Douglas Draper isn’t following a yellow brick road to his future. Instead, Draper is sketching the road to his dreams in black and white. Pursuing a career as a sequential artist, also known as a comic book artist, Draper has been drawing and painting since a young age. “It even became a challenge for my parents to ground me…while my toys may have been taken away, I’d simply construct my own out of school notebook paper, Scotch tape, crayons, or the occasional dried-up piece of Play-Doh.”
Since graduating the Maryland Institute, College of Art, Draper has explored different directions in art such as portraiture, logo design, architectural rendering, children’s book illustration, and mural painting. Relinquishing his comic book career fears, Draper has been working as a sequential artist for the last three years. He started off working with horror comics (think more psychological scary and less bloody scary) and was first published in 2008. With a wit to match his charm, Draper finds escape in his drum set, family and friends. Draper took some time and spoke to Yeah New York about his career, comics, and himself. you can view some of Draper’s sketches, published panels, and his website after the interview.
Living in both Maryland and New York, what’s kept you in Maryland and away from New York?
New York, despite its stereotype of being affordable and cheap, is a little expensive. It gets pricey to live there, but I’ll always have a soft spot for New York. I just went to the New York Comic-Con in October. You can feel it in the air when you’re walking down the street; everyone is there for something, a reason, a passion. It’s exciting and motivating. Though it really is nothing short of its “concrete jungle” title. You’re walking practically everywhere, you’ve got your survival pack on because you can’t just run home when you realize you’ve forgotten your wallet. When it’s hot out you’re melting, when it’s cold you’re freezing, you’re traveling underground snaking through dark tunnels and then scaling buildings taller than most anyone will ever see. It’s an adventure. All you then need is a loincloth and spear. But with most adventures, if you live it long enough, it becomes almost exhausting. [New York’s] definitely a double-edged sword. The things that make it exciting and awe-inspiring are the same things that make it draining. You have to have a thick emotional skin. If you’re born there or grew up there, you get that. You can have a great conversation on the train with 200 other people around and some guy in a trench coat bumping into you. No problem. Me? I like being in town. I like being near my family. It’s much calmer here and I can hear myself think. Plus, there’s dirt here and my feet don’t hurt nearly as much.
Your website mentions you walking by Peaky’s Pub and having a revelation. What was it that day that created this shift in you and lead to you living your dream?
I think I was just asking myself what I wanted out of being an artist. There are so many directions to take. Thoughts like these were running through my head constantly and I just came to a decision. I stopped ignoring what I actually had been wanting for a long time and that was a serious step in the direction of becoming a comic book artist. Not exactly in the sense of being a “professional,” but more so in attempting to understand and simply be better at the medium. I’d taken steps previously but then stopped, but never anything definitive. Funny thing about Peaky’s though was that I walked by it almost everyday for a year and half and never went inside. Maybe I should head back up to New York for a drink sometime. Not yet though, but sometime [and] with comfortable shoes.
What draws you towards comics?
I’ve always been attracted to [the] challenging aspects in art. If it’s not challenging on some level, it’s just not fun. There isn’t that award at the end that I think we all seek to some degree. Drawing, painting and design are incredibly challenging. It’s takes years and years to master and even then there’s so much more to learn. With comica, I’ve personally never come across anything more challenging with such a wide array of areas to pay attention to. When illustrating a comic, you’re designing the sets of the locations, what the characters are wearing, what the characters look like, the kind of expressions they use, what angles to go with for each panel, how the panels lead into one another, the overall look of the comic itself and so on. It’s just an incredible medium to try and get your head around.
Doing this in a fluid and visually interesting way can be quite a difficult task. If the anatomy of the characters are off, if there’s not enough blacks or too much whites, if the expressions are bland you’ll loose out on the meaning. At its core, it’s about telling a story and communicating to the viewer what you’re trying to tell them in a clear and concise way. It’s a challenge.
Do you remember your first visit to a Comic-Con?
It was the Baltimore Comic-Con. I was still in college and my professor at the time was, José Villarrubia, easily one of the best color artists in comics today, if not the best, told me about the convention. If you know Jose, he isn’t too big on the word “no”. Especially if you’re a student. At [the] time I was still figuring out this balance of art and comics and a big part of me still thought of them as “kid stuff”.
