Ever want to punch your friend in the arm and hug them at the same time? That's how I felt when I found out Dan Blouin was so talented. I'd known him for almost a year before I inadvertently discovered his comic strip online. I couldn't believe such talent had been sitting there under my nose for so long. Since I don't want you to have to wait as long as I did, behold Dan's work here, and read on to hear some clever and insightful thoughts about the inner workings of a comic artist. How do you define creativity? Creativity is a thought process, right? It's the fire that keeps you moving from project to project and gives life to your ideas, but that's the real goo at the center of the Creativity Cadbury Egg - having the ideas is just the first step. It's taking those thoughts and ideas and bringing them to a place where other people can share them. It's making things, creating. So, how do I personally define creativity? It's very much this sort of white whale. I find myself constantly coming up with ideas, but very rarely do I see them through to completion. Throughout my creative existence, the Comic Book Dude and Vegetarian Girl comic strip is one of the only things that I've managed to both produce as a complete thought, and then maintain. Even this answer is sort of an unfinished thought. But is it creative? That's for the folks at home to decide or.. define?
How did you get into drawing comics? Ever since I was a kid, I loved reading comics. And you always try to do the things you love, right? Even if you're not great at it. But you keep on keepin' on. Eventually I was in a position to produce a comics section for my college newspaper. Content was not abundant, and so I often had to cobble things together just to make the section look full. Some things clearly had more effort put into them than others. One of those things became Comic Book Dude & Vegetarian Girl. I've had several other start-up projects over the years that have competed with CBD&VG for my time, but nothing really took off the way this did.
Tell me more about Comic Book Dude and Vegetarian Girl. Basically, it's a semi-autobiographical series about a bunch of awkward twenty-somethings, who, in the start of the series, all have serious character flaws, and are kind of lousy-people. But over the course of things, rude awakenings happen, as well as general silliness, and they start to realize that the misconceptions and prejudices they were harboring are incredibly unjustified, and everybody gets all close and cozy. It's really not anywhere near as sappy as I just made it sound. In some ways, they're still flawed, horrible people - just not towards each other. In other ways, they're just like people you know. Who love vegetables. And comics. Oh, and this series is FILTHY with hidden references to various comics, movies, books, TV shows, really, everything that I love. But mostly comics. There's also a talking goat.
Do you draw, ink, and write all of your work? I do if I can help it. I don't think I'm a very good collaborator, with a few notable exceptions. This series in particular started out as a one-man show. But my good friend Jessica (the real life Vegetarian Girl, for the trivia nuts out there) became so involved in the planning and plotting stages of things, that we decided she should try her hand at writing, and so, for much of the series, I took a back seat to the actual dialogue side of things, leaving the characters in her more-than-capable hands. I've since gone back to being a solo act, but I'd welcome her help in a second if she wanted to give it. On the illustration side of things, I've always worked alone. This strip began as something I'd pound out during class with a Sharpie, getting it ready at the last-minute before the newspaper went into production. I didn't really intend on working on it ten years later, so the early installments are very primitive. These days, the entire thing is produced in Photoshop- all the “pencilling” and “inking” is done with a tablet.
Where do you find inspiration for the themes and content of the comics? CBD&VG is a big love letter to everything that's important to me - my friends, my family, major life experiences (good or bad), the creators and tasty pop culture bits that have shaped my mind and personality over the years. It's all represented in one form or another. Specifically, the three main characters are all based on close friends, combined with pieces of me. All of the jobs Vegetarian Girl has had were my jobs, and very soon they're going to find themselves as the owners of a small-town bookstore, which is where I've been working for about 3 years now. It's always easy to tell when there's a new element in my life - be it a new friend or acquaintance, or maybe I've discovered a new television show - because I'll totally find a way to bring it into the strip. I mentioned that I've been working on this for about ten years. I've grown as a person since coming up with the idea, and I'd hope that my characters have grown, too. I'm in my early thirties, and people around me are getting married, having kids. The spaces between our lives are getting wider, and I feel like soon, that's the sort of thing that should be reflected in my strip.
Daily habits or practices? Hmmm. Not as much. I try to work on it for at least an hour a day. Sometimes that means breaking down the panels, sometimes it means working on the finished art. Lately, it means writing. But this is the white whale I mentioned earlier, I don't work on it anywhere near as much as I'd like to in a week. I try to compensate by organizing my thoughts when I'm at work, or about to fall asleep. I can be a pretty spacey guy.
Favorite artists? For comics? All time favorites are Jack Kirby, John Romita Jr., Kevin Eastman, and Bill Watterson. No question, they've had the biggest influence on my individual comickin' style. For newer favorites- I'm really digging guys like Stuart Immonen, Ross Campbell, and Olivier Coipel. If you like comics, or comic art, and DON'T know who those dudes are, I highly suggest looking them up. And Emma Rios, too. She's wonderful. For non-comic artists? Jim Henson. What a guy.
Advice for aspiring comic artists? Draw A LOT. Read A LOT. The most important thing to remember about comics, (to me, anyway), is that it's a form of storytelling. It's awesome if the pictures are pretty, but really, if you're sacrificing a coherent narrative for fancy illustrations, then you're probably not going to be happy with it when you're done. And no one will want to read it. If you really want to draw comics try drawing storyboards for a movie, or a play. Even if it's something you've already seen or read. The goal should be to understand what's going on, even without dialogue. Also, don't be afraid of publishing your own stuff on the internet. It's what all the cool kids are doing these days. I'd like to say it worked for me, but I'm just getting started.
Dan Blouin is a 31-year-old comic artist who lives in Rhode Island with his cat. He's won the 82nd annual local Farmer's Market award for “Most Tomato-like Head”, drives the only car on Earth that runs on love, has bungee jumped from the moon, and is a liar. He's about to complete his 100th comic, and can be found online right here.