Jim Mehsling on Finding Your Illustration Style

Illustrator Jim Mehsling has drawn so many comic book covers that he’s lost count of how many he’s done. But in this line of work, it’s less about quantity and, as Mehsling suggests in an interview, more about the rewards that come with the job.

What advice would you give somebody hoping to break into comic books? Are there things they should be doing? Or not be doing?
First and foremost is working on and perfecting draftsmanship, drawing and visual storytelling fundamentals. That’s the skill part that comes from years of practice. The crazy thing is, if you keep at it, you never stop improving. The second thing is the business side of it. How do you want to work? That falls into two different camps: artist for hire or independent artist.

commission art, Batman

Joker for a "Sketch Dailies" theme

How would you define artist for hire and independent artist?
Artist for Hire: Taking on contracts or jobs that have exact deliverables. An example of that would be a character design for a particular project. Right now I am working on a series of original superhero designs based on real agents at Assurity Life Insurance. I am doing this project as “work for hire” for Play Creative whose client is Assurity Insurance.
Independent Artist: Creating “Creator Owned” properties, or original artwork and generating an income that way.

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Star Wars prints for conventions

When it comes to the business side of it, are you an artist for hire or an independent artist? Have you done both of them, which do you prefer?
I’ve worked in house full-time at advertising agencies as an animator/illustrator, and currently work both as an artist for hire and independent artist. I prefer my set up now, where I’m available to take on contracts and also produce my own work. There are advantages and disadvantages to both. Work for hire has more steady pay but also deadlines that you can’t miss, so even though I’m working out of my home studio, I still try to keep regular business hours. I am looking forward to going on the road next year and doing 20+ conventions. I’ll see how it goes. I may take on fewer contracts.

Star Wars Sketch Cover featuring Yoda

How helpful are conventions when it comes to getting your name out there, promoting yourself, and networking with publishers and people in the industry?
For me, conventions have been extremely helpful. Conventions are an excellent way to get your name out there, promote yourself, and network with publishers and people in the industry‚ all of the above. This year I exhibited at seven conventions. In 2016, I plan to triple that amount, doing around 20-25 shows.

Sketch covers and sketch cover variants according to Mehsling, are the full comic book, "But the cover is white except for the logo and credits. The purpose of these is typically for shows. I've done, everything from Star Wars to Transformer's sketch covers. I've done so many of them that I don't have an exact count."

Sketch covers and sketch cover variants according to Mehsling, are the full comic book, “But the cover is white except for the logo and credits. The purpose of these is typically for shows. I’ve done, everything from Star Wars to Transformer’s sketch covers. I’ve done so many of them that I don’t have an exact count.”

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What’s your take on Kickstarter? Have you used it to self-publish?
I love Kickstarter as a way to self-publish. Some of my favorite books have come from Kickstarter. I ran my comic “Into the Void” through Kickstarter. I would highly recommend Kickstarter as a good way to get funding and exposure for a comic book project.

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Let’s talk tools and technique: near as I can tell, you’re using a tablet, or maybe a Cintiq. At least that’s my guess. Talk about what tools you swear by, that are absolute “must haves” for you.
I use a Wacom tablet, and then the Adobe suite, Photoshop, Illustrator and Flash for animation. I also do a fair amount of pen/ink and Copic marker work traditionally, and then coloring that in Photoshop. My mobile weapons of choice are my Samsung notebook and phone for reference, and a traditional sketchbook and brush pen. Although I would try out the iPad Pro and Apple Pencil as a way of working on the go.

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You seem to have a distinct style. Is that something that you’ve built up over time, with it happening naturally? Or did you always draw that way?
I think my style is something that has been built up over time, mostly by paying attention to aesthetics that I appreciate. At cons [conventions], a common remark is that my work reminds them of Samurai Jack (Genndy Tartakovsky has been a big influence on me, I have to say).

Scooby and Shaggy for a "Sketch Dailies" theme of the day

What do you have to say to those starting out, who may hear things like that style won’t work with us or your style isn’t a good fit for this title?
I think it depends, if everyone had the exact same style things would be pretty boring. Like anything, there is always the flavor of the month, or year(s) for that matter. If one likes drawing in the “house style” of a particular company, they usually want you to match that‚ take a company like Top Cow. I think I saw they were taking submissions recently. Everything that they publish looks exactly the same. I can copy and draw in that style, but for me personally, that feels like a lot of work for not much reward other than being a cog in the machine. I would much rather do my own thing, and if a company likes how I draw they hire me for that project.

See more of Jim’s work at his website or Instagram.


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