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Sandbox Spotlight: STEVE BRYANT, Comic Creator / Writer / Artist

THE CONVENTION COLLECTIVE: Thank you for joining us in the Spotlight, Steve! How did you get into art and why did you want to become an writer and artist?

Steve Bryant: I’ve drawn for as long as I can remember, and really early on—like grade school…fourth grade maybe—I decided I wanted to be a comic artist. That goal was derailed in high school, when I started playing in bands, well into my twenties. But even then, in the back of my mind, I thought comics would be my “safe” job in case music didn’t pan out. The ignorance of that, and the sheer stupid bravado! Needless to say, I eventually realized the arrogance of that idea!

TCC: What was the first work you completed, where you stepped back and thought, “Yes, y’know what, I can do this for a living!”

Steve: It’s weird. I started working in roleplaying games in the late 1980s and early 90s, as an art director, graphic designer, and illustrator. And I could see a clear path laid out by other artists who transitioned from games to comics, like Tim Truman and Bill Willingham. So that was in the back of my mind, and it felt like an attainable goal. 

That said, I spent an entire decade working in RPGs and not drawing comic samples because I didn’t feel ready. I thought that when I felt ready, I’d tackle some samples and start moving along. But the entire time—again, it was ten years—I never felt ready. Finally, I just said “screw it,” and started working up samples and showing them around at conventions. I got a number of good responses, but no work. 

Eventually, I started shopping Athena Voltaire (my 1930s pulp adventure comic) around, and got an offer from a start-up webcomic collective, AdventureStrips.com. In 2004, Athena Voltaire was nominated for an Eisner Award as Best Digital Comic. We didn’t win, but I think that was the actual moment that I really started believing it was possible. Everything up until then was me drowning in self-doubt and imposter syndrome.

TCC: Which artists and writers inspire you? And they don’t have to be in the medium you work in, either…

Steve: As a kid, Jack Kirby was the first artist I could recognize, and his stuff made a huge impression on me. Into middle school, I religiously studied John Byrne and George Perez. Shortly before I started working in RPGs, I discovered Steve Rude and Dave Stevens…sometime in the mid-80s.

I think that’s when I started really putting it together and finding the kind of art I wanted to make. From there, I found Mark Schultz and Al Williamson, and rediscovered Paul Gulacy, whose work was over my head when I first encountered it in the 70s. It was also around this time that I met Tim Bradstreet, who taught me how to use a brush and was a fantastic mentor. 

These days, I love a lot of comic artists who swim in those same waters: Steve Epting, Butch Guice, and Sean Phillips, as well as the titans of the past: Wally Wood, Milton Canniff, Noel Sickels, John Prentice, and, of course, Alex Raymond and Hal Foster. And Mike Mignola, whose storytelling sensibilities are so unique and so perfect, that I marvel at everything he does. For non-comics artists, I’m blown away by master illustrators like Thomas Blackshear, Drew Struzan, JC Leyendecker, Gil Elvgren, Robert McGinness, Albert Dorne, and Robert Fawcett. There’s a ton of ‘em I’m sure I’m leaving out, I’m sure! We’re in such a golden age where so much of this is available either in print or online…so many great resources!

And, like most artists, I have a circle of peers who I share work with on a regular basis. Jason Millet, who’s colored a ton of my work, as well as other comics coloring, and storyboarding a ton of Chicago film and television work. Jim Nelson, an early mentor from my RPG days, who’s amazing illustrations have defined Shadowrun, Battletech, Hearthstone, and other games. And Jim Heffron, my San Diego Comic-Con neighbor and pal for nearly twenty years. 

For writers, it’s a shorter list. It’s strange…I consider myself an artist who draws more than seeing myself as a writer/artist. But I’ve had more comics published where I’m the writer than I have where I’m the artist, so I may need to reconsider that. But, yeah, let’s see…for comic writers, I think Archie Goodwin and Doug Moench are some real standouts. Reading their work—especially in the context of the eras they worked in—shows you how versatile they were. Archie, in particular, was amazing: he wrote strips, comics, graphic novel-length adaptations, prose—everything!

For contemporary stuff, Ed Brubaker can’t miss for me, and Brian K. Vaughn is on that level, too. Also, looking at the sheer worldbuilding accomplishments of Mike Mignola and Robert Kirkman blows me away. And Mark Schultz’s Xenozoic is as much fun to read as it is to stare at the beautiful art. 

