Behind the Pages: Unshaven Comics

Hello fellow nerds! I’m back with a brand spanking new segment of Behind the Pages and this time around I interviewed not one, but three hilarious and talented comic book creators. Marc Alan Fishman, Matt Wright and Kyle Gnepper are three comic book loving creators that have a unique sense of humor and a very driven passion for what they do. My only regret is that I wasn’t able to speak with these three face-to-face but that doesn’t make this interview any less epic. Marc, Matt and Kyle were very open and honest about their nerdiness and I for one salute each and every one of them for it. If you love Samurai-Astronauts and their immortal kung-fu leader – who happens to be a monkey – fighting zombie-cyborg pirates from outer space, then you’ve come to the right place.  So, saddle up and prepare to let your nerd flag fly with three kick-ass comic book creators known only as Unshaven Comics.

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Have you always wanted to be a comic book creator? If not, what did you originally want to do?

Unshaven Trio:Suffice to say, Unshaven Comics was a dream being chased as early as sixth grade, when we all met. Now, we didn’t just sit at a lunch table and say “we’re gonna make comics!”, but we did sure talked about / obsessed over comics enough. We all kept it in the back of our mind at college too. We were avid fans of the Chicago Comic Con, and would spend numerous afternoons drawing, talking about comics, and what we’d do if we were making them. Of course it would take a real spark later on to make it all happen. But we’ll get there…

Are there any writers that inspired you to become a writer? What was it about their work that inspired you?

For us, the literary references are abound!

Marc: I freely admit I’m not a ‘reader’ by nature. Sure I read the classics because school made me… but when I started to read comics, I found a world that really spoke to me. Writers like Mark Waid, Alan Moore, and Grant Morrison really got me thinking conceptually. Honestly though? I’m ALWAYS being inspired by books on the shelf today but if you put a nerf gun to my head though… Ray Bradbury. ‘The Illustrated Man’ showed me the joy of short fiction, and to challenge myself to play in different genres; to stay true to the reality you set, but never stick with the same universe for too long.

Kyle: That’s a really hard question… So many. The most INFLUENTIAL writer to me is Warren Ellis. He does the best job of what I’d call “fearless writing”. He develops his heroes, his villains, and makes you want to see where the stories go. Him aside, I also love Kurt Busiek, Jim Butcher, and Terry Pratchet.

Matt: While I’m not a writer by credit in the book, I am a big time reader. I contribute to all our plots and stories at Unshaven Comics. I’d say I’m most influenced by Jim Butcher, Alan Moore, Mark Chadbourne, and Tom DeFalco.

How did Unshaven Comics come to be? Did you ever have plans to try and be a creator for Marvel or DC or has starting your own publishing company always been the plan?

Unshaven Trio: After college we were all living in Indianapolis, talking the talk, but never walking it. Each of us had full time day jobs (Marc was a graphic designer, Matt a mail clerk, and Kyle a salesman). What really sparked the genesis of us getting off our keesters was the offer by Mendoza Publishing. And doing their book (The March: Crossing Bridges in America) showed us we not only had the passion to do this for a “sub” living… we had a good enough response from fans to tell us we might even have a little talent to boot.

That being said, of all of us, Matt was the closest to making that attempt at Marvel or DC. They offered these portfolio reviews at the cons, but nothing ever came of them. Both Marc and Kyle were more interesting in ‘breaking in’ as writers… But they (Marvel and DC) make it abundantly clear: they ain’t looking for any. Go break in somewhere else.

And with that in mind, we figured the BEST way into the industry was to do it on our own. We’ve resolved to the ideology that even if we never get further than traveling and selling books on our own who cares. It’s an awesome time, and we have grown a small but loyal fan base thus far, and really we love building that from the ground up. And maybe someday our ship will come in…

What is it like working with Kyle and Matt? What’s a normal day for the unshaven trio look like? Remember Nerd Says What? has some younger readers.

Unshaven Trio: Hey, two of us (Marc and Matt) are fathers… so we’ve curbed all our bad behavior. Yeah… that sounds right… Heh.

Typically Unshaven Comics gets together once a week for ‘work night’, and once a week to record our podcast. We sit in Marc’s basement studio, and work on the next book. Generally we work for 3-4 hours together. When it gets closer to a deadline, we try to meet more often. And obviously during the week we all work after the day jobs (and taking care of the families) on the projects. During the week, we always e-mail one another as well.

