Graphic artist suggests innovative career path
Itâs difficult to rise to fame in the comic book industry with hundreds of writers, artists, designers and editors trying to break in and hit the big time, even when the ultimate success rate isnât that high.
Thereâs a perception that a graphic artist can just shop around some work, get on a smaller title and take on flagship series as if they were the second coming of Alan Moore or Jack Kirby. Thatâs partly why artist Sean Murphyâs recent blog post fueled so much discourse.
Murphyâs post, titled â5 Year Plan,â called on all aspiring creators to be assertive and ignore the unofficial, so-called âprotocolâ that has become the norm.
But Murphy, whose recent work includes Grant Morrisonâs Eisner Award-nominated Joe the Barbarian and American Vampire spinoff Survival of the Fittest, said his blog post came out of a desire to help get art students to think outside the box.
âBecause of the nature of my work, my vocal reputation and the fact that Iâm getting paid to write for myself, I think my position in comics is unusual,â Murphy said. âI owe it to people to describe what Iâm seeing from where I stand. My thoughts are worth nothing unless I write them down â even if it upsets a lot of other professionals, which my blogs often do. Itâs worth it for me to piss off one professional if it helps 10 students.â
Murphy feels that comics, like other media, suffer from a majority of projects being average. Artists and writers arenât doing enough to innovate the industry.
To try to make up for that, he tries to infuse his art â inspired by the expressionist art of Sergio Toppi and Bill Watterson (of Calvin and Hobbes fame) â with extreme movement to give readers engaging visuals that do more than just layout the story.
âItâs hit and miss at times, but I always give it my best effort,â Murphy said.
For Murphy, doing what you love as an artist, rather than jumping onto different projects, was key to furthering his career and solidifying his artistic style.
âBranding, to me, is based off a simpler question: What gigs make me happy?â Murphy said. âThereâs a through-line in the projects I enjoy, and once I realized what that through-line was, I started to see my brand. For example, I donât enjoy drawing superheroes â I love sci-fi, action adventure, history, noir and more contemporary genres.â
That made it a bit harder to get on series, but it ended up pushing him toward more creator-owned organizations.
âSimply turning down projects that didnât fit [certain] criterion landed me on books that I really enjoyed â books that fit my brand. Branding isnât a chore, itâs figuring out what you want to be âaboutâ while adding a marketing sense,â Murphy said.
And though heâs created his own brand with frightening runs on Vertigo, DC Comicsâ mature imprint, he finds it surprising, admitting he was never a big fan of the horror genre starting out, even though it has become a part of his artistic brand.
âThere are two reasons why Iâve ended up doing more horror lately: One, a lot of my publisherâs stuff is horror-based, and two, because my style uses a lot of messy shadows and scratchy black line work, so itâs easy to make the leap and go, âthis guy should be doing horror,ââ Murphy said.
But those projects ended up being titles with creators he wanted to work with, and that fit in with what he wanted to do with his career.
âEven though Iâm not into horror, I loved doing Hellblazer and American Vampire â maybe Iâm a horror fan and donât know it,â Murphy said.
â5 Year Planâ offered a very candid look into the industry â not the business side, but the traits artists and all creators need to better their talent and keep comics from growing stale, as evidenced by Murphyâs career.
Comics are sometimes looked at dismissively with an âanyone-can-do-thatâ view, but it takes skill, luck and focus to get into the market, even outside of the bigger-name publishers.
And Murphy, an artist who has established himself, says heâs sticking to original content at the moment.
âRight now Iâm working on my creator owned book for Vertigo called Punk Rock Jesus about a clone of Jesus that turns into a rebel and joins an atheist punk band,â Murphy said. âAfter that, Iâm not really sure yet.â
Nicholas Slayton is a junior majoring in print and digital journalism. His column âPanel to Panelâ runs Thursdays.Â