While every creator has their own unique pathway into the comics business, there probably aren’t too many who break in, out, and then back in again. Jamal Igle cites “tenacity” as an important trait for being successful in comics, and his personal journey has certainly illustrated why, from seemingly having his dream snatched away to becoming one of the most prolific creators in the business.
First, the particulars…
Your specialties (artist/writer/letterer/inker/etc.): Artist/Writer
Your home base: Brooklyn, New York
Fanbase Press Contributor Kevin Sharp: What is it that attracts you to making comics specifically over other artforms?
Jamal Igle: There’s always been a challenge to comics for me that’s hard to replicate in other storytelling mediums. You have to be a little of everything: graphic designer, storyboard artist, industrial designer, architect. You become an expert in the obscure as a comic book creator, especially if you're a journeyman.
KS: Where did the art bug come from for you? Do you have a specific early memory where a comic or some other work of art made you say, “I want to try doing that?”
JI: I was always surrounded by art, both of my parents drew a bit, but it was actually Superman: The Movie that flipped the switch in my brain and made me want to read comics. I was five, so I'd only seen newspaper strips until that point.
KS: Was writing professionally ever a serious thought for you, or were you thinking strictly on the art side?
JI: As a comics writer, not specifically. For a time, I was flirting with becoming a screenwriter, but I never really pursued it. Part of it being that I was so focused on meeting deadlines and improving my art, I put writing to the side for a very long time.
KS: After making the decision to pursue art, you attended SVA. Imagine yourself as an art teacher today and the SVA version of you as a student in your class. What’s a piece of guidance you’d give him about his work?
JI: “You're letting fear get in your way.”
KS: What was that aspiring artist afraid of back then?
JI: Mostly [being] typecast as "the black artist" or as "the guy who can only draw teenagers," which seemed to be the only offers I was getting.
KS: Your first stop in comics was interning at DC. What department were you in?
JI: Officially, I was assigned to the production department, but I would end up helping some of the editors, as well, in the afternoon like Bob Greenberger (who oversaw the Star Trek books), Mike Gold, Andy Helfer, and Michael Eury.
KS: Was the time you spent there valuable in preparing you for work in the industry? The obvious answer may be “yes,” but I’m curious how being inside the factory can be useful specifically for a creator rather than someone wanting to work behind the scenes.
JI: My time at DC was invaluable. I learned how to do paste-up and mechanicals, how to ink with a brush, how they did mark-ups for coloring, pre-Photoshop. The biggest thing was seeing the process. They allowed me to sit in on meetings, introduced me to creators. I got to see what sort of decision making is required when editing a line of books. I'll always be grateful for the opportunity I had at DC. They were all skills I carried forward, especially when I was working as an editor for a brief period of time.
KS: Your first published work was Green Lantern at DC. How did that gig come about? It’s not exactly an obscure character for a brand X publisher.
JI: I had been working for an independent company called Majestic Entertainment on a series called Flashpoint. It never saw print because the parent company of the publisher fleeced the company, filed chapter 11, and stole the artwork. Out of work after my first ever drawing gig in comics, I didn’t know what to do. So, I made copies of some of the pages I did, mailed them to as many editors as possible, and one of the copies landed on the desk of Kevin Dooley. Kevin was the editor of Green Lantern at the time and remembered me from my internship a few years before.
He gave me a call, and I had to draw eight pages in six days. I'd never worked that quickly before.
KS: Did you at all have sense of making it back then, that having your name on an actual, physical DC comic meant this was all “for real?”
JI: At the time? No, not really. I only did two or three things at that point, and then I ended up working at Radio Shack before I ended up taking a job at a continuing education publisher as a marketing executive. So, I didn’t really feel like I made it at the time.
KS: It's not a straight line from that job back into the industry, even with a published credit under your belt. Were comics still something you pursued on the side while working your day job?
JI: I got laid off from the publishing job, and I was just getting out of a bad relationship. I decided that, if I really wanted to take comics seriously, I needed to make some sacrifices. So, I moved back in with my mother, got a job at the very same Forbidden Planet I used to shop at in high school, and started hitting the convention circuit. My buddy, inker Rob Stull, introduced me to Billy Tucci when he was doing Shi. Billy asked me to draw eight pages for an issue of Shi, and I ended up working for him for almost a year.
