Brief Bio of Michael Lapinski:
Michael Lapinski was born, raised and now lives in Bayonne, New Jersey. For the last ten years, Michael lived in Brooklyn and worked as a digital designer and painter in the NYC animation industry on such notable programs as Disney’s Doug, Blue’s Clues and Team UmiZoomi for Nick Jr., and 4Kids’ Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. Michael is currently a freelance illustrator and designer, whose first comic book, Feeding Ground is published by Archaia comics. Michael also helped to create the Batman Brawl online video game.
What was the first comic book you read?
I distinctly remember being drawn to comics because of the commercials that Hasbro aired advertising Marvel's G.I. Joe comics. I think G.I. Joe #2 was my first comic but the one that made the greatest impression on me as an early reader was Uncanny X-Men #162. The cover is so lurid in yellow and purple with a hairy, shirtless Wolverine being beset by a Brood alien. Inside, the issue features an internal and external struggle as Wolvie's healing factor fights off an implanted Brood egg and he battles the beasts of the Brood Homeworld. It jumped off the racks and I carried it with me everywhere.
What is your all time favorite comic book or series?
I have a lot of love for the comics of Los Bros. Hernandez and the world and characters they created in Love and Rockets. But, I would say the works I keep going back to and that have had the greatest impact on my art are the collaborations between Frank Miller and Dave Mazzuchelli on Batman: Year One and Daredevil: Born Again. They hit me at the right age in my readership in that I needed and appreciated the more mature content they brought to the material and, more so, how they both had matured as storytellers. With Born Again Mazzuchelli took the years of skilled draftsmanship he honed in the Marvel style and distilled it down to only the essential lines. Similarly, the pacing and staging work on multiple levels and, for me, revealed the potential for comic storytelling. I like much of their later work but these bring real heat and humanity to their respective myths.
What inspired you to become an artist?
My Aunt Fran likes to tell the story that she caught me as an infant drawing on the wall with my own poop. So, I guess it's always been in me. I did illustrate my first comic at age 5 or so (it was about a whale attacking a sub) and the encouragement of my parents continued to foster that interest over the years. I am a visual person and hard-wired to be awestruck by other works of art and design that continue to springboard inspiration. Eventually, it emerged as a huge part of my identity. Right now, more so than the art of drawing, Feeding Ground has inspired the storytelling part of my brain and the emotional math that goes into constructing a narrative.
Tell us about how you became involved in the animation industry
My entry into the world of animation was fueled by pure jealousy. I attended Rutgers College in New Jersey for a degree in Art but there wasn't an animation or cartooning course. So, I helped co-create a student publication for comic artists. Around my Junior year I had heard that a classmate scored an internship with the animation studio Jumbo Pictures in NYC. I was under the impression that she didn't even like cartoons! Once I realized that this was an option, she was cool enough to put me in touch with the studio and I soon started to photocopy production art for Disney's Doug. Led in part by the character of founder Jim Jinkins, this was one of the most creative and welcoming workplaces I've had the pleasure to be a part of. After graduating, I started cell painting for them and then when the studio went digital my education in Photoshop allowed me to transition into my next job and then, ultimately, a career.
What work in animation are you most proud of?
One thing I always appreciated about working in animation is how a number of the NYC studios do everything in-house and that the assembly line set-up, when everything is firing on all cylinders, results in a whole that is better than the sum of its parts. Friends and co-workers in each department build off the one before and feed the next. So, as part of the Design department I would receive amazing work from Writing and Storyboard and want to bring all my skills to fleshing it out before passing the baton to the Animation team down the hall. You know who you're handing off to and want to impress and assist them.
For me, that's how it was at Blue’s Clues and I'm personally proud of the work a number of us did on a pilot for another Nick Jr. show "Chickiepoo & Fluff: Barnyard Detectives." I designed and art directed the show with a staff made up of many of the same artists from previous gigs. It happened to be a particularly difficult time in my life and I can't imagine it turning out as well as it did without that sort of team in place. And, it is friggin' adorable.
What was your role in creating the Batman Brawl online video game?
Given the state of the economy, I've noticed that a number of companies try to avoid hiring professional artists or designers and instead opt for creating contests to pull from a large pool of submissions and pay less than market rate for a final design. As much as I loathe the practice, I learned about and participated in the call for Batman: the Brave & the Bold Flash games during a period when I was on hiatus from a show and could not say no to the job prospect. I really enjoy the spirit and design of that Batman show and I wanted to pitch a game that wasn't a basic sidescroller, that would highlight a number of the eccentric characters, and that I would want to kill time playing. I struck upon a Mike Tyson's Punch-Out mash-up as inspiration, pitched it, was one of the winners of the pitch round, and then put it into development.
