Wednesday, 29 April 2020 20:49
“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.
Once Morgan Beem was bitten by the comics bug early in life, she never lost sight of her ultimate artistic career goal. Since then, her artwork has appeared in both physical and web comics, as well as for various illustration clients outside the industry. This fall, she teams with bestselling author Maggie Stiefvater on a Swamp Thing original graphic novel from DC.
First, the particulars…
Your specialties (artist/writer/letterer/inker/etc.): Artist
Your home base: Denver, Colorado
Current project titles:
Swamp Thing: Twin Branches (DC — October 2020)
Fanbase Press Contributor Kevin Sharp: Big question first… Why comics? What attracts you to working in comics specifically over other artforms?
Morgan Beem: Well, I would say it’s only ever really been comics for me. I love being an artist, but what got me into art was storytelling, and I am a storyteller at heart. You can ask any of my poor friends or family who has had to hear the same story 100 times because I love telling them. I got into manga when I was pretty little, and once I learned that I could draw stories, I was off.
KS: Talk a little more about that early exposure to manga. Roughly what age was that?
MB: I was pretty young, maybe 10? Pretty much big shout-out to Sailor Moon for that, which was definitely my die-hard favorite and most formative comic for many years. I loved “chosen one” stories about kids who were leading average lives but were secretly this cool, awesome being the universe needed. While all my friends were waiting for their letter from Hogwarts, I was waiting for my magical animal familiar to tell me I was a secret space queen, haha.
KS: From those early reading days, what originally set you on the path toward an art career? Was there a specific “a-ha” moment you can pinpoint?
MB: I think I always knew in my heart I wanted to make comics. When I was young and anyone would ask what you wanted to do when you grew up, that was the answer. But it didn’t transform from an abstract idea into a serious career pursuit until after I graduated college. I was working a really horrible day job, in San Francisco, during the recession, and I was like “I have to figure something out.” The only thing I could really think that I wanted to do for a living, the only real passion I had that had never stopped, was to make comics. So I applied to SCAD’s MFA sequential art program (because I had no idea how to do that on my own) and went from there.
KS: What was your first “real” comics project? I’m looking for something that, once it was completed, gave you a sense that you could really make this happen.
MB: Hmmm, in that case, I would say it was this very strange short story I did at the end of my first year at SCAD. I had just tried inking with a brush, and I had learned just enough of everything else that while this short was still a far cry from professional, I knew that I was getting the basics. That I could tell a legible story and produce it as fast as I would need to. It was the first time I really felt that spark of confidence like, “Oh yeah. I can do this.”
KS: I like to ask about artists’ work spaces or studio setup. In your case, it’s a little different than most. Can you let the readers know about Jam House?
MB: Yes! So, I currently have the amazing privilege of working in a studio (that we call Jam House) with five other full-time, kickass, professional comic artists. They are: Jorge Corona, Jen Hickman, Jeremy Lawson, David Stoll, and Sarah Stern. We rent a conference room in the front of a warehouse — the warehouse is shared by a welder/metalsmith, and a mechanical engineer — and we each sort of have a little square of space with our desks and/or drafting tables. It’s not the biggest or most glamorous studio, but it has made such a difference in my work-life balance and general mood to be able to be around people who understand the work you are doing, and also to have a living space that is divorced from work.
KS: Do you work inside a set daily/nightly routine?
MB: Sort of. I generally break down my work by what I need to do each day to meet my deadline, and then lay that out a month or more at a time (depending on how much or how little work I have). So then, instead of keeping a regimented work time table, I just have to finish what needs to be done in the day. I tried all of last year to take at least one day a week off, and this year the goal is to take two.
KS: And what are your thoughts on listening to music, or any other background noise, while you work?
MB: Love it. I listen to music (usually each project has its own playlist), a ton of podcasts and audiobooks, and watch some crap TV. I can’t watch anything good or I get too absorbed and stop working. The only exception to this is when I am writing or thumbnailing, I have a hard time listening to anything. I can do some music with no words, but that’s about it.
KS: What are some of your favorite art tools to play with, even if you don't get to use them that often? For example, if you were set free with a wide open art toolbox and no deadlines or expectations beyond just the pure joy of creating, what might you come up with?
MB: Hoo-boy, I could talk to you all day about art supplies! I used to work in an art supply store and I'm obsessed with most all traditional media, haha. I pretty much stuck to my guns about watercolor and started using that right off the bat in my career, and it remains my favorite media/tool. When I have enough time to paint a page the way I want to, it is so lovely and relaxing and satisfying. I'm also kind of constantly switching up my inking supplies since I get bored easily. Like right now I've gone back to the straight-up sable-hair brush and ink but using colored ink, instead of black.
I do think that if I had a ton of freedom and no deadlines I would try to gouache paint some pages. I don't know much about gouache, but so many people make such beautiful things; I think it would be really enjoyable to take my time painting a page like that.
KS: Talk a little about your experience living the freelance art life. How do projects typically — if there is a “typically” — find their way to you, or vice versa?
MB: Freelance is wild. I had a hard time adjusting to it for a while because I do really well with structure and stability and knowing what is ahead. But I have learned to embrace a lot of the advantages that come with its freedom — like traveling for three weeks and not having to ask anyone for permission. Generally, it’s a push and pull with projects. I do a lot of networking throughout the year (which, luckily in comics, becomes really just keeping up with friends) and a lot of times I am putting out feelers for work or sending out pitches with writers or on my own. Then, sort of from those or from eyes on some of my previous work or social media, I will get inquiries about projects from editors or writers, etc. Pretty much sometimes I feel like in comics we are all just yelling wishes into the void and hoping at some point there is an echo back.
KS: How is this different for web comics vs. working for a publisher?
MB: Well, I’ve only ever worked with Webtoon for webcomics vs. traditional publishing, and with them, there are a lot of differences. The biggest one for Webtoon is the storytelling format, which is an awesome way to tell stories for devices but does take a minute to adjust to if you aren’t used to it. The other biggest difference is just the immediate reader feedback. Since Webtoon is a free comic platform, we have so many more readers than we normally do, and they get to comment live about the comic as they read it… which has been heartwarming and fascinating to read.
KS: We close with a chance to spread some love: What’s a comic or graphic novel by someone else that you look at with admiration?
MB: Oh man, there are so many. The first that always comes to mind is Daytripper by Gabriel Ba and Fabio Moon. When I first finished reading that comic, I took the day to really just think about my own life. And that was the first time it really hit me what comics could do. What they were capable of. It was so amazing and moving. I am always in awe of that comic no matter how many times I read it.
KS: Finally, please let readers know what you’re working on now and what we can look forward to in 2020.
MB: Swamp Thing: Twin Branches [graphic novel, written by Maggie Stiefvater] comes out in October, and I am sure we will hear more about that in the coming months! I have a webtoon called Wolfsbane that I make with writer Ryan Cady, currently updating every Thursday night.
Aside from that, everything is mysterious, and you will have to wait for more - hahaha.