George Folz has been making headlines lately as the artist behind the ambitious, insane, and above all, awesome year-long #darthdays project. For those not up to speed yet, #darthdays sees Folz re-imagine scenes from the original Star Wars trilogy as comic book panels which he posts on his Twitter account as a daily countdown until The Force Awakens is released.
#darthdays has earned George considerable media attention, with articles appearing on MTV, Time Magazine, The A.V. Club – and even starwars.com! There’s more to George than just this one project, though. His work has included content created for web comic Beacon Lights, as well as his collaboration with the late Seth Kushner on self-published comic series The Roman Nose.
But most amazing of all is just how gruelling George’s schedule is; he somehow manages to produce artwork and albums (he’s also an accomplished musician) alongside a full-time job teaching with a not for profit after-school program! Those interested in seeing more of George’s work (including the full #darthdays archive to date) should check out his website, and aspiring artists will definitely want to take part in his online drawing lessons over on Skillshare.
I’d like to thank George for taking a break from his hectic schedule to participate in this month’s Q&A, and wish him all the best for the home stretch of #darthdays!
What’s your process for re-envisioning a scene from a cinematic icon like the Star Wars trilogy – how do you decide when to play it straight and when to mix things up?
The choice to play it straight or go out of box usually stems from what’s happening in the original frame, or if there’s some sort of added dimension that I want to bring to the scene.
For example, if some character is talking about, or engaging with the Force, you can more or less guarantee that things are going to be kind of strange. If a composition is kind of boring, I’ll throw in some particularly splashy ink, or additional flourishes to bring a little more visual flair to the mix, and hopefully, some added energy too.
That said, some days, a weird ink or color treatment comes about as a result of something else. The scene of Luke and Vader standing in the elevator about to visit The Emperor is bathed in blue originally, but listening to Redman’s “Dare iz a Darkside” that morning, I felt compelled to call to that particular album cover and make things a little more eerie— simultaneously playing up both the contempt and/or conflict in Vader and Luke.
The artistic process itself is always evolving, but there are a lot of considerations and precedents that have more or less stayed the same as the project has gone along. In all instances, I really try to think about what’s going on in a given scene and how I can use color to really play up the emotion, or at times, slightly subvert it.
With regards to the actual finished line-work, the inking, I try to be kind of careless because when you’re looking at a photo and doing an observational drawing of it, you don’t want things to come off looking stiff or, “too referenced”. I find a lot to like in artists like John Paul Leon or the late Jorge Zaffino— dudes who really just throw (or in the case of Mr. Zaffino, threw) it down, in some cases using the exacto blade to literally carve the light source into the page.
I see inking is an exorcism, and coloring as meditation. Ideally, the far ends of the spectrum come together in the middle to create something balanced. Or not.
Are there any key differences in how you approach work done in the realistic style used in #darthdays from the more cartoonish style of pencilling employed on The Roman Nose?
At the end of the day, comics are going to fail or succeed based on whether or not they communicate, so in both instances, I’m really concerned with that. That said, #darthdays is kind of vague in its communication, at least from a line-work standpoint: it’s more inclined to suggest, or question.
With the Roman Nose, it was more about being like, “No, this is what this is” while simultaneously trying to be subtle. I like to think that my approach is always considered, but it’s also frequently indebted to who’s inspiring me at the time.
During the Roman Nose, I was really just about John Porcellino, and Herge’s work, and to come up with those definitive lines, my approach involved asking a lot of questions. “How little can I show?” “Where is the line between subtle, albeit, effective communication, and abstraction: the non-sequitur?” I wanted to feel like I was a robbing a bank: like I was getting away with something when it came to representation and visually communicating a narrative using lines and colour.
I’ve set my art up for failure (see Beacon Lights and the first 15 pages of The Roman Nose) asking those kind of questions more times than I can count, but at the end of the day, attainable goals are boring. It’s better to reach for the seventh galaxy and land in the second, than to be shooting for Miami only to wind up in Memphis… especially if it’s Sunday, because then Rendezvous is closed.
What’s been the biggest challenge of tackling a daily project like #darthdays, and what’s been the greatest reward?
I’d say that probably 75% of this year has entailed an 75-80ish hour work week for me which is really not a good thing. Apparently, that’s what it’s like for a lot of cartoonists though, so I suppose maybe I shouldn’t say anything?
