Chris Kemple, Richard Case, Craig Rousseau, Kelly Yates and Rich Woodall are five guys who, in addition to their other gigs, have formed the webcomics community Artist Alley Comics. We’re profiling all five this week with MIGHTY Q&As and if you wanna know more — and you do — check out our story here.
Dan Greenfield: What’s your Secret Origin?
Rich Woodall: I grew up moving all over the country. California, Colorado, all over Arkansas and Kentucky, then up to New Hampshire. In there somewhere (Stuttgart, Ark.) I discovered the X-Men. It was Classic X-Men #17 with a Jon Bogdanove/ Terry Austin cover. Wolverine was in chains, circus posters in the background. I was sold!
Inside was a reprint of Uncanny X-Men #111 (Byrne/Claremont). As a 12-year-old kid, it blew my mind. I had comics before that, GI Joe, Transformers, Star Wars. A Marvel Sample Pack from a Christmas a couple years before that had two of every title they published that year, and some random comics like Swamp Thing and Batman… but that issue of Classic X-Men did it. I went from casual collector to full-on Marvel Zombie. It was at that point that I knew I wanted to write and draw comics.
Soon after finding that gem in the 7-11 a couple blocks from my house, I was in full Comic Book Crazy mode. I would ride my bike all over town and hit every book, convenience, and grocery store that had comic books to make sure I saw everything that came out.
I started picking up other X-titles. Uncanny at first … which was toward the end of Marc Silvestri’s run (Fall of the Mutants stuff), Jim Lee soon took over. Took me a while to figure out that Classic and Uncanny X-Men were about 10-15 years apart. But like I said, I was picking up everything … so McFarlane Spider-Man, Simonson on X-Factor, Alan Davis on Excalibur, Byrne on West Coast Avengers, John Romita Jr. on Daredevil, and my favorite, Ron Frenz, on Thor! Side story there… I had no clue who Jack Kirby was at that point. Ron Frenz was really my introduction to Kirby.
So, at that point, I didn’t have a comic store near me, but my grandmother had a small, second-hand book store that had back issues. I went nuts. We’d go in there and I’d spend all my money (probably $10) on one issue. They didn’t understand it, but I was starting to collect the comics (mostly X-Men for back issues). My parents would drive into Little Rock, and there was a comic book store there… so I started bugging the crap out of all my relatives to take me every weekend. I’m sure I was a giant pain in the ass.
At school, I had a hard time making friends because I wouldn’t stay in one place for more than a year or so. Comics were the perfect escape… but in Stuttgart, Ark., I met another kid, Gavin McGraw, who loved comics, the same comics, that I loved. He had been collecting a bit longer than I had, and he could draw!
I went from these really horrible, same pose, tiny drawings of characters, to tracing forms out of the Official Handbook of the Marvel Universe, to doing slightly less horrible (but still really bad) drawings of my own characters. Gavin and I created a handful of characters, and even after I moved away to Kentucky, we kept in touch and kept sending each other drawings.
The summer after I left Arkansas, Gavin came to stay with me for a couple weeks. We created our first comic book. I think it was only about 3 or 4 pages (including the cover). We had no clue how to really do a comic. I think we drew it on the back of Pizza Hut placemats. My mom had been the manager of a Pizza Hut, and had brought home a box of expired placemats… they were all 8.5 x 11 and had awesome blank backs. I “wrote” the comic and we took turns illustrating our characters and parts of the background. I’m pretty sure we didn’t do pencils, just went right to using some felt tipped pen, and then markers to color it. By the end of that summer, we had our first issue of “Star and Stalker, the Sons of the Dragon” finished… the 3 pages of “sequentials” amounted to a splash page of Gavin’s character Stalker in a bar looking for answers. I can’t remember if my character Star showed up, but I know he was on the cover… and I drew the bar patrons that Stalker was beating up. It had great dialog like “Stop!” “Make me!”… man, we had a blast! Later, when I was doing Johnny Raygun (my first published creator-owned work) I threw Star and Stalker in as a cameo/nod to what came before … the comic that started it all!
Tell me all about your Artist Alley project and how it came about.
Craig Rousseau and I had been friends for a couple years, seen each other at shows, and started talking and messaging a lot during the day over gTalk. So much so, that it pretty much turned into a daily thing, and now it’s almost 24 hours a day…. I wake up in the morning to messages he sent overnight, and he’ll wake up to me asking “are you awake yet slacker?”
Anyway, a couple years ago, Craig did a pinup for the Emerald City Comic Con’s Monsters and Dames book. It was a purple girl with red hair in a jungle with some weird looking rat/cat -looking creature hanging upside down beside her. We would trade whatever art we were working on, and when I saw that pinup, I asked him “Hey, what are you going to do with that? You and Todd (Dezago) doing another creator-owned project?” He said something to the effect of “Don’t know” and told me what it was for. So, I sheepishly asked, “Mind if I pitch you a story based on that character… I’ve got some ideas, if you want to hear them.” He said sure, I pitched, and he liked it.
