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Creative Conversation With Adam Gorham

Adam Gorham is a rising star in comics. Don’t believe me? What else would you call someone who’s being shot straight to the stars by drawing one of Marvel’s highest profile characters with a movie coming out? Plus, the fact it’s a cosmic character with space crime overtones. Adam Gorham’s a model of work ethic and determination, not to mention humility. He gives us a rough outline of his journey thus far, what we can expect from the upcoming Rocket #1 out on May 10th and offers sage advice to artists drawing their own path in the industry.

MK: Adam, thank you so much for having a Creative Conversation with me today. One of the questions I always like to start with is, do you remember the first comic you owned or the first one that made an impression on you?

AG: the pleasure is mine! I’m excited to talk about Rocket with my pal Matt Klein!

MK: Nice rhyme.

AG: Totally unintentional. I amaze myself (laughs). The first comic I owned and really cherished, and has left an impact on me to this day, is Batman: The Cult, the graphic novel. My father got it for me, probably without even looking inside of it. This was when comics were at their height in the 90’s and the local newspaper and cigar shop sold comics. Bernie Wrightson’s work was my first major influence.

MK: I freaking love that book. I mean, Jim Starlin and Bernie Wrightson, it’s a gem. In talking with people in shops that’s an often undiscovered gem. You mentioned Bernie Wrightson as your first major influence, who were some others at different points in your journey to today?

AG: Well, I loved comics as a kid, but rarely read them. I liked them for the art and would draw what I saw. All the mythos and lore I got loosely from 90’s cartoons like [Batman: TAS], Spider-Man, X-Men, etc. so without knowing many names at the time, I was certainly informed by the heavyweights of the 90’s. However, I fell out of comics around ten or so, about the time when kids let go of their “kids stuff”. I didn’t get back into loving comic artwork until eleventh grade, and that was after discovering Alex Ross, particularly Kingdom Come.

MK: So good!

AG: It was a revelation for me. Ross’ work was the first time for me that comic art felt like classic works of art that could be hung somewhere.  When I started getting back into it, I was in love with what Bryan Hitch was doing on The Ultimates. In fact, I really liked Ultimate Marvel at the time. Leinil Yu was another favorite.

MK: There was a ton of top talent working on Marvel’s Ultimate Universe at that point. Do you have a favorite Ultimate Universe run or story?

AG: Well I really liked the Ultimate X-Men stuff for a while. The first arc was epic. I enjoyed most of Return to Weapon X. Ultimates 2 probably stands apart though as the height of those titles.it took FOREVER for it to come out, but in the end it was pretty satisfying

MK: Great art can be worth the wait. How did you come to the decision that working in comics was what you wanted to do?

AG: I drew all my life. That’s not saying much. Most kids love to draw. However, I was always applauded for how well I drew for my age, so I grew up with drawing as “my thing.” And for a long time that was enough. I didn’t have a direct application or career in mind for it, but I excelled at drawing superheroes, so comics seemed an obvious choice. The only thing is, I was a terrible student with no ambition. Drawing comics as a career was an easy thing to talk about, but pursuing it was murky and not always tangible. I did go to art school and flamed out because, as I say, terrible student. Ultimately, after a few years of working one dirty job or another, my partner dragged me to my first comic convention and really opened up my eyes to this world I’d previously only known through Wizard magazines and comic shops. I was working in a grocery warehouse. Things with my significant other were getting serious. We wanted to start a new chapter in our lives and it became clear I needed a new goal in life. Or a goal in life. So when I left the warehouse job, I went for broke and looked for a job illustrating. I found one off Craigslist (laughs).

MK: What was the job?

AG: My first ever gig drawing comics was a 128-page graphic novel, written by a Canadian film director who wanted to adapt his indie vampire movie into a comic. Before that I had drawn a few scant pages for my own ideas. And once I started there was no looking back.

MK: That sounds a bit like you jumped into the deep end with a 128 page project right off the bat!

AG: Totally. It was the first opportunity I found and I seized it. I didn’t know how or where else to find work. In the past I had sent submissions to publishers, back when most publishers still took open submissions. I have a polite and informative rejection letter from Marvel, actually.

MK: That’s freaking awesome though! You talked about going to a convention kind of blew open your mind about comics and the industry. As an artist, how do you like conventions now being on the other side of the table? because I remember that’s how we met and i bugged you for a sketch that i recently proudly showed off to io9.

AG: Going as a fan and going as part of your job are two very different experiences. Pros and cons to each side. When I went as fan all I could think about was getting comics signed and saying, “Hi” to people I admired. I put myself through crazy lines and jumped through hoops to meet creators like Alex Ross, Brian Bolland and so on. It was fun but exhausting. You really invested a part of yourself. As soon as I started tabling, that was out the window. It’s not like I made a conscious decision to regard conventions differently. It’s just that creating a book and taking it to market changes your priorities.

