'Comics by people with day jobs:' Maine comic artists and illustrators … – Lewiston Sun Journal

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The artists' reasons are many: 'To improve. For therapy. To scratch an itch. To avoid doing other things sometimes. For most of us, there's nothing else we'd rather be doing.' 
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The work of Andrés Vera Martínez of Cape Elizabeth. Submitted photo
A couple years ago, I found myself at a comic artist convention in Portland where I was surrounded by some of the most creative and energetic people I’ve ever met. 
The walls around us were plastered with a dizzying array of artwork: Here was a drawing of Godzilla fighting a giant lobster in front of the Portland headlight. Here was a cluster of superheroes (one of them had a clam shell for a head, another was a giant Maine coon cat) who declared themselves “The Pineland Protectors.” 
There were traditional strip-style cartoons and a few pieces of political satire, but for the most part, the wall space at that Portland hall was full of hand-drawn monstrosities, freaks of nature and futuristic beings so menacing, I found myself sidestepping them when I passed. 
It was quite an orgy of the absurd that night in Portland. As one who can’t draw so much as a stick figure without messing up, I had two questions. 
Are there really that many comic artists in Maine? And are they all this weird? 
Believe me, the question was asked with great affection. 

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The event called “Kapow!” in 2018 was my introduction to a vigorous number of comic artists from Maine. It was an eye-opening experience because I had not realized how vibrant the artistic community was here in Vacationland, and particularly so in Portland, where stores like Casablanca and Coast City Comics cater to the comic-craving masses.
It turns out that as far as inspiration goes, Maine has a lot to offer the artist. 
“One of the most beautiful things about Maine is the unique portrait it paints,” says Ernie Anderson, a cartoonist in Mechanic Falls who just happens to design pages here at the Sun Journal. “From buoys to lighthouses to sleepy New England coastlines, there’s no dearth of beautiful things to imitate on a canvas. Just about every little town I’ve visited here has a local art gallery, or a vibrant hub for local crafts. It’s a creative place to be. What I know of my fellow local creators, the one thing I can most appreciate is that the natural and cultural beauty of living here infuses itself into everything we do.” 
The artwork of Ernie Anderson of Lewiston. Submitted photo
While editing and designing pages at the paper, Anderson has also managed to create a number of editorial cartoons; cartoons that have already won awards from the Maine Press Association. 
The artwork of Ernie Anderson of Mechanic Falls. Submitted photo
For the past year, he has also been illustrating my weekly column “Talk of the Town,” a task that has got to be akin to trying to illustrate somebody’s bad fever dreams. It’s turned into a handy relationship — whenever I have questions about the artistic mind, I turn to Anderson. He even addressed my “are all Maine artists weirdos” question without having to be asked. 
“To be weird is to revel in nonsense,” he tells me. “We aren’t afraid to waste our days engaging in the nonsense of doodling. We don’t see it as a waste, but we’re happy to call it nonsense. We’re very serious about having our fun. 

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“The word ‘weird’ originally meant ‘having the power to control one’s own destiny,’” Anderson says. “There’s a lot of truth in that.” 
Like so many of the other Maine artists, Anderson hasn’t yet transformed his singular art into a full-time gig. Most of the artists I talked to for this piece are balancing art with daily jobs and domestic responsibilities. One is a carpenter, another a town clerk. There’s a case manager for adults with disabilities and a co-parent of an 8-month-old baby. Most of these artists have little by way of free time, but day after day, they get out their sketch pads and pencils and get to work because one doesn’t pursue a dream with idle hands. 
An artist, Anderson tells me, continues to create no matter what.
“To improve. For therapy. To scratch an itch,” he says. “To avoid doing other things sometimes. For most of us, there’s nothing else we’d rather be doing.” 
All of the artists we interviewed maintain some kind of web presence to get their artwork out into the world. Some have come quite close to turning it into a full-time gig, others are just starting out. How hard is it to make a living in this highly competitive field? 
“I think it’s true across the board that when it comes to doing anything that involves competing for people’s attention, it’s a big challenge no matter what you do,” says Anderson. “So, when it comes to cartooning, it’s easy to start doing, but hard to get paid doing it. Any idiot can start a web comic. It takes a special kind of idiot to get noticed, to create something that captures the attention of an audience. 

