Tony Fleecs had been grinding as an indy cartoonist for years, but it was his work for the My Little Pony license at IDW that got him the most attention. Now, he’s returning to creator-owned with Jeff Steinberg: Champion of Earth, co-written with writer and friend Josh Fialkov, for Oni Press. I talked to Fleecs about his career as an artist and new book.
What was your time in comics like before My Little Pony?
My early stuff was about as far from all ages licensed comics as you could get. I mean, they weren’t gross out gore comics or anything but they were definitely more adult. The very first book I did was called In My Lifetime. It was a black-and-white autobiographical-slice of life-comedy thing. It’s what I was working on when I met Josh Fialkov back in 2005 — it’s real close to the kind of thing we’re doing in Jeff Steinberg. Except Jeff in color and has aliens and robots.
How drastically has your work on My Little Pony affected your career and, especially, your fanbase?
Drastically isn’t a strong enough word. I want from hustling and scrapping on the outskirts of the comics industry, doing sketch cards or coloring & lettering jobs for different books to now pretty much always knowing what my next job is. The stress level is about the same, though. Before it was, “I need to find work,” now it’s, ” how the heck am I going to get all this work done?!”
Fanbase: I had a small & dedicated group of readers from the jump, but the Pony fandom is a whole other gigantic kettle of fish. Even though I’ve always drawn cartoony, somehow it never occurred to me that I’d have so many young readers. It’s my favorite thing now when a kid brings me a beat up copy of one of my Pony books to sign. I remember vividly the three or four first comics I read and how many times I re-read them. Knowing that I’ve been that comic for some new reader is pretty mind-blowing.
What’s been the timeline like for the development for Jeff Steinberg: Champion of Earth?
Well, it developed pretty quickly. The actual production of it, that took forever. I’ve been working on this book since, I think, 2009. In the time since starting on the book, I’ve moved (I think) three times, met a girl, fallen in love, got married. Bought a car, got crashed into, bought another one. Drew, like, sixteen issues of Ponies and way over a hundred covers for MLP and also stuff like Turtles, Samurai Jack, Vampirella, Transformers, Miraculous… It’s been a real busy few years.
It was originally planned as a graphic novel, if I remember correctly. How does breaking it into parts affect the pace of the story?
Yeah, originally we planned to do it as one, B&W manga sized original graphic novel. The first of a series of OGNs. And in the time I was working on it, the whole industry sort of moved away from that and single issues started to become a much more viable format than they had been (thanks to John Layman & Rob Guillory, Brian K Vaughan and Fiona Staples, Brubaker & Phillips, etc.)
So, luckily, we’d written our book in 20-ish page chapters already, with cliffhangers and recaps and all that stuff. Josh was doing so much work for hire superhero stuff while we were working on writing this that the serial comics nature of it was pretty much baked into his DNA.
So breaking it into issues was relatively simple. PLUS now it’s bigger AND in color (by the great LUIGI ANDERSON, who’s work you’ve seen in The Auteur.) And because I had to reformat all the pages for comic size, I got to go in and tweak a lot of art. Fix faces & stuff that I just got better at in the time between starting on the book and finishing. Like doing re-shoots on a movie. We’ve been able to do that with the writing too, punch up jokes and dialog before the lettering happens.
What new facets of your art are you most excited to show off with this series?
Well, It has a lot more hands in it that my Pony stuff does. People will be relieved to see that I can draw those. Sometimes.
Also the character designs are really fun and really represent my aesthetic. I’m excited for people to see that stuff, too.
Can you describe what your collaboration with Josh Fialkov is like?
We’re best friends. So the writing of this book was a lot like hanging out. But with a lot more typing and a little more focused attention.
Most of the thing we wrote in the same room. Just sitting there kicking jokes and plot stuff back and forth, rolling it around until we were both happy with it. It’s been super fun. If every project I did was like this I’d be very content.
Did you feel immediately comfortable doing a humor book, or was it something you had to adjust to?
Immediately comfortable. Pretty much every thing I’ve ever done has had at least an element of humor in it. It would’ve been much more of an adjustment to do something super dramatic or like, a horror book.
Based on your artistic style and previous experience in comics, where do you see your career heading over the years?
I think this book is the direction I hope I’m going. I love doing Ponies and other work-for-hire stuff, but if I could do anything, like if money was no option? I’d do A LOT of creator-owned stuff like this. I’ve got a lot of my own stories I want to tell. Josh and I have a lot more Jeff Steinberg we want to do. We’ll see what happens, I guess. I’m excited about it no matter what.
Follow Tony on Twitter and pre-order Jeff Steinberg #1 with this:
MATT CHATS is a weekly interview series that goes live every Tuesday, conducted between Matt O’Keefe and a creator and/or player in the comic book industry, diving deep into industry, process and creative topics.