MK: it’s part of your business. you’re a brand now with obligations.

AG: Precisely.

MK: Do you have any memorable requests from fans at conventions? Or any favorite sketches you’ve done?

AG: I’ve never had a bizarre request. Everything I’ve been asked to draw has been pretty fun, although I think I’ve only recently started drawing well at conventions. The past couple years I’ve improved, whereas drawing at a table was an uncomfortable experience. I got the hang of it though. So anything beyond a year or two ago I look back on and cringe. Your Man-Bat is a favorite of mine. I did a Frank Miller Dark Knight at NYCC that was very nice.

Man-Bat sketch by Adam Gorham

MK: if you could go back some years, what advice would you give yourself about being a comic book artist?

AG: With hindsight there’s so much I would impart. My problems starting out was, I thought I knew just how much work was involved with making comics. I would go back and tell myself “Nope. Work harder.” One thing I tell others is not to feel beholden to any one thing they’ve drawn. Draftsmanship is so very important. teaching yourself to draw things over and over, refining, and not being precious about something because you spend an hour on it. Your ideas and skill will always improve with every pass if you put in the effort, so it’s crazy to me to draw something once and thinking, “Well, I can see this is off, this other thing is wonky, but I just spent two hours drawing it, so good enough.” I’ve redrawn entire pages because a better idea struck me while I was driving home or at the store or on a walk.

MK: How many hours a day do you draw?

AG: I draw every day. Working constantly. Some days I work eight hours and others twelve or sixteen. Depends on where I’m at. I have two kids that, once they’re home, I can’t do anything else until they’re in bed. So I don’t always draw as much as I want to in a work day. But I try to make up with time later

MK: That’s incredibly intimidating and inspiring at the same time (laughs). Let’s pivot real quick to your ridiculously exciting new series coming up. So, congratulations on being the artist on the upcoming Rocket #1 with Al Ewing. It seems like a pretty awesome moment to be working on this character with Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 coming out so close to the release of the series. When you got the gig, how was the book described to you?

AG: It was a thrilling experience for me because of the sheer amount of suspense involved.

I was wrapping up The Violent at Image.

MK: Lovely book if i might add.

AG: I was worried what I’d move on to. Like, I had some options, and I had some ideas of what step to take next. I was gutted, to be honest, because i wanted The Violent to carry on. Ed [Brisson] had this great idea for the next chapter and I was ready for it. So, I was sweating it a little. Then later one afternoon while I was at the supermarket Ii got an email from Marvel asking if I was interested in working for them. That alone was very exciting, but it could’ve meant anything from a cover to a tie-in or whatever

MK: Sure.

AG: But naturally I said yes. they told me they’d have some information in a couple days. For two days my mind went WILD with possibilities

MK: Was Rocket Raccoon on that list of possibilities?

AG: Ha! No. I figured since I had just done a street level crime comic, something like Punisher or whatever would be the obvious route. I met with a good friend of mine, Michael Walsh, who was doing Rocket and Groot at the time. We were giddy over what it could be, no matter how small. When Marvel offered me a new #1 ongoing, I was intoxicated. Like, it wasn’t even that it was Rocket. At the time, we were calling it something else. The change of name was also in the cards. But the fact I’d be coming on with such a great opportunity was unreal. Anyway, when we finally got talking about what the book would be, my place as an artist began to make sense.

MK: How so? And this is an interesting pattern here, your first comic is a 128 page book, your first gig at Marvel is an ongoing for one of the most publicly recognized characters! You’re really seizing these opportunities that not everybody gets. It’s inspiring.

AG: I forget who exactly gave me the lowdown, but they said the vision for this book would be Rocket in his element pulling heists in space. In conversation we compared it to Parker graphic novels. Al [Ewing] had this idea to use prose, reinforcing the theme of a hard-boiled thriller. So right away we talked about how pages would be structured to accommodate Al’s prose. and how Rocket’s default outfit in this series would be a suit, open collar, no tie. Parker, even Daniel Ocean make good comparisons, but our Rocket has a broken heart that reminds me more of George Clooney’s Jack Foley from “Out of Sight.”

MK: You just named one of my top 10 favorite films of all time!

AG: IT’S SO GOOD! Fun story about that movie. When I was a kid I was grounded. I forget why, but I know I earned it. My parents left to get groceries one saturday afternoon. While they were out my friends called asking if I’d go to the movies with them. Somehow I thought I could sneak out, see a two hour movie, and bus it home before they ever got home. The only thing playing at the theatre was “Out of Sight” which I had seen ads for but wasn’t the type of movie I was rushing to see at the time. Man, oh man, it was the coolest thing I ever saw at that point.

MK: Uh, yeah! Seriously, anybody reading this who hasn’t seen “Out of Sight” needs to immediately go watch it!

