Graphic novels have a certain immediacy to them. And when they deal with social issues, their impact can be truly effective and enlightening. The skill behind their creation is an interesting one, as Kelly Mellings, illustrator of The Outside Circle, (Link to my review) has documented in his answers below.
1) You refer to The Outside Circle as a ‘special project.’ How did you get involved in working in it?
Working relationship with (Native Counselling Services of Alberta). I had been approached by an employee of NCSA who had attended some art classes I taught at the Alberta Gallery of Art. She let me know that NCSA wanted to create a comic book to engage and educate a younger audience. This would be in conjunction with some of the video work the they do. I was super excited, and especially since this was a great example of commercial art that has a positive social purpose behind it. So we started on this on project ( a comic book named Breach, about breach of probation.) and created comics and other visual materials to help Aboriginal youth navigate the legal system. NCSA’s been educating, advocating and building better communities for many years and becoming involved with them is a huge blessing…a turning point in my career and also how I see things. (Patti Laboucane-Benson)’s research especially has enlightened me so much to our history as Canadians and how colonial policy still impacts today.
2) The Outside Circle has been discussed and mentioned in several different areas that have brought it to my attention. How are you finding reaction to it? Are there any memorable comments or moments that you care to share in relation to it?
I am amazed and encouraged by the response it has gotten. Memorable moments are Shelagh Rogers talking with Patti about the book (and saying my name on air!), and Patti’s interview on the Current was fantastic (even touching on restorative justice). I’ve had positive comments from industry people I respect, artists, writers and editors who have influenced me creatively have had very nice things to say. The interviews/reviews are too many and too awesome to mention all of them, but Suzette Chan, Michael Hingston, Isabelle Gallant, Ardo Omer, and the Smithsonian Asian Pacific American Center are some standouts. The biggest and most heartwarming reaction was the first person to come to our release at Happy Harbor Comics in Edmonton. The That moment hit home how special the book was. This was the kind of reaction we had been hoping for, and to have the first person who we talked to about the book be so moved by it was humbling and affirming.
3) Have you attended any public readings/discussions or any events involving The Outside Circle? If yes, how did you like participating in those functions?
Many, it’s been an honour to be attending events or to have Patti attend with people who’s work I respect. Writers like Camilla Gibbs, Saleema Narwaz, Tracy Lindberg, and Lawrence Hill…real writers…real amazing real life book writers. 🙂 I feel very out of my element with literary types, but everyone has been wonderful and it’s been amazing talking to book people who have encountered the Outside Circle as their first graphic novel. The readings and talks have also introduced me to new voices in the writing world, and encouraged me to stray out of my classics and graphic novels rut. I’ve enjoyed meeting and reading work by writers and poets outside of my usual comfort zone.
4) How did you get involved in illustrating? Are there illustrators that you admire? If yes, who are they and why do you like their work?
I’ve always wanted to draw, and as soon as I knew that there were people that created comic books and made animation, I knew I wanted to work in that field. Post secondary there weren’t many options at the time when i went to school. I took a BFA in Art And Design at the University of Alberta, with a focus on Figurative Painting and Sculpture. I still should have drawn more though! After university I dabbled in fine art, having some gallery shows and some success in public art…but all my work was narrative based, I just wanted to tell stories with my art. Through my friend Katalin Wagner, I got my first major illustration gig at The Royal Alberta Museum, and then through another school friend Tanya Camp, I was made aware of opportunities to illustrate and create animations for educational resources with Alberta Education. From there I started doing educational and safety illustrations for many companies. With a strong drawing background and understanding of how to tell stories, or distill information, things started steamrolling and it became quite busy.
When the government needed some other artists to work on creating those educational resources I told my good friend (and talented illustrator) Corey to throw his hat in the ring. He was super talented, but he wasn’t doing as much illustration, as he had been running his own graphic design company. He ended up getting hired and we worked together creating learning objects and kids games for a few years. When work was getting slimmer in terms of contracts, we decided to start Pulp, doing some promo illustrations, and amalgamating our portfolios. Corey’s promo piece won an applied arts award, which got us the attention of our first big client, GS Skinner, who brought us in to do art for an online game for Microsoft…not bad for a first assignment as a company. From there it grew, with many cool clients and projects building on each other.
