Brian Defferding Interview

One of the best things about the Bendis Board at Jinxworld.com, aside from the whole Ultimate Spider-man #86 thing, is all of the interesting people I've met there. As it turns out, several of the posters have taken their love of the comics medium to the next level and actually make their OWN comics. One guy left such a good impression on me online, and in person, that I decided to carry his comic here at Acme. His name's Brian Defferding. Want to meet him?

All images © Brian Defferding 2006.Jermaine Exum: Let's get straight into it. How long have comics been a part of your life and which ones really stood out for you?

Brian Defferding: I started reading comics when I was 13, I bought an issue ofIron Man and The Incredible Hulk and I was quite impressed by the dialogue of the characters; it wasn't hokey or something you'd normally get from a Saturday morning cartoon; it was real. From then on I was hooked. A year later I started drawing some of my own, mostly during class when I should have been paying attention to the teacher. But the one comic that hit it out of the park for me was Frank Miller's Sin City. When I turned 18 I picked up the first issue of A Dame to Kill For, and it gave me goose bumps. I just ate it up. Then after reading The Hard Goodbye, Frank Miller became a huge inspiration for me. Then I got into Alan Moore, and later, Brian Michael Bendis' work with Jinx and Torso.

JE: Your art style is unique, yet kind of has a familiarity to it in ways. Have any particular artists have left an impression on you?

BD: Writers were the biggest influences for me, but artistically I'm a sponge; I love almost every style out there. However, if one was to find influences from my own style of comic book art, I'd have to say Edward Gorey and Thomas Ott are the closest you'll get. Thomas Ott's a scratchboard artist that has some work published by Fantagraphics; his stark black-and-white is utterly hypnotizing.

JE: A lot of people, and I mean a lot, want to make their own comics - but self-publishing is difficult. How did you know that you could be one of the rare breed of people who does manage to self publish?

BD: I think the biggest motivator for me was trying to recoup a $60,000 tuition bill from going to a private art college (laughs). Other than that, however, it was going to Minneapolis College of Art and Design that opened up my eyes and helped me take a realistic approach into self-publishing. They actually have a 4-year program in Comic Illustration, and my teacher was Peter Gross who was in the thick of writing and drawing The Books of Magic for DC at the time. He no longer teaches there now, but he was a helluva guy. Minneapolis is a good place to be in for comic creators, because they've got some good people that live around the area and frequent the conventions, like Zander Cannon, Gene Ha, Dan Jurgens, Adam Hughes, Ryan Kelly; it's a nice scene and the city in general supports the arts very well. Zander Cannon and Gene Ha would come into our comic art classes and critique our work, and maybe just bullshit with us about comics too. By the time I graduated I had a great idea and a solid plan of what I needed to do in order to self-publish my work. From then on it was just a matter of executing that plan.

JE: Now that you're not a stranger anymore, let's talk about your comic, School: A Ghost Story. Tell us what its about.

BD: School: A Ghost Story is about a 12-year-old girl named Lindsay Buckner who one day wakes up as a ghost inside an elementary school. She has no recollection of how she got there, why she's there, or why she's a ghost. Total amnesia. So she tries to figure out what exactly happened to her in the last moments of her life while inside this elementary school; but the catch is she can't leave the school. Furthermore, there are monsters that are ghosts just like she is, but they feed off of the souls of others. To them, Lindsay is fresh meat. So our protagonist is thrown into a claustrophobic horror and is racing to solve her own mystery. It's quite a ride.

All images © Brian Defferding 2006.

JE: I've read issues 1 and 2 of School and I have to say that at times the artwork is downright creepy and there is a tone of despair at times considering Lindsay is a kid in this predicament. I've met you personally at Wizard World Chicago and you're one of the most upbeat guys ever so I'm wondering what you're tapping into to get the dark mood that is in the comic?

BD: Being cynical to the world is what helped set the mood to the story. We all have had moments where we had high hopes, only to be let down. We read and watch the news and see depressing stuff. It's a hard life out there. Also I tap into nightmares I would have and I would think about what I found scary, and use that as part of the story. It's a big challenge to have something be both creepy and emotional at the same time without it coming off as schlock. Hopefully I can do both (laughs).

JE: You do pretty much everything there is to do for this comic, Brian. Story, art, etc. How difficult is that?

BD: Very difficult [laughs]. Making an issue takes a lot more time and the only way I could do a monthly thing is if I had no other jobs and no other life commitments. But the benefit is I am my own boss. I do whatever I please and I answer to no one. No boundaries makes it far more exciting, and that's the intrinsic reward to doing it all on your own.

JE: How long do you think School: A Ghost Story will run and when should we look for #3 to be available?

BD: 'School' is going to be a finite series, but I don't see the ending coming anytime soon. There are so many characters with all these different stories, I can't wait to tell them all. Plus Lindsay's story, the main story, will go from weird and creepy to completely insane. The next issue is in the works and I'm looking at a late summer/early fall time frame for a release date. Most of my spare time I'm drawing, painting, or on the Mac updating my website. I'm having a good time and completing new work has been really motivating.

JE: Like most independent self publishers, you probably have a day job. Does the 9 to 5 grind ever sap your creativity?

BD: I think the daily grind is enough motivation alone to work harder at what you want to do. You go to work sometimes dreading the day. Why would anyone want that? But waking up, not getting out of your pajamas, drawing and painting all day while getting paid for it? Good God, that's beautiful.

JE: As a comics fan, how does it feel to have a book with your name on it as the creator?

All images © Brian Defferding 2006.BD: It's such an ego booster. The feeling of accomplishment is so incredibly satisfying, it's too good for words. There is a sense of pride, and it will make you want to tell the whole world what you just finished working on.

JE: Like I said before, I see a ton of people who want to make comics come into the shop. What advice do you have for someone who wants to take that next step?

BD: Keep your eyes on the prize. Surround yourself by the work of the masters. Talk comics. Read comics. Go to comic conventions. Remember, there are massively talented creators out there who never made a buck because of one thing: they gave up. Also, self-publishing is absolutely no different from any other business out there - you have to spend money to make money. You will probably lose money in your first couple issues, but if you keep going to conventions, making connections, get a web presence going - things will start to snowball.

JE: You accept order online for your comic, but Acme Comics is currently the only comic shop where you can get School: A Ghost Story in the south east so don't forget to plug us! After this interview people are going to want to meet you so, what's it going to take for you to appear at Heroes Con 2006?

BD: Ha ha! Haven't been to NC yet, but Heroes Con is definitely on my radar. Just wish the airplane tickets weren't so gawd awful expensive! I'll be plugging you guys for sure though. I have a page on my website that has a list of current conventions I'll be attending this year, and it updates whenever new convention plans are cemented in.

JE: Thanks Brian and I'll see you online.

BD: Thank you ever so much for giving me this opportunity.

Brian Defferding was born in 1977 in Appleton, Wisconsin, graduated from the Minneapolis College of Art and Design with a Comic Illustration degree in 2001 and is the creator and publisher of Deftoons! Cartooning and Comics. His comic, School: A Ghost Story can be found in the Independent Comics section at Acme Comics. It contains dark and creepy images, plus a bit of language so its not intended for young kids. Want to know more? Check out his podcast interview at WordBallon.com and visit his website, Deftoons.com.