When I was about eight or nine years old on a boring Saturday afternoon, long before the invention of the internet, I drew my first comic book cover. It was a referenced recreation of a “Fantastic Four” cover featuring Rusty from the New Mutants. I drew it on a big piece of card stock poster board andrecreated every detail, including the box in the top left hand corner that featured the headshots of the featured characters in each issue. I even colored it in using crayons and colored pencils. When I finished that poster, I knew I wanted to be a comic book artist. Almost thirty years later, and few close attempts, I still hold onto that dream one day becoming a reality.
In this day and age with the internet and multiple art schools there are many resources to learn how to create comic books. Twenty years ago, I was lucky enough to learn from one of the best resources of them all: the Joe Kubert School of Cartooning and Graphic Arts, now called The Kubert School, which was founded by the late great Joe Kubert in 1976. Students would be provided with professional art assignments by working professionals in the comic book, graphic art, and animation fields.
One fellow alum of the Kubert School is T.J Kirsch. His work has been published by Archie Comics, Oni Press, Top Shelf, and Image Comics. I talked with T.J about his time at the Kubert School and his recent creator owned Graphic Novel ” Pride of the Decent Man.” You can follow him on Twitter (@tjkirsch), or visit his website.
This interview has been edited for clarity
What got you interested in comics, and at what age?
T.J. Kirsch: It was probably newspaper comics when I was really young, and some Superman, Archie or Ninja Turtles comic books when I was around ten.
When did you know you wanted to become a comic artist?
TK: I made the decision before going off to art school, but I’d always wanted to be either an illustrator of some type, or a Disney animator.
I did a year at the Kubert School right out of high school. I was one of the youngest in my class; I saw the add in a comic book. How did you find out about the Kubert School, and what made you finally decide to enroll?
TK: I had known about it from the ads in various DC Comics as well. I had heard how tough it was, probably from Wizard Magazine interviews with artist who had gone through it. I actually went to Savannah College of Art and Design for a year, and then took a year off before going to Kubert. I think if I had gone right from high school I wouldn’t have had a very mature outlook. I also had the advantage of a full year of art school. Completing those foundational art courses really gave me some confidence. I also had time to really explore comics and get a sense of what I wanted to do.
I was only lucky enough to briefly meet Joe Kubert once. Please tell me about your experience at the Kubert School. Any teachers of note?
TK: It was a lot of work, but it was work that didn’t feel like “work.” I saw a few friends quit for various reasons, and I definitely considered it at certain points, but I’m glad I stayed. Each year was different, and you could see your work evolving and absorbing the lessons you were being taught. I had some great teachers. The Kuberts, Adam, Andy, and Joe were all so encouraging and their classes were filled with lessons they’d learned along the way. Joe was great; he was more intimidating than his sons. At least that’s how we saw it, but he was also full of great practical knowledge. He liked my coloring work in particular and suggested I try doing it for Archie, which I did after graduation.
Where might our readers have seen your work?
TK: I’ve been published in many different comics since graduating Kubert in 2005, including in books by Archie Comics, Image Comics, Oni Press, SLG Publishing, Digital Webbing, Top Shelf 2.0 and now NBM Graphic Novels. The book I’m most known for is “She Died In Terrebonne,” written by Kevin Church. We self-published that and it’s frequently cited by critics as one of the best Noir/Murder mystery comics. My most recent graphic novel is “Lost and Found: An Amy Devlin Mystery,” written by Christina Weir and Nunzio DeFilippis for Oni Press. I’m also regular illustrator for the autobiographical comic writer Jonathan Baylis (“So Buttons Comix”) and Sam Costello’s “Split Lip” comics.Continued below
Tell me about your creator owned title “Pride Of The Decent Man.”
TK: “Pride Of The Decent Man” has been a long time coming for me. I had wanted to write and draw my own graphic novel since I started drawing comics, but I have worked mostly with writers and collaborators, with the exception of my short story collection “Teej Comix” #1 (2013).
“Pride” is the story of Andrew Peters, a small town loner who’s gone through a lot in his life – really lived through some tough times. He’s made a few bad choices but after learning about the daughter he never knew, he tries to turn his life around and become a better person.
I began it as a webcomic in 2015 and finished it this spring. My daughter was born right in the middle, in spring 2016, so that slowed the process a bit, but certainly provided some inspiration along the way. NBM, one of the oldest and best graphic novel publishers in the US, is publishing the book in a very sharp looking color hardcover.
What advice would you give aspiring comic book artist, and creators?
TK:This is a great time to be in this field. There are not only so many more resources online for learning the art of making comics, but also a number of different avenues for sharing and publishing your work, most of which are free. That was not the case 15-20 years ago. You do not have to go into debt going to art school to be successful. Keep at your work, learn something new every day, share it with others, seek out feedback from professionals. Keep drawing.
What pitfalls should they avoid?
TK:Try to avoid working with people who seem to be into comics for the money/fame alone. Like any business, there are many, many bullshit artists who will promise you the moon, then steal your work, not pay you, etc. You can usually spot these people from a mile away. Always get a contract. Do your research working with publishers, writers, editors – anyone really. Know what they do before approaching them. Making friends with like minded people is also called networking.