I’ve enjoyed the art of Tony Fleecs since he started posting a sketch card a day on his blog. He offered mini commissions for $3 and received an overwhelming number of sales, so he started a blog that documented his work drawing 635 sketch cards.
I was glad to see Tony land a role as a regular artist of My Little Pony titles because that seems like about as steady a gig as you’ll find in comics. But those books never appealed to me, personally, so I was more excited to learn that he was branching out beyond friendship and magic. He co-created Time Shoppers, a new graphic novel from Action Lab about a deals junkie who uses time travel to score the prizes of a lifetime. It’s a lot of fun to see him explore topics that don’t fit the family-friendly tone of MLP.
I was initially disappointed that Fleecs didn’t draw the comic as well as write it. But Christian Meesey is an excellent substitute thanks to an art style with similar sensibilities but a rougher edge that’s perfectly suited for the humor prevalent throughout the graphic novel. Check out my conversation with Tony Fleecs about the creation and production of the Time Shopper.
How did you stumble onto the idea of someone who shops for items throughout history?
The initial idea for Time Shopper came from just sort of daydreaming about what I’d do if I could travel in time. I’d think about, “Oh! I could buy Apple stock!” or, I could buy a house when my grandparents bought a house… this giant house for like $5,000. And comics! I’d always sit around and daydream about the comic collection I could have if I had a time machine—and we’re not even talking about key issues. I was just never around to buy comics when they were $0.35 or $0.12, you know?
Are you a deal hunter yourself?
Yes and no. I love a bargain but I love convenience more. So I’ll go out shopping on Black Friday, but I won’t wake up at 4 am and go wait outside a store on Black Friday.
Did you originally develop this project with yourself in mind as the artist?
I’m not sure. My ultimate career ambition is to just write and draw my own books full time. So in the broad sense, that’s what I’m thinking with any idea I come up with on my own. This one, in particular, I had in my notebook for a while and when Christian and I decided we wanted to do something together, I pitched him a few different things and this is the one that he responded to the most.
I think Christian Meesey shares a lot of sensibilities with your art. Is that what drew you to him as a collaborator?
What drew me to him most was his characters and expressions. Christian’s a caricature artist when he’s not drawing comics, so he’s got this incredible range when it comes to people—I feel like I draw maybe six different kinds of people tops, but Christian has millions of different body types, ethnicities, and personalities in his repertoire. PLUS he’s constantly drawing. He has a sketchbook with him all the time. If he doesn’t have a comic gig at the moment, he’ll be working on a comic for himself. So I said, “Is there a way I could harness all his talent and point it at one of my stories?”
We DO share some sensibilities for sure. We have a lot of the same influences. That might be why we were drawn to each other as friends, but that’s not why I wanted to work with him. My favorite stuff of Chris’ is the stuff that’s way different from the kind of things I draw.
What made Action Lab the right partner for Time Shopper?
I’ve worked with them a bunch of times in the past as a cover artist and I’ve always gotten along great with them. They make a lot of books that I dig. Interesting, non-super hero, off-the-beaten-path type books and I consider this book far away from any beaten paths, you know? (Or at least, in comics. In movies they make a weirdo time-travel comedy every couple of years.) I was also set on doing this as a self-contained, album-format thingy and they’d just done one of those with my friend Sara Richard. When it came time to talk to people about this book, they were one of the first places I went to.
What was the pitch process like?
It was pretty simple—and then slightly complicated—and then simple again. I just gave a pitch packet to Bryan Seaton at San Diego Comic-Con. Bryan’s the CEO/Publisher at Action Lab (I think that’s his title.) Anyway, he said, “Sure! We’ll publish that” right there on the spot. So I was like, “Phew! Success! Got that taken care of.” So then I sent a follow-up email a week or so after the show and they emailed me back like, “Ok. So our submission requirements are at least six fully colored and lettered pages, and a cover and a one-page synopsis, etc.” And I was like, “Oh. Not quite success yet. Nothing is taken care of.” BUT! Obviously it all worked out in the end. We put together all the stuff they asked for and sent it in and then they wrote back and said, “OFFICIALLY Sure! We’ll publish that.” Phew!
Were you at all concerned about going against type with this book, which is a lot crasser than My Little Pony?
A little? This is much more along the lines of the stuff that I was making before I started making MLP. My first published comic was an auto-bio comedy book about me in my 20s. It was called In My Lifetime, I put it out in 2006 and that was my calling card early on. Down to earth, funny, a little bit crass but with a unique perspective—that’s what my Oni Press book Jeff Steinberg: Champion of Earth (with co-writer Josh Fialkov) was, too. That was what I assumed I’d always do. So My Little Pony was sort-of me going against type when I first started on that book in 2012.
Was it liberating to work on something that’s not G-rated?
It was liberating to be able to do whatever I wanted—just to not have to check with anyone. But I wouldn’t say I was bursting at the seams to put a bunch of crass stuff in a comic necessarily. That’s just where this story went sometimes. The liberation was the liberating part. That’s why I’m drawn to comics and to creator-owned comics specifically. I want to be able to put stuff out there that’s 100% my weirdo ideas and my specific voice. Or in this case, 100% me and my collaborators’ weirdo ideas and our specific voice.
Time Shopper has a lot of strip-like humor, with setups and punchlines contained to one page. Was it on your mind to write pages that serve as individual pieces of entertainment?
Yeah. When I conceived of it, the story was very episodic just by way of— well, he’s gonna jump around to all sorts of different important historical events. And I knew that some of them would be longer and others would be one-page or one-panel gags. One of the main ideas behind this project was that I just wanted the story to move fast. It’s a funny idea and it’s something I think people can relate to. Everybody has something they wish they’d bought before it got too expensive. But it’s my story and even I didn’t want to read it for 300-400 pages. I just wanted it to be a quick, fun story. And a big part of making it fun and making it funny was pacing and timing. So like, is a scene about the assassination of Franz Ferdinand funny enough for five pages? Maybe not. Is it funny enough for one page? Definitely.
Has this experience made you hungry to write and maybe even draw more creator-owned series?
Yeah, absolutely! Like I said earlier, it’s pretty much all I want to do eventually. I love working on My Little Pony and Star Wars comics and I’m continuing to do those—and I have a bunch of other writers whose scripts I’d love to draw, too. But I also have a list of eight different comic ideas, and I want to make all of those, too. Some of them I want to draw, some of them I want other people to draw.
Just judging by how this book went, though, it took about two years from first taking to Christian about it to the book coming out. If it takes about that long for all the other books, I’m 40 years old now, that’ll put me deep in my 50s by the time they’re all done. And that’s working on them at a pretty good clip. So I guess I have to figure out how to make the creator-owned stuff pay my bills like the work for hire does.
I’ve got this book coming out in January and then I have another book that Image Comics is putting out either late in 2020 or in the first part of 2021. That one’s as different from this one as this one is from My Little Pony. And then if this book is a big smash hit, Christian and I have other ideas for these characters AND if it isn’t a big smash hit, we know what our next book together is too… Anyway, yes. The short answer is yes I’m hungry to write and draw more creator-owned series.
Follow Tony Fleecs on Twitter @TonyFleecs. Time Shopper releases on January 29 and can be pre-ordered with Previews code NOV191336.
Matt Chats is an interview series featuring discussions with a creator or player 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.