The first time I saw ChrisCross' work was on the Blood Syndicate back in the 90's when Milestone Media first started. It was so cool! There were Black, Latino and Asian characters in the lead roles of the books. The Milestone Universe reflected the reality I lived in and gave us creators who looked like me as well. But I digress...The thing that drew me to ChrisCross was how dynamic and expressive his people were. You didn't need word balloons to know what was going on in the story. His people acted like real people. And when he started working on Captain Marvel with Peter David? Awesomeness...
I recently started follwing ChrisCross on Twitter(@chryslus) and asked him about interviewing him here and he enthusiastically agreed, but asked me to wait until October to send him questions. I was a little leary, but I did and he answered me right back and asked for even more questions.
Of course, I sent them.
And now, the fruition of all those queries are here for everyone to see, so without further ado, HEEEERRREEE'SS CHRISCROSS....
CC: My birth name is Christopher Emanuel Williams. I am funky fresh from Planet Brooklyn, NY and have been residing in Jersey City since I moved here 20 years ago.
FOC: What were some of your favorite comics growing up?
CC: Believe it or not, I was purely a Marvel guy. There wasn't a Marvel book I DIDN'T buy, but it was mostly X-men titles, pretty much any mutant driven books, Avengers, Thor, COULDN'T buy ENOUGH Fantastic Four, and I was definitely into independents. There was a plethora of books I would buy from smaller publishers that had fun with what they were doing and didn't make any apologies for it, Like Dynamo Joe, Mr. Monster, the First Comics line like Nexus, Badger and Spyder. As long as it was something great to look at and different, I was buying it. And I was always buying Manga and Anime. I was down on Manwah and Manga before it was vogue to do so. I was also into Hong Kong comics also, who were doing things graphically that no one was.
FOC: Whose work influenced you as an artist?
CC: Most of old Marvel: Neal Adams, John Byrne, Kevin Maguire...heh…He'll kill me calling him old... the Buscemas, Kirby, Steranko, Walt Simonson...I could go on with them. Oh, can't forget Jose Garcia- Lopez, Gil Kane, Howard Chaykin, Alex Toth, Doug Wildey and Barry Windsor-Smith. When Steve Rude came into the mix he retaught me about looking at vintage artist like Vargas, Andrew Loomis and Elvgren. These artists, and more like them, were able to help me pull my art together in a lot of ways. They retaught me how to use gesture and natural movement with my characters. Every character can't stand with this erect hard stance. There's more power in the relaxed stance that an artist can convey. Then there's the tons of Japanese artists and European illustrators that I was shown and impressed by, like Frazzeta, Moebius, Masimune Shirow, Kia Asamiya, Yasuhiro Nightow, Tite Kubo, Yuichi Kumakura, Bilal, Hugo Pratt, Chichoni, Jodorosky and Jorge Zaffino.... I’d better stop or I'll be cataloging all the great people I refer to all day....
FOC: You broke into comics working on the Milestone Media title, Blood Syndicate, while you were were attending the NY School of the Visual Arts. How did that happen?
CC: Well, when I was in high school, I met this cool guy named Brian Marshall who, at the time was running an independent comic company called Lodestone Publishing. They were putting out T.H.U.N.D.E.R.Agents and I was surprised to find out that they were doing it out of an apartment not far from where I lived at the time, which was in Coney Island. I was trying to get a comic job writing and penciling anything and got some great advice from Brian. Never got the job, but through the years, when Lodestone folded, Brian and I maintained contact and, through him, met a plethora of people who are now big stars in their own right. I met Jim Palmiotti when he had hair down his back. That's a LOOOOONG time ago and he hates when I tell this story for, like, the 1000th time, and Peter Laird and Kevin Eastman when the first Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles came out.
The funny thing was, Brian and I were trying to come up with an IP that we could work on and Jimmy Palmiotti, Brian and I are sitting in the food court of A&S Mall, now called Manhattan Mall, and we were discussing what our next achievements were going to be. Jimmy was already with Marvel then, and Brian tells me about this new startup company that was creating Afro-Centric heroes for the populace. He actually had interest in doing some kind of writing for this new company at some point. He told me about one of the characters being a woman made of bricks named Brickhouse. I laughed and sang that Commodores song in pure jest.
