Comics: Dirty, Sexy Storytelling Secrets #2 - Every Picture Tells a Story

Buddy Scalera’s books aid artists and others in their work

By , Columnist

If this were a far better, far fairer world, Buddy Scalera’s name would be much better known.

That’s because he’s made not one, not two, but three important contributions to the comics medium over the course of his still-burgeoning career.

He got his start as a journalist covering the comics industry. In short order he found himself working for Wizard magazine and, eventually, became one of the team responsible for launching and establishing that now-defunct periodical’s website as one of the premiere news site of its day.

But, unable to ignore his muse’s siren call, he traded the security of a staff position for the allure of creating comics himself. Again, he quickly found his place in the industry, scripting a string of great comics by himself and with his occasional writing partner, Jimmy Palmiotti. In fact, Scalera’s run on Marvel’s popular Deadpool to this day remains one of the funniest—and most fun—story arcs in the history of comics.

Next, he decided to try something completely different, and anticipating most other indy and mainstream publishers, moved into self publishing nonfiction eBooks specifically designed to help comics artists improve their craft. Then, after establishing his own solid beachhead in that new market, he next combined forces with one of the mainstream imprints that serves the same audience.

More recently, Scalera announced a few weeks back that his next book, the Colossal Collection, will be published by IMPACT Books later this year. TMR caught up with him to get an idea of what readers can expect from this impressive collection of photographs, tips and more.

What’s this new Colossal Collection, and what’s the story behind it?

Think of Colossal Collection of Action Poses as a “best of” collection of images and art lessons from the first three books, combined with some all new photos and art lessons. There are photos from the first books that didn’t actually fit in the original books, so I pulled stuff from the archives. And there is a brand new model and some new situations. What also makes it interesting is that one of the models (Zoe) was around 21 when I first photographed her, and I have included some new photos now that she is 26. So you get to see some changes in her physique and the way she carries herself, which is interesting from an artistic perspective.

And I have a new model named Ridada Elias, who is an up and coming fashion designer. I have her wearing the clothes that she designed for her company Chiguna.com, so we have more clothes in the shots. People were asking for some additional clothing reference photos, so I made sure to include more.

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The 320-page, full color book features brand new art lessons from Michael Avon Oeming (Powers) and Thom Zahler (Love & Capes).

There are also classic art lessons from Mitchell Breitweiser (Captain America), Sean Chen (Wolverine), Paul Chadwick (Concrete), David Hahn (Spider-Man), Matt Haley (Wonder Woman), Jamal Igle (Superman), Josh Howard (Dead@17), JG Jones (Wanted), Rafael Kayanan (Conan), Mike Lilly (Batman), Greg Land (X-Men), Terry Moore (Strangers in Paradise), Fernando Ruiz (Archie), William Tucci (Shi), and Mark Smylie (Archaia). That’s a lot of art and education in one book. 

Well, how do you describe what you do when people ask about it?

In the industry, if I say I create photo reference for comic book artists, people usually get it right away. Artists always get it, because many of them utilize reference. Outside the industry, it takes a little longer, since I have to explain the basic concept and then my role. I’m a photographer, not an illustrator, so I have to explain that I am not actually drawing the comics. 

So, how did you get started down this particular path?

It’s funny, I got started doing photo reference because I had heard two artists talking about how big and expensive photo reference books were. At the time, I wanted to see if I could make something that was less expensive and more portable. 

So I came up with photo reference on CD-ROMs. I self-published and sold them--and still sell them, as a matter of fact--for only $10.00 for 500 images. I made three of these CD-ROMs and they sold well enough for me to get noticed by IMPACT Books. IMPACT offered me the opportunity to create images in a book, which was Comic Artist’s Photo Reference: People & Poses in 2006. Then I did two follow up books with Comic Artist’s Photo Reference: Women & Girls (2008) and Comic Artist’s Photo Reference: Men & Boys (2008). So I sort of came full circle in that I started off with something that was an alternative to a book and then I ended up making books. 

If the CD ROMs were selling well, why not keep it all in house and just continue to self-publish the line yourself?

Self-publishing is brutal, dude. It is time consuming and frustrating. I only do it out of sheer desperation. When I was pitching the idea of photo reference for comic artists, nobody was interested. Publishers passed on it. Distributors refused it. But I made it anyway and it eventually made it into the hands of artists, which is all I really wanted.

You can see the CD-ROMs on my website.

So, as I said, after I’d produced the first three CD-ROMs with photo reference, IMPACT reached out to me directly and offered me a platform to focus on what I really enjoyed, which was the photography. They handled all the messy, hard stuff like design, production and distribution.

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As you mentioned earlier, you’ve included some art lessons from some pretty high profile artists in your various art books. How did you get them involved in this whole thing, and what are some of the specific aspects of art do they address? 

I have a pretty good network of friends in the comic book industry. I started off in comics as a journalist and then I worked at Wizard. When I need help with art lessons, I have the rare opportunity work with people who I respect and like. I’ve been fortunate that the publisher has approved almost everyone that I’ve ever requested. 

