Comic and webcomic creator Lora Innes discusses her career, her creativity and working with IDW Publishing
1. So who is Lora Innes?
Lora Innes is a girl from Pittsburgh who moved to Ohio to attend art school and never went home. She met a boy there, convinced him to marry her, and has stayed in Ohio with him ever since. She loves Jesus, her family, her closest friends, and sleeping in — even on weekdays. She votes in every election, loves good, dark, strong coffee, and enjoys marathon TV nights with her husband, watching series on DVD, eating junk food and feeling a little guilty about it. She loves road trips where she gets to drive, visiting historic places, learning in general, reading books of all kinds, and rocking out to ridiculous pop songs because they put her in a good mood and life is hard enough as is. She is especially fond of the ocean and the city of New Orleans and worked for four months after “The Storm” to get the city back on its feet. She loves when her husband grills out in the summer, participates in silly family traditions of all kinds, adores campfires, snuggly blankets and vows to one day live in the French Quarter. And oh yeah, she writes and draws comics, absolutely loves it, and feels eternally grateful for being able to live a life she loves.
2. Tell us about The Dreamer.
The Dreamer is my delight. I feel like events in my life and my own personal growth as a human being converged at the right time and place to enable me to tell this story. I wanted to draw comics since I was a teenager but I think if I had done it then, I wouldn’t have lived enough to write in a compelling way about life. A lot of fiction by young writers reads flat — all the characters have the same levels of depth, and they often are just different shaped cookies cut from the same dough. I think being older has helped me write teenagers who act and think like teenagers, but also adults who act and think like adults. That just comes from living life, experiencing loss and waiting and love and changing, disappointment and grief, elation and compassion, and above all, seeing yourself evolve and mature as you look back on your life. The Dreamer is all of these things coming together artistically in a format that I love telling.
Oh, you wanted a story summary? High Schooler Bea Whaley begins having vivid, recurring dreams about the American Revolution, and a soldier named Alan Warren. Lots of tight pants, 18th-century cleavage, and hot guys.
3. The Dreamer is unique in the comics’ world, how did you arrive at this particular idea?
I was freelancing commercial illustration work at the time; my full-time job had let me go as the company was undergoing major changes. I was still freelancing for them from my house, but the work wasn’t nearly as enjoyable outside of the creative environment the office had provided. So I decided to pursue comics again. My friend Beau Smith challenged me to forget about drawing Spider-Man (since I wasn’t that good at it anyway) and asked me to draw the story that I wanted to tell.
Over the next few months, I figured out what that story was, and found a way to bring a lot of my interests together. I love American history and high school dramas. I love drawing fashionable clothes, and I love drawing soldiers. I had a dream one night, much like the one Bea has in issue one (though it featured a shirtless Josh Holloway instead of a red-coated Alan Warren) and I woke up wanting to go back. That was it: What if you could go back? It all grew from there.
4. You do it all on The Dreamer. What is your favorite part of the process?
I’ve grown to love dialoguing with my fans online. There are so many cool people who read my story! I love meeting them and talking to them about art and history and The Dreamer. Who knew that aspect of self-promotion would be so fun?
When it comes to the actual stuff you see on a page of the comic… I love doing layouts and rough art. The stage where I get to pick camera angles and panels and expressions and environments and costumes. That’s all really fun. It’s the idea stuff.
5. Every artist has that one art supply they swear by. What’s yours?
My 0.5 mm lead holder. I couldn’t go back to drawing with a regular pencil ever, ever again. The point on that thing is like a needle tip. You can get such amazing detail.
6. Why did you choose comics as your vehicle to tell your story?
It was more like I picked The Dreamer to be the comic I would tell and not the other way around. It was always comics. I love comics. Comics, comics, comics. Drawings and words together. I love it!
7. Who are some of your comic book influences?
J. Scott Campbell and Brandon Choi‘s run on Gen 13. Sean McKeever and Takeshi Miyazawa‘s run on Spider-Man Loves Mary Jane. David Mack‘s passion and success for doing his own thing, his own way. Jeff Smith‘s epic long-format Bone, riddled with lovable, unforgettable characters. I grew up reading all things X-Men in the nineties, and all the original Image titles. I know that artistically those artists influenced my older art. It’s since grown from those roots to be its own thing.
