When I hooked up with John Orlando to conduct this interview, I did a bit of background checking like I do with all my interviewees and found out about this dude. He’s quite amazing, bringing the feel and style of 70’s Underground Comix to today’s mainstream audience that only knows of R.Crumb and maybe Harvey Pekar. We had a good conversation, but we never did get around to talking about his music.
First, who are you, where are you from and where do you live now?
Well, I’ve often been accused of being John Orlando, I’m from Valley Stream, LI, and live there presently.
You’ve been on the indie comic scene for a long time. Can you give me a little background on how you started on underground comix?
I started in comics in late 1994 when I met Rich Buckler (prolific penciler for Marvel, DC, Atlas, etc. and creator of Deathlok). He gave me some lessons for a few months and then invited me to work in his Visage Studios for free as a gopher. I emptied trash cans, cleaned boot-marks from under desks, went on deli runs, you name it. I made no money at that time and had to scrounge for train-fare to get to Manhattan five days a week. The idea was to be present while he and his bullpen did their work, so I could watch, ask questions, and learn. After a couple of months, I was ruling in borders, erasing out pages… stuff like that, and would get paid per task. I went on to become a penciler, writer, inker and painter, and then Production Manager. With the slump in the comics market, our freelance work got slow, so I began creating my own offbeat titles on my down-time.
Sounds like quite an amazing story from apprenticeship to full fledged creator. Were you a trained artist when Rich took you under his arm or were you mostly self-taught?
Just self-taught. I was into surrealist painting before, but didn’t have a clue how to do sequential work. I would just sit there and stare at the blank page, completely at a loss. Rich prodded me toward the finer points of storytelling and helped me a bit with draftsmanship.
Was there a time while working for Rich that you had a “eureka” moment and realized that “hey I can do this?”
Rich had the “eureka” moment for me, and said “hey, you can do this” before I ever did. Maybe he thought he saw potential or something, I don’t know. For me, it was much more gradual than that. I had a confidence problem at first, being the new guy at the studio and scrounging for Pearls of Wisdom from seasoned artists like Rich and his son Rick.
What was the first book that you actually did the artwork for the studio?
Well, if you mean the first drawing for which I got paid, it was in Syphons: The Sygate Strategem for Now Comics. In issue #2, they had me draw a small explosion, which I had to do over and over before Rich approved. It wound up getting plastered with captions by a letterer! I did a few other bits and pieces in #2 and was supposed to get assistant credit, but the editor left it out. I did a bit more in issue #3 and that wound up being my first credit in the business, printed in black lettering against a dark purple background so it’s barely visible!
Sorry about the run on sentences i just noticed! I’m trying to type quickly!
No problem man. Thats a funny story. Let me go back a bit, you said that you were a surrealist painter before getting into sequentials? Who are some of your major influences?
Hmm… good question. No one in particular, but rather the very idea of surrealism itself. A lot of art I’d seen looked sort of pandering and contrived, so my theory was to reach for the stream of consciousness where there is no such second-guessed ideas.
This concept is carried over to the stories in my current title….
I write them as I go.
Let’s talk about your current title and how you got there. You said the slow down in the freelance world pushed you into doing your own stuff, how did this process work?
Lemonade from lemons. I was showing up at Visage to a No Work-Load situation. We all decided to start doing our own stuff to fill the time and possibly get a publisher interested. I started working on Cybergen. I started out putting together a proposal for the book and figured I’d better start on some pages. It was a very strange book, and I’m not sure how I feel about it today. It was clearly a bridge from the mainstream atmosphere to something a lot weirder.
I just noticed that I neglected to mention my current book. It’s a long crooked journey to there from Cybergen days.
Give us some highlights from along the way. Crazy editors? Crazy convention fans?
Nothing too much in that vein… editors having you do changes for no apparent reason than to justify their job…. fans having you sign books that you had nothing to do with. That sector was pretty run-of-the-mill…. I always liked when a fan would come up to me praising some peripheral supporting-role character in one of my books that I forgot all about!
I was looking at some of your stuff and it reminded me of the feeling one gets the day after an LSD trip. Its very post psychedelic in nature. Is this how you really see the world?
Heh…. I guess. My publisher for FHA-Q, Joe Martino at JGM Comics, recently told me “You……see the world……DIFFERENTLY than the rest of us.” It actually made me feel pretty good. I took it as a compliment.
It is a compliment. I admire folks who can translate their worldview purely. Well man I could talk to you forever, but this column has its limits. Lastly, tell me where fans can find your work, if you’re available for freelance work and how to contact you.
Since Diamond won’t touch FHA-Q with a ten-foot pole, the three current issues are available at http://jgmcomics.ecrater.com/p/15299290/fha-q-triple-play
FHA-Q Triple Play
I am available for freelance, and the best way to contact me is through Facebook.
Screw Diamond. Yeah, I said it. Well thanks man. You’re an interesting cat.
You too, man. Thanks for the interview and the interesting questions!
Andre Owens has been hiding in Los Angeles for over 15 years, a former Director of Photography, he now writes and publishes the cosmic comic, Force Galaxia. He is currently writing and plans to produce a webseries, The Psychedelic Detective. In his free time he enjoys long form television, sushi and a celebration of all things 420. His name’s not Supergreen!