I’d say Travis Charest, Adam Hughes, Jose Louis Garcia-Lopez, Brian Stelfreeze, Ryan Sook, Mike Mignola and John Byrne, George Perez, Bart Sears, Jean Giraud, Bryan Hitch, Cully Hamner, Frank Miller, Sergio Toppi, Kevin Knowlan, Alex Toth, Alex Raymond, Archie Goodwin, Alan Moore, Neil Gaiman and Warren Ellis are my biggest comic influences.
They influence everything from drawing style, to storytelling…most of my comics chops are filtered through them.
Outside of Comics I look often to illustrators like Ian McCaig, Vania, Norman Rockwell, JC Leyendecker, John Bridgeman Drew Struzan, James Jean, Charles Bargue, Jean Leon Gerome, Alphonse Mucha, Gustav Klimt, and Scott Robertson.
These guys I look to for composition, storytelling in one image, draftsmanship and impact.
I also look to movies and books for storytelling, language and pacing. Writers like Michael Chabon, Jonas T. Bengtsson, Thomas King, and directors like Guy Ritchie, Don McKeller, Frank Darabont, Stephen Spielberg, Brad Bird and Chuck Jones all contribute to my storytelling brain.
I also try to be a student of film, literature and comics…always seeking to learn from the masters.
5) Explain what the role of Pulp Studios (Click for Link) is and your involvement in it. I assume that you would be working on something new right now. If that is yes, are there details you can share?
We have created learning resources for the government, many educational pieces, we have good working relationships with local film production places and advertising agencies, so we do quite a bit of animation and storyboards. We’re doing another educational comic with NCSA, some animation for The University of Alberta…really edgy and engaging safety illustrations in collaboration with PCL Construction…all of our projects are really rewarding and challenging creatively.
On a personal front, I’m writing an adult graphic novel that should be done in about a year, and my business partner and I are finishing up an all ages graphic novel that I’ve described as what would happen if Adventure Time and The Legend of Zelda had a baby that was raised by Monty Python. It’s called Hairoes of Haarwurzel and we’re almost done the manuscript. We are hoping to get illustrating that this year.
6) You seem to participate quite actively on social-media platforms like Twitter, Facebook and Pinterest. How do you like using those tools?
Hah! I love the immediacy, being able to connect with people I admire and respect very easily, I also love the fact that I’ve met and engaged with other artists or fans of my work. I still feel like I fumble around most social media. The only platform that I feel works for me instead of me chasing is Pinterest, as I just look up my feed and pin things that inspire or that I might need to reference. So the tools are wonderful and have opened things up, but i feel a bit lost using them…I like drawing and making things…that’s what I am best at 🙂
7) Your bios. list you currently living in Edmonton? How do you like living there? Does it cultural scene give you any inspiration for you work?
I love the city and the neighbourhood where I live. We are near the university, close to downtown. We have mature trees and a quaint school and parks for my kids…wonderful coffee shops and restaurants.
Edmonton has a vibrant art and music scene, wonderful galleries ( Hi Lattitude 53, Harcourt House and AGA!), talented writers, intellectuals, some of the best improv artists in the world…it has a lot going for it.
My studio mate and business partner Corey Lansdell is a huge reason why I work here and we have a healthy competition between us (and have had so since high school). He’s much more acclaimed than I am, but I’m catching up!
We have some amazing local illustrators here that inspire and provide a sounding board. Amanda Schutz, Kyle Sams, Dwight Allott, Nicola Pringle, and Jason Blower just to name a few…the city is full of talent which both inspires and pushes us to do better as a studio.
We also have some amazing independent bookstores and comic stores that help to promote exceptional Canadian and Local work.
Places like Variant Edition, Happy Harbor Comics, Audrey’s Books are wonderful for the City’s comic and literary circles.
Link to House of Anansi’s website for The Outside Circle