Barbra Dillon, Fanboy Comics Managing Editor: As the creator of IDW's Code Word: Geronimo and the artist and colorist on a myriad of other comic book titles, you have amassed quite a resume within the comic book industry. Given your success, when did you begin your work as an artist, and what intrigued you about working in the sequential art medium?
Gerry Kissell: Well, I started drawing as a kid. My mom and dad were both artists, so I was doomed to this life as an artist from the start. I always loved the idea of telling stories, especially visual storytelling. I have done filmmaking as well as comics, but comic storytelling is my favorite medium.
My professional art career started when I was 22, working for Selling Power magazine, the #1 sales and marketing magazine in the country. I was really lucky. First, I worked with friends Steve and Virginia Johnson doing a comic strip called Super Seller for the magazine. Gerhardt and Laura, the publishers, took a shine to me and hired me as their full-time artist. I worked for them until I joined the army in 1990. After the army, I was commissioned to do two Star Trek paintings for FXM, Inc. They were published by FXM as limited edition art prints, both of which sold out within a months of their being published. I worked as political cartoonist for The Federal Way news, in Washington. Later, I was a staff artist and columnist for The Octpus Magazine in Illinois. In 1997, I started doing commercial art for agencies and did that until Tom Waltz at IDW asked me to work on The A-Team, so I left doing commercial art and returned to my original love, comics, and I have been doing comics ever since.
BD: When did you decide to pursue comic books as a profession?
GK: Well, I knew I wanted to do comics when I was a kid. I knew when I was pretty young that that was what I wanted to do. Heck . . . when I was 10 years old I drew a pornographic Teen Titans comic page that had Robin and Starfire going at it pretty hard core. My dad found it hidden under some other art on my drawing table, and, despite being angry about what I drew, he couldn’t help but tell me how good the art was . . . and then promptly threw it away. (laughs) In middle school and high school, my best friend and I used to plan out doing comics together. I’d draw comics and strips all through school.
BD: Having worked on quite a few comic book titles, how did your creative experiences differ from project to project?
GK: Well, without saying names, I have found there are some people I like working with and some I do not. That’s about it. (laughs) I also find some writers leave too much for me to figure out in their scripts, and then there are some who write WAAAAAAAY too much, making me spend too much time reading when I should already be drawing. Somewhere there is a video of me on a rant, going off on comic writers who write a script like it’s for the audience. The script is NOT for the audience, it is for the artist. No one is ever going to see that script outside of the editorial staff and the artists.
BD: What has been the most challenging aspect of being a comic book artist? And, the most rewarding?
GK: Well, the most challenging thing is the hours. The pay in no way comes close to matching the demand put upon me as an artist. But, that is the current state of the economy. I expect pay to get better when we get out of this prolonged slump. Most of the time, things go smoothly, but this last year has been a hard one, and not because of the work. It was like the perfect storm of personal crap swept in and just hounded me. It was really annoying. Stuff I had no control over that messed with every aspect of my life, including my work. The worst of it was the devastating loss of both my mom and a brother to cancer. I kind of lost it, and my work suffered from it all, and that meant my clients were affected. Oddly, some of the unknown clients were the least understanding. The folks at IDW were amazingly thoughtful and understanding of what happened. I was surprised and moved at how kind they were over what happened. I think that is why I have such a good relationship with IDW. I consider everyone at IDW just some of the best people in the industry, and some of them, I call friends.
Now, when I said the hours, I mean that I work a lot of late hours and often 7 days a week. When I drew Code Word: Geronimo, I had to draw 72 pages in just three weeks. I slept on average just 4 hours a day. The most rewarding is when I get to work on military-themed stories. As a vet, I love doing military art.
This year saw the release of two of my books, Iron Sky and Endtime. Iron Sky didn’t take me too long to draw, but Endtime took me two years, because on that book I did all the pencils, inks, and colors. It was a long, but rewarding, process. Iron Sky is what got me through the death of my brother and mother.
BD: In addition to being a working comic book artist, you also founded Hazmat Studios, a creative arts house. What kind of services does Hazmat offer, and what do you feel makes the company unique?
GK: Hazmat Studios is something I started as an all-inclusive production house for comics and video. We manage a couple of titles, one of them being Iron Sky, for Blind Spot Pictures. I have big plans for Hazmat. Not just doing comics for clients. We plan on having some original titles which include Sleepers, Vindicated, Inc., and more.
