Sketchy Details: A conversation with illustrator Mike Maihack

Trevor Hogg chats to illustrator Mike Maihack…

“I’m the only person in my giant extended family that does any form of drawing or graphic design,” admits American illustrator Mike Maihack who graduated from the Columbus College of Art and Design. “I had one instructor in particular who was very encouraging of my desire to be a cartoonist, as opposed to the more editorial or fine art illustration professions many of the students at the time were pursuing.” Maihack admires the work of Howard Pyle, Norman Rockwell and Moebius, and believes that a great illustration is “one that accurately and visually illustrates the story it is trying to tell.” The Tampa, Florida based artist confesses, “I have an absolutely horrendous memory which is probably due to my inability to fully pay attention to anything.” To solve the problem, a lot of research is conducted when drawing anatomy, clothing and specific environments. “I still draw and ink traditionally but much of my ‘post’ work is done in Photoshop. I refine linework, fix blemishes, shade in solid shapes and obviously do most of my coloring digitally. I honestly, with the exception of selling artwork, have no idea why I would ever go back to white-out and filling in large areas with ink when I can do those things so much easier and cheaper on the computer. I’ve even gotten to the point where I anticipate quite a bit of work digitally and only draw traditionally what I know I would have a difficult time doing with a stylus. I’d say my traditional and digital process has become about a 60/40 split at this point.”

A career ambition to draw comics full-time contributed to Mike Maihack producing his current project involving an iconic historical figure placed in a futuristic setting. “I was part of a bi-weekly drawing challenge group called DrawerGeeks. One week the topic was Cleopatra and I drew her in space. I suppose I didn’t want to draw her in the same generic Egyptian environment. The final image became exactly the character in the comic; same costume, Khensu was in there, and it even had the Cleopatra in Spaaace! title at the top, like a pulp comic book. People told me it really SHOULD be a comic book. I hadn’t considered it at the time, but after thinking about a story, the character traits started to form; before I knew it I had this fully fleshed-out character. Now I have enough ideas to take Cleo to the ends of the universe and back.” The first installment featured black and white illustrations while the sequel is a colour production. “Gray scale, or two-tone, is certainly faster, although there’s still a great deal of decision making involved with coloring that way that’s different from full-color. It takes me about a day to draw a page and a day to fully color one. Some pages take less or more than others depending on the complexity. Plus, there’s all the extra time in between to actually write the story. Since I’ve never crafted a comic in one sitting, it’s tough for me to tell you how long one would actually take me. But I’m guessing a 30 page full-color comic would take me about 60 working days to complete.” He adds, “My favorite all-time comic book is Jeff Smith’s Bone. A perfectly crafted all-ages narration that I think a lot of us cartoonists aspire to. For movies it’s a toss-up between The Dark Knight [2008] and Ghost World [2001]; both are great in their own beautiful ways.”

“I make a decent amount of income at those shows [or I hope to], so that’s obviously important,” answers Mike Maihack when asked about the effectiveness of participating in trade shows. “The networking, as well to an extent but that’s less important with the Internet nowadays. More than anything lately it’s become an amazing creative recharge. Hearing from fans that they love your work and hearing [and seeing] what all my amazing friends and peers are working on, that’s what I most look forward to. Web comic collectives are useful in the sense of bringing a larger potential readership from those that may follow one person’s comic but not necessarily yours, and vice versa. There’s also a support structure there. It forces you to work harder at your comic [updating on time, challenging yourself] for the good of the group. Best case scenario, everyone becomes friends [or already is] and that’s great to. You can never have too many friends, especially, in comics.”

Mike Maihack Gallery: A Personal Tour…

Batman Says Hi: “Just a silly drawing that came about from doodling at a meeting. I thought it might have been funny to draw Commissioner Gordon below him on top of Police HQ; in the end I felt the simpler the better or sillier.”

Catvengers Assemble: “Inspired by the MRVLCATS Internet meme that happened about a year ago; I originally just drew the Captain America one, then decided to draw Hulk, and then Quicksilver. It got out of control.”

Cave Seekers: “For the Monsters & Dames charity book Emerald City Con puts out every year. The biggest challenge with this piece was working with the green lighting emanating off that torch.”

Cleo Cover 1: “For the first cover for Cleopatra in Space, I felt it was best to simply draw an iconic image of Cleo standing front and center, raygun in hand. Why Khensu has a space helmet on and not her I suppose is for the reader to decide.” PROCESS ANIMATION.

Cleo Cover 2: “I always wanted to draw a Drew Struzan montage type poster for something and thought the cover of Cleo’s second book gave me a good excuse to do that. The biggest challenge here, besides organizing all the various bits, was to make sure it was more of an homage and not outright mimicking Struzan.” PROCESS ANIMATION.

Cyberpink: “I had been eager to draw a piece that was pure monotone hot pink. The inaugural topic for an online drawing group I’m a part of, Bristolwhip, was “Cyber Punk” and since “punk” is close to “pink,” this was the result. I ended up using a slightly darker tone of pink for the figure and guitar to help them pop from the background, but this is still pretty close to what I wanted (which doesn’t happen too often).”

Harry and Hedwig: “Every now and then I challenge myself with a little warm-up doodle. The last Harry Potter film was being released the day I drew this. I didn’t intend to draw Hedwig when I started, but I think he kinda makes the piece; one of those last minute happy decisions.”

Red: “Another Bristolwhip piece for the topic “Red”; I’ll let this one be open for interpretation, but let’s just say I was in a sort of sour mood that improved as the day went on. Hearts are a pretty recurring theme in my work as well.”

Storm: “Another warm up sketch; I love drawing Superheroes, especially of the female variety. Storm in her punky 80’s Mohawk style struck my interest this particular morning. Although most of the central figure was drawn and inked traditionally, a good portion of this sketch was created digitally.”

Supergirl Batgirl Cover: “For the DC Fifty-TOO event, I chose my two favorite DC heroines, Supergirl and Batgirl. I’d love to work on, or just read, an all-ages book with those two. Before starting this piece I rewatched the first team-up of Babs and Kara in the Batman Animated Series, so that was the direct inspiration for my cover.” PROCESS ANIMATION.

Many thanks to Mike Maihack for taking the time out of his schedule for this interview and for supplying the images in the article. Be sure to visit his website here.

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Trevor Hogg is a freelance video editor and writer who currently resides in Canada.