James Fry interview by Sonic HQ (April 11, 2000)
From Sonic Retro
Sonic HQ: First can you give us some background on yourself? Like who you are and just what it is you do for those that don't know.
James Fry: Okay, sure. Some years ago, when I was illustrating novels based on Marvel Comics characters for Byron Preiss Publications, I was asked to write a bio. Might as well get some mileage out of it. Heck, some of it is even true: "Rocketed to Earth as an infant, JAMES W. FRY escaped the destruction of his home planet and grew to adulthood in Brooklyn, New York. In 1984, seduced by the irresistible combination of insane deadlines and crippling poverty, he embarked on a career as a freelance illustrator. James' credits include STAR TREK and THE BLASTERS for DC Comics, NOMAD, MOON KNIGHT and SLAPSTICK for Marvel Comics, THE NEW SHADOWHAWK for Image and COSMIC CREW for the Children's Television Workshop. Himself a leading cause of stress-related illness in editors, James' greatest unfulfilled ambition is to get one full night of guilt-free sleep."
Sonic HQ: How did you get started in comics?
James Fry: Back in '84, my then-girlfriend and I were at a comics convention . There was a panel discussion called "How To Break Into Comics". One of the panelists, terrific inker and all-around Great Guy Keith Williams talked about Marvel Comics' new Apprenticeship Program. If Art Director John Romita Senior thought there was sufficient promise in your work, an aspiring artist could get a staff job in the Bullpen doing art corrections and other production work. The pay was onlty a gnat's whisker above minimum wage, BUT you got hands-on experience with comics, had daily access to all the editors and regular tips and instruction from John Sr. himself. At the time I was working for the phone company, but when I found out that Marvel liked my work enough to hire me, I dumped Ma Bell in nothing flat (thereby breaking my parents' hearts) and never looked back.
Sonic HQ: How did you get the job drawing for Archie Sonic?
James Fry: I was looking for work and my buddy Dan Slott suggested I call Justin Gabrie at Archie to see if I could maybe get a Sonic pin-up or two. Justin and I had met a few years before, when he was an assistant editor at Marvel, so he knew my work and gave me a shot. Turned out he liked my pin-up enough to give me Zone Wars, an inventory story that Dan had written, and liked my work on THAT enough to offer me the regular book after Steven Butler's upcoming departure.
Sonic HQ: What was it like working for Marvel? Specifically on SLAPSTICK And what drew you to Archie - specifically the Sonic book?
James Fry: Working for Marvel was just like working practically anywhere else--- some things are good, some things are bad, and the ratio can change drastically from day to day. SLAPSTICK was like my baby, carried away by the gypsies. Len Kaminski and I created the character and sold it to Marvel back in 1988. We thought a funny superhero might provide some much-needed relief from the growing tedency towards heroes who were grim and unpleasant and difficult to tell from the villains. Marvel agreed---kind of. They bought the character in '88, but didn't give us the green-light for the miniseries until 1991(!)and then spent precisely no time or effort on promoting it. On those rare occasions that I could actually find a stray, lonely copy in a comics shop, it was usually racked with the comics aimed at kids. When I tried to explain that , humorous or not, it was a superhero book and should be placed alongside SUPERMAN and SPIDER-MAN, store managers and proprietors usually looked at me as if I were growing another head RIGHT IN FRONT OF THEM. Very disillusioning.
Sonic HQ: Rumors had been floating around that you may be leaving? :O( First let me say a LOT of people like your work currently but we wanna know is it true and are you still going to be drawing for the book? If you aren't then thank goodness - but if you are, why? Lately you've been doing mostly breakdowns...
James Fry: Thanks for the kind words about my work. Feedback is always good, but POSITIVE feedback is almost as good as chocolate! Okay, the rumors of my departure are entirely accurate, BUT... I've already gone and come back. Lemme 'splain, Lucy: Last summer I was offered a sizable sum of money to do a miniseries for another comics company. The amount of work they were asking for and the speed with which they would need it were such that I couldn't reasonably do the mini AND Sonic at the same time. And as much as I had grown to love the little blue guy, drawing his adventures pays less than half what I would make doing the same work for Marvel or DC. (Sad but true. )If it weren't, I'd be happy to draw Sonic until they plant me, but bills gotta get paid.... Anyway, J.Freddy was really cool about giving me the time off to do the mini (A horrible experience, my absolute worst in fifteen years of drawing comics!) and leaving the door open for me to come back. The issues w/breakdowns were designed to give me a little breathing room and to accustom the readers to somebody else doing the finished art.BUT... as I write this I'm just finishing my comeback issue (#88) and having a ball.
