Beginning February 29, former Newsarama editor Troy Brownfield and artist/web designer Sarah Vaughn will launch a new webcomic, titled Sparkshooter, capping a month of build-up on the part of the creators that includes not just teasing the strip to the comics press, but Brownfield briefly resurrecting Shotgun Reviews, the popular comics and pop culture review site that he used to head up.
Full disclosure, here: Brownfield was my direct editor during my days at Blog@Newsarama, and I wrote briefly for Shotgun.
Brownfield has additionally worked on a Buck Rogers annual for Dynamite and a Batmananthology project at DC, both with co-writer Matt Brady, his former boss at Newsarama, the site Brady founded.
With an active Facebook page and a Zazzle shop already set up to support the webcomic, Brownfield and Vaughn are already branding their property–something that surely seems a little odd to Brownfield, whose day job until recently was as a college professor. It was in that capacity that he first encountered Sarah Vaughn, who was one of his students before his enthusiasm for sequential art rubbed off on her and the pair decided to make a go of Sparkshooter. I wasn’t there at the time, but I imagine it went something like this:
Troy: Call it fate, call it luck, call it karma…I believe that everything happens for a reason. I believe that we were destined to get thrown out of this dump!
Sarah: For what reason?
Troy: To go into business for ourselves!
(Note: To my knowledge, neither of the two were actually kicked out of the school. Hopefully some of you see what I did there.)
Luckily for all involved, Sarah didn’t need to mortgate the family home in order to get the business off the ground. After all, in this day and age, all you need is a website and a dream.
Troy and Sarah have given ComicBook.com this exclusive peek at the upcoming webcomic, and were kind enough to give us a little of their time–interviewing one another to ensure that I have to do as little work as possible. Which I truly appreciate…!
Troy: I know that you count among your favorites and influences the likes of Vera Brosgol, Dylan Meconis, Jen Wang, Amy Kim Ganter and Chynna Clugston. What was the ONE thing in particular that made you say “THIS makes me want to draw comics”, and why?
Sarah: There’s energy and character and cheekiness to every artist mentioned above that’s really appealing to me, something uniquely them. Chynna Clugston excepted, the rest I knew from their webcomics. They made the idea of being a comic artist attainable for me, rather than just some strange, far off goal without any clue how to even get there. They tell stories that make me want to come back and find out what happens next. That’s certainly something I want as far as sharing my/our work.
Troy: How does your own experience performing (on stage, singing, etc.) contribute to your understanding and execution of a project like this?
Sarah: I guess I have both perspectives, of being part of the audience and being up on the stage. But I can’t sing, play an instrument, or dance, just want to make that clear. I am simply a terrible actor who hams it up to make up for lack of talent. That’s where the understanding comes in.
As far as execution, the one thing that really helps me with Sparkshooter is dissecting a script, and really figuring out what is happening and why, and how to convey that when I draw.
Troy: I want you to tell everyone about the virtual paper doll you did for Orbit, because that continues to be awesome.
Sarah: So, I’m going to geek out in a really obscure non-hipster way. One of my few constant passions is historical costume and history, a fabulous little niche that has hard-core devotees. When I had a bit more free time than I do now, I used to make Flash dress up dolls of historically accurate clothing and accoutrements, including undergarments, and I would post them on deviantArt (like the Mr. Darcy game - seen here - because, really, what human who is attracted to men doesn’t want to dress or undress Mr. Darcy?)
Orbit Books contacted me to make a Flash dress up game (http://www.orbitbooks.net/soulless/) as promotion for the first book in a steampunk paranormal romance series, the Parasol Protectorate, called Soulless by Gail Carriger. Everything was accurate to 1872 besides small steampunk elements. It took a lot of research, and a lot of work. I loved it.
Troy: Tell everybody about your work process for creating a page. After all, you’re doing every single bit of the art yourself.
Sarah: First, I start with your script, and I make little thumbnails on the side of the page, see how to lay it out and keep it clear. If I see something that could be added, or maybe moved to keep the flow, I’ll check with you, and you’ll say either, “Hmmmmmmmmmm, you know, that’s a really interesting thought. No.” or you’ll give me the go ahead.
Then I blue pencil on regular printer paper. I either stand in front of a mirror and try to make some really ridiculous pose while trying to draw at the same time, or I call over a friend or housemate and have them do it for me while I take reference shots to use as blackmail later on. I draw really rough and spare pencils over the blue pencil, scan, and then ink and letter in Manga Studio on the computer. God bless Undo. I used to tone in Manga Studio as well, but have since moved over to Adobe Photoshop to add the tone and any texture.
I then send it to you as close to deadline as possible so it’s too late to make any changes.
Troy: Who was your favorite college professor, and why did you like me so much? (I’m kidding. Partially.)
Sarah: Wow, there. Assumptions!
You have a story for everything, and if not a story, then a fifteen minute lecture. I remember that the door to your office was almost always open, and if I walked by, you’d say, “Sarah Vaughn, come see this!” You’d show me a music video or a video clip and then tell me the complete history of the band or movie or pop culture figure, and then maybe replay The Pear Dream from Kids in the Hall again.
I don’t remember half of what I learned in college, but I still to this day remember that Cynthia Rhodes was the dancer in the “Rosanna” music video. Someday, that knowledge will win me a million dollars. And then I’ll give you 1.2% after taxes.
Sarah Interviews Troy . . .
Sarah: What is the craziest story you can share that came from your experience managing bands?
Troy: You know, that’s a great one. The funniest thing is that my absolute bat-s–t crazy stories almost always involve comics rather than bands. Almost! I’ve mentioned repeatedly that most of my band involvement begins with the fact that my best friend, Shawn Delaney, got into bands in high school, and I generally wound up working/helping out with/managing those bands from that point on. Our high school graduation party was actually a John Hughes-style epic (and was one of the most popular pieces I ever put up on ShotgunReviews.com, in fact; maybe that will show up again for the return of Shotgun on the 19th).
So, rather than admit to the craziest thing, I’ll just give some pieces of advice, band-related. Number one: no matter what the box says, fog machines can and will set off a smoke detector. Number two: it’s okay to let a band smash cans of Spam with a sledgehammer, but you shouldn’t allow them to mix it with battery acid from a smashed keyboard. It stains. Number three: multi-band gigs never, ever, ever stay on schedule. Number four: before leaving town, locate your drummer. It’s vaguely important. And number five: never do a free form jazz exploration in front of a festival crowd. (If you get that, I like you.)
Sarah: What was the first concert you ever went to? If you can’t remember, was it due to mediocrity, amnesia, or self-preservation?
Troy: Actually, the first concerts that I chose to go to? That’s a little different. See, my grandparents were HUGE country fans, so they took me along to see artists like the Statler Brothers and Barbara Mandrell when I was, what, six years old? The first concert I ever say that was one of “my” bands was The Beach Boys. How was that my band? Well, my appreciation of music started with my Dad.
One night, we were watching some random TV show, and I was probably five. Tina Turner was singing. Dad tells me that Mick Jagger learned his moves from Tina Turner. I asked (remember, being FIVE in about 1978), “Who’s Mick Jagger?” Dad just sighed. And then he dug out “Big Hits (High Tide and Green Grass)” on vinyl, that first Stones hits package. I had a little record player in my room that I listened to Power Records and Disney records on, and I honestly still remember putting that on for the first time and hearing “Satisfaction”.
So, my Dad started giving me his old vinyl records. He had the Stones, Janis, Paul Revere and the Raiders, Iron Butterfly, The Who, Chicago Transit Authority (before they became just Chicago), and dozens of others. And of course, The Beach Boys. I don’t know if I can ever properly thank him enough for that. He also bought me KISS Alive II not long after it was out because it was the late ‘70s and I knew Kiss from TV. Subsequently, the first major concert that I consider my “real” first was The Beach Boys. I saw Kiss for the first time a bit later.
Funny thing: there are a couple of antique shops/flea markets near Dad’s business, and he’ll still turn with LPs and 45s that he’s found. Thanks, Dad.
Sarah: Is there anything you’ve learned from your life in music that you use today?
Troy: I should have saved my advice for this. Actually, the application of effort and persistence are the same across any artistic endeavor. No one is going to give you ANYTHING. You have to work your ass off to get anywhere. And once you get there, then you REALLY start working. No matter how successful you are, remember that you didn’t DESERVE this; you EARNED this. Big difference.
Sarah: What is the one question you have always wanted to be asked, and what is the answer?
Troy: I think the question would be, “How did you manage to have a consistent career, a good marriage, and awesome kids that grew up so well?” And the answer would be . . . well, let’s hope that I do well enough to ever be asked.
Sarah: Why me? Why??
Troy: Good question. No, seriously. You were one those students where you could see the potential and talent right away. You understood story, you understood work, and you knew that getting better was always a work in progress. Plus, you had a style that was just really suited to the material. When the time came to talk about the idea, you were really the only choice. Now you’re stuck, kid.