Please give our readers the elevator pitch of your creation The Strange Tales of Oscar Zahn.
The Strange Tales of Oscar Zahn chronicles the adventures of a handsome, well dressed paranormal investigator who also happens to be just a floating skull. An even shorter pitch would be “H.P. Lovecraft meets Miyazaki.”
When I discovered Oscar Zahn on Line Webtoon it stopped me dead in my tracks. It reminds me of Mike Mignola’s The Amazing Screw-On Head and B.P.R.D., both of which am a big fan. Your artistic style shows influences of Tyler Crook and Guy Davis. Where did you draw your inspiration for Oscar Zahn?
Obviously I’m a HUGE fan of Mignola and Guy Davis. I love the way Mignola uses light and shadow as the key element in his compositions and looking at his stuff so often throughout the years, I realized that a mundane scene lit in an interesting manner can often be more visually interesting than a scene with really crazy stuff going on.
As for Guy Davis, I really enjoy his storytelling and just the way he lays out a page. I could probably flip through Guy Davis’s run BPRD, not read any words, and still get a good sense of what’s going on. I’m not too familiar with Tyler Crook but a quick Google search shows me stuff I could really get into.
I also drew inspiration from Miyazaki, specifically the gentle nature and humanity that’s all over his work. I think pop culture media (comics, movies, video games) do a good job of asking a lot of interesting questions but unfortunately most of the answers to those questions involving punching or machine gunning something to death. I really admire how Miyazaki’s work sort of meditates on the issues his work presents.
As for general artistic influences there’s just so many! I don’t know how much they directly influence my work but I’m a huge fan of Katsuhiro Otomo, Frank Quitely, Alex Toth, James Harren, Takehiko Inoue, Antoine Carrion, half of Tumblr. The list goes on and on and on…
How do you find creating a comic on the Line Webtoon’s platform? Does it pose any unique challenges for you as an artist?
I find it EXTREMELY difficult actually because I make the comic originally for print.
I lay out the pages in a traditional manner and compose panels that would look good when seen together on the page. I then go in and crop the heck out of everything to fit into the Webtoons format.
The scale of the art is also an issue. Sometimes I’ll draw a long wide panel to slow down the story and show the scale of an environment but when cropped into the Webtoons format the image is super tiny. Sometimes I need to break down that panel into multiple images to simulate a camera panning across but other times, there’s not much I can do and just have to live with a tiny image.
The reverse is true for vertical compositions. Sometimes a fairly mundane shot, like a panel of a person’s head, will all of a sudden be HUGE in the Webtoons format. I’m still struggling with the best way to make it work.
There are some major benefits to working in Webtoons however. The scrolling format reads really well on mobile devices and in a lot of ways, it’s easier to get lost in a story because you are only focused on one panel at a time. It’s easy to surprise readers because they can’t see the next panel coming out of the corner of their eye.
I do eventually want to see Oscar Zahn in print. I believe it’s easier to adjust the print format for web than vice versa. In an ideal world there would be two of me and I could design something just for web and leave the restrictions of print behind. That would be a lot of fun!
The first six-part Oscar Zahn story Lost and Found was not only a visual delight but also very touching tale. What can you tell us about Oscar’s next adventure The Last Solider of Somme?
Lost and Found was my first comic so I was really not confident in my abilities as a storyteller (I’m still not!). I played it safe and intentionally kept the story and writing very simple so I can focus more on the visuals.
With The Last Soldier of Somme I wanted to try telling a longer, more ambitious story and allow myself the opportunity to grow as a writer.
The story is set in World War 1. While I try to inject as much history into it as I can, it is by no means an accurate representation of history. The story follows a young Canadian soldier named Charlie “Bad Luck” Harper and his encounter with a mysterious soldier who is not what he seems to be.
We will also get to find out a little bit more about Oscar and his relationship with Agnes. Oscar is interesting for me to write primarily because he has no facial expressions. While he seems like a pretty happy-go-lucky character, we need to just take him as he is. There’s no way for us to read him. A character like that would find it very easy to keep secrets, except from Agnes who is the one character that seems to truly know Oscar. I’m really looking forward to exploring the dynamic between those two.
