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Independent Comic Artist Spotlight: James L. Dyar

Images from James Dyar's all-ages comic Grin-n-Spirit.
Images from James Dyar's all-ages comic Grin-n-Spirit.
Copyright 2004-2012 James L. Dyar. All rights reserved.

One great thing I love about being personally involved in the comics industry is that I know of so many extremely talented artists. Factoid: Marvel and DC Comics are the leading comic book publishers, followed by Image Comics, Dark Horse Comics, and IDW Publishing, founded in the 1980s and 1990s. Entrance into the inner cabal of these companies can be difficult, as even the best of the best can confirm. The comics industry has its own challenges, as does any other, but the rise of technology and the internet has made it possible for many artists to forge their own destinies.

Maine cartoonist James L. Dyar created his comic Grin-n-Spirit during his ghost hunter days as a sort of hypothetical "What-if": such as that everybody else could see these ghosts, and what if they had a much bigger agenda of business on our planet? Who would deal with them?

Jim's all-ages comic might put off the comic connoisseur at first glance. This is a comic that was created by an artist that at one time had TWO broken wrists. I happen to like it, and I've watched it evolve into its own distinct style over the last couple years. But you don't have to dig deeper--before you've read halfway through, it's the humor, the drama, just the darn good story behind the art that seizes your fancy and won't let go. Follow the adventures of Ial Ghestral, known as the GhostRunner, and his friends as they keep the cosmic balance in the afterlife and make the world safer for the rest of us.

Jim gave me some insights about Stephen King's wife that we really can't share in this article. For my own part, I might suggest that she's that way because she's sick of you tourists peeking over her fence...

Interview Questions:

1. Could you introduce yourself for the readers, and tell us about your work?
My name is Jim Dyar, I’m a ghost hunter, armchair scientist, and the cartoonist who created the completely un-biographical web comic known as Grin-N-Spirit.

2. What drew you to creating comics?
Well I’ve been drawing since I was 4 years old. The discovery of art paper has really improved my work. Since then my mom could stop repainting the living room.

3. Who or what are your artistic and comic-making influences?
I’ve found inspiration everywhere from Sergio Aragones to Romiko Takahashi. That’s a broad
spectrum, to be sure. Although it was Howard Taylor and Mark Mekkes, that finally got me to give up the dead tree aspirations..

4. What were your prior experiences/training that led up to your making a career out of comics?
To be honest, nothing formal. I’ve learned most of my skills from actually doing other things. I have a rather eclectic mindset and I discovered years ago that to get the best out of it, I needed to approach life the same way.

5. Where do you plan to take your series next?
To the ends of existence. GNS is a story about redemption. That the worst people aren’t always that way for the reasons you think. That there are people out there who want to help and want nothing more in return. And that life is cyclic and salvation is sometimes a matter of waiting for it to come around again.

6. What remains as the biggest hurdle to Independent comic creators in the digital age?
Being taken seriously. A lot of it is our own fault. There’s a lot of web comics that simply up and disappear.
As for the rest? Ever tell someone you’re a writer and they immediately ask “what do you really do for a living?” Yep it’s exactly like that . No one ever took “moonies” seriously before we shot a rocket to the moon either.
Sometimes it takes blazing a trail.

7. How has the rise of web-based comics impacted the industry?
“Small but mighty,” is a catch phrase an old boss of mine used to use to describe the decentralization of a number of industries. Taking the power from the few and placing it in the hands of the many has allowed many different businesses to flourish.

8. Has your comic ever been compared with existing movie/books/comic/fictions by your audience? If yes, could you tell us a bit about it?
I had someone compare it to a military nuke training movie once. Didn’t know where to go with that, but I appreciated the comment anyway.

9. When it comes to your own strips, which of them have gotten the most comments from your readers? What is special about the strip or comic?
People seem to love Nora stepping out of her good girl persona and embrace her wicked side. Like when she takes Ghost on a conversational joyride, and dumps him back at his starting point even less certain than when he started. People tell me they like the fact I show a good girl that isn’t above playing dirty to get and keep her man.

10. Is there a particular genre you haven't tried before that you think you'd like to get into?
Nope. I wouldn’t do non-fiction any more than Hemingway would write “plan 9 from outer space.” The only way I’d do “remains of the day” is if I was allowed to set the charges.

11. Could you list down your top 3 favorite webcomics? Tell us briefly why do you recommend them?
Sure, Schlock Mercenary- Powerful epic science fiction in a cartoon. Ready and available for the masses Battle Gate/ Flux Destiny- with all the charm Chris Moujaes can flog out of an art pad. Dominic Deegan- and I’m laughing, and I’m laughing, and OMG there’s a plot!!

12. Besides comics, do you have other creative works (written novel/blog/tutorials/etc) published online?
Yep I do a comic called teddy bear network as well. I also have a bit of a dark secret. When everyone was taking the national writing month challenge and writing a 50,000 word novel in one month, I too rose to the challenge.
I wrote a six page short story titled “A bed time story for children to lose sleep over.” I think this is a great example of how far I’ll go to be the best.

13. What is the worst mistake a webcomic author would make? Any inspiring advice to budding artists out there?
Hiatus = Bad! I can’t stress this enough. Taking a holiday is acceptable. Sickness and writers block too. I’ve had to do upgrades as well. these things can’t be avoided, and the vast majority of your fan base will understand if you sit down and explain it to them, give them a reasonable time line, and FOLLOW THROUGH. The reward for following your chicken scratching shouldn’t be you falling off the face of the earth before ending the story line.

14. Is there anything else you want to share with our readers?

I used to consider myself a graphic artist until I sat down and thought out the truth. The truth is people appreciate great works of art, but they go home and read the comics. In light of that I changed the title to cartoonist and once outside that box, I found the freedom to take my story to new heights. As Stephen King once said “I am the literary equivalent of a big mac and fries.” At the end of the day I bring comfort food to the spirit of the masses.

One can do much, much worse in this life than that.

James Dyar's Grin-n-Spirit #1 is on sale now at Wowio for only 99 cents! Issues 2-4 will be available later this month, so keep your eyes on Sword and Labrys Productions for updates.

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