The hope and idea of the Issues with Perspective feature is to provide a more in depth look at the creators who makes comics and their process/influences/environment behind the making of the issues/series. I am terrible at naming things (take the podcast Pages and Panels, holy shit I hate that name) but the thought is that you will get a better perspective of the issue/series by learning more about the process and the actual creator who made it (Issues with Perspective, get it? Nah). I hope with this feature readers will get a further look into the books they love and the amazing people who make them.
For the next installment of Issues with Perspective I was stoked to be joined by the creator Wyeth Yates to talk about his series Hard Luck. Wyeth is someone whose work I had read online for a while and always adored. His ability and range in his titles is always what impressed me most about his work. Either from the large scale intense space action of Hard Luck to the more character driven tale of a women gang in the 50's with The Other Gang, Wyeth is able to present very different and unique comic experiences to the readers. When I saw he was recoloring issue one of Hard Luck I figured I should bug him for an interview for the site.
A huge thanks to Wyeth for taking the time to answer questions and provide some great and thoughtful insight into Hard Luck, his thought space and process. Be sure to check out Wyeth's work at his website and you can get physical copies of Hard Luck issue 1 and 2 now at his store!
Wyeth Yates and Hard Luck
Who is Hard Luck? (Creative Team)
I’m the entire creative team at the moment, which is totally okay with me. I prefer to be in control of the story I want to tell; that’s one of the biggest reasons I went into comics over other visual storytelling mediums. That said, I know that not all of my ideas are necessarily good. I have to have other people to springboard and bounce ideas around with, even if it’s just to talk through an element of the story I can’t wrap my head around. I often will ask family or friends to take a look at a page or illustration if I can’t decide whether the color palette is working or not.
That said, I’ve worked with writers before, and collaborated a bunch with other cartoonists, and I enjoy that, too. If the time comes when I can have other people working on Hard Luck with me, I think I’d welcome it. Two heads is better than one, right?
What is Hard Luck?
Hard Luck is a sci-fi comedy about an art thief in the future who is terrible at stealing paintings, but always gets away with the crime. While it’s initially a fun and frenetic story, there’s a deeper, more serious emotional narrative about two lovers who literally can’t exist in the same place at the same time. That becomes the main arc of the story; how do two people find a way to be together against the forces of the cosmos, and how do they reconcile their differences, for better or for worse?
Why should readers get Hard Luck?
Readers should buy Hard Luck if they like to immerse themselves into other worlds, and if they like stories that carry emotional weight. My goal has been to make a story that’s really funny and fun, and is set in a world that’s deep and feels fully formed. But there are also more poignant messages about love, politics, societal restrictions, and how those can intersect and cause conflagration within a person’s life.
When/Where/How can readers get Hard Luck?
Readers can find Hard Luck available for order from my website, www.wyethyates.com, as well as in most of the major comic shops in New York City. I just finished exhibiting at MoCCA, and I plan to be at SPX, MICE, and CAKE this year, regardless of whether I get a table or not. I’ll have an updated con schedule available on my blog, at www.wyethyates.tumblr.com.
What was a normal workday/drawing session like for you when working on the series?
I bounce back and forth between being a night owl and a morning person, so the workday depends on that a little. Recently (and ideally) I’ll start working by 8:40--9:00 AM. I usually work until 8:00 PM, sometimes a little later. I’ll go longer if I’m really close to a deadline or I’m really into what I’m making, but I’ve learned that downtime is super important. I take an hour break for lunch and for dinner, and a few short breaks to get up, stretch, make coffee, hang out with my roommates, or play with my cat throughout the day. A few times a week I’ll go for a long bike ride mid-day. Physical exercise is a necessity! But long drawing sessions are kind of my thing. I really enjoy losing myself and hitting a sort of runner’s high with the work.
What is your work space like while working on the project?
My studio takes up most of the room I sleep in, so I try to keep it as clear of clutter as possible. I have my drafting table and my computer positioned in an L shape for easy back-and-forth use. I’m right-handed, so all my supplies are oriented as such. I try to keep it clean, but the more I draw the more eraser shavings wind up on the floor, haha. It’s a little bit of a sisyphean task, but I’ve never knocked over a bottle of ink, so maybe it’s not as messy as I think…
What are the tools/applications/ you used most in the creation of Hard Luck? What medium are you working in?
I work traditionally for the most part. I thumbnail in a sketchbook with ballpoint pen, then pencil on bristol board with blue ColErase pencils. I ink with a sable brush and Dr. Martin’s ink. I use older brushes that still kind of hold a point to do solid black fills. Faber Castell size F pens are my saving grace. I use them for backgrounds and perspective stuff primarily, but also lettering, panel borders, hatching, etc. Anything that needs a clean, straight line. Then I erase the pencils, scan into the computer, clean the linework up, and color the page in Photoshop.
What is the situation that gets the most productivity out of you?
