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Between the Panels: Artist Nathan Stockman on Animation as Comics Training, Drawing His Favorite Character, and a Memorable Portfolio Review

“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 countries around the world that have produced their share of comics talent, Ireland needs to be in the conversation. Nate Stockman is just one example. The artistic kid who collected Marvel trading cards has since gone on to work on actual Marvel comics, along with titles from Valiant, Image, and IDW. Then, there’s the matter of a certain Declan Shalvey…

First, the particulars…

Your specialties (artist/writer/letterer/inker/etc.): Artist

Your home base: Ireland


Social Media

Instagram: @natestockmancomics

Twitter: @stockmannate

Fanbase Press Contributor Kevin Sharp: I lead off with the biggie: Why comics? Of all the realms in which an artist can ply their trade, what attracts you to making comics specifically?

Nate Stockman: I grew up reading Asterix and Tintin books as a kid, so from day one, I’ve always had a love for comics. I loved to sit and draw as a lot of kids do. But I just never stopped. I would just sit and draw for hours on end. Making up my own characters and copying ones from books and comics I was reading. I really connected with comics as a medium and that never left me. Eventually, I’d come to realize that actual people made these things for a job! And after that, it was always in the back of my head that I really wanted to do that, too. I wanted to tell cool stories and have fun doing it!

KS: When you first started being able to identify different artists as a reader, who were some favorites you first gravitated toward?

NS: I remember having a set of Marvel trading cards as a kid from the early ’90s and connecting with some of the cards more than others. I came to realize the same artist was drawing the ones I really liked. That was a bit of a lightbulb moment when it came to identifying artists. It was Erik Larsen’s cards I really enjoyed, and I’d stumble across batches of comics here or there and I recall finding one of his issues of Amazing Spider-Man and right away going, “Oh, it’s that guy! I love his work!”

Another big moment was meeting artist John McCrea at a local cartoon convention — mostly political cartoonists but with a small sprinkle of comic guests. He was drawing The Demon at the time and it was everything I loved about art. Plus, at that show, there was a gallery of original art, so I got to see real, full-size comic boards in all their glory, full of ink and whiteout hanging up. This ties in to earlier as the time I realized it could be a career. This guy was doing it. Why couldn’t I?

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KS: Was there any general style of art that appealed to you?

NS: I like exaggerated, cartoony — it’s not a bad word! — expressive art. Jason Pearson, Joe Mad, Chris Sprouse, Walt Simonson. Artists of that ilk would make me automatically check out whatever they were drawing! I was also a big manga fan, too. Though it wasn’t anywhere near as readily available as now, I still really enjoyed the work of Akira Toriyama and especially Rumiko Takahashi.

KS: If we flipped through teenage Nate’s comic collection, what would that have looked like?

NS: A real variety of books. Everything from Lady Death to Witchblade. Holograms and chromium sparkling in the moonlight. Trading cards and polybags as high as the eye can see. Is it obvious I grew up in the ’90s? My teenage collection was a lot of fun. Lots of Superman, Legion of Superheroes, X-Men, Spidey, Spawn, and Savage Dragon. The ’90s gets a bad rep as “the worst time” in comics, but I couldn’t have been happier reading what I was at the time.

KS: Can you recall a comic story that really had an impact on you as a younger reader?

NS: One that always stands out is the death of Harry Osborn [Spectacular Spider-Man #200]. The last pages of it were wordless — which I read long after the fact was because upon JM DeMatteis seeing Sal Buscema’s art for the final sequence, he felt Sal’s art said everything the story needed to. That had a huge impact on me about how powerful the art could be when it’s done right. I was always a big Sal fan, too. He doesn’t get near enough the praise he should. An absolute master!

KS: Let’s get into your artistic ambitions. Because that career path can be such a crapshoot, I’m always interested in where the idea first came to a person.

NS: Like I mentioned earlier, it was seeing original art for the first time that was the big moment for me. It took a long time to do anything with the idea of it, but I never really had any ambitions outside of art. A lot of that has to do with being pathetic at everything else!

