Josh Hauke, Comic Book Writer & Illustrator, on Creating The Brothers Three Series, Entrepreneurship, & Building an Audience.
December 14, 2015
I’m originally from a small town in Michigan, the knuckle of the mitten’s thumb to be exact. We don’t have much Industry there, but I did find plenty of ways to entertain myself. Show and Tell was a big one for me.
I always loved making people laugh.
I’m not particularly great at telling jokes (just ask my wife), but even as a kid I knew how to tell a funny story. My favorite ones to share with my first grade class were the true stories of the bizarre things that were always happening around my house.
Sharing these stories became very addictive to me.
I loved standing in front of the room, towering over my cross-legged classmates as I yakked away. I’d act out all the parts of my family members; do voices, and sound effects.
My most popular stories always featured my baby sister. There was the one, where she squeezed the life out of her first PB&J, or how she got her nickname “Bubba, the bare-butt bozo bazoo,” because she loved streaking though out the house.
I told so many stories about her that she practically became a legend.
I wouldn’t be surprised if even now teachers at Washington Elementary were sharing her tales alongside those of Greek mythology.
If I wasn’t performing in one of one-man shows, then there was a good chance I was doing the other thing I loved… drawing.
Some kids were good at sports, other kids were good at long distance spitting, but me, I was good at drawing.
I’m not sure if I mastered it for all the right reasons, but I knew it impressed girls and that was good enough for me.
One day after a particularly great yarn about how my sister was suspended in mid air when car seat became wedged between the front and rear seat in my mothers van, my teacher approached me.
She handed me a hardbound book and said, “This is for you.” I flipped through it and there was nothing inside. There wasn’t even anything on the cover.
When I asked her what it was for, she said she wanted me to write and illustrate one of my world famous sister stories. It was genius! I couldn’t believe I hadn’t thought of it before. Combine the two things I love… it was like worlds greatest homework assignment.
Only it didn’t even really seem like work at all and I was the only one that got to do it. The best part was that when I was done, my teacher said I could read it to the whole class.
After that, I was hooked. Telling stories, drawing them, this is what I was meant to do. To hone my skills I studied art all through school and eventually went on to study screenwriting at Columbia College in Chicago.
Now, when I go schools, it’s not as a student, but as a presenter of my very own comic series.
And my Show and Tells… Well, they have become so colossally amazing, that three kids have ended up in the emergency room because their brains erupted out of their ears.
First Job in Entertainment
I really owe my first paid art gig to my Grandparents. For my birthday one year, they got me this old antique deck. It was great. It had a lift up top so I could store all my art supplies inside and it even came with a little chair.
My parents let me set it up in the living room in front of the TV and as I watched cartoons I would draw all my favorite characters.
Every time I mastered a one, I would put that drawing in a large binder that my mom had picked up for me. Eventually the binder became so jam-packed that it was practically bursting at the seams.
What was I going to do with all these drawings? I had no idea. That is, until my entrepreneurial brain kicked in. People were always asking me to draw things for them and with these books I could show exactly what it was that I could draw.
My business plan was to charge twenty-five cents to draw any of the characters in my book.
I know twenty-five cents seems steep, but I had a bad sugar habit and I was trying to fund a trip to the candy store. So, I tucked my binder under my arm and I headed down to the local playground.
Eventually, I racked in a pack of Rainblow Gumballs and seventy-five cents for doing sketches of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. One kid also offered pay me fifty cents if I drew them a boob. Sadly, I hadn’t mastered that one yet.
I don’t let people pay me in gumballs anymore, but it really is amazing how that first gig can fuel you.
Who knew that my Grandparents initial investment would go on to fund so many trips to the candy store?
I think if it’s not obvious already, a lot of my inspiration comes from real life. If you need more proof just take a look at some of my comics.
We really convinced my younger brother that there were sharks in the toilet.
My mom has been diagnosed in over three states and a certified hugging fiend. In the dead of a Michigan winter she’d bolt out the door in a bathrobe and snatch us up if we missed her on the way out the door.
My dad’s mustache really is haunted. Ok… maybe not really, but sometime when he’s sleeping, I have seen it move on it’s own.
Comics, to me are the whole package. When I first discovered them they really opened a whole world up for me.
