Depending in which period of his life he was asked the question, Chris Anderson’s answer to “What do you do?” could have been animator, teacher, musician, comic creator, or some combination of that list. He took his love of visual art and set off on a mission to somehow get involved in the field; ever since finding his way to comics, his work has been seen in a variety of genre books.
First, the particulars…
Your specialties (artist/writer/letterer/inker/etc.): Artist/occasional writer
Your home base: Studio City, CA
Current project title(s):
Lost Angels (volumes 1&2)
One-Shot Horror (DevilSkin, WitchHeart, WolfKnight, DollHouse, DevilSkin 1973)
Fanbase Press Contributor Kevin Sharp: I always start off by posing the big question: Why comics? What attracts you to this specifically over other artforms?
Chris Anderson: As a kid, I didn't have the longest attention span unless I was engaged and able to affect the outcome. There wasn't a whole lot of literature that could captivate me besides “Choose Your Own Adventure” or things like that. The visual element of comics sparked my creativity and that had loads of appeal. I suppose I never got into doing film, because I understood that most of the work done there was logistics and that would kill the creative process for me. So, comics it is.
KS: At what age roughly did reading comics first become an important part of your life?
CA: In 1988, the buzz was starting to build about Tim Burton's Batman, which came out the next year. I was 11 years old. I bought a Batman Annual at the local gas station and then the obsession hit me like a sudden tsunami. That led to the '90s with the [creators] who would become Image artists reaching celebrity status. Being a visual guy, it was like a cokehead finding crack. I honestly couldn't even tell you the storylines that ran through those books. I needed the art and I needed to get as good as them at all costs.
KS: Do you have a specific early memory where a comic put the “I want to do that” thought in your head?
CA: I was very Liefeld obsessed. One thing I do remember is showing those pages to my dad. He was born in 1928. He grew up in the Golden Age. One of those guys whose mom threw out his Action Comics #1. He could draw very well, but never pursued it as a career. He looked at these '90s books and said, "These are crazy. Too many lines, the colors all blend into each other and you can't tell what is going on." I scoffed at first, but I knew he was right. That wasn't the moment when I said, "I want to do that," but it was the moment when I wanted to do that, but better.
KS: What’s the first “real” comics art you remember creating?
CA: I created a character called the Dark Avenger when I was around 12 years old. I grew up in North Saint Paul, MN, and he kept the mean streets of St. Paul safe from the likes of the Flying Squirrel and the Lake Pirate. It was completely serious and unironic. It's so funny to look back at it now. I recently found it and posted panels on Instagram. It sort of ends in the middle of a scene so I plan on finishing it, almost 30 years later.
KS: Talk a bit about starting your animation house. What was the seed for that idea?
CA: At the end of 1997 [after attending college in Minnesota], I moved to L.A. and tried to get into CalArts for their experimental animation program. I was told by the admissions director that my work was too happy and that they had met their quota of happy artists. This made me... not a happy artist. I decided to stay in L.A. to pursue music. I was introduced to a guy… who was starting his own little animation house. We started working together and with the college money I had saved up, I bought us new computers and software that touted that it would automatically color cells. (It never worked and cost six figures). We did some show intros for BET, did some stuff with Wu-Tang and Destiny's Child, but it never got super lucrative.
KS: What set you along a different life path from continuing that work?
CA: I didn't like to animate that much — which is kind of important if you're trying to be an animator. Shady things were happening with my partners, as well, and, in the end, they kind of disappeared. I was pretty disheartened by the whole experience. I decided to become a teacher and give back to the world. So, I did that for a long time, but comics were always calling to me and I came back. I often feel like I wasted those years by not doing sequentials and fighting to break in. But, those lessons I learned led me here, and I probably bring more to the table through my experiences.
KS: Walk us through your current studio setup.
CA: My fiancé and I have a two bedroom apartment, so I use one room as an office. I have a glass top Futura drafting table/desk combo. When I work digitally, my Cintiq is just a companion, so it lives anywhere it wants to. Next to that is my pedal steel that I mess around with when I need to come up for air but don't want to lose the creative flow. The walls are filled with inspirational art. Art Adams' Fantastic Four #100 homage… a Cankor by Mathew Allison, Deadman by James Harren, Hellboy and Frankenstein by Mignola… Swamp Thing by Jeff Johnson, some unknown characters that Dave Johnson drew at Drink and Draw… He-Man by Dan Panosian, Beast Man by Michel Fiffe, and Merman by Tyler Ellis. The two Johnsons and the Panosions are the most important to me because, as the founders of Drink and Draw, they were and some continue to be my mentors in this crazy game. Going there week after week and asking to be critiqued by them was like my University. I owe those guys a lot.
