Interview: Joe Eisma on Dummy’s Guide to Danger vol 2

I recently spoke with Joe Eisma, the artist on the upcoming comic A Dummy’s Guide to Danger: Lost at Sea. In this interview, we discuss everything from how he got into comics to details regarding the new miniseries from Viper Comics.

Clint Page: You have a pretty interesting career up to this point. So far, you’ve worked in TV, video games and now comics. What’s it like to be the envy of just about every male from the age of 12 to 35?

Joe Eisma: I also worked in the newspaper industry for awhile! You could say I have career ADD. I wouldn’t necessarily think I’m the envy of most people – I have my own share of stresses and commitments that go along with my work, just like in any job. Doing work in the creative industries that I’ve worked in has been difficult, with a lot of passionate personalities, deadlines and busy schedules, but overall it’s been the most rewarding. And I’m at the point now where I can work from home in my pajamas if I want.

Clint Page: How long have you been a comic fan, and what series do you follow? You’re not one of those creator types who’s too busy to actually keep up with what’s going on, are you?

Joe Eisma: I’m 29, and I was buying comics since before I could read, at age 3. The first books I got at an old Safeway grocery store were the Marvel Star Wars comics. I loved the “purty pictures.” It was love at first sight for comics and me.

I don’t make it to the comic shop as often as I’d like anymore, but I do indeed keep up with what’s going on. I love Captain America, Mighty Avengers, Local and Exiles. I buy mostly trades now, collecting mostly independent graphic novels and trades of classic comics.

Clint Page: Are there any titles or characters that make you succumb to the classic fanboy syndrome? I myself am a Spider-Man fanboy, and I’m just so depressed with the recent Marvel modifications to the character.

Joe Eisma: I’m a big X-Men fanboy. I started buying Uncanny X-men regularly in 1986 and have kept up with it ever since. That’s my all-time favorite series and the brass ring as far as my career is concerned. I don’t follow the X-line very closely today as I’m not really digging the stories, but change is so constant with those characters, I’m sure I’ll jump back in soon.

Clint Page: Your new comic that’s coming out is titled A Dummy’s Guide to Danger: Lost at Sea. It’s actually a sequel to A Dummy’s Guide to Danger that came out in 2006. Is this your first outing as a comic artist, and how exactly did you get the gig?

Joe Eisma: Yes, this is my first published work. I had kind of given up on pursuing comics as a career halfway through high school and after I finished my graduate studies, I dusted off my comic drawing skills. I started a few comics that ended up going nowhere and Dummy’s Guide writer and Viper Comics’ Assistant Publisher, Jason Burns, found my gallery on MySpace. I did some tryout designs and the rest, they say, is history.

Clint Page: Did you have to adapt your style to fit Ron Chan’s art from the first miniseries, or was one of the reasons why you got the assignment because your art is somewhat similar?

Joe Eisma: Yeah, Viper wanted to keep a certain stylistic continuity to the new series, and my style is slightly similar to Ron’s, so that was indeed a factor in me getting the job.

Clint Page: The basic concept of the first miniseries, and I assume the second, is that there are two private investigators by the name of Alan Sirois and Mr. Bloomberg who kind of get sucked into solving these series of murders. The catch is that Mr. Bloomberg is a ventriloquist’s dummy who Alan thinks is simply a paralyzed man. Given both that this is a mystery/crime book with some obvious humor thrown in the mix, did that affect the way you went about the art?

Joe Eisma: It did – I had to pay careful attention to storytelling and the expressions on characters’ faces. It was easy with Mr. Bloomberg – he always has the same look on his face; the fun was putting him and Alan in hilarious situations. Having other characters react to this guy with a ventriloquist dummy was an important and fun aspect to draw in this book.

Clint Page: How much free room did you have to wiggle around in to come up with some of these comical scenarios? Did Jason supply you with fine details, or did you interpret more of what was needed in each scene to give it the right twist?

Joe Eisma: Jason wrote some pretty bizarre and hilarious scenarios that were a blast to translate into a comic page. In particular, the underwear sequence of issue 2. But I did have freedom to suggest things I thought would be funny and set up scenes for maximum comic effect.

Clint Page: You guys seem to make a great team in that regard. I think the style you use for this book works really well when you throw humor into the mix. For anyone who hasn’t seen any of the artwork, you employ the more cartoony style that I’m a fan of. Is this the main style you use, or do you have other techniques? I sometimes hear about other artists who have multiple styles, but usually most have only one that you recognize.

Joe Eisma: Yeah, we gel really well together. So much so that we’re re-teaming on the current project I’m on, which is a complete 180 from Dummy’s Guide in terms of style and story. But, to answer your question, I pretty much have one style, which is based on reality but with a stylized, almost cartoony look that you pointed out. I was able to play up the more comical aspects of this style in Dummy, but it’s more in check in my current project. That one is more of a serious story, so the art reflects that.

Clint Page: Since you do all of your work for video games digitally, you adopted that same method with your comic work. As of right now, most comic book artists still draw on paper versus doing it all on the computer, correct?

Joe Eisma: That’s correct. I use a Wacom tablet for 99% of my artwork. It’s just easier that way, since I do work digitally in games, and that I’m a lefty – there’s no paper to smudge on a tablet! A lot of artists in the industry are moving digital; Brian Denham and Clayton Crain spring to mind. It allows for a lot of precise control and manipulation of the page and you don’t have to scan anything in. I finish a page and upload it to my publisher and then it’s on to the next one. I should say that I did all my comics the traditional way for years, honing my skills before going all digital a few years ago.

Clint Page: When you’re creating what all the various characters look like, where do you draw inspiration from? This is something I find pretty fascinating and I wish I could find out from all artists.

Joe Eisma: A lot of the time, a writer will have a specific actor in mind for the “part” of a character in a comic. So in those cases, I’ll design characters based on certain actors. In other instances, I design characters based on friends or people I’ve known throughout my life.

Clint Page: Is there anyone of note who you’re modeling any characters after in this series?

Joe Eisma: Ha ha. I did in fact model one poor unfortunate character in Dummy’s Guide after Mr. Clint Page. I say “unfortunate” because the character ends up a victim of the series’ madman. Writer Jason Burns and I also put in appearances as victims of said madman. And the cruise ship owner in the series is based on my old neighbor in my hometown. Other cameos are based on celebrities, and I promise a free head sketch this convention season to anyone who correctly guesses the celebrity first try.

Clint Page: Ha! Sucks to be Mr. Page in your comic! Wait a second… You heard it here, folks, if you can’t stand how I reviewed a previous comic, here’s your chance to see me take one for the team!

After this series is completed, what other comics will you have coming out?

Joe Eisma: I have a 96-page graphic novel coming out in July that I can’t say too much about. But it’s the one I’m collaborating with Jason Burns on. We also are shopping around a superhero farce that we came up with. After all that, who knows what’s next. Probably a vacation!

Joe Eisma is the artist on the series A Dummy’s Guide to Danger: Lost at Sea, which arrives in stores March 2008. The diamond order code is JAN08 3950.

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