Today's indie spotlight is on the visionary Tony McMillen. I first discovered his work on the Wizərd zine and have since become a huge fan of his work. As I continue my quest of discovering new cartoonists, I continue to be amazed at the work being created and Tony is no exception.
He was kind enough to chat with me for a bit to talk about his work, hope you guys enjoy. Make sure you give him a follow and check out the awesome work he's creating.
RYAN: First off, can you tell the readers a little bit about yourself?
TONY: I’m a cartoonist as well as a novelist, my first novel Nefarious Twit was published about eight years ago and my first comic work, Lumen was put out by myself almost two years ago. I’m pretty much a 38 year-old wunderkind.
RYAN: What was your first exposure to the world of comics? Was Wizard a part of your comics experience as a kid?
TONY: I’m a child of the 80s and 90s and lived through the Batmania that Tim Burton’s Batman movie wrought and one of my first comics ever was Frankie Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns because they were selling it at bookstores trying to cash in on the new movie. So there I was, 8 years old and looking at swastikas on boobs and wondering why that creepy Muppet from the “Land of Confusion” music video was the President of the United States in this book. I think I thought all comics were like that. I was kinda right?
In the beginning I was really into Batman, Spider-Man comics and then X-Men and quickly started noticing the difference an artist I liked would make on a comic over one I didn’t. I was aged perfectly for both Wizard and Image Comics since they arrived almost hand in hand featuring most of my favorite artists from Marvel and DC. Image offered a fresh universe of characters to get into on the ground floor while Wizard offered a bit of insight into the history of comics aa a whole so I could make sense of what all came before.
RYAN: With such a unique artistic style, I was wondering, who are some of your artistic influences?
TONY: Thanks! I learn again and again that it always pays to try and find your own voice in art because at the very least you’ll always be the number one “you” style artist. Whereas aping anyone else, even if you’re great at it, you’ll never be anything but number 2, you know?
When I feel like being nice to myself I think I’m a Keith Moon style artist. Keith Moon was known as, “the world’s greatest Keith Moon style drummer,” because his playing broke a lot of rules but somehow still worked.
Of course, the people who don’t like his playing would call it sloppy, unprofessional and self-serving. So…
But that being said I have tons of artists who’ve influenced me. I think one of my strong suits is actually being a poor imitator. Like Hank Azaria from The Simpsons, half of his character’s voices are just shitty attempts at doing impressions of famous actors and Hank failing at that but finding something else that becomes his own. His Moe is really just Al Pacino done poorly, like the knuckle joints I sometimes draw started out as a really weak Erik Larsen impression.
The biggest influence in my work is Frank Miller. His dramatic posing, his blending of primitive, bold, even messy lines, with elegant, controlled reduction and chiaroscuro technique; all of that and his continuing to evolve have always stuck with me.
I also think the funkiness of Jae Lee and Sam Keith is in there, the thickness of figure and gnarled fingers of Todd McFarlane’s characters, the stark, gothic, cartoony of Mike Mignola and the looseness and liveliness of Ashley Wood.
Lately, since I’ve been drawing comics and not just illustrations I’ve been influenced more by the storytelling of artists. The page layouts, the panel to panel transitions. Michel Fiffe’s work has taught me a lot about how to balance style with storytelling. Same goes for Tom Scioli. Both are also huge influences on my approach to coloring, working to create something slightly surreal and emotive that compliment my gestural line work. The coloring of Lynn Varley is huge for me as well.
RYAN: Once again, your work was brought to my attention through the Wizerd Zine. What was your experience being a part of that awesome project?
TONY: That was a complete gas. Eli and I did a Facetime interview and it was refreshing to have a real conversation with someone I’d only talked with online previously. His layout and design work on my interview as well as the whole book are so beautiful, he really outdid himself. With all the shit Wizard Magazine gets (deservedly so) it was still a big part of what got me trapped in the amber of comics for life. So, seeing my name in the pages of even a facsimile Wizard publication had me grinning ear to ear. Plus, I got to do some journalism again (I used to write for DigBoston and a few other sites) and I got to jabber about my favorite comic being made, Michel Fiffe’s Copra!
RYAN: Will you be working on the Image Grand Design book?
TONY: Hell yes. I have an 8 page story in the spin off book Image Grand Disaster. It stars Sam and Twitch from Spawn as well as Pitt. Of course I found a way to work in cameos from a bunch of other early Image characters too. Basically anybody that’s fun for me to draw has a panel in there.
RYAN: So far you have 2 projects that I've had a chance to check out, LUMEN & SERIOUS CREATURES. Can you talk a little bit about those projects?
