Monday, November 16, 2009
A Interview With Trent Kaniuga
Trent Kaniuga became a major talent in the comics field while still a teenager in the mid 90’s. His original comic Creed was fun and innovative at a time when comics were generally neither. From there his talent only increased! I was lucky enough to be able to talk to Trent recently about his amazing career.
What was the biggest influence that lead to you pursuing a career in art?
Trent: My earliest memory of wanting to be an artist was back in 3rd grade. We were all drawing, you know... dragons and cowboys and stuff... and everyone was drawing people with Flintstones feet. The toes were all pointing out, and I drew the feet facing forward toward the viewer. I think that was the first time I got recognized for any of my art, and after that my mom bought me a bunch of books about drawing cars and, then I was doing transformers doodles all the time. I didn’t realize that I wanted to do it as a profession until I bought my first Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles comic back in 1992 or so. A few years later, I made a comic called Deadbolt, and then Creed got a lot more interest from the comic industry. So at 17, I was already doing comics professionally. So I quit my job at the fruit market and started drawing all day!
What was the inspiration for Creed?
Trent: Probably the thing that influenced me the most was Calvin and Hobbes... and LOTS of Mountain Dew. I looked at the comic book industry and felt like something was missing. Young characters like myself at the time that were intelligent and imaginative were under represented, and what was on the shelves felt condescending to kids my age. High School kids at that time were portrayed as nerdy dorks in comics, and I wanted to make something that people like myself could enjoy. Things like the Neverending story, and the Dark Crystal inspired me a lot as a kid, so I also wanted some of that fantastical "far away land" kind of stuff in there. Artistically, Kevin Eastman, Sam Keith, Todd McFarlane, and Jim Lee were big influences on the earliest presentation of the character. As anime began to become more available in the U.S. that shaped a lot of my work around the "Cranial Disorder" era which was about 1996-97.
Was it difficult (or intimidating) to utilize the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles in your storyline? Were there restrictions with how they could be represented visually?
Trent: I met Kevin Eastman and I talked to Peter Laird over the phone a few times, and they were both so very encouraging. The Ninja Turtles were something that I drew a lot in my earliest sketchbooks (that were never published), so it felt natural... like I was bringing something really new to the table. Back then; I had very little fear of "messing things up", because I had not yet really begun to understand any sort of "rules" about art. It was just..."does this look badass? Yep! Cool, cool... “PRINT IT!” Creed was very "stream of consciousness" that way. What a cocky little bastard! Right? Well... I was.
How do you feel your art evolved between Creed and your work on Scud: The Disposable Assassin?
Trent: Working with Rob Schrab was a whole lot of fun. This is a guy that would call me up at 2 in the morning with silly ideas about making movies about haunted houses. I mean, he was SOOO determined to make this thing... and I told him it was a dumb idea, but he made it anyway and that became "Monster House". Working with him on Scud, he was very hands on... He'd tell me everything wasn't funny a lot. I think we had this cool mutual respect, because we were both trying to do something outside of the popular mainstream. With Scud the Disposable Assassin and the Drywall and Oswald show, I really studied how he did his characters, and tried to make something that his fans would really like. In many ways, this was my first step into becoming a production artist. This was the first time that I was professionally tasked with changing my style to meet fan expectations, and what is familiar to them. I was working with Jim Showman on the script, and we were both extremely excited to do something with Scud. In comedy, timing is very important. So in doing art for a comedy driven script requires a very cinematic kind of storytelling with the panels.
Was working for Marvel ever a "dream job" for you growing up?
Trent: I always wanted to do work for Marvel, but back in the 90s, they weren't too interested in bringing in "stylized" artists. This was my trademark at the time, its what I was known for, so I wrote it off as impossibility. These days, you have a lot of guys like Scottie Young and Jim Mahfood, and Cheeks that do books at Marvel, and its become almost MORE desirable for an artist to have some kind of really identifiable "style" even to these major players like DC and Marvel. I still really enjoy doing books for the big guys, and I hope to do more in the future. Ghost Rider is one of my favorite characters at Marvel, but Id also really like to do something different with Wolverine, or Nightcrawler. Spider-man would be really interesting too... but regardless it would be something fully painted and epic.
What was the creative process like for your tenure on Ghost Rider?
Trent: I did 6.5 issues for Ghost Rider, and it all started from kind of a serendipitous accident. Back in 1999, JNCO jeans hired me on to draw a series of comic books for them and create new IPs. Unfortunately JNCO went out of business and shelved all of those books, so they'll never see the light of day. Consequently, I was also laid off when they closed their doors, and simply in getting in touch with old comic book friends, I happened to email Joe Quesada. Joe at the time, had recently been promoted to Chief Editor at Marvel, and he loved my sketchbook work. On a whim I think, he asked me to do a Ghost Rider drawing and when he got it, he called me up and said "You got it kid!” From there, he put the team together with Stuart Moore and we had a blast. Id sit on the phone with Devin Grayson for hours just talking ideas for what we'd like to do, and Danni Miki and I just had our immediate process down to a science almost from the get go. We all had a very good chemistry I think. In hindsight, I think the colors could have been less bright, but it takes some time to sync up with a colorist.
Do you find sequential storytelling more difficult than more standard commercial design work, and do you have a preference?
Trent: Well, Concept art for video games is a lot of fun. But most of the time, you'll do a painting that nobody will ever see, or it changes a lot... its very much a team effort, which goes through very many transformations. After 8 years of doing concept art for video games, I still find myself going home and drawing my own comics nearly every night. So... in my heart, I still love comics too. There’s a lot of creative freedom in Comics, even when you’re working with a script.
Can you briefly take us through your creative process (idea generation, what time of day you prefer to work, materials)?
Trent: Hey, my life is pretty normal these days! Back when I was doing comics exclusively, I had insane hours. Id wake up at 2 p.m. swig warm mountain dew from a 2 liter, go to the park by the ocean to draw, save some stray kittens from the alley, throw eggs at strangers, hop the fence running from the cops, then go to a live rock show, or a club till 2 in the morning, come home and draw some more, and repeat process. But... I was in my early twenties, and living like a rock star. These days I wake up at 9:15 to get into the Blizzard office by 10... go through my task list of what is on the plate for the day, check with the producers to finalize any tasks from the previous day and start up version 28 of whatever environment concept. I tend to work better later in the day, so I spend most of my mornings collecting information or putting together reference materials.
Do you have any advice for anyone looking to pursue a career in art?
Trent: Get involved in a community, and take EVERY job that you can get. That means swallowing your pride and hitting up even Craigslist. I worked for free for a very long time before it really started to support me, and I think that’s necessary. Also, get into it early, and BE PRO ACTIVE. Hit up every company that you want to work for and keep sending them stuff even if they don’t have a job listing. Keep a regular blog where you post your progress, and keep sending out your stuff until someone else drops the ball, and you’ll be the guy that picks it up. Or you could just... train until you’re amazing and then they come to you.
Any final message (or plugs!) for our readers?
Trent: Be bold, be courageous, and determined, and NEVER give up.
To see more from the ultra-talented Trent Kaniuga head here http://www.trentkaniuga.com !!