8. What is on your nightstand right now?
I love classic literature. I do read recent releases because I want to know what is going on in the publishing world, but too often they entertain at the moment but are quickly forgotten. If people are still talking about a book fifty, a hundred years after it was written, there is probably a reason why. I find I’m much less disappointed when I read the classics. Those characters and stories tend to stick with me.
I love reading books from bygone eras or from authors across the world and finding that though the details of daily life are different, what makes those characters relatable is not. Ahab has been chasing the white whale for almost two hundred years, and that cautionary tale might be even more relevant today than it was in the nineteenth century. With so many promises of success and fame in this entrepreneurial-minded generation, we’re being trained by popular books, blogs and podcasts to chase after an elusive waterspout on the horizon without questioning whether or not it is luring us to our doom. That a message can span centuries and stay relevant is the testament to a great work of art.
Most recently I have read some of Ernest Hemingway’s novels, J.D. Salinger’s short stories, and about half of Jack Kerouac’s books. I like to pick an author and binge read their work to get a feel for their voice, subject matter, themes, and style.
Of course, I inevitably fall in love. And once I’ve fallen in love with an author I have to stop because you can only read a book for the first time once. So I’ve quit reading authors I really love because I’ve gotten too close to reading all of their works and I want to save a few. Maybe that’s hubris or naiveté, assuming I’ll be here long enough to finish them at my leisure.
When it comes to graphic novels, my favorite of recent years is This One Summer, and I think it will be for a long time to come.
9. You graduated Summa Cum Laude with a BFA from the Columbus College of Art and Design, a prestigious honor from prestigious school…how has your education informed your work?
Well, you spend four years doing nothing but pursuing art and growing as an artist. Just that opportunity to focus so much time on your art is a huge blessing. Before that, my art was on my notebooks and homework assignments, and I drew during class and lunch and homeroom and on the bus and basically any place and time I could. In art school, you’re there for that sole purpose. It’s wonderful.
I also realized during that time, through my animation classes, that I didn’t want to be an animator: I wanted to be a comic book artist. So senior year I was able to take a several Independent Studies instead of regular classes, where I worked on building up a comic book portfolio and a promotional website.
10. You began your artistic career in the commercial arts…how does that experience benefit your comics work?
The man I worked under, Jim Theodore of The Artifact Group is hands down one of the most amazing illustrators working today. He can draw anything and match any style. And the work he does in his own ‘style’ is brilliant. I’ve secretly wanted to have him draw a Dreamer cover for me, but I can’t afford him. He is fantastic though and took the time to teach me how to draw. In the three years that I worked for him, everything I drew he redrew and made me do over. Which initially is quite demoralizing, but looking back on it, I grew in leaps and bounds as an artist because of his tough critique.
I worked for a variety of clients and learned a ton of different techniques. I learned Photoshop and Illustrator and got comfortable and very efficient in those programs. I learned to meet deadlines and stay motivated, working on something because it was due, and not because I was interested in it. That one thing was priceless: breaking free from the lazy art student trap of working on what I was interested in and procrastinating on the rest. Deadlines used to be a huge motivator for me, but after my stint at the Artifact Group I learned how to work long before a due date, so you don’t have to crank a piece out at the last minute and be unhappy with it.
11. When IDW picked up The Dreamer, what has changed for you and your series?
A lot more people know who I am now, and a lot more people have heard of or now read The Dreamer. Before it was just a little webcomic. Now it’s a Harvey-Award nominated graphic novel. That’s a huge jump in not a lot of time. The IDW guys love The Dreamer. Bob Schreck came up to me at Baltimore Comic-Con to introduce himself to me and tell me how much he loves the book. Now that’s a good feeling!
Creatively, they haven’t interfered at all. I think the closest thing to change was them putting a variant artist on the series, and my editor and I have a talk about using “To Be Continued” at the end of the graphic novel. I can live with that level of interference, lol!
12. You have also done a bit of work for DC/Vertigo. How was the “working for the big company” experience?
I only penciled a really small project- a four-page story for American Splendor for DC Comics. But it was a blast getting to work on a Harvey Pekar script and getting invoices and letters in the mail with “DC COMICS” on the return address. It’s the dream. It wasn’t much to brag about, but it was a goal achieved.
