Bill Walko‘s charming gem of a webcomic is in a Kickstarter campaign. Here’s why you’ll dig it.
Bill Walko‘s one of those artists whose work caught my eye and made me wonder why I didn’t see more of it. His style is bright, clever and even sexy. I first met him at New York Comic Con when I happened upon his booth and purchased one of his prints. Then I met him a second time at our own East Coast Comicon last month. This time, I bought a bunch of stuff (worth sharing in a different post because it’s great material).
Then I heard that he had a Kickstarter going for his creator-owned webcomic The Hero Business. I don’t do much with Kickstarters here unless it’s a project I believe in. And this is one of those. Seriously, Bill‘s got a cult following but he’s got a classic-yet-modern style that more people should be seeing.
So here’s the deal: Bill‘s nailed his goal to turn The Hero Business – Season One into a printed graphic novel. Yay! But the campaign is still live, which means kickass stretch rewards! (Click here for more info — and to check out a really cool video.)
Anyway, Bill‘s someone I’ve wanted to feature here at 13th Dimension for a longer time than he realizes, and this seemed the best time to do it:
Dan Greenfield: The webcomic has been around for quite some time. Where did you get the initial inspiration to do it? How did it germinate?
Bill Walko: I’ve been a freelance artist for years, concentrating mainly in graphic design and copy writing but dabbling in illustration. I got the itch to do more illustration, and always had an interest in comic books. When I decided to launch my own webcomic, I wanted to do something of a superhero sitcom in the truest sense… something that had the beats of a good sitcom series, layered in the fantastical world of super-heroes.
They say, “Write what you know about.” I guess inspiration struck when I decided to combine the two things I knew best: comic books and marketing agencies. The idea of an ad-like agency for superheroes seemed like an interesting angle. And then the name hit me: The Hero Business. And that was just too perfect to pass up!
The series is largely inspired by some of my favorite workplace sitcoms like Cheers, The Office and NewsRadio. Those shows combined jokes with character arcs and some surprising dramatic turns, and that’s what I wanted to emulate in my comic. Because the way to really get readers involved is to get them to care about the characters. So each of the six storylines delves deeper into the motivations of one of our cast members, culminating into our “Season One finale”!
Tell us about your background, personally and professionally.
I grew up reading comics and watching cartoons, and pretty much never grew out of that. I’ve always loved the art form, but my career path took me in a slightly different direction. When I graduated college, I fell into the marketing world as an art director. After a few years full time, I went freelance.
As a freelancer, it afforded more freedom to work on different projects and return to illustration. Then I started to get the idea of creating a webcomic. And with that, I developed an art style that would work well with churning out a weekly comic. And that’s the style that everyone has responded to. So I was like, “OK, let’s go with this!”
The critical response has been strong. Did you pitch this to established publishers before going the Kickstarter route?
The critical response has been great, yeah. The hardest thing these days is to get fans to try new things outside of the established Marvel and DC characters. Which is ironic in a way, because I’m riffing on a lot of those characters and stories those fans know so well.
I haven’t really pitched much of anything to publishers. I’m not opposed to it, but we are also living in a DIY era. The digital landscape has leveled the playing field through platforms like Comic Press and Kickstarter. It’s just an easier route than pitching to publishers.
These days, publishers take note of successful Kickstarters and popular webcomics. And the process of doing a regular webcomic has improved my work by leaps and bounds. So my logic was, if I do my job right, the publishers will find me eventually. Or I’ll pitch them when I have more time on my hands.
Your art style is cartoony and expressive. Who were some of your inspirations growing up?
When I developed this style, it was inspired by a number of my favorite illustrators. As a kid I loved DC and Marvel Comics but I also read a lot of Archie Comics. And Dan DeCarlo was by far my favorite Archie artist. The simplicity of his work combined with the expressiveness of the characters just amazed me. I think he’s one of comics’ underrated greats.
I also marvel at the work of Bruce Timm, who keeps everything bold and simple. As an adult, I tended to favor those art styles. Genndy Tartakovsky’s Samauri Jack. Jamie Hewlett’s Gorillaz. There’s an artist named Shag whose work is amazingly cool yet sparse. It’s the “less is more” mindset. Those works really influenced my current style.