It’s been tough keeping up and creating something that’s actually good every day. Early on in this project, I told myself that I’d have 90 minutes a panel and that was it. Then, when I realised that a lot of people really cared about this, 90 minutes very quickly turned into three and a half or four hours a panel which, on top of an eight or nine hour work day, five days a week really just made certain parts of this year very hard for me.
Ultimately, when thinking about whatever I might be missing out on as a result of being in a relationship with my drafting table, it’s more or less negated by people’s response to the project. If I think hard about it, I really can’t complain at all. I’ve been fortunate to experience an outpouring of love and enthusiasm this year for my work, one that is continuous, and really has me walking on air from time to time.
To my knowledge, the project’s been written about in at least five different languages. I’ve sent my original art to six or seven different countries, I think? It’s hard to believe sometimes, but regardless of how bummed I might feel in a given moment, I am consistently humbled and really just tremendously thankful that people like the work as much as they do.
The greatest reward is that people care. To all the folks who have supported throughout the year that may be reading this, thank you very much. Your appreciation means more than you’ll know.
You’ve developed a faithful online following on Twitter – what role has this played in your creative success (both on #darthdays and outside of it), and how did you build your fanbase?
I think knowing that you have people who admire your work boosts your confidence if nothing else. Comics can get really lonely, and knowing that you’re creating something that strikes a chord with people is empowering. It’s also just really nice to see people respond as strongly to your work (if not more so) when you throw your own personal flavour into things.
As you know, Star Wars means a lot to a lot of people. That said, when you try to render something kind of abstract (the Force) using watercolour paintings manipulated with the scanner bed, its not a sure thing that everyone’s going to be going in for that one. That said, I think people actually really respond to some of those weirder panels because they are weird?
Some part of me was really interested to see what it might look like if you visualised the Force, and apparently, the same is true of a lot of people who have enjoyed this project. Creatively, it emboldens you knowing that people are willing to make at least some sort of jump with you, and I think that knowledge allows me to make better work too.
With regards to building a fan base, I think it really is just about being kind to people are engaging in a conversation, which is true of most things in life. I do my damnedest to respond to every comment and quoted RT, and make sure that people understand how much I appreciate them.
In a lot of ways, I think this project has made most people think of me as “The Star Wars guy” which, is, truthfully, very flattering. Some creatives might see this as a hindrance, and maybe it will be when this wraps, but I just don’t think I’ll ever really be able to wrap my head around that thought. From now on, I’ll have a lasting connection with something that’s very directly influenced my life and art while bringing me a joy. That will always be an honour.
As someone who has published your own creator-owned comics work, what advice would you give to a writer or artist unsure of how to break into the field of self-publishing comics?
Don’t. Do. It.
No, that’s not true. My experience with creator-owned comics is not especially expansive, so I can’t speak too definitively. From what I’ve experienced, it seems that you put yourself through the wringer for very little financial gain, but a tremendous amount of life experience. When things are at their best, you will experience the most joyous joys that you may ever know, and when they’re bad, your soul will be crushed. Sorry about that last bit.
Should you pursue creator-owned comics, I’d advise that you be consistent in creating new strips. I’d advise that you find someone doing what you want to do and makes friends with them, should the two of you enjoy a genuine connection. Show them that you’re serious and learn from them.
No one wants to see another person suffer, and they may help you find your footing. Friendship is a two-way street, so help them too, and help anyone else who you’re in the position to assist as you advance throughout your career. In most instances, one strong friendship will beget other friendships, leading to you meet other people who love the same things that you do.
A positive attitude and persistence will begin to see you through, and you may well eventually find yourself with a platform upon which to speak, or a vessel that will allow you to share your work. Should you be afforded these opportunities, make the most of it and come from a place of love.
An old professor of mine once said something to the effect of, “With comics, I’ve decided that the stakes are both too great and too small for me to do anything other than exactly what I want to do”. Self-publishing a creator-owned comic will allow you to do exactly that, so enjoy that freedom and don’t expect a license to print money because of what you created. If in doubt, go for the long shot, because you may only have one shot.
That’s a wrap for this Q&A with artist George Folz; read more creator interviews here.