Sonic HQ: What kind of environment do feel you work best under?
James Fry: Solitude! Sometimes even have to turn the phone off and answer messages later that day.But there must be background noise. TV or CDplayer !
Sonic HQ: Where do you get inspiration for your own "style" of drawing the characters? What types of materials do you use when you draw? Do you consider the games or Sega of Japan's official art (like from the Sonic Jam museum or Sonic Screensaver)? If that's the case, do you have any favorite "scenes?"
James Fry: My approach to drawing the characters, stylistically speaking, is kind of a hodgepodge of some of the artists that preceded me, chiefly Sam Maxwel, SPAZ and Manny Galan, with a little of the Sonic Anime (I hope). Every new artist is provided with a fist-thick reference file of model sheets, but as you've no doubt noticed, there's a fair amount of leeway allowed for interpretation. Thank goodness. I haven't seen much of the Sega of Japan official art, but I'm darned curious about it, just as I'm hoping to get a look at the UK SONIC comic.
Sonic HQ: Many have noticed the VERY LARGE Tenchi Muyo influence in your work. So far we've seen background characters with hairdo's of Mihoshi, and Washu (I don't think I've caught Ryoko or Ayeka yet). Considering that youre obviously a huge anime fan - What anime influences you in your artwork most? Why so much Tenchi and are you familiar with the Tenchi Universe in general? And lastly what draws you TO anime?
James Fry: BUSTED!!!! Ah, well, I knew Tenchi fans would recognize what I was doing. I haven't seen much --basically just caught a little at a friend's house, so no, I'm not very familiar w/ the Tenchi Universe. But the little bit that I've seen just captured my heart. Generally, my artwork is influenced by whatever I've seen lately. I've been enjoying the work of Rumiko Takahashi recently, and SONIC#88 may show some influence from Kia Asamiya's STEAM DETECTIVES, of all things. As for what draws me to any particular anime, that depends entirely on which way the wind is blowing. It can be the characters, like in URUSEI YATSURA and RANMA, or action, like LUPIN. Sometimes the first thing that attracts me may be some nifty-lookin' design elements, but I stick around because I find the story so compelling,like EVANGELION. Sometimes I fall madly in love (PROJECT A-KO), and sometimes I think "I wanna be that guy if I ever grow up (PORCO ROSSO).
Sonic HQ: What was your true "First Sonic Story" - "Guardian Heroes", "Back To Business", or "Zone Wars: Prelude"?
James Fry: As I mentioned above, "Zone Wars" was my FIRST.Actually, it didn't become "Zone Wars: Prelude" until Freddy decided to turn it into two separate stories:He had Dan Slott write a new closing page that turned the whole "Sally Moon" scenario into a self-contained story . The remainder of the original story w/ Doctor Kintobor and the kaiju versions of the Freedom Fighters was turned into a separate tale altogether, with the addition of the Sonicaman framing sequence. Spaz (apparently an even bigger Gatchaman fan than I, which is going some) designed the characters and I was supposed to draw that part of the story as well, but ran out of time after it was scheduled. While we're here, I'd like to address something that was written about before I joined Ron B's little group: I'd heard that "Sally Moon" was much reviled by SONIC fans and largely perceived as some sort of sinister plot on ARCHIE's part to separate unsuspecting children from their much-needed milk money or something. Frankly, I was surprised to see such sinister motives ascribed to a harmless joke. Writer Dan Slott and I were just having a little fun with SONIC's Japanese roots. This might have been more evident if the story had been published in its original form; besides Sally Moon, you'd have seen (and have seen by now) Bunnie Rabbot's GOJIRA-style spines and tail, Tails's DEVIL-MAN-style brow-wings and the Giant Kintobor's resemblance to GIGANTOR with a sizable amount of ULTRAMAN for good measure. The important thing is, if you didn't like the Sally Moon story on its own merits as a story, fine,you have that right. But if you thought it was part of some sinister conspiracy by Archie Comics to make a fast buck, SNAP OUT OF IT!!! sorry just had to get that off my chest we now return to our regular scheduled interview.
Sonic HQ: Had you been given any backstory on Sonic prior to your drawing assignments? What association did you have knowing about the character other than the video games? Had you read the comic before?
