Interview with Paige Pumphrey


This month we’ll be talking with the Baltimore bred, Brooklyn based cartoonist Paige Pumphrey. She’s an illustrator specializing in pin-up style artwork, heavily influenced by American comic books and animation, tattoos and mid-century ephemera.

Paige, you’re mostly known for providing artwork for roller derby bouts, gig posters, burlesque shows and comic book pinups. What some folks might not know is that you also letter manga and design ads. You do a lot of different things and you do them all well. How do you juggle it all?

Aw thank you for the kind words! 
I definitely consider myself to be all over the place as far as projects go. Usually I schedule myself week by week and plan a day for this and a day for that. The paid gigs like manga lettering and commissions are always a priority. I usually focus exclusively on them until they’re done, especially when money and deadlines are involved. Freelance is all about time management and finding the initiative to start working, even when someone isn’t telling you to. If I have stuff that needs to get done and I’m taking time to work on personal projects I get an immediate pang of guilt that I could be spending this time on “work-work” instead of “fun-work”, as is the tendency when your hobbies and personal interests become your vocation. However when my schedule is free I tend to come up with fun side projects of my own, like fan art or crafting merch or creating concept art for my fabled magnum opus comic I’ve been working on for 20 years. 

Out of the varied work you do, do favor one discipline over another? 

Character design has always been my foremost passion. I didn’t have a ton of friends growing up, but early on I was introduced to RPG manuals, comic books and video games by my older brother. I love drawing people. Drawing unique characters and figuring out the puzzle to giving them that spark of life gives me so much joy and purpose. 

Does it require a change of mindset when you go from working on say a Manga then over to a gig poster? Any mental palette cleanser?

Oh absolutely! Like I said, some jobs have priority over others and I’ll devote my time and creative energy to them almost exclusively. When I need to finally take a break I try to get as far away from my computer desk as possible and focus on real life things in front of me. I’ve been taking Pilates classes the past couple of  years which has really helped me with my posture and undoing the years of damage that hunching over a sketchbook or computer desk has caused me. I also live in Williamsburg, Brooklyn which in and of itself is this crazy cultural zeitgeist and I’m very lucky to be here, so when weather allows I’ll take walks around the neighborhood to appreciate the city and all its inspiration. Being freelance at home and working crazy hours can be very isolating, so I’m glad to be able to even just open my shutters and be reminded that for good and bad, humanity exists. Which now in these days of constant screens in our faces, can get very divisive and make you forget that people are people and everybody’s got shit going on. 

What does a typical work day look like for you? Your workspace?

I work from home as a freelancer alongside my husband and fellow Kubert School alum Phil Balsman. With our powers combined, we form the design house Odin Star Industries. We usually have a staggered schedule (he’s a night owl, I’m a day walker) so I’ll get up before him and get my shit together. Coffee, NY1, moisturizers. Once Phil’s been roused I’ll head over into our office and get down to business. We have a two bedroom apartment (that I’m currently redecorating which is very exciting) and our second bedroom is our office space. Both Phil and I’s desks sit perpendicular to each other, so yes technically we’re ALWAYS at work. Work time is all the time. Which is great and terrible, all at once. Especially working in a field that directly correlates with your personal interests, because you’re so invested. That being said, my workspace is basically my entire apartment- I have one desk in the office alongside Phil’s where my computer and Cintiq tablet reside. That’s the “serious business” area, where I do all my digital work including manga lettering, ad design, typography/logos, and drawing/inking/coloring on the Cintiq. I also have a second desk out in the living room that’s reserved for physical media, mainly my sketchbooks, crafting and makeup. A lot of my creativity spills out into the world through how I express myself as a person. I’m very much into pinup and fashion and I will often get myself all dolled up when going out, a lot of the ideas I get for pinup art start with me being my own model. One of the tag lines on a con-exclusive art book I put together a few years ago was “is it life imitating art or art imitating life?” Which is very much my brand. And now with social media I can share the goofy adventures I dress up to go on with my friends and followers, which in turn inspires my art, which in turn affords me the ability to go out, ad infinitum.

In regard to Odin Star Industries, how do you guys divvy up the workload for a project you're working on as a team? 