I remember walking by this guy at the show who was an artist or an editor and he was critiquing this other fella’s artwork. I noticed that it was the same way our work was critiqued at MICA. He was talking about the composition, the lighting, the way the eye moves from one area to the next. This was the first time I’d ever heard something like this in regards to comics. They were discussing it in an intelligent and analytical way. Exactly like one would discuss art. That was a big moment for me. It finally got me thinking that comics and art could actually hang out together as more than just casual friends.
Today, Baltimore has one of the best conventions around and I’d highly recommend it for any artist wanting to try his or her hand at comics. It’s a great environment. I actually just had my first behind-the-table experience this year where I was set up, doing sketches, and selling my comics.
How long does it take you to construct a visual story?
With comics, it’s a pretty time consuming process and that’s something all artists take into consideration. On the surface I think the average person has a rather inaccurate idea of the amount of time and that goes into illustrating a comic. I mean, I’d read comics for years and hadn’t a clue.
[While] I was at a panel where Jim Lee was speaking, he mentioned a good rule of thumb, you should be able to pencil two pages in a day. When you wake up in the morning before you even brush your teeth, wipe the drool from your mouth, crawl out of bed, go to your desk and make sure you put down two pages a day. That’s roughly what he said so I try my best to measure up to that. It’s a pretty good goal for any artist who’s trying to work in the comic book industry.
How does the collaboration between a writer and sequential artist work?
I’ve got a few writers I’m working with right now and it’s interesting because everyone has their own way of telling a story. Some lean back while others [are] more specific. In the beginning you receive of script, each page of script will tell certain things such as how many panels are on the page, then each panel will [have] a written description of what’s going on in that particular panel, along with the captions or dialogue of the characters.
Where it gets interesting is in the decisions of the writers on how specific or open they are to the details of the page. It runs the gamut. Some are extremely detailed in their descriptions such as Alan Moore for example. He’ll describe the composition of each panel, the angle, what objects are seen, what they look like exactly. Simply painting a picture with his words in way that he feels will help tell the story the best way possible. Then there’s Neil Gaiman, who in regards to Violent Cases, was extremely open to Dave McKean determining much of the details for the pages.
Personally I enjoy the dialogue between the writer and myself. Determining what works best for the story. That push and pull, combining two ideas together to try and make something great. Then sometimes you get the script and you never hear from them again. But hey, life’s busy ya know.
What is your prediction about the future of comics?
In America, comics are geared around superheroes. If you say the words “comic book” to any person on the street, they’re instantly going to think about Superman, Spider-man, Batman, which is understandable because superheroes dominate the majority of the comic scene. But at the very same time I feel comics are branching out into different genres in the same way literature and film do. Works like Blankets, Violent Cases, BB Wolf and the Three LP’s, The Fountain, and Freaks of the Heartland. This is great and is ultimately the best thing for the medium, not only in its success financially and the broadening of an audience, but also in gaining respect as a medium of artistic expression.
With other media, you have genres of action, drama, romance, horror, comedy and so on. Comics can tell these stories in the same way, if not better. I grew up on superheroes. I’d walk down the street to the Super G drug store and spend my leftover lunch money on Wolverine and Spiderman. And I loved it. Still do in fact. But there’s always room to grow and if there’s anything I can do to help then that’s what I want as artist.
For a further look at Draper’s work and what his next adventure is, Check out his website Douglasdraper.com[galleryview=id: 10; showPanels: true; showCaptions: true; showFilmstrip: true; panelWidth: 700; panelHeight: 500; panelScale: nocrop; transitionSpeed: 800; transitionInterval: 4000; fadePanels: true; overlayPosition: top; overlayOpacity: 0.1; frameWidth: 60; frameHeight: 40; filmstripPosition: bottom; pointerSize: 5; frameScale: crop; frameGap: 5; frameOpacity: 1.0; easingValue: easeInOutCirc; navTheme: light; startFrame: 1; pauseOnHover: false;]