Indie Insider: Interviewing Chris Houghton
This week I had the pleasure of interviewing Chris Houghton, Co-creator of the bear-riding cowboy comic known as Reed Gunther. We shot the breeze and talked about working with family, the process behind making the comic, tips for Indie comic creators and so much more! So saddle up cowpokes, you are in for a ride!
For those new to your work, tell us a little bit about yourself Chris!
Well, I’m a cartoonist who has worked in children’s video games, TV animation, and comics. If people know of my work, it’s probably because of the Image comic book series that I’ve created with my brother Shane, titled, REED GUNTHER.
What is Reed Gunther about?
Reed Gunther is an adventure/comedy series about a bear-riding cowboy, his trusty stead and best friend, Sterling, and his machete-wielding gal-pal, Starla. The three of them search the wild west for adventure and monsters. They’re always willing to help out folks, especially if there’s a bit of money involved.
I have to ask, where did the idea of a bear-riding cowboy come from?
The idea started as most ideas do, just from little sketches done here and there. At the time, I was working as an illustrator in a T-shirt printing shop and would doodle on my free time. I drew a few pages of this bear-riding cowboy but it wasn’t anything great. Shane later was interested in the characters and breathed new life into them. Now, with the two of us, it’s turned into something completely different and fun!
My brother and I fantasized about making comics, but our personalities got in the way of that ever happening. How did you and your brother Shane make it work without killing each other?
Haha, yeah, we get asked that a lot! I don’t know. Shane and I have worked well together since we were in High School. We were in many theater productions together, we were in band together, and we’ve worked on films and art projects together. I think what helps us is what helps any two partners: we’re both equally committed to whatever project we’re working on. We compliment each other. We have different skills and we both have a mutual respect for each others skills. Plus, we know when to get out of each other’s way!
Give us a glimpse behind the scene, what’s the process you and Shane go through to get the comedic gems we keep seeing in each issue.
1.) We like to talk about each issue’s story in a broad sense. Shane will usually summarize the story he’s thinking about and I’ll give my 2 cents, if it’s even needed. Sometimes, I’ll suggest a type of monster or location I’d like to see in a future issue. Shane then hands me an elaborate script.
2.) Seriously, his scripts are descriptive, helpful, and hilarious. As I read the script, I get super pumped about drawing that issue. Shane “sells” me on it. Then I do designs for new locations and monsters and go over them with him. Then it’s a matter of figuring out the right pacing for the story, thumbnailing out the script and eventually penciling it.
3.) I focus on selling the gags Shane has written in and I try to get the most appropriate acting out of the characters for each scene. After penciling, the hard part is done and I ink the issue. Then it’s a matter of sending the issue to our buddy, Jose Flores, to add color flats. Next, the issue gets sent to Josh Ulrich, to be colored. We send Josh the script for that issue and try to explain a bit of what we’d like to see out of the colors.
4.) But really, Josh makes it his own and really sells the colors. He’s spectacular. After that it goes back to Shane so that he can tweak the dialoge depending on what I’ve drawn for each panel. As we go along, things are always getting tweaked and edited, hopefully for the best. Then it goes out to Image, and finally the comic stands!
Lots of independent comic creators would love to be in your shoes. How did you get a publisher like Image Comics to believe in your vision and publish your work?
Eric Stephenson (the publisher at Image Comics) was the main driving force behind us getting picked up by Image. He saw it and gave us the “OK” and we couldn’t be happier. I can’t speak for Eric or the people at Image but I think it helps to be making and drawing the comic already, before proposing it to Image (or any publisher). We would’ve kept making Reed Gunther regardless of Image’s decision to pick us up. I also think it helps that we constantly throw ourselves into our comic. And when we decided to pitch it to comic book companies, we threw ourselves into that process as well by mailing out elaborate pitch packages.
It’s hard sometimes to find a good “All Age” comic. Was it difficult making Reed Gunther something that both parents and their children could enjoy?
Not really. The “all-ages” title was never something we were trying to hit. That’s just what we do best. The “all-ages” title is not something that the comic book industry supports very well.
In your experience do you believe it’s tough for Independent Comic creators to tap into the mainstream comics audience?
Yeah, it is hard. The mainstream comic book audience reads mainstream comics! They usually like superheros and so it’s hard sometimes to convince them to branch out. Although, I know plenty who do and usually when someone new to Image books (or Dark Horse, ONI, etc.) does check them out, they really like them. But more so than the superhero fans, it’s hard to convince the adult audience to read a book like Reed Gunther. It’s drawn in a friendly, cartoony style and that usually carries a stigma of being for kids. And that’s just a stereotype we need to work against.
A little birdie told me about a Han Solo/Chewie comic you and your brother worked on. Can you tell us more?
Oh yeah! Shane and I were asked to pitch a few Star Wars graphic novels to Dark Horse. We put together a bunch of pitch material including sample pages and character designs. Dark Horse ended up passing on the pitches but perhaps they’ll change their minds some day. We’d love to play in the Star Wars universe sometime.
Hopefully the fans reading this will mention it to Dark Horse so that we can see it happen!
Are there any convention or events fans can find you at this year?
Definitely! Shane and I are still planning out our convention schedule but I know for sure we’ll be at the Image Expo on Feb. 24-26th, Wonder Con in LA on March 16-18, Long Beach Comic Con on May 12th, Kids Read Comics in Ann Arbor, MI on July 7 & 8, and probably the San Diego Comic Con in July. We’re all over the place so stop by and see us sometime!
Enjoy any cool independent comics lately?
Plenty! Right now I’m loving Chew, Mudman, Usagi Yojimbo, Lil’ Depressed Boy, The Crogan Adventures, The Mighty Skullboy Army, The Goon, and many more. I love reading the Spongebob and Simpsons comics from Bongo too. I also love anything Jordi Bernet or Guy Davis draws. There’s so much good stuff out there right now.
Do you have any last words?
Haha, ummm… read more comics! It’s good fer ya!