"The day I draw a woman made of bricks…,” I said, “…is the day I hang myself."
A couple of months later, I was not only working for Milestone, but drawing the very character I laughed at. Which goes to show you, kiddies, never scoff at something and say it'll never happen. It could smack you in the face like a cold fish when you're not looking. Heheh.
So, a couple of months after that heartfelt declaration, I walked up in the Milestone offices during a break in my classes at the School of Visual Arts. Oddly enough, the Milestone Media headquarters were 3 blocks away from my school building, and went into the main office where I got my first look at the office manager, Christine Gilliam. She was just sittin’ there looking GOOOO-DUH. And yes, I did hit on her.
Joe James was one of the guys that were sitting at a drawing desk in one of the cubicles and I remember thinking, “When I get this gig, please tell me I don't have to leave home to work all the way down here. The point is to never leave the room.”
Joe James wanted to see how good I was so I showed him my portfolio. He did this "hmmm!" face and told me to stay there next to Christine, which was cool with me.
Next, Dwayne McDuffie, a brother who was tall like a ball player, came out of the office across the room from me and I remember thinking, "He's just like me COOL."(ChrisCross is almost 7ft tall)… He introduced himself and we shook hands. He went back in the office. Michael Davis, who was one of the partners at the time, looked out from another office, stared at me and closed the door. Next, Denys Cowan, came out of Dwayne's office, looked at me and went into Michael's office. Now I'm thinking, “Okay, what the hell is going on here? If these guys are into something shady, I'm outta here.”
Then Dwayne and Derek Dingle, the President of the company, who is now VP at Black Enterprises, officially came out welcomed me, shook my hand and took me around the place with Michael Davis razzing me the whole time we're walking. If you know Mike, he's ALWAYS razzing you if he likes you. :D
I, later, got an assignment to do a set of Milestone Media cards, when it was big thing to do so, and I got to work on Blood Syndicate. So, I came home with my first assignment and wound up getting an actual book. The rest was history. Working at Milestone, while going to SVA full time, was murderous, but I got my first taste of the freelance life, working with Milestone. And I’m thankful for it.
FOC: The late Dwayne McDuffie was the Editor-in-Chief at Milestone. What was it like working with him?
CC: Working with Uncle Dwayne McDuffie was an amazing experience. Like I said before, I had never met anyone in any situation, other than on the basketball court, that was like me. Dwayne was an incredibly intelligent brother. A lot of people don't know that he graduated high school very early, I think he said 10th grade! And that he was saturated in science enough that he should have been teaching it rather than writing comics. I used to go to him with hypotheses about certain theorems because he was the only guy I could talk to about that kind of stuff whose eyes wouldn't glaze over when opening the subject.
He was only a couple of years older than me but he was the older brother I always wanted and never had. Around him, I always felt I had to be 4 times better in everything. That kind of thinking pushed me and he definitely had this way of doing that to me also. Even though it was a company that garnered a cast of owners that were African American, Milestone was truly the U.N. in that place and through them, I was able to have lunch and dinner with Walt Simonson, who I call Dad now…I love that guy…and Chris Claremont, Mark Bright. I met so many greats in that loft office. Dwayne showed me that it was okay to be a tall, smart brother in business and that it was okay to use that as an advantage, not to be aloof, and not cower from goals. So, everything I do now is because I saw someone just like me.
I think of the photo of this kid going into Obama's Oval office and he's looking at the President saying, "You have hair just like me!" and Obama says, "Yes!! I do. You wanna touch it?" And someone snaps that photo of a young black child touching the possible future of his own culture's head. It was kinda like that. Denys Cowan taught me a ton of things art-wise as well as Michael Davis and Derek Dingle business-wise, so I got it from all angles. If you had a question, they answered it and gave me the impression that if you're going to be in this business, you'd better eventually be doing something that matters and that you can look on your wall or in your bookcase and say to yourself, "I own that." SO, you can imagine after talking to him not too long before he passed, what that did to me.
FOC: You recently worked on a French graphic novel called Neferites: L'Embaumer. How did that opportunity come about?
