A few weeks ago, the SCAD HoneyDripper team interviewed SCAD sequential art professor, Kate Sherron, about her time working on both licensed and creator-owned comics.
Interview conducted by associate editor of SCAD HoneyDripper, Anja Racke.
A transcript of the video above is available below.
Anja Racke: Alright, so hello to everyone watching this recording on the HoneyDripper website. My name is Anja and I am the associate editor of HoneyDripper, and I am here with Professor Sherron, one of the sequential art professors at SCAD. Professor Sherron, would you like to briefly introduce yourself and talk about your work?
Kate Sherron: Yes, so my name is Kate Sharon, Professor Kate Sharon, and in addition to working as a full-time professor, I’m also a full-time comic maker. I have been working professionally in comics for about the last five or six years or so. I have about — I'm almost up to 30 books published to my name. In the can, maybe? I think I might be getting my numbers wrong. Like I've got a number in the can that aren't going to come out yet, and I’m like ‘Oh wait…’ The joys of publishing. But prior to that I, you know, had done several different web comics, and so comics and illustration and art has always been sort of a part and parcel of what I've done. And yeah, so I've done, comics-wise, I've done licensed work for Boom [Studios] and Oni [Press] and IDW, so like Amazing World of Gumball, Invader Zim, My Little Pony are some of my heavy-hitters, but now I'm shifting into some lovely creator-owned work now, so.
Racke: Yeah, that's awesome. Alright, so my first question for you is going to be, because I know you've mentioned in class, I believe you've actually studied painting for your undergrad and then illustration for your masters, and I wanted to know how you started by studying painting and illustration, but then obviously shifted to working in comics.
Sherron: Gosh. Do you want, the five-hour version of the five-minute version? No, I mean, to be honest, like I've always loved comics since I knew they were kind of a — like, I mean like I was that kid who — because we would still get the newspaper every day, because I'm that old. And you know, I’d start my day reading the funnies. I was lucky enough to be a child at the prime peak when you had like ‘Calvin and Hobbes’ and ‘The Far Side’ like actually when they were like running and current, you know. And so, some really, really amazing comic strips and so like that was something that I really loved growing up, and then, gosh, I want to say was like ’96 or ’97, so I discovered manga around that time. This is prior to Tokyopop — this was what Tokyopop would become — was this — I’d found this magazine called MixxZine at my local comic shop, and it was, you know, the basic idea of like a Shonen Jump where you've got like, you know, just a magazine that's got like a bunch of chapters from, you know, a bunch of different series, and it was eclectic. It was like ‘Sailor Moon’ and ‘Parasite’ and ‘Harlem Beat’ and ‘Ice Blade,’ and they just — there was no rhyme or reason to what they put in there. And then, of course, not long after that I discovered ‘Blade of the Immortal,’ and like, you know. So, those proto-mangas that were coming over and being flipped and things land being stretched into standard comic format and all. It was just buck wild weirdness at that time and had kind of fallen down the manga and anime rabbit hole. And you know, then later got into very much like, I mean, like around that time I was getting into like the indie riot girl scene, like you do.
You know when you're an angsty rebel without a cause girl in the Midwest.
And so, so you know, so comics had always kind of been in the blood, and I, you know, eventually would branch out to read, you know, European comics, and then once I saw ‘Avengers,’ then I started reading some superhero stuff. I was post-30 before I read like really any proper superhero stuff. Sorry, guys.
But like, the whole long way, like I've loved comics, but I never really — it never really clicked in my brain that, like, someone had to make them — that that was a job you could have. Which I know that sounds absolutely buck wild, but I just — it just didn’t click. And so, you know, and I’ve gone through kind of like a — you know, I was just trying to kind of figure out where I wanted to go with art, because I knew I wanted to do something creative for a career — either that or going to violent [incoherent]. It was either art or that. You know, again, like you do.
