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Between the Panels: Cartoonist Grim Wilkins on Artistic Balance, Personal Narratives, and Some Advice for Aspiring Creators

“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.

When considering creator origin stories, “working in a comic store” and “homemade comics” would likely be common elements among many. Grim Wilkins’ resume features both of those items, but since then he’s forged a path of his own, including the Prophet reboot, the “silent” book Mirenda, and —outside of comics— work on the RPG Quest.

 
First off, the basics…
 
Your specialties (artist/writer/letterer/inker/etc.):  Artist/writer
 
Your home base: Vancouver, WA
 
Website: hellogrim.com
 
Social Media
 
Instagram: @grimwilkins
 
Twitter: @grimwilkins
 



 
Fanbase Press Contributor Kevin Sharp: Why comics? What attracts you to this as an artform?

Grim Wilkins: I actually got into art with the intention of making comics. I have done a fair amount of non-comics illustration work and dabbled in the fine arts / gallery side of things, and they always make it clear to me that comics are where I have the most unique voice.
 
KS: At what age, or roughly when, did reading comics first become a part of your life?

GW: Comics have come and gone from my life since I was nine or 10, back when the huge '90s comic boom was happening. Like all the kids at the time, I was way into X-Men, but I was also drawn to the less superhero-y Marvel characters, like Sleepwalker and Silver Surfer.

KS: When you say they came and went from your life, what did that look like? Were you buying regularly at any time?

GW: I think the only time I bought comics regularly was when I was in high school, working at the local comic store. As time went on, I had a harder and harder time finding comics that were interesting to me. I didn’t really make any “comics friends” until after I was done with college, so my search for new and different books was limited to what I could find on my own. Maybe it was the comic stores in my area at the time, but there were stretches when I just couldn’t find anything that really satisfied me.




KS: Do you have a specific memory where a comic book or comic strip made you say “Wow” or “I want to do that?” Or did the idea of an art career come from different influences?

GW: Oh, I think I was pretty much dead set on comics from the moment I started trying to draw. I remember my friend drawing a picture from one of the old Marvel trading cards —probably Sleepwalker— for me and I was blown away. In return, I tried to draw that Sam Kieth Nightcrawler for him, and the rest is history.
 
KS: Who were some of your favorite names when you were first able to identify different artists and art styles?

GW: I don’t think I had very unique taste back then and was into the usual suspects like Jim Lee and Joe Mad. Alan Davis was a big one, and I still look at his Excalibur comics pretty often. I had a handful of old Dazzler comics with those awesome Bill Sienkiewicz covers, and I honestly don’t remember “liking” them, but there was something about them that I could tell was really special.
 
KS: At Fanbase Press, our #StoriesMatter initiative endeavors to highlight the impact that stories can have on audiences of various mediums.  What was a comic story that had a real impact on you?

GW: I think it was The Coffin by Phil Hester and Mike Huddleston. The story is great and the art is absolutely stunning. It had a sense of care that I hadn’t seen before then, like Huddleston wanted each page to be a complete slam dunk. I’m sure at that age I understood that mainstream comics are beholden to monthly schedules and the art can suffer for it, but The Coffin looked like they took as long as they needed to make it good.
 
KS: Do you remember where and when that story found you, or vice versa?

GW: I worked at the local comic/card store when I was in high school. The owner would throw a fit if I ordered books for the store and they didn’t sell within the month, so every month I would scour the PREVIEWS book for cool-looking books and order myself a copy, then show it to my regulars and see if they wanted a copy. The Coffin was one of those books!
 
KS: What store was that?

GW: It was Napa Comics in Napa, CA. They were the only comic store to survive the '90s —there were at least four comic stores in town at one point— so it was the place to go for comics or Magic cards.




KS: Aside from the things you tried to sell people on, what were the biggest “hot” books when you were working there? 

GW: The only things I remember being super popular were Battle Chasers and Danger Girl. The second anything related to those books came in they flew off the shelves. With little exception, pretty much all of our sales were to people with long-running pull lists, and they typically wanted everything related to the big DC characters.

