Although a few of the "Comic Book Idol" contestants posted regularly in the contest's forum, and some of them gave interviews to newspapers and online magazines, we haven't really heard them discuss the experience of being in the contest, being scrutinized, or being celebrated the way they were. Why did they enter the competition in the first place? What did they expect from the whole thing? What were some of the highs and lows for them? Who did they think was going to win? Where do they go from here?
It took some effort to find a night and time that was good for the six contestants I invited to this round table discussion. Some technical difficulties delayed the online chat for almost an hour, and sent all of us scrambling for a Plan B. At one point, it even looked like this wasn't going to happen. But in the end, despite the headaches to get things started, once we were chatting away, it was a whole lot of fun in many unexpected ways. Kind of like the contest itself.
The conversation began with Martin Redmond, Michael Flores, Jonathan Hickman, and Patrick Scherberger in the chat room. Chris Ring joined us shortly, and later Frank Weber logged on all the way from Australia.
The chat log ended up being over 20 pages long. Naturally, with this many monkeys jumping on the bed, there was a lot of nonsense and tomfoolery, including some really naughty stuff, so I had to do some editing. Okay, a lot of editing. I'm not going to get into all the bad spelling, but the most popular typo of the night had to be "agina" instead of "again." Yes, that was my mistype. Anyway, on to what these amusing artists had to say…
J. Torres: Where are you beaming in from? Remind our readers where you're located.
Martin Redmond: Montreal.
Jonathan Hickman: Florence, SC.
Patrick Scherberger: Glendale, AZ.
Michael Flores: NY, NY.
Torres: How did you first hear about the contest? And what prompted you to enter? Martin, I know you almost didn't sign up, right?
Redmond: Yeah, I found out about it about 10 minutes before the deadline.
Torres: So, how'd you hear about it in the first place?
Redmond: I heard about it on the interweb, it was on another forum.
Flores: I read about it in your column.
Torres: See, that's why I love you most, Michael.
Flores: I love you most because you are directly responsible for realizing my lifelong dreams.
Torres: How did you hear about it, Jonathan?
Hickman: Friend of mine saw it in your column - told me about it.
Torres: So, what you're saying is, you didn't read my column before this?
Hickman: No, just "Lying in the Gutters" normally. Now I'll read it though.
Scherberger: I read the column and almost didn't enter until a friend talked me into it.
Torres: Who was that friend? Ron Marz?
Scherberger: Heh, I don't have friends with real power like that.
Torres: But at least you read OYM regularly. You getting all of this, Redmond?
Redmond: No, but I nearly bought "Day Like This" and the "Sidekicks" comics.
Torres: Nearly bought? When? Ten minutes before the store closed?
Redmond: Yeah. But I read your column everyday now, even if it's weekly.
Torres: I wish I could remember the French word for "bastard" right now. Anyway, no one's really said why they entered. What were your expectations?
Redmond: I wanted to win and reject all the prizes.
Torres: That made me squirt milk out my nose and I'm not even drinking milk.
Hickman: I expected to win - unfortunately Patrick entered.
Scherberger: I just wanted to get better. And thought I could get some constructive criticism.
Torres: Did the prizes matter? Would you have entered even if the prize were a mere title and a date with Augie de Blieck?
Hickman: Yeah, the prizes mattered.
Redmond: Not really for me, I just saw it as a means to get more exposure and meet more fans that probably would not have seen my work otherwise.
Scherberger: I just wanted the exposure without going to jail.
Flores: I like competition. I wanted to see how I stacked up. I always thought the overall exposure was more valuable than the actual assignment on "The Path."
Torres: Everyone remember when I e-mailed to invite you to the contest? And I had that whole thing about committing to a five-week event? And warned you about what to expect? So, was it what you expected?
Flores: I actually thought the early assignments would have been more difficult. Like Round 5 was dramatically more difficult than Round 4, more so than Round 4 was over any other round in my opinion. I can't imagine how Jonathan pulled off 3 color pages in 3 days.
Hickman: I agree with Flores - I thought Rounds 2 and 3 would be harder.
Scherberger: Round 5 nearly killed me.
Hickman: Well, you nailed so it was worth it, Pat.
Flores: Round 4 killed me, and I only had to do 1/3 the amount of work.
Torres: What did you think of the assignments overall? The types of assignments? The progression? Any suggestions to "make it better" for... um... next time?
Redmond: Start with comic pages right away.
Hickman: We should have worked from an actual script at some point.
