An Interview With Comic Arts Fest Bay Area Webcomic Artists

There is no stopping the Comic Arts Fest. Our next event will be on Saturday, February 18, starting at 10:00 AM at the Millbrae Library. The Millbrae Library will be hosting a Comics Workshop with Ellis Kim and a Bay Area Webcomic Artists panel with Ellis Kim, Spencer Bingham, and Maia Kobabe.

Ellis Kim is an Alameda-based illustrator who loves well crafted interactive narratives, believable characters, and clarity in visual conveyance. He is the creator of the fantastic time travel webcomic Time Fiddler.

Spencer Bingham is an (almost) lifelong resident of the Bay Area who studied character animation at the Academy of Art University. He is the maker of the fantasy webcomic Homebound, which was originally slated as a stop-motion short before it evolved into a webcomic.

Maia Kobabe is celebrated for eir comic adaptation of the medieval ballad poem Tom O'Bedlam, which was accepted into the Society of Illustrator's Comic and Cartoon Art annual and nominated for an Ignatz Award in 2016.

Let's find out more about these comic artist and what inspires them through a series of questions.

Get to Know Ellis Kim Through His Own Words

Artist Ellis Kim.
Artist Ellis Kim.

Did you read comics as a kid? Which ones?

My earliest exposures to comics was a combination of Garfield, Calvin and Hobbes, and random supermarket kid magazines that had the occasional comic, along with newspaper funnies. Calvin and Hobbes was definitely the most influential in terms of the type of tone and sensibility that comics could achieve while exercising wonderful aesthetic charm and skill. Though I read the occasional superhero trade or issue here and there, or the rare Archie Sonic, they never appealed to my sensibilities as much as Japanese manga in freshman year of high school, which was right around the time that Tokyopop became a big thing. But my biggest consumption and ambition to even begin working on comics was during middle school when webcomics became a huge thing. Webcomics like Megatokyo, Penny Arcade, MacHall, RPG World, 8-bit Theater, and a bunch more inspired me to start my own webcomic at the time.... which never went anywhere, but it was my first foray. It was also my first introduction to using a wacom tablet and Photoshop.

What are the biggest influences on your work?

Japanese manga definitely has the largest influence as far as media consumption goes, even if i do straddle the line with American sensibilities in terms of aesthetic. When I was younger I realized that drawing from realism was my best bet for improving my skill, so that's where a lot of my style development came from. I've been told I draw with a manga/indie hybrid style, so I suppose there's that too. My artistic idols are Hayao Miyazaki, Faith Erin Hicks, and Phil Noto. I'm a huge fan of Nausicaä: Of the Valley of the Wind, both graphic novel and film.

For any aspiring graphic novelists reading this interview. What advice do you wish someone had given you when you were first starting out?

Drawing panels and pages can be emotionally exhausting, but keep at it and don't be afraid of drawing bigger or giving more negative space. Inking can be scary, but instead of focusing on using fineliner microns, consider getting disposable brush pens like the Zebra ones from Daiso or Jetpens. Also don't try to cram as many panels as possible into each page -- let your pages breathe a little unless you're really intent on capturing an entire scene in a single page. If you're drawing thumbnails from a script, work the bubbles into your layout; you'll regret trying to squeeze them in digitally after the fact if you didn't give enough space for exposition and dialogue; drawing comics is not the same as storyboarding film or animation. When you reach the point of lettering and bubbling, read a chapter or two on the subject by the pros; there are great books by Scott McCloud and Jessica Abel that cover it; Scott also has a YouTube channel with the only videos on the internet on how to make word bubbles in Adobe Illustrator. Amateur word bubbles stick out like a sore thumb and ruin otherwise great art.

If you feel stuck with where you are in developing your story, go out into the real world and do something that scares you and excites you. Leave your comfort zone for the damned and make yourself vulnerable. The more you grow as a human being, the more you can work from. Make new friends, talk to strangers, travel the world alone and with others. At the least, the experience will skyrocket your confidence.

Also, do more figure drawing and drawing from life; malls are great for background poses that are more authentic. Take a friend with you when you do.

What’s the one question you’ve never been asked in an interview, but always wanted to answer?

"Do you have any free time? (or: what have you been watching/reading/playing recently?)"

Technically no but that doesn't mean I don't waste time. Honestly, if you're working on a comic full time, you don't have any free time to speak of, but also I've wound up just taking really, really long breaks that I can't really afford; this has recently included marathoning through the entirety of Dragon Ball Z Kai so that I can watch Dragon Ball Super. If I play any games, its mostly Overwatch once a week, and I'm dangerously close to including Final Fantasy XIV into that rotation, even though I *really* don't have any time for an MMORPG. If you must know, I main D.Va and Symmetra mostly, learning Zenyatta and McCree at the moment. Also I recently watched Yuri on Ice and that was fantastic. When I'm working, I usually have YouTube let's plays on the background; I love listening to and watching Dodger the most on her channel PressHearttoContinue.