James Fry: When I did the pin-up and my first story, I was sent the previous 3 or 4 issues of the comic just to get a feel for what the characters looked like. I had seen a couple of the VERY early issues way back when, but, of course,the look and tone of the book had changed considerably. When I became the regular penciler, they sent me both seasons of the SatAM cartoon on tape and a couple of dozen issues of the comic along with a sizable chunk of KNUCKLES' run. I watched both versions of the American cartoons, but didn't like either one as much as the two half-hour Japanese cartoons I'd seen. The SatAM stuff seemed to have some potential to it, but I rarely thought it was fully realized. I liked SONIC as a character a great deal,though... I thought of him as being a lot like SUPERMAN: a terrific character who deserved better stories!
Sonic HQ: That full page spread in Sonic 77 - The one where everyone gathered in Knothole for the evacuation out of Robotropolis with Hong Kong Phooey and every other character known to man it it. ^_^ How long did it take you to draw that sucker and were there any specific characters in there of interest that we should know about?
James Fry: Wow! I don't remember how long it took to draw that sequence, and if I did, I'd probably just start crying again. It was fun, but it was WORK, and as the New Kid In Town, I was probably trying too hard to impress. Crowd scenes are among my least favorite things to draw (just ask Karl Bollers; I've threatened his life more than once) so I often wind up putting in familiar faces just to make things more fun. Kudos to J. Fred for not making me take them out. I used to do this kind of thing all the time back during my STAR TREK days: Jor-El was a member of the Federation Council, Harry Osborn attended Starfleet Academy with James Kirk ,the list goes on. And speaking of lists, I'll be dipped if I can remember everyone who shows up in that scene. In fact, you never know when someone's lawyer may be nearby. Maybe I shouldn't be talking about this at all...
Sonic HQ: What are your views between where the Sonic comic has been - i.e Moving away from The Sonic SatAM Cartoon continuity to its own continuity set up by Mr. Bollers to SA to where the comic is going now? Why do you think that Sonic fans (well, at least half of them anyway) show so much animosity at major changes that deviate from the original SatAM Storyline while the other half want more Sega Sonic influence?
James Fry: I recently weighed in on a similar topic on the board: It's hard to keep all those balls in the air at once. I think Karl is doing pretty well at what has to be a very difficult job. For every group of SONIC fans you make happy, there's another group ready to burn you in effigy (if not in your living room)! Generally, when people find that they like a character, they like the FIRST version of that character that they encounter;that version feels "right" to them and any attempt to change things or move the character and his setting is perceived as a betrayal of sorts. The trouble is, when characters appear in multiple media and each medium takes a different approach to the character, the fan base gets divided into different camps. Imagine the confusion that somebody who discovered THE INCREDIBLE HULK on TV back in the seventies must have felt if they decided to pick up one of the comic books: "What the @%$#%$& is THIS?! He's BULLETPROOF? He can TALK? BRUCE Banner?! That's not the Hulk I know!"
SONIC fandom is a lot like that: the different versions of the character are different enough to create dissent, and since the comic offers the most frequent exposure to the character, everybody wants to see "their" version of the Hedgehog take center stage. You've heard the saying that "No man may serve two masters", but that's just what anyone trying to write SONIC has to do. Personally I think an approach not unlike Warner Bros. BATMAN and SUPERMAN cartoons might help. The writers and artists on those shows use elements from virtually EVERY version of those characters that has been done, and the resulting patchwork is both satisfying and entertaining. But the trouble with that kind of thing is that you run the risk of achieving the opposite effect: instead of making everybody happy, you could wind up ticking them ALL off. Who could blame you for not wanting to take that chance?
Sonic HQ: Do you think the Dreamcast Sonic of today is anything the same or as cool or as popular as the Genesis Sonic of yesterday?
James Fry: Frankly, I think the Dreamcast Sonic is one of the coolest things I've ever seen. I just hope I've been straightforward enough with my answers up 'til now that people don't read that and think "Yeah, but he works for these guys,he HAS to say that kinda thing."
Sonic HQ: How much influence does Sega have on the art in the comic? How much influence do you think Archie has on Sega, Sonic wise? Do you think Sega Of America is partly responsible for Sonic's lower popularity today?
James Fry: In my experience, Sega hasn't had all that much say in the art. I fiddled w/Sally's hair a bit in the first few pages of #76 and was told that I had gone beyond the limits of what was allowed vis-a-vis deviating from the model, but since then, nobody has said "boo" to me. As for what influence Archie may have over Sega, I haven't a clue. Somebody closer to the editorial end of things might have some insights on that one.
As for Sonic's diminished popularity, I don't really think Sega of America has all that much to do with it, if anything at all. The popularity of ANY character or property experiences peaks and valleys. Times change, people change, tastes change. It doesn't even necessarily mean that the quality has diminished. A thing can be every bit as good as it ever was, or even better, but sooner or later, the public has had enough. You just never know....