And so, I was, you know, originally I was like ‘Well, I guess, education,’ and then I was like ‘Maybe illustration,’ and, you know, what you do is just — you're just kind of trying to figure out what's going to actually stick, so you can live indoors. Because I like living indoors, and I love my toilet, you know? But it was when I was in grad school that I had the luck — because I got my MFA at SCAD, actually — and I actually made good friends with some folks over in the [sequential art] department, even though I was an illustration kiddo. And I took some electives over in [sequential art], and there was one class in particular that was incredibly — That was the light bulb moment of like, ‘Oh, this is a job.’ Like ‘Oh! Okay!’ And, I mean, it wasn't something that I immediately jumped onto. You know, I was much more of the like,
I’m self-taught, I’m not, like, you know, learning how to, you know, like, I’m not going to school for this. I’m like, let's try to go the route that I kind of was going and I'll do web comics and I'll teach myself how to make comics on the side, and you know. And so, it took a good long while, but eventually, I came around. And so, there's the five-year answer. I apologize. I was like, I could talk more, or I could just cut it all out, because this is not that fascinating.
Racke: No, no, it is fascinating! I liked hearing about all of the comics you grew up with. Of course, we all have those comics that are near and dear to our hearts. And so, knowing that you have that background in painting and illustration, I would love to hear about how that has influenced your comics-making process. Especially since I know that coloring is one of your greatest strengths, and I’m sure that having that painting background probably helps influence how your colors look, so what do you have to say about that?
Sherron: And I would have to say that, like, painting 100%, having a traditional art background 100% affects how I color. I completely — again, self-taught, like I don't know how anyone else — I mean, I know now, because I have friends and we talk shop, obviously, but like, when I was coming up, I was like, ‘I don't know how anyone else does this. I’m just gonna figure this out.’ And thank God, I made comics friends. It was like, ‘Please teach me your ways,’ because they made it a lot easier. But I still can't not — like the way I approach color on the page is exactly like a painter. Like, I think about color theory, I think about how color works together and how change in relationship to each other. I don't use blend modes; I don't use any of those adjustment layers, and that's, I mean, you know. I’m not saying they're bad — I have an asterix, like I'm saying they're good tools and they're great to shortcut, but, like, you still have to know how to use them, or else they’re gonna —
It’s like when filters first popped up in photoshop, and you're like, ‘I'm sitting here, and I can see exactly what filter you put on this.’ Like that's not how —it's not using the tool to your advantage, right? And so, you know, so, like, I think they're good tools, and they're really great for streamlining the process, but like, I much easier — it's much easier mentally for me to just be like, ‘All right, this is the midtone, and that's the shadow.’ Like I pick specifically the colors that are used for shadows and highlights, and I’m very specific in what I pick and how I put them down, and you know, so that's never going to change.
And I think that helps make my colors a little bit more richer, a little bit more like — because it's not that you can't get rich colors with blend modes, you guys, you just be conscientious about the colors — you still have to be incredibly conscientious about the color’s you’re picking. It’s all color theory. It all comes back.
Racke: Very true. Yeah, yeah. Are there any specific ways where that painting and illustration background has actually influenced maybe your draftsmanship or your inking?
Sherron: I think… You know, because it's so funny, because I’ve always been a bit of a chameleon when it comes to style. Like, I feel like there's like the bones of my life drawings, you can see, like there's certain like — There is definitely a certain, like, visual language in the way I might like, draw a face, or something like that, but like, the way I render or the way I create, like I shift from project to project, because I want that style to suit the narrative, right? And you know, different inking styles serve different stories in different ways. And so, you know, and I’m not sure really — Because, like, illustration is like, you pick one style and you do that style for the next 40 years. Like that was something that I — was one of the reasons why I probably failed out of being an illustrator miserably, was because I was like, ‘But — I don't — That's boring!’ I don’t want to be Motherwell, I want to be Picasso. I want to, like, change things up. Like I don’t want to be stuck doing the same thing the rest of my life.You know, and it's been a little bit weirder trying to build a career around that fact, but comics is like, there's a lot more room in that that playground and in that sandbox to be like, ‘And then this book's gonna look like this!’
Sherron: Totally different from the other ones!
Racke: Yeah, I feel like that's very true, because there's obviously just as many art styles as there are people, maybe even more. And so, now shifting the conversation a little to the work you've done on comics, because I know you already mentioned in your introduction that you got started doing licensed work, and so I would be interested in hearing a little bit about how — what drew you to working in the direct market and working on license work. Was it something that you wanted to do, or is it sort of just how things happened to go down?
