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Artist spotlight: Luke Healy

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There are many talented artists in the world who are little appreciated despite their awe-inspiring abilities. Noting the lack of outlets for up-and-coming, underground, or outside artists to showcase their work, I decided to start an “Artist Spotlight” series where I will interview various artists in order to gain a deeper insight into what inspires their creativity and what they plan to do with their careers.

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Cartoonist and illustrator Luke Healy is the first artist who agreed to be interviewed for this series. Born, bred and still residing in Ireland, Luke Healy graduated from Dublin City University with a degree in journalism. He later went on to earn an MFA in cartooning from The Center of Cartoon Studies. In 2014, he won a MoCCA fest Award of Excellence from the Society of Illustrators for his comic titled Of the Monstrous Pictures of Whales. Additionally, Luke is a co-founder of a comic publication called the “Dog City Press.”

Recently, I interviewed Luke about his experiences in the field of illustration:

Q: What influenced you to become a cartoonist?

I never really read comics as a child, just the occasional one here or there, but I was always interested in both writing and drawing. In school, I had a friend who made a webcomic, and I was sort of introduced to that world through him. I always wanted to write novels, so I was usually working on some short story or other. About the time I was graduating secondary school here in Ireland, I rediscovered webcomics. One day I just decided to start drawing my own little gags and posting them online. They were completely terrible rip-offs of this webcomic called Dreden Codak, but I got a good response to them from friends.

I sort of became known as a "comics guy", so people starting giving me "graphic novels" as gifts for birthdays and Christmases. I got books like Maus and Persepolis, and that's what sparked my interest in doing longer book-like stories. It was a cool realisation, because at the time I was only doing these short gag-style comics, which I enjoyed a lot, but I was also still writing short stories, which was starting to feel stale to me. Marrying the two was a big turning point, because it meant I was producing better work, and I was enjoying myself more.

At this time, I was getting my undergraduate degree in Journalism, which I hated, so I started to look around online to see if there was a comics related degree program anywhere that I could transfer into. That's how I found The Center for Cartoon Studies in Vermont. They offer an MFA in Cartooning, so I needed to complete my undergraduate degree before I could apply. I used the last two years of my journalism degree to make as many comics as possible, because I wanted to come to The Center for Cartoon Studies (CCS) with my work in really good shape. After I finished my undergraduate degree, I packed up and moved to Vermont for two years to study comics.

Then at CCS, my work completely underwent a transformation. I had access to hundreds of comic books from CCS' Schulz Library (named for Peanuts creator Charles Schulz), and I was surrounded by people who were as passionate about comics as I am. I just graduated in May, and I'm excited to see where I can push my work to next.

Q: In terms of subject matter, what are your cartoons about and what inspired the ideas for them?

When starting any comic, I have two goals: I want it to be really funny, and I want it to be really sad. Usually my comics are about human drama, as I find these kinds of stories make me the most emotional. Often my work examines family relationships, the process of ageing, and how people grow apart or come together over time.

I try to write in snappy dialogue, and big emotional moments to keep the work engaging, and to help avoid navel gazing. Basically, I try to rip off Gilmore Girls as much as legally possible.

Q: As far as working in comics and illustration, what has been your most rewarding experience so far?

Winning the prize at MoCCA was a pretty big moment for me, even though I missed the ceremony! So often in this industry, it can feel like you're just throwing work into a vacuum, so to have industry professionals read my work and acknowledge it with an award, was pretty unbelievable. And part of the award was getting to exhibit pages at The Society of Illustrators in New York. My parents just happened to be visiting from Ireland when the show was on, and getting to show them my work on display in a gallery in New York was a huge deal.

Graduating from CCS was also big. In the second year of the program you have to work all year on a thesis project, and at then end you meet with a review board to discuss your work, and find out if you passed or not. Getting a positive response to a year's worth of work from my teachers was one of the best experiences I've ever had.

I've been making comics for 5 years now, and every year there are new milestones to remember when you're having a bad career day. Winning a prize, or meeting with a publisher, or graduating from school, or getting to illustrate the cover for a magazine, or hell, being followed on twitter by a cartoonist I admire.

