We talk to Nowhere Man: You Don’t Know Jack creator Jerome Walford about his recent Glyph Comics Award win, his art process, the new Nowhere Man Kickstarter campaign, and more in our interview.
While the big through-line from this year’s Glyph Comics Awards was Brandon Easton and N. Steven Harris sweeping the major categories for their work on Watson and Holmes, their contemporary reimagining of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s famous detective wasn’t the only work that earned a well-deserved share of the spotlight in the build-up and wake of the awards process.
One of those comics is Jerome Walford’s Nowhere Man: You Don’t Know Jack, the protagonist of which won this year’s Glyph Comics Award for “Best Male Character.”
A graphic designer and advert illustrator by trade and a fine art painter and printmaker by training, Walford began playing around with the idea of what would become Nowhere Man in 2004 but didn’t begin work on the comic in earnest until 2008. In 2012, the Brooklyn-based creator launched Nowhere Man: You Don’t Know Jack as a three-part serial graphic novel through his own Forward Comix imprint and last year, all three installments of Nowhere Man found their way to comiXology.
Part police drama, part superhero comic, and part sci-fi thriller, Nowhere Man revolves around Jack Maguire, a New York City cop driven to clandestinely work outside the law as a hi-tech vigilante. Nowhere Man features a depth and nuance of characterization that is somewhat unusual for a comic with an otherwise heavy emphasis on action. Jack is written in the “hero with feet of clay” tradition—a perceived failure to live up to the ideals and standards set by his father hangs heavy over the character—and his complicated relationship with police partner and lover Rose Yancey isn’t so much a minor romantic subplot as it is a parallel narrative to the book’s costumed crimefighter aspect. Jack Maguire is a well-rounded, fleshed-out creation fully deserving of the Glyph Comics Award previously accorded to creations such as Huey Freeman (from Aaron McGruder’s The Boondocks comic strip), Miles Morales (from Brian Michael Bendis and Sara Pichelli’s Ultimate Spider-Man), and Mort (from Muhammad Rasheed’s Monsters 101).
The Comixverse recently caught up with Jerome in the week after the announcement of the Glyph Comics Award winners and below is a transcript of our online interview.
Comixverse: What does it mean for you that Jack Maguire, the protagonist of the Nowhere Man: You Don’t Know Jack books, has been selected as the 2014 Glyph Comics Awards’ “Best Male Character?”
Jerome Walford: I am overjoyed although it hasn’t quite sunken in. I feel like I’m living in a dream, about to wake at any given moment, perhaps still sitting in that chair at the awards ceremony, awaiting the announcement of the actual winner.
By chance, I ran into [Ajala: A Series of Adventures writer] Robert Garrett on the bus ride down to [the Glyph Comics Awards venue in] Philadelphia from New York. We joked about we were happy to be merely nominated this year. It has been a strong season for creator-owned content.
After I received the award, Robert snapped a picture and posted it on Facebook. Within minutes I got the most likes I’ve ever had. Then [Robert and N. Steven Harris’ Ajala] got called for “Best Female Character.” I realized I was part of something really special on personal and communal level.
The character profile of Jack Maguire has been with me for a very long time. He is loosely based on an earlier character from a short story I did in college many moons ago. In one sense I “see” him vividly in my mind and within the fictional world he lives. Winning the Glyph Comics Award for “Best Male Character” means that a panel of esteemed judges “saw” him too and accepted him for who is (flaws and all) and embraced what he represents.
Of the three nominations I received, truly, this win is the one I wanted most.
CV: What elements and considerations went into the visual design process for Jack Maguire? Were any extant comics characters a significant influence, or did you draw more inspiration from non- comics fields such as film, television, and video games?
JW: Jack Maguire has many facets. I have learned from many inspirational characters and there are small homages throughout the story as well some comparisons that came along accidentally. The double zero on Jack’s hat has meaning within the story, but is also subtle shout out to Mike Mignola’s Hellboy and the archetype of the working class hero—not trying be heroic so much as trying to do the right thing in the moment. His jacket is a deconstructed nod to Captain America, while his often wearing of a red shirt is a reverse reference to Star Trek (instead of indicating the first to die, red marks the hero).
I’ve worked to introduce something new, but these little touches of the familiar is my way of celebrating the tradition and history of comics, while making an effort to plant a new seed.