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“All you need to do is complete a comic every week, repeating the process anywhere from one to six times a week,” he explains. “From there you just have to develop a big enough audience interested for long enough that they fork over enough cash for you to live off of by buying one of your books at a convention or off your website. And along the way all you need to do is ALL the marketing, promotion, writing, drawing, etc. — all by yourself. In my dreams I’m that kind of idiot, but I’m not there yet. In reality I’m closer to your run-of-the-mill, tapioca-headed idiot. Heck, some days I can even tie my own shoelaces!” 
With all of that in mind, we spoke to a selection of Maine illustrators who are likewise coloring the world with their art and doing their best to make it pay. Here are their thoughts. 
The artwork of Sean Moran of Lewiston. Submitted photo
The artwork of Sean Moran of Lewiston. Submitted photo
SEAN MORAN OF LEWISTON: Fist Shaking Comics and Planet of the Punks 
When did you first discover your artistic ability? For me drawing came second. I had been writing comic scripts for other people. After about half-a-dozen artists bailing on projects for one reason or another I decided it was easier to do it myself. 
What’s your favorite subject to draw? Humor and music. I tend to lean toward the more transgressive and subversive. This led to me creating the “Planet of the Punks” characters. I found these guys give me the perfect vessel to scratch those itches. 
Where are you from and how does that affect your work? I’m from and still reside in Lewiston. I’m not sure how its affected me or my work. I will say that Maine has a strong local music scene and being part of that scene the past 20 years has definitely informed how I approach my work with “Planet of the Punks.” It gave me an understanding of what being in a band really entails. I’ve been in bands since I was 13. I’ve played basements to festivals and recorded plenty of stuff too. Having lived it, it’s easier to “turn it to 11” and just let my stream of consciousness take over when working on the Punks. 

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Did any illustrator in particular inspire you more than others? I tend to prefer the people who are clearly doing what they want on the page. Robert Crumb is a good example of that. Erik Larsen has been doing that with “Savage Dragon.” There’s a lot of underground, pre-code (before the Comics Code Authority regulations) and humor cartoonists like Gilbert Shelton, Jack Davis, Spain, Wally Wood, etc. that I like. There’s also non-comic guys like Ray Pettibon and Ed Templeton. 
Do you make comics/illustrations/art for a living? If not, how do you support yourself, and how does this relate to your art-making process? No, I have a “job” job. In fact that’s one of the taglines for Fist Shaking Comics’ “Comics by People with Day Jobs.” I think it was Zack Gibbens who came up with that. I work for Sell My Comic Books, selling comic books. It’s given me the opportunity to see a multitude of books that I wouldn’t have seen before. The biggest downside to working with comics professionally is that I work with comics when I’m at work and then I work on them when I’m at home — but I can think of worse things.
What does your drawing space look like? I’m tucked down in the basement. I’ve set up my drawing space to be surrounded by my comic collection. It’s almost like a cubical of comics. There’s also a TV and my scanner on a table to my left with a drawer for drawing supplies on my right. 
Anything coming up? Maybe. I’ve got a complete 60-page “Planet of the Punks” story done aside from some editing. I do need to do the covers and some ancillary pages, but the bulk of the work is done. I also have been doing a lot of single panel gags that I’ve been considering collecting. So if I can cover the printing costs I should have either “Big Ass Planet of the Punks” or “Life As It Is” in print sometime next year. 
 
The artwork of Michael Proia of Portland. Submitted photo
MICHAEL PROIA OF PORTLAND 

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The artwork of Michael Proia of Portland. Submitted photo
When did you first discover your artistic ability? I think I really started to enjoy art in elementary school, through comics. I was reading a lot of newspaper strips, “Calvin & Hobbes,” “The Far Side,” etc. My friends and I made all sorts of dumb characters and gags, just trying to make each other laugh. To this day, I still love reading and creating comics. 
What’s your favorite subject to draw? Impossible to choose one answer for this question, I’d say. I’ve always been all over the map when it comes to picking subject matter. That being said, I usually find some excuse to draw/make creatures, animals, plants. I love experimenting with light and shadow as well. 
Did any illustrator in particular inspire you more than others? I’ve definitely pulled a lot of inspiration from Ralph Steadman. He was the first artist I’d ever seen as an illustrator. He gave me that sort of “aha!” moment of realizing illustration has a lot fewer boundaries than I’d considered before. Probably the most enduring influences I’ve had would be Jim Henson and Taiyo Matsumoto, but my pantheon of idols has no end.
What are you doing with your talents these days and how did you get there? I’m drawn to sculpture lately — I’m training as a carpenter and getting the hang of power tools. I’d love to scale up from the little carvings I’ve been making, do some larger stuff. In that same vein, I’m really excited to start in on a big mural project. Currently, I’m in the long process of sorting and framing a whole bunch of older work, maybe making some prints as well. 
What’s the hardest thing to draw? It’s always a challenge to draw accurate faces. You want to get it absolutely right, because you know when it’s wrong, and you don’t want to do anyone a disservice. So that’s always very time consuming for me. It’s also tough to get stormy seas right; lots of complicated light going on there. 
When you’re not creating masterpieces, what are you doing with yourself? Lots of friends, lots of family, plenty of life keeping me busy. I’ve been messing around with music, which has been super relaxing. Gotta have those creative outlets that are just for you. 

