I pray all is well. For today’s interview we have Craig Schutt, a Midwestern boy who never outgrew the best parts of his childhood. He currently teaches college-level graphic communication, illustration, etc., and is working on an original graphic novel, Welcome to Holsom: Supernatural, for Influence Resources.
Now for the interview…
When did you first get into comics as a reader/fan? As a writer/artist/creator?
I honestly can’t remember a time when I wasn’t reading comics. I’ve been told my grandpa would “reward” me with Casper comics whenever I recited Scripture (or The Night Before Christmas) at church — thus began, most likely, this unusual connection I can’t seem to shake between comics and church.
My first professional work in comics was writing and drawing a weekly parody adventure comic strip for my college paper, which won a state-wide award for Best Comic Strip. But my first work for the so-called “big leagues” was as a colorist and creative coordinator at Jamison Services, an early “color house” that provided digital coloring for practically every comic book company in the nineties, including DC, Marvel, and Disney.
Why comics? What do you like most about this medium?
I believe comics are one of the most effective, efficient, and engaging tools for storytelling ever invented. The collision of images and words — the wonderful juxtaposition of pictures and letters — creates a contextual collaboration that is singularly unique and a remarkably effective form of communication. And comics are just a whole lot of fun, too. If we forget that, we ignore one of the greatest aspects of comic books: that giddy sense of childlike wonder that even the most serious comics should elicit.
Say a little about the project(s) you have worked on in the past (if any), and what they were about?
I’ve worked on too many books to recount here, even if I could remember them all. In the nineties, it was a dream come true, coloring characters like Batman, Captain America, and Mickey Mouse. I didn’t think it could get much better than that; but then I had the opportunity to work on the faith-based series, PowerMark and David’s Mighty Men (by none other than Javier Saltares of Ghost Rider fame), and eventually was able to create my own comic book series, Welcome to Holsom — which, in so many ways put my previous “dream come true” to shame.
What project(s) are you currently working on?
I’m currently working hard to wrap up our first original graphic novel, titled Welcome to Holsom: Supernatural, a sequel to the best-selling Welcome to Holsom: Population Weird series. As with the initial series, I’m writing, coloring (with more than a little assistance from my lovely wife, Marsha), and lettering the new book, which features phenomenal pencil art by Steven Butler (Spider-Man, Silver Sable, Sonic the Hedgehog) and masterful inking from Al Milgrom, an authentic comic creator — “living legend” — just Google the name; you’ll see. I have to pinch myself almost every day. It’s a surreal privilege and a genuine blessing to get to work with artists of their caliber.
Holsom: Supernatural revisits most of the characters and locations from the Population Weird series, a few years after the “Great Giant Robot Incident”. The graphic novel is aimed at an older audience (high school) than the preceding series, and wrestles with spiritual issues and teenage angst from a biblical perspective, while simultaneously offering up a vampire mystery for our cast to solve. And in case you’re curious — our vampires don’t sparkle in the sunlight.
What format(s) do you prefer for telling your stories (e.g., on-going series, mini-series, one-shot, graphic novel, etc.) and why?
Maybe I can blame this on Marvel Comics and Chris Claremont (X-Men) specifically, but I seem to gravitate toward longer stories that have more than a little soap opera in their DNA. I love “done-in-one” short stories. I think that’s becoming a lost art in comics and am a firm believer in the “less is more” school of writing. However, I do enjoy allowing my characters and situations in the room to develop, and my stories reflect that, I think. My number one concern is always about making the story engaging, no matter what the format or length.
What sources of information and inspiration have helped you along the way?
Wow. Information and inspiration comes from everywhere. I have a considerable library of “how to” books — I’m fascinated by process, and the similarities and differences among how creators create. I love to speak with other comic book people at conventions, and I am constantly challenged by the incredible work being done in the field by others, whether they’re well-established “stars” or new, starry-eyed practitioners.
My single greatest source of inspiration, since working on Welcome to Holsom, has come via feedback from readers and Sunday School/small group leaders who have used and are using the comics as discipleship/evangelism tools. It’s a humbling thing, and I give every shred of credit to God for those testimonies. I’m just trying to do decent comics; the rest is up to Him, you know?
Say a little about how you’ve been able to communicate your faith through your project(s)? What has that process been like? How has it evolved over the years?
