Interview with Artist Verl House

Interview with Artist Verl House

A friend who worked with him at the Wright Library in Oakwood, Ohio introduced me to Verl a few years ago. I didn’t find out to sometime later that He was an artist who likes to draw comics.

On first seeing his work I asked him if he would be interested in doing the cover art for Mutant Renegade #14. He said sure and enthusiastically delved into the project. Everyone was impressed with his work that combined a fantasy element into his realistic style. It was then that I decided that an interview with this fellow was a must.

CF – How did you get started into doing artwork?

VB – I’ve been doing it ever since I can remember, since I was a little kid when I started reading comics. I liked to draw everything especially army stuff. I probably did draw some favorite comic book characters. I did my own comics when I was about 9 or 10 years old back in 1959.

CF – What was the comic scene like when you were growing up?

 

VB – Back in 1959 it was super for me. There was a lot more stuff than just superhero comics; there were war comics, romance comics, western comics, science fiction comics, etc. I read just about everything. Then in the early ’60s Marvel comics came on pretty big with The Fantastic Four, Spiderman and all the characters that I absolutely love. I think I even sent something to Marvel when I was in high school.

I’ve had certain periods of falling away. When I was in the service I got away from it for a couple of years. However, when I ever get burned out on it or disenchanted with it I always end up coming back to it.

CF – Did you get into the underground comics of the late ’60s early ’70s?

VB – I absolutely loved that stuff. I was in Vietnam 69-70. When I got out of the army in 1971, I was in the hospital for about nine months with malaria. While there a guy handed me a comic, a Conan Comic drawn by Barry Smith. I was totally blown away by it. That’s what really got me back into comics.

At that time, in the early ’70s, all the underground comics were coming on really strong. You could buy them in record shops. Crumb, Zap Comics, Richard Corbin, Jack Jackson, that’s all I bought for about three or four years. They were so cool as compared to mainstream comics. I have a couple of stacks still. I maybe bought a few mainstream comics like Conan that I really liked during that time.

CF – When you did get back into comics, did you try to pursue it as a career?

VB – After I got out of the service I met Adele at Wright State and we got married not too long after. I got a job at the post office, but I always wanted to draw comics. So on my off days I would always work on my portfolio. I would send it out to New York. The only two companies were Marvel and DC back then, so I tried to get into them because I wanted to make a living at it.

I would say that I got really serious about it late in life, around the early 80′s. I went to conventions, maybe two or three a year. There I could met the editors of the companies and show my work to them there. I didn’t have to send it through the mail and wait for a response. I really cranked at that hard for three straight years.

I didn’t get any positive responses from people who could pay me money because my artwork didn’t fit what they wanted, which was usually superhero type stuff. I tend to do more realistic every day people…blowing each other away. (Laughter)

CF – Has your experiences in Vietnam played any role is the comics that you draw?

VB – I have done stories on Vietnam. I drew a story that another guy wrote. When I find myself reading about Nam or when I when I watch newsreels about it, it makes me depressed. So I just backed off. This story I did was basically kind of a love story and I distanced myself from it by looking at it as a drawing assignment. Still, I had to look at a lot of reference books about uniforms, tanks, and helicopters, stuff like that.

That’s the only Vietnam story that I’ve ever done and probably would never want to do it. It’s not a pleasant subject.

CF – Looking at your stuff it does look like some of the underground comics of today. Is this the kind of stuff you were working on way back then?

VB – In some ways I think I improved a lot. I use references a lot more. (Picks up a drawing). For instance this is a doctors frock and I used actually reference pictures. I’ve improved a lot on and what they call drapery, the folds of people’s cloths. Cloths fold a certain way, and an editor pointed out once that I just sort of made up the folds. So things like that really improved my drawing. Technically I’ve improved a lot, but I think I had more fun in the earlier days before I really started trying to make a career out of it.

CF – Have you done any other artwork besides comics?

VB – Yeah, I’ve done a lot of artwork. I got my BFA at Wright State University that was all fine arts. I went to Sinclair in the early ’90s and did really well there. I first went for commercial art, but got caught up again in the fine arts department. With some other people we formed Studio Sinclair, which has become an actual department or whatever you want to call it at Sinclair. That was a lot of fun. I really got caught up in that.

CF – When did you start working on your current project?

VB – I started on it in ’93, finished out and sort of bottomed out on comics and put it on the shelf for several years and didn’t really do too much drawing. So what I’m doing now is a continuation of that original 12-page story. I’m currently on page 56 and I’m looking for it to be about 100 pages, which is the general length of a graphic novel. Sometimes more, sometimes left.

