Setting the Standard
Interviewed by Song River
An interview with Shelby Robertson owner of American Dischord talk's about the industry, and his latest venture '94.
Song River: Shelby you are the epitome of a road warrior in this gilded age of Comic Illustrator/Writer. Working in an industry on various levels for the last twenty years share a little about your beginnings in the industry.
Shelby Robertson: My beginnings as a comic book illustrator started at the age of 17. I do consider myself to have been a 30 year old mentally by that point due to a straining childhood, so really can't say that my 17 would be an identifiable one with any other teenager per'se. I was already a professional CAD illustrator for a local Blimp company assisting in designs on new era larger than life productions a year prior, so jumping in feet first with Rob Liefeld's Extreme Studios in Southern California wasn't a very difficult transition at all.
Song: How comfortable are you opening up to let your fans into your personal world?
Shelby: I'm probably the closest to an open book as possible, but I also know that filter is needed for certain individuals. Too much information isn't a gray area for me, I see it all in black and white. My most recent years have definitely been the most interesting *understatement*. My moving from California to Arizona, changing from a hands on approach- to digital, and the various faces of the electronic gaming industry that I've been working with; most notably the contrasting working conditions that both comics and games project. Unforgivable missed deadlines headlining the one, and open minded-open schedule deadlines at the forefront of the other most notably.
Song: What drew you into the industry? Was there something else you wanted to be?
Shelby: I was always an avid comic collector always focused on the artwork side of things. I generally found myself disinterested in comics as a whole, being that I've seen comics being kind of the bottom of the barrel where storytelling, and good writing is concerned. So I focused on the dynamic line drawings and exciting characters of the various comic book universe's as inspiration. One thing was for certain, I didn't want to end up like my parents. And another driving factor, was growing up being told that there's no money in comics or the art market as a whole, and I'd have to depend on a 'real' job when I 'woke up'.
Song: Out of high school you began working on the Glen Danzig Verotic line, correct?
Shelby: That was actually a handful of years, post-Image Comics.
Song: How did that opportunity come about?
Shelby: A good friend of mine, who had also departed Extreme Studios in the mid-nineties, contacted me about their need for pencilers, and inkers. That led to a lot more than just my expertise as a traditional artist for Verotik. Which, included a ton of outside-the-box art gigs and digital prepress design. As well, CD creation for a lot of professionals on various record labels.
Song: You traveled, you were surrounded by so many creative people. Were they good times, turbulent times?
Shelby: A little bit of both.
Song: Talk about some of the stories from those days, are there tales you've always wanted to share?
Shelby: There's not a ton of stories that would be, in my opinion, extremely important or interesting to anyone looking at the comic subculture from the inside out. I'm relatively drama-free and keep my head down, pencil on paper. You know, you always have haters regardless of your caliber of work. 'Haters gonna' hate', and all that. I could really care-less, and I think that's sort of a fuel for them, the ignoring them. So... damned if you do, damned if you don't.
Song: Do you have any regrets from those early days, or along the way?
Shelby: I would say that my biggest regret would have to be turning down jobs. I've had a TON of opportunities following my design stint on Star-Gate's franchise and watching them wither before my eyes. Well, I'll just say that if there was some sort of time travel device, I'd definitely be memorizing MegaMillions numbers to have alleviated a lot of personal business situations that were dealt to me through the years.
Song: What pen did you begin with? Do you still have the first pen you used on your first commission?
Shelby: I think that I have rulers and a few binders and sketchbooks from my childhood. The products I used to use for my early work is not near close to the items I use to pencil and ink these days. Art supplies are disposable to me. Most are likely to have been used until they break, donated to a budding artist drawing next to me at a show, or collecting dust in storage.
Song: Do you recall your first commissioned drawing?
Shelby: Nope. I have a cache of over 25,000 images scanned from commissions to interior pages, to preliminary sketches for magazines and album covers. They all sort of blend, but I have this weird memory where I can be approached by someone that got a commission from me, and their name or face will remind me of the exact piece that I did for them. I'm weird like that.
Song: Is there someone you admired in the industry back then, that influenced your style?
Shelby: Alan Davis is the best in the comic book market. For personal icing and details, I've always loved the works of Todd McFarlane and Marc Silvestri. Inpart because, their books looked and read good in the eighties, but also because their work wasn't cookie cutter- like most DC and the other Marvel books at that time.
Song: Has your style of art changed over the years, if it has how?
Shelby: Yeah, I got better. Plus, I figured out that hands and feet are easier to draw than believed.
Song: How have other facets of arts influenced your work? Does music, politics, personal life?
Shelby: I don't mix anything with my art. Not a whole lot of life or such. I think that if you want real life in art, it should just be a nuance or else it's just a tangible form of photography by hand. Kind of boring in my opinion. I'd rather approach stuff with dynamics, and style. Music is a constant in my life however. I dig some good music while I work. Get tired of whistling while I work.
Song: Do any of your children share in your passion of creation?
