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?
Chris Kemple: I was bitten by a radioactive platypus. Either that, or my real name is Kemp-El and my birth parents sent me here from Krypton. You decide.
Seriously, I’m originally from the South Chicago area (Hammond, Ind., to be precise), and moved with my family to Raleigh, N.C., when I was really young, and have lived there ever since. I’ve always loved comics, drawing and cartoons, especially superheroes and science fiction/fantasy. I collect toys and comics for inspiration, and just because I love them.
I got my BFA degree in painting and drawing from East Carolina University, and was the comics editor of my campus newspaper and did comic strips and editorial cartoons for it all throughout college. I’ve worked in video games for a long time, and now I teach art at my alma mater, Cardinal Gibbons High School. I’ve always created comics. I’ve got a wife, two daughters and a goofy dog.
Tell me all about your Artist Alley project and how it came about.
My book is called Red Vengeance, and he’s a character easily described as a combination of The Shadow or Batman mixed with Indiana Jones. Think Jonny Quest but with capes. I suppose visually he’s kind of inspired by the DC Golden Age Sandman.
I created RV around 1995 or so, right out of college when I was interning as an assistant at Artamus Studios, a collective of comics artists in Hillsborough, N.C., at the time. It included super talented guys like Richard Case, Mike Wieringo, Jeff Parker, Scott Hampton, Casey Jones, John Lowe, Chuck Wojtkiewicz and Dave Johnson among others.
RV was a character that I would start doodling when I was up there soaking in as much knowledge as I could from those guys, in between inking assists and whatnot.
I got a couple of Red Vengeance stories printed back in the day in some anthologies like Fantastic Worlds and Negative Burn. For awhile, Red Vengeance was even in development at Fox for a cartoon series, but sadly it never panned out. I’m still doing the comics when I can, though.
I’m a sucker for period adventure stories, and I love the 1950s; the cars, the color palette, the design, the cultural things going on at the time, all of it. The Atomic Age, rock n’ roll, drive-in movies, early television … it’s rich with fun potential.
I’m not sure why I’m so attached to that period, I didn’t grow up then, but as a child of the ’70s I was inundated with things like American Graffiti and Happy Days, so I suppose it came from that.
I just wanted to combine my love of that period with my love of pulps, movie serials, superheroes, science fiction, monsters, and classic adventure. Something that mixes all the things I love but that looks like L.A. Confidential is the goal. That, and I just want it to be a fun read.
Also, I love the whole trope of having advanced tech that’s beyond it’s time, so there’s all sorts of fun things I plan on having in there that maybe weren’t really around in the ’50s, like lasers and jetpacks and all that. It was the start of the Atomic Age, after all, so why not? So I suppose from a writing standpoint I want to have fun with fantastic stuff, but still make it seem somehow plausible within the confines of the time, and the world.
What other published work have you done that you’re especially proud of?
I’ve done a little illustration work for Airship 27 for a pulp called Shadow Legion and tiny things here and there like some illos in Fallout from G.T. Labs, but most of my comics work is Red Vengeance-related at this point.
I spent 10 years or so in the video-game industry as an artist at Red Storm Entertainment/Ubisoft on various Tom Clancy games, so a good chunk of time was spent doing that when I was younger. A lot of 2D texture work and concept drawing, and some 3D object modeling as well.
What about some of your influences? Name some of the artists and writers who you’re really into, past and present.
Well, I’m really influenced by Roy Crane, particularly his Buz Sawyer work. But also, the old classic cartoonists like Milton Caniff, E.C. Segar, Mort Meskin, Bill Everett, Alex Raymond, Stan Drake, Wally Wood, C.C. Beck … all those guys. All their work still stands up to this day.
I also love Jack Kirby (who doesn’t?), Neal Adams and John Romita Sr. And Alex Toth … don’t get me started on him! Genius! Joe Kubert too.
For the more modern artists, I really dig Walt Simonson, David Mazzuchelli, Jaime Hernandez, Dave Stevens, Steve Rude, John Byrne, Craig Rousseau, Jose Luis Garcia Lopez, Mike Mignola, Bruce Timm, Darwyn Cooke, Mike Wieringo (miss him dearly), Paul Grist, Michael Cho, Evan Shaner, Chris Samnee, Dave Bullock … the list goes on, I could do this all day. But as far as who I see come through in my art more than anyone else, it would have to be Crane and Toth though.
In a perfect world, what’s your perfect gig? Besides Artist Alley, of course.
More than anything else, I’d love to do a Batman story; I think that EVERYONE in comics probably wants to do Batman at least once in their life. Shazam would be a dream job too, but only if I could do it C.C. Beck-style and have Mr. Tawny in a suit in there. I don’t know, anything fun. … I’d love a crack at Space Ghost or classic Jonny Quest too at some point, if they’d ever do those books again. Anything Marvel too, actually.
Ultimately though, I do Red Vengeance because I like drawing my own characters and worlds, so ideally that would play a part.
What was your first comic? Do you still have it?
I don’t know about the absolute first comic I ever got, but one of the first was definitely a Batman treasury edition, the one with the white border and painted cover.
Like most young boys I was really into the Adam West show in syndication in the early ’70s, and that was my gateway into the character, and into comics in general. This was probably like 1975 or so, I was like 3 or 4 years old. I loved reading and had great, encouraging parents who would always bring comics home for me, and that was one of the early ones.
From there I got a lot of others, including the Super Friends one, which also had a big impact on me. The original book fell apart in tatters years ago, but I got a replacement since. It snowballed from there.
What’s the most sentimental comic-related item you own?
I have a pretty massive collection of stuff, figures and toys and whatnot, but I’d probably say all my old Mego figures and Batcave.
That, and a DC Superheroes vending header card for these little plastic trophy cups with stickers of DC characters on them. I remember seeing those in a gumball machine at the local Big Star grocery store as a kid and just going nuts for them, because they had cool color drawings of the Super Friends all done by Dick Giordano. They looked REALLY sharp, especially the Batman and Robin ones.
I don’t know how many quarters I begged off my dad to get them all, but I eventually did. They were cheesy, but I loved those images. … I’ve never seen them reprinted anywhere else. I found them all on eBay again with the header card and had to get them.
What artist or writers not involved with Artist Alley should be getting more attention? What’s your favorite work of theirs?
Wow, there’re so many great new creators out there. Matt Smith, who just did a great book called Barbarian Lord is a standout, as is Eric Henson, who recently just did the Perhapanauts: Danger Down Under miniseries for Image, and who’s now working on his own creator-owned book Eden. Fantastic artist.
And one more, Sandy Jarrell, who’s done some Batman ’66 work and has a new book due out, Meteor Men. He is the future, you watch.
Single best comic book you ever read. Not story. Not arc. Comic. Name it.
Wow, narrowing it down to just one is tough, but offhand I’d say Detective #475, The Laughing Fish. Those Englehart/Rogers/Austin stories in the late ’70s were just the perfect thing for me to see at just the right time. Still to me the best Batman stories ever done, but that one issue in particular still sticks with me until this day. The cover, the interiors, everything just blew my 7-year-old mind. They made Joker creepy again, and Batman just looked COOL. And all those great zipatone backgrounds, the sound effect graphics. … Amazing. But ask me another time and I might give you a different answer …
Tell us something about you and your work that we haven’t covered.
I just hope everyone will go and try my stories out and enjoy them, and keep checking for new chapters and giving me feedback. It really is a labor of love for me at this point, and I just hope to improve more in my art and writing with each issue and keep building an audience. I want people to have as much fun reading them as much as I enjoy making them. With luck it’ll catch on. That’s it. Thanks!