KS: Do you currently have a set daily or nightly work routine?
CA: Up until about six months ago, I was a preschool teacher and had been teaching for 18 years. I continued my routine into this freelance foray. I settle in around 8:00. I'll sometimes do a warm-up illustration and sometimes just dive in. I take about a half an hour at 1:00 p.m. to eat lunch and make a French press full of coffee, and then work until my wife Marissa gets home around 5:30. If I have a deadline, I will get back in and work until the job is where it should be. But if not, we watch a little something and then get to bed around 11, so the cycle can continue.
KS: What are your preferences on music or background noise while you work?
CA: I don't tend to listen to music when I draw. I used to. In fact, the reason I became a musician was because I would blast Zeppelin while crosshatching as a teen, which led to me picking up a guitar. Now, I find I need to engage music too much, which is counterintuitive, because instead I listen to true crime podcasts or audio books about philosophy, anthropology, and biology. You know, easy stuff that you can space out on and not have to pay any attention to whatsoever. Haha.
KS: Speaking of music, in addition to comics you’re also involved that medium. What are some similarities in the respective types of collaborative “jam session” from your perspective?
CA: Both are about tone and tempo. If you're not in tune with your collaborator, they can both go terribly wrong. Two of my favorite musicians are Tom Waits and George Harrison. I think, stylistically, I'm trying to emulate that dichotomy in a visual sense. Gruff and real and dark, but at the same time, light and hopeful. Also, if you're talking about a jam session, specifically, you have to have room for happy accidents and serendipity to transpire. That happens in my art a lot. I will go for one thing, but that squiggle in my rough pencil does something for me, so I go with it and it makes it into the final piece. Sometimes the fates are in the driver’s seat and you just have to enjoy the ride.
KS: If you look back at your earlier art, what’s something that especially stands out as different vs. the current version of you?
CA: Oh boy. When I started, I didn't know what the Rule of Thirds was, tangents, 180 Rule... I mean, these are some of the most important things to know, going in and laying out a page. I break some of these here and there, but I can justify those choices. In the beginning, I just used my instincts. There is something to be said about that, though — getting too stuffy with the rules leads to stuffy work. So, you have to find a balance in yourself, I think.
KS: Can you call out any specific lesson you learned along the way?
CA: Not to be afraid of black. I used to be timid about dropping shadow over faces or details. I didn't want to lose the features. But, if you look at [Alex] Toth or [Wally] Wood, they blacked out stuff all the time to serve the mood. I would put a silhouette around dark figures in the past. Now I look at that with embarrassment. It looks awful and amateurish. I'm no Mignola, but I'm feeling better about covering up pretty line work with ink.
KS: Is Mignola a creator you especially admire?
CA: The tone that [he] achieves in Hellboy is masterful. It seems so simple, but it really isn’t at all. I have no idea how he does it. A person couldn't even begin to emulate that either, or they would just be doing Mignola.
KS: Hypothetical time: A comics publisher is giving you a chance to draw one story for any mainstream character or team. Could be a single issue, miniseries, or graphic novel. Who would you like to “sink your pen” into?
CA: I think the ultimate book for me would be Swamp Thing. I think my style would really lend to drawing the bayou. I really enjoy drawing strange and twisted things, as well as beauty, and that juxtaposition is prevalent in every Swamp Thing story.
Either that, or I would take a hard left and do the Silver Surfer. I've never gotten to do a cosmic book and I love that character so much. Oh, just thinking now, I could do all of those things on Star Wars or Masters of the Universe. You said one, right?
KS: Finally talk a little about your most recent/upcoming projects.
CA: There are still four issues of Lost Angels Vol. 2 that have to come out. We have had a lot of fun exploring characters from the high school and how they cross paths. I got to write the second issue of that, because Dave was knee deep into the DC talent workshop at the time, so that was a lot of fun. We are also releasing new One-Shot Horror issues through ComiXology, as well. WitchHeart came out recently, and I am in the middle of drawing Wolf Knight right now. We have one planned called DollHouse and then a sequel to DevilSkin. They are a lot of fun and only 12 pages, so it's a quick read.
Chaotic Neutral (written by Mark Sable) is set in a D&D world. The quick pitch is that it is the D&D your grandma thought you were playing. It is...not for kids. Right now, our plan is to Kickstart the first 6 issues, in late May/early June. I have the feeling that it is going to blow up, so keep your eyes peeled for that one.
Other than that, I'm looking for new projects. So, if you're an editor, don't hesitate to give me a ring-a-ding on the ol telephone or communication device of your choice.