The GeeksverseWalt Ostlie Interview: Web & Print Comic Artist

Walt Ostlie Interview: Web & Print Comic Artist
Published on Tuesday, July 3, 2012 by

Here is how Walt Ostlie describes himself:

Walt Ostlie: The History of Walt 101!  :-)

TheComixVerse: I wonder if print comic moguls like Ditka used smiley faces or if that is a new expression used by web comic folk. I can’t imagine Jim Strenko “:-)” anyone. Must be new and hip. I jest and digress.

Walt Ostlie: My first project was Cubicles.  It started as a practice project for learning sequential story telling. From there I worked on The Rejects.  It was an 8 pager for Zuda Comics.  Think we got 5th place.  The writer still has the pages up at  http://rejects.capcomics.net/?p=49

After that I entered Cubicles into Zuda and got last place.  Then I rebooted Cubicles into a Daily strip which I posted over on Drunk Duck.   http://www.drunkduck.com/Cubicles/5146690/

TCV: It is a shame that the Zuda imprint went away in DCs restructuring. That was a great way for new talent to try to earn a chance. I liked the way it interacted with online readers. What happened to Cubicles?

Ostlie:I did about 80 strips before I decided I wanted to tell a long form story with the characters.  So I started working on a graphic novel.  When I finished that, Red5 Comics (Atomic Robo fame) picked it up for digital distribution.  So it is up on comixology and comicplus.  a little info here  http://cubiclescomic.blogspot.com/

TCV: I spotted your work on Drunk Duck which is an interesting Web Comics resource. Some of the pieces are excellent and some look very unfinished even when they are posted. I spotted your 24 Hour Comic on Drunk Duck.

Ostlie: I did the 24 hour comic just for fun.  That was a horrible idea in hindsight.  I happened while I was working on Cubicles GN.  Which was 80+ pages that I did in 4 months.  So taking a day to work straight thru with no sleep completely threw me off of Cubicles and into a sleep deprived panic attack that lasted like a week :-)

Then I started working on Shiver Bureau.  Eventually I want to release it as a print trade, but it may be awhile. I do have some cravings to start another daily webstrip but got to find the time first.

TCV:   As I said, I spotted your work on The Duck Webcomics and then looked at Shiver Bureau and your Deviant Art page.Your Deviant art, and comparing 24 Hour to Shiver Bureau shows a variety of work from you. Because you have worked with online comics and print comics I want to ask a few questions about your opinions on the changing media. We have interviewed web comic creators in the past but I am always interested in hearing new opinions.  As a creator experienced in both do you see a divide or an evolution of the form?

Ostlie: I don’t see it as a divide, but I wouldn’t call it an evolution of the form.  I see it as an evolution of delivery.  Movies went from theaters to disc to digital.  There was a similar path for music.  Comics are finally catching up for the better.  There’s a separate discussion for motion comics, but that’s a whole different ballgame.
TCV: Shiver Bureau is currently an online comic, I’ll link to it. Why do you want to see it in print one day?

Ostlie: Yes.  From go I’ve wanted Shiver Bureau to be in print.  I love print.  I love being able to grab a book off my shelf, sit down, flip through it, and then just toss it on a table.  This is something digital comics are missing.  When tablets are on flexible, lightweight displays then it will be closer.

TCV:  As an artist do you incorporate video, sound, or other media that is possible online into your comics that cannot be captured in print?

Ostlie: Hey, part 2 of digital comics discussion.  I personally don’t use other media in my comics.  I love the simplicity of the ‘standard’ comic.  I can open it up, look at a panel, do something else and go back to the next panel later.

Motion comics complicate things.  I don’t really see them as comics anymore.  It feels more like animation-lite or a video game.  I won’t totally bag on them just yet.  It’s a new frontier.  Someone will show up and do something awesome with it.  However, the stuff I’ve seen so far though just seems like added complexity.  No one’s making a motion book where words fly across the screen or get bigger or smaller.  Bigger isn’t always better.

TCV:  The Deadpool Musical issue from Marvel Comics, printed, had an accompanying sound track which could be found online if fans sought it out. Does your personal style stay with comic art being purely visual or do you see a story line that would have you putting in more media options online?

Ostlie: I hadn’t heard about the Deadpool musical.  I can’t really see myself doing that.  I love music, I used to be in a band, but I doubt I’d want to put music into a comic.  First reason, I hate websites with sound.  Second, I think some of the attraction of comic is that the reader interprets the mood from the image, they read at their own pace.  Music and motion takes that interaction away from the reader.

TCV: Besides the wild wild web and how comics are working now, I also want to ask about conventions returning to the physical world for a moment.  How many events do you attend a year?

Ostlie: I am still pretty fresh on the convention scene.

TCV: What conventions do you plan on attending?