Flores: I approached the prelims a certain way by researching old columns of yours. I didn't think that the early assignments focused on sequentials as much as I would have expected. I didn't think I could win the contest, but I was very happy to have had a chance to do some sequential work.
Torres: Researched my old columns? Michael, have I mentioned I like you best of all?
Flores: But I also think that the difference between Rounds 2 and 3 was not much.
Hickman: I agree with Mike - sequentials in Round 3.
Torres: So, either pin-up or cover but not both?
Hickman: Yeah, no doubt.
Flores: I think that you could have skipped Round 1. First of all, people were all over the place in Round 1.
Hickman: The character sheet was a good idea I thought.
Flores: But we essentially had pin-ups from a lot of folks in Round 1.
Scherberger: I think both are fine. A cover is a different beast all together from a pin-up. I just wished we all had the same subject to compare against each other's approach to the assignment.
Hickman: Good point, Pat.
Flores: Marvel has a very specific idea for covers these days. What makes a cover though?
Torres: You were supposed to answer that with your drawing, Michael.
Scherberger: A cover needs to engage the reader to pick up the title, but a pin-up can just look pretty.
At this point, Chris Ring joins us in the chat room. After some greetings and salutations, we continue…
Torres: What was the hardest thing about these assignments for you? The research? The deadlines? The lost weekends?
Scherberger: The deadlines!
Flores: Without a doubt the critiques.
Redmond: Trying to please everyone.
Hickman: Waiting until 5:00 to get the assignment after you made the cut.
Chris Ring: Deadlines, since I usually "sit" on an idea or sketch and come back to it to find mistakes. No time to do that in CBI. Though lost weekends do suck.
Torres: Everyone quickly walk me through your process... so, you get the assignment... what do you do first? Start doodling? Research? Grab a beer?
Ring: Kiss the wife and kids goodbye for three days.
Redmond: Figure out what I want to do. I always have a good idea of what it'll end up looking like. I know it looks incidental but everything is always planned before I start drawing.
Flores: I called friends to bounce around ideas. I did a lot of layouts on scraps of paper lying around on my desk.
Scherberger: I stress out for at least a day. A few hours for self-doubt. Get research material. Thumbnails. Kinko's. Light board. And if it didn't work, back to thumbnails and Kinko's. For Round 4, repeat that until 9 hours before the deadline and pick a different character.
Ring: I usually went with what popped into my head first, probably a mistake but life marches on. But it all starts with thumbnails.
Hickman: It depended. If it was something I felt comfortable with, that was usually a bad sign, like the Marvel stuff. I went back and forth over what to do. But if I was uncomfortable, I had to just jump in, like "The Path" cover. I had never read a CrossGen book.
Flores: I was really not confident about some stuff. Like I thought I nailed Round 2. In the end, I knew there were some anatomical problems. But I thought I hit the mood of the character. Then I got really negative critiques so I was not confident for Round 3.
Torres: What about the fan reaction? Especially the strangers who got behind you?
Ring: There were strangers who got behind me???
Flores: Chris, you had your fans.
Torres: Did it surprise you when someone would react so passionately to your work?
Redmond: I was floored by the love and superior intelligence they had.
Hickman: Toward the end it was like dueling fans. I thought it was a little silly.
Torres: I thought it was fun to see people draw lines and pick teams.
Ring: At first it was a bit unnerving, I started checking for people outside my house
Scherberger: The fact that anyone likes your work is flattering, because you're always your worst critic.
Flores: I thought "Bright-Raven" was a little too fond of Patrick at times. I like to go back and read some of those gushing posts.
Hickman: "Bright-Raven" is Patrick, you fools.
Redmond: No way!
Scherberger: Nope I'm "Pueblo Shatner"! Okay, not really. I just like saying "Pueblo Shatner."
Torres: Some of you showed some exceptional restraint by not responding to every post out there, no matter how insulting or just plain wrong. What are your thoughts on this "interactive" part of the contest?
Ring: It was great once you got used to it. It's a big part of why some fans stayed to the end.
Hickman: I just hated it when people got ripped just because they liked somebody else's stuff. Chris and Michael come to mind, obviously.
Flores: I was really shaken. But people like Scott Morse, Robert Hack, and Jonathan [Hickman] got behind me on the boards and I decided I didn't care what random people thought when three talented artists all had my back.
Redmond: Another cool thing was getting e-mail from people like Jose Garibaldi and Corey Lewis whose art I love but had never spoken to previously.
Torres: Yeah, I don't see Reuben Stoddard getting any e-mail from comic pros!
