[From the studio of Mike Cavallaro]
I’ve worked off and on at my own desk or at various studios here in NYC for almost 15 years, but this past spring I took a slightly different step. I rented a separate workspace with five other artists and moved my old art table in, along with a pile of the usual art-making stuff.
The goal was to get out of our cramped apartment workspaces and get in with other people passionate about doing comics. With Dean, Tim, Leland, Joan, and Simon, I was lucky enough to fall in with just that crowd.
We dubbed the place Deep Six Studio. It’s on the second
floor of an old commercial loft building on the Gowanus Canal in
Making comics is a curious endeavor. There are other jobs like it, but then only to a degree. You’ve got this work you need to generate, and you’ve got a deadline, but you’re pretty much on your own until then. It’s easy to fall off, meander, doodle, check email obsessively, etc., etc. No matter how much you love what you’re doing, there are many pitfalls, and it’s easy to not get things done.
The studio makes falling off somewhat difficult. Checking your email is likely to produce a sarcastic, “how’s that page comin’?” from across the room. Obsessively over-noodling will cause a roomful of verbal whips to crack. For as much goofing around that goes on there, you’re still more likely to get work done than you are to doze off (Dean’s music insures against the latter, anyway).
I’m at Deep Six almost every day. Everyone’s schedules are
different, so you never know who else will be there. Since this often leaves us
with at least one open desk, we’re fond of having guest artists over for a day
of drawing. Sometimes they’re locals who need a break from working at home.
Sometime they’re from out of state or out of the country, a friend of a friend,
in town on business or whatever. It’s really exciting to have someone new in
for a day, and even better if they play ping-pong on the table down the hall,
and even better still if I win.
I was a storyboard artist for many years, and in that profession you learn to draw fast, throw it out, and do it again. At Deep Six, having five sets of eyes on your work forces you to look at what you’re doing more critically than if you’re sitting alone in your room doodling. It’s really hard sometimes to see your own work from the perspective of another person, but in the past few months I’ve learned to trust the instincts of the other artists at the studio and to seriously consider their advice and criticisms as they relate to whatever I happen to have on my drawing table at that moment. Sometimes, as in storyboarding, this means scrapping an entire page and starting over. As a result, my drawing and narrative skills have improved in leaps and bounds in just a few months.
People talk about how making comics is this insular thing, but it doesn’t have to be. Things get insular and monotonous when you’re doing the same thing all the time. You lose that feeling you had when you were just starting out and it was ALL new. But watching Tim draw something beautiful with a sharpened stick ( no, really ), or seeing how Simon assembles one of his futuristic cityscapes, or how Dean expertly paces a sequence, serves to remind you that it hasn’t all been done before, and that your imagination’s the limit in how far you can continue to grow and learn as an artist.
I’m well into the work on my First Second graphic novel, and so far it’s the best thing I’ve ever done. It’s totally a product of the environment at Deep Six, where the general community vibe and level of expertise has helped push my work forward in all respects.
Most studios I’ve been involved with have lasted a few years, and then sort of dissolved in one way or another. Right now Deep Six is going strong. I don’t know what the future holds for it, but I hope it continues. I’m having the time of my life, and living a sort of dream I’ve had since the idea of drawing comics professionally occurred to me somewhere back in highschool. I get up, I walk to the studio, and I draw all day. I get to see everyone else’s projects develop at pace with my own. I know I’m in one of those periods I’ll look back on fondly. The desire is to want to stop time and stay here, like being a teenager forever. Of course that’s not possible (maybe not wise either), but I do hope it lasts a while longer.
So here’s to working with other people and doing something you love, opening up our creative processes to the artists down here in the panel gutters with us, and hoping that collectively we can all push our own work and the art form forward in some way. Salúte!
[UP NEXT WEEK: ALEXIS FREDERICK FROST]