“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.
In addition to his creator-owned work, Reilly Brown’s art has appeared in publications from Marvel, DC, Dynamite, Dark Horse, and more. As someone who’s experienced the ups and downs of working in comics, Reilly is also in a position to assist up-and-coming artists through critique and teaching.
First, the basics…
Your specialties (artist/writer/letterer/inker/etc.): Artist
Your home base: West Orange, New Jersey
Current project title(s) (either already released or upcoming):
Outrage (available for free on Webtoon)
Deadpool Annual #1 (Marvel, available August 2019)
Kevin Sharp, Fanbase Press Contributor: I always start with the overarching questions: Why comics? What attracts you to them specifically over other artforms?
Reilly Brown: I fell in love with comics as a kid, because I loved that they told stories, and that they told them with so many drawings. I loved novels with illustrations, as well, but they never had enough drawings for me. I always wanted to see drawings of scenes that didn’t have accompanying illustrations, and the brilliant thing about comics is that they have artwork for every inch of the story.
KS: Around what age did comics first become an important part of your life?
RB: I grew up reading newspaper strips and the little comics that came with my He-Man action figures, but the first time that comics really became a big part of my life was when I was 10 or 11 and started reading X-Men. I was able to pick up a lot of Andy Kubert and Jim Lee issues at the time… they had all the same types of visuals that I loved from cartoons on TV, but they weren’t limiting themselves to the same level of family-friendly content as cartoons. Those issues showed me that, when it comes to comics, the sky’s the limit.
KS: Was there a specific moment where a comic put the “I want to do that” bug in your head?
RB: I wanted to be an artist before I started reading comics regularly, and when I was young, I didn’t really think of comics as a potential career, because I mainly thought of them as newspaper strips, and I didn’t think I was funny enough to do that type of comic – which is ironic, because most of the comics I do now are known for their humor.
I eventually went to a friend’s birthday party, and he gave out Marvel comics as party favors, and I got an issue of Spider-Man. That changed everything, because I saw the type of comic that I’d been looking for. I read it and thought, “This is exactly what I want to do.”
KS: What’s the first “real” comics piece you remember creating? Something that felt like a serious project for you at the time.
RB: In middle school and high school, I used to draw comics about me and my friends as superheroes, although I don’t know if I’d call those serious in any way. I definitely started taking things more seriously in college, and my first comic that I really thought was any good was Orath: The Intergalactic Caveman , which was a series of short stories about a caveman who was abducted by aliens, and his adventures in outer space.
KS: Take us through your current workspace.
RB: I have two drawing tables in my studio, so that I can easily bounce from one work space to another, either to work on two projects at once without having to clean up between them, or just to move from one desk to another to avoid clutter. Having two desks also allows me to have other artists over to work as well. I also have a computer desk, which is a bit more humble than a lot of comic artists, because I actually do very little digital work.
Along the far wall, I have shelves where I keep my collections of graphic novels and art books, which I’m always looking at for inspiration and ideas about artistic techniques, and hanging on the walls I’ve framed some of my favorite pieces of my own artwork.
KS: Do you have a set daily work routine?
RB: [I] usually start work around 9, and work until about 3, when I go pick my kids up from daycare. Then, I hang out with them until 5 or 5:30 when my wife gets home… Then, I usually go back to work after the kids have gone to sleep around 7 or 8 at night, and work until 11 or midnight. Sometimes later, if I’m in a really good groove.
KS: How about background noise while you work? Do you prefer music or…?
RB: I listen to a lot of podcasts and audio books. The podcasts are a wide variety of history, mythology, current events, and whatever kind of genre you’d call Reply All and Freakonomics. And the Adventure Zone. The audio books are an even wider variety, from histories, to classics like Count of Monte Cristo, to epic fantasy series like Game of Thrones, to spy novels like James Bond.
KS: In addition to your creator owned work, you’ve illustrated many recognizable characters for major publishers. What’s a challenge that comes with working in that situation?
RB: One challenge is that you’ve rarely designed [the characters] yourself, so you might not really understand how to make the designs look cool in your own drawing style. This can be a good thing sometimes, because it can push you to try things you’ve never tried before, and a lot of times you’re working with character designs that are real hits, so they might look better than anything that you would have drawn yourself.
But a lot of times it can be a struggle. Sometimes, the designs are even made by people who never have to draw the character in an actual comic, so they load them up with complicated details that are annoying or take forever to draw, or really only look good in that artist’s style.
KS: As both an illustrator for other writers and writer yourself on your own projects, what have you learned about comics collaboration?
RB: How to be a good collaborator. How to get the most out of what the other creator is bringing to the table, and how to get the most out of what I’m bringing to the table as well, to make the project as good as it can be, and make it the comic that we both want it to be. For me that means keeping an open dialogue the whole time and feeling free to ask questions and offer suggestions, and to give answers and accept suggestions from my collaborators.
KS: You’ve also lectured at various venues, and been an instructor for Comics Experience. What’s the draw for you (No pun intended.) of doing gigs like those?
RB: Teaching and sharing with others is actually a great way to learn in and of itself. For instance, when I’m giving someone a critique on their portfolio, it gives me a chance to figure out how to solve problems without going through the work of making those problems myself. Also, when I critique someone about a specific mistake they keep making, you know I can’t allow myself to make that same mistake in my own work! And that’s not just in the case of mistakes, but also the good things that they do.
KS: Is there a particular area where you feel you can bring especially helpful knowledge?
RB: There’s a whole lot of information out there about how to break into the comics business, but there’s very little info about what to do when you get there, and I want the next generation of artists to be as prepared for the realities of freelance life as possible. How to price their work and negotiate for payment, how to value the time and effort and talent that they bring to a job. If you don’t know what you’re doing you’ll get eaten alive, and I think that’s a big reason why the comics industry is in the state it’s currently in, with issues like rates for artists that haven’t gone up in decades.
KS: On that note, name one word that comes to mind as key to being successful in this business.
KS: How about a comic or graphic novel by someone else that you look at in awe?
RB: Siegfried by Alex Alice. The artwork and character designs are just so beautiful, and the storytelling has so much power and emotion and drama to it. The compositions and camera angles are incredible and make such a powerful story. If I can ever do a story that brings even an ounce of the drama to the page that Alice does in every page of his series, I’d consider my artist career a success.
KS: Finally, talk a bit about your current project.
RB: Outrage [is] about a guy who can pretty much reach across social media and physically smack the face of whoever’s on the other side. Just like we all secretly (and maybe not so secretly) wish we could actually do! It’s written by Fabian Nicieza, drawn by me, with inks by Jay Liesten, colors by Matt Herms, and letters by Pat Brosseau. We’re bringing all the humor and charm that we put into Deadpool at Marvel for so many years, but tackling current social topics that we probably wouldn’t be able to get away with at Marvel.
It’s a ton of fun, and best of all, it’s completely free over at Line Webtoon. You can find it HERE.