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Comichaus meets: Russell Mark Olson

Today we meet creator, writer & artist, Russell Mark Olson.


Please introduce yourself and your team (if you have one).

I'm an American expat from Missouri who's been living in the UK for the last decade. I've been writing and drawing stories since I was a kid. Emily Olson, my wife, is my brilliant color assistant. She's been flatting for me on various projects for a couple of years now. Industry veteran and one of the most generous gents in comics, John Freeman, has graciously signed on as editor from the trade onwards.  

What are some of the comics that inspired you to start creating your own? Any creators in particular?

Before reading comics, I was a religious reader of cartoon strips, in particular Calvin and Hobbes. In many ways, my comic journey started as a hunt for "how Watterson made those lines." I had a number of comics growing up, but the first couple of series that I started collecting for the art were Steve Purcell's Sam & Max, Ben Edlund's The Tick, and Michael Allred's Madman. I "collected" the X-books, but I don't think I really connected with the art. But something about the fluidity of Purcell's lines and the design of Allred's characters started making me look backwards at cartoonists like Chuck Jones and comic makers like Harvey Kurtzman and Jack Davis. I now pull influences from across the spectrum, but I'm typically a devout follower of mid-century style.

How much of your own personality goes into your character(s)?

All of it, I think. Or at least I try to empathize with all of them. I'd like to think I'm not inherently evil, but I think there's common ground with to be found with every character, even villains. Quite a few of the characters in Gateway City are based off of real individuals. I've been able to look at newspaper reports and books to see what individuals did, pre-structure, but in order to bring them to life, I've had to animate them using my own experiences and emotions. I'm probably closest in nature to a Sam, but strive to be a Lundy. 

Where did you draw your inspiration from?

From all over the place. I'm aware of somethings, but there's probably a lot of subconscious synthesis that takes place. Of the stuff I'm in control of, I like reading about obscure history, misfits, anachronisms, and all types of fiction. I think I'm always trying to figure out how to write my own version of John Steinbeck's Cannery Row. Now that I say it, I don't know why I've never tried adapting it. Maybe next?

What struggles have you faced with the creation of ….. and producing the final release?

I think a lot of my struggles have been fairly universal. The central poles being time and confidence. Every creator I've ever spoken to has the same issue with time. There are a million things that are struggling amongst each other, vying for priority and only so much time to do them in. To get the first arc of Gateway in the can, I had to cut some other things out. Previously, I had supplemented my income by chasing after illustration and design gigs, but I found that the time it took to secure and completing them meant that I couldn't focus on writing and drawing the comic. Emily coming on after issue two to handle flatting was also a massive help. It meant I could hand finished pages over to her while I cracked on with new ones.

For the next arc, I'm going to be delegating a lot more. I've enjoyed learning how to do every aspect of comic making, but I understand why they're predominantly created by a team. Just not enough hours in the day. Confidence is the other production killer. I've had so many rejection letters for a number of past comic projects (and still get them. All. The. Time.) and it took me, what, a decade? Yeah, probably a solid decade to figure out how to treat rejection like a necessary part of process. It's there. It's not a bogeyman. It's not a dart hurled from sadistic editors. Just a pragmatic decision that deserves to be treated with equal pragmatism. When it comes to my work, I'm pretty hardened now, but it took me a while to build up the confidence to really put my work out into the public arena. So, to anyone reading this, give disappointment no quarter and make tenacity your best friend.

As far as the practical side, to be honest, not much. I put the floppies out myself, so by the time the trade came around, I'd cut my teeth a fair bit on formatting and preparing for press. Plus, we're so lucky to have print guru Rich Hardiman as our North Star. I'd also run one Kickstarter campaign before this and had been involved in a few others, so I had my budget sheets lined-up and (fortunately) didn't have too many big surprises along the way. 

What do fans need to know going into their first issue of your comic?

Hmm...I wouldn't want to give too much away. But, it might help to know that the individual issues are framed slightly differently but that they do tell one story. For example, the first issue starts as a traditional noir narrative, but issue two shifts gears into an homage to Hitchcockian mystery, while issues 3-4 are more or less one double issue. As far as an elevator pitch, it's model Ts and spaceships, Dick Tracy and aliens. 

What have you got coming up in the future? Are you working on more issues?

I'm currently working on a comic project for Portsmouth City Council and pulling a few pitches together with some wonderful UK creators. I've also written the next two issues of Gateway and have 7 & 8 plotted out. Once I've got a bit more flexibility in my schedule, I'll be back at it. Still not sure about what format the next story arc is going to take. It might be floppies again, or I may just release digital issues and then put out a physical trade for Vol. 2. I'm sure I'll figure it out soon. 

You can read Russell's title over on the Comichaus App now, or purchase a print copy from the Comichaus Marketplace by clicking on the cover image below.


Gateway City 2017-2018 Vol.1

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