Here is the second installment of our Firetower Studios interviews. We managed to get Jason Strutz to take some time out of his busy schedule to talk about his influences, how his art style has changed over time, and the many varied projects he's working on at the moment.
CBotMP: What is your comics origin story?
Jason Strutz: I had been doing paintings and art for years, but had trouble developing stories until I met Jeremy Whitley and he took care of that part. We started developing the story for The Order of Dagonet soon after we met when he saw a character design I had for Queen Titania and Bottom of A Midsummer Night's Dream. So while I was reading comics, it took finding a writer to get me into making them myself.
CBotMP: You started out with a fine art background. That seems to be rare for a lot of comic creators. Do you have any artists that inspire you?
JS: For classical painting I like Caravaggio's characters that are hidden in darkness, Whistler's restrained colors, Dali's ideas and painting quality, and Bacon's craziness (I haven't gotten anywhere close to the creepiness of his pope paintings. Mostly I get inspired by illustrators like Phil Hale, Rick Berry, Drew Struzan, Jeffrey Catherine Jones, Norman Rockwell, Brad Holland, Frank Frazetta. I do like art with a purpose. Getting into comics people, Chrissie Zullo, Jeff Smith, James Jean, Simon Bisley are along my lines.
CBotMP: With that arts background, how did you wind up joining the ranks of Firetower Studios?
JS: Jeremy Whitley, Charlie Harper, and myself started the group with Dagonet and a story the Charlie and Jeremy were working on. We have continued Dagonet and branched out into other projects and webcomics at Firetower Studios and have added Werewolf D.A. artist Rich Lombardi, and artist/editor Alicia Whitley.
CBotMP: Your art is amazingly vibrant! What is your process? It seems like it must take you quite a while to make.
JS: For Dagonet art, it's not so long. There's a full pencil drawing, then airbrush basic colors and the tighten up the color with colored pencils. I would say a page all together would take about 4-5 hours if I worked straight through, but I do each step to all the pages at once before moving on to ensure some sort of consistency. I have been doing some pencilling and inking for Action Lab Entertainment on their Glob World series that shows some cartooning chops (hopefully), and pencils and inks on DeathCurse, a horror book from Lost Story Studios for some gooier black & white art. I feel I have a wide variety of styles to work in depending on the theme of the material.
CBotMP: Seeing some of your work in progress pages at StrutzIllustration.com was really insightful. That final pass with pencils adds an interesting weight to your art. How did this style develop?
JS: When I started working out how to adapt my painting and drawing style to doing comics, I remembered a sketchbook class I took in college working with toned papers, markers and colored pencils and I hadn't seen that done long-form in comics. I started Dagonet before I got on to airbrush, and also started by doing digital inking before the colors. So the art in 1-3 is a bit different and harder edged than the art in 4-now. Its been a learning process for me, but I like where that style has ended up. Mostly I think I was trying a bit hard to find something different in the beginning and have calmed down a bit now.
CBotMP: Your layouts are very expressive yet very readable. I can’t think of many other creators who do anything quite like it. How did you create that look?
JS: For the most part, I make it up as I go. I feel I have reigned it in a bit as the series has gone on. I try to identify the important beats on a page in the script form, and work from there. I have nothing against a strict grid page though, if the story calls for it. Its probably harder even.
CBotMP: You draw an awful lot of faeries and mythical creatures for Dagonet and its “sister” comic. Where did you come up with the character designs?
JS: I like creatures, monsters and such, and tried to bring in nature and vegetation aspects to the characters and creatures we create. A lot of my designs start from nature and plant based creatures with hopefully some grace and grandeur. I wanted to make the faeries more modern when in their human size form, thus the t-shirts, jeans and dresses.
CBotMP: Dagonet is the only Firetower book with a spin off comic, why did you two create the Faerie Sisters comic?
JS: We liked the characters of Bella and Lunessa, and thought they could have some good adventures within the world we had created. It also gives us a chance to show the faerie world from their perspective, especially coming in about the time in the series when you discover that not all faeries are bad.
CBotMP: Are there any good books (graphic novels or otherwise) that you have been reading lately?
JS: I really haven't been reading much lately, too much going on. I follow the Fables series, Princeless by Jeremy Whitley and will pick up anything by Doug TenNapel, Eddie Campbell, and Craig Thompson. I want to get into Orc Stain, some 2000 A.D. stories and read Unwritten to talk about it with my wife. Hopefully some life changes are coming up soon that will allow some more time for work and reading.
CBotMP: Wow. Thanks for pointing out Doug TenNapel. His art looks amazing. Thank you for your time Jason. The crew can't wait to see what you work on next.
We have a few more interviews with the Firetower creators to come, and we are going to be recording the VERY NEAR MINT podcast tomorrow so expect it up in the next week. Thank you to everyone for all your continued support. If you have the time, check out the store, and click on our sponsors. We hope you're having as much fun reading these books as we are!