Neil Vokes got his start drawing comics 25 years ago in the early days of Comico, one of the leading independent publishers of the 1980s. He worked with his inking partner Rich Rankin on the Japanese cartoon-based Robotech Masters. That series led to the self-publihsed Eagle from the Vokes-Rankin team under their Crystal Comics imprint.
Since then, Vokes has gone on to work from a variety of publishers drawing many of the superhero and pop culture icons. His pencils have graced titles including Superman Adventures, Tarzan the Warrior, Life, the Universe and Everything, Adventures Of The Mask, Untold Tales Of Spider-Man, Congorilla, Ninjak, Jurassic Park:Raptor Attack, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Parliament Of Justice, The Black Forest, and The Wicked West.
Vokes, who is based in New Jersey, is currently developing a project with the working title of Through A Glass Darkly with writer Bob Tinnell. You can find out more about Neil Vokes on his blog: vokesfolks.blogspot.com.
Question 1: When did you first decide that you wanted to create your own comics for a living?
Well, as a kid I always felt that I wanted to make comics someday, but it never really became a goal in my young mind. It was years later, after losing my “real” job, that I made a concerted effort to be a comic book artist.
Question 2: Who has had the biggest influence on you outside the comics industry, and how did they affect your life?
The biggest influence outside the biz would be my wife, Siri. The way she went at her work — a teacher back then, now a guidance counselor — with such passion and dedication truly influenced me in many ways.
Question 3: Who has had the biggest influence on your comics career, and how has that person changed your work?
I’ve met many, many people in the last 25 years of drawing comics that were influences both creatively and personally — artists like Jack Kirby, Will Eisner, Steve Ditko, Gene Colan and others were strong influences on my work. The horror work that Ditko, Colan and a slew of other great artists did in the old Warren mags heavily affected my most recent books.
There have also been pros who helped to teach me how to act and react with the fans we meet at cons every year. I watched them treat those who wanted to be artists or writers someday with respect and share the wisdom of their experience with no ego involved. That taught me a lot.
I’m a huge film fan and it has a lot to do with how I “see” storytelling in my work. So I will watch a film I enjoy to get the motor warmed up inside — and I also have lots of books about lots of artists — both in comics and out. Just flipping through some of their work gets me recharged every time.
Question 5: Describe your typical work routine.
It starts with a healthy dose of procrastination, then leads into a prolonged bout of staring at the blank page with no idea what to do. Once I’ve moved past the self-loathing and depression, I’m scratching away at the paper for hours at a time. I don’t suggest this routine for everybody as it usually leads to massive amounts of hair pulling and head bashing into wall sessions.
Question 6: What writing, drawing, or other tools do you use?
This is a very common question, usually from a fan wanting to know what the “secret” is to drawing or writing professionally. I usually tell them that just because you go out and buy the same guitar that Jimi Hendrix played doesn’t mean you’ll ever play as well as him. The best tool you’ll ever have is your desire to do this crazy job. Keep that passion strong inside and there’ll be no stopping you.
Question 7: What element of your work gives you the most personal satisfaction?
Maybe after I’ve spent hours and hours working over a particular illustration or story sequence, and later — after it’s been published — getting a positive reaction to what I’ve done from a fan.
Question 8: What has been the most rewarding project in your professional career – in or out of comics – and why?
The most rewarding project in my career might be Parliament Of Justice which I did with Mike Oeming, who wrote it. Though I’ve done a few more books since then that I’m very proud of and even won a couple awards for, it was with Parliament that I found — as one old friend said — “my voice”.
That’s extremely important to a creative person. All of the best influences you have won’t give you your own style — your voice. That comes with time. It was after Parliament that I knew what I was going to do in my next project and every one after it.
Question 9: We’ve all met very talented newcomers who are trying to get their first professional projects. What’s the best advice you’ve ever heard given to a promising new creator?
Work hard. In the case of an artist, draw every chance you get. It’s very simple, I know, but as in any walk of life, the more you do something the better you get at it- and if you don’t — well then maybe you’re in the wrong business.
Question 10: Time to get philosophical: What’s the most important “big idea” that you’ve learned in life – in or out of comics – and why is it important?
Be passionate — about your work, your friends, your family, everything.
Too many people are dead inside and it shows in their work and their lives. It’s sad to see. Hell, even I lose touch with it now and then.
Why waste this short time we all have by just coasting through life half-assed? Find that passion and hold tight with all your heart.
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