Tyler Crook is one of my favorite artists, and also one of the hardest working. He delivers 20+ pages of fully painted artwork almost every month. In an industry that’s embraced digital coloring, Tyler’s work stands out from any other comic on the rack, so I’m always excited for something new from him. After completing a 32-issue run on Harrow County at Dark Horse, he jumped right to The Stone King, trading horror for fantasy. With Stone King completed and his new series Manor Black underway, I was excited Tyler Crook was able to fit in time for an interview. Keep reading to read what he said about drawing different genres, how one image grew into a 100-page graphic novel and his collaborations with Cullen Bunn.
I imagine the end of Harrow County was a pretty emotional experience. How did you feel when you completed the last issue?
I had mixed feelings about it. I loved working on Harrow County but it was a very intense project. We were trying to keep it as close to a monthly book as possible but being in charge of pencil, inks, color, and lettering was a lot of work. So as soon as it finished, I felt a rush of relief followed a day or two later with the fear that I’d never got to work on a book like that again.
Now that a year has passed, what do you think of your work on the series?
I’m pretty happy with the book. I’ve met a lot of people at cons and online who seem to engage with the story in a very personal way. And that feels pretty good. For me, it sort of reinforced the idea that if you make art that you love, people can feel the enthusiasm you have for it and will be attracted to it. It’s not a perfect book but I think it’s a really good book and I’m very proud of what Cullen and I created.
How was the transition to The Stone King following three years and 32 issues of Harrow County?
I thought working on a fantasy story would feel a lot different from horror but was surprised that it was pretty similar. I mean, my approach is always to put the character stuff first and foremost, so the process of me trying to get into the characters heads was pretty much the same. The only real difference was that I had to design a lot more stuff for STONE KING. I had to think about everything I drew in a more intense way. If I drew a door, I’d have to ask myself “what do doors look like in the word? Do they have doorknobs or latches or do they work with magnets?”
Kel said The Stone King was inspired by your description of what you wanted to draw. What captivated you about an image of a monster made of boulders and moss?
It’s been so long since we first started talking about it but I think I had a dream about climbing on a stone giant. It might have just been a regular, flesh giant. I really don’t remember. I was probably inspired by video games. There’s a part in one of the Halo games where you have to jump onto a walking machine and run around on there and I’ve always loved that sort of thing. There’s something cool about playing with scale in that way and thinking about what it would be like to crawl around on a giant animal the way a flea would climb on a big dog.
How does drawing fantasy compare to drawing horror?
I think the main difference is how you decide what goes into the panel. With fantasy, you want to make the world feel very deep and rich. You want to imply a history and a world that is specific and deeply ingrained in that world. So you want to show a lot of details that the reader can use to infer about the larger world. Horror is more a game of hiding and revealing things so that the reader is constantly trying to fill in the gaps but they never have enough of the picture to see it all. The scariest stuff is always the stuff you can almost see.
Does the tone of the subject material affect your mood or mindset while drawing pages?
Kind of. I tend to get stressed out when I have to draw pages with a lot of explicit violence in them. That’s part of trying to keep my storytelling rooted in the characters – I’m always trying to understand what the character could be feeling. And I tend to empathize with them. I remember when I was working on PETROGRAD, the titular scene of the assassination took me 6 weeks to finish and it was a very unpleasant 6 weeks of work for me. Every day I would wake up and say to myself, “Welp, I guess I should get some coffee in me so I can continue assassinating someone.” One of my favorite things about HARROW COUNTY was drawing all the woods and wildlife. I got really excited when I had a day where I could draw dogs!
Your coloring is beautiful. What does painting directly on the page offer you as an artist that’s not attainable with standard computer coloring?
The main thing for me is that working on a computer is exhausting for me. I don’t know if it’s the light coming from the screen or the way my desk is set up or what but it takes a lot out of me to sit and color in PhotoShop or whatever. Working on paper is just a lot more fun and engaging for me. So on a practical production level, that’s why I chose to color with watercolor. But also think there are moods and textures that are very easy to get with watercolor but take a ton of work to achieve digitally. There is a “gloopy-grungy” feeling that I really like to bring to my colors that I think would take forever and not look as good if I tried to do it on a computer. It also leaves me with original art I can sell later.
You obviously have a good relationship with Cullen to partner with him for another series. What makes him such a good collaborator?
It’s hard to say what it is specifically. When I read his scripts, they make sense to me on a very basic level. A lot of time when working with writers you are trying hard to decode what they are intending or what it is about the scene that is important. But I’ve never really felt that with Cullen. There is also a lot of trust there. I trust him to write a story that is good and honest and he seems to trust me to tell that story in the way I think will be most effective.
Since Manor Black is only four issues, have you already decided your next project?
Yes! My next project is setup but I can’t talk about it yet. I’m also working hard on the project I hope to do after that one. I wish I could say more but you know how it is.
An artist’s time is so limited compared to a writer’s. What factors do you consider when deciding where you want to devote your time and energy next?
Aw, man! That is a good question. I’ve been spending a lot of time over that last year thinking of that. Sorry to get heavy on you but my little sister died last year from a brain aneurysm. It was very sudden, completely unexpected and it really fucked me up. She woke up in the morning with a headache and by the time she got to the hospital a few hours later she was gone. It was rough and still is super rough.
So I’d been telling myself for years that I wanted to start writing my own stuff but kept putting it off. But after seeing firsthand how fragile our lives really are, I decided to fast track some projects that I’d been poking at for a long time. Not every project needs to be my opus but I do need to make sure that I’m trying to do the work that I love so that if I died tomorrow, I’d have spent my life actually doing the stuff I want to do and exploring the ideas I want to explore. I don’t care so much about leaving a legacy or whatever but I want to know that my time was spent doing something that was important to me and not just killing time. That’s what I’ve been thinking about a lot lately as I try to choose projects.
Haha! What a great way to end an interview. WE CAN ALL DIE AT ANY MOMENT!!
What a way to end indeed! Thanks to Tyler Crook for the great interview. You can follow him on Twitter @MrTylerCrook and through his website, and visit Cadence Comic Art for a look at his beautifully painted artwork. His new series, Manor Black, debuts July 31st.
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.