It’s not every day that we get to enjoy seeing illustrator Chris Fenoglio chime in on X FILES ORIGINS: MULDER and all things indie comics, so let’s do this, with relish.
Q: X FILES ORIGINS: MULDER drops in August. We’re stoked! What can you tell us about the tale, without giving too much away?
CF: Mulder’s been Hydra this whole time…
No, I’m kidding! Thanks, I’m pretty excited to be working on it. Without giving too much away, it’s about Mulder around age 13 discovering that there’s some very suspicious things going on in his town. The book’s aimed at young adult readers and has a real Stand By Me feel to it… Y’know, without all the swearing.
It’s being co-plotted by Matthew Dow Smith and Jody Houser, scripted by Jody, and edited by Denton Tipton. Matt’s an amazing artist and has a lot of experience in the industry — he actually drew the older version of Mulder on the cover of issue 1. He’s really been a great coach for me on the project (this being my first major drawing gig and all). I’ve only been working on the book for a few months, and already he’s taught me so much. Jody’s a fantastic writer who’s going to win a bajillion Eisners for her Faith book at Valiant. Seriously, give it a few years and she’s going to be on everyone’s top five creators lists — hell, I’d be surprised if it didn’t happen next year. Denton’s really put together an awesome team and for some reason decided that he’d give me a shot to join. It’s just incredible to be in the presence of such talented people. I feel like I’m standing in a room of giants, but I’m precariously balancing on stilts.
Q: X-FILES catapulted back into the consciousness of pop culture last year. What is the secret to its success?
CF: I wish I knew so I could replicate it and make billions of dollars… I think it has something to do with Mulder and Scully themselves. They’re such strong, interesting, and complicated characters with a lot of depth. I think people respond to characters like that. That’s why I’m so excited about these X-Files: Origins books — because we get to deep dive into parts of these character’s lives that haven’t really been explored before and get to flesh out bits of already really developed characters.
Q: Which part of the creative process are you having the most fun with these days?
CF: Inking. I love inking. I like seeing things come to their finish. The build-up and planning stages of thumbnailing and penciling always feel like a slog… but inking is where I feel like things finally start taking shape and I actually like my artwork. I’m starting to enjoy coloring more and more as well, but that’s been a rough road to get comfortable, and I’m expecting that any day now someone’s going to come by and remind me that I suck at it.
If you ever want to know what the emotional experience of being an artist is like, imagine having the feeling of overbearing confidence that you’re good at something mixed with the crippling anxiety that you’re actually terrible at it and you’re just waiting for someone to point it out…
Q: Where can websurfers go to find your CHRIS & CHRISTINA webcomic?
CF: I’m hosting it in a couple places right now. You can check it out HERE or just follow me on Instagram @ChrisFenoglio. New strips are posted on Tuesdays and Thursdays… unless, y’know, my wife wants me to take her to the beach.
Q: Tell us a bit more about CHRIS & CHRISTINA?
CF: Sure thing! It’s a little humor web comic loosely… very loosely… based on me and my wife. She’s a secret agent and I’m a struggling comic book artist. We have two dogs — one of which can talk for no apparent reason — and it’s just about our little adventures. I’ve only been running it a couple of weeks at this point, but it’s been a lot of fun and people really seem to be responding to it. I’m actually pretty surprised at the feedback because, I mean, the central characters are me and my wife, so the stories and jokes are fairly personal and specific, but people constantly tell me, “This reminds me of my wife/husband/boyfriend/girlfriend/friend/brother/sister/etc.” Which, y’know, I think is good… In any case, it’s an outlet for my horrible pun-based, dad-joke sense of humor.
Q: Which books were most influential during your early formative years as an up-and-coming illustrator?
CF: Oof… that’s a BIG question, but I guess I can narrow it down to a few, standouts:
The book that got me into comics was the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Adventures book that Archie put out in the early 90’s. Issues 1 & 2 of those were my first comics and I was immediately hooked. I remember calling the comic store almost daily to see if new issues came in — and I was, like, 6 years old. That book was so nuts too, it went way off script from the TV show. Cuddly the Cow Lick is still one of my all-time favorite characters.
