10 Questions: The Gathering Edition – Nathan Lee James

We continue our interview series with members of The Gathering and GrayHaven Comics. We’ve put out the same questions to numerous individuals and can compare their responses. A hopefully intriguing interview series.

Check out our previous interviews.

George AmaruNick FrancisTravis M. HolyfieldChris Page
Elena AndrewsAndrew GoletzWilliam LevertAmanda Rachels
Arcadio BolañosDoug HahnerMarc LombardiJason Snyder
John M. CokerErica J. HeflinGlenn MatchettSam Tung
Marc DeschampsGary HoganJames O’Callaghan

Up next is artist Nathan Lee James who is our twentieth interview in the series!

Graphic Policy: How did you get started in the comic book industry?

Nathan Lee James: I’m still not sure, ha. I was originally going to be an animator, but I got a Fine Arts degree because I wanted to work for a specific studio that preferred that. But when I graduated, they had changed gears a lot, and I ended up directionless with a degree that was very difficult to get any use out of. I dabbled a bit in the graduate program, and I actually went into a bit of a depression and stopped drawing for years after that (there were “woman trouble” contributors to that as well). Luckily, I eventually made a few online friends who got me into some websites that got me drawing again and even got me some gigs. I dabbled in some independent film storyboarding also, mainly because I wanted to act and thought it might help me get in. I ended up meeting a writer on one of those jobs who wanted someone to illustrate his graphic novel series. That was my first attempt at doing comic book page art, though I had been doing my own humor comic strip for a while already. This first attempt of mine to illustrate a graphic novel didn’t come out that well, though I guess I’ve seen worse, but the writer loved it and it was a great learning experience. We got the first one out, self-published, and we even took it to Wizard World Texas one year, but the writer I was working with didn’t have much of a knack for promotion and distribution, and he didn’t want to go the traditional route. We began working on the second book anyway, as well as a color version of a standard comic book breakdown of the first (the first of which we also finished, self-published, and took to Wizard World), but the writer disappeared before we got very far. Still don’t know what happened to him. However, not long after that, I was recruited by GrayHaven, and I’ve since illustrated 5 stories for them, with more to come!

GP: Were you a fan of comic books before?

NLJ: Definitely, though maybe not the most popular titles. As a kid, I had some old Disney comics I used to practice drawing (and read and reread a lot). They were the late 70’s/early 80’s stuff, which wasn’t very good, but then Gladstone came along with reprints of some classic Disney stories, and that’s when I really got into comics. I was soon collecting Mickey Mouse, Donald Duck, Uncle Scrooge, and Walt Disney Comics and Stories. Later, I also started collecting Star Wars and Indiana Jones comics, and a few other titles after that. To this day, Uncle Scrooge McDuck is my favorite fictional character. I do love all the great superheroes, of course, but my fandom for them really comes from movies, television, and cartoons.

GP: Do you read comics now? If so, what are some of your current picks?

NLJ: My budget is really tight right now. In fact, I’m looking for a day job here in Austin and trying to get more paying commissions, and I’ve been doing that for a couple years now since I came to this city, though both my parents getting cancer in the past two years made things very difficult and required a lot of back and forth traveling that made job searching less effective, but I digress. I do still read comics, but much less often at the moment. I mainly get them in collection form, too. I’ve been picking up the Boom and KaBoom Disney comics I missed out on from a few years ago in collected form, and I’ve been trying to read some of the great graphic novels of the past too. A friend just sent me Watchmen! I also have been getting the English language version Sailor Moon mangas that have been coming out over the past year. Haven’t had a chance to read them yet, but I’m pretty psyched to. I got hooked on the cartoon back when it came to the U.S. as a DIC dub while I was an undergrad. Gorgeous schoolgirls fighting monsters, what more could I ask for? My dream is to marry a really excellent Sailor Scout cosplayer.

GP: How did you get involved with The Gathering?

NLJ: I was contacted by someone who saw my work on DeviantArt.com. I think it was Andrew, but I don’t quite remember. GrayHaven was in need of a replacement for someone working on one of their stories for volume 3. I got to work with writer Glenn Matchett, who was a great match for me! I guess the GrayHaven folks were pleased enough with my work, since I’ve been asked back 5 more times. And I’m thrilled and flattered by that, of course! Especially since my work is not what is common in comic books today, aside from kids’ comics. It’s definitely rooted in cartoons/animation.

GP: Each issue of The Gathering has a theme, how did that factor into the comic creation?

NLJ: The first story I did for GrayHaven was for the Heroes issue, but it was a comedic story, which was great for me. It was a story that made fun of its lead character, a dimwitted, obnoxious, bumbling superhero, and that’s right up my alley if you’ve ever read my webcomic, Moonlight Motel (shameless plug), which is also all about making fun of the lead character, even though he is very much based on myself. I love that self-deprecating humor greatly influenced by years of watching Conan O’Brien since he first came on the talk show scene.

GP: What advice would you give to independent creators just breaking into the business?

NLJ: Of course, I’m still just “breaking in” myself, but…

Don’t give up. I just recently turned 37, and I only started getting “real” illustration gigs in the past few years (perfectly parallels my love life). They still are few and far between, but, as an artist, I’m doing a lot better than I was a few years ago. Gigs lead to more gigs, so don’t be too reluctant to occasionally do some that are purely paid for in experience and exposure. And don’t be discouraged if you don’t (or don’t want to) draw in the most popular, mainstream style. There are still books out there for you if this is something you love to do. Now, if only I could make as much progress with dating.

GP: What’s the most important lesson you’ve learned through your experiences?

NLJ: Um, basically what I just said in the form of advice, I guess, ha. And that when you design a superhero costume that includes aviator pants, people just think you draw legs really badly, because of course all superheroes are always wearing tights. Yes, in the two Commander Cosmo stories I have illustrated (the second being a webcomic), his upper legs look that way because he is wearing aviator pants like Launchpad McQuack!

GP: Do you think it’s easier today for creators to get published?

NLJ: I’m really not an expert on this. Certainly, it’s easier to self-publish. But, whether it is in hard copy or online, the next and more difficult trick is getting your comics “out there”. Still trying to get people to come to my webcomic’s site. Granted, I don’t have time to post a brand new strips very often at the moment. I also still have boxes of that first graphic novel I ever did sitting in my parents’ house. We didn’t sell too many of those. Honestly though, I didn’t really love them anyway. Like I said, it was a learning experience. Anyway, besides self-publishing, GrayHaven is the only way I know of to get your foot in the door.

GP: How do you think technology like social networking or crowdfunding sites like IndieGoGo or Kickstarter are impacting comic book publishing?

NLJ: I think they’re great. Anything that helps the average Joe get his work out there!

GP: What can we expect from you next?

NLJ: Besides being in volumes 3, 6, 7, and 9 of The Gathering, I recently finished illustrating a story for an upcoming romance issue, and I am slated to do a horror story for them after that. I also contributed work to an upcoming card game, The Card Game of Oz, that is supposed to come out in December from Game Salute and Orion’s Bell. Many artists contributed. I did 5 pieces for them, and hopefully they weren’t cut from the game during the recent retooling. I’m also on the verge of finishing up a noir detective story that’s been running on Erica J. Heflin’s readwebcomics.com, Of the Grave. Then, of course, there’s my own webcomic site, moonlightmotelcomic.com, where I post my Crush of the Day, movie reviews, and the occasional Moonlight Motel comic strip, ha, plus, hopefully soon a revival of my previously tested on YouTube “Moonlight Movie Show”. Hopefully, I will work with GrayHaven more in the future, and hopefully gigs will continue to lead to other gigs as well.