CV: On the writing side of the character design equation, what sources—maybe in popular entertainment or culture in general, maybe in your personal life—informed Jack Maguire’s characterization and motivation?
JW: Will Smith, particularly his role in [2004’s Alex Proyas-directed film] I, Robot, has helped a lot in figuring out the on-screen/on-page mannerisms for this style of character (i.e.; driven, yet resistant to the term ‘hero’; master of my own fate).
However, much of my inspiration for Jack’s character comes from dissecting how he processes the loss of his father. That singular loss motivates and overshadows everything Jack does throughout the story. Jack Maguire and I are very different people, but I’ve lost my dad too. I feel like we understand each other through that common thread. It sounds like a cliché, but it’s so true—write what you know.
CV: Besides your “Best Male Character” win in this year’s Glyph Comics Awards, you were also nominated for “Best Artist,” going up against some stiff competition in mainstream comics industry veteran Jamal Igle and eventual winner N. Steven Harris. Tell us a little bit about your art process. Do you employ more traditional penciling, inking, and coloring methods or are you more of a digital artist? What tools and software do you regularly employ?
JW: I have a lot of experience doing illustration for advertising. My first job out of college was with a small ad agency and the receptionist there was a sweet elderly woman who told me I should quit and go into comics. Almost fifteen years later, I’m starting to put myself out there, eager to learn and grow as much I can.
I follow a lot of comic artists on Facebook, doing my best to soak in any instruction they offer about the comics artistic process. Jamal Igle’s pencil work is impeccable and I can’t begin to say enough good things about N. Steven Harris. Earlier this year I was able to catch him while there was an opening in his schedule to do a commission for my series. His pinup will appear in the upcoming issue of Nowhere Man. Having worked with N. Steven Harris, I can tell you first hand, he is talented, professional, has tons of experience and is a pleasure to work with. To have been nominated side by side with these two giants was a reward onto itself.
In the fall of 2012 I got a chance to sit down with [Rocket Girl co-creator and artist] Amy Reeder for a brief sketchbook review and tutorial session. She looked at proofs for my books and then my sketchbook. “You are holding yourself back,” she said and she was spot on. In moving to working primarily on the computer I was losing a lot of my drawing technique.
I graduated with a Bachelor’s degree in Fine Art from Cornell University, but I’m a self-taught comic artist. I’m working to bridge that gap. Currently I do most of my drawing and coloring in Photoshop because it makes the process more efficient and I’m becoming more proficient everyday, finding new ways to make the process feel more natural and to regain much of the hand-drawn feel. As I continue working on the next three books in the series, I look at the art from the books that granted me the nomination and I can tell my artwork has already improved a great deal. I am honored to have been nominated for “Best Artist” relatively early in my journey as a comics artist. This has motivated me to work even harder to hone my craft.
CV: Kickstarter helped fund the publication of Nowhere Man: You Don’t Know Jack and now you have an ongoing Kickstarter campaign for the follow-up graphic novel, Nowhere Man: Jacked Up. Were there any important lessons that you learned from your earlier crowdfunding efforts that you are now applying to your second Kickstarter campaign? [The funding period for Nowhere Man: Jacked Up ends on 07 June, 2014—ed.]
JW: There are three key lessons I’ve learned from my earlier Kickstarter campaign.
Second is communication: Connect with family and fans before the campaign launches and build a presentation that clearly demonstrates your skills and what you intend to do with the funds.
Third is expectation: Most of the funds raised will come from family, friends and your existing fan base. You have to set reasonable expectations with the amount of funds you are attempting to raise.
That being said, I am super excited because I’m very close to my funding goal. It’s a good time to build awareness among new readers. Hopefully the Glyph Comics Award and the enormous amount of positive press the series has garnered will convince new fans to check out the series and to be part of making the next volume a reality.
CV: Are you on the comics convention circuit? If so, where will you be appearing next and if not, where on the social media sphere can readers and fans reach out to you?
JW: My next show will be the New York Comic Con Special Edition in June, being held at the Javits Center. It is the first year for this format (a more comic-centric show) but I think it will be fantastic. I’ll be doing Boston Comic Con in August, which should be a lot of fun. The first book in the Nowhere Man: Jacked Up volume will be available at Boston Comic Con and I’m looking forward to seeing the response when fans hold it in their hands.