Strong coffee and a good audiobook. Anything that will make me stop noticing time is passing and just fall into the drawing. I listen to WNYC in the mornings to try and keep up with the news, and later in the day will switch to a podcast or an audiobook. The longer I can go uninterrupted, the better. Recently I’ve been listening to the The Adventure Zone podcast, and the audiobook of Ron Chernow’s Alexander Hamilton.
What media have you been engaged with during the creation of Hard Luck (music/movies/books/games) that helped the creation process or that you just happened to be into at that time?
I’ve been really into William Gibson’s books lately. I hadn’t read Neuromancer until a few months ago, and since then I’ve been kind of binge-reading his work. Gibson seems to have always had his fingers on the pulse of street fashion, so some of that imagery has totally spilled into my work. Sophia’s “CHAMP” jacket in my comic is definitely inspired (read: lovingly ripped) by the MA-1 bomber that Cayce wears in Pattern Recognition. Other than Gibson, I’ve been watching a lot of heist and kung-fu movies, as well as older vaudeville flicks to get ideas for visual slapstick. Buster Keaton and Harold Lloyd are endless inspiration. In terms of music, I’ve been listening to a lot of industrial music, which is new for me. I like the whole wall-of-sound aspect, but don't care for the lyrics.
For readers who enjoy Hard Luck what else would you suggest to them that they might enjoy that has a similar tone/style/message of your work?
Comic-wise, the old favorites include Akira, Dragonball, Nausicaa, Ghost in The Shell, Corto Maltese, Love and Rockets, Ranma 1/2, Blackjack, Krazy & Ignatz, and most of Moebius’s work like Blueberry, Arzach, etc. Those are probably my go-to’s with Hard Luck visually. Artists like Michael DeForge, Jillian Tamaki, Eleanor Davis, Gary Panter, Frederik Peeters, Box Brown, and Liz Suburbia have been really blowing my mind more recently. I also picked up Hedra by Jesse Lonergan at MoCCA last week, which is really brilliant. I’m so knocked over by what’s coming out of indie comics right now, it feels incredibly refreshing and new and unafraid, and that’s awesome. I guess to answer your question directly, my mainstays are European and Japanese comics, but I want to read as much as I can from all over the comics spectrum.
Id say on Hard Luck more than any other your work you display quite a range in style and approach. Pages can quickly go from clean cartooning style to hyper detailed manga action. How have you settled on a style for the series?
Hard Luck started as an improvisational exercise. I was in a really bad place in my life, and I felt completely at odds with my work. I had gotten it into my head somehow that comics had to be serious business, and stopped drawing the funny and weird stories that I made when I was younger. I wanted to tap back into that, so I didn’t write a script, didn’t thumbnail, didn’t design or obsess. I just drew, and out came Hard Luck #1. At that time, my stylistic standpoint was anything goes. I’ve tried to keep that up as I’ve continued the story, but now that it’s expanded, I’m taking pacing and tone into consideration. I’m still trying to maintain a sense of spontaneity though, so whatever layout feels right is usually what I go for. If that means a bunch of tiny panels packed together, okay. Sometimes it means big, wide open action sequences with too many speedlines, and that’s cool, too. I just want to make something that’s a blast to read and makes people happy. I want to keep people guessing, and I want to keep me guessing, too.
The design of the characters, world, fashion and creatures in Hard Luck are all fantastic. There is such a wide range of looks and styles. Were you pulling from anything for inspiration in the look of the world? How do you go about planning and building your world?
Hard Luck’s outfit is something I pulled straight out of classic sci-fi. I wanted him to be a walking joke, both in terms of his character and his aesthetic. In a state-of-the-art future, the guy still wears a skin-tight latex onesie with shoulder pads. The hair came because I like drawing pompadours, and I liked the idea of him trying to fit his giant hair into a spacesuit. Some of the spaceship designs from movies like 2001, Blade Runner, and Alien were helpful in terms of creating the more militaristic fleets for my antagonists. I’ve also been really influenced by the spaceship designs in Duncan Jones’ film Moon, which I coupled with the actual interiors of the International Space Station for a few pieces of the TBR book #3.
The look of the world varies from setting to setting, but I like to try and match form with function when it comes to designing a place. Like the Yaju spaceport in book 2, which is a hollowed-out asteroid turned black market. I think I remember an asteroid being used similarly in one of the less-memorable Gundam storylines, but the inside of it was all cool and spaceship-y. I thought it would be interesting for the city to be chiseled out of the rock and the crystalline structure of the asteroid’s interior. It’d be pretty hard to lay electrical wiring in that kind of city, so all the wires are in masses above ground, running through the streets and on the underside of bridges. It’d be impossible to keep working, but it looks cool.
I have really enjoyed the action on display in Hard Luck. Whether it's the spaceships in issue one or the fight scenes in issue two they are feel dynamic and well choreographed. How do you approach scripting and illustrating such intricate action?
