“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.
Anyone who’s passed by Michiums’ table at any convention Artist Alley has been treated to a visual smorgasbord of incandescent, ethereal work via the artist’s various merchandise. Seen inside the pages of a comic, that imagery is unlike anything else on the stands — an unmistakably unique product from a unique artistic mind.
First off, the basics…
Your specialties (artist/writer/letterer/inker/etc.): Artist/Writer/Letterer
Your home base: Brooklyn, New York
Fanbase Press Contributor Kevin Sharp: I always start with the big question to lead off: Why comics? What attracts you as an artist to working in this form specifically?
Michiums: Comics have always amazed me with how much you can pack a punch with in terms of visuals and text when it comes to narration and storytelling. There’s this openness and space for the reader to come in and experience the story as if they’re a part of it, but also comics can be made by anyone. Some of the most poignant and emotional stories that have stayed with me have been in the form of comics, no matter how many years have passed!
As for why I like working in this medium, it’s because, in a way, it helps calm down the chaotic mess that’s my head sometimes! I tend to work traditionally first, and then gradually move to digital when finalizing comics, but it’s the act of putting the pen to paper that really helps ground me and helps me figure out the flow of a panel, page, and story composition. It’s a little bit like doing a ritual — you have all these parts and pieces, and they can be arranged to tell a story any way you’d like. There are no rules, other than to try and make something!
KS: Do you recall your earliest encounter with comics as a reader? Either via newspaper strips, library, comic store, or however else…
M: My earliest encounter would have to be via newspaper strips, and going to the library to take out copies of manga and comics that I was probably too young to actually read, but neither my parents nor my teachers at school would let me read them, so I had to strategically hide the volumes in my zip-up binder, and underneath my pillow, and read at odd hours. Still worth it, I think!
KS: What were some of your first favorites to read?
M: The first few comics I remember reading were manga copies that a friend had introduced to me – namely a lot of CLAMP works, and also comedies like Azumanga Daioh!, Yotsuba&!, and others that were waaay above my age at the time, but that I still devoured nonetheless, because I was so gripped by the storytelling and characters. The different ways all of these different creators were able to tell stories through characters, different panel layouts and storylines, and to be able to seamlessly weave a story together in a way that kept the reader engaged and wanting to find out more, is something I still look forward to when I go looking for new things to read!
KS: Were you able to easily access these or was it more of a rare treat?
M: Definitely comics were a treat growing up, because they were considered to be ‘lesser than’ classical novels or works that were considered of literary importance – but they still captivated me and whisked me away to worlds that still have an impact on me, decades later.
KS: Please tell readers a bit about your creative life as a kid, as far as the kinds of things you enjoyed making.
M: I was always drawing, first with really bad crayons, then I gradually was enrolled in a lot of painting lessons as a kid where I primarily did a lot of still-life painting. That sort of training in a traditional medium really instilled this layered approach to making things that I have; everything is a layer that you gradually build over and on top of. I also spent a lot of time on various internet forums and creating really ridiculous original characters that I would then role-play with friends — who are now family. Having that playground to create through writing, and really bad digital art, was such a creative outlet that I am thankful for. Even if my writing was incredibly cringey!
KS: Did you ever try experimenting in the comics format, or any kind of sequential art?
M: Every time I make a comic, I experiment! I come from a media/film studies background, so that paired with the painterly approach I tend to take with my art, experimenting with sequential work is something I love to do. I’m always inspired by the various ways that other creators use panels and the page to tell a story, whether that’s through unconventional means or by visually breaking up larger panels into smaller ones, overlaying panels, and really messing with the visual composition of a page to tell a story. There’s something so magical about it, especially when it becomes something you can hold in your hands and look closely at all the details.
KS: As far as the idea of being an artist in a professional sense, was there an “a-ha” moment of inspiration for you along those lines, or was actually trying to make a living in this field something that had been simmering for a while?