I'm not an animator or programmer so I assembled an A-Team of previous co-workers in Dayna Gonzalez and H. Stephen Mead to take on the project. We were all out of regular work so this was a good opportunity for us to train new skills on personally driven project. For me, it was also an eye-opener as a small scale production manager. So glad we did this and I'm still looking for the opportunity to work on more games or apps with Steve and Dayna in the future.
Editor's note- be sure to check out the Batman Brawl video game, totally free and totally fun!
How has your animation background and those years of experience helped you as a comic book illustrator?
Artistically, my years in animation design probably hurt my draftsmanship. Most of my jobs have been Photoshop-intensive working in a style that employs photo imagery like a digital collage. When we sold Feeding Ground, I needed to bone up on my drawing skills and as a result I feel like I've leaned a little too heavily on the use of photo ref for models and staging. I'm leaving the reference behind more with each issue and pulling on other tricks I've learned as a background painter. To be honest, I am more at ease as a colorist although I need to execute most of the art chores a comic requires. I'm my own assembly line. Before starting the book, I took a short course with the Marvel pro Klaus Janson at the Museum of Comic and Cartoon Art in NYC and those classes crystalized some of the basics of comic storytelling for me in a way that had an immediate and dramatic impact on what I self-taught and gleaned from years of reading comics.
Tell us about Feeding Ground and your collaboration with Swifty Lang on the book.
Feeding Ground was initially conceived by Swifty Lang with collaboration from Chris Mangun. Swift and I have been friends for years and I met Chris through Swift when he showed up at my house wearing a gorilla mask to attend The Mermaid Parade. They were developing the concept at the same time that I was on one of those hiatus periods between animation seasons. The idea was to tell a site-specific horror story, in this case the desert of the US/ Mexico Border, that dealt with issues of survival and transformation within a re-imagined werewolf myth. I was immediately intrigued and we worked to develop a pitch book in time for NY Comic Con. The pitch and the short story "Frozen Dark," that we contributed to the DON'T LOOK! horror anthology, were our first opportunity to transition from friends to a production team.
What I like about working with Swifty is that his stories feel vital and of-the-moment and are delivered in intriguing packages. He has a film background, so, he is a visual thinker and the look of Feeding Ground was primed by our shared interest in Mexican woodcuts and EC Comics. He is weaving a comic of poetic imagery while also driving plot and revealing character. Chris is both a writer and artist, a jack-of-all-trades who empowers both skills with dedication and insight. My favorite experience working on Feeding Ground has been the storystorming sessions with both guys as we arrive at answers to complex scenarios of our own creation.
What was the best advice you ever received or any recommendations you’d like to give to other aspiring artists?
I wish I had a mentor. Maybe I'm romanticizing the reality of it but I got the impression that the generation of comic artists I grew up on had apprenticed in other studios. For me, podcast interviews with comic creators, like Word Balloon, have been their own education. The repeated message? Do the work. You are ultimately the one responsible for whether or not a page succeeds and a lot of time and effort go into making that a reality. Beyond that, is the ability to know where to let go and experiment. Comic conventions are a great place to get critical readings of your work by professionals. One of my favorite artists, RM Guera, liked my work but gave me the edict to loosen up, lose the photo reference, and trust my markmaking. Now on Issue 4 of Feeding Ground, I have that advice ringing in my ears and I am hopefully three issues better than I was in Issue 1.
Looking forward, what would be your “dream project”?
Ideally, the work we've done on Feeding Ground will allow us to continue to tell stories we want to tell. It's not easy to make a living creating comics but the experience has been invaluable. We could potentially revisit the world we created for Feeding Ground but we also already have a number of concepts and styles we are eager to explore and get out into the public. Would I love to play with the Marvel toys I grew up on? Sure, but not as much as the prospect of spawning new ideas to stand on the racks alongside them.
Anything else that you would like to share?
I would just want to say how fortunate we were to be tapped by Archaia for our first comic work. They publish dynamic, diverse, and exciting fiction and we admire the talent, hard work, and ingenuity going on behind the scenes. They make for an excellent team and we are better off for their support. Definitely check out their growing catalog of books if you haven't already. The collected edition of Feeding Ground will be out in 2011 and we're already cooking up some ideas to make it a package worthy of the Archaia bookshelf.
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