Sonic HQ: What would you say is your favorite comic?
James Fry: Boy, I hate that question. I've always had trouble narrowing things down to just one; I like so many different comics for so many different reasons! But if you held a gun to my head (and if you're a comic book editor, you probably have) I'd have to say either Will Eisner's SPIRIT comics of the Forties and Fifties, or Jack Cole's PLASTIC MAN from the same period. The Spirit because it includes brilliant examples of virtually every type of story ever written. Plastic Man because Cole was an absolutely fantastic comedian, capable of being wildly lunatic and winkingly subtle, often on the same page, sometimes in the same panel!
Sonic HQ: Who were some of your favorite artists that you looked up to? How have they influenced you?
James Fry: Oooo....lemme see. Like most of my generation of artists, I grew up worshiping Jack Kirby. He managed to epitomize both raw power and believable humanity. I liked the slick design sense of longtime Flash artist Carmine Infantino. I admired Gil Kane's fluidity of movement and powerful dynamics, Steve Ditko's cockeyed stylization and John Romita ,Senior's clean bold lines and beautiful women. Now let me see if I can come up with any names that DON'T go back to the Mesozoic era: Alan Davis is a freakin' genius of an artist. That there Joe Madureira's pretty nifty,too. Paul Smith's economy of line is a thing of beauty and a joy forever. Steve Rude's work makes my heart beat faster, as do Bruce Timm, Garcia-Lopez, Walt Simonson, Frank Miller...too many, too many... next question, please!
Sonic HQ: As someone who has seen some of the Sonic Adventure Adaption first hand - what has been the BEST, HARDEST, and most FRUSTRATING part of drawing it? What steps did you as an artist, go in drawing and layout out the story, and how did you feel when Knuckles was canceled and most of your slots in the book were reduced to 9 pages?
James Fry: Well, I asked for that, didn't I? 'S a big question, yo. And the trouble is, I was absent for most of the SONIC ADVENTURE stuff. The BEST part was getting to draw the little bit that I could, the HARDEST part was having to bail after the earliest city scenes, and the most FRUSTRATING thing was not getting to draw SUPER SONIC. I'd have jumped up and down on a box of kittens to draw that sequence after I saw that part of the game, but alas...
Drawing that story involved some interesting measures: It was begun months before the Dreamcast would be on sale here in the states. So SPAZ obtained a Japanese version of the game, played it from beginning to end and taped the whole shootin' match. Then, the tape was mailed to every one of the artists who would be working on the SA adaptation so we could copy it for reference. In the plot, Karl would refer to a particular sequence in the game and we'd just scan to it and draw.
As for KNUCKLES's cancellation, I was heartbroken. Not because of my sequences being cut down; they needed the space to tell Knux's part of the story and my ego ain't that fragile. No, I was just upset because I enjoyed the book and was sorry to see it go. If anything, I like Knuckles at least as much as Sonic. His book seemed like a perfect companion title: Similar enough that it fed your need for additional Sonic-style adventure, but different enough that it still had its own distinctive personality. Think HERCULES/XENA or BUFFY/ ANGEL.
Sonic HQ: For those that don't know - what exactly is a breakdown?
James Fry: I'll ignore the OVERWHELMING temptation to make a painfully obvious joke and just say that breakdowns are loose drawings, sketches, really, usually done as guidelines for another artist or to give a rough idea of the book's pacing and storytelling.
Sonic HQ: Can you explain the steps in how you get a comic book ready from your perspective. What goes into it, and how do you get assignements? How do you know how and where to lay out the story
James Fry: I get a plot in the mail,usually along with Archie Comics' drawing paper and vouchers. Karl's plot tells me how many panels there are per page, what the action in each panel is and usually some indication of what the dialogue might be. That last part is fairly important,since the actual dialogue is written AFTER the story is drawn and I need to leave Karl enough room . (Marvel Comics pioneered this approach to comics in the 60's, and it's largely credited with making comic books more collaborative creatively). Knowing how or where to lay things out is no big trick: when you read the story, you visualize each scene. Sometimes the writer has a particular angle in mind, or a design element he'll ask you to include. After I've read the plot from beginning to end, I start to lay the story out with thumbnail drawings at about 1/4 size. When I've finished half the story, I blow the thumbnails up to full size, trace them on to the art boards with a lightbox and turn them into finished drawings, smoothing out rough edges and adding details. Then I do the same thing with the second half. On a couple of occasions, when pressed for time, I've enlisted the help of my longtime friend Frank Strom (creator of Monkey Khan) to help with the thumbnails. As I finish a few pages at a time, I send them off to J.Fred, who faxes reduced Xeroxes of the pages to Karl for dialoguing and sends the originals to the letterer.