KS: Do you recall your first “real” piece of art? Something that felt like a serious project to you, or that you put your full creative self into?
 
GW: Ellipses, a mini-comic that I made a couple years after I got my college degree. I had created a few neat pictures before then, but never anything that I felt had much value. Ellipses, while only like 10 or so pages, had a personal narrative statement and art that I saw as the culmination of my artistic endeavors to that point.
 
KS: How about a short Netflix-style blurb for that book?

GW: “Woman has psychedelic existential experience in the desert.” haha.

KS: If you look back at Ellipses, or any of your early work, can you pinpoint some specific aspect of comic making you’ve gotten better at with more practice? What’s something the Grim of today understands better, or can do better, than the one from back then?

GW: I think I’m better at balancing the wild page layouts with more “normal” ones, especially in the context of the book as a whole. When I come up with an exciting composition for a page, I get so excited to see how challenging I can make it that sometimes I forget that it needs to work with the pages that came before and after it, too.

KS: So, that was your first comic overall, but how did your first paid job in the business come about?
 
GW: My first “pro” comics gig was working on the Prophet reboot. The gig came about after I followed Brandon [Graham] on Twitter — he saw the stuff I was working on at the time and asked if I would want to draw a few issues.




KS: What particular stuff were you working on then that he would have seen?

GW: I was working on the first issue of my comic, Mirenda, and probably doing some paintings for local galleries.

KS: Because many of our readers are aspiring comics creators, can you share any other steps you’d taken before that to get your name and work out there in the world?

GW: From what I’ve gathered, the most important thing is getting your work physically in front of people, like going to conventions or zinefests. It’s a tough one because it can be financially prohibitive, but it really has made a world of difference for myself and others I’ve talked to.

But my real advice is to actually make a finished product, be it a comic book or zine or a small artbook. Trying to get people’s attention with a few sample covers or some test pages won’t have the same impact as a whole book, even if the book is only 10 pages long. And it will teach you how strangely difficult it can be to see a project through to completion.
 
KS: These days, do you have a set daily work routine? Are there certain times or circumstances where you find your creativity flows the best?

GW: I definitely have a bit of a routine. I try to only work weekdays, from around 11 a.m. to around 8 p.m. I get in some exercise before I start work, because without it I just feel kind of stiff all day. I haven’t found anything that helps me be more creative, though I try to keep aware of things that thwart my creativity, like watching out for mounting anxiety after spending too long in front of the computer without a break.

KS: Thumbs up or down: listening to music or other background noise while you work?

GW: Thumbs up for sure. There’s no telling what I’ll be listening from one day to the next, but for the last few months I’ve been jamming a lot of shoegaze and old Swedish death metal. I usually have a fair amount of funk from the '70s and '80s playing, and almost any time I write an email I have to put on some Grails.

Sometimes, I put on documentaries while I’m working, too, but if I’m too deep in work I’ll completely miss what they were talking about for 10 or 15 minutes.
 
KS: Do you have a hobby totally unrelated to comics or art? Something you read, collect, study, practice…

GW: My partner lady Jenna and I have a fair-sized yard that we’ve been landscaping for the last four years, so I’m a low-level plant nerd at this point. At least once a week, I’ll deep dive the plant catalog at our favorite nursery and see if I can find anything that we “need.”  

And I’ve been learning to play a bit of music for the last couple years, in addition to building DIY guitar pedals. One of these days, I’ll get around to recording some goofy music.
 
KS: What’s a comic or graphic novel by someone else that you look at as an example of this medium at its best?

GW: It’s hard not to go with Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind. The story is expansive, intimate, goes completely off the rails at times — and the art is gorgeous with immaculate storytelling. Miyazaki could put 15 panels on a page and fill each of them with the perfect amount of detail and content.
 
KS: To wrap up, tell us what you’re working on now and what fans might see from you the rest of the year.

GW: Fast approaching is the sci-fi edition of Quest, the tabletop RPG that I’ve been working on for the last few years.  On the comics side of things, I’m working on a self-published horror mini along with 3-5 other hush-hush projects through the end of the year. I’m about to be very busy, haha.