Ostlie: My first Convention was 2010 at MegaCon in Florida.  I’ve been back every year since then.  I have tried out a few other conventions.  SuperCon in Miami, Heroes in Charlotte, C2E2 in Chicago.  The further I get from home base (Orlando) the tougher the shows get.  So I plan on staying local for the time being.

If I had my pick though, I would love to go to Emerald City in Seattle.  Artists seem to love that convention.  Second, I want to go to Seattle.  Another con on my list would be New York Comic Con.  I went to SDCC last year and it was just crazy.  I don’t think I could handle that again.

TCV:  How do you pick the events that you will attend during the convention season?

Ostlie: Well MegaCon is a no brainer because it is in my backyard.  Otherwise I usually go by what pros, my friends and the twitterverse say about conventions.  I think for now I am going to stay local until Shiver Bureau has more readers.

TCV: As a creator what do you hope to gain by attending events like these?

Ostlie: I think my main motivation is just to get myself out there as an artist.  You can put your art online, but I think there’s a different connection you get when you see people react to your art in living color.  Good or bad.  The other reason is to meet other creators and hang out with some friends.

TCV: Given the nature of the internet to foster a connection between creators and fans what is the continuing importance of the annual comic convention in your opinion?

Ostlie: The internet gives access to creators in new ways, but I don’t think it can replace conventions.  Conventions are visceral, live, and unedited.  Plus just hunting through artist alley in search of an unknown artist who’s going to be your new favorite artist or your next favorite comic is just awesome.  I love scouting the alley and seeing all this new stuff.  Sure you can do that online, but there is just an overload online and it all blends together.  Comic Conventions; things get personal.

TCV: What is your coolest or most dear comic convention memory?

Ostlie: Before MegaCon 2012, I looked at the media guest list and saw that Brent Spiner, aka Data from Star Trek Next Gen, was going to be there.  I love ST:TNG and Data is my favorite character.  So I decided to do some fan art of Data as Sherlock Holmes for the convention.  So I am at my table, talking to my table mate and I turn around.  Who do I see?  Yep, Brent Spiner looking at my Data fan art.  He asks ‘Is this me?’  I erupted in fan boy insanity.  He was a nice guy.  I gave him a print of the art, he signed the original art and took a picture with me.  Pretty awesome.

TCV: As you sign signatures and interact with your fans, what else do you enjoy doing in or around these events?

Ostlie: I am actually really bad at enjoying myself at conventions.  Once the convention starts, I’m in work mode.  I won’t eat or go the bathroom.  I paid for that table and I’m going to talk to every person that enters into earshot.  I’ve loosened up some with experience and actually partake in a restroom break.  Plus my friend James has been coming to the cons and he’s nice enough to watch my table for me.  Besides using the bathroom I like looking for new stuff in the artist alley.  Also hanging with creator friends I never get to see is a great time.

TCV: Work mode is a good thing. After Walt Ostlie 101, I wanted to situate you in some on-going conversations taking place on TheComixVerse.com and our mating forum. Now, I want to get a little more personal and move into your work, particularly your art. So, let’s discuss what is happening when you are in Work Mode. To start I’ll admit that my reviews tend to focus on  story more than art because I am more comfortable discussing pacing than brush strokes. As an expert on yourself, how do you describe your own art style?

Ostlie: Growing.  I’m self taught and I’ve never really seen myself as an artist.  I love coming up with stories, my mind is always thinking up stuff.  Art was really a vehicle for those stories to come to life.  When I first started learning I just assumed I would be doing stick figure 2.0 for the artwork.  I never really expected my growth in art to go as far as it has.  At the same time, I still feel like I haven’t  grown nearly enough.

I have this image in my head of what I want my art to be.  Dark, funny, whimsical, harsh.  But I haven’t gotten there yet.

TCV: As you create–for web or print page–what materials do you use? Are you still working on Bristol board or are you using a tablet for most projects?

Ostlie: When I started learning to draw I went straight for a tablet and digital drawing.  I was afraid of messing up my art and I thought digital would let me undo all my mistakes.  Then I found some artists that did crazy stuff with brushes and ink.  Really I think I just wanted to make some splatters.  Digital splatters aren’t as much fun.  Once I started with real ink I was hooked.  So now I do all my finished art on some type of real paper.  Bristol mostly, but I like to mess around with watercolors.

I will still thumbnail and rough digitally.  I hate wasting paper.  Once I have the image layout final, I will print the image out and go to town.

TCV: The Rejects is a project where you collaborated with a writer. How do you find collaborators?

Ostlie: I guess the joy of being an artist is that there seems to always be writers who want to work with you.

TCV: It can be easier in this genre to be an artist because you can showcase your work in 6 pages of portfolio and capture what you do. Writers can rarely show off a sample until we’ve broken in which doesn’t happen. At a recent convention a writer told the crowd that janitors at Marvel have as good a shot at becoming a Marvel writer than people trying to break in. It was a joke, but it does explain why you are feeling sought out.But I’m interrupting. How did you find the writer or The Rejects, or rather how did he find you?

