Ed Luce knows what it takes to make the leap from hustling his own work to signing on with a major publisher. His series, Wuvable Oaf, currently released by Fantagraphics, has been nominated for both Ignatz and Lamdba Literary Awards, and the second volume of Oaf won the Lambda for LGBTQ Graphic Novel in 2017.
First off, the basics…
Your specialties (artist/writer/letterer/inker/etc): I do it all!
Your home base: Sacramento and San Francisco, CA
The Wuvable Oaf prequel book W. A. N. C. (Wrasslin’ Association of National Champions)
Kevin Sharp, Fanbase Press Contributor: Big question first: Why comics? What attracts you to making comics specifically over other artforms?
Ed Luce: I spent the first part of my career as a fine artist, working in galleries and museums. But it was never really satisfying, from a creative or financial standpoint. I also got kind of exhausted by the rhetoric surrounding the fine arts world, especially in academia. Comics have always been a more immediate art form to me; people grow up reading them and, as a result, they’re a more intuitive experience. I’ve found that many people don’t really like things over-explained. They prefer to immerse themselves in the work on their own terms and enjoy it without a lot of ear-whispering.
KS: Going back to your pre-fine art days… When did reading comics first become an important part of your life?
EL: I was in my early teens. It was a time when most of my friends were discovering girls and leaving toys behind. Being gay, I had to find something else cool to get into…and comics were loved by most everyone. So, I could still hang with the dudes and talk about the latest Marvel, DC, and Image stuff.
KS: Do you have a specific early memory where a comic made you say, “I want to do that?”
EL: The Chris Claremont/Marc Silvestri era of Uncanny X-Men was definitely a big deal for me. I loved how Silvestri gave all the characters unique body types and looks. Claremont had reached a sort of feverishly operatic phase in his career; multiple crossovers, crazy arcs featuring wild new villains, huge changes in the status quo. I really developed an appreciation for complicated continuity, which definitely influences my current work.
As excited as I was by these books, I just couldn’t draw with that type of technical prowess. So, they didn’t really get me to start anything serious of my own at the time. It was much later, when I stumbled onto the queer comics scene, with its incredible diversity of styles and subject matter, that I could see a pathway of my own.
KS: What’s the first “real” comics piece you remember creating? Something that felt like a serious project for you at the time.
EL: The first [one] I had published, before the first two issues of Oaf came out, was a short story in an Italian watersports magazine of all things. It was pretty edgy stuff…printed on yellow paper and everything…showing the Oaf’s attempts at overcoming pee shyness. Still, it was included in the Fantagraphics book (in the short stories section, toward the back). Oddly, it was not too indicative of the actual tone of the main Oaf series…but his trademark adorable awkwardness is definitely there.
KS: Wuvable Oaf was originally self-published, a path many creators take at first. Talk about that adventure from your perspective.
EL: I was an absolute virgin when it came to self-publishing. I mostly took the advice of my frequent collaborator, Matt Wobensmith, who published the zine Outpunk in the '90s. He pointed me in the direction of my first professional print house. Everything else I kind of came up with on my own, after close observation of how others were operating. It helped to be a few years into my thirties, in terms of means and maturity.
My inexperience extended into my first forays with pitching to publishers. I had no expectations of ever landing one, due to the fairly quirky nature of the Oaf book. And I was told to not even bother by a few acquaintances in the queer comics community. According to them, I was too niche…”niche of a niche” in fact, by one particularly bitter queen, who shall remain nameless.
Still, I just kept my head down and did as many shows as I could, having a blast, building an audience one person at a time. Eventually, a few familiar faces revealed themselves to be publisher reps, who encouraged me to submit pitch packages. I had several options, but Fantagraphics was a favorite from all the way back to my teen years.
KS: What changed when you teamed up with them?
EL: Everything! Fantagraphics definitely got the book into many more hands than I could’ve alone, just by the strength of their name and brand. They understood that this book was made with more than a “niche of a niche” audience in mind. And they’ve allowed me complete and total creative license, which is ideal for a control freak like me. So, it’s really been a perfect pairing.
KS: What’s one word that’s important for being successful in this business?
EL: Passion. It’s one thing to eat, sleep, and breathe comics — that means you’re a fan. But it’s another to pour your own money into making one. To travel across the country — or even to another one altogether — to table at a show, with no promise of making any profit. To forsake hanging out with your friends, so you can hunker down for an evening of drawing alone. To work into the wee hours of the morning after pulling a full shift at your day job. I think that all takes real, honest to goodness passion.
KS: How has your own art style changed over time? If you look back at your earlier work, what’s something that stands out as different from the you of today?
EL: I think really the only thing that’s changed is my process. My original pages have become a lot cleaner. I work much more quickly and confidently. But I’ve tried to keep my style pretty consistent over the years… so maybe that’s a better question for an outside observer?
KS: Walk us through your current workspace.
EL: I call it my “nerd cave” because it also houses my comic, toy, and record collections. My set up consists of a Cintiq 22HD touch screen and Brother MFC-J6535DW printer, which I make my mini-comics with. Currently, I do rough digital blue line pencils on the Cintiq, print them out on 11” x 17” bristol board, then ink with technical pens and brushes.
KS: Do you have a set work routine?
EL: I try to keep daily nine-to-five drawing hours, especially during the winter semester, when my teaching duties take up only about two days a week.
KS: What about background noise during the process?
EL: When I’m in the studio, I have a record player that I spin tunes on. Otherwise,
I’ll pull out a drawing board, get comfy on the family room couch, and put on a crappy, but fun, movie to watch in the background. Something that doesn’t require all of my attention. The Belko Experiment is a current favorite. It’s Battle Royale with dad bods.
KS: In addition to creating comics, you also teach at California College of the Arts. What’s the specific focus of your class curriculum?
EL: The main part of my job is working with the Comics MFA grads. I serve as a mentor during the academic year, meeting with students every two weeks, as they work on their main thesis project. This involves following their progress from conception, starting with free-writes/outlines/story summaries, to scripts, thumbnails, pencils, and eventually inks. Every grad comes into the program with different skill sets, working in different genres, so there’s quite a variety of approaches I get involved with. It keeps me on my toes and definitely informs my own art practice.
I also teach an intensive self-publishing workshop in the summer that lays out a DIY approach to desktop printing and publishing. I’ll always be a paper guy. Web and digital comics, while great ways to get your work out into the world, just don’t feel as intimate to me.
KS: What do you personally get out of the job — aside from a paycheck, of course?
EL: The most gratifying part of teaching for me often comes after my time with a given group, when I see them again at the end of their time at the school. It’s incredible to see how much they’ve grown and been able to accomplish in a relatively short time.
KS: What’s a comic or graphic novel by someone else that you look at with admiration?
EL: I rave a lot about Jim Rugg’s Street Angel series from Image. Those are a master class in the medium; they’re pure comics joy. Anything by Alexis Ziritt… I wish I could draw like that guy. His work is so brutal and explosive. Tyler Landry has revitalized the nine-panel grid format — which often puts me to sleep — with books like Shit & Piss.
KS: Finally, talk a little about your newest project.
EL: I’ve been working on the first original Oaf graphic novel for Fantagraphics, which is tentatively titled W. A. N. C. (Wrasslin’ Association of National Champions). It takes place in the mid-'90s, when Oaf was a professional wrestler. Essentially, it’s my version of a superhero comic… lots of action, with some behind-the-scenes intrigue. In the same way I was trying to make a queer comic that’s accessible to everyone with the main Oaf series, I’m interested in creating a wrestling book that non-fans can appreciate. It’s also my first real full-color comic.