Friday, November 20, 2015

An Interview with Cartoonist Nate Dray

Welcome to Up Around the Corner, Nate. Please, tell us a little about yourself and your Art.

Terry, thank you for talking with me and it was really nice of Doc Springer to mention me to you, so thanks, you guys!

So, I work with paper towels and water a lot—watercolor, gouache, ink, brushes, pens, and PC. I seem to draw a lot of deserts, swamps and jungles or woods. And animals. Sometimes I put people in the pictures too. And sometimes there are fantastic elements like time travel or astral projection. Most of my real illustration stuff is drawn from nonfiction or early to mid 20th century sci-fi/sword & sorcery classics—Tolkien, Lovecraft, Howard, Leiber, ERB…I don’t show those pictures often. And the comics, same thing, very pulpy. Science and History themes are recurrent. Most of the cartoons are just gag bits set in weird settings. You can’t take any of it too seriously. I also make pictures of messed up and neglected things—houses, machinery, etc.

And then there’s the small press I run called Diluvian Enterprises in Kent, Ohio. We primarily publish comics.

What caught your interest and motivated you to open a small press?

Always wanted to make books. And print/publishing as an industry is a mess for a bunch of reasons. Just want to bypass all that and make the products I want to see.

Can you tell us about some of the works already released through Diluvian Press?

We have 5 titles out there. Four are collections of cartoons: two from me called Epic Earth Episode One and Epic Earth Adventures, one from Robert Ledyard called Ort #1, and one—the newest— is a collection with cartoons from me, Robert Ledyard and Doc Springer called Epic Earth Comics. The author Jordan Baugher— who writes the “Vicious Magick” series—also contributed to Epic Earth Adventures.  The fifth is actually a set of game rules called The Recess Dungeon Game.  And we’ve released a bunch of informal “mini comics”—reminiscent of Tijuana bibles, but without the smut.

The comics are eclectic in nature. We have more books on the way.

What books and comics were you drawn to as a kid? How did that influence the direction of your art and content for your comics?

Oh, man this is tough. I'll just tell you my earliest recollections. Pretty sure eveything else, more or less, followed from those early sort of "imprinting" things. I have a pretty good memory for useless personal info.

I've liked super heroes as long as I can remember. My cousin Joe Filippini was generous with his comics. He gave me comics when I was really little—because I begged him for them. He gave me All-Star Squadron and Legion of Super-Heroes comics. I was probably 3 or 4. So he definitely started my love of comic books, but I already liked superheroes. Probably because of a trash bin someone gave me. It had two sets of DC heroes on either side of it and I used to stare at it. I know that was a very early thing in my life. And I remember figuring out that someone had drawn those pictures. I could see the lines.

I also really started liking the Incredible Hulk when I was little. Before school. My dad would buy me Hulk comics before I could read—and I could read when I was about 4, so…Sal Buscema's Hulk is still the Hulk in my mind.

Books were really important in my house growing up, but as far as influencing my drawing now—TV/movies probably had as much to do with it as books. We had a Read-Along Book and Record adaptation of The Hobbit cartoon by Rankin Bass. I was obsessed with that thing for a long time. Brother Theodore’s voicing of Gollum scared and fascinated me. I also loved the artwork—and still do— in that cartoon. I saw Bakshi’s LOTR too when I was pretty little and that stuck with me. And Raiders of the Lost Ark.

Then just kid books. I could list a million books I still remember titles and images from, though I haven’t set eyes on them for 30+ years. A couple that really stand out are Favorite Tales of Monsters and Trolls illustrated by John O’Brien and One Monster After Another by Mercer Mayer and Ranger Rick’s Dinosaur Book, which was purchased for me immediately upon initial publication because I already liked dinosaurs. It has some great Charles R. Knight pieces in it. But like I said, there were a million…and I really don’t know how these things influence my drawings, but I’m sure they do.

Bakshi’s LOTR and dinosaurs, Nate. I found both fascinating in my youth as well.

Okay, a question a little off the main track. If you had the opportunity to dine with any three individuals (living or deceased) who would they be, where would you choose to eat, and what would you hope to discuss?

Terry, I love rotoscope.  And old Disney Science cartoons...