TONY: Lumen is the story of a world of endless night and a hero with a lantern; also an apple-owl. We follow Esteban Vela, a young man living in the Nocterra who finds a suit of armor with a lantern that is fueled by the glowing substance known as Lumen. Lumen is the most precious commodity on the planet because not only does it bring light to a sunless world but it also allows plants and other life to grow. Soon after finding the armor Esteban gets involved with a science-witch named Detta who enlists him on a heist to capture a lumen horde located in a long abandoned southern castle invested by mushroom monsters known as Fun Guys.
I think the book combines the geez whiz joy of something like Adventure Time with the brooding sci-fi gothic overtones of H.R. Giger’s Alien. Throw in a little Metroid and Batman and you’re almost there. Lumen ran for 4 issues and has since been collected into a trade paperback entitled Lumen, Level One: Fallen Stars. I should be getting back to that world sooner or later; there’s lots more stories to tell there.
Serious Creatures is my current project and the final issue (#6) should be shipping in July. It’s the story of a teenage special FX artist named Bobby Feckle who starts working on Hollywood movies at age 14 in the late 70s on up through the 80s and 90s. It follows the rise and fall of the practical effects industry which works in tandem with the burgeoning blockbuster era brought on by films like Jaws, Star Wars and the like. The book combines slice of life coming of age stuff with the behind the scenes movie lore that I’m a sucker for.
RYAN: Where did the inspiration for each respective series come from?
TONY: The career of Serious Creatures’ main character Bobby Feckle is based on Rob Bottin who was responsible for the special fx for The Thing, Robocop, The Howling and many other pictures before disappearing in the early 2000s. Like Bobby he started working professionally in Hollywood at age 14 and did his revolutionary work on The Thing at age 21!
But all the personal parts of the story are based on my own life or just made up and have nothing to do with Bottin. For example, in the first issue when Bobby’s big sister moves away he gives his big sister his most cherished possession in the world; a copy of Famous Monsters of Filmland Magazine. In real life, when my big sister moved away, I gave her my most cherished possession in the world; Spawn issue 1.
Lumen was conjured into the world under weirder circumstances: The first thing was I wanted to design and illustrate an instruction manual for a video game that didn’t exist. The second thing was I tasked myself with the hypothetical challenge that if I, like Frank Miller or Alan Moore, had been tasked with reinventing a so-so popular superhero and making them work who would be the biggest challenge for me? What would I change about the character? What would I keep?
The answer was Green Lantern. Because I fucking hate Green Lantern. And it turns out I would change everything about him except the lantern. I’d keep that. The fake video game about a guy with a lantern took on a life of its own and pretty soon I knew I had to make it a comic.
RYAN: As I said before, your art style is very unique, it's what initially drew me to your work. I was wondering what type of tools do you use? Do you work traditionally or digital?
TONY: Thanks a lot. I ink with a Pilot Parallel Pen. It’s a chisel tip pen made for calligraphy but a few sneaky geniuses like myself use it for comics instead. It’s great because it’s all I need wrapped up in one tool. It’s the Bathroom Buddy of art pens as far as I’m concerned. I can drag the flat edge across a page to make big swathes of black which also can leave a randomized tread sort of texture; I have some control over that with how much pressure I put on the pen. And then I can use the corner of the tip for all the fine point work I want to do. Not having to switch tools in the middle of drawing allows me to just flow with what I’m doing and not overthink things. …for better or worse I suppose.
I color digitally using Procreate but strive to make the work look as traditional as possible; using lots of crayon, watercolor and halftone brushes.
RYAN: What do you find most rewarding about self-publishing your work?
TONY: Control and speed. I’ve had novels and short stories published through traditional small presses and while it’s very gratifying and beneficial to work with editors who believe in the work enough to publish it as well as help improve it the process takes forever! It’s such a thrill to make a comic and then print it and ship it to people and hear from them almost instantly what they liked or didn’t like about it.
RYAN: What project are you currently working on?
TONY: I’m in the middle of making the last issue of Serious Creatures. After that wraps I’m going to take a couple months and put together a bunch of bonus material and collect all six issues of the series into one big, honking collection called Serious Creatures, Reel 1: Never Been to California. Serious Creatures will continue with a second series in a year from now (Reel 2) entitled Now Leaving the Golden State which will conclude the saga of Bobby Feckle.
But in the meantime I have already written three novels called The Bleeding Tree Trilogy which I’m going to publish myself this year. The books are dark, folk rock fantasy adventure stories that I’ve been describing as feeling like Mark Twain’s Dune. I’m going to also do some shorter comic work, the idea being doing trailers for fake movies in comic form and possibly collecting them in a little bootleg zine called The Previews Catalog. The first one is Alien 2, which is my pitch on how to right the ship of the franchise after Ridley Scott steered it over the side of the world.
RYAN: Where can we follow you to learn about any projects you might be working on?
TONY: There’s my website, which has some free comics to read:
and my Instagram where I post nearly daily whatever I’m drawing: