Jack Lawrence, AKA Jackademus, is a rare commodity amongst the self-publishing comic community, an individual who is passion driven and produces books not of amateurish enthusiasm or compromised effort, but well written and fun books with slick, cartoony artwork that could go toe to toe with anything produced by the big four companies.
Perhaps best known in the comicbook world for his artwork on the child friendly Lions, Tigers and Bears, published by Image comics, Jack currently divides his time working as an artist for hire, indulging in such awesome work as toy design and book illustration, along side writing/pencilling/inking/colouring/lettering his self-published comic, Tinpot Hobo, A space based action/adventure/sci-fi-soap choc full of cops, criminals and aliens.
Jack was kind enough to answer a few questions for Fanboy Confidential regarding Tinpot Hobo, his working processes and his inspirations.
Fanboy Confidential: ‘Tinpot Hobo’ is an unapologetic sci-fi romp that, while remaining fun, often takes a turn for the dark or violent, not unlike the television show ‘Firefly’, but what made you choose this genre and approach to storytelling, and what science fiction inspired it?
Jack Lawrence: I started out in the industry back in 2003 with a creator-owned title called Darkham Vale. It was a 10 issue series, set in a small town in the English countryside. I told my story, and it was very well received, but by the time I’d finished Issue 10, I was left with the feeling that the small town setting wasn’t really expansive enough for the stories I wanted to tell.
I felt that I had to leave the book anyway when it became clear that I’d been stupid, or naïve enough to sign the rights away to the publisher. The positive side of that is that whenever I’m doing a school visit to talk about my career, my first piece of advice is, “Know EXACTLY what you’re signing!” to try to help others avoid making the mistake I did.
So, with no creator-owned book to call my own, and the burning desire to expand my setting, the concept of Tinpot Hobo just sort of knocked on the door and let itself in. I’m a big fan of detective stories (cheeseball, preferably, like Diagnosis Murder. SO awesome!) and I love soap operas to the point that, like some kind of junkie, I have to limit myself to one or two, otherwise I’ll just consume them all, zombie-fashion. (For those who need to know, Hollyoaks and Emmerdale are the ones I watch now!) [Editor’s note: Here in the UK soap operas are hugely popular, prime time viewing and are taken quite seriously. Hollyoaks is the youngest and hippest of the bunch and Emmerdale is set in the country.]
So really, sci-fi is kind of the last place I went to for inspiration for the book. I’ve certainly used sci-fi to determine the stuff I DON’T want to do, though. I love Firefly, but to me, space provides the perfect opportunity for really cool aliens, which Joss Whedon didn’t do. He intentionally created the Wild West in space, which was great, but his story was essentially normal people doing normal things in an extreme environment. Tinpot Hobo will sometimes be quiet, sometimes outrageously grand. Also unlike Firefly, and a lot of sci-fi, I’m not interested in putting a corrupt government in place. The governing body in Tinpot Hobo, the UGC, fundamentally works. There will never be scenes of debate among a corrupt parliament, or all-powerful “Evil Empire” style bad guys.
FC: There are a huge and varied amount of aliens in the first two issues of ‘Hobo’, and ‘Lions, Tigers and Bears’ was brimming with interesting looking creatures. Do you spend a long time designing the large array of characters before you start or are a lot of the designs done as you go?
JL: I am, first and foremost, a creature fan. There’s something about weird aliens, scary monsters or cute creatures that excites me. I just think I’ve never grown up. But it does mean that they come quite naturally to me. To be honest, I’d have probably been happy to populate Tinpot Hobo only with aliens, but there are problems with that idea. Readers have to be given the choice of who they identify with, and for most that will be the human characters. (Unsettlingly, I identify most with Ganto, and enjoy writing for him more than any of the others.)
Some of the creatures definitely do take a while to get right, but they tend to be the ones who will be main characters. Most of the time though, they come very easily and naturally. I actually sit and sketch creatures in a stream-of-consciousness kind of way a lot of the time, so I have piles of sketches that I can now lift from whenever I need a new race.
FC: The ships and a number of the interiors within the story are digitally modelled and rendered by Adam Lawrence (who I assume is a relative), but are done in a way that gels nicely with your art style, a la ‘Futurama’. How does your collaboration work?
JL: Actually, I do the interiors, albeit in a different way to Adam. Adam does all the ships, and provided the docking bay when the Hobo is introduced. He also did the fantastic foundry on page 1 of issue 2.
In terms of the process, I decide on the “poses” of the ships, and do very quick sketches for him. He then takes the models he’s built using 3D Max and duplicates the pose, renders it out as line art and sends it all back to me so that I can drop them into my final, scanned art and colour them with the rest of the page.
I always wanted to play it that way, because it was essential to me that the ships integrate seamlessly with the rest of the art. Obviously, it works, if folk can’t tell what I’ve done and what he’s done!
And no, we’re not related! Just a coincidence
FC: Being that you write, perform all the art duties and letter the book, can you walk us through the process of putting an issue together?