13. Do you believe the theory that “women don’t read comics” is still true or was it ever true?
Women read my comics! And I read comics when I was young. Do fewer women than men read American comics? Sure. But in the age we live with webcomics and manga, I don’t believe women read comics less, they just don’t read mainstream American comics. And that’s because I don’t think that American mainstream comics are written with women in mind. I loved them as a teen, but I’d put up with trips to the Shi’ar Empire to find out if Rogue and Gambit would ever kiss! I think if anything, more American women read comics now than they used to ten and twenty years ago, and if the mainstream companies want in on the readers’ web and manga attract, they’ll have to be willing to change some things or launch new titles.
14. Do you ever get ridiculed by your “fine arts friends” for working in comics?
Hmm. Not really, but I guess I don’t hang out with a lot of fine art people anymore. If anything, I have a deeper interest in fine art than the people in my circle. But back in high school, one of my art teachers told me I was far too brilliant to ‘waste it’ on comic books and animation. My ex-boyfriend snubbed it too and told me I could do ‘so much more’, so I dropped comics for awhile when I started art school. But we broke up after freshman year and I soon realized it was for the best. I re-found myself outside of an unhealthy codependent relationship and stopped caring what other people valued: I loved comics and I wanted to make them. One day I’m going to die, and what difference does it make whether I spend my life making ‘high art’ or ‘lowbrow comics’ when I’m dead? I think it matters more if I enjoyed my life while I was living it. If no one remembers The Dreamer in ten years, that’s fine. I’m having the time of my life right now, and that’s something I’ll take with me for the rest of my life.
15. How do you feel about the idea that it is harder for a woman to break into comics?
For me, being a woman has been an advantage: fewer women attend conventions and work in the industry of print comics, so people remember me a lot more than just another guy they meet. The kind of work I do isn’t even in the same league as most big-name artists on super-hero books, but that also isn’t the kind of work I want to do. So I think that has kept me from landing jobs on a bigger title book, but not being a woman. Even Marvel loved my work but said: “It’s not what we do.” They said I could keep doing what I wanted to do, or get some new “Marvel” work together and send it in. I decided to stick with The Dreamer for now.
16. What advice do you have for aspiring creators?
If you want to draw comics you have to draw every day. You have to be one of those people who must draw. If you haven’t drawn in a few days, is it irritating like an itch? If that’s you, go for it. But if it’s not… really get serious. Try to draw 10 consecutive pages in 2 weeks. If you can do that, and you still want to draw comics when you’re done, you might be cut out for it after all. But if you can’t get past page three and it’s been a few months, I don’t think comics are for you. At least not drawing them. It’s so much work, and no one drives you. You have to be self-motivated. No one can put that kind of drive inside of you; it has to come from within. A lot of art careers aren’t as drawing intensive, but comics isn’t one of them.
17. If you had the chance to go back and start again, what (if anything) would you change?
I was pretty starry-eyed and naive about the industry. My expectations about what it meant to be published were unrealistic. If I could go back and tell myself what I’ve learned now when I started, it would save me a lot of heartache, disappointment, and tears. But those experiences have made me stronger, and even more determined to stick to it. So they’ve had their value, even if they were extremely difficult.
I would also get a bigger buffer before I went live on the comic. The whole working with no buffer thing has gotten truly tiresome.
18. What is one thing that your fans would be surprised to learn about you?
Hmm. I spent two and a half years studying Theology and majored in Preaching. Bet they didn’t know that!
19. How have the changes in technology and the comics industry changed how you create and distribute The Dreamer?
The first nine issues of The Dreamer were drawn traditionally. Somewhere in the second graphic novel I began roughing out pages in Photoshop because I could adjust layouts more easily, moving things around, adjusting the scale, etc. I printed out these rough layouts and traced them onto Bristol board where I finished them with pencil.
Years ago now I was at Mid Ohio Con and a veteran penciller showed me his most recent pages which appeared to be drawn with a hard lead like a 4H. After letting me admire them for awhile, he admitted that the artwork was entirely digital. He had used a program called Sketchbook Pro and printed it out on Bristol board.