M: I spent most of my early creative years drawing as a hobby, making stories and characters with friends that I still hold dear to my heart even though the stories may not be the strongest or greatest in terms of what was written, or what was made; but because I spent so many years crafting ideas and stories, pursuing it as a career didn’t really come to mind until I saw the work of other comic artists who were gaining momentum through making work and art inspired by things that they loved, that really lit that spark in me. Going to conventions as a teen and young adult really opened my eyes that it’s possible to do this, to make stories and art, and to share it with the world, to create that line of connection and weave that thread together between yourself, the work you make, and others, and make a tapestry that tells a story. I definitely think that drive to be able to create things was sparked by seeing and talking to other creators whose works I’ve loved for years, and to see them and their contemporaries grow, is what keeps me going. Comics doesn’t always pay the bills, and sometimes you have to work other jobs to be able to do them, but that spark of wanting to create was always there, and I’m forever thankful for all of the creators who have shared their works in various mediums and ways with others, because it’s such a powerful thing, to want to make things.
KS: What did your academic path look like, in the sense of being able to align it to what your ultimate goal was?
M: I have a background in painting and in Film/Media studies, so a lot of what I try to do with my work is to create that sort of cinematic or emotional pull that draws the viewer in, and transports them to someplace, even if it’s only for a small amount of time. I have been thinking about taking more formal lessons in cartooning, but most of what I do has been mostly self-taught, but I’m always curious about learning more on how to make things and how to do things! I’m currently finishing up a Masters program, and while it’s not comic-specific, it has made me wonder how I can incorporate comics and illustration work into more avenues and mediums, and blend things together in different ways!
KS: Outside of your early stories, was there a particular comics project that got your work out there to a wider audience?
M: [It] was creating a comic for an anthology focused on queer comics, and it was the first time I really tried to make a comic using original character designs and to tell a story within two pages! It was a fun challenge, but also made me realize that making comics is something I can actually do, and each time I make something, I learn something new and add it to my ever-growing bag of skills and tools.
KS: Anthologies can be a great way in for aspiring creators. How did you find this one to send them your work?
M: It’s been quite a few years, but it was for one of the volumes of Lilies anthology, which is a self-published series of anthologies run by a group of artists. I had coincidentally saw the call for entries on social media and decided to test the waters and apply with a pitch about a knight and a maiden — very gay and folklore based — and ended up getting in! I actually still have some of the pages up on my portfolio site, although they are very, very dated now, and are full of mistakes. I do, however, want to go back and maybe do a little refreshed comic with the characters that I had designed. It was a two-pager, but it was really the first time I had done comics digitally and had to work with specific paper size and see how it translated from digital to print, which was really neat to see.
KS: Can you pinpoint something you understand better about making comics today — as an artform or a business — than you did back then?
M: I definitely think pacing and having a healthier relationship with work and saving your energy and strength when your health is not at its best is something I’ve had to really sit with and acknowledge, as someone who lives with chronic pain and other health issues. I’m not as young as I was when I was first starting out making comics, even though I’m only almost 30! But my body has gotten [more] fragile and has been put through the stressor, so learning how to better approach deadlines, and juggling multiple jobs and an online-shop with merchandise, has definitely shaped the way I approach things and how much time I allocate towards projects. Your health is so very important, and you can never tell when you’re going to get another pain flare up, or get sick that puts you out of commission, so it’s always good to communicate your needs and ask for extensions where needed, and if the people you’re working with refuse to accommodate you, take your time and skills elsewhere! I’ve had to learn that the hard way, unfortunately, and your health comes first, as much as possible.
KS: Since that time, your resume includes quite a few comics anthologies. What’s the appeal for a creator of working in that format? I imagine you meet a wide variety of collaborators at the very least…
M: Anthologies really vary in terms of page count and parameters that you’re given to work in, so it’s always exciting for me to work with a team and collaborator on transforming a script into something within the rules that are presented. I always learn something new, whether it’s how to plan a comic page better composition wise, or getting more used to working with quicker deadlines, and adapting a script to panels. It’s definitely different than working on things solo, where you’re sort of expected to do everything at your own pace, and you have your own deadlines that you impose, and a comic can be however long or short you’d want it to be. Working in a team lets you bounce ideas off of each other, and it’s really cool for me to see what the team’s vision is from the initial script, to the final page. Seeing how stories come together and how various teams collaborate are part of the reason why I like doing anthologies. And, it’s a good way to level up skills and experience wise; there’s always something new to learn.