Probably two of the most significant influences have been through other writer/artists. When I first started doing samples, a mutual friend put me in touch with Mark Schultz. Mark was gracious enough to send me some scripts to create samples from, and I was struck by how spare the scripts were in terms of staging. When I asked him about it, he said that it was a conscious choice, because he wants the artists to play to their strengths, rather than him dictating every detail and possibly hamstringing them. This really stuck with me. And when I started writing, I tried to give my collaborators as much latitude as I could, providing only what was necessary and letting them play to their strengths.

The other one is Tim Seeley. Looking at his career, and seeing how he started as an artist, but has really exploded as a writer, is amazing. If you look at the Hack/Slash omnibus editions, you can really see it develop, too. Watching that development, and the worldbuilding that he did on that series, is really inspiring.

For non-comic stuff, I love to look at episodic TV, and see how showrunners manage an ongoing narrative. J.J. Abrams’ film career is pretty uneven, but between Alias and Fringe, he gets a lifetime pass from me! Vince Gilligan, from the X-Files to Breaking Bad, and now Better Call Saul, is fantastic! And Graham Yost’s work on Justified is top tier storytelling.

For prose, I grew up with Edgar Rice Burroughs, Robert E. Howard, and Michael Moorcock books. And have a soft spot for mysteries, particularly Carl Hiassen’s weirdo Florida stuff. Lately, I’m on a pop culture horror kick, really grooving on Grady Hendrix and Adam Cesare

TCC: Can you tell us your greatest fan moment, interacting with a personal hero of yours where you may have gone a little weak at the knees?

Steve: Back in 2009, I had a voicemail from Mark Schultz. He’d recommended me for a pulpy space series based on an upcoming statue line. He was set as the cover artist and suggested me as the interior artist. Even though the project didn’t happen, having someone I admire like Mark endorse me for the book was huge.

TCCWhat is your favorite fandom? Who is your favorite comic book character/movie/tv character?

Steve: Comics. It always comes back to comics. I love the medium, I love learning more about the creators who shape it, and I just love reading comics in general. Favorite character? The Rocketeer. I love writing and drawing my own characters, and would be content with a career consisting only of telling their stories. But if there’s one bucket list character for me, it’s the Rocketeer. 

TCC: Outside of the ones you create for a living, what characters/stories do you like drawing the most in your spare time?

Steve: Again, the Rocketeer is at the top of the list. Commission-wise, outside of Athena Voltaire, I’ve been commissioned to draw him more times than anyone else. I love drawing the 90s Starman (Tony Harris/Peter Snejbjerg version). And I love drawing the Fantastic Four if I can make them look like their 1960s iterations. There’s something about seeing that book as a period piece that really works for me. For Inktober, I spent a couple of years drawing characters from TV shows that I enjoy. That’s fun. It’s a challenge to try and capture a likeness while maintaining a sense of life and vibrancy in the line work.

TCC: What’s your working routine? Do you work regular set hours and days, keeping certain days free for personal time, or do you find you create any time the muse takes you?

Steve: Because I have a day job, and am also an adjunct professor, my time is limited. So I make sure to capitalize on spare time and downtime as best I can. Shifting my work flow to the iPad Pro has been a godsend. I’m able to work while waiting at the doctor’s office, while getting the oil changed in my car, or while hanging out while my partner and I watch TV. With my schedule limitations, I feel like I have to be ready to work whenever I can squeeze in the time.

TCC: When you’re creating, what do you use for background noise? Some creators use music or podcasts, some use a TV show that they just can listen to in the background. What do you use?

Steve: I cycle through it all. Sometimes, it’s music, sometimes podcasts, sometimes audiobooks. Or I’ll work while watching a movie that reinforces the mood of what I’m drawing. Or binge TV is great. It’s a deceptive way to lock me in for hours while working. 

TCC: What was the first comic con that you remember attending? And, indeed, what was the last?

Steve: The 1976 Chicago Comicon, held at the Playboy Towers in downtown Chicago was my first con. I was 10 years old and rode up with a friend and his family. It was amazing. The dealer’s room seemed so huge, but I’m sure that’s 10-year old me talking. I remember snapping photos of Fantastic Four #1 and Amazing Fantasy #15. It was glorious!

The last con was C2E2 2020, at the end of February, 2020. I remember being annoyed at the time, thinking, “Who believes a convention in Chicago at the end of February is a good idea?!” Of course, now having gone through 12+ months of Covid-19, a convention in Chicago at the end of February was a blessing in disguise. If it had been scheduled at the usual time, it would have been cancelled. 

