Interview with 

Toby Cypress
by Scott T. Barnes


The first anniversary issue of New Myths is illustrated by panels from Toby Cypress' upcoming release Rodd Racer. I interviewed Toby as New Myths was about to go to press..er, to screen.

What inspired you to become an artist? 

I always loved drawing, art class was my favorite class as a kid. When I was in 3rd grade I read an interview on comic book creator/artist Joe Kubert (Sgt. Rock, Tor, Hawkman) in a scholastic magazine called "Dynamite Magazine", and that's when I started to persue art as a career.

When I graduated high school I enrolled into Joe Kubert's very popular art school for graphic art, and animation. I've always been into cartoons, and popular art like comic books...it was all very creative, and exciting to me.

How did you come up with the subject of Rodd Racer?

While in art school I had a teacher that excited me on hot rods, and noir stories. Comic stories from the 1940's, such as "Terry and the Pirates", and "Steve Canyon" by Milton Caniff which feature a globe trotting pilot finding adventure. Or "Flash Gordon" comic strips by Alex Raymond...I just loved the old stories by these comic artists, or cinema that featured your average hero plunged into strange locations,
and impossible situations. Maybe because as a kid I, my family moved around alot...and I kind of felt something in common with these fictional characters that had to constantly adjust, and pull through. So, I wanted to tell an adventure story that is influenced by the pulpy stories I enjoy to this day. Most of the Rodd Racer story is influenced by my experience in relationships, or creative challenges which are expressed in the metaphor of an action adventure.

Can you give me a summary of the plot?

Rodd Racer is a science fiction story about "potential, and ambition." A young racer struggles with his ambition to be the city's best racer while being chased by the city's most dangerous gangsters. He's got to learn a lot about himself, and those he cares about in order to finally meet his potential, it's not easy.

How many illustrations/pages will it have?

It's going to be about 60 pgs of story, and another 10-20 pages of extra stuff.

How long does it take you to do a panel? How long have you been working on RR and when will it be finished?

Generally, I produce one page a day of artwork, with 5 pages a week. Rodd Racer is a special project for me, and I'm taking my time with so most of the pages have taken much longer...

One page of artwork in Rodd Racer can take me a week to finish production, which in comics is considered a very long time. These pages are much more detailed than most of my other stuff has been, and I'm trying to establish a visual dialogue which is much more interactive in some ways than your average comic book...so the artwork can take much longer, for me, to design than the average comic book.

I'm hoping for a spring 2009 release.

Have you found a publisher?

I have a nice relationship with Image Comics, they have published all of my creator owned properties, I like all of their titles, and I enjoy the company of all the other creators they publish, so I will continue publishing with Image.

What materials do you work with?

I'm a traditionalist I guess. I like to use bristol board, pencils, brushes, and ink. Today many comic artists use computers to produce the artwork. I use a computer for certain things, such as coloring, or layout, but the line work is done by hand.

Is Rodd Racer going to be entirely mono-chromatic?

Yes, black and white. When it comes to comics, color can disrupt the page design, and story pacing. Which is fine, even preferable for most comic readers because color can be very visually dynamic.
Rodd Racer is designed to be a black, and white story. For Rodd Racer, I'm using a page design that is very cinematic, and deliberately paced for a tempo. So I prefer a black, and white book so that a reader can clearly read the visual rhythm, and the story will feel very cinematic. Maybe I'll re-publish the story some day in color for fans that prefer full color comics but I don't have plans yet. I would like fans to see the book initially as it's meant to be presented in B/W, and maybe re-visit the story in color in some special expanded edition if the opportunity arrives.

What advice would you give any of our readers who would like to illustrate stories?

Well if there are aspiring artists out there that want to illustrate stories, or create comics I would start by buying as many comics as you can, and start reading. Find out what you like, and why. Comic book conventions are really great places to meet creators, and get a start in the industry. Talk to creators about their experience, and show them your artwork. Obviously, today's market requires a very high level of craftsmanship.

Many of today's average comic books are produced by the world's greatest illustrators. So, it's suggested that you take some illustration classes, and I would especially suggest film study. Classic movies are very good at visual storytelling. Study the movies of Alfred Hitchcock, Orsen Welles, Fritz Lang.

How about for writers who would like to work with an illustrator?

Well, there are many internet forums that gather illustrators, maybe check out some of these forums and ask around. Again, comic books are a great resource to finding artists because most artists are freelance. Buy a good variety of comics so you can get an idea of what style of illustration most interests your particular taste, or a story's subject matter.

One of the many great aspects comics can offer is the contributive. Comics are both entertainment, and an art form. And comics can be ANYTHING you want them to be. Writers can write any story they like, biographical, fictional, historical, fantasy...and bring excitement with good visual art. It's a unique narrative. And when comics are done well, it's a unique art form.

Describe what it is like to work on something like Spiderman.

Well, when working on any recognizable character it's always a real thrill. Especially if the story is good. I've grown up loving characters like Spiderman, Batman, Superman...so to contribute artwork, and story building on their history is a remarkable feeling. Parties always liven up when the subject comes up that I drew some Batman comics for DC, or some of the other popular characters.

However, it's important to understand that my work on these characters will never really be my own. These are company owned characters, so the work I do with Batman can be changed, undone, and forgotten by readers, creators, or companies as they see fit. Most of the fantastic artists, and writers that have worked on Spiderman will never be known by the public because they do not own the rights to their stories.

For me, my biggest thrill is creating stories I own, and no other company can change. A story like Rodd Racer is owned by me, so another writer can't write another story using my characters without my permission. And I know that whatever happens with Rodd Racer, it's going to turn out the way I intend it too. 

Of your work so far, what are you most proud of?

It sounds cliche, but my favorite work is always whatever I'm currently working on. At the moment Rodd Racer is my favorite work, because I've learned so much by the experiences from my past work which I can build, or improve on. I've been a working professional for almost 10 years, and I feel like I'm getting better every year, and learning a lot about my work, and about myself along the way.

Now that Rodd Racer is finished, I'm planning a new sci-fi story which to write, and I know it's going to be an even better experience because of what I've learned producing Rodd Racer.

You list Alex Toth and Fritz Lang as two people whose work you admire. Could you explain how they influenced you?

These are two examples of craftsman that were the very best at their medium. Alex Toth was the very best visual storyteller in comics, he redefined the comic page with complex, and emotional compositions. A genius of design, and storytelling. Fritz Lang is also a visionary in film. I'm influenced by visionaries who make bold decisions in storytelling, and use graphic design to emphasize their narrative. I'm also influenced very deeply by music, everything I draw is done to music. It's like I'm trying to produce art with a soundtrack, and sometimes I think it comes through.

http://tobycypress.blogspot.com/