If people want to find me online, I'm @timefiddler on Twitter and Instagram. I have a Facebook page but I don't keep it updated; instagram is the most active. My Tumblr is hehashivemind.com which has all the links. Next convention I'll be doing is Fanime later this summer where I'll be in artist alley. If you want to read my comic online, you can find Time Fiddler on Tapastic.com and Webtoons.com. I also have a Patreon.

Get to Know Spencer Bingham Through His Own Words

Artist Spencer Bingham.
Artist Spencer Bingham.

Did you read comics as a kid? Which ones?

Calvin and Hobbes was the big one, I think. There’d be one or two collections in every elementary school book fair, and I’d pour over them like one after another. The other big hits in my childhood were Donald Duck and Uncle Scrooge comics, and Archie’s Sonic the Hedgehog in small doses.

What are the biggest influences on your work?

I grew up on the Legend of Zelda, and I was like eleven or twelve when the Lord of the Rings movies came out. Dragons and swords and all those other fantasy clichés have always been some of my favorite things. After going through fits and bursts of Tolkien mania throughout my teenage years, I discovered Terry Pratchett in college, and aside from being perfectly on-the-nose in regards to fantasy clichés, I think his earthier, richer characters did a lot to sort of calm me down a bit. Around this same time I also properly discovered Mike Mignola, and I’ve been in love with his work ever since.

For any aspiring graphic novelists reading this interview. What advice do you wish someone had given you when you were first starting out?

“Hey, younger Spencer, it’s cool that you wanna start a weekly webcomic, but you shouldn’t even think about putting it up until you have at least one entire chapter done.” Giving yourself the time to work is super important, especially if this is a side-gig, which my story is. The first week I was too busy or too sick to work on a page, I immediately fell behind. And that leads to long nights and poor health.

What’s the one question you’ve never been asked in an interview, but always wanted to answer?

The possibilities here are endless! I haven’t been asked this in an interview, but I DO get my friends and readers asking me this all the time: my main character’s name, Siofra, is pronounced “She-fra.” A lot of the Fairies in Homebound have Irish names. “Siofra” means “changeling.”

Get to Know Maia Kobabe Through Eir Own Words

Artist Maia Kobabe.
Artist Maia Kobabe.

Did you read comics as a kid? Which ones?

My first memories involving comics are of my father spreading out the Sunday comics pages from the newspaper on the floor and reading them out loud to me and my sister. I read the newspaper comics for years, and would check out anthologies of my favorite titles from the library- Calvin and Hobbes, FoxTrot, Mutts, Get Fuzzy, and all the others. When I was 12 I suddenly started finding manga. I read tons of manga all through junior high, especially anything by CLAMP or Rumiko Takahashi. I didn't really discover American comics until high school when my favorite English teacher lent me the first volume of Sandman. That lead to me digging through as many Vertigo titles as I could find, followed by Dark Horse, Image and Oni Press.

What are the biggest influences on your work?

My own work is influenced equally by my love of illustration and my love of comics. Some specific artists I look to over and over are Linda Medley (Castle Waiting), Mike Mignola (Hellboy), and Brandon Graham (King City). I also own multiple art books by John Howe, Alan Lee, K. Y. Craft, Arthur Rackham, William Morris, Edward Burne-Jones, M. C. Escher and Maurice Sendak. I also read a lot- I've read more than 100 books per year for the past 12 years- mainly fantasy, sc-fi, mysteries, biographies, YA and comics. Every novel that I read impacts how I think about storytelling, world building and creating characters.

For any aspiring graphic novelists reading this interview. What advice do you wish someone had given you when you were first starting out?

Looking back to my early comic making days, I wish someone had told me to write out a bullet point outline of my entire webcomic plot a little soon, so I didn't constantly want to go back and add in missing scenes. That being said, writing a whole plot outline can be very intimidating when you are just starting out. My main advice if you want to make comics is just- start making comics. Keep going and never stop!

What’s the one question you’ve never been asked in an interview, but always wanted to answer?

So far I have never been asked in an interview "What are your preferred pronouns?" I wish every interview would start with that as the first question. I identify as genderqueer and my pronouns are e/em/eir. Here's an example sentence of how to use them- "Ask em what e wants in eir tea". I've been writing a series of auto-bio comics about being genderqueer which you can find on my Instagram and my Tumblr.

Looking forward to this Bay Area Webcomic Artists panel? Tell us your favorite webcomics.