In terms of the art lessons, I usually work with the artist to figure out what kind of lesson they want to contribute. It’s pretty collaborative, since we have to address the particular educational needs of the book. Every artist approaches it differently and I try to let that guide the actual art lesson. 

For example in the current book, you can see how Michael Avon Oeming utilizes photo reference, as compared to Thom Zahler. It’s really a matter of interpretation, style, and technique. It’s fun to explore someone else’s technique, so we spend a lot of time trying to get into the artist’s thinking and process. All of the great artists are really intelligent people who bring a lot of thinking into their art, which is what makes them so compelling to observe.

Now this isn’t the only book you’re putting out this year, is it? 

Yes, I am completely insane. I have two huge educational reference books releasing in the same calendar year.

In May we launched Creating Comics from Start to Finish which is a book that was written for anyone who wants to break into mainstream comics. It’s all about professionalism and earning a living as told by people who are successful, established pros.

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It’s important to improve your technique and there are a lot of books out there that serve that purpose. This book was all about understanding the complete step-by-step process of making comics. Most mainstream comics are made production style, where you have multiple people touching a book before it makes it to the reader.

When I was breaking into comics, I couldn’t find any books that gave you the kind of information I needed. It was all trial and error. I took a journalistic and educational angle that explored what everyone in the production line did, including writing, editing, penciling, inking, coloring, and lettering. It’s not a book that fans will really be into because it’s really about breaking into comics and how to carve out a long-term career.

I totally lucked out by getting so many significant creators involved, including Mike Marts - Editor Batman, Detective Comics; Mark Waid - Writer Kingdom Come, Flash, Irredeemable, Spider-Man; Darick Robertson - Penciler Wolverine, The Boys, Transmetropolitan, Conan; Rodney Ramos - Inker Green Lantern, Punisher; Brian Haberlin - Colorist Witchblade, Spawn, Top Cow; Chris Eliopoulos - Letterer Pet Avengers, Spider-Man, X-Men; Joe Quesada - Chief Creative Officer Marvel Comics; and Stan Lee (co-creator of Marvel Comics) agreed to talk with me). People will get real insight into the careers of these creators, including details about how they broke into the industry.

Are these books strictly intended for artists, or might other readers find something useful or interesting in them?

Funny you should ask. My first attempt was to use it as a writer. I was doing some writing for Marvel and I wanted to describe certain scene locations that I had seen. It can take a lot of time to describe a scene, and you still may not get it right.

So rather than writing long, elaborate descriptions, I went out and took photos of stuff. Locations, poses, and stuff like that. Then, as a writer, I could send along a picture and say, “here, this is what I want.”

In general, comic writers need to be aware of the way their words will be interpreted. If you can bridge that gap with the artist, you are going to be closer to a shared vision for the comic.

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Well, what’s next for the pose line of books? How about your own comics work? Anything new on that horizon?

After Colossal Collection comes out, I am taking a deep breath and starting some new stuff. I have some things I want to photograph. I’m not sure if these “experimental photos” will make it into my next book or not. I just like taking photos, especially photo reference. The photo reference books just make it easier for me to justify upgraded cameras and computers.

I actually put photos and comic-related stuff on my Facebook Fan Page. People can go there and get free photos and preview materials. It’s a pretty active community for aspiring artists.

As a comic writer, I am also writing Richie Rich for Ape Entertainment. I read Richie Rich as a kid and it was fun to go back to reread those original issues. It’s an all-ages comic that I can share with my kids, which is a nice bonding experience.

I wrote Richie Rich #2, which came out a few months ago. Now I am working with Ape Entertainment to write some more Richie Rich issues. If your readers have kids, I encourage them to pick up Richie Rich and get them started in comic books.

What do you get from doing these books, and what do you hope that your readers get from them?

That’s a good question. I am like a lot of creators in that I am working alone most of the time. I shoot my photographs with live models, but that’s a small part of the entire time it takes to create a book. Most of that time is sitting in front of the computer monitor, you know?

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But when I go to a convention and people say that they’ve used my photo reference, that means a lot to me. Or when someone sends me a sketch that they did based on my photos, it makes me feel like I am connecting with that person. There’s a real shared artistic moment that makes all of the hard work worth it.

How about your comics?

It’s the same thing with comic books. When you write a comic book story, you really do need to open a different part of your brain. If you do it right, you’re going to connect with another person on an emotional level. When someone writes to you and says that they read your story, or when they meet you at a convention and want to shake your hand, that’s a great moment. It’s like you know each other because of this shared intellectual moment.

For me, that’s what makes it worth all of the hard work.

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A veteran journalist who has covered the comics medium since 1998, Bill Baker is also the author of Icons: The DC Comics and WildStorm Art of Jim Lee and seven previous books featuring his extended interviews with Alan Moore, Neil Gaiman and other notable creators. You can learn more about Bill’s work…

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