I sat down and wrote up an outline based on a 6-issue run, and a bunch of history/background stuff… I couldn’t come up with a name, so I was throwing a couple ideas at my wife and she said “what about Kyrra?” And boom! That was the name! After I threw the outline over to Craig it was just a waiting game. At the time, I think, Craig was working on Captain America or something for Marvel, and the Perhapanauts. So he had a pretty full plate.
Not too long after that, he messaged me about a conversation he had with Kelly Yates about creating a site to use as a marketing tool to launch creator-owned books… and asked if I wanted in. We talked about it and thought this might be the perfect time to launch Kyrra. I revised the 6-issue run into 10-page chapters, trying to break every chapter with a nice cliffhanger.
So, when we launched AAC, Craig and I had a decent head start. And now, after a launch on AAC, we decided to pitch it around to a couple publishers. We had a couple bites, and then Dark Horse Comics came along, and we’re happy to say that in 2015 you’ll be seeing Kyrra in the pages of Dark Horse Comics Presents!
What other published work have you done that you’re especially proud of?
I really “broke into comics” by doing pin-ups for a lot of Image books (Savage Dragon, Invincible, Perhapanauts) and I’m proud of those, but the thing I’m most proud of, outside of Kyrra, is the creator-owned series Johnny Raygun (developed with Matt Talbot).
It was really our love letter to Silver Age Marvel. We just had a blast and did really whatever we wanted. I think that’s why I love creator-owned work so much. We get to create fully realized worlds and universes, filled with our own characters. And you get to experiment. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t, but either way, it’s 100 percent your fault.
In a perfect world, what’s your perfect gig? Besides Artist Alley, of course.
If you had asked 16-year-old Rich, he’d say, “I want to write and draw the X-Men.” If you ask 38-year-old Rich, he’ll say “I want to write and draw a Marvel Universe Event that includes the Fantastic Four, Avengers, and the X-Men.” BUT if I just had to pick one title it would be the Fantastic Four. I am such a Kirby/Byrne fan, I really want a run on the FF that mirrors what they did. I know that doesn’t happen any more, but that’s my dream. I actually keep a folder on my computer filled with plots for Marvel and DC characters… if I ever get the chance, I’ve already got the foundation of my epic Fantastic Four run written!
What’s the most sentimental comic-related item you own?
I own the art for a four-page story I wrote, that Shawn McManus illustrated. A while back, I was co-art directing/co-editing an anthology book with my friend Adam Miller. It was called Zombie Bomb! Adam and I both did covers for the books, I wrote stories, and did a couple sequentials. One of the stories was by my friend Shawn. If ya don’t know Shawn’s work, Google him. He’s done work on Sandman, Swamp Thing, and Fables Cinderella. The guy is amazing, and a great friend. He was kind enough to illustrate one of the stories for the book, and I bought the art. It was the first time a professional artist had worked on one of my scripts.
What artist or writers not involved with Artist Alley should be getting more attention? What’s your favorite work of theirs?
Geez, there are so many. Outside of the guys I’ve already mentioned, there’s Drew Moss (tearing it up at IDW, Dark Horse and Oni!) C.P. Wilson III (Stuff of Legends), Matt Smith (Barbarian King), Sean Wang (Runners), Dana Black (he’s not doing a book, but he should be!).
Single best comic book you ever read. Not story. Not arc. Comic. Name it.
It’s really hard to pick one. One comic out of the thousands I’ve read at this point in my life. I’ve got to go with a Kirby classic… Fantastic Four #26 guest-starring the Avengers! You’ve got the Hulk vs. the Thing in there, the rest of the FF in a short fight with the Avengers. It’s fun, classic Marvel!
Tell us something about you and your work that we haven’t covered.
I’ve been “working” in comics, at some level since I was 16. Started out with a Boston publisher, then started doing my own comics, then pinups here and there, then back-up stories, then self-publishing, and now I’ve done a couple covers for IDW, and have a book coming out from Dark Horse.
I’m 39 on Oct. 19. It’s been a very long road to get to where I am now. In between, there have been day jobs, and building a family, and buying a house, and freelance to pay the bills… all the while I’ve been slowly trudging along, trying to jump into projects whenever I have time. I’ve had times where I think I should just give it up, and there are times where I’m delusional and think I could do a book a month.
The point is, I love drawing and writing comics. No matter what happens, I can’t imagine not working on something. It’s very therapeutic to me, and I get pretty grumpy when I go too long without drawing. I’ve got a million ideas, you’ll be seeing a lot more of them in the years to come… it might take a while to get there, but I’ll get there, and hopefully you’ll enjoy the stories I’m telling.