BD: Being that we focus on all things “geek,” would you care to geek out with us about your favorite comic books?
GK: Wow . . . I have to tread cautiously here. (laughs) Okay . . . honestly, I don’t like most comics. I am a graphic novel kind of guy. I love graphic novels. I love having the entire story arc in one sitting. I like it when all the issues of a comic series story arc are put together to make up one trade paperback, too. I just don’t like having to wait 30 or more days until I find out what happens next; however, when I do read comics, I prefer the indie ones, usually. I like my buddy Cullen Bunn’s series, The Sixth Gun. Just a terrific series. Cullen and I plan to work together, and I hope whatever it is we do is as cool as that series.
Now, if you wanted to know what books do I want to work on, I’d say Star Trek, Doctor Who, and G.I. Joe. I love them!
BD: Are there any upcoming projects on which you are currently working that you would like to share with our readers?
GK: Bayeux is done and in final editing stage. It is a 115-page historical graphic novel that tells the story of the lead up to the Battle of Hastings, in the year 1066. Out of 1015 pages, 88 of them are knights on horses. I have never drawn so many horses. (laughs)
Some know that I have teamed up with bestselling author Shane Moore. We are just launching the Kickstarter for an original graphic novel I created called Vindicated, Inc., the story of an elite forces operator who loses his legs in combat, but with his new prosthetics becomes a vigilante in Seattle. It is a gritty, violent, and very realistic story of how one man can wage real war on organized crime. Vindicated was written by Shane Moore, myself, Ernesto Haibi, and Robert Scott McCall, all of us bringing our experiences as military vets to the script, as well as Shane’s additional experiences as a retired police detective. One of the coolest things is we are also developing Vindicated as a film, and we have Dale Dye and Julia Due as our technical advisors on the project. Dale and Julia are, of course, the senior military advisors for such great films as Saving Private Ryan, Platoon, Starship Troopers, as well as The Pacific and Band of Brothers. Dale wants to direct Vindicated as a film, as well. They both have told me the script for it was one of the best action stories they’d read in a long time. I should also mention that Dale and Julia wrote Code Word: Geronimo for me. Oh, and I am doing the storyboards for Dale's new war film, No Better Place to Die.
Shane Moore and I are also planning to adapt his bestselling zombie book, Apocalypse of Enoch, into a graphic novel series. Shane and I are also working on another book called Francois Vidocq: The Falling Man, a Hitchcockian thriller that tells the story of a man with the same name as the first private detective, who finds himself on a parallel journey as the original Vidocq, and finds himself caught up in an international conspiracy that could very well lead to the end of everything. I like Shane and expect him and me to do a lot over time.
I am also working with Amin Amat (Code Word: Geronimo, Kolchak: The Night Stalker) and Eric Hutchins (Kung Fu Panda, White Picket Fences) on an epic sci-fi graphic novel called Sleepers about a team of soldiers who are kept in kind of cryo-sleep, in a geosynchronously orbiting satellite, and only dropped when they are needed. Its starts out as a post-apocalyptic story and ends as a bug hunt. We plan to do a graphic novel trilogy.
I am also working with the amazing David Dean on a comic horror trilogy called Monkey Box.
I am working on other titles, but, until they get closer to being done, I will wait until later to say.
BD: What is the most important piece of advice that you can offer to comic book fans of all ages who aspire to work in the comic book industry?
GK: Work on all skills. Work on your craft; writing, drawing, coloring, editing. But, also work on your ability to sell yourself and your ideas, as well as your interpersonal skills. No one will want to work with you if you’re a douche. You could be the greatest at your craft, but if you can’t get along with others, you will have a lot of problems.
Show your stuff to pros. When you do, make sure not to let negative criticism get you down. Use it in a productive way and make your stuff better.
BD: On that same note, which creators have inspired your work?
GK: I grew up on Frank Frazetta and Bernie Wrightson, though I don’t see their influences in my work; however, the influences I do see are from Al Williamson and Drew Struzan. Those two were my biggest influences. As a teen and going into my twenties, Mike Mignola (pre-Hellboy) and Frank Miller had a huge effect on me.
BD: Lastly, what is the best way for readers to find out more information about your work?
GK: You can friend me on Facebook. I am the only Gerry Kissell in the world, so look me up. My website is gerrykissell.com, and if you google my name, you will get several pages of stuff. So, folks should easily be able to find me.