Needless to say, I see myself complaining about when a con is scheduled a lot less in the future!

TCC: What’s your favourite element of a comic convention? And which bits could you easily leave behind?

Steve: I love seeing friends. From the group that I table with, to peers I only see at shows, to fans that visit me every year, to new folks that I get to share my work with, I love these interactions. 

I can do without people who lack basic self-awareness. Whether it’s the spillover of people visiting the neighboring table who end up blocking my table, or the person who plops their bag (or DRINK/FOOD!) down on top of the books and artwork I’m selling, or the person who stops short in a walkway on the con floor to snap a few dozen photos, it’s all frustrating. That said, given that we haven’t had any cons for over a year, these complaints all seem inconsequential in the bigger picture.

TCC: At a convention, when you’re not behind your table or doing the things you have to do at a con, which corner of the show would we find you in?

Steve: That’s a tough one to answer. I suffer from social anxiety, so I do great behind my booth, but being in a large crowd is super stressful for me. But I usually take the morning of the last day to pick up books from creators I like in Artist Alley, and shop for something for my daughter—usually a T-shirt or two. 

TCC: With the lack of conventions, a lot of artists are taking commissions online and mailing them out to people – is this something you’re doing? 

Steve: I did a few commissions at the beginning of the pandemic, but since then, we had a death in the family and I’ve had a few Kickstarter campaigns in there, so I haven’t had the time to pursue more commissions.

TCC: A lot of creatives are also taking to crowdfunding – such as Kickstarter and Indiegogo – to generate income from their work. What’re your thoughts on that?

Steve: I love it! I ran my first Kickstarter campaign in 2010. It went really well, but I abandoned the platform to seek validation in traditional publishing. Since then, I’ve come to realize how great it is to be able to sell directly to my audience, and have done four campaigns in the last two years…and plenty more on the horizon.

TCC: What projects have you recently finished? What are you working on at the moment, what projects are coming up that you can talk about? 

Steve: I just wrapped up the first chapter of my 1980s post-apocalyptic webcomic, Maximus Wrecks. I write and draw it, and Jason Millet colors it. The idea behind it is that the world ended in 1989 and the last remnants of society are trying to bring humanity back from the brink. So it’s full of mullets, animal-print spandex, and crazy road gangs! I’ll get back to it soon; I just need to make headway on some other projects first.

I’m about to start sending out rewards for the most recent Kickstarter I ran for The Catch and I had my biggest Kickstarter to date for Athena Voltaire and the Terror on the Orient Express.

I’m knee-deep in the 2022 Athena Voltaire book, The Devil’s Sea. It’s written and I’m drawing the first chapter right now. Jason Millet, my frequent collaborator, and I are working on another pulpy book called The Black Cobra. It’s set in the 1940s and the 1960 and features a legacy hero passing the torch to his son. I describe it as “What if the Green Hornet was a cool as Kato, was partnered with Emma Peel, and had the Shadow for a father?” Jason’s drawing it and I’ve written it. Additionally, I’m working with Don Cardenas on a horror book that I pitched him as “This is Spinal Tap meets Buffy the Vampire Slayer by way of Ash Versus Evil Dead.” More on that one later in 2021.

TCC: How do you stay connected with fans? Do you use a mailing list or newsletters, are you active on social media?

Steve: I’m pretty active on social media. And I send out a newsletter every month or so, where I talk about new books coming out, convention and store appearances, Kickstarters, or when I’m opening up my commission list. I also share works-in-progress, sketchbook stuff, fan art, and what I’m reading and watching. 

TCC: Where can people see an example of your art online and find out about your rates? 

Steve: Twitter, Facebook, and my semi-neglected Instagram are all @SteveBryantArt. And I can be reached though my website, SteveBryantComics.com  Or you can subscribe to my newsletter here.

TCC: Thanks, Steve, for your time! 

Steve: Thanks for having me! I hope I didn’t blether on too much!

We at The Convention Collective want to showcase the very best in creative talent. Are you a creator who would like to be featured in our weekly Sandbox Spotlight? Leave a comment here, or reach out to us at admin@TheConventionCollective.com

Dan Berry
Dan Berry
Dan Berry is a man of mystery, an enigma that flits from convention to convention like a spectre, like a spirit. His interests range far and wide: he cannot be determined, he cannot be defined, he cannot be contained. He's like the wind. He also is a Sagittarius and enjoys a nice Italian.

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