Bone is probably the most obvious one based on how I draw — I loved the mix of humor and sincerity in the series. Plus, I loved the simplicity yet competency of Jeff Smith’s art style. To this day I still think I’m a cheap Jeff Smith knock-off.
You probably can’t tell from my art style, but I really loved The Maxx by Sam Kieth as a kid. I was probably way too young to read the series, but Kieth’s artwork was just phenomenal and unique I felt like I was drawn to it. He also really opened up my ideas of what a comic could be because he was the first person I ever saw use alternative media like paint of collage.
Q: Bone is fabulous. If you could ask Jeff Smith a Bone-related question today, what would you inquire about?
CF: Isn’t it?! I love that book. Um, for me, I’m kind of a process and composition nerd. I’d want to talk to him about how he plans shots and what his strategies on composition are. Even though the colored versions of the book are beautiful, I think that if you’re trying to be a comic artist, you should really study the black and white versions. Jeff Smith and Alex Toth are both masters of less is more — of doing a lot with simplicity.
Q: How might you explain the craft of illustrating to an attentive class of eager freshmen in high school?
CF: I actually teach a class on online cartooning to high school kids through The Academy of Art University in San Francisco, and let me tell you… I’ve never had a class of attentive high school students.
The thing I try to instill in them is that comics are a storytelling medium. So, while the drawings are important, they’re nothing if they don’t tell a story. If you can’t tell a story, you’re probably not going to make it in this industry.
Q: What are three (3) qualities that every great story must have?
CF: I’m not really much of a writer, so I can’t really answer that from a writing point of view… well… at least I don’t feel like I should. But from a visual point of view, I think it’s important for stories to be told clearly. If a reader can’t visually follow a story, they’re going to lose interest pretty quick. So you have to make things really straight-forward and easy for them: identifiable character designs, obvious body language and gestures, and consistent environments really help get your point across.
I also think that good pacing and timing is important… and that’s really only something you can learn by practicing. It’s something I struggle with — especially in my Chris & Christina web comic. I’ve set the four panel constraint on myself which means I sometimes have to compromise to make a joke work. Some jokes would work better in three panels… some in five. So I’m always rewriting things in my head to pick my beats and make something as funny as I can in the space I have.
The last one is working with the writer. You’d think my job as an artist is to just transcribe what’s written in the script, and that’s certainly part of it — like a big part of it — but it can also be good to add to it when you can. Sometimes it’s a small as accentuating a gesture. Others it’s as big as adding in a few panels to make something paced better or more clearly. I think knowing when you can and when you should do those things is important. And, also having a working relationship with a writer to make those decisions. Remember, a lot of comics are collaborative and it’s important to know your job and stay in your lane. The writers are still doing most the heavy lifting of storytelling, but it’s good to add a little bit of flair where you can (and if it doesn’t end up stepping on anyone’s toes).
Q: What’s still on your bucket list, as an illustrator?
CF: Man… there’s so many things. At some point I’d love to take a stab at those Ninja Turtles who started me out. They half ruined my life, the least I could do is return the favor. I think doing a run on Spider-Man would be really fun too.
In mainstream comics, I would love to do some stories with more obscure, weird characters. When you’re on the “big” books, I think there’s probably less wiggle room to play and mess around. I think if you can experiment a bit more with the less popular characters — take a look at the Hawkeye book, for example. It’s a fantastic book, but you really couldn’t do that type of story in, say, Captain America. Heck, Cap was a Hydra agent for all of one page and people nearly lost their damn minds. But you turn a smaller character like Nightwing into a secret agent and people are drowning you with praise. I guess what I’m saying is, “Anyone interested in a Dakota North miniseries? Guys? Anyone?”
I also want to keep working on my own things as well. I like my dumb little web comics and weird short stories.
Q: BLOODWORTH looks like great fun. What’s it been like for you, working together with writer Daniel Corey?