I always had a hard time getting into books. I was a really poor reader growing up and I think I became so self-conscious about being a bad reader that it made me not want to read at all. But combining the words with drawings (something I loved) allowed me to fill in the gaps.
Suddenly I was reading all the time. And not only did comics make me a better reader; they made me a better artist.
They continue to, even today. There are so many amazing storytellers and so many amazing artists working in comics right now. I think a better question is why isn’t everyone enjoying comic books/strips?
Roles Within Enertainment
I think like most people who are trying to find work in Arts/Entertainment, you kind of wind up being a bit of a jack-of-all-trades. I’ve had a lot of jobs over the years.
I’ve done storyboards for films, poster concept art, character designs, I’ve written on various programs and films, and let’s not forget that I also get to write and illustrate my very own comics.
As a Story Board Artist, it was my job to help the director visually describe what he wanted the cast and crew to capture on film. Much like comics, it entails telling a story through a series of drawings.
Poster Concept Art is a lot of fun. Its pretty much exactly what it sounds like too. You draw up a poster for a movie/film/television show, most of which haven’t been made yet.
It is often used as a way to get people excited about a project and/or possibly invest money in it.
With Character Design you get to decide what type of clothes/hair/shoe size a character is going to have. It’s really one of the first steps in bring a character to life.
As a Writer… well, you get to build and destroy worlds.
It’s great. It’s like every morning your parents drop you off at the playground and tell you to go nuts. Only it’s not a really a playground and all the slides look suspiciously like the wrinkles in your brain.
Being an Illustrator is a lot like being a window cleaner. It’s your job to make sure the glass is really clear so that everyone can see all the toys the writer was playing with.
I would however, also like to point out that drawing those toys up is a lot more fun than actually cleaning windows.
Working for Yourself
I started my company in 2009, when I launched my comic, but I think at the time it was really more an abstract idea.
You think to yourself, I’ll make these comics and I’ll post them online for people to read. No doubt, everyone is going to love them.
Before I know it, the money will come rolling in and I’ll finally be able to afford that “Pillow Mansion,” I always wanted.
Then I’ll spend the remainder of my days tucked away in my cozy fortress doing what I love.
When building a fortress made out of pillow though, you sometimes forget all the extra things that go into it. Not only do you need pillows and cushions, but you also need clothespins, blankets, sheets, rope, and sometimes the dinning room chairs.
My point is, when you have a company, there are a lot of moving parts and if you’re not careful with those parts your roof could come caving in.
My roof has yet to come caving in, but I think the “Pillow Mansion,” became a lot real for me after the release of my first book.
When that sucker hit the shelves, it suddenly dawned on me that I wasn’t just making comics anymore. I was a publisher, a marketing person, a sales associate, a public speaker, and a performer.
That’s a lot of clothespins and sheets to deal with. Thank fully, I love what I’m doing. And if I ever get tired there is no better place to take a nap than a Pillow Mansion.
Creating a Comic Book
A big part of my process is writing. That’s always where I start.
After I toil away concocting a story so funny that it will make the socks shoot clean off your feet, then this is how that story gets turned into a comic.
Basically there are seventy-two parts to the process, but since we are skipping over the writing portion we’ll jump straight to step 68.
Step 68: Do a very lose sketch, fleshing out what you would like to do in each panel and how you would like your layout to look. I do a lot of elaborate layout, so sometimes this step can take a while.
This step is really key too, as it will become a map that you will build everything else off of.
Step 69: Create the boarders for your panels. Then do a more detailed version of your rough sketch within those panels. This is the most flexible stage.
Things can look rough, they can look dirty, this is where you work out how to fit everything onto the page.
Step 70: Word balloons. Now that I roughly know where everything is going to go and what it’s going to look like I drop in word balloons. I can promise you that sometimes even with small balloons you’ll feel like there isn’t enough room. If there’s not, then you best make your adjustments here.
Step 71: Ink. Yup. That’s all there is to it.
Step 72: Color. Much like step 71, this one is pretty self explanatory, but it takes way longer. It can also be difficult to land on the perfect colors for your project.
Specific Tools/Technology Used When Creating Comics
When I first started making comics I used to do everything by hand.
Penciling, inking, even coloring in some cases. It took forever. I knew if I was ever going to make deadlines or keep a schedule, I’d have to figure out a way to speed up the process.