Sonic HQ: What is it like working with Karl Bollers and J.F. Gabrie? With Karl specifically do you converse regularly between assignments and how do you work with each other in sync to producing the finished product?
James Fry: I'm much more likely to get in touch with a writer I'm working with if something is unclear and confusing. Karl's stuff, though, is generally solid and straightforward , so he doesn't hear from me much, unless it's to beg him to lay off the crowd scenes. And JFG may be the best editor I've ever worked for. He has been amazingly cooperative, supportive and patient, willing to help me work through some major league screw-ups with a sense of humor and answering even my stupidest questions with a straight face. And I've asked some doozies! One morning, while in the early stages of working on my first regular issue of STH, I was monumentally sleep-deprived and unable to find any of the small mountain of reference material I'd been sent. I called JF and asked if we had ever seen the exterior of Robotnik's headquarters. Not much!!! Just in every episode of the SatAM show! And damn near every issue of this damn comic!!! A patient man is J.F.Gabrie...
Sonic HQ: The design of those police in Station Square in Sonic 81 and 82 look a bit Mega Man-ish? I take it you're a fan of the blue bomber as well?
James Fry: Kinda. Actually, any similarity between those cops and Mega-Man was purely coincidental. I've seen the cartoon a number of times, mostly because I liked the design of some of the characters. My girlfriend's son, on the other hand, can quote chapter and verse on probably any aspect of MegaMan you'd care to bring up!
Sonic HQ: Speaking of design - while conversing with you on the mailing list I was surprised and impressed that it WASN'T Spaz, but you who had done the designs on recent characters - the most surprising being designing Zonic The Zone Cop who appears regularly in the Sonic Super Specials. How do you basically come up with a design, what was the basis for Zonic's design and what other characters can you say that you have designed for the book? (Did you have any input on the new design of the Shadow Swatbots BTW?)
James Fry: Actually I haven't gotten to design many ongoing characters in this book. Zonic was mine, and his uniform was a piece of cake. I just kinda thought "Hmmm....extradimensional law officer, huh? What would one of those look like?" And the answer was "Judge Dredd!" A nip here and a tuck there and a pair of those "rabbit-ear thingumees for a more Japanese look and voila! Zonic! And of course, I got to do Giant Kintobor and the monster versions of the Freedom Fighters, but the odds that you'll see them again are slim. Except for Zonic and the new Swat-Bots (yes, they're mine. I thought they should have those classic Japanese Robot proportions.) the overwhelming majority of the design work on this book is from SPAZ. And I liked his cover drawing of Zonic WAY more than my own anyway. AS for what goes into designing a character, for me, it's a list of questions, from "What does this character DO?" and "What's his/her personality like?" because those things often have a material effect on a character's appearance. Nearly as important are "What am I in the mood to draw today?" and "Will I be sick of drawing that six months from now?" . And, of course, "Why is man born only to suffer and die?" and "When's lunch?"
Sonic HQ: Bunnie Rabbot. Who is responsible for HER redesign - from the "Popeye"-like forearms to her new sleeker smoother look? Can you give us some insight on this and how it came about to redesign her? Did it provide anything of a challenge for you?
James Fry: A challenge? You betcha!!! 'Cause I liked her the way she was!!! As I understand it Bunnie was redesigned (SPAZ again) in response to complaints from the fans that she wasn't sexy enough or something. Well, I know that my own tastes are at odds with those of the average american male---figure-wise I prefer ample to petite. But hormonal considerations aside (we are, after all , talkin' about doggone CARTOON RABBIT!!!), Bunnie's old body was more interesting to draw. Now that she's been streamlined and Amy Rose has become a full-fledged teenager (a change I support), most of this series' female characters seem to have the same body type (except maybe Dulcy and Rosie) and I personally find that DULL,DULL,DULL!
Sonic HQ: Of all the Freedom Fighters, which do you like drawing the most?
James Fry: Of the Freedom Fighters, my favorite to draw would be Big Blue himself, and before her reboot, Bunnie would have been a close second.
Sonic HQ: Robotnik's old look (SatAM) VS Robotnik's new look (Sonic Adventure)? Honestly - what do you think is better? ^_^
James Fry: That's another tough call, 'cause I like elements of each version. But I'll admit to a preference for the old school version because of a personal bias toward evil masterminds with CAPES!
