Interview: Daniel J Logan

Time Travel is a tricky subject. By the time you think you’ve got your head round it you find that someone’s thought up something before you even started thinking about it. I recently set out to interview Daniel J Logan, artist on Back in the Day a graphic novella available from Action Lab comics & while our discussion had nothing to do with time travel, but it did have lots to do with how the book came about, what his favourite techniques are for drawing & the differences between over the top 80’s & the actual 80’s.

So, what’s Back in the Day about? 

Back in the Day, is the story of three friends who get a chance to change things in the past. And like most of us they decide that instead of going for the gusto and really changing the timeline of the world, they will just go back and change something small like how many chicks they were able to have sex with in high school. And for Darren, the group scientist, there is a chance to kindle a relationship with the girl that he was too scared to ask on a date, back in his high school days.

You’re the artist on this project. How did you get involved with it?

Me and Dave have known each other for a sort of long time now. And funny enough he knew a bunch of people that knew me even before we met up. In 2006 we were at SDCC with a company that we were mildly working for. We shared a hotel room and had a table in Artist Alley that we occupied trying to sell sketches and the few books that Dave had at the time. So we had a lot of time to talk.  I think I had done a few pages for an unpublished part of his series Special Ed and we had formed a friendship in the little time we had known each other. We came to the conclusion that we wanted to work together on something, but we didn’t have anything that we were sure would be the right project. And fate stepped in. A friend of mine had mentioned that he might be down in San Diego to teach a film class. And on Saturday of the SDCC week we were able to meet up at the Hyatt bar. So it was me, my friend, and Dave drinking at a bar with the geek chatter of comics floating through the air. Back in the Day was born that night from the fact that Dave had known the girls that we were scared to hit on in high school. Back in the Day was just the project we needed to work on together and by the end of the night we knew he should write it and I was the one to draw it.

For all of its raucous beginnings when you get down to it Back in the Day is actually quite a touching story about friendship that felt like it could of come straight out of a John Hughes movie. What influences do you have in your work, both on this book & outside of it?

Thanks for the compliment. Those movies were great because they were more than just hijinks. That’s what we wanted from it. I grew up in the 80s but I was a little younger than the Hughes films so I didn’t watch them till later, but I did know the time period. I tried not to make the designs over the top 80s, but more actual 80s. The story is the most important thing and I wanted a sort of period piece style to it instead of a satirical look at the 80s. Art wise, I really respect the guys like Joe Kubert, Neal Adams, and the other artists who can keep the story flowing. I studied Illustration at the Academy of Art University in San Francisco and look at N.C. Wyeth, Bernie Wrightson, Alan Lee, Brian Froud, and Drew Struzan all the time. Films are a big inspiration to me as well; I try to watch any and every movie that I can. There are actually a few nods in Back in The Day from some of our favourite films. Science Fiction, Horror, and Fantasy are the soupe du jour when it comes to the genres I like because the good ones are always just a new way of telling a human story. I don’t read a lot but it’s mostly because I like to read the long winded tales and those take some free time. Stephen King’s Dark Tower series was amazing with its depths into his own work but setting up an even bigger existing space. I just love a big story.

Hope that actually answered the question :)

I have so many ideas and some of them don't occur until I'm drawing the page or re-reading the script so being able to suggest them at any time helps the development. Any good writer, at least in the comic medium, should be willing to work with the artist; it will just make the book a more fully realized effort.

That’s a great answer; I’m also a big fan of The Dark Tower books too. I love how they encompass everything Stephen King has done creatively including how he brings in his own life. You say Back in the Day came out of Dave knowing the girls you knew in High School. Were any of the characters based on yourselves or people you knew?

Definitely. They all have hints of us in them. Mikey’s little flashback story was based on an experience that my friend Will had when he was in high school. It came up in the conversation and we said, “Oh that has to be in the book”.  More than any specific person for each character, we took the conversation and personified it. Looking at the characters now I think they do match-up to me, Dave and my friend Will. I am Darren, who remains shy and looks back at missed opportunities, Dave is Mikey who realized that confidence was all it required to talk to girls, and Will Is happily married, with wife and child. I tried to think of where they were then and now for the way that I designed the characters. You gotta make the characters believable and that comes from making them like the people you know. I think Dave’s dad had the motorcycle they find in the shed. In the designs Dave gave me the way that he wanted them to look and the first couple pages of the script (which at that time were the intro pages to the guys and a little into the bar scene). Mikey’s look is based off of guys who try to look “modern” even though they are obvious older. Dave mentioned Paul Rudd with a handlebar moustache. Todd to me was a bunch like Ben Hanscom from the IT mini-series. And Darren was the many smart kids from school. I try to think of past present and future for the people I create and with this it was needed for sure.