I think a successful action sequence can be made by adding constraints to what the character is good at. It forces them to make choices or act irrationally, and from a writing standpoint that’s effective (and fun). It also allows you to set up jokes or unexpected moments within the sequence. Being creative with what’s visible around the characters at the start of a fight is also really useful-- I noticed that sometimes in martial arts movies otherwise mundane props wind up getting used as offensive or defensive weapons, but you can sometimes see it coming based on the staging. I think it’s easier to slip things like that under the radar with comics.
I’ve also wondered recently if good action also has to do with page dimension. I’ve always felt like manga pulled off action better than most western comics simply because the dimensions lend themselves to extreme horizontal or vertical movement. It always seems to me that action on a more square page works better than the 2x3 ratio we use in American comics. But maybe that’s just my personal preference showing? I don’t know, my jury’s out there.
Planning out the choreography is something I do in my head. Action scenes have beats like anything in storytelling. If I can get a general idea of what needs to happen and in how many pages, it sort of plans itself. Sometimes I scribble little maps in the margins of my pages though-- it can definitely get confusing when trying to maintain continuity. Sometimes I’ll plan a fight around one image that seems like it’d be fun to draw. In the fight in book 2 there’s a page where I wanted to do like, a 360 degree pan around Sophia while she knocked people out. I don’t think it really worked as well as I wanted, but it has a little bit of a slapstick feel to it, and I like that.
Action also comes with weighing the tone of the story. I really hate how in a lot of comics and movies nameless goons will get blown away left and right by the protagonist. Killing people to achieve an end is only noble if you look at it from the hero’s perspective. Otherwise it’s a god-damn tragedy. So I decided Hard Luck isn’t going to be like that. Nobody dies in my stories without a really good reason, and the only people who are ready to deal a killing blow are the bad guys—but they have understandable, relatable motives, too.
Was there anything that you have found particularly challenging or blocks you hit in the creation process? On the same note what was the most enjoyable part of your creation experience?
Absolutely. A lot of the events in Hard Luck have to do with the two main characters missing each other by seconds, or through seemingly serendipitous events. Keeping those moments straight while writing the story has been a bit of a nightmare. I’ve also had to figure out a lot about a certain piece of fictional technology that has a major function in the plot. Laying down a set of ground rules that I can work off of and finding a clear way of conveying those concepts to the reader has been tough. I’ve had to brush up on my astrophysics, which was never really my strong suit to begin with. Plotting out a long-form narrative arc is really hard! Who knew!
The most enjoyable part of the creative process for me is finally feeling like you’re putting the pieces together. I feel like writing stories is sort of a blind stumble through a dark hallway, but when you finally figure out where the hell your’e going, the eureka moment is bliss.
Adding color to the reprint of issue #1
Issue two not only saw a change in focus with a new character but you also chose to go full color. What was the biggest difference for you from issue one to two for you? What do you see as the continued evolution going forward with the series?
Welp, I wish I could say it had to do with the tone of the story, and that I’ve been heavily and carefully considering what I was doing with my color palette, but that’s complete bullshit. Truth is, when I did book #1 I was really self-conscious of my coloring skills. So I kept it to a limited, monochromatic palette for the first printing. By book 2, I felt way more confident and just decided it was time for full color. Now I’ve reprinted book one in full color, as well. That is the most anti-climactic answer ever. But it’s the truth!
The biggest difference between book one and book two is that book two is more emotionally sincere. Sophia is the counterpoint to Hard Luck’s “anything goes” attitude. Sophia’s plight is ultimately what the whole book is about, but she’s more down-to-earth than Hard Luck is. She’s facing it head on, while he’s running around (and away). Sophia, if you ask me, is honestly the more relatable character. I told someone recently that Hard Luck is the protagonist, but Sophia is the hero, if that makes sense.
The continued evolution of the series depends on how the rest of the plot unfolds. I like the concept of an overall mood shift across an arc, the same way using a gradient as a base color across a story can signify emotional change or character development. I know where the story is going, and how it all ends. I’m not completely sure how I get from A to B in certain parts yet, but that’s fun and exciting in it’s own way. Check back with me in a few months.
Best thing you could say about Hard Luck? Why do you love Hard Luck?
Best thing I can say about Hard Luck is that it’ll make you laugh, and you’ll be able to disappear into exciting characters and a new world for a while. And I hope that when you’re done reading the whole story, you feel really good about being a person, and you’ll miss the world the characters inhabit and want to return to it.
Why do I love Hard Luck? I guess because it’s allowed me to get back in touch with a piece of myself I think I turned my back on along the way. I used to make really funny comics when I was a kid, and I finally got back around to doing that. But now I’m older, and I understand that the world can be cruel and sometimes life is really depressing, and so that’s in the story too. That duality feels good to me. Feels like I’m coming into my own voice through my stories, balancing the harsh realities of being a person without losing who I am at heart. That’s been an uphill struggle for a long time, but I think Hard Luck has helped bring that to fruition. Some of the art’s not bad, either. So, y’know. There’s that.