Here’s the irony: I’ve never felt an overt “call” to ministry or to necessarily “do” Christian comics. I always wanted to be a Christian working in the comic book industry. But God makes His own plans and literally opened doors that were all but unthinkable and ultimately led to projects like Holsom. I’m just elated that I’m allowed to take my own passion for comic books and see that aligned with a greater passion for reaching others with the gospel. That still amazes me every day.
What advice would you give to other Christians who are considering making comics?
Be available when God presents an opportunity, because it may not arrive through conventional means. Prepare for that opportunity, but also know that you’ll never be completely “ready.” Don’t quit your day job! Very few people are able to make a living solely on their comic book work. If you’re like me, you’ll do it because you can’t imagine not doing it.
Having said that, remember that comic book work is also a business and you ultimately (sooner, rather than later) want to get and deserve to get paid. Learn as much as you can about running your own operation, how to partner with others, how to organize your work and time (still a struggle for me), and know enough about the legal side of things to ensure no one takes advantage of you. Many very talented artists and writers are derailed and disillusioned by the business side of creative work, so do your homework!
Are there any future projects you are working on, or would like to work on?
Right now, the Holsom graphic novel is all-consuming. However, I do have several — probably too many — ideas for future comic book projects. Some of them are decidedly faith-based, some are more “secular” in nature. I’ve always wanted to tell good comic stories that can be read by all ages — and some are biographical, exploring local legends and history from my area of the country. I hope to get to all of them, eventually. And I wouldn’t mind doing some coloring for some of the “big guys” again: that’s always fun.
And of course, I have my “day job,” teaching graphic design and illustration on a college level, which, in many ways — and this has, frankly, surprised me — is as rewarding, if not more rewarding, than my comic book work. Being able to “pass along” whatever I’ve learned (and a lot of that has been from making mistakes over the years) to new generations of artists is a blast, and I have come to realize that the old saying — “no one learns more than the teacher” — is an absolute truism! My students often inspire me to improve my own skills. I have every confidence that the future of graphic design (and comics) is in very capable hands.
What is your take on the current state of Christian or Christian-themed comics? What, if anything, would you like to see more of in the future? What, if anything, would you like to see done differently?
Right now, I think there’s a sizable potential market for Christian comics out there. Some series, including Holsom, have sold in impressive numbers that many larger secular comic book companies would like to see. There’s no doubt that there are incredibly talented and passionate creators working on faith-based comics today. The struggle, as I see it, is to be acutely aware of the demographic we’re trying to reach, because the Christian market is very different from the secular market — especially when it comes to items like comic books. It’s a real balancing act, trying to address legitimate, real-world concerns in a Christian comic without inadvertently offending your potential readership. Ultimately it becomes a judgment call on the part of the company/creators when it comes to navigating those very tricky waters.
I would like to see Christian comics be the very best quality they can be, and first and foremost, be as entertaining as possible. It may sound a bit counter-intuitive, but the message almost has to come second in line, otherwise, you risk the danger of the message never being heard at all.
I would also like to see Christian comics “crack” into the mainstream. I think we’re kind of at the point, right now, where the Christian music industry was before Amy Grant’s Unguarded album showed everyone that faith-based music could be as good as anything the general market could offer.
Finally, I think there’s still a lot of room for innovation when it comes to the growing digital comics realm, and I don’t see any reason why Christian comics can’t break new ground there first!
What is the best way for people to contact you, and to read/purchase your work?
You can contact me, directly, via email@example.com. My work is available via several services. All of the Holsom books can be purchased (either eBook — Nook, Kindle, iPad/iPod — or paper) through Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and iTunes, as well as the publisher’s sites, Influence Resources, My Healthy Church, and Gospel Publishing.
Any last thoughts?
An encouragement, perhaps. When I trace the twisted path my “career” (and I’ll use that word very loosely) has taken, it’s clear to me that some of the rough spots, professionally — some of the job-related decisions that I made and then had to endure until the next door presented itself — were “mistakes” that God used to prepare me for what came next. Don’t despair if you’re not where you want to be right now…God’s plans are so much better than anything you can concoct on your own. Hang in there and see what He has in store for you!
Another encouraging interview…another reason to make comics. I hope you enjoyed the interview as much as I did, and until next time!