So, yes—Marx, Jesus and Aaron Burr in an East Cleveland Taco Bell—discussing particle physics.

But it might be uncomfortable because Marx and Burr would be really distracted by Jesus and the New Crunchwrap Supreme.

Then Elagabalus would pick us up in a limo and take us to The Velvet Dog. We would see a UFO on the way. Coincidentally, the limo driver reveals that his father's name was also Jesus. We all have green hands and a disembodied voice tells us, "Yes, but they can also breathe ammonia."

Fun answer! Next question: What is your opinion of the comics, mainly superhero, translated onto the big screen over the years—and what’s anticipated to be released in the future?

Gosh, I'm probably the worst person in the world to ask about this, but I'll try, Terry.


Historically, superhero films don't hold up well. Even if we enjoyed them when they were "new," they were usually pretty goofy. They get dated very quickly for a variety of reasons. The appeal of the character often has to do with up-the-minute fashionable attitudes and cultural trends. And obviously, only recently has the tech been available to even try to tackle much of the material. The best superhero movies ever made are recent—and I just wish they'd leave Superman alone.

Right—so I also obviously have no idea what I'm talking about. I think Hollywood has always done adaptations—think you'll continue to see blockbuster adaptations of established IP—built-in audience, less risk, fun projects. The current superhero fad will taper off to some degree, though. And yet I know MCU plans to bludgeon us with superhero movies until at least 2020—there are 10 or 11 in the works as we speak (so Fear Not! Marvel movie fans). And I'm ok with that. 

Where do you hope to see (currently working toward) your cartoon and publisher career in the next five and ten years?

Plots, plans and schemes within schemes. In 10 years we'll have more books and be bringing in more money from the books. Who knows? Might get lucky. Get big. But might toil along in relative obscurity forever. It doesn't matter. It's the struggle that counts. Strategize, plan, execute. To hell with the consequences, but keep the bar high. That way when you fail you're still ahead. I usually end up where I need to be and I don't worry too much anymore.

Ultimately, we have stories and ideas to share—so that's what we're going to do.

As we’re closing in on the end of this interview, Nate, is there any advice you would give to individuals aspiring to be a cartoonist?

Terry, initially I wrote a long response to this—not as a cartoonist, but simply as a long-time comic book reader—and then decided against it. What do I know? I know what I think is good and what I think comics are, but my views don't seem to be the majority opinion these days, though I'm pretty sure they're informed by or built upon ideas I've absorbed from artists whose work has withstood the test of time.

I once heard an illustrator named Noah Bradley say that the only real advice for commercial artists is: "Do great work. Show it to the right people."

Echoing that, the best thing I can say in terms of advice specifically for aspiring cartoonists (in whose company I might also belong) is to paraphrase The Comics Reporter, the legendary Mr. Tom Spurgeon, who said— in response to repeatedly being asked, "how do I break into comics?"— something like,"...draw comics, show them to people and then you're in comics."

Makes sense, common sense advice, Nate. I interpret it as, work hard with dedication to improving, and learning about the field along the way, to create opportunities for success. Not so much different from working toward success in writing novels and short stories.

Although we’ve covered a lot, is there anything else you’d like to add or share?

Just a big "Thank you!," Terry.

And yes, what you said is a better way of saying what I was trying to say in response to your last question.

Finally, this:

"There was something strange in her expression. Her eyes were the blackest and brightest in the world; but there were moments when she suddenly paused, leaned against the billiard table or wall, and they became fixed and dead like those of a corpse. Then a fiery glance would shoot from beneath her dark lashes, sending a chill to the heart of the one to whom it was directed.  Was it madeness, or was it, as those around her believed, a momentary absence of soul, an absorption of her spirit into its nagual, a transportation into an unknown world? Who shall decide?"
                                                                                                — Abbé Brasseur de Bourbourg

Thanks again, Terry. It's been a blast! :)

You're welcome, Nate :)


Where you can find out more about Nate Dray




  1. Replies
    1. I enjoyed doing the interview with you, Nate! Glad you're enjoying Genre Shotgun!

  2. Cool interview! As a fellow comic book creator/publisher, I'd like to wish Nate much success!

    1. Yes, Stephen, Nate is a pretty neat guy and his comics are quite entertaining. :)