Sherron: It was the first opportunity and I took it. I mean, no, I’m exaggerating a little bit on that one, but like, it was basically — So around that — Gosh, gosh, this is what — 2015-ish? I was doing a web comic, and I was kind of trying to figure out — like I was still making connections, and trying to kind of figure out how to get into the industry, and, like, get to know people, and like, just even know how the industry worked. And I wasn't really, like, super angling for paid work at the time — I was just trying to still figure it out. And, I — Gosh, maybe it was 2013 or 2014 — I’m trying to remember when I met Ryan. I met this Canadian writer at a convention in Kansas City, Missouri, again, like you do. And we became friends and we kept in touch, and it was around 2015 — so you know we'd been friends for a couple years, so ,you know, kind of acquaintance friends, and we just kind of keep in touch, and around 2015 or so, he was like, ‘Hey, you know, I’m kind of looking for some new work and I wanted to expand my portfolio,’ and he was only a writer. And so, he needed, he depended upon artists to collaborate with, and he was like, ‘Would you mind doing this short that I wrote, and we can kind of shop that around, and like, that could benefit both of us?’ And I was like, ‘I mean, sure, why not?’ And he was paying, and, you know, he's my friend, and it was a fun story, and I was, like, ‘All right, I can do that.’ And we put that up, and a couple days after he had tweeted it out on his Twitter, I had gotten an email from an editor at Boom [Studios], who was an editor who had worked with him on previous projects. And she was like, ‘Hey, you know, I saw that — I saw that short that you did with Ryan. Like, it's really fantastic. Are you interested in doing a short for “The Amazing World of Gumball” annual anthology?’ You know, and she was even — Oh my gosh, Mary Gumhort, no longer with Boom — she's at Riot Games now, I'm not quite sure — fantastic lovely wonderful human being, who also was super generous and was like, ‘Hey do you want to like, write it, and if you want to you can draw it, and if you want to you can color it, and you can letter it too, if you want,’ and I was like — And, of course, in my head I’m, like, screaming because I’m just, like, I don't know how to do like 70% of this, like, at least, like, professionally, right? Like I've only ever done it for myself and never for print and never, you know, for professional means, and I'm just like — And like, so inside I’m, like, dying and outside like, ‘Yeah, sure, great. I'll do it all. Fantastic!’ Because I figure 'll learn on the job, and I did.
Sherron: And it just kind of built from there. Like one job to the next, led to the next, sort of thing. And that's just kind of the nice thing about that — that, like, I was lucky enough that, you know, I didn't completely poop the bed on that first story. And it took a while. You know, it wasn't like — It wasn't just one into the next, into the next, into the next, to, you know, change, you know, work — job, one after the next, but it was — It was those connections were made, and then my name got passed around to other editors, and I started doing other things with other editors, and then my name spread from Boom to, you know, other publishers, and other publishers would reach out to me, and so that just kind of — It took a while, but once the momentum got going, it was really steady and regular, and so that's why I was like, ‘Well alright, licensed work it is. This is how I’m going to make some money and build my name and make some connections,’ which, you know, paid off nicely when I wanted to shift more towards Creator work as well, so yeah.
Racke: So, it sounds like this all started with you meeting someone at a convention and making a great connection, so can you speak to how important you think making those connections are?
Sherron: Considering that, like — and again, everyone's career path is completely different and there's no one true way, like quote unquote ‘into the industry.’ And I hate to use the term ‘breaking in’ because that's not — Like that's just not how it works. Like, I don't know — Freelance is not a ‘once you're in, you're in.’ It's a — I don't know — it's, you know, it's kind of a mess, but it's our mess. But I just — from what I experienced, if it weren't for the fact that I knew people who knew people, and paired with the fact that I had been concurrently doing the work and building my skills and putting myself in a place where, like, when that knock on my door came, I could answer it. Like, I don't know — I don't know if I would have gotten into comics, and honestly so much of my success thus far has come from the fact that, you know, I know people and people know me. And not that, like, I can automatically just roll into a publisher and be like, ‘Hey, hire me’ — It's not like that. It's just more of that. Like once you know — when you know a few people, they know people, or you build a reputation, and that is — That reputation is like, ‘Oh, that person is reliable,’ you know, like, then you're more likely to get that call, you know, and those connections are just, at least for me personally, have been incredibly invaluable. And most of my friends who are also successful in the industry are also successful because of the fact that they have connections. And again, it's not necessarily directly [that] you lean on your friends to hire you for jobs. It's not quite like that — it’s a little more ephemeral little, a little more layered and nuanced. But it's just — you know, you could — you just never know how knowing people is going to pay off, and it just… Plus, also, then you have friends. Who doesn’t want to have friends? I love having friends. And the more friends, the merrier, honestly.
