Artist Skottie Young Talks About Drawing Chickens and Digital Downloads

Skottie Young is a busy man at conventions. From the moment the floor opens, to the second it closes, the popular artist of Marvel’s Oz adaptations is sketching and drawing non-stop. Luckily, he was able to take some time to sit down with us before the Con floor opened to chat about returning, once again to Oz, why drawing chickens is easy, and the future of digital downloads.

Yes, I know, every interview on MTV Geek ends up being about chickens and downloads. Just read the interview:

MTV Geek: Every time I’ve passed by your table here, you’ve been swamped… What, generally, is a convention like for you?

Skottie Young: A lot of drawing. Mostly a lot of drawing… And a lot of talking. [Laughs] Since I’ve been doing Oz, there’s been a nice influx of new audiences, younger people, a lot of females… A lot of nice new people who are getting excited about comics, so it’s exciting to kind of just sit and chat with those guys.

But the first thirty minutes of a show, I get a list of about seventy people [laughs] wanting sketches, so you spend the weekend doing that.

Geek: Well, let’s talk Oz. You’re starting to wrap up Ozma of Oz

SY: The seventh issue came out this past Wednesday, and I finished inks and John’s almost finished colors on eight. So we’re all wrapped up on the art duties for eight, and I just finished the first cover for the next run.

Geek: Do you feel like your style has progressed at all as you’ve gone through the Oz series? Have you gotten more comfortable in the world?

SY: I feel like, just like when you do anything for any amount of time, you’re going to get better as you go. But I felt very comfortable almost right away, since it felt so natural to begin with. I was talking to a friend the other day… I pulled out the original hardcover, and was looking how loose and frantic everything was, and realized over time… My brush work had gotten tighter. I found myself having to intentionally get looser to match what was pretty loose to begin with. Over time, you just get so used to the tool.

But for me, it’s been of benefit to get better of time, because you get so used to these characters for three straight years. You almost become one with them, you memorize the shapes. You’ve done almost all the expressions. So there’s a bank of information you can go to that’s hard to achieve when you’re working on a four issue mini, and then you have to go on to another four issue mini, and you have to essentially relearn the job every four months.

Geek: Now, this might be the most ridiculous question I’ve asked of all time, but is there any difference drawing a tiny character like Billina, versus drawing someone slightly more complex like The Nome King?

SY: Well, a huge difference. For me, Billina is just… I almost feel like it’s a cheat, like I’m not doing something? But everybody loves it anyway, because she’s boiled down to simple expression. I just have a big chicken shape, you figure that out, with the big bulb eyes. It’s whatever you do with the big bulb eyes, and the little tiny beak. So it’s really boiled down to really simple, extreme expressions. Versus the Nome King, which is wisps of hair, and giant curly-cues, and he’s big and plump, so there’s a lot of body posturing and everything like that. There’s a huge difference. But, I think it’s really interesting how much power you can get out of something as simple as Billina.

Geek: For you, what’s the difference between how you approach interiors, versus the covers for say, the Oz books?

SY: A cover is always going to be you trying to grab a readers attention out of three hundred other books on the shelves. I kind of like to think of it as, if I poured a bag of Skittles out on this table, how would my Skittles stand out? Because you just have a sea of color, so that’s your job there.

On the interior, I’m not trying to grab your attention from across the room. I’m trying to take you through an action, trying to take you through a story. So it’s a whole different set of disciplines.

For me, I kind of have a 70/30 rule for the cover. I fill up 70%, and leave 30% blank, or vice versa, 30% full, and 70% negative space. And I use bold solid colors as backgrounds – or white, so I’m not getting too convoluted or anything, I can grab your attention from about 15, 20 feet away in a comic shop.

Geek: Let’s talk about the last issue of Ozma of Oz, what’s coming up?

SY: Just like the novel… They’ve got the Nome King’s number, now Dorothy just needs to find a way home. It will be interesting, I think, when people see how she gets back home, that maybe there’s ways for her to get back to Oz in future volumes. It’s just wrapping up that Nome King story, getting the crew back together, and like previous ones, Dorothy saying goodbye to her companions.

Geek: I know you get this all the time, but is it Oz books for the foreseeable future? Are we going to get to see you doing anything else?

SY: For me, right now, outside of Oz, the only things I have on my plate besides covers is just a couple of personal projects. I have a personal graphic novel I’ve been chipping away on for the past few years, so hopefully in the next couple of months I’ll be able to work on that. But outside of that, the Oz books, on a numbers side – and I have a blast, it’s the funnest book I’ve ever worked on – but it’s done better than any book I’ve ever worked on, even though in fan’s minds it might not seem that way because it’s a superhero run industry. Right now, I’ve having too much fun, and it’s done well. So I’m pretty much head down on that. If some day people stop supporting it, or I become a gazzilionaire off something else [laughs] I might think about it. But right now, it’s just this for me.

Geek: Let me ask you, in terms of becoming a gazzilionaire on something else, you sold your books online, and did pretty well with that. Can you talk about your experience?

SY: It was really just an experiment to see what options we had out there, in terms of doing creator owned work, because printing up, and creating an inventory… You have the option to go through publishers like Image, for example, but I put my Adventures of Bernard online last year for free, then I did a little print version. So I thought, I’ll try to do a PDF. There’s a lot of digital comics out there, Comixology and whatnot, and I buy comics from them, and they’re great. But I wanted to see what would happen if you put it out there to people, and didn’t create a middle man. It worked.

I’m not selling three million copies, but the great thing is, I put a PDF online, and the first couple months I was selling a couple thousand downloads at two dollars a pop. Paypal takes a little cut of that, but outside of that, there’s not anybody else taking a cut from you, and your digital comics. And once that slowed down, it’s great, because it’s still on the site, one a day, two a day there, and then you do an interview and ten, fifty things will get sold—

Geek: Ah, that’s a lot of pressure on me there.

SY: [Laughs] Sell books for me, man.

Geek: I’ll do what I can.

SY: But the nice thing is, unless print, they’re always there, so when something new happens, there can be a resurgence. Unlike print, once that print run is done, if you don’t think there’s a chance to sell more, it will go out of print. It’s been a good experiment, and I think there’s a bright future out there. It’s not all figured out yet, but at least there’s a lot of options for people who want to try storylines, and put stuff out there.

Geek: It’s interesting, I talked to Chris Eliopoulos about it, he did as well, and it also seemed to work out really well for him. Do you think there would be anything with a couple of creators, banding together to put together a website, saying, “Hey, here’s a couple of comics you could buy?”

SY: I would love that, it would just be a matter of getting some sort of the technical side of it, which I’m absolutely not versed in. But I think… Safety in numbers, that’s a fantastic idea. And I wouldn’t put it past some of us doing that at some point. I think there needs to be a solid, digital marketplace for us all to go, like authors can go to Amazon. You can go to Amazon as a Publisher, or just an independent author, and sell your books exactly the same. So it would be nice to have a marketplace like that, for us to do the same thing with comics.

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