Emerging Artist Stephan Petersen
Some people may be quick to dismiss comic book artists as not possessing the same skill level as that of fine artists. These critics see comic book artists as individuals who produce work which is appealing to kids and teenagers, while fine artists are seen as serious professionals whose work is targeted to patrons who understand art. Yet, those who understand comic book art are aware of how untrue this attitude is; as they appreciate the high demands expected from the work quality of professional comic book artists.
Every year, thousands of hopeful comic book artists around the world submit their portfolios to companies in the hope of gaining the opportunity to draw comics. Each artist aspires to secure a job or project that will put their name on a title, thus opening doors and helping them to become a professional, able earn their living drawing comics.
Many of these artists are creating web comics or using technology to produce and promote comics independently. One such artist is Stephan Petersen.
Petersen first graduated from a Sheridan College arts program and was then accepted into Mohawk College’s ‘Comic Design and Scripting’ program. Upon completing of this course, he attended the University of Waterloo where he graduated with a degree in fine arts. While some trained artists tend to frown upon comic art, Petersen found that his time at Mohawk College drew him closer to comic art. “I thoroughly enjoyed my time in their Comic Design and Scripting program and I gained a number of skills that greatly improved my artwork. A friend of mine who chose to pursue animation once referred to comic artists as the rock stars of the art world. We capture only the most essential frames, the fun images to draw, and add our own flare to every panel.”
Mohawk College’s course of art programs guides students through the creation of a portfolio, which they add to and build upon. Petersen seamlessly moved from building his portfolio at school directly into working with writer Alan Lawless “I had some portfolio pieces which I had completed during my time at Mohawk, however, there is always room to improve one’s portfolio and keep it up to date. I spent a little time trying to add pieces however my passion was to draw comics. I found Alan who had a story he needed an artist for and this seemed like a good way to kill two birds with one stone. We were able to produce a comic while also creating new work that I could add to my portfolio.”
The classroom is generally a controlled environment in which students learn in a structured manner, with the goal of giving them knowledge to apply as they develop their skills. However, the real world is often a completely different beast and one for which students may feel they are not properly prepared. “We were exposed to realistic deadlines and worked under fairly strict parameters. If something was off, we did it again. Producing my first title was very similar to the classroom where I had Alan as a second pair of eyes to answer to. With it being his idea, he had the vision for what it should look like and that was probably the main difference. In school, I had some freedom with the style,” remarked Petersen.
Petersen’s first title ‘Paroxysms of Caesar” is quite different from the title names that fans normally see, so I asked him about the decision to use such a title. “Alan was the one who came up with the title for his story before I had joined him and while we never discussed the title at length, here is my interpretation of its meaning:
A Paroxysm is defined as a sudden attack or violent expression of a particular emotion. Everyone is familiar with the Roman dictator Caesar. Put the two together (Paroxysms of Caesar) and you get - attacks of violent expression by the dictator. This concept is very representative of Alan's story which is set in a future where the United States overreacts to attacks from the Middle East electing a super conservative President who assumes a dictatorship and declares martial law.”
Often creators choose a superhero title with current art styling for their first project. Instead, Petersen chose to work on a book that relates to current political events and uses an older feel in the artwork. I asked him what challenges he faced with this approach. “From an artistic standpoint, it was challenging to incorporate the older style and feel of the 40's into a future setting. Specifically, Alan envisioned the cars being modern interpretations of the older style vehicles from the 40's and 50's. Most of the buildings and settings had to be run down, boarded up versions of New York streets which also posed challenges but at the same time allowed me to get creative. At the end of the day, people will see the images and I hope they enjoy the artwork but it's fair to note that quite a bit more research went into creating this comic”
The look matches Petersen’s approach as the characters are drawn in detailed backgrounds and surroundings. His attention to detail, even in the smallest panels, is impressive. “I like to look at every panel on a page as its own piece of art. I believe the backgrounds are just as important to the foreground because they show where you are. “ Petersen said about his approach “Alan's script for our first title was very descriptive about the environment and settings and since we were trying to establish an image of a new world, it was important for me to add as much detail as we could to the background. This was a conscious choice.”
As the book progresses from page to page, Petersen’s artwork becomes tighter and more relaxed. Some of the characters look a bit stiff in the beginning but by the end of the book the lines of his work flow very naturally. “As a young artist, I understand my artwork is still changing as I become more comfortable drawing and experimenting with different ways of doing things. I have made an effort moving forward to focus on consistency and there are a number of techniques I am excited to incorporate into my work in the future.”
Petersen’s constant work to improve has paid off, and separates him from others who’s first works may look jumbled and crowded at the beginning of a title and appear sloppy toward the end. By contrast, Petersen’s work evolves throughout the book, with the choices of how he draws each panel developing on every page.
Some first time creators make the mistake of believing that one book will launch their career and are disappointed when this either does not happen, or does not happen quickly enough. Petersen grasps that a constant flow of new work and developing new projects is important in proving that he is committed to producing comics.
While Petersen is still busy promoting Paroxysms of Caesar, he is already hard at work on a new project he hopes to launch via a Kickstarter campaign. “It's a concept I thought up a while ago and have been tweaking for years to get where I am now which is a story I am very inspired to create.” Petersen said, “The story will revolve around a self-proclaimed hero and I will be telling the story of the final chapter to begin the series. At this point, our hero is suffering a number of side effects as a result of the power he has gained. He has been around long enough to see the worst of what his city has to offer and it has opened his eyes. He once believed that all people were good and moral at heart. Our villain seeks to prove that he is wrong and show our hero that, at our core, people are greedy. When pushed to the edge, all we care about is our own survival. This will be a five part series with the potential to continue based on its success.”
As well as his artwork, Petersen is developing and building his production company ‘SouthPaw Productions’ “This new Kickstarter project will likely keep me busy through the end of this year as our company (SouthPaw Productions) gets bigger. We hope to expand our roster in 2016. Our goal is to add two more titles in the works for next year for a total of three series. I have a few more concepts I would love to see become a reality but, for now, my main focus is solely on the success of our Kickstarter project.”
Despite what he has achieved so far, Petersen is still a new face in the industry, which means spending as much time as possible promoting work through media and at conventions. This can be daunting when you are only a short distance from established artists and publishers and are trying to get fans to notice your work. So, what has he taken from these experiences? “First off, there are some great artists out there. Every time I attend a convention I learn how many there really are. It can be discouraging at times but I like to use it as inspiration to be better. I have really developed an appreciation for the use of black and white. I love seeing what artists can do with a simple black pen. Everyone has his or her own tastes when it comes to art so there is never a wrong way of doing something and that's what makes it so interesting to me. One person I met gets artists to draw him at every convention and even though we are all drawing the same thing, no two drawings are ever the same.”
If you feel that you have the skills to be considered for a project, you may submit your idea to SouthPaw Productions. Details are posted on their official website.