Sonic HQ: During your time illustrating Sonic & Knux there must have been some issues that you regard as your own favorites. What are they, in terms of your own work? Have a favorite character?
James Fry: Of the stuff that's seen print so far, I'd have to say #76 is my fave. I'm very proud of that crowd scene, and some of the action stuff was a pretty big hoot as well. But I think #88 will look pretty darn decent when it comes out, too. As for favorite characters, aside from Sonic himself, I'd have to give a first-place tie to Knuckles. I RELATE to a grumpy guy with dreadlocks. Heck, if I could just get that gliding thing down, there'd be no telling us apart!
Sonic HQ: Do you ever play the Sonic games for inspiration?
James Fry: Believe it or else, I've only ever played at my friends' homes! If I had a game system of my own, I'd never get anything done!
James Fry: I think I've covered most of this in my answers to previous questions and I'm doing enough repeating myself as is. Would anyone like to hear a song?
Sonic HQ: I noticed in our email your affinity especially for the anime. What do you think of the American version of Sonic as opposed to the Japanese version? Why would you prefer the Japanese over the American, and why do you think that its not likely that we'll see more of the Japanese influence on the book?
James Fry: The SatAM stuff, while clearly enjoyed by adults, seems much more specifically aimed at a juvenile audience. I find that the Japanese cartoons are more sophisticated, both visually and conceptually, and that just appeals to me more. Understand, I'm not saying that I favor an approach that excludes a youger audience, just one that works harder to include an older one. As for why I imagine the Japanese influence taking a backseat, that's just a perception thing: my admittedly limited awareness of Sonic fandom gives me the impression that the fans who prefer the American approach may outnumber the Japanese camp. Maybe that's so, maybe that's not, but if the intention of those guiding the comic is to keep the fans happy, then the larger camp is likelier to get its way. Not that ther'll be NO Japanese influence in there. Quite the contrary;when I took over the art duties , J. Fred gave me carte blanche to add as much manga/anime stuff to the look of the book as I felt comfortable with. And recent SA-related developments have brought a greater resemblance to the game and the original Japanese stuff. So maybe I have no idea what I'm talking about. Wouldn't be the first time. Won't be the last!
Sonic HQ: I had also noticed you took a look at Sonic Ideal from the link on our front page. What do you think of it? ^_^
James Fry: Very nice. The art by Abigail Ryder is bright and energetic, and the story by David Bulmer is charming. The thing I admire most about both story and art is the amount of personality conveyed. The characters LOOK cool and interesting,to the degree that if you didn't know much about them, you'd WANT to. And the easy banter between Sonic and Tails seems relaxed and natural, like real friends. Another cool thing is the use of silent panels. Silence is a technique I sometimes consider criminally underused, in comics as well as movies and TV. But sometimes hanging back and letting the pictures tell the story can be very effective. It takes a writer who's confident enough to do it and an artist who's capable of that kind of storytelling. I'm lookin' forward to issue two.
Sonic HQ: What basic drawing advice would you give a young artist? Do you have any particular way that you start drawing a figure/background/angle?
James Fry: Most art books will tell you to think of the object you want to draw as a series of connected geometric shapes. You know, spheres for heads, rods for arms, cones for God-Knows-What. Good advice. Cause once you get the hang of that, it works with everything,whether you're drawing Aunt Gertie's cat or Doctor Diablo's Ionization Nebulizertm. Another thing to remember is to study the human figure. I know, it's a lot more fun to draw hardware and explosions and whatnot, and that stuff is certainlly flashy as all get-out, but you'll probably discover that you have a wider range of options if you can render the human face and figure in a manner that appears believable. It's true, most comic art is about exaggeration. But many have found that it's much easier to learn the believable first and move on to the exaggerated than vice-versa. 'Cause in all likelihood,you will be called upon to draw both. Frequently the quiet, human moments are necessary to provide a counterpoint to the slam-bang action stuff. Finally, of course, the customary admonition: Draw,draw,draw! Never stop practicing, never stop learning.
Sonic HQ: What makes drawing a comic fun? Are the time constraints stressful? What part of your job do you like best?
James Fry: Many would insist that what makes drawing comics fun is the adventure of it all, the fantasy element, the wish fulfillment that goes with much of the subject matter. Others love the sheer joy of the creative act. Or getting to finally have a hand in chronicling the adventures of a favorite character. I would,of course agree. But what's most fun is the huge truck full of cash that they back up to my door every week and the hundreds and hundreds of well-carved young women who stand ready to do my bidding. Or did I just dream that? Like many artists, I'm married to my job. In fact, we have two children,now: Bleeding Ulcer and Big Chair Butt. We're especially proud of Big Chair Butt ;he's starting college in the fall.
