POP Comics® Creator Spotlight: Ahkward Kat
This week on POP Showcase we're talking to Ahkward Kat, creator of Naor: Murder of an Island.
Naor is a fantasy-based murder mystery placed in Indonesia in 1891. A local Shaman is murdered and her student, a small kiwi-like bird named "Koko" sets out to get revenge. He also has to deal with spirits and outsiders causing trouble all over the island preventing him from getting the vengeance he wants!
With detailed art and a spiritual, mystical plot full of fascinating cultural insights, we sat down to talk with Kat about her experiences as the creator of this comic. But first...
Q&A WITH AHKWARD KAT
Where did you get the idea for Naor?
Originally back in Spring of 2011 I was studying animation at my community college. In our basic 101 introduction class we had to create a character to use as our dummy. I created Ahk, a fox sort of character. A year later in Spring of 2012, I took the class again for the sake of review and my professor had me create a biped character, one that walks on two legs. That particular year I created Koko for the class.
I really enjoyed the character designs and I started playing around with their personalities as individuals and started drawing them together for fun. My instructor who had taught me for both classes asked me how they knew each other and what their story was. That was literally all it took for me. I graduated from Aims community college in Summer 2012 and transferred into Sophomore year at Ringling College of Art and Design. I kept drawing Ahk and Koko while creating new characters and doing a ton of research including climate, geology, geography, culture, language, biodiversity and all kinds of things. When I hit my Spring semester of Senior year in 2015, I decided to make Naor my senior thesis. By then I had the majority of the story written out in a semi-formal script format, I was just then starting to draw pages, almost 4 years after I created the first character!
Tell us a bit about your creative process; do you have a routine? How about favorite tools or methods?
I most certainly do have a routine, when working on something with deadlines, following a pattern helps me tremendously. Since I already have a basic script, I will sit down and do a type of storyboard layout for an entire chapter at once. When I do these storyboard layouts, I take it panel by panel that way I have a general idea of the composition and perspective is for EACH panel on EACH page. I will also have a post-it or something inside as well to make sure the panels flow together as a page and not just individually. One chapter of boards usually takes about a whole week since one chapter is about 25 pages and the drawings are really simple.
Once I am happy with those I move onto the pencils which I usually do 8 to 10 pages at a time, which is about a month’s worth of pages. I pencil on paper using the standard blue-line paper. Pencils usually take about a week or a few days, it depends on my work schedule. From there inking is probably my favorite part of the process and is done right on top of the pencils; after the pencils are scanned of course! The last part is toning and usually I do traditional screentones, printing out my own, however I am moving to digital screentones to save time. All editing is done in Photoshop with my cintiq and all text and preparing for print is done with Adobe InDesign.
Digital tools are not my favorite tools, I would much rather work 100% traditionally, as that was how I was taught. However in order to work faster and more in line with deadlines, I am making the transition to digital screentones, however I do not think I will ever ink traditionally. My brush, ink and pen are my absolute favorite medium!
How did you learn to draw?
I didn’t really start any sort of drawing until I started college. I drew a little before then, but very rarely. I didn’t even have a sketchbook and most things before college were not original in any way. Mostly fanart… poorly done fanart, aha. My community college was adamant we try all kinds of mediums and keep a workbook. That book was like a journal than a sketchbook. We kept sketches, postcards from galleries we had to visit, notes from daily class and roughs and process work from assignments in it. That alone meant a lot for me to help me learn to draw. It took this idea of perfection in a sketchbook we as artists tend to have. The white canvas syndrome that leads to perfectionism in a toxic way was gone and it was just an idea book, a workbook.
We took figure drawing classes, various general art classes, digital art classes, animation classes both 2d and 3d. I learned how to animate before I learned to draw, which is kinda backwards? Usually you learn to draw first, so my initial introduction to the art world was a bit, um, awkward? No pun intended. Interestingly enough I was almost exclusively digital at the time! When I graduated from that college and moved onto Ringling in 2012, I was forced into traditional art by most of my classes. My professors also were heavily traditional and that influenced me a lot in the way I decided to work as well. Through being forced to work traditionally to a degree, I became accustomed to it and began to prefer it over time.
For me, going to college and paying to be taught worked really well. I didn’t really start drawing until I was 17/18 years old. I SERIOUSLY could barely draw a stick figure when I graduated high school, so I felt like I had a ton of catching up to do, more so than I could learn alone using YouTube or other online free/cheaper art lessons. My professors also had a huge impact on me as an artist and person. I still use sketchbooks and do studies both traditionally and digitally. Gotta stay sharp!
Who are your creative inspirations? Who or what made you want to be a comic artist?
A lot of my inspirations are old-school artists like Bernie Wrightson, Frank Frazetta, Joe Kubert, Jack Kirby, Joe Simmons, and of COURSE cannot forget Frank Miller. A lot of these people my own professors knew and met. I could hear stories of these guys all meeting up in my college classes, stories I won’t mention much of. LOL However the biggest reason I look up to these guys is a lot of them worked traditionally like I do. I am able to study their own techniques to add to my own.
I also love following more modern artists like Kim Jung Gi, George Pratt, Adam Kubert, Fiona Staples, and of course so many more. Too many to mention! However the person making me want to go into COMICS exclusively, that title would go to Gary Barker. Barker was my Illustration 1 and 2 professor at Ringling and he himself has had over 30 years in comics himself. He’s worked primarily as a penciler on Garfield. We had one particular game design project where we were to design characters with a plot and environments. That was really the first project I used Naor on to dig into it for once. We had another project soon after and as a comic project I was excited to learn how similar comics were to animation!
With Barkers heavy experience in comics I found a way to express my want to tell stories, but in a less labor-intensive way than animation. I did a private study with Barker in my Junior year and then a graphic novel class in my fall of Senior year. By then I knew comics was my thing, it was my goal and career of choice. I made a 16 page comic along with 48 pages of concept art for my senior thesis in Spring of 2015. It only cemented what I already knew: I need to be making comics!
Finally, any tips for other POP Comics creators?
If you want to make a comic, chances are it is going to be a long term commitment. It needs to be something you are willing to dive into. You don’t have to make a super crazy in-depth story like Lord of the Rings, or do as much planning and writing as I have. However the more love and effort you put into your comic, the more it will show to your readers and others if you plan to take it to a publisher or self-publish. Show you love your comic and are committed, don’t just say so.
Thanks, Kat! And if you're a new creator, check out Ahkward Kat's detailed how to guide on getting the best out of your POP Comics app!
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