It’s going to be black and white. I love black and white. I love black and white movies. I publish in black and white for aesthetic reasons, but also it will probably be a lot less expensive. But if I learned to use color well enough that would be cool because you can get a lot of emotions out of color.

CF – What is your process of coming up with an idea?

VB – its kind of funny, because all my stories seem to come from one thing, the sort of 1984 scenario, where people are under some horrible dictatorial regime. I can’t seem to get away from that, from people struggling against some vicious authoritarian regime. That theme seems to permeate everything one-way or the other. That’s exactly what this story is about. The difference is that in the United States liberal people tend to think of these regimes as being right wing nazis or something. But there are left wing dictatorships like China or Korea, which are horrible.

So my premise of this novel is that the politically correct people of the far left, went so far left and gained power that they became the dictators themselves. So everyone had to conform to his or her philosophy. I read this quote the other day from Hannah Arendt, and she noticed that the ideas of the far right and far left are basically the same, and that’s the root of what I’m doing.

CF – Once you’ve come up with an idea, where do you go from there? Do you draw out the scenes first or write the story itself?

VB – The best way I get ideas is walking and letting my head clear out. It relaxes my mind and I find that ideas can flow more freely. I get a vague outline of an idea and I’ll go home and maybe start roughing out some panels.

There was a really great plot thing in a Marvel book I had. It had something about how to write stories; introduce the situation, introduce your characters and the problem that disrupts their lives; how they resolve the problem and the climax. That little format has been helpful to me in structuring my stories. I just have a vague cloudy idea and I’ll just fool around just sketch out the story, usually from beginning to end. Then I go back and tighten it up, with tracing paper changing some things. Usually the original idea holds pretty well. I tighten it up with pencil, and then I put it on my light box on bristle board, Trace it up, tighten up the pencil marks pretty good. Then I go back and ink the pencils in.

Usually I letter the dialogue balloons first to make sure I have enough space for them.

CF – Have you ever started on a story with an idea in mind then have it dramatically change while you’re working on it?

VB – This story has changed since the first concept of it in 1993. It was pretty much the standard 1984 right wing dictatorship of the future type thing, pretty cliché. Then my thoughts stated changing over the years. I’ve changed things in this story quite a lot from the original concept.

For instance everybody had hair and there’s that rule in storytelling, show don’t tell. So I thought what would be a good way to show that people are being made to look the same. So I thought that they came up with a law that everyone has to have their head shaved so there wouldn’t be any discrimination, everybody would look the same. So that’s been a little change.

CF – How Long Ago did you start your graphic novel?

VB – I started the first story in 1993. The first whole page was going to be a self-contained story. Then in 1994 I got really burned out and depressed with the whole comic scene. After many rejections I just said the heck with it. I got a job at a library. That 12-page story sat on the shelf until about 1998 and I started it back up again. I’ve been working on it straight through ever since.

CF – What are some of your more outlandish stories where the drawings aren’t realistic?

VB – When I was younger I was better at that. I think I was freer. I think I kind of tightened up over the years. I’ve been trying to achieve working with the big guys. I think it’s good, but in a way it’s taken some of the fun out because I don’t do things like that anymore.

Everybody has a thing, a style, a way of telling their story and this is where I’m at as well as I can do it.

CF – What is the most difficult aspect of doing comics?

VB – Right now it’s staying with it. I kind of reached a wall. I’m on page 56 and I feel like I’m burned out a little bit. I was going along just fine. I was working at it as often as I could, spending hours at it and having a blast. Then I just ran out of steam. I did have a general idea of what I wanted to happen by page 100, but I had to pull back and recharge.

CF – What other things have you done or want to do with your artwork besides comics?

VH – That’s a good question, because when I was going through the rejections my daughter was saying, “Why don’t you try to do something else? There are lots of other things you can do with your artwork.” You don’t see much of it anymore, but I would be interested in doing book illustration or magazine illustration. I would love to do any kind of illustration in realistic vein.

The fun thing about illustration as opposed to comics is that you got one picture and it’s over with.

CF – How hard is it to keep the characters consistent in a comic?

VB – Very difficult. In fact editors criticized me on that many years ago. You need to work on that. You need some identifying aspect that’s easily recognized, a hooked nose, a scar something like that to help you with that.

CF – Once you get this project done, then what’s next?

VB – My goal is to do science fiction graphic novels. That would be more fun than anything I can think of doing. Comics are the perfect combination of writing and illustration. I would just like to put some stuff out there. Spend my time doing artwork.

CF – Is doing comics more difficult than people think?

VB – Yeah. It takes a lot of time. You’re the director, cameraman, photographer, screenwriter, wardrobe, special effects, sound; I don’t think people realize how much work it is. For the most part I enjoy it though. I enjoy the process as much as I do the end product.

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