Eric Canete: Thanks for having me. Doing the story was probably the most notable highlight in my career in recent memory - it was such an honor and so much fun to do.
I was prompted in a career in art by an older cousin, Ferdinand, who drew really well when we were young. I was very jealous of his ability and recall him being able to draw anything in any style - from fashion illustrations to Star Wars; anything he saw, he could draw. So whenever he would doodle, I would always try it for myself - with less accomplished results. But that friendly competition really started me in the physical act of trying to get better at drawing. From there, it was just being influenced by all the cartoons and comics I was looking at and watching at the time.
David: While you've drawn comics in the past, your background and day jobs are in animation, storyboarding, and design. Obviously comics and storyboarding have similar qualities, but from someone who does both well, can you talk about what makes them very different from one another?
Eric: Like you said, there are a handful of crossover in both disciplines. It's sort of funny that, whenever I do comic book pages, I draw them almost as if I'm storyboarding. I know many of my peers are really involved with page lay outs and what helps best draw the eye from panel to panel - there's a whole science to it all. I used to really invest in learning those theories, but these days, I just draw my pages like I'm storyboarding.
The biggest difference, when it comes to drawing comic book pages versus drawing storyboards for animation, is the sheer pencil mileage involved in doing an action adventure storyboard for the screen. Every beat has to be spelled out, every acting nuance has to be drawn. Whereas in comics, the artist can expect the audience to fill in between the lines as to what happened from one panel to another, animation can't do that - it's simply not good cinema. There are instances when you can 'jump time' and not show Point A to Point B, but for the most part, ALL action has to be spelled out. That takes a lot of drawing.
David: While I like giving the freedom to Legends of the Guard contributors to come up with their own stories, you specifically asked me to give you some story direction and outlines. I provided you several story seeds including: a story about a mouse with a flaming sword, a mouse who carved puppet children for himself, trees that could talk to animals, and an old world mouse who first brought fire to his species...but you opted for the one I suggested as a re-telling of an Aesop fable with a war between mice and weasels. Was there any reason you chose that story over the others?
Eric: It was such a HUGE deal for me to be involved in Legends of the Guard. I asked for your help in writing brief story ideas because I didn't want to miss the overall tone for the series. I'm a novice writer so I can't say I'm 100% comfortable doing things on my own yet, and it takes me so long to ideate on a story that in this particular case, I just really wanted to get the task of drawing without the worry of being too far off center with the story. I figured, if I went straight to the source for what's a good fit tonally, then it's that much easier and sooner that I can get to the task of drawing.
As far as choosing this particular story over the others - it was the challenge of it all. I had the opportunity to draw an epic battle between mice and weasels, and I got excited and jumped all over it. I figured an artist - even within the context of this series - doesn't get a chance to do that every day. Also, I really wanted to draw pages that was somewhat out of my comfort zone. Between all the synopses you had written, choosing this story really offered that opportunity.
David: In the development of your thumbnails, you asked if I could give you more space for a splash page...and it turned out, I was able to shift things around and offered you a two-page spread (the first in Legends of the Guard). This spread is incredible! And does exactly what a two page spread should, give the reader a sense of awe, grandeur, and scope. You are known for dynamic designs, but this must have been a killer series of pages to layout, draw and ink! Describe what it was like to work on them.
Eric: Wow! I didn't know you accommodated that double page lay out. I'm so grateful!
Your description of the hows and whys of doing any huge spread is exactly the motivation for my request in having it. I try to deeply immerse the reader into the feeling of the story I'm drawing. In this specific case, the story called for an epic battle of heroic warrior mice and evil deadly weasels. I was inspired by that and strove to give that scene as much weight as possible.
I wanted to capture a moment in time where it was just the absolute chaos of battle as those forces clashed and fought. But also, in order to add a different texture beyond just drawing tons and tons of detail, I tried to draw little stories within the story. I tried to give groups of mice their own set of characteristics, their own personalities. I scrutinized the weasels and convinced myself that they weren't all evil just for the sake of being evil. I would think, "I bet these mice over here are all pals and train together," or, "I bet this weasel in the back isn't sold on this whole idea, but he's involved only because he was bullied into it by the others."
That type of thinking allowed me to compartmentalize the task into smaller, more manageable sections - which made it less of a daunting task because it stopped being about the details. Most importantly, it allowed me to believe each mice and weasel I drew had heart. I believe that's an essential aspect any big battle scene like that - I have to care one way or the other for the people involved or else seeing them get hurt or watching them win feels a little empty.
David: What is your process of going from a script to the inked pages? Do you transfer thumbnails to larger board? or do you essentially redraw them all on the final surface? What tools do you use when penciling and inking?
Eric: I draw with the most rudimentary materials. I'm the least professional when it comes to the inking and penciling tools that I use. I say, whatever gets the job done. My main inking tool is a brush marker that's made by Staedtler Mars called a 'Graphic Duo 3000' - which is a watercolor brush that has zero lightfast properties. Also, if there's any sort of moisture in the air, the ink will just infuriatingly smear at the least opportune time. On finer details, I ink with a really simple, disposable set of technical pens with widths ranging from 005 to 08.
