Wednesday, August 02, 2006

Q&A: DEAN RANKINE

Today, we speak with Australian cartoonist Dean Rankine, of Holy Cow! Christian Comics. In addition to his regular webcomics, he has illustrated books and contributed to a number of magazines and comic anthologies. Dean has also made flash animations and contributed illustrations to brochures, posters and publications for a variety of church and charitable organizations.

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ARE YOU AN "ENTERTAINER" OR A "MINISTER"?
Is it possible to be a little of both? I could be an 'Enterister' or a 'Ministainer'. No? Well, I guess if I have to chose one I'll go for 'Minister' ('Entertainer' sounds a little shallow). I like to think that my faith-based comics have a certain depth to them. Though, with titles like "God's Love is Like a Conjoined Twin" and 'Live Organ Transplants: In the Privacy of Your Own Backyard," I can understand why people would think not. But, I'd also like to add that there's nothing as bad as a boring comic. So I really do try to have an 'entertaining' element while 'ministering' to people.

DO YOU HATE WHEN PEOPLE ASK WHETHER YOU ARE AN "ENTERTAINER" OR A "MINISTER"?
It's the first time I've been asked that question, but given time I reckon I could grow to hate it. That being said, there's plenty of other questions I despise more, like "Would you like fries with that?" or "How are you going to pay for that?" or "Would you like this free copy of the Watchtower?"

WHO ARE YOUR ARTISTIC INFLUENCES?
I reckon my artistic influences can best be described as, "When Cousins Marry" (stay with me here). Though, (as a kid) I used to be influenced mainly by Saturday morning cartoons, now I have very few specific outside influences. It's just me, sitting in my studio (with way too much coffee) and these strange little creations running through my brain. If I continue how I'm going my characters will be so "inbred" they'll grow third eyes and webbed feet.

WHO ARE YOUR SPIRITUAL INFLUENCES?
I guess Christ is my major "Spiritual Influence" (which is kind of handy, being a Christian and all). I've never heard anything that remotely resembles a "Word from God," though I sometimes get a bit of a "vibe" to draw a particular comic. But, all my faith-based work has a biblical foundation or is a direct retelling of an incident in the life of Jesus.

As a young person I was part of a Salvation Army church (though now I worship at the Vineyard) and that commitment to Spiritual and Social Justice has remained with me. Christian writers like Anthony Campolo, Ched Myers and (Australian) Dave Andrews have also been a major influence on my spiritual journey and reinforced my desire to live a life dominated by love and justice. Which is definitely easier said than done and something that I fail at daily.

WHAT IS THE BEST THING ANYONE SAID ABOUT YOUR WORK?
I've had some really nice feedback about my work over the years. Seth Wolfshorndl ("Rook City" webcomic artist) posted this on a forum, which I thought was really cool:

"[Dean] ... the way you present these stories is so quirky and charming that it's very accessible to Christians and non-Christians alike. Just keep it up, man! I want to be like you when I grow up."

WHAT IS THE WORST THING ANYONE EVER SAID ABOUT YOUR WORK?
Honestly, I can't think of anything. I'm sure there's been plenty of negative feedback, but I must have repressed it. Which is lucky, I'm such a sensitive soul if I remembered any of it I'd probably be curled up in the foetal position crying, 'Why, don't the cool kids like me'!

WHAT IS THE BEST ADVICE ANYONE EVER GAVE YOU?
I recently attended a COMIX35 workshop in Sydney and Phil Watson (one of the presenters and Australian cartoonist) gave this advice, "Be yourself and be led by the Spirit." I reckon that's pretty good advice. Is it the BEST advice I've ever been given? Dunno. But, it's definitely up there with "Don't drink the water" on my list of good advice received.

WHAT IS YOUR ARTISTIC SCHEDULE LIKE?
I'd love to have more of an artistic routine, but I'm really all over the place. I look after my daughter three days a week (while my wife works) and I have a part-time job where I work three evenings a week. The rest of my time is spent drawing with a heap of procrastination thrown in for good measure.

ARE YOU AN "OUTLINE" WRITER OR A "MAKE IT UP AS YOU GO" WRITER?
I'm definitely an outline writer, though it sounds a little anal retentive compared to the groovy "make it up as you go" style. When I write I'm constantly thinking about how it will play out visually. I also write to my artistic strengths, which means you'll never see any giant robots or race cars in my comics (I just can't draw that kind of stuff). When I've gone from the script/thumbnails (I normally do these two steps at the same time) to the final artwork I'll sometimes make little changes in text if it's required.

ARE YOU A FULL-TIME ARTIST?
I pretty much do full-time hours, but only get part-time pay.

WHAT IS YOUR DAY JOB?
My evening work that I mentioned before is with a Needle and Syringe Program (NSP). I'm not sure if you have these in the U.S or not? But, what I do is drive around at night and hand out clean injecting equipment to Injecting Drug Users (ie: Heroin and Speed users). Even though using these drugs is illegal, the idea behind the NSP program is to provide "clean" needles and syringes to drug users so there's less chance of them sharing injecting equipment and in turn, passing on blood borne viruses like Hepatitis C and HIV AIDS. I know the job sounds a bit dodgy, but it's not nearly as bad as it sounds. And it's really taught me that people are people regardless of the life choices they make.

WHAT ADVICE DO YOU HAVE FOR ASPIRING COMICS CREATORS?
I want to say, "Be yourself," but it really depends on what you want to do in comics. If you want to work for the mainstream publishers then you just can't "Be yourself," 'cause there is a certain mould you'll have to squeeze into.

However, if you just want to do the best art you can and put the spotlight on God, then you can definitely "Be yourself" because I think that's exactly what God wants. Let me try to illustrate what I mean" I'm a bit of a screw-up, I'm not good with people (though I've learned to fake a certain amount of confidence), I have a lot of angst and an equal amount of crazy thoughts. But, if I didn't have these things that make up my personality then I probably wouldn't be able to create the kind of comics that I do. I don't think I'm being very clear, but that's the general gist.

WHAT ASPECT OF GOD DO YOU MOST HOPE READERS GET FROM READING YOUR WORK?
One night I was out working with the Needle and Syringe Program and I was chatting to a girl on the street. She was a drug dealer and heroin user. She was kind of upset because the other dealers on the street had been spreading the rumour that she was a whore. But, then what she said amazed me, she said, "Well at least I know me and GOD knows me." I found that phenomenal! That this girl, who society would deem one of the lowest of the low—whose life up 'til then was probably just horrible, who was even then making some terrible decisions—still believed that God "knew" her. I guess that's the aspect of God that I'd hope my readers might get; That God knows them and loves them and wants to be involved in their lives.

WHAT IS THE ONE THING ABOUT CREATING COMICS THAT YOU WISH NON-CREATORS UNDERSTOOD?
That it's hard work! Art is a very personal expression. It takes a fair bit of courage to create a comic. It's kind of like childbirth. Except for the blood, the pain, the midwives, the forceps, the mother and ultimately ...the baby. But, I have developed a bit of a pot belly from sitting in front of the drawing board.

WHAT IS THE ONE THING ABOUT CREATING COMICS THAT YOU WISH CREATORS UNDERSTOOD?
That it's about storytelling! You could have the best style in the
world and draw the most dynamic heroes against gorgeous and exotic backdrops, but if you're not telling a good story then it's a lost cause.

FOR THE CREATOR WITH A NEW BOOK OR PROJECT, WHAT DO YOU CONSIDER THE BEST THING HE OR SHE CAN DO TO PROMOTE IT?
I made a commitment with myself to take up any (reasonable) opportunity to promote my work. So, I guess that's what I'd recommend. Obviously, don't do anything that would somehow compromise your integrity, but there's lot's of options open (particularly on the web). Grab these opportunities whenever you can. And who knows, one day you could even find yourself interviewed on Chris Well's Blog.

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Many thanks to our guest, Dean Rankine. Keep up with his comics online at
Holy Cow! Christian Comics. He blogs at Will Draw For Food, and pipes in on occasion at the Christian Comics Yahoo! group.

Related links:
Q&A: KJ KOLKA (Cardinal Adventures)
JAMIE COSLEY ON THE PULSE


GUARDIAN LINE TO LAUNCH THIS SEPT.
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