INTERVIEW: Black & White and Shades of Mick Gray.
Interview conducted by Ed Mathews
Before jumping into the world of the sequential page Mick Gray spent ten years as a technical illustrator/graphic artist/ draftsperson in the Silicon Valley, but in 1989 Mick began the start of his comic career when he got in touch with Slave Labor Graphics in San Jose. After meeting Dan Vado, publisher of SLG, Mick started inking backgrounds on HERO SANDWICH, BLOOD LUST and THE GRIFFIN. When THE GRIFFIN was sold to DC, new inker Mark McKenna was hired. When McKenna saw Mick's inks, he gave him a call. McKenna took Mick under his wing, giving him an opportunity to work with many DC and Marvel books. At the same time Mick was working with Chuck Austen on two adult comics, STRIPS and HARDBALL
Later, Mick took on his fist solo project; PHANTOM FORCE, giving him the opportunity to work alongside one-time assistant to Jack Kirby, penciller and co-creator, Michael Thibodeaux. During this time Mick developed a friendship with Frank Cirocco which led to him being Franks exclusive inker who he works with regularly through Frank Cirocco's Lightsource Studios.
Eventually Mick met J.H. Williams III, and in 1995 Mick and J.H. started working together on a regular basis. From titles such as BATMAN, GREEN LANTERN, CHASE, SON OF SUPERMAN to their current sensation, Alan Moore's PROMETHEA series by ABC.
Mick recently took some time out of his busy schedule to talk with our own Ed Mathews.
Ed: Since we last did an interview, Promethea has had 2 hardcover collections and you've done some covers with JH Williams. What are your thoughts on the success of this book?
Mick: I'm very happy with the following that the book has. This book is the kind of read that will be much more appreciated in the compiled versions. I've said it many times before, but the inspiration on this book is very overwhelming for all the creators involved. That most definitely gets down to the readers.
Do you have any work lined up with Marvel that you may talk about? They certainly have some momentum coming out of the Spider-Man movie...
I have no work with Marvel, at the moment, but I think I will be pursuing some of my connections there. I will be looking for an inventory story that I can work on in my spare time. While J.H. has been doing painted art on Promethea, I have been pursuing different projects at DC. You can see my inks on Detective Comics 767 & 768 over penciller Steve Lieber, most all of the Secret File Chase stories, and right now I'm in the process of inking Lee Bermajo on issue 3 of Batman Deathblow, more uncommonly known as "Batblow!" This has been very challenging, inking Lee, cuz his angular style is not really what I'm known for, but I'm having fun nonetheless. But like I say, what I'm really looking for down the line is an inventory story, which basically means "no deadline". DC doesn't seem to be coming through on this for me, so I will be trying Marvel next.
What is the idea behind an inventory story and how might get contracted to do one? In other words, what is the purpose of 'the inventory story'?
An inventory story is used by an editor as a fill-in if say the regular story didn't get done in time. The inventory story will be waiting patiently in his file cabinet to be used at his discretion. To get an inventory job, I guess you just need to spread the word around the office that you want one. I want one basically because there is usually no deadline on it and I can work on it in my spare time. I've been spreading the word around, but I still haven't got one. Wish me luck.
CHASE: although the series was cancelled, it did meet with critical acclaim, and the Chase character seems to stick around in the form of the Secret Files. Is there any chance the character may make a return in her own series, or perhaps a Chase Secret Files one shot?
Well, from what I understand, J.H. Williams and D. Curtis Johnson have been shopping around Chase story concepts in the DC offices. I think it will eventually happen, but for now we have the Secret File stories.
Something has changed since our last interview at The Slush Factory... so first, congratulations, Dad. As a new parent, do you have any advice to other inkers/pencilers/artists as to how to manage your time?
Well, first off, I don't believe that I'm getting the same amount of work done, while playing Mr. Mom, that I did before. It's very surprising to me that I can do this and still have time to play with my little girl. I was very scared before she was born, that I would have problems getting work done, but that hasn't been the case. It's really always the same, as far as working on comic books freelance. The main rule is disciplining yourself, and of course loving what you do doesn't hurt a bit. I do work a lot more long nights, that's for sure!
Obviously, you ink in black. Have you ever had occasion to ink in another colour, and if so, what project? (If you did, how did you think it turned out for you?)
I've done very little colour work. What I have done has just been for limited edition prints. I really don't know if I have much of a colour sense, cuz I've never really played with it.
How long does it take you to ink a typical page? Promethea is very detailed, and I'd imagine it takes a chunk of time...
You are right there! Promethea is not the typical comic book page. Aside from being very detailed, the majority of the pages are double-page spreads, which for some reason take longer than doing two separate pages. There is only an extra half-inch in the middle gutter, but that seems to add a lot of extra work. Typically, it takes me about a day to ink one page, but it depends on the amount of detail.
Before moving into the comics field you spent ten years as a technical illustrator/graphic artist/ draftsperson in the Silicon Valley, do you still do the occasional work outside the comics field? Maybe animation projects?