Scherberger: It's all just good TV.
Torres: "Good TV" - I used that phrase a lot myself when crazy stuff happened. So, what did you think of our esteemed judges and what they had to say about your art?
Ring: The critics were fair and I learned where my art needs to go. Some just worded it better than others.
Scherberger: I just tried to look at my art and see if I agreed with them. If I did, I'd try it their way, and if I didn't, well...
Flores: God, I wish Quesada posted in my last week. In week one, I thought he wasn't going to show and I got summarily bashed by the others. Then Joe gives me this glimmer of hope and he made me wait for it every week, like some kind of tease, then in the last week when I thought I did my best work... a no show!
Torres: Poor Michael.
Flores: But I'm still your favorite.
Hickman: I thought for the most part, for me, it was fair and balanced.
Redmond: I thought they read more into it than there was. My fave was Erik Larsen. I mean, Larsen was the most focused on just the art I thought.
Hickman: Yeah, Larsen was good.
Flores: I disagree. I thought Larsen was the worst of the guest judges. He undermined his own critiques with the boilerplate at the beginning of every post and I thought he was overly dismissive.
Scherberger: I thought Larsen was the best for that round. He had no knowledge of the CrossGen books, so if you could get him to pick up a book with your cover, then you'd done your job.
Redmond: What I didn't like about the editors was that some were trying to figure out who I was through my art or something.
Hickman: You're right. Sometimes it was clear they were reading too much into the pieces.
Torres: Obviously, the judges' comments hit nerves in every single one of you, but what about the voting? Cause you any anxiety? Anyone lose any sleep?
Scherberger: Sleep, what's that?
Ring: Everything caused me to lose sleep. Adrenaline was at an all-time high.
Flores: I didn't lose sleep or really worry about the voting but I was a lot less productive at work.
Torres: You and me both, brother! I didn't expect to be that… caught up in the whole voting process. We certainly didn't expect the numbers we got? Any of you?
Ring: Hell, yeah!
Flores: I actually thought there would be more traffic. CBR gets like 200,000 unique hits.
Hickman: What was the traffic like? I know the voting went up every round except the last.
Torres: I don't have the exact numbers on hand but Jonah [Weiland, CBR Executive Producer] was saying something about tripling the number of unique hits on OYM and/or number of browsers on the forums ever.
Ring: Do we get a kick back for that?
Torres: That line forms behind me, Chris.
*Editor's Note: CBR averages 800,000 unique visitors monthly. The forums average about 120,000 unique visitors monthly. The days for voting in each round saw traffic increase in the forums by 30 to 40% each time. CBI increased forum membership by about 1500 new users.
Torres: Okay, so who did what to bring in voters? Fess up, you sneaky bastards!
Flores: I went from library to library registering dozens of users…
Scherberger: 1000 monkeys typing at 1000 libraries.
Hickman: My sister's sorority was voting for me.
Torres: Seriously, folks, when you found out our Mr. Ring had that article printed, what was your initial reaction?
Redmond: I wanted to do the same.
Torres: No one objected? Thought it was "cheating"?
Scherberger: I thought it was pretty damn clever.
Hickman: You said it wasn't cheating - so it wasn't cheating. Your game, your rules
Flores: What cheating? Getting non-comic people to visit a comic site? You're actually helping to "save the industry."
Torres: If Chris hadn't been the first to be interviewed, would you have tried as hard as you did to drum up support? Or just let the chips fall where they may?
Hickman: No, not really… I felt guilty about recruiting votes. I wanted people to just vote for my art.
Flores: I stopped feeling that way five minutes after the votes started coming in.
Ring: I always self-promote. Never occurred to me others wouldn't do the same until.
Redmond: I wouldn't have gotten those newspaper articles if it weren't for that. That's what gave me the idea.
Scherberger: I'm not a very good self-promoter, so my friends helped.
Flores: My friends and family promoted me a lot more than I did for myself.
Now, Frank Weber joins us. After some more greetings and salutations, we continue…
Torres: Okay, speaking of promotion, what did this contest do to promote your careers?
Ring: Tanked it.
Torres: You don't really think that!
Ring: Nah, I got a gig from it.
Scherberger: I can't say anything.
Redmond: Can't say.
Flores: I got a gig! Same place as Weber! Not that you can say…
Torres: Bastards! Throw me a bone!
Frank Weber: Well, I've been contacted by a lot of companies that would have normally just looked me over because of my style.
Torres: Why, you coy little bitches...