Racke: I mean if there's one thing that I've learned just from being a student in the sequential art department, it's definitely much more of a collaborative process than I think a lot of people realize When they’re first going into it.
Sherron: That was something that when I was a student — you know, granted, I was more illustration-facing at that point — but I still had, you know, a few eyes towards comics, and it was just something that everyone would tell you: ‘Oh, you need to network; you need to get to know people, make those connections with the students around you,’ etc., etc. And I was like, ‘I can do this on my own.’ No, no, no, no. No. And it’d not fun doing it on your own. It's so much more fun to have friends and connections and people, and it's just, I don't know, it makes the whole, yeah, really, really wonderful and rich that way.
Racke: Yeah, I mean I can imagine. I mean, people always say like humans are social creatures. I think that's just a part of how we work. If I can shift the conversation back towards licensed properties, I know I wanted to ask what's been your favorite property to work on and why?
Sherron: You know, I really liked ‘[The Amazing World of] Gumball’ because they were the least strict licensor-wise. I hate to say that, but I mean, honestly, like — You know, ‘My Little Pony’ was nice because, obviously, I met some wonderful editors through that, and like Megan Brown is just the sweetest woman you'll ever meet and a fantastic editor, who I believe is actually going to be one of our Editor’s Day editors visiting, so whoever gets a chance to chat with her is a lucky duck.
But honestly, one of the most fun things — and it's just a weird thing — was I did pencils for this seek-and-find kid's book based on Jim Henson’s ‘Labyrinth.’ Like, as someone who grew up being, like, a ‘Where's Waldo’ nut, and, like, someone who is currently a maximalist and loves to fill every inch — and voids, I struggle with voids. Even though I love how other people that handle it, I can't handle it myself. That was a joy to draw, even if not everything that I drew in got translated into the book, which is fine. Like, understandable. It was a lot. I drew a lot. But it was — Those actually ended up being a real pleasure, even though I was, like, completely, again like — The editor knocked on my door and was like, ‘Hey, this is what we're doing. Are you interested?’ And in my brain, I’m screaming like, ‘I've never done this before, oh God, oh God,’ and then I was like, ‘Sure!’ And it turned out to be, honestly, one of the things that was the most fun to do, and I’m really pleased with those, so you know, you never know.
Racke: Yeah. I feel like a lot of, you know, fellow sequential art students always dream of, you know, making their own comic series, their own graphic novel, and a lot of people don't seem very willing to work on licensed comics. I think there's a bit of a fear that you don't get as much creativity when you're working with characters that aren't your own. So, I kind of want to hear, did you feel like there was any limits to your creativity or did you still have lots of fun with them?
Sherron: I mean, it depends on the series you're working on, you know, and how tight the reins are held by the licensor. But, like, even within that, you know, there's always sort of room to flex, and I will admit, like, to also have, like, just like y'all, I have those dreams of telling my own stories and doing my own thing, you know? But I don't know, I just, I'm very pragmatic, and I was like, ‘I need to figure out how this industry works. I don't know my way in, this was this door was open to me, I'm going to walk through it, and I'll figure it out once I'm in.’ And like, and honestly, because of that fact of being open to the experience and open to learning new things and meeting new people and trying something different that — Like, I didn't feel squashed or constricted by the job because, you know, I didn't go in with any sort of ego or expectation. And I think that helps. Honestly, I think that's really how you should approach most things in life is avoid going in with ego and expectation.