OFR C2E2 Exclusive – Independent Illustrator Interview

Among the bustling vendors and colorful crowds of Chicago Comic and Entertainment Expo (C2E2), I’ve found quite the oasis in the “Artist Alley” area of the event. One thing is for certain, you’re going to see the say figures, comics and collectables in the maze of vendors and as the crowds stirs to find their treasures, I’ve pushed through to find the true gems of the convention, the place where the real spirit of event culminates. The artists show off their visions, interpretations and original works for the world to see. This is their labor of love, where persistence and determination pay off, but so does ingenuity as well as being in the right place at the right time.

Tom Kelly is an independent illustrator, and while some artists use scantily clad women or excessive gore to attract attention, Tom consistently sets up shop and paints with a broader brush. Tom cites his influences to Frank Miller, Mike Mignola, Ashley Wood among a laundry list of others. Over the past few conventions, I recall browsing through the section yet one always seemed to catch my eye: iconic super heroes put into “Hello Kitty” style.

Q: How did you get the idea of combining “Hello Kitty” and super heroes?

TK: It was completely by chance. I was at Wizard World and a neighboring artist had his little girl at his both. I offered to entertain her by making a drawing for her and asked her what she wanted. After naming a few super heroes, she asked for a “Hello Kitty” super hero. I lucked out because “Hello Kitty” is easy to draw and plug in whatever hero someone would want. She’s pretty much a big round head with a small body, so that made it easy. As soon as I was done a couple people saw it and were immediately interested. It was easy to do and was lucky to have found an accidental focus group.

Q: What are you most proud of, as an artist?

TK: I’d have to say that my participation in the web-comic “Sword of the Savage Samurai” – a story combining werewolves and samurais. Between that and when I was signed on as part of a DC series focused on children called “Zuda”, I couldn’t have been happier. Though the run is over, it’s going to be on the “Iverse” comic app. It’s a DC comic app that is focused on the children’s market.

Q: Could you talk about your feelings about digital and print distribution.

TK: Sure. I’ve had a lot of success with my work via digital distribution. I’ve been a part of two web comic series, “Zuda” and “Sword of the Savage Samurai.”  The online / digital format makes it so easy to publish work and let your work speak for itself. If you’re trying to get a series onto store shelves, it’s a lot harder because of the margins that local owners have. They move a certain amount of books a week and will be able to only have a limited amount of space for independent artists. Unless you’re working with a major title such as an “X-Men” or “Batman” book, it’s so hard to get noticed. The barriers to entry are much higher in print opposed to digital; the cost of doing business is exponentially higher, between printing and making sure that the quality of the colors are right, with digital, which can immediately take that frustration out of the picture. That being said, the local owners around Chicago, such as Challenger Comics and Chicago Comics are supportive of local and independent talent, and especially to me. Having an online presence is so valuable because of the community that can build from it. Between Facebook and Twitter, an independent artist can get his or her image out to the masses and receive feedback immediately and then start a following.

Q: Something that makes your work distinct is that all your “Hello Kitty Heroes” are on cardboard. How did you decide on that medium?

TK: That’s easy. Cardboard is cheap, lightweight and easy to transport. It’s also easy to come by.

Q: Who are some of your favorite characters and why?

TK: Wolverine and Hellboy. They take a lot of punishment and their stories and situations seem believable. If I was to work out constantly and be as strong as they are, I could see myself doing the things they do. They’re very human though. They get into situations that anyone could get into. They go to bars, they drink, and they fight. They seem normal and not out of the realm of possibility.

I’d like to thank Tom for his time and would like to direct all our readers to his website. Tom’s only one of the many artists that help makes events such as C2E2 worth experiencing every year.