Six-Gun Gorilla might be my favorite book of 2013. Rarely, and I mean it, do I pick up a book based on title alone these days. Nine times out of ten if it isn’t in my pull list, I’m leaving it on the shelf. It’s just the way things work when you’re broke. That tenth time though, that’s the big gamble. The facedown card that’s about to determine whether you just wasted $2.99 on a comic or just added something new to your loaded pull list. Six-Gun Gorilla was that tenth time . Alternate history featuring gunslingers and ghouls — check. Genetically altered gorilla with cinder block-sized revolves — check. Insane artwork via one of the best up-and-coming artists around, Jeff Stokely, — that’s a check.
Nearly every day of the week you can find Stokely posting to his blog Sketch Goblin for a taste of his beautiful, contemporary style. But aside from web clippings, Stokely has also lent his talent to the Fraggle Rock comic and the recently released Archaia title The Reason for Dragons. Stokely has partnered with some wonderful writers, but in all honesty, even if he was drawing Bazooka Joe comics, his style would blaze through like a lit match.
I caught up with the artist to talk about, well, his amazing artwork and what it’s like drawing a six-gun slinging gorilla for a living.
How did you first get involved in comics?
I’ve always loved comics, and I’ve always wanted to draw them but my first brush with published work was with Archaia on their Fraggle Rock series. At the time I was interning with them and remember Stephen Christy looking at me one day, saying “Huh, you’re the first artist approved for a Fraggle Rock comic in close to 30 years, you’re the main artist on issue 1, and you’re the one person who’s never been published! So you’re the wildcard.” It was playful but also like saying “NO PRESSURE DUDE BUT YOU’D BETTER KILL IT!” I’m still very much proud of that work, oddly enough.
You and writer Simon Spurrier built such an interesting world around Six Gun Gorilla. What process went into crafting the SGG atmosphere and characters?
When I read the pitch for this book (and very much the same with Dragons) the world, the characters, the overall atmosphere was very much present. Si has a knack for conveying the right tone and I felt it was all relatively easy to visualize, probably because it’s exactly the kind of book I’ve always wanted to draw. When designing the characters there was a bit of back and forth, a lot of it was everyone really encouraging me to to make the gorilla more of an animal with less human-like posture and that sort of thing. World building and concepts are always one of my favorite parts of making a comic.
When a writer approaches you to work on a comic, what do you like to see from them? Full scripts? Rough ideas?
Generally it’s nice to know the specifics first, like the genre, the tone, and the length of the project before diving into the script. But if it’s longer than a short, like a mini series, I like to read a more fleshed-out concept, usually in the form a full page of the overall plot, characters and setting. Then the script.
As an artist, do you prefer a writer give you detailed scene descriptions or do you like them to keep it slightly open?
I’ve worked from all kinds of scripts, in Dragons it was very much left to me to determine the staging and compositions, which I absolutely loved. In 6GG a lot of the descriptions were more lengthy but never too much, always used for world building purposes and I would rarely do something different than what Si had written because I knew he was just dead-on. Never overly verbose. If you’re working on a sci-fi book you obviously need the descriptions to know what the setting is or how extreme to go, fortunately Si and I seem to have really similar influences and we jelled really well together. Chris would also come over and we would really discuss how things should move on the page and he would just give me chunks of pages with no dialogue. So truth be told, I love both forms but only when they’re done right, which is very hard to do.
You regularly upload sketches to your blog. How often do you draw? How does it help you as an artist?
While working on Six Gun Gorilla I had 2-4 days off a month, so that’s a good example of how often hah! This sounds terrible and was in no way BOOM!’s doing, sure it was draining but I always told my editors that if it weren’t for my physical well-being I wouldn’t sleep. I’d just work because I love it so much. I’ve definitely grown while working on 6GG, it’s the biggest volume of work I’ve put out so far and it’s easily my best work. Hoping to continue pushing my self and try new things with each book, though. I do try to keep my work out there for everyone to see, without spoilers of course! The feedback is always really helpful and I think having it out there helps keep people aware that I’m still alive, even if it’s just a snapshot or something.
Any advice for someone who wants to get into illustrating comics professionally or otherwise?
I say this often but I stand by it: Draw what you want and do it a lot. If you want to draw monsters, draw monsters. If you want to draw superheroes don’t let anyone stop you. Do it long enough and eventually you’ll get better and the better you get the more recognition you will receive so it might as well be recognition for something you love doing. Also, learn the basics, it never hurts and only helps.