Monday, February 18, 2013

An Interview with Tim Doyle

Tim Doyle is about as as Austin as you get. Contributor to Minerva's Wreck, the Blue Genie Art Bazaar, and (yes) Staple!, the man behind Nakatomi is in no small part responsible for a Silkscreen Pop-Art Print Renascence.  And soon his work will be center stage in an Off-Broadway production as the artist behind the first story arc of the Intergalactic Nemesis.  He is also a swell dude who let me pick his brains on art, comics and life.

You have been coming to Staple! as an attendee and then as an exhibitor since the very first expo. Has there been any really cool or memorable moments you would like to share? 
I would have to say that last year was probably my favorite Staple so far- I got to hang out with Kevin Eastman quite a bit, and we talked for quite a while at the after party about life, having kids, and ninjas.  Dude was super cool and relatable, very much a regular guy, considering how much the Ninja Turtles meant to me as a child!

How does the process of interpreting and framing one narrative moment or locality of a film or TV show relate to process of breaking down the adaptation of the Intergalactic Nemesis into panels and pages?
Well, the Intergalactic Nemesis was a very structured experience, when compared to the art prints I do.  Jason Neulander had a script in place, and while he wasn't totally familiar with how to break down the panel flow and what you can and cannot do within a single panel, we were able to work that out over the first few scripts.  By say, issue 3, the process was fairly nailed down. Like most freelance artists, I've found there's always a bit of 'training your client' to get to where you can get to a point where you're both happy with the result. Comparing that to say, my UnReal Estate series of prints, it's completely different. I only have to please myself with that stuff.  There is a bit of intense research and studying the subject matter when it comes to those things though- but it's not as slavish as working from someone else's script.  Instead what you're doing is boiling down the essence of what YOU think the show is about, into a single image.  And I generally am doing that by just depicting locations and environments- which provides its own challenges.

How different was the process behind Bad Cat Comics from Intergalactic Nemesis?  Not just in regards to having a collaborator but also the difference between working with and whithout script.
It was night and day.  With Intergalactic Nemesis, we already had a destination and roadmap.  We had to get the existing script for the play into a new format, and the only changes were dictated by adapting it into the new format.  But with Bad Cats, again, I only had to please an audience of one, and if anyone else liked it, then awesomesauce.  The process of writing that book was pure joy for me.  I just imagined a rambling chase through a city, thought of the beats I wanted to hit, and I thumbnailed out the whole book in just a few hours- and then spent the next few months nerding out on drawing the darn thing. We sold out 2 printings, and I really want to do more, as soon as time allows!  Comics are just SO MUCH WORK, and I'm able to support myself through my art prints, so I only want to do comics that I'm either extremely passionate about, or 100% personally invested in.

What comics are you reading these days?
I quit Marvel and DC (except Morrison) cold turkey about 18 months ago, and have never looked back.  It was shocking how quickly I kicked the habit after about 29-30 years straight!  But I find I'm reading more comics than ever, oddly. Loving the Prophet and Glory relaunch. I still read a couple Vertigo books-  Unwritten is amazing. The Sixth Gun almost out Hellboys Hellboy.  I'm also reading all the Hellboy universe books. BPRD is my jam.  Saga, Luther Strode, Nowhere Men, Manhattan Projects- all the really smart books are at Image nowadays.  Black Kiss 2 is there as well, but that's another story.  A dirty, dirty story.  Walking Dead and Invincible are very addictive as well.

I stopped hanging out in comic shops for a few years and when I got back I was shocked to find that Image became one of the smarter publishers.  In your opinion when and how did that happen? 
 Walking Dead. Image had been publishing some really good books for a while- FireBreather and Invincible were just fantastic super-hero books, and Savage Dragon was and remains a great ride.  BUT- with the success of Walking Dead- I'm talking even before the TV show was even in development- people started to realize that there was no reason NOT to own your own IP and take a hold of your creative and commercial destiny.  The just abhorrent way that creatives have been treated historically at the big licensing houses...I'm sorry- I mean comic publishers like Marvel and DC, means that anyone working there now with half a brain knows that they're just next in line for the Kirby/Ditko/Simon train to heartbreak and sorrow.  So- they get their shit together, make a pitch for Image or one of the other houses, and go for it.  And because of that, you have amazing books like Saga, Multiple Warheads, Fatale...the list of books at Image is just spectacular and dwarfs anything at the big two in terms of craft and quality.  (And, usually much cheaper retail too...)

