ZACH HOWARD ain’t new to this. He’s been making comics for years, since 2003’s CLOCKMAKER and HEAVEN’S DEVILS, which quickly led to bigger things at DC and IDW, hitting a thrust-pad with his work on SHAUN OF THE DEAD.
His elaborate, razor-tight, and insanely detailed linework set him at the top of many go-to lists for amazing draftsmanship, keeping him plenty busy until 20I0’s Eisner-nominated Best Single Issue, THE CAPE, written by Joe Hill, which turned into a celebrated 4-issue series. But he really hit his sweet spot with his original series WILD BLUE YONDER in 2013. And if you don’t know that series yet, you’ve got catching up to do.
So start here, with an all-too-brief introduction to an artist you should already be fanatical about…
(note — a lot of the work in this gallery will be black-and-white, because that’s where Zach lives: in the contrast…)
How did you start drawing? Did you draw as a child, or did it come later?
Growing up having to move a lot and often on isolated military bases or in strange lands, I would fill the days with just drawing robots, ninjas, and most importantly, Conan.
What influenced you to draw?
I don’t know, to be honest. No one in my early life encouraged me to draw, but I also think it might not be necessary – I think if you give any kid a crayon they will start to draw things. The desire to draw is more innate than any external stimulus, I suspect. I just had a lot of time to spend by myself, so if I had to pick one influencing factor motivating me to draw, it would have to be loneliness. I needed drawing to escape objective reality or better yet, communicate my thoughts and imagination in a visual form.
What was your “big break” into making illustration a career? How did that unfold over time? What professional experience and projects have you worked on?
Steve Jackson Games gave me my first consistent chance at illustrating as a professional. I had very few skills at that point, so I am fortunate they were willing to work with me while I learned to build my toolbox and understanding of the medium.
However, my first real paying comic book gig was for the HELLBOY RESOURCE MANUAL published through SJG. I drew a five page comic book aping Mignola that was included with a handful of spot illustrations in an RPG for that IP. After I did that, I got two different Image series and slowly worked my way onward into the comic book medium.
I quickly got picked up by DC comics after Image, but I found that I was rather unhappy working on the books and creative teams they hired me for. So I took a chance on a small publisher to see if drawing Indie comics would be more fulfilling. Fortunately I landed SHAUN OF THE DEAD and pretty much sealed my fate as an Indie artist.
Although I bounce around and mix up the jobs and companies I work for (some still for the big guys) to fight boredom, I mostly can be found just doing my original creator owned series at this point. I’ve done a crap ton of quick little side gigs throughout my career to help spice up things after a long project, but my heart will always lie in Indie creator owned sequential stories. I love telling a story more than the actual drawing that goes into it.
Your first big hit to bring you name recognition was illustrating THE CAPE with writer Joe Hill, a book that went on to receive an Eisner nomination. How did this project come to life?
I would say that SOTD was my first hit, but The Cape was definitely my most popular work. 😉 Anyhow, I was at a point in my career, coming off an extremely terrible yearlong job, where I was considering leaving comics and either going into another storytelling medium or teach. However, serendipity in the form of Chris Ryall (IDW EiC) stepped into my life again and asked if I’d like to do one more book with him. I only promised I would read the script. Ha! The script happened to be one based off of Joe Hill’s short story The Cape. And it was a motherfucker.
For the first time in years I felt excited again, so I took the gig. I jumped in and by the time I was finishing the book I think everyone was planning for a miniseries to complete the character’s story. If I could pick one job that ever saved my career and motivation to draw, that would be the one. It put some wind in the sails and completely solidified my love of creator owned books. Outside of an odd quick project here or there, you’ll only see me doing CO work from here on out.
You followed that up with the original series WILD BLUE YONDER, which you created and Kickstarted with writer Mike Raicht, back in the early days of crowdfunding, before it was such a standard practice. What did that experience teach you (considering you haven’t been back to the well since…)?
Although it was a grind, it paid the bills for the first couple of issues which is a godsend for creators. As for dipping back into that well, I might one day, but I’d have to be pretty desperate or have someone else do all the damn sketch-work, personalized drawings, packed boxes, human idiot dealings, lost mail, etc. the next go around.
That being said, it is a tremendous way for creator owned projects to get off the ground. It bridges the money gap that always prevented countless projects never seeing the light of day. It’s a good day to be an artist.
The success of WBY as a crowdfunding campaign, and then successful comic series and graphic novel, led to interactive development. What can you tell us about that project/experience?
Intel grabbed up the WILD BLUE YONDER IP to show off their new Realsense camera technology. We ended up building a fully interactive motion comic of the WBY collection. It mixed linear storytelling with player manipulating the artwork using their hands, head, body, expressions, and voice. However, as you well know, technology moves rapidly and the project has now spiderwebbed into other types of interactive technology. The only down side to this is that it takes longer for everything to come out. I’m so used to comics coming out right after I make them that finding patience in the tech process is trying for me.
The most jaw-dropping moment of this experience is getting to see great actors’ voices come out of my character’s mouths. Surreal! I know you have to wait to see it, but Gerard Butler steals the entire show. We even have behind the scenes footage of him acting out his scenes with a mock axe in his hand. Very fucking cool stuff. Makes the inner fanboy’s toes curl. Austin Harrison gets all the credit for making that greatness happen.
So now that you’re a veteran multi-media developer, where do you want to go next? What are you working on now?
Noble Transmission (the company I own with Mike Raicht and Austin Harrison) will continue to produce both comics and multimedia endeavors (both tech oriented and movies), so I’ll always have a foot in both worlds from here on out. In fact, we have an all-ages Graphic Novel coming out through Dark Horse in November titled TREEMAIL. It’s by Mike Raicht and Spongebob artist Brian Smith who are known best through their NY Times Bestseller THE STUFF OF LEGEND. Anyhow, I feel it’s one of the best all-ages books ever created and I hope people give it a try.
Back to topic! I will be developing a fantasy/adventure book about rabbits called BUCK. We’ll be hiring another artist to draw the bulk of it while I’ll be designing, art directing and drawing about 25 pages of side-story for the series.
However, the next full series I’m doing for release next summer I can’t talk about until it’s announce at NYCC. All I can say is that it’s a sequel and when people see it we’re going to blow the shit right out of their pants. =)
What do you want to do some day?
Conan is the only thing on my bucket list. I can only hope Crom grants me this one wish… And if not? Then the hell with him!