Greetings everyone. Today I’m honored to connect with the very prolific, and very honest, J. M. Bryan.
While I would normally put together some color-coded, alliteration-obsessed introduction to focus your attention, this artist is far too personal for heavy-handed words. It doesn’t take much Internet stalking to become attached to J’s style. It’s near impossible to not get pulled underneath the “criminally” emotional riptide that is Closer, and his collection of shorts, Stuff, seems to be the perfect marriage between a childish heart and an old soul. Whether you’re healed by the young vulnerability of “Broken,” or choose to breakdown reality itself with the abstract storytelling in “Galaxia Apparatus” (soaked in just the right amount of fear mind you), the journey always seems to end in quiet reflection.
Without giving away too much, Ted is my new favorite member of the undead community. J’s humorous take on humility and relationships makes being undead seem very life-like. Lastly, his colorful take on a bad dream just might leave you looking forward to your next nightmare. Take a deep breath, my friends. Let’s find out what’s it’s like inside the open heart of an artist just crazy enough to be himself.
Chris: Good to have you with us, J. I understand you have a comic writer in the family. Did that inspire/influence your storytelling? How long have you been writing, and what was it like shifting from poetry to short stories to novels to comics?
J: I have a cousin, Rich Woodall, who has been writing and illustrating comics for as long as I can remember. I remember being a kid looking at his comic collections and at his books thinking, “I want to make something like this someday.” So I guess it inspired in that I knew that I could do it if I put my mind to it and actually did it. My adventure in writing comics has just begun, but I’ve been writing prose and poetry since I could write. I actually have an old notebook full of “ghost stories” I wrote in first grade. They are terrible, truly terrible, but I suppose the positive side is that I was putting something down on paper. When I finally started writing comic scripts, the first few drafts were incredibly rough, but thankfully there are a lot of resources on the internet that help you learn to write in any kind of medium. So the transition really wasn’t that bad.
Chris: Kickstarter is a typical avenue for many indie comic creators, BUT I understand you managed to get it 250% funded via mostly strangers without much connection in the community or strategy. How do you explain your success?
J: Dumb luck, mostly. I was fortunate to have a lot of people share the project and, if I can take any credit (which I don’t want to), I would say that my low goal amount and low pledge levels really helped me meet my goal. I think people are a lot more likely to help any kind of crowdfunding effort when they feel like they are going to get their money’s worth or more. I tried my best to offer a lot for a little. My goal with Closer was not to make money but to make something people would want to read, so I really just wanted to get it into people’s hands.
Chris: Closer is a wonderful story. I’m curious. It’s in Black and White, and yet, Nathaniel’s love Marie has scars. The simple choice seems to pull emphasis away from the injury, but Marie is very self-conscious about them. Is that symbolic of how we as humans tend to focus on “imperfections” more than we should, or is it simply coincidence? I have many scars myself and would love your take on things.
J: I’m going to try and keep this answer as short as I can, but I could spend all day talking about this aspect of Closer because, at the core, it’s what the comic is about. I’m a believer, mostly by experience, that everyone has something that they would give up everything for. It’s that old cliché that “everyone has a price.” When I was a teenager and the story for Closer began forming in my mind, that something was love. I would have done anything to find that one person I could be with forever. Now, as a married man with kids, I think that family is that thing I would give up everything for. I would do anything to make sure they are safe and taken care of. Now those are pretty standard answers, but I wanted to explore the darker side of all this in Marie’s self-consciousness about her scars. If someone were to come along and offer to take those away, to give her the relief from the stares and the whispers of people she walked by, what would she do to get it? If there truly is something that haunts us all, something that we suffer with every day, what would we give up to have that taken away and finally be at peace? That’s really where the focus on the scars comes from.
Chris: Did you always want Closer to be a 2-Issue story? Where does your love of the short story form come from? Do you prefer a quick knockout punch to longer bouts of exploration? I understand it was initially meant to be a novel.
J: Yeah, I originally planned it to be a novel, but I found that I needed some sort of visual to go with it in order to fully tell the story that I wanted to tell faithfully. That was really frustrating to me and bothered me for a long time until I decided to put it into comic form. I fully intended to release it as a one-shot comic, but after talking with some people about it, I decided to release it in two parts to really raise the tension and have that cliff hanger that I really wanted in there. While I love a good ongoing comic, I feel it’s easier for me at this point in my writing career to write shorter stories to ensure that I can really write a full beginning, middle, and end to a story. I suppose that means that right now I write shorter stories for convenience, but I don’t want to bring myself into a situation this early on where I wouldn’t be able to finish something that I started. I must also add that some of my favorite books growing up were the collections of short stories of any genre, especially scary stories. Those have always meant a lot to me because I spent so much time getting into them.
Chris: I love to read. I tend to dive into non-fiction, though I agree with you in terms of it being dry at times. Stephen King taught me to love the more imaginative form, but why do you feel reading fiction is important for people in general?
J: I think that any kind of reading is beneficial. For instance, I noted recently to someone that while I might not enjoy a book like Twilight (just an example, no one needs to jump on me), I know that I can learn something from the writing, whether it is what to do or what not to do, when writing a book. Reading fiction allows me to explore worlds I never imagined and can really open my mind to new possibilities with my own creations. Even if you aren’t looking that deeply into the work, there are many classic works of fiction that challenge us in many ways or just entertain us. Some fall into both those categories, being both entertaining and challenging, but either way I believe they can be beneficial to anyone. Siddhartha by Herman Hesse taught me to challenge my faith. Harry Potter was a ton of fun and taught me a lot about right and wrong. We can always learn, whether it’s a biography about a president or an outer space adventure.
Chris: My love of comics has been a tremendous learning experience. I’m still trying to understand the importance of lettering. Can you tell me where your passion for it comes from, and why it’s more important than new readers might realize?
J: Someone told me that good lettering is pretty much invisible, but bad lettering can be a flashing light on the page. I think this is incredibly true. If the lettering is bad it can make a page confusing, difficult to read, or ruin what could be a great comic by making it feel like a jumbled mess. Good lettering, on the other hand, makes a comic flow in such a way that you barely even know it’s there. I think the good lettering is the reason why lettering has gone unnoticed, which is a good thing. I have a bit of history with graphic design and typography, which led me to look into learning lettering as another form of comics to explore. I like to make things look clean, and taking a comic and trying to make it readable is exciting to me. I’m a bit of a design nerd.
Chris: I read that you believe the Internet tends to “frame” a creator’s vision. Can you tell me more about that, and why it might be something worth avoiding as a creator?
J: Absolutely. We live in this “social media era” where what’s trending seems to be monitored more than real world issues. In that world, our ideas and opinions literally change with the time of day because we are constantly looking around to see what’s popular and what people want. Unfortunately, this sometimes can cause people to limit their vision and their minds to just that scope of view. Sometimes in comic-making you have to make the stuff that no one wants to read just because you want to make it. We need to be alright with not being the popular comic. If we are constantly chasing trends, we betray the creative spirit within us all. I truly believe that. We need to make what we want to, not what the internet wants. On the positive side, though, if you hit the right side of one of those trends it can really boost careers and help spread your work. Retweets and shares can boost exposure exponentially. There are two sides to everything, I think.
Chris: You know more than anyone that the Internet also allows for collaboration. It’s one of my favorite things about creativity. Tell us about what that has been like for you, and how other people have helped bring your vision to life.
J: This has been the coolest thing for me. Because of the connectivity of social media and sites like Reddit, I’ve been able to work with people from all over the globe. Only in 2017 can a guy from the US work with a Serbian artists and a British letterist. Only in 2017 can I talk to people from 4 different time zones on 4 different continents. We may take this for granted a lot, but I had to take a step back in awe at the fact that this was the reason my comic could be made. While I have met and made friends with an artist from the area in which I live, when I started making comics my “creative circle” was more of a dot, me. Closer came to be because I put out ads on social media and met the right people.
Chris: Stuff was a really interesting collection of shorts. It’s very clear that you have a mind of exploration and vulnerability. I think everyone has their own answer to this, but why is it important to make storytelling so personal?
J: To be honest, I don’t think a comic is worth reading if it’s not personal in some way to the creator. The reason I think that is because I feel like we are more invested in the things we create if there’s a piece of us in it, not just something we did for kicks with no thought. What makes any comic unique is that it is written/illustrated/colored/lettered by different people with varying experiences and feelings. If they put those into their work, readers get a very personal, yet different story. It makes our books special. It makes them part of us and that’s something to cherish and be proud of.
Chris: It’s clear to me that faith and family are very important to you. Since you’ve had the courage to be so personal with your audience in your storytelling, may I be so bold as to ask about your own love story? How did you meet your other half, and how has family been an asset to your own creativity?
J: My wife really saved my life. I met her at a time in my life where I was pretty sure I was going to die alone and didn’t really know what my purpose was. We met when one of my exes told me about this site she met her husband on, Christian Mingle (yes, the one with the terrible commercials). I didn’t really know what to expect, but, to make a long story short, I ended up meeting my wife. It turned out that she went to highschool with one of my best friends and knew a lot of the same people that I did. I think that’s what made her decide to actually meet me. Since then, our life together has been a whirlwind. We dated for just over 2 years before we got married, and we now have two beautiful baby girls. They really are my whole world, and it absolutely frames my writing. As I watch my girls grow, I’m leaning toward more all-ages comics because I want to make things that they can enjoy. At the same time, though, I now understand the heroes in the books that sacrifice it all to save someone because that’s what I would do for them. They have made me a better writer, and I’m even more determined to succeed in what I do because I want them to be proud of me.
Chris: Thank you J. It’s been a joy to learn from you.
As much as I value words on a page as conduits for learning, my true love for individual creativity comes from those moments that transcend skill, methodology, or practice– something that can’t be read in a book or absorbed from a computer screen.
The truth is, we do not find creativity. Creativity finds us when we are ready. J. M. Bryan is more than ready. His love story alone is proof that honesty and art can come together to form an endearing and trustworthy spirit I can only describe as family. His pages feel like one-on-one conversations. His body of work feels like bandages anyone would love to wear. He’s the new medicine man of the indie comic world with plenty of scar tissue to go around. Don’t worry. There’s nothing to hide. With someone like J. M. Bryant around, you might just give those battle lines you’ve drawn over the years a much closer look.
To learn more about what J.M is up to, buy his work or just connect, check out the links below:
ComixShop: Little Monster Comics