We’re covering Comic Arts Los Angeles this year and in our series we’re featuring interviews from various comic book artists within the industry! Today’s feature is on Rachel Dukes, who created a short story for The Oath Anthology of New Heroes, and Frankie Comics #4. She discusses her work as an artist and what brought her out to CALA.
Tell us about your latest work. Where did the inspiration come from?
My most recent projects were Power Couple, a short story for The Oath Anthology of New Heroes, and Frankie Comics #4. Power Couple was written by cartoonist Megan Rose Gedris so I can’t speak to the inspiration for that. But Frankie Comics #4, like all issues of Frankie Comics, was inspired by silly interactions I have with my cat.
Admittedly I am a dog person, but in reading Frankie it’s hard not to start wanting a cat to love. What made you want to write about a woman’s relationship with her cat? Is Frankie real and can we see pictures of her adorable-ness?
Frankie Comics started as as an exercise when I was a student at The Center for Cartoon Studies. I was in my thesis year and wanted a reason to draw regularly so I began drawing the silly stupid interactions that Frankie and I would have.
Being a cartoonist means spending a lot of time indoors alone. If you have a cat, it means spending a lot of time indoors slowing becoming subservient to your feline roommate. There’s obviously some humor in that dynamic. Real talk though, Frankie is my best friend in the way that housepets and humans do. We spend all day together every day. It was only a matter of time that I started drawing comics about it.
You frequently experiment with layouts and formatting. For example: in “Food Frankie Likes” (Frankie Comics #2) the layout is essentially a list of food and then a reveal, short and sweet; but then you experimented with longer multi-page storytelling in “Bathtime II” (Frankie Comics #3). Where does that inspiration come from to mix things up?
The style/pacing variety in Frankie Comics is mostly me self-teaching humorous storytelling. I’ll have a punchline ready to go – based on something silly Frankie did – but the real life circumstance leading up to it may not lend itself to a traditional four-panel comic strip. When that happens, I start working out other ways to tell the joke.
In the end of Frankie Comics #3 you include fan art. Did you ever expect to get fan art? What was your reaction?
Laying out the files for Frankie Comics #3 I realized I was going to be short a few pages and needed something to fill that gap before I could print. A few friends had done drawings of Frankie in the past (the fanart at the end of Frankie Comics #1), so I thought it would be cool to request / include fanart to fill those pages. I made a blog post requesting fanart and then included the submissions in the back of the issue. (They were all great!)
Talk about your journey to becoming a comic creator. Did you have a formal education or were you self-taught? Is one better than another?
I knew from childhood that I wanted to be a cartoonist but was discouraged from it for a long time because my family wanted me in an industry with better financial security. I idly self-taught through K-12, doing mostly character design, prose writing, and journal comics. I studied animation in college since it was the closest field I could study for on the west coast.
During college I worked full-time doing caricatures at local theme parks, started my own micro-publisher and comics distributor, and was also running a company with my partner that created custom lapel pins and apparel for other artists, cartoonists, and businesses. Between the three jobs, I was able to afford to start printing mini-comics and zines with some regularity. We published two anthologies of note during that time (Side A: The Music Lover’s Graphic Novel in 2007 and it’s follow-up Side B: The Music Lover’s Comic Anthology in 2009) as well as the annual collections of my journal comic Intentionally Left Blank. Simultaneously, we distributed other indie comics by cartoonists Megan Rose Gedris, Colleen Frakes, Box Brown, Josh PM Frees, and Ed Brisson.
I had started exhibiting at comic conventions part-time in 2003, just out of high school; selling sketchbooks, mini-comics, and 1” buttons. By 2009, I was able to stay afloat on self-employment (custom merchandise and convention sales) and quit my day job drawing caricatures. I was able to do that for another two years, through 2011.
In 2011 I was accepted to The Center for Cartoon Studies. I spent my two years there focusing all my time on comic creation and bettering my work. So much of my time during the previous seven years was eaten up by the day-to-day inanities of self-employment and order-processing that I was unable to give my comics any real thought before I sat down to draw. Going to CCS reaffirmed a lot of feelings I was already experiencing about how my life and time were structured; I decided it was time to focus 100% on being a cartoonist instead of a cartoonist-distributor-merch-maker.
In 2013 I shuttered my distribution website, mailed everyone back their remaining merchandise, sold the custom merchandise company to our top competitor, and committed to drawing comics full-time. I graduated from CCS with my MFA, moved to Los Angeles, and started freelancing full-time.
In the last two years, I self-published two issues of Frankie Comics, penciled a 170-page graphic novel, had work in 14 comic anthologies, and got to create work for some of my favourite licensed properties (Adventure Time, Over the Garden Wall, Steven Universe).
