At a time when most of the world is stuck in-doors, a lot of creators and publishers are releasing free content to keep fans occupied. Artyom Trakhanov, the artist best known for his work on series like Undertow, 7 Deadly Sins, and Protector, joined them by making his zines and short comics free-to-read on Gumroad. You can visit this link for full access to a library of comics and fanart in his signature style. I had the opportunity to interview Artyom Trakhanov about his personal projects, releasing them for free, and how he’s built a career in the North American comics industry from 5000 miles away.
Let’s start at the beginning! How did you become a fan of comics? What kind of access did you have to them in Russia?
I had incidental exposure to kid comics like Bamse and Tom & Jerry in my childhood and some early manga reading, but comics didn’t become a Real Thing for me until my first year of university. I didn’t have access to a very extensive library, so my diet of comics was basically limited to Russian translations of Danger Girls and Ultimate Spider-Man, and a couple of early volumes of Hellboy.
Who were some of your biggest artistic influences growing up?
Joe Madureira, Mike Mignola, and Kouta Hirano, I guess? I mean, I was a full adult by the time, but my mind was baby-fresh and open for new things!
Had the distance made it more difficult to connect with creators and publishers, especially as you were first breaking in?
At the very beginning of my “career,” Steve Orlando did all the communication and pitching for Undertow. After that I was approached by Boom! Studios for Turncoat and things continued rolling from there. I didn’t get a real sense that I was “breaking into” the comics. One could argue I still am.
What were some of your earliest published comics?
My first was a short story about a public domain superhero named Flip Falcon with Steve Orlando for an anthology called Nobodies.
How did you connect with Steve Orlando?
I’m 80% sure he found my tumblr while googling for Russian comic artists! The name of my tumblr page was (and still is) “Hey kids! Russian comics!” Anyway, he emailed me, we talked, then we did a couple short comics – one was published, the other wasn’t. Then Steve pitched Undertow to Image Comics.
Did Undertow help open doors for future projects like 7 Deadly Sins and Protector?
It’s a slow grind. You work on a book for a year or so, you release the book, you get a few months oF attention from readers and editors – enough to find another project, hopefully – and then you quiet for the next year or so. Each book helps and without books you basically do not exist to comics readers unless you’re a Really Big Deal.
Is drawing fanart a good way to discover your style and sensibilities?
I think so! When I do fanart (either fanzine or commission), I’m not trying to “imitate” the thing I’m drawing – I’m looking for a way to depict it with my own sensibility.
A lot of the fan art features videogames properties What can comics learn from the visual design and storytelling in games?
Not much? Video games have been our bread and butter for 20+ years now. I think enough of it is already in the comics, so we should give videogames a rest now. And don’t get me wrong – I still love Dark Souls and Final Fantasy! I just think that the more complicated and visually stunning games get, the less they could “give” us.
How do you balance your personal projects like what you have on your Gumroad with your other work?
Very poorly! But there have been whole years now when I sustained mostly on Gumroad and Patreon. My artbooks, fanzines and the Slavic Nihilism anthology is basically an attempt to exist outside the book-to-book grind.
Do you want to both write and draw your own graphic novel someday?
Who doesn’t, right? But we’ll see if I have enough writing talent and patience [laughs]. For example, Chernobýl is basically an OGN serialized chapter-by-chapter in my Slavic Nihilism anthology, and that’s already on a hiatus after just two chapters!
What compelled you to release your zines for free on Gumroad?
At the end of March I was full of anxiety. All the terrible news and discussion about the death of comics (both in the US and Russia) felt overwhelming, so doing something like this felt natural. I was very happy to see later that Image started giving Protector #1 away for free, too. It’s nice to pretend that art can just be free (of which I am a firm believer). I’d love to get rid of the annoying mediator between us known as “money” but also don’t starve, somehow.
What has the reception been like to the gesture and to the zines themselves?
I think it was good? I mean, you’re still mostly left wondering, as you always are with small press projects. Someone buying your zine at a small convention because they liked the random cover or someone who comes across a free giveaway online is basically the same thing – it happens to you, and then sometimes three years later you see a familiar face at another convention or get a very touching e-mail.
Matt Chats is an interview series featuring discussions with creators or players in comics, diving deep into industry, process, and creative topics. Find its author, Matt O’Keefe, on Twitter and Tumblr. Email him with questions, comments, complaints, or whatever else is on your mind at firstname.lastname@example.org.