I used to do the painstaking process of drawing really tight thumbnails, using a photocopier to enlarge them on a bigger piece of paper, then using a light box to transfer the images onto bristol board in pencil before going to ink. But as I learned, a lot of the spontaneity of the page went away when I did that. So now, I just draw a small thumbnail, then using that rough drawing as a guideline, I redraw the page larger. My attitude is, 'The simpler, the better'.
David: Comic storytelling aside, you became a hero to me when you announced your new commission policies a few years ago, saying that after drawing countless Iron-Man, Bat-Man, Wonder Woman, and every other major character you wanted to only do original drawings in the spirit of certain characters. I know you’ve covered this before, but for the readers of my blog would you explain why you made that decision, how it’s been received, and after over a year of doing it how you feel about it now?
Eric: That's very kind of you to say. It's been a challenge to stay relevant to an audience who clamor for that sort of fan service, but I think that this new policy I've adopted speaks toward my over all mental and artistic longevity.
The story goes that I was in Lucca, Italy drawing for a fans who've never seen me in person and who were very kind to drop by my booth to buy a copy of my art book called 'FOTO' published by Lateral Studio. It's typical in European conventions to draw free sketches with every purchase and considering that I was there under the good graces of my publisher, I was more than happy to oblige.
Whenever a fan would buy a book I caught myself asking them to choose a character for me to draw and when they did I would get to the task of drawing that character. Only this time, I'd recognized that I no longer had the same fervor that I used to have whenever someone asked me to draw for them. I guess you could say that I just wasn't into it, but I believe it was more than that. And until I found out what the reasoning was, I felt terrible about charging good money to people if I wasn't investing myself in each of the drawings. I didn't think it was fair and I didn't thing it was right - they came all this way to meet me, they had spent their hard-earned money in supporting my books and I couldn't even give them something (even if it was only for a brief moment) I was excited about? Like I said - that wasn't right.
After that experience, I went home and did some hard personal evaluation. The simple version is that I had drawn SO MUCH fan art which I updated on my blog, that I had inadvertently drawn any and all characters who I'd wanted to draw already. I spent five or six years drawing for myself or at conventions for other people (all the versions of Character X, Y and Z) that all the while I had somehow run out of an artistic opinion about them. Does that make any sense at all? Put simply, I had drawn so much... I don't know, let's say... Captain America, that I had simply nothing else to say about the character now. And it stopped being fun.
So instead, I would inform people who were interested in getting a commission from me that I have a policy called '"n the Spirit of...". Basically it meant that I would decline their request for drawing Captain America specifically, but I would be more than happy to draw my version of Captain America for them. Sometimes they'd decline for whatever reason - and I respected that. But more often than not, they'd see it as an exciting opportunity to get something new and original, and they'd be totally excited to be involved.
It's been a year a few months since then and it's still been a pretty exciting endeavor for me. The point of the whole thing is that I wanted to make sure that each fan willing to pay me money for an original is getting all my time and effort. With this new policy I find myself vested, excited, and most of all, I've found that the fans of my work are VERY happy to walk away with something that's not the typical fare. People are really amazing when they're given an opportunity to be. That's what I love the most about my fans.
David: When you aren’t storyboarding or making comics, what do you like to do for fun?
Eric: There's hardly any time for extracurricular activities these past few months. But any time I can get away, I love spending time with my fiancée Cassandra. She's an accidental comedian, so she knows how to crack me up without even trying. We do really super-simple activities like go to movies and different places throughout the city. I've been such a home body throughout my life that experiencing new things when we go exploring is really easy.
We have dogs that we love taking for walks. The sort of adventures they get themselves into in a the span of 45 minutes is pretty entertaining. I know this sort of sounds mundane and boring, but I get a lot out of it because I spend a bit too many hours sitting behind the desk.
Exercise is huge for me. I try to maintain a consistent work out regimen, but that can be challenging due to deadlines and daily things that get in the way. But I am convinced that health and longevity is an important investment you have to make in yourself so as best as I can, I try to eat well, work out 4-5 a week and get regular sleep.
David: What projects are coming up next that folks should look out for?
Eric: I'm on a huge sabbatical from doing anything that's going see publication or air any time soon. I'm just working on the next phase of my career and right now that involves the simple act of actually working and not talking about it. I'm not trying to be vague, but when the time comes, it'll be easier to talk about. I hope that makes sense? In the mean time, fans of your blog and your books should really keep an eye out for 'Legends of the Guard' - I would love to hear their thoughts and feedback about my contribution.
David: I think that's pretty exciting, it means big things are in the works :) Thanks again Eric. Where should Legends of the Guard fans find out more about you and your work?
Eric: It's my pleasure, David! They can find me in the usual social media haunts. My blog is updated less and less frequently these days: kahnehteh.blogspot.com. I have joined the present and opened a Tumblr account: ericcanete.tumblr.com. And if you want to track me in my semi-daily shenanigans, I'm on Twitter more than I should be: @EricCanete. Thanks again for the interview and the opportunity.
Eric's Story The Mouse Generals
will appear in Legends of the Guard Volume 2 # 3