When I first came across the comic book Gravetrancers from Black Mask Studios I was taken with the book. The artwork really grabbed me and I immediately went about tracking down who had drawn these images. As it turned out, the man behind the pen was not only a fellow Floridian but we also shared a few friends and interests. What follows feels less like an interview and more like a chat. So read on as James and I discuss his past, current, and future work. And of course a ton of all things comics too!
TuffGnarl.com: First of all thanks for taking the time to talk to us here at TuffGnarl.com!
James Michael Whynot: It’s my pleasure. Let’s do this!
How did you get into comics?
X-Men comics of the ’90s. I️ was about five years old when I️ picked up my first comic book, which was X-Men when Jim Lee was the artist. I didn’t even read the words in the book, I would just stare at the art for hours on end. I was enamored by it, which led me to other X-Men titles and other artists. I found back issues of New Mutants Bill Sienkiewicz’ run and that changed my whole way of seeing comics. It made it this beautiful art form that could have different types of artists with unique styles. I was hooked, how could I not be!
What are some of your favorite current comics?
My taste in comics nowadays is varied. Don’t get me wrong I still love the X-Men and I’m very happy with the new “X” line of books coming out now. I’m all over the place when it comes to comics which I think is a good thing. With the variety of books currently out you shouldn’t limit yourself. There is a whole world out there of amazing books that are just waiting for readers. I can go from reading The Realm (Image) to Jem and the Holograms (IDW) to Redlands (Image), Moon Knight (Marvel), Giant Days (Boom Studios), Mister Miracle (DC). I wouldn’t say I have a favorite, I just enjoy reading comics in their many forms. Also, I don’t limit myself to monthly comics I enjoy all-ages graphic novels like The Witch Boy and 5 Worlds [and] also manga like The Girl from the Other Side. I’m always willing to give something a chance and more times than not I find something I really enjoy reading.
Did you always want to be an artist?
I loved drawing as a kid which has continued throughout my life. I’ve also been in bands so I knew at a young age I wanted to do something artistic. However, I wouldn’t call myself an artist. I’m just a person that likes to express myself with illustration, stories and music. I thought I would do something with design for the longest time but the only problem is I’m a shitty designer. I didn’t know [that] until I was taking a tour of the art college I went to that you could study comics and it just so happened that this college offered that as a major. I loved comics, so what the hell, I gave that a shot.
Who and what are your influences? (I see a bit of an EC Comics vibe in your linework on Gravetrancers).
I am definitely inspired by others work but I wouldn’t say it influences mine. I’m an amalgamation of all the artists I admire. I said earlier that Bill Sienkiewicz changed how I saw comic book art. The late great Bernie Wrightson is one of my favorite artists. His detailed line work is otherworldly. Kelley Jones is another guy I look up to. His work on Deadman blew my mind, the way he would exaggerate the character’s anatomy is some of the coolest and unsettling things you will ever see. Chris Bachalo’s art had the same effect as Sienkiewicz’s, making his own style influenced by manga. I can go on all day about the exact things I like about the artists that I admire, but I’ll just list some artists and writers I enjoy. Jack Kirby, Barry Windsor-Smith, Paul Pope, Skottie Young, Becky Cloonan, Joe Keatinge, Stephen King, James Stokoe and James Harren.
Alright, let’s get to your comic! For those readers who don’t know anything about Gravetrancers, can you give us your take on it?
It’s a love letter to horror comics and film for me at least. It’s Texas Chainsaw Massacre meets drugs (laughs). Gravetrancers is a very captivating story with endearing moments and unsettlingly visuals that add to the atmosphere of the comic. It’s loosely based on true events so it’s grounded in reality and making it even more unsettlingly. I think at times it’s a straightforward story and others it’s off the walls crazy. It will be like nothing else on the shelves, I promise you that.
So how did you link up with M.L. Miller on Gravetrancers?
I sent samples of my work to Black Mask Studios and a year later this guy M.L. Miller gets in touch with me. He got my info from one of the higher-ups at Black Mask and said he had a story in mind that he wanted me to illustrate. We bonded over horror and just clicked on a personal level. We’ve been in contact for a year now and not once have we ever met or spoken to each other on the phone. We communicate through email and messenger. The internet is a beautiful thing.
Wow! So What was your process of working with him then?