KS: Backing up to your early reading days, was that Forbidden Planet your main source for “floppies” growing up?
JI: I was actually pretty lucky because my high school, Art and Design in Manhattan, was two blocks away from one of the New York-based [FP] stores, and five blocks from another shop called The Crystal Cave. We were chockablock with comics.
KS: What did your collection look like back then?
JI: A lot of DC comics, mostly Justice League and Superman, some Marvel books like Alien Legion and Spider-Man, some independents like Badger, Nexus, Boris the Bear, Hero Alliance, Adolescent Radioactive Black Belt Hamsters. Then, as I got a little older, I found the Rocketeer, Xenozoic Tales, Mister X, and Love and Rockets.
KS: That’s quite a mix of mainstream and indies. Who were your first favorite creators? Did you follow anyone from title to title?
JI: I think the first artist I really recognized early on was Jerry Ordway on All-Star Squadron, then Infinity Inc. So, when he went to Marvel to do Fantastic Four, I was all for it. Then, there were guys like Chris Warner and Rick Leonardi when he was doing Cloak and Dagger. I was always more interested in the art, then as you mature you start to recognize writers like [Bill] Mantlo and Mike Baron. I followed Gerry Conway religiously.
KS: That’s a name familiar to most longtime readers. Did the books Conway was on happen to line up with your tastes, or was there something specific with his writing that clicked for you?
JI: I think it was a combination: the books [and] the characters were the lead-in, but it made me follow him as a writer. Gerry had nuance, he had great plots. I just loved his work.
KS: How about a comic story that really had an impact on you as a younger reader?
JI: As cliché as it sounds, Watchmen. I hadn’t read it when it came out, and when I was doing my internship at DC, Michael Eury, who was an editor at the time and now works at Two Morrows, lent me a copy.
KS: What was it about that story in particular?
JI: It was so dense that you couldn’t just blow through it. I didn’t understand it at first, because I didn’t see all the layers that Moore was putting into the story. I ended up rereading it three times.
KS: These days, do you have a set work routine, or does it vary depending on projects?
JI: It’s pretty set day to day, barring errands, etc. I usually check email, Twitter, etc. to see if there’s anything that demands my immediate attention. Then, I do all the human stuff — eat, bathe, etc. — and sit down either at my desk or my computer and try to get as much done before 6pm as possible. Some days it bleeds over, but I try to keep a regular schedule.
KS: What about listening to music while you work?
JI: Some days. Usually, I’m listening to talk radio but when I do listen to music, it varies. The other day I was listening to Prince’s catalogue, Yesterday, it was David Bowie. Today, I’m listening to Michael Giacchino's Star Trek soundtrack.
KS: Your list of credits has such a variety of characters, titles, and publishers. Was there a point when you felt like you really found your footing as a comic artist, where you’d say, “This is where I put it all together?”
JI: I’m still trying to put it together, to be honest. I’m constantly learning, constantly trying to get better.
KS: If you had a choice between writing a script to be illustrated by a great artist of your choice, or being the artist on a script by a great writer, which would you choose?
JI: I’d rather draw it. Part of the thrill of working in comics is getting the opportunity to take a writer's words and give them visual life. That said, if I were offered the chance to write for Stuart Immonen or Frank Quitely, I’d put my artist ego to the side.
KS: What’s one word that sums up a trait necessary for successful in comics over the long haul? The word might also apply to life in general.
KS: Tell us about a passion of yours totally unrelated to comics or art. Something you practice, study, collect…
JI: I’m getting into collecting classic LPs. I was gifted a record player last year, so I enjoy finding albums I love.
KS: Any recent acquisitions that stand out?
JI: The most recent purchase was Pink Floyd's The Wall and the Saturday Night Fever soundtrack. I got them both for under $20!
KS: As we wrap up, please give some love to a comic/graphic novel from any era that you look at with admiration.
JI: Starman by James Robinson and Tony Harris. It’s probably the most personal of Robinson’s work and part of the beauty is that you get to see Tony’s work evolve over the course of the series.
KS: And finally, tell us what you’re working on now and what we should be on the lookout for in 2021 or beyond.
JI: I’m finishing up the second volume of The Wrong Earth for Ahoy Comics, and about to work on something with Alex Segura in coordination with National Public Radio. Other than that, I’ll just say, “Stay tuned.”