KS: Was there a particular comic story that you found as a reader along your journey that really had an impact on you?
M: I think one of the first stories I read that had a huge impact on me was XXXHolic by CLAMP. The [fact that] you could have a massive, spiraling adventure and stories full of characters whose pasts unfolded as the story went along that completely changed the trajectory of the narrative, not to mention that it was a series that directly affected the events and plot of another entirely different series, and that you could split the narrative in so many ways across two different series that crossed over and converged in a way that created such a push-pull relationship — it really wowed me! Not to mention the sheer volume of character designs and attention to details that permeated every page, and the questions that the narrative and the characters were allowed to ask, and the outcome of those decisions and actions.
KS: What made that the right story for who you were at that time you found it?
M: When I was younger, a lot of the time I was dealing with a lot of stress and being a caretaker as a kid and teenager. These stories that dealt with not only the complicated feelings of being alive, or dealing with the consequences of our actions/lack thereof, drew me into these other worlds, and showed me just how much you could pour onto a page, grab a reader by their heart, and have them walk through the journey together with the cast of characters you’ve created. It was like magic.
KS: For someone who isn’t familiar with your comics work, is there a particular book or project you think fully exemplifies your artistic voice? In other words, what would be a good “Intro to Michiums?”
M: Oh, goodness. Because a lot of my work is self-published, I’d say maybe my Stardust and Nettle artbook that I’ve created for my Baba Yaga-themed Kickstarter project back in 2020-2021. But if we’re talking about published work, then I’d have to say my mini comic in Sensory: Life on the Spectrum would be a good example. There’s a mix of emotion, colors, and repeating patterns that tend to echo in my work throughout various projects that I think fits the bill. And if we’re talking about things that are yet to be published that exemplify my work, I would definitely have to say the work I did for Limit Break Comics’ Fractured Realms anthology would be a big example of the style and sort of work I’d like to do more of, and that I think I work well in — which is queer and horror themed!
KS: Is there a hobby of yours totally unrelated to art, merch, or comics? Something that gets you away from the art screen.
M: I really love doing embroidery and sewing patches onto my “convention jacket” and making it more ridiculous and stylized. It’s repetitive work that really helps me focus on things, and it’s just nice to be able to mend clothes. I also love finding parks and places to wander around in, and finding discount book shops and browsing around antique shops. One thing I’d like to learn how to do is to knit or crochet — I think it’s really cool, and I’m always in awe of people who can make things from textiles.
KS: As we come to the end, imagine a hypothetical Comics Hall of Fame and you get to induct one comic — any format, any era. What would be your pick?
M: Every time a question like this gets asked of me, it’s like I forget every single thing I’ve read or watched! One graphic novel that still sticks in my head would be The Less Than Epic Adventures of TJ & Amal by E.K. Weaver. I started reading it when it was still an ongoing webcomic being posted on the internet, and it’s a comic that has stayed with me for years and years. From the quiet moments to the messy ones, it was going on a emotional journey with the characters and seeing the way their choices affected each other and the story really resonated with me even years later, and the panel compositions really inspired me to want to make webcomics and published work!
KS: Finally, let readers know what you have out now and what they should be on the lookout for coming up in 2023.
M: You can find me in Sensory: Life on the Spectrum, published by Andrews McMeel Publishing, DC Comics’ Wonderful Women of the World anthology, as well as in Spotlight Comics’ Always the Same Story anthology, and Limit Break Comics’ Fractured Realms, both which are set to be published later this year. Other than that, you can find me on socials and see what self-published stuff I’m working on, and get early access to comics and zines via my Patreon!