Not much at all. The only things I really want to work on outside of comics would be possibly conceptual stuff with animators, and any kind of art for toys or album covers.
Any chances of working in black and white again sometime soon?
The story that J.H. and I did in The Big Book Of The Unexplained was some of the coolest stuff we've ever done. I hope some day we will have the time to do some Batman Black & White work, but I don't know when that will ever happen.
Since we last spoke, you guys won an Eisner for Promethea #10. Congratulations! Has this critical acclaim allowed you some creative leeway?
I think when you win awards, it will always do that to a certain degree. But as far as Promethea goes, the leeway has been so expansive that I can't imagine getting any more. Working on a book that Alan Moore writes gives the artist all the leeway he could ever want.
Has the improvement in computer colouring over the years at all affected your work?
Most definitely. I really couldn't imagine Promethea looking the way it does without the amazing computer colouring of Jeremy Cox. With the old style of colouring, it just wouldn't have the same feel. The only way it could've been done with the same effect would've been hand painting all the art, which J.H. is actually doing at the moment!
Right now LEAGUE OF EXTRAORDINARY GENTLEMEN is speeding it's way along in Hollywood, with the recent interest in Alan Moore's properties (FROM HELL, for example), and comics to film properties in general, have you received any word yet on a possible PROMETHEA flick? What would be your ideal picks for the cast if you had that power?
I would love to see Catherine Zeta Jones as Promethea! Thora Birch (American Beauty, Ghostworld) would be a good Sophie. But we have not heard anything as of yet. I think with computer graphics, Promethea could be a fantastic film! I think of "What Dreams May Come" and I see Promethea done in that same way.
Have you met Alan Moore yet?
No, but I have talked to him on the phone for 15 minutes. He seemed like a really great guy and I would love to meet him and talk to him more. As the inker I really don't have any need to call England and drive up my phone bill. J.H. talks to him probably once a week and they get along really great.
One of the most effective online marketing tools today, at least in the comics field, is the utilization of message boards. Do you find you maintain much of an online presence yourself? Has your website been helpful to you?
I don't do much message board chatting. J.H. is a regular on the DC site. I think it is important for him to do this. He has a lot more information than I do. My website has been a great tool for more people to find us. I send out a semi-regular newsletter to my mailing list of people to let them know about news and artwork we have received back. This helps a lot in selling art.
Ebay: Wonderland or Menace?
Obsession!!! I buy too many CD's there! As far as selling artwork, I don't really like to put it on Ebay because I think people are looking for "the deal" and I really don't want to sell my artwork cheap. We put so much work into it, I want to keep its value up.
Being an inker, you have to be more careful of your work, some pencillers can do a drunken piece of work one night and just erase it the next (not that that ever really happens, because we all know that's a hypothetical), but in your case - the job is permanent. Have you ever made any "mistakes" or take precautions to prevent such a thing happening? Have you ever turned lemons into lemonade?
I consider myself just an inker, not an embellisher. An embellisher is the guy who turns lemons into lemonade. As far as making big messes, I've been lucky and haven't had any really bad situations. The worst was early in my career, ghosting with Randy Emberlin on Amazing Spiderman. I hit the inkwell and saw it spinning through the air in slow motion, ink spiraling in all directions, landing on the artwork. I usually don't use whiteout at all, but in that case I really needed to.
Fancy doing a bit on pencilling or writing in the future?
I always tell people that I am having so much fun inking and it takes up so much time that I don't think about that much. But if I ever have a long sabbatical, I may dabble with some penciling on my own. It would definitely be much more cartoony.
You and JH often sell your art (as I can personally attest to at least once), but naturally there must be some pieces you keep for yourself. How do you decide on what to sell and what not to sell?
It's just the pieces that have some kind of sentimental value. I just put together a portfolio of my own of all my favorite pieces.
What's your favorite movie this summer? Have you seen any of the animated films?
With a new baby, we haven't had a chance to see anything except for Spiderman. But we loved it! We just saw Fight Club on video and highly recommend that one!
Finish this sentence: "When the Office of Homeland Security calls..."
I let the answering machine pick up.
What are some other inkers/embellishers that you admire and why? What is the distinction between an embellisher and an inker?
The difference between an inker and an embellisher are extreme. An inker is basically taking pencils that are all there and close to perfect and just capturing what the penciller has put down. He may pop certain figures by thickening and accenting lines and he may add textures and tones to the art to give it depth. An embellisher, on the other hand, takes pencils that aren't all there, maybe just breakdowns and adds actual art. He may actually pencil and change the art to make it more presentable. I really admire all inkers that can capture the penciller's essence. I tend not to like inkers that put a style of their own over the pencils. Of course there are a few that I admire that do this.
Do pencillers who also ink the work of others tend to do this more often?
Yes... I think most of the time this is true. They tend to let their style "rub off" on to the pencils.
Thank you for taking the time to do this interview, Mick.
Good luck with everything!
Ed Mathews is a trained monkey who will dance whenever the organ grinder grinds his organ.
Forum - Discuss this message at the PopImage forum.
Archive - Read past Industrial articles