An Interview With Sam J Royale

Sam J Royale  interview by Anthony Andujar Jr 9/18/22 Interviewer: Anthony Andujar Jr Interviewee: Sam J Royale Q1. You’re no stranger to comics and have worked on some comics such as […]

Sam J Royale  interview by Anthony Andujar Jr 9/18/22

Interviewer: Anthony Andujar Jr

Interviewee: Sam J Royale

Q1. You’re no stranger to comics and have worked on some comics such as Image: Grand Design/ Grand Disaster (2020), along with your latest series Dishoom, and Ghost Agents. What and who were your influences as an independent comics creator?

SJR: Mythology impacted me greatly. I got some Amar Chitra Katha comics that retold stories from Hindu mythology, and the vibrantly painted covers really influenced my sense of color. Also, when my sister was in middle school, she was assigned to read about Greek mythology, and it bored her so badly that it would put her to sleep. In an attempt to stay awake, she’d read it out loud to me. As an easily amused eight-year-old, I was hooked. I’d memorize everything she told me and would passionately retell the stories in the cafeteria the next day. Soon I was reading any and all mythology I could get my hands on. 

Cartoons (mainly Batman: The Animated Series), video game box art, and VHS covers all captured my imagination, but the first artists I knew by name were Alex Ross, Bruce Timm, and Sam Kieth. Then I found Peter Laird’s old blog and started looking up any artist names he’d drop, prompting me to learn about Jack Kirby, Steve Ditko, and Frank Frazetta, among others. I think Steve Ditko and Alex Toth are the best character designers within the American superhero genre. But I think it was Eastman and Laird’s creation of the Ninja Turtles that helped me realize as a teenager that I could potentially just make a book and put it out there; going through a publisher wasn’t a requirement and no one could stop me from doing it except for myself. Unfortunately, I soon learned that I had a real gift for getting in my own way, sinking maybe two or three years into a terrible and unfinished space opera barbarian story that actually had pages put together in Microsoft Word. Hardly anyone has seen it and I’m pretty sure I’ve successfully destroyed all of the evidence. But the lesson was that I had a lot left to learn when it came to making comics. That eventually led me to Scott McCloud, Alan Moore, Frank Miller, and Grant Morrison, among others.  I started obsessing over how to tell stories and how I could make my visuals stand out in some way. 

It was around that time that I saw Ashley Wood’s PopBot for the first time, but more on that later. 

Q2. Dishoom is one of your projects that you’ve created over the years. What was the genesis of this series?

SJR: After all of the false starts as a teenager, I did manage to make a couple comics in college, but I never printed them or put them out there. Dishoom is the first comic book I’ve completed and PUBLISHED, and it finally happened because of Ashley Wood. 

I was at a comic store and looking at this giant 11×17” art book of his, loving all of it, and then I went home and read an online interview with him. He was talking about how he self-published magazines when he was in his 20s and then broke into comics. It was clear that he was a self-starter. I was in my late 20s at the time and had nothing to show for it, so it lit a fire within me and I promised myself that I’d self-publish a book by the time I was 30. Dishoom 1 came out right before I turned 35, but sssshhh! 

Q3. You have a particular art style that is a combination between traditional and digital, and it shows in all the works that you’ve applied yourself to. For Dishoom, what was the process like when creating that book?

SJR: Part of why Dishoom is an anthology is because I knew that short stories would be a good opportunity for me to experiment with different materials and techniques. The art just had to be consistent for each story, but not necessarily for the whole book. I tried a lot of different things in the first issue of Dishoom to see what worked best for me, and the first book actually ended up taking a few years to complete because I took a break in the middle to take on a colorist/painting job for someone else’s comic book. Since a lot of trial and error was out of the way after the first issue, the visual approach in the second issue might be more cohesive. Usually what gives me the best results is a mix of analog and digital materials. 

Q4. After Dishoom, you crafted the cover for Weapon Echh (a parody, study, and homage to Barry Windsor Smith’s iconic Weapon X book) , and you also colored the cover art of Wizerd 2, collaborating with Matthew Allison, the creator of Cankor. What was it like working on those covers?

SJR: I was thrilled when William Hoffknecht of 100% Comics allowed me to do the Weapon Echh cover thanks to a suggestion by the amazing and knowledgeable cartoonist Ben Granoff. I knew I couldn’t do what Barry Windsor Smith does, so I wanted to move away from his aesthetic and lean into my own strengths instead. The cover started as pencil and marker sketches that I cut out and taped together, and then I photographed it and painted the rest digitally. I wanted to exaggerate Wolverine’s features—and the goofy robot headgear—from the original cover, and in retrospect maybe I didn’t push it far enough. Oh well!

For Wizerd 2, the “comix megazine” published by Cosmic Lion Productions, Eli Schwab asked me if I wanted to color the cover, and I said no at first. But Eli—the ever-enthusiastic Godfather of indie comics—is a very charming individual. He picked up a big bag with a dollar sign painted on it, and threw it into my lap. It turns out those bags are real and not just in cartoons. I was so charmed that my answer quickly changed to yes. He also enticed me by showing me the beautiful artwork. Matthew Allison is a very talented artist with such smooth, clean, delicate, and sometimes intricate inking, and I couldn’t pass it up because I knew it would be fun to work on. What was especially nice about the piece was that it had no background and almost no lighting information, which gave me a lot of freedom to render the figures and to create some atmosphere, so it felt more collaborative to me than some other coloring jobs. 