Ultimately, the path you take to becoming a cartoonist is irrelevant. If you poll the most celebrated people in independent comics and animation right now you’ll find most of them didn’t have a formal education. The most important key to any art-related job is that you put in the hours to better your skill. That effort will shine through in the quality of your work.
What tools do you use to create your comic?
– 9”x12” Canson sketchbook
– Pentel mechanical pencil and blue lead
– Micron or Staedler fixed-width pens (0.1, 0.3, 0.5, 0.8)
– Pentel Pocket Brush
– Black Prismacolor or Copic
When you’re having a difficult time creating what do you do to help you push through?
If I feel unmotivated I try to raise my energy levels and psyche myself up about whatever I’m working on. This usually means I do some jumping jacks, hydrate, caffeinate, and put on a favourite album or movie that I enjoy working to. It’s not fool-proof – there are definitely days that I feel like I’m hitting a brick wall for twelve hours no matter what I try. But the effort helps out more often than not.
You tend to work solo. Would you ever consider working with another artist or writer?
I’ve been working collaboratively more often since graduating from CCS. In the last two years, I’ve drawn stories written by Greg Thelen, Gabby Reed, Ion O’Clast, Liz Prince, Jonathan Baylis, and Megan Rose Gedris. All the licensed work I do is written by staff writers too. It’s something I enjoy well enough but it’s rare that I think to reach out to other people to collaborate with when I have downtime since I always have a stockpile of personal projects I’m trying to get to.
Working with Megan on Power Couple felt particularly natural. She meant to draw the story herself but I was filling in for her while she healed from an injury. Her script was bare-bones – which could have been limiting – but I immediately understood how she would lay out the pages. I would check in with her throughout the process to make sure I was near the mark. Shocking to me, I was right on all the way through. That may be a nod to our near-decade of friendship (and reading each other’s work) more than a celebration of comic collaboration but it definitely set a new personal bar for the quality of my collaborative work.
Who are some of your biggest influences, creatively?
I can’t speak to content and theme, as most of my non-licensed work is autobiographical. Stylistically and with regard to staying passionate about comics I always look to peers like Liz Suburbia (Sacred Heart), Liz Prince (Tomboy), Carolyn Casey Nowak (Lumberjanes) and have semi-regular check-ins with cartoonists Colleen Frakes (Prison Island), Dyemon O’Bryan (Deli Comics), Andrew Greenstone (Scout Life) and Mike King (Please Keep Warm).
If you could write about any fantasy world (Harry Potter, Avatar, Star Trek, Lord of the Rings,), which would you write for and why?
I’m all about X-Files. The ability to weave in and out of several genres of storytelling based on what the monster of the week calls for seems satisfying. Star Trek is the same way of course but Mulder and Scully will always win my heart.
What makes CALA different from other conventions? This is your second year at CALA. Tell us about last years experience and what brought you back.
CALA stands out from the majority of conventions for it’s focus on independent creators and creator-owned projects. The vibe of CALA is terrific. The attendees and exhibitors understand mini-comics, zines, and hand-made art objects… the blood, sweat, tears, and soul that goes into the creation of a thing.
That sounds much heavier than I mean it to sound. What I mean is that it’s distinctly different from being at a pop-culture convention where an attendee will walk up and say “What? This isn’t The Walking Dead. Gross.” At CALA an attendee will walk up and ask “Oh! Did you screenprint the cover yourself?” There’s an immediate understanding of the object and the culture. There’s a similar vibe and audience at SPX, TCAF, and MoCCA on the east coast but CALA is the only west-coast comic show I’ve attended that matches exhibitors and attendees so well. It’s a great selection of like-minded creators who are passionate about what they’re creating and an audience that understands and appreciates it.
The show is also run well, the volunteers are kind, and the venue is great. Living in Los Angeles there was no reason not to do the show again.
What will you be selling at CALA?
I’ll have copies of Frankie Comics #1 through #3, the queer sci-fi and fantasy anthology Beyond, and the punk-rock cartoonist anthology As You Were #4. I’ll also have Frankie Comics shirts, posters, dolls, belts, stickers, and buttons.
Do you have any new projects on the horizon? What should fans be looking out for? Where can they find you online?
Frankie Comics #4 will be shipping later this month (available in my online shop). Frankie Comics #4 is 32 pages – longer than any issue of Frankie Comics so far. Franke will also begin updating online again in January at com, GoComics, and Taptastic. The Oath Anthology of New Heroes will be shipping in February 2016. Fans can keep tabs on my upcoming work at Patreon, Facebook, and mixtapecomics.com
Joelle’s heart belongs to Chicago but she’s living in Los Angeles attempting to make a life as a freelance writer. She’s the co-creator of web comic Harsh Mellow on Tumblr. She’s an avid fan of period dramas over three hours long and full glasses of wine. She can usually be found in between the pages of a comic-book or under a coffee spigot.