Luck is only a tiny, tiny percentage of success.
Relentless El Paso artist Chris Shehan inspires with his schedule, output and lack of excuses.
MagiciansHouse: You've said that you didn't grow up on comics. How do you feel that discovering them later in life affected your professional approach?
Chris Shehan: I think having an untainted or non purist view of comics has allowed me to just learn storytelling without having to unlearn a lot of things.
A lot of people who were trying to break into comics when I was trying were all clones of 90s artists. And while a lot of great art came out of 90s comic artists, you ended up with a lot of people adapting their strengths as well as their mistakes. That and most editors don't hire clones when they can actually hire David Finch.
All that being said, since then I've unintentionally absorbed things from some of my favorite artists. But I was a storyteller first and foremost.
Originally you came out pushing for a really slick, vibrant 3-D modeled look. Fast forward five years and you've stripped everything down to predominantly black and white with slightly elongated and sharpened lines. Your edges are left dark and scratchy, even scary. Do you foresee future upheavals in style or do you think that your storytelling has leveled out?
I discovered DeviantART back when it was a big thing. That and lack of focus caused me to be inspired by everything. I jumped around between comics, video game concept art, highly rendered portraits and illustrations, etc. I learned later on that the only way to be great is to focus on one thing.
At this point, my style is still finding itself, but it's likely going to just hover around the same place and just improve off of that. It's good to have those other skills/styles in my back pocket though.
Do you feel like you tackle a page more blatantly cinematic than the common approach in comics?
I like to think I do. But recently in comics you're seeing a lot more focus on composition and shot design like you would see in film. A lot of comic artists are actually storyboarders in film and tv and a lot of those storyboarders and concept artists are making comics. So it's not just me, and I'm reading comics a lot more because of the masterfully composed art these days.
It seems like you took a pretty hard stab at illustration for a couple of years and then went on hiatus to work at another career before recently blazing back headlong into comics. What were you doing in your head throughout that interim?
I took a hard stab and I was stabbed right back. Stress and depression and my work getting nowhere sent me away. Not away from art, I drew every day with every intent to return. I just didn't post online the way I used to. I didn't try to find freelance work. I just quietly sketched and studied. During that time I had a lot of success in the other thing I was doing. But I felt like a hamster on a wheel. And then my best friend (my dog Buster) got sick. He lost the ability to walk. I stopped everything. Everything. And I spent every moment with him. I pushed him in a stroller and carried him everywhere. I took him on road trips to give him a final send off. Losing him crushed me. But it also brought my original dreams and goals forward because life is short. It wasn't even a month after losing him I started getting comic work and haven't stopped since.
So you're back in comics and clocking unbelievably forward artistic strides. You've undeniably crossed into a new level of professional depth that wasn't previously quite as obvious. Might we attribute this uptick in production to the enabling intercedings of a certain lady? Being that she's a scientist do you ever fear that she's actually only principally there in order to study, tag and catalogue you? Or do you sometimes wake up fearing that she's a beautiful robot trying to manipulate you into her unholy purpose? Sorry, I'm... I'm projecting again. How's Karla?
I'll tell you, while it was the loss of my dog that got me back to work, it's absolutely Karla that got every other aspect of my life back on track. I'm very unorganized and right brained and she's very left brained and analytical. We're opposites in that way, but alike in a lot of ways. I work extra hard because she's shown me what hard work really is. I definitely couldn't do what she does. Also, I'm almost 100% sure she's studying me and reporting me to the mother ship. But hey, she's cute, I'll let her.
One look at your meticulous deadline calendar demonstrates that you adhere to a pretty strict daily process. You're pacing yourself for the long haul. How do you normally structure your day?
Blame Karla for the calendar too. On an average work day it's basically just wake up, drink coffee and watch cartoons, then draw until I've completed whatever task I have on my calendar that day. That's really it. Sometimes I finish early and draw personal stuff. Or I take a break from art entirely. I'm trying to get faster though. So I can be a human being in the evenings.
As a creator you're a self-starter. You don't make excuses or tolerate peoples excuses. Personally, I like that a lot. That tells me every damn thing that I need to know. Why is this mindset so rare? Why is victimhood so fashionable?
This was a learned behavior.
My dad is an entrepreneur and he would always lovingly call me out on my own excuses. And while I rebelled against his philosophies as a teenager, they've dramatically improved my life as an adult. (I use the term 'adult' lightly).
To answer your question, people absolutely know they're making excuses. They absolutely know what it really takes to get to where they want. They know luck is only a tiny, tiny percentage of success. But god, does it feel good to not take responsibility for not being the best you can personally be. It feels good to convince yourself that natural talent is a thing so it's ok if you're not skilled. It's a warm comforting feeling. Taking responsibility for your life is hard. I still catch myself making excuses. I try to correct myself when I do, but the natural tendency is to seek comfort.
You've got a lot of books coming down the line this year and the next. You're taking on westerns, fantasy, crime, superhero, horror... man, is there anything that's off the table? Is there a sick sense of satisfaction to be gained through the sheer act of out-hustling the people around you?
I like storytelling. Before I wanted to do art and comics professionally, I wanted to be a film maker. I made quite a lot of movies. I even tried animation for a short period. There are genres and types of stories that I love and I lean towards those in my comic work. I also carefully choose jobs that will put me on a path to eventually (hopefully) drawing Batman. Noir, crime, fantasy, gritty stuff in general. So there are things that are off the table. Either stuff my style isn't suited for, like stuff for kids. Or stuff that I just would be bored out of my mind drawing. As for out-hustling people, I don't care about that. I'm only competing with myself and who I was, with where I want to be in mind. I've never been a competitive person. But I've always wanted to grow as often as I can as a person.
What are you working on right now?
-1. Prometheus, with writer Ryan Little. We just kickstarted Issue 1 and we far surpassed our goal so we threw in Issue 2 for free. Both issues are done, I'm currently drawing issue 3.
-2. I just finished a one-shot crime comic with Jed McPherson which he'll announce on his Twitter in a few days from typing this. [The project is called Deadbeat. -MagiciansHouse]
-3. I'm drawing an Instagram comic with Mr. Multiverse creator Andrew Morrissey.
-4. I'm drawing a short story with writer Ryan Ellsworth.
-5. And another short story with writer Kelly Brack for an anthology.
-6. I'm writing AND drawing a trilogy for Phi3 Comics. They have a gritty, noir, super hero, horror series called Spiralmind and they're letting me play in their sandbox with this closed trilogy.
-7. I'm working on a Marvel project with Upper Deck. I can't say more than that yet.
That's all stuff I'm doing right now. It's not as crazy as it sounds. But I also don't go out much.
Where can people find you online?
I post most frequently on Twitter @ZhouRules. A little less frequently on instagram @ZhouRules. Facebook page is @ZhouRulesArt. And if you want to see my portfolio and whatnot, go to ChrisShehan.com!
BONUS QUESTION! From one obvious Batfreak to another, do you have any plans cooked up to reveal on next months Batman Day '17?
I'll probably read Batman, watch Batman, wear Batman stuff, and draw a Batman piece to celebrate. I MIGHT try to arrange a signing at a comic shop here in town for all the books with my name that are out now. And maybe do free Batman sketches for people who buy my non Batman books. Maybe. Maybe. I don't know. Thanks for reminding me about Batman Day! Someday I'll be able to announce my Batman run with DC. But it is not this day. Thanks for the interview, Stef!