Sonic HQ: What do you consider your biggest positives, strengths and negatives, weaknesses in your artwork? Do you feel that you can improve - if so how? What fields do you think you don't need to improve on?
James Fry: I think my strengths and weaknesses are inextricably linked, though, which can make for some tough sledding. Por ejemplo, I tend to be a perfectionist, picking over tiny details or constantly redrawing to try and make things look better. That's a plus. The minus is that that kind of thing gets time-consuming and there's always a schedule that must be met. Another thing I consider a strength is my ability to assimilate elements of other people's style into my own. It has certainly helped me grow as an artist, just as bacon cheeseburgers have helped me grow as a fat guy. The flip side of that, however, is that sometimes my brain gets lazy and I decide to slavishly copy what someone else did as opposed to coming up with my own approach. In comics, this is known as Buckler's Disease. People who work in motion pictures call it The DePalma Syndrome.
As for improvement, there's always room for that (and Jell-o). I think exposing myself (DON"T EVEN THINK ABOUT IT!) to a wider range of influences might help, as would relaxing and not second-guessing myself so much. The latter would certainly at least improve my speed , which would make my oft-neglected girlfriend happier. (HI, RoByn! Put down the gun, honey, I'm almost finished.....)
Sonic HQ: Ever think about guest writing an issue? ^__^
James Fry: Frankly, no. So far, I haven't had any story ideas that I think are worth pestering J.Fred over. If I ever do, though, I'll be calling him morning, noon and night begging for an opening!
Sonic HQ: We had heard a rumor that Karl Bollers may be leaving the book soon. Danny Fingeroth - a previous editor at Marvel will be on the book writing a 2 part Metal Sonic story with issue 86 or 87 I believe and is the first new writer since the days after "Endgame" (Sonic 50). Any insight on if or why Karl may be leaving?
James Fry: To the best of my knowledge, Karl isn't going anywhere. The Fingeroth story (shudder) is most likely inventory being cleared. For those of you not in the know, an "inventory story " is a story that the editor purchases, basically with the intent of using it to plug a hole in the schedule. Some inventories wind up appearing in Specials or Annuals,some never get published at all. Shortly before i went on hiatus, I know Archie issued an edict that some of the inventory built up in the SONIC office be used, so you may see the occasional issue here and there by people other than the book's regular creative team. No cause for alarm, and sometimes these things can yield interesting and entertaining results.
Sonic HQ: I'll be blunt - Can ya give us any spoilers James? Sonic fans need to know! ^______^
James Fry: I would LOVE to offer up something juicy, but honestly: I got nothin! Having only just gotten back aboard myself, I'm still playing catch-up. I can tell you that the King is badly injured while leading a siege on Robotnik's headquarters... and that upcoming issues will feature Antoine, Bunnie and Amy Rose joining forces w/that "Robin Hood" Hedgehog (whose actual name escapes me) against 'Toine's roboticized dad. Other than that, your guess is as good as mine.
Sonic HQ: What are your future plans for your career? Do you have a concept for a book, or animation?
James Fry: Yeah, sure, there's a pile of stuff I hope to do, from a novel that may never be finished to various screenplays that I never seem to find the time to wrtite. And of course, there's a number of comics concepts I'd like to get off the ground one day, assuming the industry's slow, lingering and painful death can somehow be arrested, or even, dare I hope, reversed. Some would be books that I wrote and drew all by my lonesome. Other projects would be collaborations with longtime buds like Dan (SUPERMAN ADVENTURES , REN AND STIMPY) Slott or Len (BLOODSHOT, JLA:FOREIGN BODIES) Kaminski. Kurt Busiek and I have even discussed someday resurrecting THE LIBERTY PROJECT, a book we created for Eclipse comics , back when there was just the one big landmass.
Sonic HQ: What do you think about the Knuckles comic dying? >snif< Will you ever work on any other specials coming up? What are you working on right now?
James Fry: The regular title keeps me pretty busy, but if something I REEEAAAALLLLY wanna do rears its ugly head, special-wise, should happen to come up,then maybe...
Sonic HQ: Is there much room for "Add libbing" at all if the artist thinks of something different they may want to throw in?