CF: Great! Dan’s an amazing guy and an awesome writer! He’s put together a really thoughtful and fun book. It’s a future-crime story with real moral questions about privacy and the rights of the government. Dan’s one of the few writers I work with where the scripts are so solid that I don’t really feel I need to add much to them. Panels are already well broken down and he has a real sense of combining words and pictures in compelling ways — As an artist it’s almost like working on autopilot. But don’t tell him that…
Matt Harding is helping me out on colors for the series and he’s another top tier talent. If you haven’t checked it out, give his book Pop Apocalypse a read.
We have an “Issue 0” up on Comixology you should check out if you haven’t. It’s a great introduction to the world and the character.
Q: Matt Harding’s POP APOCALYPSE is reminiscent of some of the tales that we’ve seen in HEAVY METAL magazine, and that’s a very good thing. Dan’s been on our radar since MORIARTY, and his writing style is wild fun for us readers. How did you, Dan, and Matt come together as a team for BLOODWORTH?
CF: Isn’t Moriarty awesome?! It’s such an exciting book and Anthony Diecidue (the artist) is just an amazing talent. I met Dan a couple of years ago at the first Image Expo in Oakland — when they tried to host it as a three-day con rather than a press conference. It was so small that you could literally walk up to Brian K. Vaughn and have a conversation (which I did… and was super awkward… and yeah).
I was near the end of my graduate degree and I was wandering around showing my portfolio to anyone and everyone who’d take a look at it — Dan was one of those people. He seemed impressed, we traded a few compliments, I handed him my card, and we parted ways. About a year went by then he emailed me out of the blue looking for someone to do some artwork for him for some small project he was working on. After that, he was looking for a colorist for his second Image book, Red City, and asked me (and where I got to actually work with Anthony Diecidue). When Bloodworth came around, he asked me to be the main artist. So, it was a really organic build to our relationship.
Matt came on board because I was working on the first issue of Bloodworth when the X-Files gig came through — and you can’t exactly say no to an X-Files gig. But to do the art on both books, I knew I was going to need some help. I met Matt in school and I’d seen his comic, Pop Apocalypse and was really impressed with his work. So, I gave him a call and asked if he could come in and help — which he did and did some awesome work for us as well!
Q: What are your five favorite STAR TREK moments/memories?
CF: Oof… why do you have to ask me the important stuff? I’m a major TNG fan, and haven’t watched all the TOS episodes (It’s hard to go backwards), but here goes, in no particular order:
- The end of part 1 of Best of Both Worlds when Picard is revealed as Locutus of Borg. Such an amazing cliffhanger ending that added real depth to the Picard character. Before that Picard was kind of a “by the books” straight-laced character. Those two episodes really gave Captain Ahab his whale.
- First Contact. Just, like, all of it. I love that movie. It’s endlessly watchable and totally approachable for even non-Trek fans. Plus there’s that part at the end when Data’s all, “Resistance is futile.” So baller…
- The DS9 episode In Purgatory’s Shadow when Worf’s being introduced around the prison and all of a sudden Bashir walks in, and you realize that the Bashir on the station has been a Changeling for almost the entire season, and you’re like, “WHAAAAA?!” Man, the last 4 seasons of DS9 were so
- Another DS9 episode: In the Pale Moonlight when you see just how far Sisko’s willing to go to win the war… to stand aside and let Garak kill a Romulan ambassador. Man, even though Picard’s my favorite captain, I think Sisko’s the most human of them all, and this episode really showed it.
- The explanation of why there’s flat-headed Klingons from Enterprise. I loved the part in DS9 when they go back to the Trouble with Tribbles episode and ask Worf about the forehead ridges, but then to actually have it explained in Enterprise was amazing.
Q: With so many indie comics to choose from these days, which have you been enjoying most?