About three years into my comics run I switched to all digital. It took a little while to learn, but at the same time it was very freeing.
Anyone who has ever drawn on paper knows that sometimes you have to redraw things a few times before you get them right. Sometimes, even then you can’t get them right.
So, eventually you just say, that’s good enough. If I don’t stop now I’m going to rub a hole through the paper. Then I’ll have ruined the whole thing.
Digital gives you the ability to get it right. And knowing you can isolate the one thing your getting wrong makes you feel like you can try anything.
For those of you keeping track at home, I’m not that tech savy, so my set is not too complicated. I draw all my comics in Photoshop using a Wacom Bamboo Tablet.
Improvements in Technology
There are certainly ways that technology has changed the game when it comes to comics. Not all of it is positive either, but my suggestion is to lean into it.
Learn to use these new tools to make your websites better and you’re your content easier to find.
When I launched my comic in 2009 I posted my comics on a blogspot page. For me, it was a good way to dip my toes in the water. It was free and thanks to a user-friendly interface I was able to get the site to look pretty nice.
I ran that site for a year and over the course of the year, the most traffic I ever got was about 10 readers a month. It’s not that I was doing bad work or anything like that.
People just couldn’t find me. At the end of that year, I reevaluated.
If I was going to make a serious run at this, I needed to adapt. In 2010 I launched my official site (the one I still host today). It was way harder to set up, but it was completely worth it.
I didn’t just stop there either; I had to learn to how to market my work and who to market it too. You have to use anything and everything you have at your disposal to capture people.
Technology is not going away, so use it to your advantage. I know I did and that’s why way more then 10 people visit a month now.
In what ways do you challenge yourself to grow as an artist?
I learn new things all the time. Sometimes through my own work, but mostly through other people's work. When I see someone with an amazing art style or a great page layout my brain clocks it. I think how’d they do that? Could I do that? Well, now I have to at least try.
I want to continue to grow as an artist, and as a storyteller, and the only way to do that is to challenge myself.
I hope when people look at my work they can see how it’s evolved over the last couple of years.
These two comics are the perfect example.
When I first started my characters were fairly stiff, almost always shown from the waist up, and my backgrounds were very sparse.
Eventually, I challenged myself to do more. I wanted more movement, better backgrounds, and I tried to give myself something really fun to draw on each page.
My best advice to other is… make stuff! A great piece of art or a story, doesn’t do anyone any good if it’s sitting in a drawer someone, or worse yet, if it’s stuck in your head.
Even if what you do turns out to be bad, it’ll be worth it. Not only will you get better, but it could be the thing that causes someone to fall in love with your work.
Comics are one of the few industries where doing things yourself isn’t frowned upon. Almost all the big names in comics today started by making and self-publishing their own work.
Some of them printed physical copies others posted online. It really doesn’t matter how you get it out there, just do it.
If you don’t make something for people to lay their eyes on, then how is anyone ever supposed to discover you?
To me success is not really about the money, it’s more about how my work affects people. I mean, sure. The money is great too. I’ll gladly take it if people want to give it to me.
But what I really want to do is create something that goes one to live a life outside of me.
I want my work to become your imaginary friend. Even if your not thinking about it, it will follow you everywhere you go and if you ever have to battle a monster at night, there it will be.
That’s the legacy that I’m striving for.
Like Harry and Marv in my all time favorite movie, “Home Alone,” you have to be prepared to take a lot of hits.
We all have the same goal and that is to make it inside of Kevin’s house. Only problem is, there are a ton of booby traps along the way. If you don’t have your battle armor ready to go, you may never make it past that first paint can.
My advice, and this is what I had to teach myself too, is to be like Kevin’s young cousin Fuller. Unlike the Harry and Marv, Fuller used what everyone told him was his weakness as his strength. You see, Fuller didn’t have to break into Kevin’s house.
He figured out that the way around all the booby traps was to become booby trap himself. If no one wants to share a room with a bed wetter, then the bed wetter gets his own room.
Piss all over the place if you have to. Find a way to make room for yourself. If a publisher or some big company isn’t interested in your work, make it anyway. Work harder. Work smarter. In the end, all the people that said, “no” will be the ones with paint on their face.