James Fry: The whole point of working "Marvel Style" is supposed to leave the door open for that kind of thing, but I generally try to hew as close to the writer's intent as possible. If I come up with something that I think is just TOO COOL to resist, I call the guy and we talk about it. Most writers seem open to compromise if it's discussed beforehand. It strikes me as just good manners and common sense: If the writer planned to fill a particular scene with emotional revelations full of dramatic impact, you don't wanna be the guy who drew all the characters in party hats and rubber noses!
Sonic HQ: Has your work changed you in any way? Yes. I'm taller now. And much younger, too. If you had the choice to be in any other career, what would it be?
James Fry: Hurm. Been trying to figure that one out for a few years now, ever since this whole "comical book" dealie started goin' south. Probably some other kind of visual storytelling medium. >>>HORRIBLE CLICHE ALERT!!!<<< >>>BRACE YOURSELVES!!! HERE IT COMES!!!<<< What I'd really like to do is direct. Whew. That was close. Stand down, people. All clear.
Sonic HQ: Who are your favorite characters in comics you've grown up with?
James Fry: Geez, there's bunches of 'em. Like Josie's pre-Pussycat pals Sock and Pepper (anybody reading this who's old enough to remember them should help me find my walker). And Herbie (the Fat Fury) Popnecker. And Hot Stuff. And the superheroes! The guys I always wanted to BE like: Superman, Captain America, Captain Marvel (the original, of course), Luke Cage....and the guys I thought I WAS like: Man-Bat, the Creeper, Howard The Duck, Luke Cage, (yes, I know he's on both lists)...and my hands-down absolute fave--THE BEAST!!! Smartmouth hairy guy who just won't shut the heck up!!! CAN YOU DIG IT?!
Sonic HQ: And finally - What kind of challenge would you like to pursue now? And what is your greatest achievement in the art field?
James Fry: My greatest achievement in the art field hasn't happened yet( How's THAT for evasive action?) and the challenge I hope to pursue noe is a NAP! I'm exhausted!
Sonic HQ: For an encore, James we'd like to ask if you can give a list of favorites to wrap this all up. ^_^
James Fry: Favorite Films: Casablanca, Star Wars, Adventures of Robin Hood, Sid and Nancy, The Mark of Zorro, (Douglas Fairbanks and Tyrone Power versions), Bedazzled, 1,000 Clowns, King Kong, Bride of Frankenstein, Grosse Pointe Blank, Phantom of the Paradise, My Favorite Year, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Citizen Kane, Beetlejuice, Shaft, Robot Monster, I could go on forever...
Favorite Singers And Music (What Music Do You Like To Work With?): Ramones, Joan Jett, Waren Zevon, Fishbone, Sex Pistols, Temptations, Limp Bizkit, Offspring, They Might Be Giants, PDQ Bach, Elvis Costello
Favorite Anime And TV: Project A-ko, Urusei Yatsura, Ranma, Lupin, Porco Rosso, Tenchi, Gundam, Harmageddon, Gatchaman, and any others mentioned earlier in interview that I may have momentarily forgotten. TV (current division): Buffy the Vampire Slayer, X-Files, Sports Night, the West Wing . Classic Division: Magnum, P.I., The Rockford Files
Favorite Books: The Princess Bride, by William Goldman(a book, I might add, that has actually made me want to HAVE CHILDREN, so's I could read it to them); The Anno Dracula series of novels by Kim Newman; the Spenser books by Robert Parker; practically anything written by Lawrence Block; Boy's Life by Robert McCammon; The Clean-Up by Skipp and Spector; The New Inquisition by Robert Anton Wilson; Demon-Haunted World,by Carl Sagan; the MothMan prophecies,by some freakin' loon
Favorite Video games: Dead or Alive, Tomb Raider I and II, Silent Hill, Syphon Filter, Marvel Comics VS. Capcom , Sonic Adventure (yeah, yeah, whadja expect?)
And lastly your closing statements to the Sonic HQ Staff on thier anniversary and any Sonic fans reading today: ^_^
My best wishes and anniversary congrats to the Sonic HQers. Once again I'd like to express my admiration for the dedication and affection you've shown to all this stuff. And to Sonic fans in general I'd just like to say : nice meeting you. You should all come over for pizza one afternoon!
Neglected to mention them earlier, but wanted to say thanks to inker Andrew Pepoy, whose own contribution to the look of the monthly STH comic is downright invaluable, to Jeff Powell and Frank Gagliardo who often toil without recognition but are vital members of Team Sonic, and to Ian Thompson, who is just one monumentally Cool Dude!
Over and out: FRY2K
- Original Interview at Sonic HQ.