Harboring a fierce desire to learn cartooning, in 2008 Chris Northrop moved to Los Angeles. At a Starbucks one day, he was observed sketching by Sean Murphy, artist on Hellblazer and creator of PunkRockJeezus. They struck up a conversation and Murphy came to mentor Chris. In Comics and Animation, this is on par with being discovered at the counter of Schwab’s Pharmacy like Lana Turner–sans the overnight fame and fortune. Yet, receiving voluntary mentoring from a pro like Sean Murphy is an incredible boost in the right direction.
Looking for a way to “break in,” Chris became a “flatter”–an artist who lays down basic color for a colorist to work over in Photoshop. Working in a design house who’s clients include DC and Marvel, gave Chris a foothold in the Industry. Along the way, he taught kids and adults the basics for making comics and met other professionals in the Comics and Entertainment industry.
Only four years later, Chris is a full fledged colorist for Oni Press, and his first book, The Reason for Dragons, is being published by Archaia. The graphic novel, illustrated by Jeff Stokely, written and colored by Chris, hits shops May, 2013.
It’s a graphic novel for all ages about a bookish kid named Wendel growing up in 1980’s New Hampshire. Beleaguered by bullies, and wary of his motorcycle riding step-father, Wendell discovers a old man wearing the gear of a medieval Knight at an abandoned Renaissance fair. The Knight, calling himself Sir Habersham, tells Wendell he’s hunting a dragon. Only when Wendell has some experiences of his own does he come to believe that the old man might be on to something and joins his quest.
I had opportunity to interview Chris and ask him a few questions about The Reason for Dragons and about his career in Comics Industry and about being a teacher.
PA: What made you want to do a Present day Medieval Fantasy?
CN: I am fascinated by people who live in their own reality. Knights have always fascinated me. Their moral code is unflinchingly honorable and selfless. Wendell is looking for an alternate father figure to Ted, who he’s having trouble connecting with.
PA: What age group is it intended for?
CN: The book is set up so anyone can enjoy it. I did not write it as a young adult book. I wrote it as a book. I think when you write you should never pander down to children, or pick a target audience. You should write it for everyone, and if children enjoy it, then that’s great! That’s how E.T. or Goonies is written and that’s why I love movies form the 80’s. There are certainly things kids will identify with though. Adolescence is tough! Everyone went though it.
PA: Why did you move to Los Angeles when NYC is where DC and Marvel are based?
In NY most of my friends we doing more typical jobs and a lot were moving after college to other areas of the country. I felt like an outcast because I wanted to do something in cartoons and I had no where to turn. Everyone thought I was weird and that sort of job was something they didn’t understand. Lots of my professors advised against it. In college my mom wanted me to do something more secure. I love them all, but it wasn’t part of their world. I felt very isolated. I had to take chances nobody would agree with, so I cleared the deck and I moved. And there just weren’t any studios there. In LA I have a lot of friends that do comics that work for DC, Marvel, and Archaia and they live a stone’s throw away…
PA: Did working as a teacher and professional inker and colorist influence your choice of story?
CN: Yes. I teach. I’ve always taught my art form at private art schools for kids and some night schools for adults. I deal with kids a lot. I know a lot of real “Wendells” in my classes. I personally am always looking to connect with my students as a teacher so they can learn and get better at what they are interested in, and the main theme of the book is connecting with others in a meaningful way.
PA: Are you interested in writing and doing art for DC or Marvel? Any favorite titles?
CN: I like those big companies. If I got an offer I’d like to do it just once to test the waters. There are some characters I think I really understand. I think there is a lot to do with the Punisher. I think there is also a lot to do with (don’t laugh) Jubilee. I have been working on something with Jeff on the side that’s just fan fiction at this point in our sketchbooks, with a relatively underused Marvel character. I won’t say who. But we’d do that one is a second!
PA: Do you see yourself eventually exploring other comic genres, such as horror, crime, science fiction?
CN: I have some hard sci-fi ideas. We’ll see if I can hash those out next year into some scripts and pitch them around. I really don’t write by genre. I don’t wake up and say “I want to write a Western.” I write a story about interesting characters with problems that just happen to be in that genre.
PA: And/or are you interested in doing personal narratives like “Blankets” or anything along the alternate Comic titles like “Ghost World”?
CN: I have so many failures I could fill volumes of those sorts of books. But I’d rather stick to fiction.
PA: Who are your favorite artist and writers?
CN: I learned a lot from Sean Murphy about comics and story. He literally had to force me to use a brush when I inked. For that I am grateful. I am really happy to see Punk Rock Jesus published right now. It deals with all the issues you deal with when you “wake up” as an adult. The pacing in the storytelling is great on PRJ. I also enjoy Warren Ellis, “Transmetropolitan.” And yes, that along the same lines again. I like truth. I like people facing reality in stories, even if it’s in a fantastical setting. .