JL: It’s pretty straightforward, albeit time-consuming. I write very long-term, so I have to get a few issues written before I can even think about drawing anything, so that I’m sure the story is set and I’m not going to draw something I’ll change my mind on at a later date. Once that’s done, I print my script and thumbnail the whole thing, working out if I need any new ships, and the poses on the existing ships so I can send those to Adam sooner rather than later. Then it’s just the hard slog; it takes about a day to get a page finished from pencils to final colours, but as I’m doing the book alongside my (usually heavy) schedule, it can sometimes feel like I’m not getting anywhere. Eventually, though, it all comes together and I then letter the whole thing, then read and re-read over and over to make sure I catch any mistakes. Once I’m happy, it’s all saved out as TIFFs, zipped up and uploaded to ftp for the printer, and I get started on the next one.
FC: You self publish ‘Tinpot Hobo’ through your own Kothkrom Studios. Without sounding too sycophantic, and in all honesty, it is one of the best looking self-published books that I have ever seen. With this in mind and considering the subject and genre’s potential mass market appeal, why did you choose to go it yourself rather than offering it up to one of the bigger companies?
JL: A couple of reasons, really; it all started with the Kapow! Comic convention. As soon as I heard about it, I got a table, but didn’t actually have anything to show as I’d been working on NDA-locked toy design stuff and a lot of kids comics in the UK and Europe. So I knew I had to get something out there, and as I’d been trying to get started on Hobo since 2004, Kapow gave me the perfect opportunity. Now, this was November and the con was in April. I wasn’t comfortable with the idea of getting the book done, showing it to publishers, for them to get it printed and shipped back to me in time for the con. So, as Self-publishing is one of the things on my checklist-of-things-I-want-to-have-done-before-I-die, it felt safer to kill two birds with one stone and be guaranteed to have the book back in time. What I didn’t expect was for the whole process to be so rewarding. I can honestly say, in my 8 years in the comics industry, that self-publishing Tinpot Hobo has been the most exciting and rewarding experience of my career to date.
The second main reason was that I really have to do the book alongside my regular work. So rather than disrespect a publisher by not being able to keep to a definite schedule, and more importantly (to me, at least) to be fairer to the readers, I wanted to say, look, I’m doing this myself. I can’t tell you exactly when the next issue is out, but I AM committed to it.
The trade may well come out of a publisher though, that I’m open to!
FC: Your art style has that clean, deceptively simple, cartoony look popularise in the mainstream by such artists as Ed McGuinness and the late, great Mike Wieringo. Who do you consider your greatest influences on the art and writing sides of your work?
JL: Art-wise, you’ve just named them. I actually had the opportunity to work with Mike Wieringo, briefly, when I coloured a pin-up he did for Lions, Tigers and Bears, and was just getting to know him when he was taken from us. I, like so many others, still miss him terribly. I first saw his art when he took over on Robin, back in 1995. Robin’s my favourite superhero, and Mike just did a wonderful job with him, and everything he worked on after.
Ed McGuinness is just one of those guys who is humble and unassuming, but knows how to do his job and does it bloody brilliantly. Meeting him was also the first time I’ve ever been truly star-struck.
As far as my writing style goes, I can’t actually cite an influence that I’m aware of. Again, I’m more influenced by soap opera than comics writing. There actually aren’t that many comic writers that I really enjoy, to be honest. I love Geoff Johns, Gail Simone, Robert Kirkman on Invincible and a few others, but I don’t think any of them actually influence me.
FC: The series is an ensemble piece, and the dynamic between the contrary characters is a lot of fun. Do you have a particular character that you most enjoy to write or draw, and if so, why?
JL: As I said earlier, I love writing for Ganto. Trying to make each new thing he says ruder and more arrogant than the last is a lot of fun. In terms of the drawing side though, I’d probably say Shin is my favourite. She’s big, muscular, but has to reflect the kindness of her character. She’s probably my all-round favourite.
FC: A self-publisher has to put quite the amount of work into publicising themselves and their books. You yourself run a dedicated website, keep on top of the social networking sites and exhibit at numerous conventions. How much time would you say you put into the more business orientated aspects of publishing your book?
JL: That’s really hard to say, because it’s constant. If I’m not actively doing something like a convention or just posting to a social site, I’m planning and thinking about possible courses of action, or upcoming events. When I’m working on something else, Tinpot Hobo is always there, in a little space in my brain, scratching away! I think it’s necessary, to be honest. You just can’t do something like this, and not live it with every waking moment. You’ve definitely got to love it.
FC: If you could draw/write any book or character in the medium, which would it be and why?
JL: Robin. It would have to be. I’m a DC fan, and an absolute Robin NUT. I can’t even really explain why I love him so much, I just do.
FC: Are you currently working on anything beside ‘Tinpot Hobo’, and what do you have planned for down the road?
JL: I’m always working on several projects at a time, usually nothing to do with comics. I’ve got some toy properties that I’m developing with a couple of other guys, and I’m the illustrator on a new series of iHero books for Hachette. Aside from that, commissions come in pretty regularly, and of course there’s always the next signing or convention to prepare for; all of that alongside Tinpot Hobo. It’s enough to wear you out, if you let it, but I don’t, and I’d never dream of complaining about it. I’ve got the best job in the world!
Fanboy Confidential would like to thank Jack Lawrence for his time and enthusiasm. Take it from us, Tinpot Hobo is well worth a read, so get on the train now so you can say you were there first when Jack is a big-time star.
Copies can be purchased from the Tinpot Hobo website