CC: I got a call from the former editor Nicolas Forsans. He said he was a big fan of my work and he'd love me to do a 3 part graphic novel series about an embalmer in Egypt that was like a cross between CSI, Sherlock Holmes, and Prince of Egypt. How could I turn that down?
At the time, I was at my wits’ end on some weird dealings on Firestorm and I thought before I really burned any bridges, that it would be best to leave after book 5 and jump on an assignment that would take me from American comics for at least a year and a half. The tragedy was that, in the middle of that assignment, on the second book, I wound up in a bike accident that took me out of commission for a couple of months and left me hobbled in the worst way. So much so that it kept me from finishing the series. To this day, I feel bad about that, but I told Nicolas I'd make it up to him by doing some kind of project with him that we can both own. It was a great experience and I’m still friends with Nicolas after my tenure there. I wouldn't mind working with another European company soon. In fact, He, Lylian K, another European writer, and I and are working on something now...
FOC: Do you have anything new on the stands?
CC: I just finished my tenure on Smallville: Detective, where I got to create the Smallville version of Batman and Nightwing, which is a really big deal among the Smallville fans that wanted to see that character on the show. I had fun doing it and creating the look of the Batmobile, which should be known by the time, I guess, you post this interview. :D Time will tell how the fans’ll receive the Batman and Nightwing I brought to the page.
I’m also working on some of my own IP's and am about to jump on art chores for the Green Lantern Corps Annual for next year written by Peter Tomasi. I’ll tell you how things come around full circle: Peter was the editor on the Firestorm series I was working on with Dan Jolley. :D
FOC: How did you get the Smallville: Detective gig?
CC: I got a call from the editor at the time, Kwanza Johnson, to do some issues of the Smallville arc, but more importantly to create the look and feel for the new Batman and Nightwing and anything that rides with that. I was going to take a month off to do my own thing, but how could I pass up the chance to create a new version of one of the most legendary characters to ever be made (thanks to Chris Nolan). I'd be a fool to pass that up. So, after some contracts signed and some conceptual designs, it was on. :D
FOC: Does this series pick up directly after the series finale?
CC: I don't know if this particular arc does, but the "season" does. It's supposed to go on like it never ended.
FOC: Who is writing the book?
CC: The indomitable Bryan Q. Miller, who’s written a plethora of other titles for DC and a ton of episodes for the latter seasons Smallville. Incidentally, he kicked my butt on those pages.
FOC: What were some off the challenges of taking a popular TV show and translating it to the comic page?
CC: One of the challenges is doing work and waiting for a plethora of overseers to get back to you with responses of what you did so you can go forward. Too many hands in the pot. It slows up progress way too much and drives the editors and the artists crazy.
Another is no one can decide how close to a likeness of these characters one should have. Apparently, there's some issue about how much you can make a character look like an actor whose image made the look of the character you're drawing. If it's too close, you have to redraw it so that it looks kind of like them, but not exactly like them.
I'm bald now.
And the guided view is great but you can't have too much written content on it because otherwise you'll have small panels the size of a tic-tac and the words will cover everything. But other than that...It's great... sigh gasp sigh gasp...
FOC: Smallville famously avoided costumes for most of its run. Does Clark finally have a proper costume?
CC: I'd say so. The costume you see in the comics and the digital work is the costume he's going to have, cape and all. They flirted with it 'til the end. I'd say it'd be crazy to go back to jackets and jeans now.
FOC: How are you approaching the storytelling and the overall look of the book?
Like I do with every script I read: Break it down, thumbnail it out, draw the various scenes and make the characters act. The problem with this book is that you have to refer to the television show and there's so much material one can get seriously bogged down looking it up, collecting it and sifting through it. It’s very ref heavy and, if you want it to feel like Smallville, a show that ran at least 10 seasons, there are tons of screenshots to sift through. I have 2 gigs of screenshots with just the ref I needed for this arc. Imagine if I was doing every issue? Yikes.
FOC: Is there any input from the producers of the show?
CC: That I don't know, but I usually talk to the writer or the editor. When you have the amount of work I do getting to deadlines, you have to give up the reigns to the editor to handle those things.