Q5. Ghost Agents is one of the latest projects that you’ve contributed art to, what was the process like working on that project?

SJR: G.H.O.S.T. Agents is a spy-fi anthology comic book series written and created by radio personality Rocko Jerome, and loosely based on some prose stories that he wrote years ago. He asked me if I was interested in doing the cover to the first issue, and I agreed right away. I really enjoy doing cover illustration work, and this cover, featuring a sword-wielding secret agent riding an airborne motorcycle, was no exception. As a starting point, I had two personal heroes in mind: Jeffery Catherine Jones and Bill Sienkiewicz. Hopefully, that shows through at least a little bit. I also weaseled my way into doing the book’s logo too, and I’m proud to say that the logo I developed is such a big part of how the book is being promoted now. The hand-cut lettering was inspired by the Saul Bass movie poster for Hitchcock’s Vertigo, and the two circle emblems (the skull and the globe) were inspired by Bass’s corporate logo graphic design work too. It’s a trip to see my skull emblem on the pins that Cosmic Lion Productions has been giving out with book orders, and my nephews like collecting them. 

Since then, I’ve done a pinup for G.H.O.S.T. Agents and some other stuff in the works that I can’t talk more about at this time. 

In addition to G.H.O.S.T. Agents, I’ve been busy with a cover for Here 2 Cypher, a great anthology comic written by Brandon Hayes and drawn by a variety of great artists. Brandon also has a comic out called Thready (published by 100% Comics), and he changes the title logo from issue to issue; I was fortunate enough to design one of the logos for that too. 

I also recently did a cover and logo for Outstanding Achievement Presents: Papa Balloon and Cactus, a cartoony comic by written and drawn by the inimitable James Windsor-Smith. OAP: PB&C features a backup story by cartoonist Jeff Manley as well. Check them out!

Q6.  What are the challenges with being a comics creator in 2022 compared to the 90s and early 2000s that people don’t often consider? And what are the advantages that people often don’t notice?

SJR: Maybe it’s the wrong thing to say, but I think making comics is easier now than it’s ever been before. The sheer volume of resources available to you online for free is staggering. Learning is much easier than it was in the 90s and early 2000s. Getting your work seen is easier too; you don’t even need to sweat any printing costs if you don’t want to, and can just publish online. Whatever works best. As far as challenges go, making comics is still very demanding of your time and is a fairly solitary endeavor, but it’s mostly fun and games to me. 

Q7. Since Dishoom is an anthology book, what is it about anthologies that appeal to you? And is it more enjoyable crafting anthologies?

SJR: Short stories are great for people who have trouble getting things done. You can get a sense of accomplishment for finishing a four-page short story, and then that feeling can help motivate you to move on to the next short story. It’s less intimidating than trying to take on a graphic novel right away.

Something else I find appealing about anthologies is the possibility for variety. A graphic novel is like a fleece blanket and an anthology is like a quilt: a fleece blanket should look and feel cohesive, or the same all over, but every patch on a quilt can have its own look and feel while still being a part of something larger. I see each story in Dishoom as a patch on a quilt, each one adding something different to the Dishoom universe.  

I do see a graphic novel somewhere in my future, but I still want to play with short stories for the time being.

Q8. Will there be other installments of Dishoom?

SJR: Issue 3 is in progress, but I have another project that will be out before that. I’m very excited about it, but can’t spill the beans yet!

Q9. Do you prefer illustrating or writing? What’s more liberating for you as a creator?

SJR: I prefer writing AND drawing. Sequential art already has writing baked into it; the pictures are as key to storytelling as the words. How the images are composed, how the pictures are arranged, how one panel flows to the next, how one-page transitions to another, how the panels work together as a unified whole on a single page, how both halves of a two-page spread interact with one another…it’s ALL writing in a way, and that’s on top of all of the more immediately obvious things like drawing characters’ “acting” and expressive action. It’s so liberating to tell a story without external restrictions, so doing it all yourself can be very rewarding creatively. 

If I’m working on someone else’s property, I prefer doing covers and designing title logos. 

Corporate comics tend to have an assembly line approach where you have one role and you have to stay in your lane to keep the machine running smoothly. Sometimes, amazing work comes out of that system, but I can’t imagine that it’s a more freeing experience than the alternative. 

Q10. Are there any projects in the pipeline that readers should keep an eye out for?

SJR: One new project that isn’t directly related to comics is a collection of holiday greeting cards I illustrated, and they’re available now in my Etsy store (at least as of this interview). Since I was a kid I’d do at least one drawing or painting of Santa each year, and that’s a tradition I’ve continued into adulthood. Thankfully I’ve finally found a productive use for them, especially since they’ve been piling up!

I have some other really exciting comic projects in the works but it’s still too early to get into the details. For updates, be sure to follow me on social media and to check out my store from time to time:

Facebook: Sam J. Royale

Instagram: @samjroyale

Twitter: @samjroyale

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