AG: And I felt like such a smooth operator for sneaking out to see this slick flick. I was like, twelve or thirteen at the time. I can’t recall. But I walked out of the theatre like, “Look at me now, world!”

MK: Did you get busted?

AG: Oh, of course! My parents were out of the house for maybe an hour, discovered I took off, and had three hours to sit and plan my punishment. I walked into verbal cannon fire.

MK: That’s epic. Okay, we’re in the home stretch here. If someone’s been living in a bubble for the last few years and has no idea who Rocket is, how would you describe your new series to them?

AG: First off, congratulations on leaving your bubble. Let me introduce you to Rocket: he’s a scruffy outlaw, a lost soul, a space raccoonoid looking for his place in the galaxy when he’s not saving it with the Guardians. That place usually ends up being a dangerous one, where he’s risking it for, surprisingly, a chance at love lost. If that doesn’t work out, then cold revenge.

MK: Who is on your Mount Rushmore of comics?

AG: I forget how many heads are on Rushmore, but let’s say four, and my Rushmore of Comics is comprised of: Frank Quitely, Alex Ross, Bernie Wrightson, and Moebius.

MK: That’s an eclectic looking Mount Rushmore!

AG: Rushmore is really weird, when you think about it.

MK:  Last but not least: If you meet someone that’s never read a comic before, what 5 reads would you tell them to pick up?

AG: For Golden Age adventure, I recommend Prince Valiant. For super heroics I recommend All-Star Superman. For horror I’d suggest Afterlife With Archie. For great crime, if you’ve already read The Violent, be sure to check out Ed Brisson’s Murder Book. For sci-fi, Black Science is pretty neat.

MK: Adam, thank you so much for giving me this time. I really appreciate you, man. I can’t wait to read Rocket #1.

Make sure you pre-order Rocket #1 at Forbidden Planet now and pick it up on Wednesday, May 10th when it arrives in store.

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TRY SOMETHING NEW Chapter 18: And Restore Freedom to the Galaxy…

WHERE HAS OUR DEAR SWEET TYLER GONE? HE LOOKS SO TROUBLED.

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I really don’t want to do this this week. This column is going to take some weird turns. Some days I don’t like writing things that don’t make people feel anything so I might just get real creepy and personal. All exposed nerves and open wounds. Awkward as a substitute for interesting. I have abandoned the idea of comics journalism in favor of weird tangents, self aggrandizing, and the occasional comic recommendation. This is a one week special. Next week I will be back to talking about…I guess I kind of do this every week. Anyway, I feel like in my war with Unkie Dev (which he doesn’t know is a thing… but it is a thing) I am fighting the ground war and he is going for a victory through attrition. We battle each week for column space and witticism supremacy (both of which I win… because I am very witty.) and I fight each week’s battle like it is the last. It never is. He has been writing a column that nobody appreciates much longer than I have. This is only my 18th. He is old hat and yelling into the void and his long game is wearing me down. I don’t know how he does it. I can barely muster the energy to be excited about telling you, my last loyal reader, about new comics. But muster I will. I got you this. It’s not much but it’s mustered.

My first review is a twofer. MIND MGMT. Matt Kindt is one of those guys that is hard to pigeon hole. That’s a weird term. Seems sexual in a really gross way but I don’t think it is. Maybe it is. I don’t know. I’m pretty vanilla. Anyway, Matt Kindt’s stuff was too indie to get the action comic persons attention, to actiony to get the indie kids excited. That’s what made him brilliant. Then his buddy Jeff Lemire broke out in a big way doing a very similar thing and opened a lot of doors. Now Matt Kindt is making waves as one of the most exciting writers at DC and soon to be Marvel but the whole time he has had MIND MGMT brewing. This is one of those books that makes other writers stay up late and curse their brains for not being able to perform these sort of narrative acrobatics. Mr. Kindt makes me feel inadequate, and that is about as high praise as I have. His cerebral conspiracy theory book has become one of the hot books of 2013 with the announcement of an upcoming film and back issues being nearly impossible to find. Now you can finally start catching up with a $1 re-release of issue 1 or the first collection in a very nice hardcover. You can either try if for cheap or trust me and dive right in. I vote for trust me. Why would I vote against you trusting me?

Ok. One review down, infinite to go. That one wasn’t so bad. I might have shared a bit too much about my proclivities but at least we got through it and now we are a little closer. It’s your turn to share.

You took to long. I will review X while you think of something uncomfortable to share with me. X #0 is out. It collects all the Dark Horse Presents stuff into one issue. Old superhero book brought back from the dead. Pretty fun. Buy it. End review.

Got anything? No? Well keep thinking. I feel like our relationship is becoming more Doctor/Patient and less Mentor/Mentee every day, which is disappointing. I keep sharing things with you that make me agitated if I think about them. I am sharing too much. When I get uncomfortable I can’t maintain eye contact and I constantly look at the door. I’m like a puppy on a dropped leash, always in danger of bolting into traffic. For the rest of this column imagine that I am reading it to you, monotone and drymouthed, but staring at the door the whole time.