Mark sends me a script through email, I read it over a few times, and rough layouts of the page are made up. Mark usually likes to see those before I just go ahead and ink them. But I ink them anyways before I send them over to bust his balls. M.L.Miller has a very specific vision for how he wants the book to turn out. However he’s started to trust me more and more with the directing of the scenes and for the most part trusts that I’ll do a good job. Mark is a superb writer and more or less acts as editor of the book. He keeps everything moving forward through production and makes sure everything is high quality and will call you out on continuity errors you might have missed. Mark lives in Chicago and I live in Florida so that becomes difficult sometimes when it comes to communication. If we don’t express or say exactly what we want to say it leads to miscommunication issues. That’s to be expected when it comes to talking only through the internet. We have built great trust in one another and we both know what needs to be done to succeed. Besides the hurricane [Hurricane Irma –ed.], everything has run very smoothly and continues to do so.
Do you write and draw your own stuff as well?
I had a series come out last year called Bolts that I wrote and illustrated. Sadly after the first arc was completed and the trade came out I decided to part ways with the publisher of Bolts. It will always be my favorite story I’ve ever written but it will never get the conclusion it deserves. I have ideas all the time for projects I would love to create and get published. I’ll have to see how 2018 goes. That might be something I’ll start doing again. Writing and drawing my own stories has been an idea I have spent a lot of time thinking about recently.
Have you always wanted to draw a horror title?
You would think that looking at my art. It’s just the way I draw. It’s so natural for me to illustrate creepy shit. I wanted to draw superheroes for the longest time, I still do. For now I’ll stretch my creative legs in the eerie darkness of horror before going into the light of superhero comics.
Why do you think horror has such a resurgence in the comics medium?
With the creative freedom comic book illustrators have these days, they can play with any genre to create amazing stories. Horror in comics is fun but really challenging, I think its super hard to scare someone that is reading a comic. It doesn’t move; you can totally see on the next page to see if something pops out at you. For me, it’s a way to challenge myself with different techniques of visual storytelling. Using light, darknes and atmosphere to cause an emotional reaction within the reader. To feel fear and unease, to create tension. The way I use panel layouts can give you a sense of claustrophobia or go the easy way out and just draw something out of a nightmare.
I asked M.L. Miller this in another interview but I notice a strong 80s horror vibe flowing through this book. Specifically stuff like Re-Animator and Return of The Living Dead. Are you a fan of this stuff?
The short answer is big time! I swing towards the creature feature side of horror but the reason you are getting an ’80s horror vibe is because that was totally done deliberately. We are emulating that vibe and trying to turn it into something new and different.
What’s it like doing work with Black Mask Studios? Are you a fan of their other titles as well?
I like having my creative freedom and they allow and encourage that. They treat their creators very well, I’ve had an awesome time working with them thus far. Even though I’m buddies with Alexis Ziritt illustrator of Space Riders it’s one of my favorite books. Also if you don’t like 4 Kids Walk Into A Bank you’re out of your mind.
Do you have a comics ‘dream project’?
There are so many books I would love to do. Godzilla, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, a Stranger Things comic and X-Men. Or a continuing series that I write and illustrate.
What else do you have in the works?
I want to get a project off the ground that I produce myself, that’s kinda in the works now. I have projects going right now that have been on the burner just waiting for a publisher. Prodigal with writer Pat Shand. Video Raiders with Liam Jennings. The Last Rockstar with John Miller (no relation to M.L.Miller) and a few other things I’m keeping close to the vest right now.
You, like us here at TuffGnarl.com, are a fellow Floridians. What do you think of the artistic community here in the Sunshine State? How long have you lived here?
I’ve lived in the Sunshine State for too long, I’m not originally from here but Florida is my home. There are some comic book artists that work in the industry that live down here, we only really see each other at conventions and most of us have never spoken to one another. Like most artistic fields, comics are very competitive and not one that is known to be very welcoming or supportive when you are just starting out. Which is not my mindset. I run a workshop that meets weekly at Docking Bay Comics in Coconut Creek where illustrators of all ages can come together and just draw, work on their projects, give advice and build the community up around here in South Florida. Pretty soon you’ll be interviewing some of those folks that come to the workshop. They are incredibly talented people ranging from little kids to adults. They didn’t have a place before to feel connected to an artistic community and I think Docking Bay Comics has really given something special to me and these individuals that was seriously lacking before. I’m sure there are other shops that try to promote a sense of community with their areas as well.
You and I chatted briefly about shows and bands in Florida before. We at TuffGnarl.com are also big on music. Any specific memory you care to share?
When I was growing up down here there was always a good punk scene and a decent hardcore scene but never really a great metal presence. I’m sure the music scene is still good down here, I’m just so far removed from it I couldn’t tell you any of the new local bands. We are a literally a rough crowd down here. From what I remember of shows, we mosh, circle pit and slam dance harder than most other places. Central Florida is the birthplace of death metal so I didn’t have to go too far to get my metal fix.
What’s next on your drawing table now?
Finishing up on the remaining issues of Gravetrancers. After that, you’ll just have to wait and see!
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