As a native Atlantian and connoisseur of geek culture, there is almost nothing I look forward to more than DragonCon. There’s costumes on parade. Great comic creators. And quite frankly, it’s ruined every other con for me. Everything else seems so tame by comparison. Not dull, but not as exciting. Though, I will say WonderCon this past year and NYCC 09 stand out as really good times. Though DragonCon continues to top itself every year.
I’ve had this discussion before about good ole D*C: it is NOT simply a comics convention, it is an across-the-board-genre convention. Once a year, Anime, Dr. Who, horror, and comic fans all converge into downtown Atlanta. That being said, I do tend to concentrate on the comics area. Probably the highlight for me each year it just to hang out with the slew of talent Atlanta has. For almost 20 years, Gaijin Studios was the studio to belong to. It produced such alumni as Adam Hughes, Cully Hamner, Georges Jeanty, Jason Pearson, Dave Johnson, etc. Early last year, it closed its doors, but rumor has it, there is a Gaijin 2.0 in the works.
So what is it about Atlanta that attracts such top talent? It doesn’t have a huge studio presence of the big two that say New York or Los Angeles has, yet the creators that call Atlanta home is astounding. At DragonCon this past week, I sat down with some of comics’ top names, and some up and comers about Atlanta and what makes the city such a hub bub for comics and comic professionals.
Tariq Hassan (FX’s Archer, Wizards of the Coast): I grew up here. Lots of people grew up here. There’s just a great collection of artists already here. You got Dexter Vines, Georges Jeanty (originally from Miami). Cully Hamner, Mark Bagley, etc. I think SCAD helped that because a lot of artists came through that school. I think Gaijin Studios pulled a lot of talent in as well. Gaijin, I think also helped develop a lot of artists from the area. I mean, my first con was Atlanta Comics Expo in 1990. That’s where I met Brian Stelfreeze, who I didn’t know, and who came from an advertising background and who eventually helped me learn how paint and draw and evolve my style.
My studio-mate Dexter [Vines] learned a lot from Gaijin. I think Cartoon Network, Turner, Adult Swim had something to do with it, too. People, I think, straight out of school are lured to that.
Laura Martin (Siege, The Authority, Astonishing X-Men): I don’t know the exact reason as it was way before I got here, but I’m guessing the weather? [Laughs] I mean it’s perfect for any sort of social event you’d want and it’s a pretty well-rounded town in terms of culture and art and I think it just attracts people of our nature: creative people with creative jobs. Especially with Turner Broadcasting here and Cartoon Network and people flock to that. I came in here about 2006, and so I’m probably the most recent transplant to the area. We came here specifically because we knew there was a large comic book community here and we were friends with a large number of the guys here, so it seemed like a natural selection to come here once we left Tampa. It just became apparent this is where we needed to be and no regrets. I love it.
When I joined Gaijin I joked on an old blog post that this was the culmination of 12 years of planning. Because I knew these guys, I knew Adam [Hughes] from when both worked at Wildstorm back in like 95-97 era. He mentioned Cully and Gaijin and when I was invited to join I jumped at the chance and it was like “yes, this is where I belong”.
Cully Hamner (Red, Blue Beetle, Detective Comics): For me there was no SCAD Atlanta, or Cartoon Network. I’m from Alabama and moved here in my earl 20′s and I came here to be part of Gaijin. I just wanted to work with the best around and I joined when there was only a year into it. I was sort of the last piece of the puzzle. I want to stay because of the community and its always fun. We are all here because of comics. It’s a good scene.
Karl Story (Zatanna, Tom Strong, The American Way): It’s a essentially the largest metropolitan city in the south. For me, when I was breaking in the industry, I was in northwest Florida and I had friends who lived up here. I moved up in here about 1990 and decided to leave the small town I was in to live here. I mean I didn’t even have an art supply store in my town and there was no Internet to order anything. Soon, it was like people knew other people who had moved from their Podunk town up here and that got the ball rolling. I think Laura and Randy Martin mentioned this earlier that we have cartoon Network here and a lot of people do that while they’re trying to break into comics, or doing comics on the side.
I think the snowball just really started rolling downhill and over the past 20 years, has collected some great comic book and animation-related professionals. I think Portland is the only other city that has that many comic book-related people than we do, but I could be completely wrong about that as that is an uneducated assumption [laughs]. But I know that Portland has a great community and I know those most those guys and we all have fun.
Georges Jeanty (Buffy Season 8, The American Way, Green Lantern): It’s just a great city and great place to go but I think travel-wise it’s such a central city so a lot of people don’t mind coming to Atlanta because you don’t have to worry about having to drive too far and it’s just a cool place to come to. I lived here for so long, I can’t not come really.
Now I wasn’t so much a staple of Gaijin, but I joined Studio Revolver and became a staple there. I recently moved to Los Angeles, mainly for work stuff and I hate to sound all “Hollywood”, but yeah, there’s a lot of people out there saying we can get some stuff going. That being said though, I thrive in a studio environment. I don’t thrive when I’m working at home, which is what I’m doing now [laughs]. When you’re in a room with a lot of other artists, you get a creative synergy going. Even if you don’t like each other
Jeremy Dale (GI Joe, Skyward, Miserable Dastards): You know, honestly, when it comes to professionals in the industry, they do come here because it’s one of the most creative communities in the state. I mean there’s New York, there’s Seattle and there’s here. It just has an amazing amout of talent and great guys doing amazing work and a lot of guys come here to learn from that, ya know.
I’m originally from Indiana and recently moved here from South Carolina. My wife was looking for a new job and she looked in this area and if we’d make the move out here we’d already have friends and it’s just a positive environment for my job as well as hers. I’ve been working in comics professionally for about 3-4 years or so but I’ve been going to shows and conventions since 2003 or so. Over time I’d come as a fan or exhibit as a professional and just meet these guys and eventually became good friends with them.
Brian Stelfreeze (Angelus, Gun Candy, Legends of the Dark Knight): I was an illustrator before I got into comics, and as matter of fact I started illustrating while I was still in high school. I helped form Gaijin Studios with Karl Story and Joe Phillips and got everything started. We’re the guys that pretty much got the warehouse and waited for people to show up. We’re sort of the Kevin Costner that built the field and waited for the other guys to come in.
I think the nice thing about Atlanta is that a handful of guys, and the guys at Gaijin Studios being among them, were guys that went to the Heroes convention on a regular basis. Now, the Heroes convention was, and still is, an artists’ convention and we all liked hanging up there and we all liked hanging with each other. So a number of us decided to move to the area and, I think, once Gaijin got formed a lot of people who were graduating fresh out of SCAD Savannah decided “oh well I’m right here” and they kind of migrated here. Once that happened, there was some magnetic force towards Atlanta that started pulling more and more artists. So it all happened organically. There wasn’t one thing that set it off, but I think that artists like hanging out with other artists, especially artists of a certain like and we were all comic book artists. We wanted to hang out with each other and get that energy going.
I think working a studio, without a doubt, can make somebody a better artist. I think artists in general are lazy people. We want to try to do as little as possible as we possibly can. So when you’re in a studio I mean I was in a studio with Adam Hughes. I can’t actually lay down on the job when Adam is in the next office making beautiful illustrations. That inspires me to want to pick up the challenge and do beautiful illustrations along with him. So I think being in a studio trains you into doing your best work.
Tom Feister (GI Joe, Ex Machina, Legion of Superheroes): I’m originally from Pennsylvania and I came to Atlanta because of Gaijin. I’ve always loved the work they did and I wanted to be around people that I could learn from. That was my goal: to come down here and soak up knowledge. I went to college in Savannah and that’s where I first met Cully and Brian. They’d come up there and, frankly, I stalked them til eventually I was able to worm my way into their world.
I remember this one time Cully and Brian came down to SCAD one day to speak to this comic art forum and I’ll never forget Brian instead of going to lunch sat on the floor hallway taught perspective with myself and two other guys. He didn’t have to do that. He could have gone to his big catered lunch, but instead he gave his time and I just kept thinking these are the people I want to be around.
I find myself creatively fed when I’m surrounded with other creators. I remember when I was in Jolly Roger [another prominent studio in Atlanta], we were all in one big room and at times there be this wave of creativity. We’d be talking and screwing around and then one guy would start going into work mode and then the guy next to him and before you knew it everybody was dead silent working away. It was nice. There would be days when you weren’t feeling it and then you’d see somebody create something exciting it made you want to go back to your desk and try again. For me, drawing is like surfing, sometimes no matter how badly you want to do it, if that wave isn’t there, you have to at least go out there and sit on your board and wait for those waves to come.