But by far the most rewarding thing for me is just getting to work on comics. Nothing makes me happier than getting to sit down at a desk and write, or draw, or colour, or staple a book together. I love it. All of it.

Q: How has MoCCA helped your career?

I think MoCCA put me on people's radars more than anything else. I can't say I've gotten any work directly from the festival, but the awards got written up on a couple of comics news sites, and a few really cool industry people have reached out to me privately since. I feel like there are a few eyes on me for when I release my next comic, which is equally exciting and terrifying.

Q: What are your ultimate goals for the future?

It's hard to say what my ultimate goals are. I have so many things I'd like to pursue. I'd love to work in publishing, or possibly go into animation, and I often think about trying to write for TV or film. Those are big picture things, though. Right now I'm mostly trying to find my footing.

My next big goal is to publish a book-length comic with a publisher. I've been working on a comic for the past twelve months, and it's just getting to the stage where I'm feeling confident about showing it to publishers and agents, etc. Right now I'm also working with some other cartoonists on a few small press projects, and I am happy to say that these are all going well, and I should have some cool comics to show for it soon.

Q: Are there any up and coming projects that you would like to mention?

Right now, the big thing I'm working on is a book called "How to Survive in the North." It tells the true stories of Arctic castaways Ada Blackjack and Robert Bartlett, alongside the fictional story of a disgraced college professor. This has been a really amazing project to work on. I've never done any non-fiction comics before, so researching these true stories was mostly a new experience for me. Putting my journalism degree to work, I suppose.

In a crazy stroke of luck, CCS was located right beside Dartmouth College in New Hampshire, which has a massive collection of primary documents relating to the two expeditions in the book. I got to read through century-old diaries, newspapers and magazines detailing the events of these incredible people's lives. As part of their collection, they had Ada Blackjack's actual diary that she kept while she was marooned on an Arctic island. It was written on the back of a booklet of photo-supply order forms, falling apart, and I was allowed to just pick it up and read through it. It was unbelievable. And totally historically important. It's the earliest known English language diary written by an Alaskan Native. There's a great book about her life written by an author named Jennifer Niven that I highly recommend.

I'm also working on short stories for a bunch of small press anthologies. I'm making a short story about a teen pop-star for an anthology that I co-edit called Dog City. Our second issue was written up here on The Comics Journal. I'm also working on a short story about a doomsday cult called "Mountain, Take Me" for an anthology called Irene. Lastly, I'm starting a three part sci-fi series about personal trainers in the future for an anthology called Maple Key Comics. These should all be out in September and October.

I'm also working as a freelance illustrator, which I love!

Q: Can you tell me more about the Dog City Press that you co-founded?

I co-founded Dog City Press on Valentine’s Day 2013 with two of my classmates from CCS, Juan Fernandez and Simon Reinhardt. We've published a few comics of our own under the Dog City Press banner, my comic LCD for example, but our main focus has been publishing a unique comic anthology the titular Dog City.

Each issue of Dog City consists of a collection of artfully produced, hand-made mini-comics packaged together in a custom printed cardboard box. So far we've worked with more than thirty cartoonists, who contributed mini-comics to the past issues and issue 3, which we're currently working on.

Each issue was hand crafted by Juan, Simon and I. We like to include highly produced comics in the box, so we screen printed the covers for each comic, posters, tissue paper to wrap the package in, and the box itself. At this stage we've probably screen-printed over 3,000 items, many with multiple layers of ink. Making each issue takes months, not including the time it takes the artists to make all of the content in the first place. It's truly a labor of love!

We released the first issue in May of 2013, and it was pretty well received, although since making each box is so labor-intensive and expensive, we had to make a small print run, which sold out quickly. For the second issue, we doubled the size of our print run to 100 copies, and debuted the box at the annual Small Press Expo in September of 2013. That's the issue which was reviewed in The Comics Journal. In both of those issues we got to work with some amazing cartoonists like Jon Chad, Connor Willumsen, and the legendary Steve Bissette.

Currently we're working with an exciting new group of artists to put together our third issue. We'll be launching it at an event in September, and we'll be revealing the contributors in the coming few weeks on our website.

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www.dogcitypress.com

To find out more about Luke’s artwork visit his official website:
http://lukewhealy.com/

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