapes
  • Rex LeBeau writes and draws the comic Transosaurus Rex for Rhode Island’s Options magazine

Motif: Have you liked comics since you were a kid? What were your favorites?

Frankie Washington: My first comic was Spider-Man, but my favorites were the Shogun Warriors, Godzilla, X-Men, Punisher and Fantastic Four.

Steve Mardo: I always loved comics and animation growing up in the ‘80s, but what got me hooked on comics was Todd McFarlane’s Spider-Man. I had never see the character drawn so cool before, and I was just addicted to anything he did.

Tim Jones: I’ve always read comics, especially the Sunday funnies. I remember eating Dunkin’ Donuts Munchkins with one hand with my pen in the other hand copying Garfield or Peanuts. Then I spent the rest of the afternoon showing the Sunday after-church company my drawings.

Rex LeBeau: When I was little, my dad would read me the comics from the newspaper. I tended to be sent to my room often for hitting my brother, and would spend the time copying Calvin and Hobbes comics. I enjoyed Tintin too.

Motif: How do you know you’re firing on all cylinders in your work?

FW: As a commercial illustrator, I value my success by my ability to continue making a living doing what I’m passionate about. When a client contacts me for an assignment, therein lies my validation.

SM: Never fight against yourself. Draw what you love and get really good at it. Also looking at other forms of media, like movies, TV and podcasts, is always a great creative move.

TJ: I never know if I am doing a good job until I get a reaction to the episode of the strip. That’s why I like to show as many people as I can, especially on social media.

RL: If it’s a comic, I know it’s good if it makes me laugh. My goal for Transosaurus Rex is to help educate people about trans and non-binary gender identities in a safe and supportive environment. I consider the comic successful if it provides some education with some humor.

Motif: How do you get into a creative frame of mind?

FW: I’ve been working professionally as an artist for 30 years, so my creativity activates immediately when the assignment has been presented before me.

SM: I grind away until it clicks. Sometimes, you can just jump right in, and some days, it can take hours or not come at all. I’ve found what really makes a professional is the ability to get the job done with some sort of quality even when you’re just not “in it” that day.

TJ: I normally have a vague idea of what the episode is going to be, but it usually takes on a life of its own once I start drawing. I write and draw at the same time, so I normally end up with something completely different than when I started. That’s when the characters take over.

RL: A gun to the head works wonders. Yeah, I need a deadline. When it comes time to produce a new comic, I go for a walk and let ideas come to me, and I’ll ask myself questions to aid the process: Which characters need more development? What trans topic do I want to address?

Motif: Is there a comic artist whose style is different from your own, but whose work you either admire or envy?

FW: Kim Jung Gi is a Korean illustrator who I deeply admire. I’m in awe of his illustrative skills.

SM: My buddy Rich Pellegrino is an amazing painter. Also Daniel Warren Johnson, Greg Capullo, Gary Kelly and Ben Oliver always astound me.

RL: I have a tendency to imitate the comic artists I admire most. I like the things worth stealing, I guess Bill Watterson, Alison Bechdel and Herge.

Motif: What’s the highest compliment someone could pay your work?

FW: The highest compliment I’ve received so far is that my art style looks “retro ’70s – ’80s,” which is awesome because that is the time that I grew up in and a period of really great comic book art.

SM: “Weird.” To me, it means I’m being original and have my own voice. When I’m at a con or art show and people look at my art with a puzzled look — in a good way — I know I’ve got something.

TJ: When someone I meet says they read the strip and really like it. That’s worth its weight in gold.

RL: I love it when people tell me they read Transosaurus Rex. And if someone laughs, I’m pleased. Some of the comics I draw contain highly controversial subject matter. Hopefully humor and compelling characters help the reader understand the humanity behind the issues.

Motif: Have you ever met any of your artist heroes or idols? If not, whom would you want to meet (living or dead)?

FW: I had the chance to meet Herb Trimpe (artist for Shogun Warriors, Godzilla, Hulk, etc) on a number of occasions over the years. I presented him with a homage art piece at RICC 2014, which he loved, and the next year he passed away.

SM: I did have the chance to briefly meet Geoff Darrow at Boston ComicCon. He’s done books with Frank Miller like Hard Boiled, Big Guy and Rusty, and he has his own comics. But he’s best known for his concept design on the Matrix movies. He’s a huge influence on my work. I showed him my portfolio and he loved it, which was a huge honor!

TJ: I would like to meet Jim Davis (Garfield) and Charles Schulz.

RL: Back in 2014, I had the opportunity to see Alison Bechdel speak at Boston College. I made a point of asking a question during the Q&A just so she’d see me. Afterward I shook her hand and thanked her for her life-changing comics. An essay I read about one of the characters in her comics helped me realize I’m non-binary. I’m really glad I had the chance to thank her.

Motif: Is there an underrated or forgotten comic book or strip you’d like to recommend?

FW: I’m a huge fan of Doug Rice’s comic series Dynamo Joe. As a fan of giant robots, this series was amazing and one that I really wish could see a future reboot.

SM: I always go back to books like Batman Year 100 by Paul Pope, old Winsor McKay Little Nemo strips, and anything by Jack Kirby. Will Eisner’s A Contract with God, which is kind of the first graphic novel, is just an amazing book also.

RL: Dykes to Watch Out For by Alison Bechdel changed my life. Another more recent comic I like is Bitch Planet by Kelly Sue DeConnick, which touches on themes of feminism and patriarchal dystopia that are very relevant today.

Motif: Are you, as an artist, inspired at all by being in Rhode Island?

FW: I’m actually a recent transplant to RI from Massachusetts. Nevertheless, Rhode Island has definitely become a place of change for me. I help started a once a month artist meet and draw at Brewed Awakenings on Bald Hill Road [in Warwick].

SM: As a kid, I used to not have a lot of interest in Rhode Island lore and things like that. Over the last decade, that’s changed, and I’ve been pretty interested in a lot of Rhode Island and New England mythology, ghost stories and of course, there’s always H.P. Lovecraft, who as of late has been creeping up in a lot of my projects.

RL: Absolutely! Transosaurus Rex is set in Newport and I’ll go to locations, take pictures and draw the scene from them. Some places that have been featured in the comic are Ballard Park, the Wave Statue on America’s Cup, the library, Reject’s Beach and the Cliff Walk. Other spots in RI come up too, like Providence Pride and the Bristol Bike Path.

Motif: What are you working on now?

FW: I did some cover art for Alterna Comics It Came From Wednesday title due in December. I also did another cover for a book due out in 2019. Always staying busy with various projects from clients.

SM: At the moment, I’m wrapping up a really fun horror/adventure comic called Slade. From there, I’ll be starting on a massive sci-fi graphic novel with my friend and writer Steve Viau, and also teaching a visual storytelling workshop at AS220 in Providence.

TJ: I’m working on putting out another, smaller compilation. Sometimes in the strip, there are episodes where Aesop communicates with snowmen, so I’m working on putting all those into a book. Also, I’ve got another coloring book I’m (slowly) working on, starring Aesop and his pet cloud, Ominous.

RL: I draw Transosaurus Rex, a comic about a non-binary/genderqueer T. Rex, for Options Magazine. The T. Rex has a roommate and friend who is a trans man, and they mentor a trans kid. Dinosaurs work well as a study for gender since scientists can’t tell the difference between male and female fossils yet. Even the famous Tyrannosaurus Rex named Sue uses they/them pronouns. And drawing dinos is just fun.

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