Wednesday, 04 March 2020 20:07
“Between the Panels” is a bi-weekly interview series focusing on comic book creators of all experience levels, seeking to examine not just what each individual creates, but how they go about creating it.
Canadian artist Adam Gorham followed what might be thought of as the classic trajectory into comics: parlaying a lifelong interest in art, stories, and science fiction into a career. From crafting his first self-made books all the way up to drawing for Marvel, Adam continues to build his portfolio across the industry.
First off, the basics…
Your specialties (artist/writer/letterer/inker/etc.): Artist
Your home base: Mississauga, Ontario
Current project title(s):
Punk Mambo (Valiant)
Savage Avengers #12 (Marvel)
Fanbase Press Contributor Kevin Sharp: We’ll start big and drill down from there. What attracts you to making comics specifically over other artforms?
Adam Gorham: It’s really storytelling. Telling stories the best way I’m able to. I’ve always loved drawing, and I’ve always loved telling stories. I’ve drawn for as long as I can remember, and if I had ideas from playing with my action figures or whatever, with a story in mind, I would draw that as opposed to writing it down. Therefore, comics is the perfect medium for me.
KS: On that topic, at Fanbase Press this year, our #StoriesMatter initiative endeavors to highlight the impact that stories can have on audiences of various mediums. What was a comic story that really had an impact on you as a reader?
AG: Kingdom Come. That was my first foray into what I thought of as an “important book.” Growing up, I didn’t have a lot of money to be buying comics regularly; even as a teenager in high school working my first part-time jobs, I wasn’t really buying comics. But reading [that series], Alex Ross’ art just blew me away. I was in Catholic school at the time, so the subject matter resonated. One of the things I loved about it, too, was that it showed what the next generations of heroes might look like, the notion that the heroes I knew had aged up and there were other people carrying on their legacies was really interesting to me.
KS: Was that book a gateway for you to anything else?
AG: That got me back into reading comics and wanting to collect them. Probably that same year, I failed math and had to go to summer school. I had to take a bus, and right near the bus stop was a comic shop, so I would kill time in there. I was getting into a lot of stuff and the gateway for that was Kingdom Come.
KS: To move from reading to doing, what’s the first “real” piece of art you remember creating? Something that felt like a serious project for you at the time, whatever age that was, not necessarily comics-related…
AG: It was probably a portrait of my grandfather, the first piece I did that my parents lost their minds over. They were always very supportive of my drawing [before this]. We had no paper in the house that wasn’t marked on, because I was drawing so much — the novelty of that starts to wear off. Anyhow, there was an old, black-and-white photo of my grandfather as a young man in his military uniform. I’d only ever met him as an old guy. I remember a green pencil-crayon near me on the table, and I started to draw this portrait from sight over a few hours. My parents definitely still have it.
KS: When you look at your work over time on the spectrum, can you see the influence of any other artists?
AG: Berni Wrightson, especially in some of my earlier drawings. Some Lord of the Rings art during my fantasy phase. Alex Ross, of course. I was also really into movie posters as a kid. I wouldn’t say I had discerning taste back then — age 10 or 11 — but I especially loved science fiction movies and things like The X-Files. I loved drawing monsters, aliens, creatures, and horror.
KS: Did you ever want to be a movie poster artist?
AG: I always thought that would be a cool thing, until I realized the sun has kind of set on handmade posters. They’re really more of a novelty outside of labels like Mondo. What you see now is a lot of bad PhotoShop — not for me.
KS: When was the first time you held a physical comic with your work in it?
AG: It was basically my first gig, a book called The Vampire Conspiracy. It was adapting a low-budget horror film made by a Canadian filmmaker [Marc Morgenstern]. I went from drawing maybe eight sequential pages in my life to drawing 128. He paid to have it printed and brought it to a convention in Toronto. I was very proud of that accomplishment.
KS: How did you get on his radar in the first place?
AG: When I decided to seek paid comics gigs, I started with job sites, the way I'd search for any other job. I ultimately found what became my first paid work in comics off Craigslist!
KS: Can you talk us through your current workspace or studio setup?
AG: It’s in my house, a home office on the second floor. I do a lot of work traditionally by hand, so I have a table set up with a scanner and printer. I also have a Mac and Cintiq. I’ll do my rough drawings either digitally or by hand and then scan them. I then take that layout and print it onto a piece of board, then start laying refined pencils on top of that. Once I’m in the inking phase, I’m usually working at my drafting table.
KS: Do you ever find yourself working outside of that space?
AG: I’ve drawn many times in my mechanic’s waiting room. Anytime I go in for an oil change, they find something else — what should’ve been a half hour can become two hours, so I’ll usually bring work. I have a comic artist friend who lives a couple cities over, and, sometimes, I’ll go over to his studio. But for the most part, I’m in my little room with my cat and dog to keep me company.
KS: Based on your experience, what’s one word that sums up an important trait for being successful in comics? What do you see in people that last in the business?
AG: [long pause] There’s some tried and true advice given to me by a couple of editors on different occasions, but that was three things. I’d say persistence. If you want to work for any major publisher, you’re competing on a world stage, and there are a lot of people around the world who want the same job you want. If what you’re going after doesn’t come your way initially, you’ve got to be persistent enough to continue to work on your craft and push yourself. It’s easy to collect rust really fast.
KS: So that we don’t leave readers dangling, what were the three things from the editors?
AG: Being good enough to get work. It sounds glib, but the fact is there are very few people who’ll want to give you a job based on how good you may be down the line. Being friendly. You’re selling yourself, and that’s a lot harder than it might seem. The last thing is to be on time. People will only forgive lateness to a point, then you have to prove yourself all over again.
KS: Let’s talk briefly about covers. You’ve illustrated a variety of them, but to flip it around: What draws your eye when looking at a shelf of comics? What do you respond to cover-wise?
AG: A thoughtful sense of design. Creative placement of the figure(s). Interesting logo design and color palettes. I do think cover art should tell a story, because it’s selling you that story, if it doesn’t slap me in the face right away I find that it falls flat. I had an Image book [The Violent] that Tom Muller designed magnificently.
KS: What’s a comic /graphic novel by someone else that you look at with admiration? No fair using Kingdom Come again…
AG: The Siegfried trilogy by Alex Alice [published by Archaia]. I’m submitting this because it really inspired me at a time when I was in great need of inspiration. It’s a simple adventure story, well-told and beautifully illustrated. [Alice] had years to make these books how he wanted to make them — a product of the European way of making comics. It shows the wonderful things one person can do to tell a story when they have time to hone their skills and push themselves.
KS: Finally, talk about what you’re working on now and what you’ve got coming in 2020.
AG: Right now, I'm working on a second volume of Punk Mambo at Valiant. I've drawn an issue of Savage Avengers [#12] that's out in April. I'll be drawing something upcoming for Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. I'm pitching a couple creator-owned books. And a host of covers!