They have made Judge Dredd comics in the UK for literally decades and only a handful of Americans ever cared. We are a self involved people at our best. Then they made a big budget nightmare of a movie and the ones that cared ended up caring a little less. Then they made more comics for 15ish years. The attrition of caring continued. Then they made another big action movie but this one was really good. Even less people cared about this movie then cared about the bad one. So, naturally IDW decided it was a really good time to start making Judge Dredd comics in America. My guess is the number of people who care about this book is in the high single digits. This book is some sort of proof of Zeno’s Paradox of heading towards 0 fans. Soon only half of a person will like Judge Dredd in this country. But that is damn shame because it is really good. The British like their sci-fi comics in a very specific way; weird, morally ambiguous, and loaded with layers of nearly impenetrable lore. Americans don’t like any of that. So the American Judge Dredd walks a fine line between faithful and dumbed down. It is tricky to pull off a story about a super violent cop with fascistic tendencies who is also the hero of the story, but Duane Swierczynski does a good job of making it palatable and still off putting, like it should be. If you have been looking for something out of your comfort zone but don’t feel like wading through 20+ years of UK Judge Dredd then start with JUDGE DREDD vol. 1 out this week. Americans have a bad enough reputation as it is in this world, let’s prove we can appreciate good things to our British friends once and for all.

Someone mailed me a pair of index fingers last week. I freaked out. I assumed that Tech Wizard/Human Prey, Tyler, had been taken in by some kindly old stranger only to be met with a few excruciating days of torture and finally the sweet release of death. Tyler was always too trusting. And now his sick captors were trying to lure me into their game. Anyway, I ended up having some DNA tests run though and it turns out the fingers aren’t Tyler’s at all. I totally forgot that I bought them from some weird German dude on ebay because he gave free shipping. Oh well. No idea where Tyler is. I guess I will continue to put the Weekly Planet together myself. Hopefully this time I remember to change the title. I feel like the biggest moron in the whole wide world when I forget to change the titles on my column. The absolute biggest, most worthless moron there ever was.

I think Jay Faerber is a really unappreciated writer in comics. I read the first volume of Noble Causes and hated it in a really fundamental way. I spend a lot of money on stupid stuff to make me feel better about myself temporarily, and rarely does it make me angry but Noble Causes did. Actual anger. Then I read an interview with Faerber where he spoke really well about the point of the book and for some reason I decided to reread it. Turns out he is much smarter than me and the book is really clever. It’s a great pastiche of superhero and soap opera. After that I was hooked on Noble Causes and all his work since then. POINT OF IMPACT is his most recent, a mini series murder mystery that hits all the right notes. Beautiful art by Koray Kuranel adds to the overall moody tone of the book. There are not a lot of crime books on shelves these days so thankfully the ones we do have are worth your time and attention. Once you have read through Criminal, Scalped, Parker, and Murder Book, make sure POINT OF IMPACT is on your buy list.

As I write these words or as you read these very same words something remarkable and tragic is happening. Somewhere, someone is working really hard to tell an amazing, and personal, and beautiful story about love, or sadness, or aspirations, or death. Maybe it’s about injustice, or righting wrongs, or the inherent beauty in honesty. Maybe it’s about betraying the people you love, or watching people you care about suffer, or about the overwhelming power of bringing life into this world. They have the most beautiful and personal and universal book in the world and they just need it to exist. They are working night and day for years on it. They are putting more into this book than any audience has a right to deserve. They are working two jobs to be able to make this book. They are giving up freetime, then hobbies, then passions in order to see this through. Even when they manage to sneak away a few short hours to sleep they lay awake in bed thinking about their book. Dreams become nightmares, nightmares become hauntings. They are haunted night and day by their book. They lose all their money. They lose all their friends. They lose their physical and mental health. They lose the ability to see clearly why they needed money or friends in the first place because the simple burden of the story inside of them is becoming all consuming. It devours everything. Time. Then money. Then relationships. Then their ability to have relationships. Then, most brutally, it devours hope. They lose the ability to remember why they wanted this life. They begin to wonder what they did wrong to be cursed with the burden of this story. They forget the feeling of excitement of trying to get this story out and it simply becomes a tumor that they want so badly to excise. And just like that, the weight of comics breaks them. To create comics they must destroy their love of comics. They must destroy a piece of themselves. And then, when they are at their lowest they walk into a shop to find something, anything to keep them going. And they do find something. They find out that someone made a book about a raccoon soldier from space and his space tree friend. ROCKET RACCOON & GROOT COMPLETE COLLECTION is out now. This book is great. Comics are an awesome and cruel mistress.

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