Shelby: Of course! Plus, I never told any of them that they couldn't make it in something or that art is a waste of time. Because it isn't, and I'm not down with squashing dreams. I only offer advice when asked too, makes things smoother and keeps that open door policy alive.
Song: You've created the persona, you seem to be comfortable with who you are. Did your childhood days direct you here- to where you are now? Do you believe that everything happens for a reason, or is it all happenstance?
Shelby: Everything does happen for a reason. I've had numerous issues, major life problems, and all that. For myself, personally, they've always worked out; made just enough, and gigs came right when they were needed. I'm pretty comfortable with myself, I'm the only one who has to make sure I come through in the things that measure success for me personally. I found early on that what others think will make you be looked at as 'successful' has never met my own criteria. Around that time is when I think I just sort of said 'f### everybody' and their wants, I got what it takes to fulfill my own. It may come across crass, but it's just a fact of life.
Song: You made the venture out of commissioned works, and began a new approach to your creative side. Giving your diligence over to a project called, '94. First of all, why did you take this venture?
Shelby: I'll always do commissioned work, gladly people still want to own a piece of me. On the '94 comic book project; basically this is my 20th year as a comic book industry pro and I felt I needed to give myself 'homage' for this milestone.
I've worked with plenty of artists who've bailed on the industry a dozen years ago to pursue money, girls, or just something non-art-based in general. That's unacceptable for me personally. I deserve a cake with a candle. '94 is my cake.
It's just me having fun, and haphazardly, almost accidentally... writing something good at the same time. '94 is my most current creator owned series. We launched a preview edition at this years, Amazing Arizona ComicCon, and it sold out during the show. I haven't had a book sell out since 1998, so that's an accomplishment in itself.
Song: Why '94 how does it connect to who you are as an artists/storyteller?
Shelby: '94 started out as a push-up, and turned into a circus. I'm not really sure how it did, but we initially planned on just doing one book for fun. That became three, and three became six. I'm up to twelve plotted out. This might accidentally become an ongoing title. It would be fitting if it became the book that people remembered me for in some respects. Just having a ton of fun with it, I've had this idea that fun has been missing from comics in general, and this is to be the syringe that gives that to my own creativity.
Song: The venture into '94, as been shared on social media, you've created a panel a day- how have you gone about setting this up? Was the back- story already in place or was it done on a whim?
Shelby: It was on a whim. Plus I'm not too good about keeping up with a panel a day for the most part. I tend to post 3 to 6 panels on different social media pages because I knock out so many pages per week on this '94 book*s*. I'll be thinking that hey, that panel I posted wasn't as good as this one. It gets progressively annoying for anyone following me after that.
Song: Are there advantages/disadvantages to creating a panel a day?
Shelby: Well the advantage of posting artwork is that you avoid the whole 'out of sight, out of mind' mentality that a ton of people share.
Song: How are you balancing all of this while selling your art at con's all across America?
Shelby: There is no balance, only controlled chaos. I'm pretty good about staying on task and really the hardest person I know, is me. I push myself harder than I should. I've heard this several times recently, but it's just my work ethic. If I'm not working, I feel like it's just counterproductive to what goals I've set for myself.
Song: When formulating this work, did you have others you bounced ideas off?
Shelby: Well again, the idea is a homage-to-Shelby. For most of my creator owned projects I would generally get somebody impartial to review my idea,, and tell me what they think is the strong-point and the weak-point, and focus on fixing the weakest. This one is literally me taking on a story, page to page, then handling the story as I go.
Song: How has the project been received?
Shelby: So far people have been really excited for the book. The nicest thing about it is I'm getting messages from people that took the time to read '94 and they're super impressed with the story. I'm flattered by this, but also a bit sad, does this mean that most artists can't tell good stories or that my other creations tales were total crap in their eyes? I'm just glad that people dig this project.
Song: What things have you learned from your past projects that you are bringing forward to today?
Shelby: I'm still pushing the dynamics of comics as a whole. Or at least I'd like to think so. There's more bad than good with comics up until around ten years ago, but there's definitely still bad books coming out on a regular basis. I guess I'm just trying to be the best that I can be.
Song: Your future is open, '94 has been well received. Who is Shelby Robertson? What course, path, journey- are you setting forth?
Shelby: The ride for '94 has been a smooth one so far. I don't foresee any path or ideal that I'm going to push on others with my books. I'd rather broadside them with creativity, and an approach that they've not seen in a long time. Possibly even inspire others to follow a particular idea, to see that they can make things happen. Even though '94 is just a comic, again, it's a homage to my journey, so far, but also a new untraveled road.
Song: A young person, fresh out of high school has just entered your independent publishing company as an apprentice...American Dischord. You see they've potential. They are now looking to you Shelby... what do you say?
Shelby: Focus on your strengths, listen to those that are impartial to your workings, because they will lead you to the cracks that need patching, and who's buying lunch today? I got 20 dollars in my pocket.