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The artwork of James Couture of South Portland. Submitted photo
JAMES E. COUTURE OF SOUTH PORTLAND: Gentleman and Scholar Comics
The artwork of James Couture of South Portland. Submitted photo
When did you first discover your artistic ability? I loved comic books and drawing ever since I was a child. I would fill up sketchpads and notebooks with doodles, but stopped around age 13, give or take a notebook doodle. Then I reconnected with a high school friend, Turner Huston, around 2013 and we decided we’d try our hands at making comics. Finally, after a year of putting things together, we did our first show, the Portland Comic Expo, in 2014. 
What’s your favorite subject to draw? My favorite subject to draw probably is birds. Between watercolor portraits and comic book style short stories, I find birds the subject that relaxes me the most to illustrate. For illustrative inspiration, I usually draw from a variety of sources, comic artists like Bernie Wrightson and Moebius, and impressionist artists when it comes to watercolors. 
What’s the hardest? The hardest things to draw are cowboy hats and foreshortened hands, so if a cowboy tips his hat to me, it’s all over. 
When you’re not creating, what are you up to? I am currently co-parenting an 8-month-old infant, and when I’m not doing that I bake, breads especially, and occasionally draw. 
 

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The artwork of Andrés Vera Martínez of Cape Elizabeth. Submitted
ANDRES VERA MARTINEZ OF CAPE ELIZABETH: Little White Duck
When did you first discover your artistic ability? I was attracted to drawing at a very early age, around 3 years old. My aunt and uncle liked to draw and I would watch them with keen interest. My uncle in particular liked to draw Marvel superheroes. I would obsessively try to copy his drawings and this got me interested in reading the fantastic stories found in Marvel Comics. 
What’s your favorite subject to draw? About 15 years ago, I discovered that I like to illustrate stories for middle school children and young adults. Particularly, I like to collaborate with authors who write protagonists that are typically not found in publishing. For example, my upcoming collaborations tell stories about Jewish young adults who find hope in myth and fantasy to cope with the Holocaust, a Mexican American boy who accidentally unleashes a vengeful Aztec goddess and her monsters onto Columbus, Ohio, and a wealthy light-skinned Mexican girl who loses everything and must immigrate to California. 
Where are you from and how does that affect your work? I was born in a small town in west Texas called Lamesa. I grew up in Austin. My experience growing up as a Native American and Spanish Texan had a big impact on how I approach my artwork. The racism and violence my family endured from white supremacists for generations made a big impression on me and the stories I choose to tell. I try to bring voices to popular children’s literature that typically have been ignored or suppressed. By doing this, I believe it mirrors a truer representation of the communities and country we live in. Giving young girls and kids of color a chance to see themselves as fully realized characters empowers them and society as a whole can see them as complete, more than a difference in gender or skin color. Mix this in with fun, fantasy, and drama, and it keeps me motivated to do what I do. 
Did any illustrator in particular inspire you more than others? I loved Marvel Comics growing up. I almost worked for Marvel, but at the time an editor and a few teachers steered me away from what they thought was a genre that was limiting. Marvel Comics has come around in ways since then, but I am happy that I chose to write and draw my own stories.
Do you make comics/illustrations/art for a living? If not, how do you support yourself, and how does this relate to your art-making process? I’ve been working professionally as an illustrator, cartoonist and college art professor for many years. Most of those years I worked to help support my family, but recently, my wife became a physician and this has allowed me to pursue projects that I would not have been able to do before, mainly, long-form children’s graphic novels. Next year “Courage to Dream: Tales of Hope in the Holocaust,” in collaboration with Neal Schusterman, will be published by Scholastic as well as “Monster Locker: Aztec Attack” with Jorge Aguirre, by Macmillan, First Second. In 2024, my graphic novel adaptation of Pam Muñoz Ryan’s “Esperanza Rising” will be published, also by Scholastic, and “Monster Locker 2: Nine Tale Trouble” will also see a release. In 2025, I am collaborating with Marie Alohaloni to publish the first comprehensive book on Hawaiian mythology for Random House.