Phil definitely takes on the majority of the Odin Star workload with designing logos and covers for manga and businesses. Most of the work I do under the banner of Odin Star is separate from Phil, including manga lettering, interior house ad design, and  reformatting digital comics files for print. Phil does enlist me for help with cover design on occasion. A major example of us collaborating was on the zombie manga series Sankarea, where the covers were completely redesigned from the Japanese version to something more palatable to the US market. The original manga series had a somewhat generic cover design that didn’t really tell the potential reader what the story was about. We ended up taking interior art from the book and I digitally colored it to match the spookier/horror feel we wanted to give and then Phil used those new art assets to design a new cover. It turned out really cool, I was very happy with it. Other duties I’ve had as a part of Odin Star Industries directly working along with Phil includes art assistance such as cleaning up image files, flatting colors, and standing over his shoulder at 1am and telling him which of the 3 f’s (or whatever letter it is) he built for this logo looks best.

Being that it’s still early into the new year, do you have any professional goals, art goals you’ve set for yourself?

Haha, ohhh there’s always ongoing stuff that I’m supposed to be working on. To the point that I get overwhelmed and have to take a nap. 
The guiding star of my entire career has always been that I want to draw actual comics. I’ve done a few shorts here and there but nothing of notable value. I’ve been carrying around my own magnum opus universe of characters in my head for over 20 years and every year I fine tune those ideas a little more and more and inch closer and closer to actually doing something with it. Like when I want to indulge in drawing purely for myself, I draw characters and scenes and ideas for that. So doing more of that is always on the to-do list. 
Also I’m tentatively planning a return to vending my wares at conventions. I took what was supposed to be a year long hiatus after 2015, but I was so very, very tired and here it is 2019 and I’ve still yet to muster the energy to be back working a show. Tables are expensive and require an exorbitant amount of time/work/money before, during and after the convention. I’ve been keeping my eye on shows and have been concocting new ideas for merch, so perhaps I’ll be back in the saddle in the near future. 
In the meantime, a more immediate goal I'm working on is more commissions and paid illustration work. One of the ways I'm doing this is running a special I just started this year of tattoo flash styled portraits with name banners and flowers. Couples, singles, I'm even doing pets. They've been taking off pretty well so far, and make great presents. I also have really enjoyed focusing on likenesses and the botanical illustration aspect It's been super rewarding making people happy with my art on an individual level. 

With an added interest in more illustration work, have you considered an agent, or representative? Ever used one in the past?

I’ve never used an agent or representative before! The whole process of acquiring one and then navigating the work that an agent would get me always sounded so daunting and complicated. Granted I have zero experience on the matter. I definitely could see how an agent would be helpful in matters of project management and rate negotiation. Shoot I know from experience that uncomfortable feeling of directly talking to a client about getting them to pay what I’m worth. Especially me being someone who’s known for always being so nice and pleasant and eager to please. There have been times that clients took advantage of that. So I get the appeal of someone going to bat for me and taking care of all the technical business stuff so I can focus on art. 

I ask everyone I interview…If you could only give one piece of advice, be it for lettering, or life, what would it be?      

Being a creative person who works in a visual field, I'm always looking for inspiration. A great way to find that elusive spark is to go read up on your favorite artist, and find out who inspired them. Or better yet go online or to a show and ask them yourself. I read about that in a book called "How to Steal Like an Artist". It's basically like going through your artistic family tree. Once you see who inspires your favorite artists you can almost see what bits and pieces they borrowed from to get the style that they're using, that's inspiring you. It's like being a DJ and crate digging for records. Yeah you can grab a sample everyone knows from a pop hit made in the last 30 years, but to me the best DJs are the ones who really dig in the crates and find some ancient gems no one knows about and folds that into their repertoire.

Thanks to Paige for talking shop with us this month. Be sure to check out her work and follow her on Twitter:

Interview with Taylor Esposito


Taylor Esposito is a graphic designer and letterer. He started working in comics in 2007. He’s worked for Marvel, Random House, Bottled Lightning, Valiant, and DC Comics. He’s currently working on Reanimator/Vampirella, Red Sonja, and Army of Darkness/Bubba Ho-Tep.

Taylor, you started working in comics in 2007 at the Marvel bullpen. Can you tell us what led up to that, and what was it like to work there.

Honestly, it was a bit of happenstance. I was out of college about 8 months, and had just left my seasonal job at the end of the year, when a good friend from college who was working in the bullpen called me to tell me about a temp job with Marvel for a few days/a week. The job was digitizing the comics for what ultimately became Marvel Digital Unlimited. I was there for a few months, learning bullpen responsibilities during that time. I eventually transferred to the bullpen proper and worked my way up to assistant to the production manager. It was a great experience, as I ended up learning how comics are put together from the end of the line. That job started my interest in lettering, which I picked up after I was laid off in 2011.

You’ve worked for most publishers already and have a massive amount of credits to your name. What’s the secret sauce to you being so prolific?