CF: I haven’t been reading that many comics lately, but the indie books I’ve really been focusing on are Saga which, at this point, I think you have to read if you’re still buying comics… It’s like, a requirement. Paper Girls is phenomenal, but I’ve really been buying it for Matt Wilson’s colors. And I’ve been reading Chew in trades since the beginning. That book is a perfect example of things comics can get away with that TV and movies can’t. Can you imagine a TV show about FDA agents with psychic eating abilities in a world where chicken is outlawed getting greenlit? No way! Not unless there was a successful example of it in another medium (say, a comic book).
Q: It’s been wonderful seeing what John Layman and Rob Guillory have done with CHEW. They even made beets relevant (something no other comic book creators have ever done, to the best of our knowledge.) CHEW’s final issue (#60) comes out soon. What should we do to celebrate?
CF: Eat beets?
Q: That seems reasonable enough. Speaking of food… Five dinner guests. Which five living illustrators (of indie comics or otherwise) would you invite to a dinner party?
CF: Do they have to be alive? Boooo… Again, in no particular order:
- James Gurney: I would just grill him on color. His Color and Light book is a must read for any artist. Plus, I’d want him to teach me how to paint in oil…
- Judd Winick: His Barry Ween book is one of the funniest comics I’ve ever read… EVER. I can only imagine the man is equally as cool and funny. I don’t think I’d talk to him about art stuff, but he just seems like a good hang.
- Joe Quesada: His run on Daredevil is probably my favorite ever. He’s such a talented artist, I think he’s almost wasted working as upper-brass at Marvel. I feel like he’d have a lot to teach me about storytelling and just drawing in general. But I do think I’d have to grill him on the “One More Day” thing with Spider-Man.
- Greg Capullo: Again, amazing storyteller. I love the crazy shots he chooses. And again, he seems like a good dude.
- Alex Ross: Just to stare at him awkwardly and say I was in his presence…
Q: What hasn’t really happened yet, in indie comics, that you would love to happen next?
CF: I’m still waiting for the day comics are fully accepted in the main stream. I feel like the medium is consistently on the fringes. We see the characters getting more popular with the super hero movies and shows like Walking Dead, but we’ve still yet to turn the industry itself into something universally read by the populace. All it’ll take is one book with a Harry Potter sized following.
Q: A comic book with a Harry Potter sized following would send shockwaves throughout popular culture. It seems like the time is ripe for it to happen too.
CF: I agree. I mean, comics have fought really hard to get to this point of popularity. I’m hoping that it’s not a bubble that’s going to burst… and for a lot of people I don’t think it is. I think they’ve seen the types of stories that comics can handle and some of the opportunities the medium affords that others don’t due to whatever constraints — be them budget or studio interest or what have you. You can do weird books like Chew or Sex Criminals or Saga or Bitch Planet or Goon and not have them be such a financial gamble. And I think this new phase of popularity has some real staying power.
I also think that comics are building a real diversity to them that some of the other mediums don’t have. More books by women, people from other racial backgrounds, sexual orientations, and pretty much every walk of life are getting on the shelves than ever before. The more the medium branches out the less people will think of it as a place solely for superhero stories. There’s still a long ice skate uphill, but I don’t think anyone can deny that both the creators and audience are expanding in terms of diversity — and that’s a really good thing both for longevity and for society.
I think the one thing that comics need to do is start targeting more kids. I think all the publishers are trying, but aren’t really being that successful. Instead, they’re having more success catering to older audiences by making their characters “gritty” or more “real.” And, don’t get me wrong, it’s lead to some great stories, but they’re adult stories and comics need to break out of being targeted at 20 to 40-year-old adult males. I’m just concerned that we aren’t replacing the older readers with new, younger ones. And if anything some of the new movies are reflecting that. I mean, I’m not sure anyone needed an R-rated cut of Batman v. Superman.
Q: When the Chris Fenoglio biopic gets greenlit by a major motion picture studio, who will portray you, and what will the film be called?
CF: Um… I dunno. Maybe Matt Damon after he’s beaten with a rock for a bit to ugly him up. I think it’d be called: Chris Fenoglio: He Probably Should’ve Gone Outside More Often