Scherberger: I've suddenly had a head injury and can't remember at the moment.
Torres: See if you ever get coverage at CBR ever again!
Weber: It's been a really great form of self-promotion I would have never gotten any other way.
Redmond: Yeah, it got me to scare off more people than usual.
Flores: J., I don't know if I speak for everyone but I will be eternally grateful for this opportunity. Feel free to snap your fingers and have me do stuff for you.
Scherberger: I second that.
Torres: But not grateful enough to share your industry secrets?!
Scherberger: Not that grateful.
Flores: Not grateful enough to give you the same favors Redmond would.
Torres: And here I thought I'd get some scoops.
Scherberger: I got a coupon for ice cream, will that help?
Torres: Fine. Be like that. We'll make those announcements in due time. And you all know what I'm talking about. How about discussing some of the surprises that came along during the competition?
Hickman: I thought for sure Hector Lujan was gonna walk away with this.
Hickman: Yep. His stuff was amazing. Clone-like but amazing.
Torres: Yeah, he's definitely mad about Mad.
Flores: Lujan was good but he didn't do the assignment.
Hickman: I agree.
Redmond: I was surprised that the first two guys who got pulled out got pulled out when they did. I was expecting two others to go instead.
Weber: I also though McDermott would make it further, strange that he didn't.
Ring: When Frank went out when he did, didn't see that coming.
Weber: I knew I had to go sooner or later.
Hickman: I knew someone good was going out Round 3, I was just hoping it wasn't me.
Flores: I was shocked in Round 3. I was last when I went to bed, but then woke up to finish ahead of Patrick and Jonathan.
Scherberger: I thought I'd get dumped in Round 4.
Flores: How did you think you were not going to make it in Round 4? The people loved you.
Weber: Yeah man, tell us, tell us!
Scherberger: I screwed up the assignment. I started with Nightcrawler, then Spider-man, and so on and so on. I just decided at 10 PM Sunday night to do the Punisher.
Weber: Hmm, the inner workings of a Comic Book Idol.
Flores: Actually, I was surprised at how badly Patrick whooped Jonathan in the finals.
Ring: That surprised me too, thought it would be closer.
Torres: Since Hickman brought it up, who did you think would win?
Flores: One of my friends called Patrick during the prelims.
Scherberger: But what did they call me?
Weber: I thought Martin Redmond. No offense guys, but I love all his stuff.
Redmond: Hurray! I thought Martin Redmondmtoo.
Hickman: Again, Lujan.
Ring: After Round 1, I knew Pat was it.
Torres: Okay, last question: If we held a Comic Book Idol 2, what would you advise the contestants?
Ring: Don't be the first to put an article in the paper.
Flores: Don't ink brick walls at the same line weight as foreground characters.
Scherberger: Get a prescription from your doctor to help you sleep.
Weber: Don't draw purple clouds.
Hickman: Don't use color. Because if you do, the terrorists have already won.
Flores: How can you say not to use color? You are the king of color. You are like Doctor Spectrum from the Squadron Supreme.
Redmond: Fuck the judges, fuck the public, fuck everyone. Do your thing.
Flores: Martin is right. He did a lot of fucking.
Ring: Seriously, try to have fun with it. But warn them about the peanut gallery!
Torres: Shh! Don't call them that, Chris!
Ring: It's a term of love, really.
Torres: I tried that. They wouldn't buy it. But do you think they'd buy a CBI comic if it had the instructions on how to enter "Comic Book Idol 2" in it?
I'd like to thank Patrick, Jonathan, Martin, Michael, Frank, and Chris for participating in this group discussion.
And they, along with Fernando, Miguel, Hector, David, myself, and CBR would like to thank all of you Comic Book Idol fans with a gallery of all their artwork from the competition… plus, some extra eye candy for your viewing pleasure.
"Platinum Studios has signed two of the competitors in Comic Book Resources' Comic Book Idol contest, L. Frank Weber and Michael J. Flores, to draw Platinum graphic novels. Weber is attached to draw the romantic comedy LOVE BYTES, while Flores has signed to illustrate the suspense thriller SEEN."
Read the rest of the press release in CBR's Comic Brief.
Next week: Contestants from another competition in which reality TV meets comic books… "WildGuard: Casting Call."
Meanwhile, keep your eye on the Open Your Mouth forum for late-breaking news on the CBI contestants' upcoming projects, plans for a CBI benefit comic book, and if/when "Comic Book Idol 2" is going to happen.
Thank you for your attention.