Hard work. I come from a very blue collar family, and the old world work ethic was instilled in me at a very young age. I just applied that work ethic to my career in comics. I also try to be as good to my collaborators as possible, as well as being as fast as I can. I never thought of myself as one of the best letterers, but I always try to make up for that with my professionalism and speed. The rest is that folks seem to want to work with me, for some reason I’ll never understand. Haha.

Being the horror hound I am, I’m a little jealous of some of the titles you’re working on. Do you look for horror projects in specific, or did your current line up converge on it’s own?

Haha, likewise, bud, some of the stuff you work on I’d kill to work on. I don’t look for them in particular, it kind of just falls into place that way. A lot of my friends and collaborators are horror folks as well, so when they request me, it just happens to be horror books. I guess my love of Halloween and the spooky doesn’t hurt my cause either.

Do you approach lettering a horror comic differently than say a superhero comic?

I try to approach every book as it’s own thing. Obviously, there are staples of super books that we use on those that we don’t use on horror, for example, but I start every book by looking at the art and reading the script to get a feel for the story, mood, etc., and then building a style guide from there. I try to give every project as individual attention as I can. Sometimes, we are given a basis from editorial to start with, but even with those, I try to put my spin on the projects as much as possible. The way I see it, I’m on this project for my skills, viewpoint, and taste, and as much as I can, I will put that into the book.

Have you ever had any conflict with what you wanted to bring to a book and what an editor/creator had in mind?

Fortunately, this hasn’t happened often. I’ve been very lucky to work with wonderful editors who also want the best for the projects, so their suggestions have usually been for the better. As we all know, sometimes we are too close to a project, and need a set of fresh eyes to see things properly. Even the few times it hasn’t worked out that way, it usually opens up a dialogue and a compromise is found. The wonderful thing about comics is that it is a team coming together to achieve a unified vision. I thrive on the collaborative process, and love to help bring a teams vision to life/completion.

Can you tell us about Ghost Glyph Studios?

Ghost Glyph Studios is my lettering/design studio. I started it in 2015 when I left the DC staff (due to the move to California) to keep working on comics and expand to other fields. I’m a graphic designer by trade/education, so I want to keep doing that as much as I can. It’s be an incredible ride watching the studio grow and the kind of projects I’ve gotten to work on as a result of it. Since starting the studio, I’ve begun training interns and even bringing Dezi (Sienty) to work with me on occasion. It was named for my love of Halloween/horror and spookiness, and incorporates a reference to lettering, as glyphs are what each letter/number/symbol are called.

(Dezi is awesome. Great call there!) What are the benefits of creating a studio and what goes on in the background to maintain it?

The benefits to a studio, at least as far as I’ve found, is a bit of insane baseball. With a studio, you definitely have business and tax help that keeps work and personal life separate, which as many freelancers know, can be a logistical nightmare at times. The behind the scenes is a lot of rigid work scheduling. Emails and bookkeeping are first thing in the morning, make sure the machine is running smoothly, followed by assigning work to those that need it. Once all the business side is done, the fun begins. I keep things separated like this to make sure there are few interruptions to the creative process. Another useful aspect to the studio is when you are looking to start business with companies, or hire interns, etc., is that the studio adds a bit of legitimacy to your business. When I freelanced the first time around, it was just under my name, and it always felt a bit like a college student just looking for a random project. It also allows for branding, which many of my clients seem to be attracted to. Having the studio has allowed me to branch into merchandise like t-shirts and enamel pins. I’ve been lucky that I had an example to learn from from my father’s business. I’ve just switched out automotive for comics/design.

Being that Halloween is tomorrow, it’s time for some serious questions…

Favorite horror movie, novel, and comic?

Hmm, Evil Dead 2, The Shining, (cheating) Babyteeth.

You have the chance to pin Ash against any opponent, who, and why?

Myers. Of all the 80s horror monsters, Myers is probably the scariest, as he just doesn’t stop, and isn’t really fueled by any magic, like Freddy or Jason. If Ash can’t taunt him, how can he possibly beat him. If not, Ash teams with the Monster Squad as adults versus the all the Universal Monsters.

I ask everyone I interview…If you could only give one piece of advice, be it for lettering, or life, what would it be?      

Specifically for lettering, but it does apply to life: It’s hard work with a long road ahead, and lots of amazing, well-trained, and respected colleagues working on 15-20 books each and every month. If you really want to be a letterer, you’ve gotta be as good and indispensable as possible. Lettering isn’t an easy way into comics. In fact, it might be one of the hardest.

Thanks to Taylor for talking shop with us this month. Be sure to check out his Ghost Glyph Studios: