Interview with comic artist and teacher Steven Walker
Nowadays comics are part of the mainstream culture, but that wasn’t always the case. Those in the industry creating these visual masterpieces have had interesting journey’s to get into the business. I had the chance to sit down with artist Steven Walker who has not only had an impressive career in the medium, but also splits his time teaching the next generation of creators in the ways of the world of comics.
Bobby: As an artist myself I am always interested in how people got on their path with art. Where did you get the bug to draw?
Steven: I’ve been drawing since I was a little kid so this is something that has been a part of me since I was really young. I got into comics like a lot of people and my dad used to bring them home. We would sit and read them together so comics and drawing has always been a big part of my life. I went to SVA for a degree in cartooning illustration and when I got out I started working with Jamal Igle as his assistant for a number of years. It’s one of those paths where you work with an established artist and when they feel you’ve hit a certain level they give you a shot and that is what Jamal did. He passed me on to a buddy of his named Alexander Lagos and we hit it off. He had a property that he was working on and we started working on which eventually became Sons of Liberty that I did for Random House Books.
Bobby: Did you have any specific artists that you looked at that you feel inspired your style as you were coming up?
Steven: Oh yeah. I got really lucky going to the school that I went to because I got taught by some of the best artists in the industry. I got to study under Joe Orlando before his death who was very good and very tough. I also got taught by Carmine Infantino and Walt Simonson is kind of like my comic book dad. I got taught by some heavy hitters that had a large impact on how I draw and my style.
Bobby: Did you ever have something else you wanted to do with your artwork or did you always want to be in the comic business?
Steven: Ever since I started drawing I wanted to do comics. I had the realization that I could actually do this for a living when I was like 11 or 12 years old, but of course no idea how to make that happen. If for some reason that hadn’t worked out my other love was creature effects and make-up.
Bobby: As a cartoonist I struggled with wanting to be something I was not. I was influenced by Jim Davis but wanted to draw like Jim Lee. Did you ever hit a time in your art that way or were you able to just evolve in the direction you wanted to go with your art?
Steven: Oh yeah. You see somebody’s style and want to do that. When I was coming up Todd McFarlane was the Spider-Man guy and drew him cooler than anyone so I definitely wanted to draw like him. Jim Lee as well. Jim Lee on X-Men and McFarlane on Spider-Man were the two heavy hitters when I was a kid. You also had really cool guys like Erik Larson who did Spider-Man after McFarlane. I looked at his stuff and saw this gritty and hatchy where McFarlane’s stuff had a weird softness to it. Larson is the diametric opposite to that had some cartoony look but hard edged and almost closer to Kirby in a way. I was looking at that stuff a lot and realized as you get better that those guys draw a particular way, but you also draw a particular way too right. I have what’s probably classified as a more classic style like John Buscema and Gil Kane stuff that creeped in too. All of that influenced how I draw, but I kind of left the Lee and McFarlane stuff behind as become more honed as an artist.
Bobby: Looking at some of the pages to Sons of Liberty it has the classic art style but still some of the panel layouts that reminded me of the 90s. Was that something you were trying to do on purpose to have that classic feel to it?
Steven: That story is considered historical fiction about two young runaway slaves who through a series of misadventures fall captive to Benjamin Franklin’s illegitimate son. He experiments on them giving them superpowers through electricity. That’s where the fantastical comes in on that and because it was historical fiction kind of thing and the way the writers wanted it to feel very cinematic it lent itself to some of those extreme camera angles. They also knew I did very classical superhero stuff so they wanted that in there as well.
Bobby: As an artist what do you look for in a project?
Steven: Sometimes the money isn’t there and that can be a factor, but when someone comes to me with a project I do give it a thought to see if it’s something I want to do. So when I am reading something and images start coming into my head or a direction of the page becomes visual then I know “Crap, I’m working on this”. (Laughs) Not in a bad way, it’s just that the images are there and it has started to become a thing. I look for jobs that I can get some emotional investment into the character or property. I am also very picky on who I work with just
because I don’t want to work with someone who is just in it to make a buck because there is no love there. You have to be able to do the back and forth with a person and if they are just there just to get some cash that’s not for me.
Bobby: Outside of your career as a comic artist you teach as well correct?
Steven: Yeah, I have been a teacher at the Art Students League of New York for about 10 years now. I also teach at the New York Academy of Art and I work for a nonprofit called Dreamyard. They are a program that brings arts education programs to schools from elementary-high schools in the Bronx.
Bobby: After being mentored by so many different greats did you just feel you had a calling to teach as well or was that something you just kind of fell into during your career?
Steven: Honestly it was something I kind of fell into a little bit. When I was coming up I would talk to my parents about what my plans were and I was stubborn. I was going to create comics and had such tunnel vision on what that was that I didn’t really see anything else. They said I should teach and of course I would think of all the things that people like those who can’t, teach. As I have lost a lot of my own huberous I have realized a few things which is that is B.S. I looked at the people that were teaching me at one point and all of those people know how to do the job really, really well to the point where their creations are being transferred into other mediums. I kind of fell into teaching a little bit and my buddy Jamal was working at the Art Student League and asked me to sub for him for a little bit. I did and realized I kind of dug it. When they decided to have him back he told them I was going to split the class with him and we did that for about a year. After that he got so busy with work he couldn’t keep up and told me to take it and run with it. I stumbled into it but have realized that it has been a huge boom to my own work because I have learned just as much teaching my students that I hope my students have learned from me. They keep me up do date on things I would honestly fall behind on. I’m a pure analog guy and these kids are pulling out IPads and doing all this crazy stuff. I am just sitting there watching seeing how cool it is.
Bobby: Yeah I wasted a lot of my youth wanting to be something I wasn’t as an artist. I found as a teacher of martial arts and then applying it to my own art that I had to be open and get out of my own way.
Steven: That’s a big part of it, being true to yourself. That becomes a huge part of your artistic identity.
Bobby: When you deal with that as a teacher and have so many different art styles coming into classes does that make it harder for you as a teacher?
Steven: Not really because I have found the best thing to do as a teacher is focus on the student rather than what the student does. Like in martial arts if you have someone doing a front kick and they are putting a little flair on it are you concerned more about the technique or the student doing it? If a student is trying to do something against type a bit, I try to steer them back. I ran into this recently with a student that draws very cartoony, but then he did this drawing that was still cartoony but totally him. It wasn’t influenced by anyone, it was just this quick little sketch and I told him “that’s it, that’s you.” I had him draw it over and over again because that was his voice. That is where his style is going to go.
Bobby: I love hearing that because I am sure you have run across those teachers that want to force you to stick to the “rules” and I know it really hurt my growth for a bit.
Steven: Oh yeah. We are about the same age and if you remember there was a very big backlash against comics. Those were what kids read and not serious art. The head of the illustration department in college tell me that comics was a dying medium and I should try working in something else. Had I listened to those people it might have been better financially but not near as fulfilling.
Bobby: Outside of teaching do you have any other projects you would like to promote or can talk about?
Steven: I have something in the works that I can’t really talk about yet, but it is coming. I am doing another book cover that I cannot talk about either. Thanks NDA, I love you so much.
Bobby: I really appreciate you taking the time to speak with me and look forward to seeing these other projects soon.
Steven: Thanks man, this was a lot of fun.
For more information on The New York Academy of Art head over to https://nyaa.edu/
For more information on The Art Students League head over to https://www.theartstudentsleague.org/
For information on Dreamyard head over to https://www.dreamyard.com/staff/