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If you are interested in reading a book I made that is out now, you can go to your local library and ask for the graphic novel I co-wrote with my wife, Na Liu, titled, “Little White Duck: A Childhood in China.” 
What does your drawing space look like? I work from home. I have a nice office space with big windows. My dog hangs out with me and reminds me to get up now and then to stretch and take a walk. I work on a large digital drawing pad called a Cintiq. I draw, color, and design my work in a program called Photoshop. 
The artwork of Travis Dandro of Belfast. Submitted photo
TRAVIS DANDRO OF BELFAST: Winnie-the-Pooh and Hummingbird Heart 
The artwork of Travis Dandro of Belfast. Submitted photo
When did you first discover your artistic ability? I started drawing before I can remember. The first things I remember drawing were characters from television cartoons like Fred Flintstone and characters from “Star Wars”. I’ve always enjoyed drawing and from early on I received a lot of attention for my art from family, friends, and teachers. This encouraged me to draw even more. I used to think that I drew only for fun but later I realized it was also therapeutic and helped me cope with life, both when I was a kid and now as an adult. 
What’s your favorite subject to draw? My favorite things to draw are cartoon animals and landscapes. My current project is adapting the first Winnie-the-Pooh book into a graphic novel so I’m able to draw both of those subjects, which is great. 
Where are you from and how does that affect your work? I’m from Leicester, Massachusetts, and I moved to Maine in 1996 after graduating from art school. My first two published books were graphic novel memoirs about my traumatic childhood, so my life in Leicester was an integral part of those works. Now I reside in Belfast, and I go for a lot of walks in the area, sketching and taking reference photos for my Winnie-the-Pooh comic.

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Did any illustrator in particular inspire you more than others? As a kid I was obsessed with “Garfield” by Jim Davis and “Calvin & Hobbes” by Bill Watterson. I learned that they both inked their comics with a brush, so I worked very long and hard to learn how to use a brush. I remember it being extremely frustrating. As an adult I became interested in manga artists like Shigeru Mizuki and Taiyo Matsumoto. 
Do you make comics for a living? Currently, I do not make my full living from comics. During the last few years, I have been a case manager for adults with disabilities. I’ve dabbled in commercial illustration work, but I find that I really dislike drawing for money only and I prefer to save my drawing time for projects I’m passionate about. 
What does your drawing space look like? I have weird hours and my favorite time to draw is between 1 a.m. and 5 a.m. when it feels like the whole world is asleep except me. During this time, I work at my kitchen table. When I draw during the day it’s in my small studio located in an office building down the road. That’s where I keep all my books, materials, scanner, etc. My drawing desk is an old church pulpit I bought at the Salvation Army. 
The artwork of Amanda Kahl of Medford. Submitted photo
AMANDA KAHL OF MEDFORD: Age of Night 
When did you first discover your artistic ability? I’ve been drawing my whole life. It was always one of my favorite pastimes. As early as 2nd or 3rd grade my teachers started noticing and commenting on my drawing skills and it kind of became my “thing.”
What’s your favorite subject to draw? I love drawing anything from nature, but especially bones and plants. They are such complex, intriguing forms. I feel like every time I draw them I have to solve a puzzle and learn something new about the world.

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Where are you from and how does that affect your work? I was actually born in Connecticut and then moved to Maine in middle school, but my family always lived in the woods. I spent so much of my childhood wandering around in the forest, exploring brooks and trees, and being slightly terrified that a bear or moose was going to attack me! It gave me a deep appreciation and fascination for the natural world.
Did any illustrator in particular inspire you more than others? The first artist that had a conscious impact on me was Edward Gorey. His intricate, gothic pen-and-ink illustrations were a huge influence on my black-and-white ink work. More recently I’ve looked back at some of my favorite illustrators from childhood and realized how formative artists like Beatrix Potter and Trina Schart-Hyman were to my sensibilities.
Do you make comics/illustrations/art for a living? If not, how do you support yourself, and how does this relate to your art-making process? I wouldn’t quite call it a living, but I make a pretty substantial supplementary income for our family. My personal comic projects make up the smallest amount of income, but they satisfy me the most! I do a lot of freelance illustration for the tabletop gaming industry in particular and that earns me most of my art income throughout the year. Working on art part-time was ideal when my children were babies and preschoolers because it meant I could still be home to take care of them and not have to pay for child care. Now that they are in school I had every intention of working on art full time, but freelance income is a bit unpredictable for a family budget. To have a more reliable supplementary income I recently started working part time as my town’s deputy town clerk. I’ve actually found it to be incredibly refreshing to just get out of my house and away from my studio for a few hours a week. I return to my drafting table with so much more energy and focus afterwards.
What does your drawing space look like? We have an old hunting camp next to our house that was converted to a year-round building. A lot of it is used for storage and utility but a big corner of it is my studio. Most of the space is a chaotic jumble of shelves and totes, but I keep my corner pretty neat and organized so I can work easily. I have a lovely old antique drafting table that I draw on, and my childhood desk in an L next to it with my computer for when I have to look up reference images or work digitally. There’s a window over my drafting table that looks out into the woods behind my house, which I love. 
The artwork of Amanda Kahl of Medford. Submitted photo
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