This month we are pleased to share an interview with Ray Fawkes, the critically-acclaimed author of Underwinter, Intersect, One Soul, The People Inside, The Spectral Engine, Possessions, and Junction True, as well as Batman: Eternal, Constantine, Justice League Dark, and Gotham by Midnight (DC), Wolverines (Marvel), Black Hammer '45 (Dark Horse), Jackpot! (AfterShock) and more. He is an Eisner award nominee and a YALSA and Shuster award winner.
Ray, you’re an author, artist, poet,—a storyteller—and you seem to have chosen comics as your medium of choice. How did you get her and when did it all begin?
I’ve always had a love for comics as a unique medium - there are so many things you can do with comics that are difficult or impossible in any other media, and the fact that it’s something you can do on your own, put together and bring out to the public all by yourself for relatively little cost - are both factors that drew me to it initially.
It began for me with that impulse - to just make my stories and put them out there. I used to make little photocopied comics and take them to ‘zine fairs here in Toronto, selling them for one or two dollars a pop. They were pretty awful, but they brought me into this world that I loved - of creativity and storytelling - and I was hooked! Now I pretty much do the same thing, left to my own devices, but I’m lucky enough that there is an audience out there that enjoys and supports my work, and publishers who are willing to carry it further than I can on my own.
You’ve done some work for DC Comics but much of your work is creator-owned. Do you prefer to create your own characters and worlds?
I do, absolutely. In fact, I don’t really understand someone who wouldn’t . However, I should say that working with established characters really runs a close second place for me - it’s not like I don’t like doing it. I love it almost as much… it’s just that given the choice, I will always lean towards creating my own work out of whole cloth. There’s just more of a blank slate there, so my voice stands on its own, for better or worse.
While not all of your work is horror, there is an inherently dark quality to it—and often a contrast of beauty/horror. From your paintings to the mainstream characters like Batman and Constantine you write. Why are you drawn to the shadows?
That’s a deep question - something that I’m not sure I fully know the answer to. I’m simply drawn to darker, more difficult characters and themes - maybe it’s because I think of them as part of our world of life and beauty, not separate from it - and that’s something I don’t see a lot of people doing. For me, beauty and horror intertwine on a daily basis, when I think of the world around me.
What does a typical day in the life of Ray Fawkes look like? Where and when do you do your best work?
I work to a pretty regimented schedule - every week I break down three tasks in order of priority - an A, B, and C - and I have set hours that I’ll work on each. My schedule lists when I answer emails, when I stop to update my online store or do self-promotion work, and when I assemble pitches or do concept work. From week to week I may shuffle the priority of three projects, or pull in new ones and push current ones down or out of the schedule. It all sounds pretty complicated, but what it amounts to is a method to keep myself on track all the time, despite distractions. Deadlines can mess with everything, of course, but that happens less often than you’d think.
So typically I head down to the studio first thing in the morning, turn on some music, set down my coffee, and hit project A, B, or C as the schedule dictates. I continue, hour-by-hour on the scheduled tasks, until it’s time to pick the kids up from school or otherwise close out the day.
In the evening, if I need to, I’ll do more work on one of the tasks at hand. It’s… not a very relaxed life.
On some of your creator-owned titles, Intersect comes to mind, you’ve lettered your own books. Was this born of necessity, or was it a part of the comic process you actively wanted to do?
At first it was born of necessity, though I have come to enjoy lettering. I’m aware that I’m barely competent at it, though, and I feel that my lettering carries a story but doesn’t improve it. I prefer a professional letterer - like yourself - with greater skill when I can afford it.
Your latest book, Underwinter: Queen of Spirits, hit stores this month. (Full disclosure, I lettered it.) It’s the third volume, but each volume is it’s own unique story, are you thinking about a fourth installment?
The fourth volume is already plotted! I’m writing it now, and will likely be illustrating it later this year. I have a lot of plans for the world of Underwinter, and I hope readers are enjoying it.
I ask everyone I interview…If you could only give one piece of advice, be it for lettering, or life, what would it be?
I think the only piece of advice I ever give anyone that does any good - for any kind of art - is to do the work and don’t wait for someone to tell you it’s good enough. If you want to be a storyteller, a letterer, an artist, anything - do the work, finish the work, and then do another piece and another and another. Present your work to people - they’ll be drawn to your craft and your dedication as you keep going, and you will constantly improve as you finish one piece after another. Don’t worry about how much money you are or aren’t making. Don’t worry about praise or criticism. Just worry about how good the work is and how faithful it is to your own voice. Do the work.