KS: Was your family supportive in this regard? Did you have a Plan B in case art didn’t pan out?

NS: Yeah, everyone in my family was always very supportive. I always had plenty of paper and art supplies from day one! Rather stupidly, I did not have a Plan B. It was art of some form, or nothing. It’s not a strategy I’d recommend to be honest!

KS: You went on to study animation?

NS: I never actually worked in the industry, but I did go to college for it and am a qualified animator! I see friends from college working on really cool stuff which is lovely. The Irish animation industry is really strong. You just have to look at Cartoon Saloon and the quality of their output to get a gauge for it. But there’s so many more studios producing great work, too.

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KS: Was the comics industry on your radar at all during this time?

NS: It was! I did drop off reading a lot during college, but that wasn’t to do with outgrowing them. I just couldn’t afford to keep up at the time. I was aware of a group of Irish artists who were coming up at the time: The Eclectic Micks. A collective of folks posting online and doing work for local and international publishers. That was very inspiring to see and kind of reinforced that an Irish person could do comics.

KS: Did you ever have a chance to interact with them, or were you just a fan from afar?

NS: I saw them at a couple of shows before meeting them properly. Nick Roche was doing especially well out of everyone the time, doing some great work on Transformers. And I think Stephen Mooney, Will Sliney, and Declan Shalvey were on his heels. All of them started getting work with American publishers around about the same time.

I was on Anti-Hero when I met a bunch of them at a local show. Declan gave me a portfolio review and crushed and humiliated me in front of everyone. He left me curled up and sobbing in a ball on the ground, at which time he continued to kick me, telling me I’d never make it and how pathetic I was for thinking I could even consider being a comic artist. He monologued for a while until everyone got uncomfortable and left and without the audience he craved, he simply wandered off to a reflective surface to gaze at himself. The other Micks were lovely and supportive though. A great bunch of lads.

KS: How do you get from that sobbing ball on the ground to your first pro comics assignment?

NS: I did a few bits and bobs here and there. Pinups and shorts and the like, but I generally take Anti-Hero with writer Jay Faerber as my first pro assignment. It was the first notable USA published and paid work I did. It was a Monkeybrain digital series, collected in trade by IDW. It came about from series colorist Paul Little — with whom I had done some pitches at the time — putting me in touch with Jay, who was looking for an artist on an idea he had. It became Anti-Hero, a very cool tale of a superhero blackmailed by a low-level goon who discovers his secret identity. It was a fantastic learning experience and while I was very green at the time, Jay treated me with nothing but respect. I’m hoping we can work together again as I’ve since learned to draw!

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KS: Can you remember the first time you held a physical comic with your name on it?

NS: While not the first, I’ve a few memorable ones. I did an Image series called Reyn, with writer Kel Symons, and the first issue of that was really cool to get in hand.  An issue #1 with the Image “I” on it was a big highlight. And my first Marvel work was huge for me, too: Spidey issue 8. Working on a really fantastic series with my all-time favorite character was something very special!

KS: How was it working on your favorite character? Did you put extra pressure on yourself to be great, or was it pure pleasure?

NS: Pure pleasure! With every gig, there’s a certain amount of nerves no matter what. With the Spidey gig, I think I was too excited to remember to be nervous! Every page was drawn with a huge smile. I definitely put pressure on myself. This might be the only time I ever got a chance to draw a Spidey book, so I wanted to make sure I did the best job I could manage!

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KS: Do you feel like your time studying animation was good training ground for comics work? Obviously, characters and storytelling are crossover skills between the two, but are there other similarities in the work process that helped you hit the ground running?

NS: Oh, a million percent! I can’t speak for everyone, but personally I couldn’t have had a better foundation than animation. Another big crossover between both is the workload and time management. You’re working on very tight deadlines in both, and the volume of work is pretty massive. Learning how to focus and work within very rigid time constraints was absolutely instrumental for comics. Like you mentioned, character acting and consistency are huge too but, fundamentally, learning how to produce a little mountain of paper was something that I found invaluable.

KS: What’s your work routine like these days? Is it more set or fluid?

NS: I’ve tried to set a pretty rigid work routine for myself. Generally, I’m up earlyish to start work about 8 or 9. Depending on what I have on I’ll work till the evening around 7-9ish. Be prepared for long hours if you want to work in this industry. Though I’ve seen lots of artists who seem to balance working hours much better than myself, that’s something I need to improve on. It’s easy to slip into workaholic mode!

KS: How about listening to music, or any other background noise, while you work?

NS: I go in and out of it. I can’t listen to anything with lyrics or spoken words while I’m doing layouts. When I need to pick up the pace, I might listen to something fast? When I’m really enjoying what I’m working on, I find myself listening to ’90s stuff. A bit of everything really: hip-hop, grunge, rock, etc. I remember at the time I wasn’t a big Nirvana fan; I thought they were too famous. But that was just me being a dumbass, pretentious teen. I think they’re rad now. I’ll generally just fall back to whatever I was listening to from ages 15-22, which I see is pretty common. A lot of people just still like what they like when they were kids.

KS: How has your perspective on comic art changed from your fan days to your pro days?

NS: I grew up reading such a variety of different art styles that I generally found something to appreciate in everything from hyper detailed, more grounded art, to loose, cartoony, expressive work. I think if anything, being a pro now makes me a lot more forgiving of artists. I’ll see a comment or a critique of an artist where it might say something like, “This looks like it was drawn in a hurry” and I’ll think, “You know, it probably was. Maybe the artist was on a deadline or had to fill in quickly. Or had to get it done before dropping their kids somewhere or something.” You can only do the best you can in the time you have to do it. Having worked in the industry for several years now, it really is a mini-miracle [anytime] a book comes out. A single issue of a comic is a hell of a lot of work!

KS: Are there certain art tools you enjoy but maybe don’t get to use often? If you were set free from any deadlines or commissions and free to create a piece of art just for the joy of creating, what kind of piece might you drift toward?

NS: I’d love to try more mixed media work. It’s hard to experiment a lot with deadlines and if a certain type of art is expected from you. But not impossible! I’d love to eventually learn watercolors and I’d like to use Zip-a-tone more, too. I used it in a couple of commissions — which can be great for experimentation — and the results are really fun!

KS: If you could hypothetically stand over the shoulder of any comic artist in their studio for a day, asking questions, observing, who would you pick?

NS: Declan Shalvey. I could bombard him with an unrelenting barrage of meaningless questions to the point where he throws his beret down in a blind rage and then when he tries to attack me, I’ll explode his head like in Scanners and take all his cover gigs.

KS: Switching gears from exploding heads to hobbies, what’s something you enjoy that gets you away from the drawing board?

NS: I like walking. I live in quite a scenic area where there’s lots of nice places to explore. I love going abroad and eating! Is eating a hobby? I love it. Walking and eating. Wow, my non-art life is pretty exciting, huh?

KS: Please tell us about a comic or graphic novel by someone else that you look at as an example of the craft at its highest form.

NS: I remember being real blown away by Asterios Polyp by David Mazzucchelli. The use of shape and color and narrative language in that is about as good as it gets. Highly recommended!

Another would be Robocop vs. Terminator by Frank Miller and Walt Simonson. Completely subjective as it hit me at the perfect time, but look at what Simonson did with that series. It’s a complete artistic masterpiece. The storytelling was raw and exciting, and the rendering was world class. It represents everything I love about monthly comics.

KS: To wrap up, what have you got coming for the rest of this year?

NS: I finished up Savage for Valiant earlier in the year [collected edition now available]. That was a super enjoyable series that I’d encourage everyone to pick up!

I’ve been doing some work since but it’s all under wraps until it gets announced — it’s cool. though! I’ve been very fortunate in my career to be paired with so many hard working and talented creators who make the process a lot of fun!

Kevin Sharp, Fanbase Press Contributor



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