Ostlie: Nate Frisoli, the writer of The Rejects, was the first writer to ever email me.  He’s a great guy and The Rejects was a fun story.  I tend to turn down most writers who contact me now just because I write my own stuff.

TCV: Granted you are writing and drawing, like Shiver Bureau but in the future, when you look for a collaborator what would you look for in a collaborative partner?

Ostlie: I think they would have to be a friend first.  Drawing a comic is a painful, long process.  To get into bed with some stranger from the internet is taking a lot of risk.  I think I would have to read their other projects and see that they are actually creating.

An awesome story goes without saying.

TCV: Under your sketch rates on Deviant Art you mentioned character design as a rate changer or collaborator definer. What information do you want from a writer about character design? How much latitude do you want?

Ostlie: That is more of a safety net for me.  Character design is serious business.  You can’t just give that away for free.

If I am creating a character then I want everything the writer can give me. Personality, nationality, age, history, etc.  The writer should know the character on a personal level and the writer needs to introduce us.  Once I have that info, I will start drawing different designs.  Some will get tossed out, others will get refined until we get to the final product.  It’s a process and not really something that can be included in a personal commission piece.

TCV: How much layout input do you want a writer to have when you are doing the art? The traditional Marvel script method looks sparse and suspiciously like a play script with stage notes. Other collaborative teams have found other approaches. Recently I heard Perez and Wolfman discuss their process for talking through Teen Titans that existed without writing out the scripts. What is your ideal writer collaborator?

Ostlie: When I write my own scripts.  I write them loose, most of the panels and dialogue are just used to judge pacing.  Once I start thumbnails, I hardly refer to the script.  I tend to make edits on the fly.  Sometime this really comes back to bite me, but it is more natural for me.

However if I was to work with a writer, I want the opposite.  I want a writer that is breathing his creation’s air.  I want to know the writer is living in that world.  It isn’t that hard to write a story, anyone can do it.  Creating a world?  Now that is hard.  I want to work with a writer that wants to create a world.

TCV: Secondary Creation is the term that Tolkien used for a world that the creator knew and could breathe. To Tolkien it was one of the most important parts of writing. Some of my favorite writers, like Robert Jordan or Fabian Nicieza, seem to know how to sniff their world if not breathe it in. I could see wanting to work with a writer that can answer your questions when they arise because they understand the world.

In your Walt 101 section you mentioned turning Cubicles from a daily into a “long form story.” Can you define what you mean by long form story? It is curious that the graphic novel collection is long form but the daily isn’t.

Ostlie:  Cubicles was a daily strip, basically a single gag-a-day strip, similar to what you would read in the Sunday comics.  Long form is continual story told over multiple pages, what Marvel or DC does.  The strip version started as a way to practice story telling and sequential art, but my passion to tell stories won me over in the end.  I kind of thought of the transition akin to television show becoming a movie.  The graphic novel was my Star Trek: The Motion Picture.  Well my Star Trek II because that was a much better movie.

TCV: Can you describe your daily web comic pacing approach?

Ostlie: I am currently posting 1 page a week because I don’t want to stress myself out.  I have a day job that has nothing to do with art and is pretty taxing.  Some days it’s a struggle to get home and start drawing.  I do have a buffer of pages which is currently around 5 weeks.  When I did Cubicles the Graphic Novel, I was doing around 5 pages a week.  That was penciling, inking, coloring, and lettering all by myself.  At the end of it I was worn out and stressed.  So I don’t want that to happen again.

I was big into fantasy books when I was in high school.  I would devour 5 books a week over summer.  My favorite was the Dragonlance books.  I didn’t get into comics until Image hit.  Image was just so bombastic, the teenage me loved it.  The comic that made me want to make comics was Johnny the Homicidal Maniac.  I tried to do a comic with my artist friend, but we only got 1 page in.

TCV: So, to wrap up the interview, what do you enjoy about comics that you don’t experience in other artistic, creative, or fandom mediums?

Ostlie: My favorite thing to do when I was a kid was play with action figures.  I didn’t just have this guy punch this other guy.  I would build bases and come up with stories for the toys.  This guy was a spy, these two people were in a relationship and I would construct plots with dialogue and action scenes.   I loved it.  Creating comics allows me to do that again.  Except I get to create my own toys.  When I draw my stories I feel like I am playing with those action figures.

Currently I am being influenced by both print and web comics.  In print I have to say BPRD/Hellboy are the top of the top.  That is world creation at its finest.  For the web there’s Two Guys and Guy, Legacy Control, Happle Tea, False Positive and on and on.  These guys are putting pro quality art and stories on the web every week for free.  If you don’t read webcomics you’re doing it wrong.


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