*Sorry, but if you haven’t seen Home Alone this probably didn’t make much sense. **If you haven’t seen Home Alone, then what are you doing with your life? *** If you have seen Home Alone, then you should definitely watch it again. It’s great.
Most Prevalent Deficiencies Amongst New Entrants in the Field
The thing I see the most from people trying to break into comics is the misconception that they will be an overnight success.
It takes a lot of work and time to build an audience. And it takes an even longer time to get that audience to show up and support you.
The Comic industry is probably the biggest it’s ever been right now. Which is great, but it means there is tons of competition out there. Not just regular competition either.
Some of the most recognizable characters in the world are comic characters.
You can’t expect to stand next to Batman and have everyone choose you right away. Give them time to realize how special your thing is. Eventually they’ll grow tired of Batman and that’s when they’ll find you.
Specialist or Generalist?
The funny thing is I think most people would say I specialize in illustration, but personally I think I specialize in writing. Now sometimes I write with pictures, so I can certainly see why people might think that way.
For me though, my work lives or dies based on how well it’s written.
That being said though, I’ve had a lot more paid illustration jobs than paid writing gigs. I think reasoning for that is everyone thinks that can write, but most people no when they can’t draw.
Promoting Your Work & Reaching Your Audience
I have a website where I post free comics twice a week. Nothing draws people in more than giving something away for free.
I also use Facebook & Twitter to share my work and let people know what I’ve been up to. However, the best and my favorite way to connect with an audience is to meet them face to face.
Writing and Illustrating are very solitary jobs. If you are not careful it can be easy to unplug and just let the machine chug along.
That’s why things like conventions, school visits, and book fairs are so important. Not only do they get people excited about your work, but when you see people’s reactions, it’ll get you excited about it too.
And there is no greater tool for promoting your work than you.
Social media makes what I do real.
Without it, I mind as well be a dinosaur bone buried out in the dessert. Sure. Dinosaur bones are cool, but if no one can find them, how would anyone ever know?
Having access to social media makes us all archeologist. And I would be a fool to deny the science of what it has done for me.
In fact, without social media I’m not sure I would even have a career.
Social media was my work around. I knew I was doing good work and since I couldn’t get any muckety-mucks to help me get my stuff out there.
I figured I’d handout hundreds of tiny shovels so everyone would know exactly where to dig.
Social media allowed me to build up enough of an audience to get excavated.
Top Moments in Arts & Entertainment
Having actual fans. Not just ones online either. You would be amazed at how awesome it feels to have a kid shout your name out at a convention. Or how giddy you become when a mother tells you that their family has been looking for you all day.
An Agent, who I won’t name here, said, “If you want to put a book out, you should put a book out. Do it yourself. And make it exactly what you want it to be.” It was great advice and I was extremely excited to get to chat with them.
My Mom saying, “Wow! This looks like a real book.” Having comics online is great for people who read lots of comics. Having something in print though, now that’s something your mom can get excited about.
The first time some reached out to me and invited me to be a presenter at an event. When you are first getting started you spend a lot of time asking, “Can I do this?” “Can I do that?” To have someone actually ask you, is a big step.
The thing that most prepared me for my career, was years and years of reading comics.
I trained on the funnies my grandpa would set aside for me on Sundays. Eventually moving on to every Calvin and Hobbs/Garfield collect I could order through my school book club.
Then after an exciting conversation with our neighbors, the Homeblad’s, I visited my first comic shop. It was amazing.
I would have lived there if I could.
Since I couldn’t though, I took as many comics home with me as a paperboy’s salary would allow. Which was a fairly decent amount, just ask my parents.
The comics I took home became my teachers. Without them, I would have never even wanted to be an artist.
On the writing side, I went to Columbia College of Chicago to study screenwriting. Not exactly comics I know, but you would be surprised and all the similarities between comics and film.
Plus, the structure of screenwriting really gave my stories a focus that they didn’t have before.
There have been so many people who have helped me out over the years and continue to help. It would be hard to name them all and if I forgot even a few I would feel terrible. What I will say is there are a lot of great people in the comic industry.
Not just “hello how are you people” either, people who really care and will do everything they can to help you out.
I hope to repay them all one day, but the favors have stacked up so high, I’m not sure I’ll ever make it to the bottom. The best I can do for now, is extend the same hand to others coming up.