During the actual work night itself, Marc and Matt work on pages. Kyle works on scripts. We bounce ideas off one another. Marc and Matt are used to critiquing one another’s work… so it’s amazing atmosphere… Just some solid tunes in the background, great conversation about what books we read during the week, and in between jaunts of actual drawing and writing we watch stupid videos on YouTube and forget that we’re all 30.

Do you have any crazy stories about the three of you?

Unshaven Trio: No. Absolutely not. Wait. OK, maybe 1 or 2. Or 305,348.

Here, let’s give you one:

So when we were all 15… Matt, on his drivers permit, suggested we take advantage of a local comic shop’s sidewalk sale. So we piled into his “inherited” Ford Explorer, and without any real legal driver, took off for the hills. We got to the shop just fine. But it was the summertime, and the sky was looking pretty “age of apocalypse”. After shopping a bit, we got back into the car, and started back for home. On the way though, we hit a patch of rough weather that could best be described as “crisis on infinite earths”. The sky was green. It was raining sideways. We were all praying to High father that we wouldn’t spit in the face of the law for comics again.

Of course we were back on the road like 3 weeks later to get more books. Just don’t tell anyone on New Genesis we did it.

Marc, since you take on a dual role of writing and art, is there an aspect that you prefer more or do you have enough room in your heart for both?

Marc: I freely admit that I’m a writer before I’m an artist. But that’s in my heart. By day, my trade has been art now for over 10 years. But I consider myself a designer more than a hardcore “artist”. That being said, there’s aspects to both I love.

In writing a story, I love bringing characters to life through dialogue. I’ve come full circle to working in the Marvel Method (or the Stan Lee method??). I outline the basic plot of my story… I’ll draw it… and then only after the page is done, I’ll add in all the text. I love that part of being a writer. It’s where I get to get inside the heads of the characters I create, and figure out HOW they what they say to communicate those inner thoughts/desires they have.

When it comes to art, I’m of the mind that I’m always trying to learn something new. Specifically though, there’s no better feeling to me than seeing a final inked page. Knowing that I’m (finally) able to take a concept from the written word to the drawn one? It’s a high like no other. It’s also made me respect Matt on a whole new level. I love him like a brother already, but with only a book and a half on my own under my belt? I have mad-respect for the boy.

Matt, as the resident pencil man, what’s it like bringing Marc or Kyle’s words to life? Have you ever been frightened by a script that’s been put in front of you?

Matt: Every time Kyle gives me something! Seriously though… It’s an interesting process. I like “looking” into their heads. I see their patterns, their nuances, their personalities. Have I been scared of a script? Sure. I’m scared every time I get that first draft. That whole notion of “what do they want on the page, and can I execute it?” Moreso, how can I balance THEIR identity with MY OWN.

Kyle, since you’re the resident wordsmith of the group, where do you gather your inspiration for the many Unshaven stories?

Kyle: Everything around me inspires me. Movies, TV, riding the train, walking to work, etc. Luckily for me I have ADD, and a penitence for taking notes. So, lucky for me, I’m always thinking of things to write about.

Of all the Unshaven books, which one holds the top place in your heart?

Unshaven Trio: The Samurnauts: Curse of the Dreadnuts holds the top place in our hearts. Not just because it’s the most current… but because it represents the whole Unshaven idea. It’s a book that showcases 2 art styles, 2 writing styles, and a collaborative plot that really has some cool surprises.

While nosing around the Unshaven website I came across a plethora of web-comics, a lot of which star the three of you guys. Where did the inspiration come from to feature yourselves? Also, who came up with Gronk?

Unshaven Trio: Let’s be clear: Gronk is an AMAZING web comic on her own; www.gronkcomic.com… drawn by Katie Cook. You may have heard of her? If not, stop reading NOW, and find out about her. She’s awesome.

The idea behind the web comic was simple; we wanted to put out something fun and cool for free. And given that we’re full of ourselves, we figured we might as well star in them too. So, we figured out a way to do it. Kyle and Matt do a set, and Marc writes and draws sets that crossover with existing web comics. Like Gronk, and Beardo, by Dan Dougherty. The notion there is that we’ve met so many cool people at these cons, we just had to find a way to show our appreciation for their friendship. And hey, if we snag a few of THEIR readers because of the crossover, why the heck not!