I completely agree. I think that real life has to be a part of the creative process. Even if your story is set on the outer reaches of the universe you’ll always need some connection to make the story relatable. As well as being a writer Dave also did the colours for another Action Lab book called Fracture. Was your input on this book (or any other you’ve worked on) strictly artistic or have you ever had an input in other areas of the creative process?

From the beginning of this book I had input in the story. I totally trusted Dave in the writing of it but I did make minor suggestions. A few things like Todd arguing with his younger self about getting caught was shorter at first and I suggested a volley of older Todd (confident of the outcome) and younger Todd being scared of what could happen. The mom in the flashback having a thing for Tom Selleck came after my suggestion that the mom have a Television obsession. Just back ground for the character in my designing her but it led to Mikey’s future moustached look and a big part of the flashback scene.

I actually have a few of the e-mails we sent in the early stages. This made me look back at them and read some of the processes. Thanks for that.

I’ve been lucky enough to work with writers that are willing to bounce ideas back and forth. Dave is a great collaborator and it makes the story that much better. I think that’s why we work well together because we both see the value in each other’s opinions. I have so many ideas and some of them don’t occur until I’m drawing the page or re-reading the script so being able to suggest them at any time helps the development. Any good writer, at least in the comic medium, should be willing to work with the artist; it will just make the book a more fully realized effort.

Again I agree wholeheartedly. If there is ever more than one person working on a book I think it becomes a team effort because the artist (or letterer, colourist or editor) will bring their own unique touches to the story that the writer can’t & that can very often give the book that push it needs to take it up to the next level. When it comes to actually creating your work do you have a preferred method? Do you do everything digitally or do you still like using pencils & inks?

Until recently I was sort of all over the place with my method. Even on Back in the Day I changed things up after the first few pages. We thought about doing the book as a full sized comic and for the first pages I drew I did pencils and inks on 11×17 comic pages. But then we changed it to the smaller format as our goal and I switch to drawing the pages smaller. I hadn’t done the smaller comic size before and simplified my details a bunch. I do the pencils and inks traditionally with some clean-up when I scan it into the computer. I found that I like drawing the pages in blue pencil and inking over that. There’s no need to erase because you can fade out all the colored pencils in the computer. Erasing the pencils to find that some of the inks went with it is an annoying occurrence. I did a few issues of a comic, before Back in the Day, which I inked on the computer and it looked decent but it wasn’t quicker and it feels better to be drawing on paper. Maybe if I got a Cintiq screen or a tablet, I might switch but for now I’ll stick to drawing on paper. The direct contact to line you’re drawing can’t be beat. Paper also doesn’t lose an entire file that you spend 6 hours on. Unless the dreaded ink spill happens.

I think with a book like Back in the Day (especially given its setting) it seems in keeping with the period to use some of the old school methods. So now you’re done with the past, so to speak, what projects do you have planned for the future?

for now I'll stick to drawing on paper. The direct contact to line you're drawing can't be beat. Paper also doesn't lose an entire file that you spend 6 hours on. Unless the dreaded ink spill happens.

Well, I have another book coming out through Action Lab Entertainment in February called EXO-1 and the Rock Solid Steelbots. It’s an action packed mixture of genres, with robots, power suits, ghosts, bad guys and gals. I just finished that one up so I currently don’t have anything that I’m working on. December is a heavy month at my night job so it’s sort of a blessing. I have a few ideas for books that are circling the old brain pan that I’ve been attempting to script out. I’ll do some art here and there to keep the chops up until a new story comes along.

Given that Action Lab has tried its hand at a huge variety of genre’s already I’m very interested to see what they can do with robots, power suits & ghosts all rolled into one book. As is our customary last question for MOMB interviews,  what advice would you give to anyone starting out either drawing or scripting comics of their own?

The biggest thing would be to not procrastinate. It’s a difficulty all of us have. Getting a jump on the art or the writing will always be a good thing in the end. You can always come back to something that didn’t come out exactly as you wanted but you can’t (no subject-pun intended) get that time back if you did nothing. And character sheets are a big help, I learned that later. When drawing a character a billion times you don’t want to have to remember every nuance of their features or clothing. Talk with the writers on your projects and find out what they want from the project and let them know what you want. It’s much harder to win a race on unstable ground.

Back in the Day is available now, though if you’re clever enough to build a time machine you can go back & get it in April 2011. You can read my review of it here & also see more of Daniel’s art here