For this story, I was inspired by a lot of Wes Anderson stuff, specifically how his worlds are simultaneously sincere and ludicrous all at once.
I can’t really say much more at this time without spoiling anything so you’ll just have to follow along with the story to find out what happens (haha!).
Do you have a road map in mind for your character or plots drafted for future tales?
The Last Soldier of Somme is pretty well plotted out to the end but I like to keep things loose. Sometimes it seems as if the story and characters just want to go in a different direction than where I planned them to go.
Other than that I also have a specific character arc for both Oscar and Agnes that will have a definite ending. I’m not sure how long it will take to reach that ending or what the series would evolve to after we’ve reached that point or even if there would be any more Oscar Zahn stories to tell. I’m looking forward to finding out!
In between now and then, I have some fun ideas that I’d like to try out. Right now they are not any more fleshed out than “Oscar in Space” or “Oscar in the Wild West”.
Do you hope to have Oscar Zahn available in print some day, or would you prefer to continue to distribute your work through digital channels?
I would love to see Oscar Zahn in print!
My original plan was to self publish the comic, bring it to some conventions, try to sell 20 or 30 copies and call it a day but the web has allowed the series to grow much bigger than I ever hoped. Now its a matter of trying to find some time between producing new pages for Webtoons and my freelance jobs to put together a pitch package that I can shop around to publishers like Image or whoever might be interested.
Let’s chat a bit about your other experience as a creator. Your have worked in both the video game and animation industries. Please share a few highlights of your previous experience and why you decided to make the jump into freelance comic book work.
For the first 10 years of my career, I was just a nameless artist moving from studio to studio. There was some cool projects I was involved with and I met a lot of great people. But really, a lot of it was just a grind.
Don’t get me wrong, I don’t mean it in a bad way. It gave me the opportunity to hone my craft and learn the discipline needed to succeed in this field. I compare it to Conan on the Wheel of Pain (from Conan The Barbarian).
I decided to make the jump to freelance because I hit a point where the grind had become comfortable in its stability but also unbearable. I hadn’t done anything that was truly me. If I wasn’t careful, I could go the rest of my career without ever having done anything that was truly creative.
Last year, I decided to take a year off and just do something that was purely for me. Ironically, once I started doing something that I was interested in and shared it for others to see, freelance started coming in because people liked what they saw.
I’m still very new on this career path. I have to work very hard to make ends meet now but I feel more fulfilled than ever. I can’t picture myself going back to studio work in the near future.
Joining RAID might have been the best career decisions I’ve ever made.
When I first joined, I wasn’t sure if it was a prudent move. Studio rent is that last thing you need when you aren’t working. I figured that the best way for me to survive as an independent artist would be to surround myself with other artists who are succeeding in the path that you want to be on. I’ve learned so much from my studio mates. Everyday I am so inspired and impressed by what they do.
It’s a very creative and free environment. Everybody is an independent artist and can come and go as they wish. That makes their discipline all the more impressive when I see them working hard at their desks and pumping out amazing work.
Unfortunately, despite our best efforts, its hard to collaborate on projects. Everybody has their own gigs and deadlines they need to meet. There’s always talk about trying to put something together as a group, hopefully one day we can make it happen!
Are you working on any other projects outside of Oscar Zahn you would like to tease us with?
I AM working on a project that I’m super excited about but I’m not sure what I can talk about just yet. I think I can say that I’m working with Tapastic on it. Hopefully that doesn’t get me in trouble!
Do you have plans to make any comic con appearances this year? What is the best way for fans show their appreciation for your work and connect with you?
I’m normally at all the cons in Toronto (Fan Expo, Comic Con, TCAF). Unfortunately I won’t be at Fan Expo this year due to my busy schedule. I’ll keep you posted on the next convention I can make it to.