What is probably the craziest thing you’ve seen so far on the comic book convention circuit?

Unshaven Trio: You mentioned your site has “little ones” reading… so… this isn’t easy to answer. The nicest way to say it; we never knew we were so ‘cute’ to a set of discerning comic book fans. And it’s led to some awesome friendships.

In terms of “crazy” things we’ve seen…Hard to say. We’ve seen AWESOME cosplayers like Mojo, and a 10 ft. tall Optimus Prime.

Oh! We also saw a CBLDF auction where Jim Lee had to draw Ra’s Al Ghul eating pie with a monkey. That was both crazy and amazing.

If you only had thirty seconds to pitch Unshaven Comics to a random person on the streets what would you say?

Unshaven Trio: Unshaven Comics is a south-suburban independent creative team putting out an array of great comic books for fans of fiction across multiple genres. The real gem though? We have a book about Samurai-Astronauts led by an immortal kung-fu monkey, fighting zombie-cyborg pirates from outer space. Was that under 30?

Where do you see yourself and your unshaven brethren five years from now?

Unshaven Trio: Sitting atop Marvel and DC, as they fight over exclusive six-figure contracts with us. HA! Seriously? In five years, we’d love to be big enough to afford to go to San Diego Comic Con every year, as well as a dozen other great shows. We’d love to have a larger fan base, and be selling books nationally. Heck, dare we whisper Image here? Sure why not. In 5 years, we’d love to be a staple at a publisher like Boom!, Image, Dark Horse, etc.

Do you have any advice you want to instill for aspiring comic book creators?

Unshaven Trio: Yes. Don’t do it. It sucks. OK, we kid, we kid. Seriously though? Best advice we can give:

  • Grow a thick skin. If you can’t handle someone telling you that you suck? Then stay away from comics.
  • Always be challenging yourself, and learn new skills.
  • Network, network, network. Nothing helps more in this business than having friends to help you find the best conventions, work with the best vendors, and knock back some brews at ‘beer con’.
  • Realize that nothing in this world is truly original, until you find the hook. Someone probably already came up with that super power you like… But you can make it in the business by instilling a personality and story behind those powers that make you original.
  • TANFL – There Ain’t No Free Lunch.
  • One last bit… I got this from Brian Stelfreeze: “If you have a character going out to get the mail… Don’t show me the predictable beats. Every panel is a chance to show me something I’ve not seen before.”

What comics are you reading now?

Marc: I’ve been loving the Marvel NOW stuff- Iron Man, Avengers by Hickman, FF by Fraction and Allred, and Indestructible Hulk by Mark Waid. Scott Snyder’s Batman is always great. And lately I’ve been finding some killer books through Image… like Revival and Nowhere Men.

Matt: Avengers has been excellent, Justice League Dark, Strange Talent of Luthor Strode has just come back, Think Tank, and Marvel’s Thor is awesome.

Kyle: A lot. Favorites right now include Unwritten, Courtney Crumrin, Manhattan Projects, SAGA, All New X-Men, and Wonder Woman.

If you could hang out with any one celebrity, living or deceased, who would it be and why?

Marc: Charlie Kaufman. I love his work, and would love to talk to him about his creative process.

Matt: George Hallas. Da Bears. Nuff said.

Kyle: Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. I bet all the drug use and scientific hoaxes he pulled could garner some seriously awesome stories.

What other projects do you have in the works?

Unshaven Trio: Given that Unshaven Comics operates in between full time jobs, full time families, and full time girlfriends (for those NOT married or with kids…), we are a one project at a time kinda company. And to be honest, we have a backlog of Smaurnaut tales that will last us at least 2 more years.

Thanks for reading and I hope you enjoyed this rendition of Behind the Pages with Unshaven Comics. Be sure to check these guys out on their website (http://www.unshavencomicsonline.com/) and follow them on Facebook (http://www.facebook.com/unshavencomics). More importantly – wink, wink – don’t forget to follow me on Facebook or Twitter. Heck, why not both. I hope you all continue to stay classy and as always, may the nerd be with you, you, you, you, you, you, pizza! Pizza!? My echo must be broken.

– Joe D.

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