Dan Fraga is an artist and creator who turned me on to the book The War of Art by Steven Pressfield a couple of years ago when he was doing a project of his own called The Graves. He said it was ‘a life changer if you heed the words’ and he was right.
What inspires you to create and keeps you going?
Life and amazing content from other creators inspire me. Music, drawing, painting, and storytelling in their infinite forms. What motivates me and keeps me going is compulsion. I can’t not create. I get really anxious when I’m not able to get what’s inside of me, out. Like a shook up bottle of champagne.
Do you have a set routine?
I don’t have a set routine, per se. I have tools that I like, materials that I prefer. I’m an avid tester of as many varieties of a tool as I can, then arrive at the one I like best, then stick with it. The only real routine I have is that I like to draw and paint with music on in the background. Miles of Miles by Miles Davis is on heavy rotation.
What kind of output do you try to achieve?
It all depends if it’s for a job or for my own musings. For a job, I aim to get the job done on time. For my own stuff, if it’s a project like The Grave or a mixtape, I set a deadline for myself using the variables of my regular day to get things done. The Grave was a story I wanted to tell. I only really have about 2 hours a day to do anything for myself. Usually from 4:30-6:30 in the morning. I knew I could draw a panel a day with that time. I gave myself a year to draw it. If I’m in learning mode, where I’m teaching myself new techniques, I try to fit in drawing where I can. Meetings, napkins in a restaurant…etc.
What inspires you WHEN you create? Music? Noise? Silence?
Music. Miles Davis and a playlist that I made with music from 1988-1989. I like Miles’ vibe. The 88-89 playlist gets me in the drawing mood because in 1989 when I was 16 or so, I was grinding as hard as I could to become a professional comic artist. The hunger was most intense then. That playlist instantly gets me in that mode. It’s pretty magical.
Who was the first comic book creator that influenced you to pursue this?
Frank Miller. The cover of The Dark Knight Returns #2. You know the one. Batman looking super grizzled. I’d never seen anything like it in my 13 years. I was used to the slick Neal Adams Batman that’d you see on pajamas. Frank’s Batman looked like a tank that had driven through the apocalypse. It shook me to my core. I remember buying it off the stands and immediately showing it to my grandpa (he taught me how to draw when I was a kid) After Frank, it was John Byrne, Rick Leonardi, Arthur Adams, Walt Simonson, then McFarlane, Liefeld, and Lee. After that, I started breaking artists down and finding out who they were comprised of and learned about Neal Adams, Kevin Nolan, Barry Smith, Bernie Wrightson, Kirby, and Frazetta.
When did you realize you could follow this path yourself?
Once I found out it was an actual job to draw comics, it became my sole focus in life. I knew I wanted to draw for a living since I was 11, but it wasn’t until I was 13 or so that I realized comics was drawing job I wanted.
What do you find to be a challenge in creating?
My biggest enemy/challenge is time. Like I said, I feel like a shook-up bottle of champagne. Bubble effervescing, waiting for that cork to pop. I do a lot of my conceptualizing in my head while I drive to and from work. (I have a 3-hour commute) I jot down ideas when and where I can. There simply isn’t enough time to do all of the things I’d like to, creatively. Second, is the inability to capture what’s in my head 100%. There’s usually a compromise somewhere. This usually is what motivates me to get better.
What else do you have to learn?
Everything. Everyday. I’d like to be a better writer, a better illustrates, a better painter, a better musician. Until the day I die, I will constantly strive to learn.
What keeps you motivated to get better?
Knowing that I’ve got loads of things to learn. Wanting to be as good as my tastes are. It’s a rare thing when I’m impressed or happy with something I’ve done. Even if someone tells me that something I’ve done is great, or that I’m great, I know that I’ve got tons of work to do before I can give myself those kind of compliments.
Can you turn your brain (creativity) off (and on)?
What advice do you have for aspiring creators?
Emulation can be a good step, when you’re first starting out. It means that you’ve got good taste and want your own work to make you feel the way the work you’re emulating does. Try not to live on that step for too long. Go from asking how to why. From there, start making your own decisions on how things should look or feel. You will find that it’s a bit more satisfying. Always aim to beat your last result. You will have guaranteed growth. Always be observant and actively take note of what you see.
Do you ever worry about running out of ideas?
I don’t. I’ve been blessed with a childhood and experiences that have had me in my head, creating non-stop. I have no worries in that department.
How do you handle the slow times?
I can only speak on the slow time when I was drawing in the comics industry. The last full issue of a comic that I had on stands was in 2002. Since then, I’ve been blessed in my work to not have any slow times. In comics, (this was pre social media) I would get anxious, send emails to editors telling them I was available. I don’t miss that part of comics. Of course back then, I didn’t have the best reputation as far as making deadlines. I could only realistically get 4 pages done in a week. Once I was out of comics, working as a board artist, I saw an opportunity to create a new reputation. Since then, I’ve never missed a deadline. An effect of that was a continuous stream of work, and job evolution, to now where I’m directing cartoons for Mattel.
How do you feel about the industry?
I have no idea about the current state of the comics industry because it doesn’t resemble the one I used to work in. I’ve been out of comics for 15 years. I’m glad that it’s still an industry.
What would you say is your crowning achievement thus far?
In comics, I guess I’d say breaking into the business fresh out of high school and being part of the Image comics revolution since day one. In life, my crowning achievement would definitely be my 3 kids.
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