Sketchbook Pro is not a robust program (though they have added features in the latest version) but it simulates simple things like turning a page, using a ruler, or sharpening a pencil—the organic aspects of drawing—very well. Other programs made me so aware of the software that I had a hard time getting into the flow of drawing.
I drew the next six issues completely digitally using Sketchbook Pro and a Wacom tablet. After many artists told me that using a Cintiq monitor would save me time, I finally got a 10” Cintiq around issue #15. With the tablet I had to look at the screen to see the mark my hand was making on the table which led to a lot of mistakes. Being able to draw right on the Cintiq monitor enabled me to put down the right line faster.
So I sold the small Cintiq and upgraded to the 22 HD Touch which enabled me to rotate my page with my fingers—just like a piece of paper lying on my desk—completing that traditional experience of drawing on my digital workspace.
That, of course, is the creative aspect of making the comic. On the distribution side, not as much has changed as you might think. IDW still releases the printed collections once I’ve published enough content on the web to fill a graphic novel. I still continue to release The Dreamer as a webcomic.
The webcomic culture has changed dramatically since I started, though. I think Kickstarter’s success was a real catalyst for change. Before Kickstarter, I observed a greater sense of entitlement from webcomic readers across the board. There was a genuine fear among webcomic creators that if you missed an update, your readers would abandon you. I remember taking two weeks off to take care of my mother after she had a terrible accident and a few months later a fellow webcomic creator (whom I had never met) introduced himself to me at a convention and said, “I hear you’ve been having trouble keeping your update schedule.” At comic cons, panelists on every webcomic preached the same advice: miss your updates and you’ll lose your readers.
But with Kickstarter, audiences began to understand how much time, money and energy is required to make the kinds of projects they love. Kickstarter empowered audiences to be a part of content creation and as a result, they have become more generous in their attitude toward creators.
Readers understand that creators need time off, and that producing webcomics involves more than just making comic pages. Because they understand this, they’re willing to pay to continue enjoying the free content that they love. If they want it, they’ll pay for it. This wasn’t always the case.
Before Kickstarter, webcomics had a “Donate Jar” PayPal button which readers could use as a way to say thank you. That revenue was more of a pleasant surprise than a reliable income. Kickstarter, and now Patreon, is enabling creators to bring in dependable revenue streams to pay for printing costs, hire help, and build a recurring salary—even if it isn’t a full-time salary.
But not all of the changes have been positive in recent years.
When I began making webcomics, web content wasn’t mainstream yet. So the kinds of content being offered online was mostly small budgeted projects—independent and underground like webcomics and amateur YouTube channels. But web content is no longer niche, and it is certainly no longer amateur.
With endless seasons of television streaming at your fingertips, webcomics have suffered. I’ve heard from webcomic creators across the board that revenue streams are drying up. Advertising isn’t what it used to be, and neither is merchandising. Kickstarters are great at covering the cost of a print run but they don’t usually pay for the time it takes to make a comic.
Web content is now mainstream, which should be a good thing, but the options are now limitless with many of the options being produced by companies that have far more money to put into production than independent artists do.
It’s harder than ever to break in through webcomics. It’s still easier to make a name for yourself online than it is to break in an old-fashioned way, but the internet continues to evolve. A well-intentioned amateur effort used to be enough to gain a respectable following but the level of quality it takes to stand out today is exponentially higher than it was when I got my start. You’re now competing with publishing companies and television and movie studios that are all going to the same audiences with budgets our most successful Kickstarters can’t touch.
My way of navigating these changes has been to take on both work-for-hire as well as trying to increase my webcomic revenue streams. This is a double-edged sword though. Work-for-hire brings in income when I need it, but it takes time away from making my webcomic. This has meant frequent breaks in its release schedule, interrupting the flow of the story for readers, causing some of them to lose interest. But the webcomic does not bring in enough revenue to enable me to solely focus on it.
20. What does the 21st Century have in store for the characters of The Dreamer?
The 21st Century storyline will be back… but I can’t tell you when or how. The effects the sleeping pills had on Bea haven’t yet been revealed. All we know is that Bea is stuck in the past, but I’m pretty sure that if she could go home right now she would.