I’ve never received any emails from producers on that show, but I don't see why they would bother either. I'm sure they've got enough to do, like create more shows like Arrow or chill on their limestone patio and outdoor kitchens grilling mahi-mahi and pineapple prosciutto skewers. :D Okay... I just talked myself hungry.
FOC: Are you going to start writing, as well as drawing, your own comics?
CC: Yes. I have serious plans to go my own way in that regard. Myself and Vito Delsante, who wrote Superman and Batman Adventures for DC, have pooled our talents together to create our transmedia company ETERNAL KICK, which will produce graphic novels physically and digitally and any other way we can get it out there, and will be seed IP for all manner of other media. When we finally start producing the IP's for the audience, we'd love that the audience have a hand in telling our stories in any way they see fit. We want everyone to not only love what we're putting together, but be a part of the experience. We should be live early next year for the website, which will fully inform what our intentions will be.
I was always in this to have my own company and to produce my own concepts, but combined with the talents of Vito, we'll have the time of our lives coming up with great original concepts that everyone can be a part of. Until then, you can follow Vito at his blog, http://incogvito.livejournal.com/ and myself at my blog, http://chriscross.posterous.com. And if people go there, they should feel free to join and comment. Be a part of the party!
FOC: Are there any artists or writers you would like to work with?
CC: There are TONS, especially with the Eternal Kick venture I'm putting together right now, but I've had fun with Cullen Bunn...heh...fun with Cullen Bunn...and I liked working with Kelly Sue DeConnick, and Bryan Q. Miller and, soon, Peter Tomasi. That right there is a great list of party rockers to jam with in this biz at the moment. You can't beat that with a bat. But I’ll definitely come back when crazier stuff pops off.
FOC: Any advice for anyone trying to break into the industry?
CC: It's not like it used to be when you could just go to the head offices of your favorite comic company and get a meet and greet. You can't just send portfolios to an office where it'll just pile up and you hope and pray that you'll get a call back in that month or that year. Nowadays, companies make it really hard to get in. Some companies don't even enlist submission entries anymore, which is crazy because new talent is what keeps new ideas coming in and keeps the market alive.
But with the advent of the internet and the explosion of digital publishing, if a certain author/artist can be successful with some stick figure ninjas on the web, then anyone can be successful if they can sell themselves right. You may have the dream of getting into the Big 2, but I still say work with the smaller publications first. Get your feet wet. Learn the ropes and learn the business. Build a portfolio to show the higher echelon clients/employers you want to hire you for your talent and abilities. Let your work speak for yourself. As Denys Cowan once told me, you should never have to explain your work. Your work should do all the talking for you. You shut up let your work speak for itself and only answer questions directed at you.
For those who want to send submissions to certain companies, Top Cow is taking submissions (www.topcow.com) and Comixology has their SUBMIT program but you can start by going here... http://www.comixology.com/contact-us
Really. what else is there to say? Be smart, don't do work that doesn't have a written agreement and read the agreement BEFORE you sign, and don't ever work on spec. You deserve to get paid for your blood, sweat and tears... and bad back and lack of circulation and carpel tunnel. Just saying.
If someone says that doing work for free or back pay and you'll get a big mention when it comes out or some other rigamarole, just leave. No Roger, No Rerun, no rent. They don't pay, y'all don't play. And DO get your own stuff out there. It's very rare anyone gets rich working just in comics, so have a game plan.
If you're doing commissions or work over the web, make sure you have a paysite like PayPal to receive and pay funds. Have a debit card with Paypal in which to withdraw monies from that account. Some people like to play foul by sending you money and then taking it back before you can expedite the handling of that cash after you've sent them your hard work. So, be smart. You can take that cash out and then put it into your actual bank account before any shenanigans happen.
FOC: What was the last good movie you saw?
CC: Prometheus... I love anything Ridley Scott does. The next one will be Alex Cross. It's so great that Tyler Perry is playing that character. He is totally that character.
So, if you haven't already, pick up the latest issue of Smallville and look for the Green Lantern Corps Annual entitled the Third Army in 2013. Also visit www.chriscross.posterous.com for all things ChrisCross!
And, of course, I've got some examples of ChrisCross' work...
Update: Chriss Cross is collaborating with Matt Kindt for Bloodshot #0 from Valiant in August!