I know you've avoided discussions of art theory but I would like to follow up on the importance of accessibility in your work and the joy of pushing your audience’s “nerd buttons.”  It seems like you are inverting the trend in Pop Art of abstracting the form of pop culture from its context. Your work tends to be formally beautiful and exhibits an original exploration of the content of pop culture.  Your hand produced compositions that stand for themselves and also for mass cultural narrative experiences.  I don't know if there is a question there other than, how much those observations are only in my head, and could this be the reason you cast a notable British Pop Artist as a supervillain in Bad Cat?

As far as Damien Hirst becoming a Kirby-esque supervillain in Bad Cats- that was purely stream of consciousness writing.  It was based on a print I did back in 09, "The Camino Cats Make Their Escape", which features a shark in a fish tank being rescued by cats driving an El Camino.   The print was originally produced for an anti-Shark Finning organization, Pangea Seed.  Bad Cats came about because my friend and Wayne Alan Brenner Chronicle writer needed me to produce a comic book ABOUT that print, explaining the events that led to the image and moment on it.  So, how does a shark get into a fish tank in an El Camino driven by cats?  The logical explanation could be nothing other than it is being rescued from Damien Hirst.  The fact that Pickles the Cat says 'All art must end' as they bust the gallery wall down, is just another example of how great of a writer my brain is when I just STOP THINKING and let the words and pretty pictures happen.  Because, really, if I took the time and effort to write with thought and intent, it would be a disaster.  I can't trust my conscious brain to do these tasks- it's too much of a jerk.
BUT- that's not your question, is it?  I have a general disdain for what people think of as 'fine art'.  For what is supposed to be a dynamic and thriving organic experience, modern art is strangely formulaic and dead.  For me, I find that self-examination and pre-defined intent in art leads to just complete crap.  Artists get focused in on legacy and reputation and collectors and all that stuff, but the truth of the matter is this- not a single fucking part of that is up to you.  It's all events out of your control that shape all that, so you might as well just draw and paint and sell what you damn well please.  And for me, that's squids and cats and Bill Murray and Optimus Prime.

Now- with that said- when I do a pop culture print- I'm trying to play against expectations.  When I was invited to be a part of the first Bad Dads Wes Anderson art show at SpokeArt, I purposefully tried to not draw any of the main characters, and if I did, it was from over the shoulder or partially obscured- focusing in on location and a moment- finding the iconic moment where you wouldn't expect it.  And I went from there with that theme for quite a while. Even with my more commercial Movie Poster work I try to avoid all that- my Apocalypse Now poster for the Astor Theatre in Australia doesn't feature a single main character but it's unmistakably for the film.  It's fun stuff for my nerd-brain, and I guess it hits the right buttons for everyone else.  Or at least enough of 'everyone else' to keep me in burritos.

You have often been asked and answered the “do you have words of advice for young people” question.  What I’d like to know is, as an aspiring artist or businessman can you share any advice that might be helpful from your experiences or from someone who made a strong impact on your work?
I really wish I could say that someone sat me down, and told me how to be successful or at least happy at this, but the truth is- it was all trial and error.  I worked in a lot of small businesses as an employee and a manager, and I just always kept my eyes open and talked to everyone about every aspect, and learned that way.  My upbringing was obviously very influential (but who's isn't?) but I think my parents provided me with enough support to branch out and try my hand at things without fear of failure.  Well, I had plenty of room to fail, but I was never afraid of it.  Here's some advice I almost never give out because it makes me sound like a dick, but here you go- Do not be a collector. To be successful at what I'm doing, you must be more enamored of making things than the accumulation of things. Buy stuff, sure- but as reference, as inspiration.  Do not be a collector.  Know what side of the register you are on. Act as a business should act- not as your customer base might want you to act. Don't listen to the internet- it's an echo chamber- the compliments are nice, but just as worthless as the haters. Don't go into debt.

You played no small part in the creation of the marketplace that has allowed you to make money as an artist.  You did this when many of the marketplaces having been closing.  The world of big monopolistic record labels, dominance of live television and a handful of print publishers is probably over.  What does the Nakatomi Inc. story say about the future of the arts in the 21rst century?
This will sound hacky- but it's true- it goes to show a little bit of talent and a lot of hard work goes a long way.  Or- with the democratization of access to customers that the internet can provide, anyone with a good enough idea can make it, if they know how to parley a single viral hit into a continuing business model.  In some ways, it is the death-knell of the old gallery system.  The customers are on-line, no one NEEDS a physical gallery now.  That sounds strange coming from me, as I have relationships with a couple galleries- but it's true.  I've seen so many new galleries pop up to take advantage of this new market though- they understand that people want good and accessible art- and that market is much larger than the normal 'gallery crowd' that can drop 10K on a painting.  It's become a much more dynamic and scrappy business out there, and it's very exciting.  At the same time, galleries who just grind pop-show after pop-show are going to burn out their audience pretty soon- there's only so many good group show ideas out there... It's one of the reasons I like SpokeArt so much- they have a smart balance in that regard. 

It would be hard to underestimate the importance of self promotion for many Staple! Exhibitors.  Your presence on the web is one of the keys to the success of Nakatomi Inc.  Everyone's style and audience is a little different but is there anything out there that you would suggest folks try or try to avoid?
Don't just bust up into a blog or message board to advertise your wares.  Make sure you understand the customs and the ins and outs of what a website's particular culture is before you start blasting away.  I've seen people flame out so fast on a few sites, it's stunning. Cultivate real relationships and connections online.
But let's back this up for a second- I meet so many great artists who don't work the social media.  I tell them they NEED to do it.  They usually say 'Oh, I hate Facebook/tumblr/twitter/whatever- I can't do it."  That's cute, I'm so glad you don't need all the free advertising and networking opportunities these sites provide.  Now, please step aside, I've got customers.  If you don't have a tumblr, a blog, a webstore, a facebook, a twitter feed- then you are most certainly going to be ignored. There's a select few artists who don't do this who are also successful- but unless you're as good as someone like Aaron Horkey, the world is not going to beat a path to your door.  So grow the fuck up and start Tumblr'ing like a 14 year old girl.  This might sound harsh, but I'm not telling you these things because I hate you (hypothetical artist I'm talking to right now)- I'm telling you these things because I want you to succeed.  Anyone who tells you different is a succubus who wants you to fail.  I'm on your side, and that's why I'm kicking you in the nuts.
Also- another hard lesson that I've had to learn within the last year or so- some people online will hate you if you're successful, and you need to now extricate yourself from all those great communities you used to interact with in your early days, because A-you've now outgrown them and B- there will now be people who just hate you and can't stop talking about it. It kills me to not defend myself regularly on a couple message boards, I can drop a troll hammer like the Odinson- but at some point, you're going to spend your whole day policing haters, and not be drawing. And, you'll now appear to be just as bad as the person you're fighting with- and the thing is- they're really happy you're fighting with them.  You are providing them entertainment, and all you're doing is getting an ulcer. As much as it pains me, I can no longer tell people online that I'm sorry I fucked their Mom last night.  The price of success, I guess.  
Also- never overestimate the importance of one particular website or community in regards to your art business.  It can be very important to cultivate a particular audience online, but if you find that you are only marketing and selling to that ONE audience, you've put all your eggs in one basket- and sometimes that basket is made of jerks that can't wait to hate on you.  It's a jerk-basket.  The smart thing to do is to go wide, not deep- get in front of as many people as possible- consignment shops are your friend.  AND- the people coming into those shops just want cool art- they don't give a crap about everything else that goes on in this crazy market.  THOSE are the people you really want.  Art collectors can be snobby and say that the people buying at craft fairs are just house-moms and they don't know anything about the market.  But you know what else house moms don't know?  They don't know to go on to the internet and call you an asshole all day.  And their money is just as green.  I'd take a legion of house-moms who want a drawing of Bill Murray over a volatile internet group any day.

Since October part of what I've been doing for Staple! is following and promoting confirmed exhibitors on social media.  Not feeding trolls, hijacking other peoples threads, and not let oneself get baited by haters is great advice.  I have noticed that there is a balancing act between too much sharing and coming across as robotic.  Also between jumping on every soap box and coming across as apolitical and apathetic.  How have you manged to strike a balance and how important do you think it is?
I really don't know how I've struck a balance, and I can't say that I actually have- I probably put too much of myself out there into the world, to be honest. But I guess the important thing is to be genuine.  If you're genuinely excited about a new release- it'll come across.  I don't have a PR firm working for me, I don't have an employee or intern working my twitter account- it's all me.  And I'd like to think that helps a bit.

I am guessing that ten years ago you were not expecting to have one man gallery shows on the West Coast while having your work headed to Off-Broadway.  In light of that, what are you expecting for the next act in your career?
Man, I have NO idea.  I've been getting more and more freelance gigs coming in, and I'm doing less and less personal projects- which is a good/bad thing really.   I'd like to scale back the outside work at some point and do more personal stuff, but that's just me talking without really planning.  So much of what I've done is just gut and intuition responding to situations in front of me- no real careful analysis at any time, so take anything I 'plan' to do with a grain of salt.

You've been part of the Austin scene for about a decade.  What has having access to retailers like Austin Books and Drangon's Layer and institutions like Sketch Group and Staple! had on your work?
I've actually never been to a sketch group meet-up, sadly.  It might have something to do with the fact that I draw only late at night in my underwear. I've never been much of a public artist in that regard.  I will say being in such a comic-book friendly town as Austin, with it's several world-class retailers has been amazing.  The community of creators in town is stunning.  I used to run a few comic book shops myself in Austin, back in the day- but I wouldn't call any of those world-class. But it was educational.  I can't really put a finger on anything in particular that being in Austin has influenced my work- but at the same time, I know that I wouldn't be doing it like I do if I hadn't moved to Austin back in '99. Something in the water, I guess. 

What impact do you see Nakatomi Inc. having on the Austin scene?
No idea. I'd hate to overestimate my importance, but at the same time- I know a lot of people view Austin as a silkscreen pop-art print capitol because of my work running Mondo and now Nakatomi.  I try not to think about it too much, though- that way leads to madness.  I also don't leave my house much, so it's easy to think you're some anonymous dude walking around HEB when I do get out.

Who are you looking forward to seeing at Staple! 2013?
The usual gang of friends that I've made over the years- Austin's got a really strong comic and creative community, but we all work in our own private studios and rarely get to see the sun, much less each other, really. So Staple! gives us a great, no excuses-reason to hang out. Love it.

What do you think of the resurgence of dark fantasy and monster comics and its representation at the expo with guests and exhibitors like Bernie Wrightson, Steve Niles, Cody Schibi, Fabian Rangel Jr, Jeremy The Artist, Jon David Guerra, Mark Nasso and Paul Hanley to name a few? Not to mention Nakatomi Inc members James O’Barr and Robert Wilson IV.
Well, I do love me some Hellboy and BPRD- so I'm all for it!  Bernie's just signed on to do some prints with us, so that's a big deal for me- I've always been a fan of his work, and now we get to work together.  I'm always surprised by how approachable these people really are.  

In closing what can you tell people to expect from you and the Nakatomi gang at Staple 2013?
We'll be there with our display of prints that are in-print- a lot of stuff not available on our site, and what not.  I'm hoping to have some cool new exclusives and pre-releases as well!

Mr Doyle's work is for at  Archives of his work can be browsed at and on  tumblr at  He updates the Nakatomi Facebook page pretty regularly and tweets under the hashtag @NakatomiTim.

No comments: