One of the great things about living in a city with a thriving art culture is being able to get out and meet great local talent. Today I have the pleasure to bring to you an interview with Phil Machi, an artist I met earlier this month at the Staple! exhibition in Austin, Texas. Phil has a unique talent of combining drawing with storytelling as he has done with his comics Retail Sunshine and Livestock. Phil received his degree in Digital Art from Bowling Green State University in December 2003. He lived the whole 32 years of his existence in Ohio until relocating to Austin, Texas in July 2013.
So, Phil what drew you to Austin, Texas?
I needed a life-reboot. Austin was the perfect combination of art, music, metropolis and better weather!
I have seen some of your dinosaur drawings, what is your current project called?
"Not Quite Extinct" is the name of this book. If it continues as planned then it will gain an obligatory "Book 2" after the title, and so on...
Now is this a illustrations-only kind of book or will there also be accompanying text?
There's definitely text involved, but this first volume is going to feel a little mixed because there is a section with only pictures and it doesn't help that one of the main characters is mute.
You are not diverging too far from your usual creative work then. Will "Not Quite Extinct" have a comic book feel to it?
As far as my usual "all-audiences" style is concerned, it fits in line with that, to be sure. But it's more epic than my previous comics and certainly less cynical than "Retail Sunshine." I am formatting this book in the traditional vertical comic book format which is also new for me as my past comics had a horizontal arrangement.
And why dinosaurs?
|All images © Phil Machi|
And why dinosaurs?
Ahhh, why dinosaurs indeed. You want the long version or the version you would actually want to read... I'm only kidding. So, believe it or not, this project goes all the way back to when I was in 2nd grade! My teacher Mrs. Divis taught us a segment on dinosaurs and it was absolutely love at first sight for me! I knew instantly that I wanted to make dinosaurs my life; that or stand-up comedy. I kid you not, for years that's what I told people, "Paleontology or stand-up comedy!" I don't remember everything from that age but I do recall getting into drawing more and more. I was practically raised on animation and Sunday comic strips!
Dinosaurs give us a glance at what was - I can see the inspiration.
Oh, absolutely! I was enthralled with their shapes and sizes not to mention all the different varieties. One of the projects for Mrs. Divis involved making hand-made books.This was also a big deal for me and so I took it upon myself to write a story about 2 dinosaurs that become friends and go on an adventure. One of those characters was a Stegosaurus.
What does incorporating dinosaurs into your work mean to you personally; what sense of purpose is driving this project?
For years, I was obsessed. I remember running around in my back yard pretending that I had turned into a Stegosaurus! I used to go around saying things like,"If I can learn more about our past, I can maybe see where our future lays." I have also had a life-long fascination and love for animals. Combine my love for animals and understanding them with my dino-obsession and passion for drawing... you can see where this is going. The problem was I never felt I had the proper skill level to create or draw dinosaurs the way I wanted to so this idea has continually been shelved.
So how did you come up with the mute dinosaur and why include such a character?
I'm not sure what it is about me and mute characters. It's like a "thing" for me. If I had to guess, I would say I grew up watching characters like The Pink Panther Tom & Jerry and Wile E. Coyote. They were typically mute and I think that resonated with me because when they would occasionally end up speaking I always felt the dialogue ruined the impact. I used to think "that's not what that character should sound like!" There is something inherently magical about pantomime... it beckons curiosity. I would say facial expressions have always meant more to me than words. I try to carry that into my own work.
I bet that can be a real challenge to your skills too. Do you find that you often challenge yourself?
I have always felt that I've been striving for an idealized version of the characters I create. I continue trying to capture their essence and whenever I get it right, I just get so excited and at the same time I fear I won't be able to repeat it. It's difficult with this project because I don't want there to be an obvious growth spurt throughout the book. I am doing my best to make it feel like one continuous story. With my previous comics, it's clear that I was finding my way.
But at the same time, in doing so, I AM growing. I can see it happening from panel to panel.
Has anyone else's work influenced you in this endeavor?
As for other artists... John K. (creator of Ren & Stimpy) was a big influence for me. Also, all of the classic stuff. I grew up on Warner Bros. cartoons, Disney classics and that left a big impression on me. Not to mention countless illustrators and comic strip artists. Specifically, Berkeley Breathed, Gary Larson, Robin James, Jim Henson, Mike Peters and James Gurney.
How do you hope people will react to your "Not Quite Extinct" dinosaur comic?
Everyone is so quick to label things these days, and I would really love to defy those labels and create something that children of ALL ages can appreciate. I would love it if my drawings could keep their attention as much as, if not more than, a paragraph of dialogue. I've often seen people leaf through comics and it just kills me inside because I know how much time goes into each and every panel, not to mention writing and re-writing dialogue.
Yes you are right, this is a fast-paced world with especially shorter attention spans.
I was talking about this very notion with a good friend of mine the other night. I grew up with programs like The Muppet Show and I Love Lucy. When you go back and watch those shows, it feels slow but at the same time, if you pay attention and give it a chance, there is a lot happening in subtle nuances that I feel like nowadays it wouldn't work. But there is so much value in a quality production, something that has real integrity.
Tell us some more about panel creation. Describe your typical drawing session and environment.
My drawing session varies, honestly. Usually, it's a back-and-forth session of making a few marks here and there in between social networking and internet browsing all while playing tons of music. Eventually, I can get myself into a sort of zone where I am just drawing and everything else around me fades away which is when I really lose track of time. So my environment is my desk. I don't travel with my drawings too much. I like my flat surface with my computer and all my dinosaur figurines around me.
I like that you have the figurines around you. Are they like totems?
I would say the Stegosaurus is my totem animal.
What kinds of drawing tools do you like to use the most; what are the most important items on your creativity bench?
My tools of the trade are a non-photo blue pencil, Bristol smooth paper and an assortment of Micron pens. Of course, I use my computer a bit, but that is primarily for arranging panels, adding text and cleaning dust and debris from the drawings.
My most important items? I would say that my figurines are right up there, but I love to get into a zone with just the right music. Besides that, I need to be ready to "play" because I believe the energy I am feeling is transposed to the paper.
I try not to "work out my frustrations" too much when I'm drawing. When I'm inking it's OK because at that point I have the majority of the drawing planned.
Could you share a few of your top creative-process music selections?
Music... well, I listen to a lot of film scores, modern day classical, as I think of it. But I also try to keep things upbeat as well. Lots of Oingo Boingo, Punch Brothers, Nickel Creek, Rockapella and of course Weird Al.
So from the past into the future, what else would you like us to know about your upcoming comic “Not Quite Extinct"?
I did want to mention that "NQE" has been resurrected a few times. In high school I planned on making it into a comic strip, however, it never made it past conceptual designs. In 2004 I pitched it as a TV show and it didn't fit the goals of the networks. At that point I attempted the graphic novel and became frustrated with it after 13 pages.
Yes graphic novels go long.
Well it wasn't that. It just wasn't gelling. So this is a big project for me because it is this life-long unfinished saga. It has followed me for years.
Do you have any regrets in your creative life?
My only regret is that I haven't created MORE! I have so many other projects in my head and unfortunately I am a slow and meticulous artist. So whenever I complete a book, it is special for me because I just proved to myself that I could focus my mind on a single task and see it through to completion.
Have you learned something of value from missteps that you think emerging artists can benefit knowing about?
Missteps... well, for a while I was having a real difficult time prioritizing my life. My art would take a back seat to video games or TV. This is no longer a problem. While I am a little sad I don't do those things as much, what keeps me going is the result. I can watch TV for hours and have nothing to show for it, which frustrates me.
Would you say it is important to highlight the achievements to keep future goals in focus?
With a project this big, it's all about the little victories! It is so easy to get overwhelmed by a massive goal but the trick is to just break it down and make each individual section into a goal. Celebrating those little achievements can help you feel that you're moving forward. Personally, I'm not good about highlighting my achievements for very long. It really is sad to me because no sooner have I celebrated then I am off to the next thing! I like keeping busy but it is sort of like never being satisfied. But yeah, creation for me has always been its own reward. I don't get as much of a high off of compliments because at some point I had the realization that they're all just opinions and if *I* wasn't happy then nothing would sway me from that.
Well it is not a bad thing to be self-motivated towards being happy with your work.
True, but there is part of me that wants to celebrate a bit more. I just know that I have a little fear around getting an inflated ego. I've been reassured from close friends this will never happen but I always keep myself in check. Ultimately, I try to bring a smile to my own face with my creations. I make it a point to be true to myself and in the end I know I am putting work out there that I can believe in. The icing on the cake is when you meet someone else who believes in it too.
How do you promote your art locally?
Locally is limited to word of mouth when I meet people and find an appropriate time to bring it up; but also in conventions. Conventions are a great way for people to discover new art and I love being in that scene.
Where can readers see more of your work?
My main website is livestockproductions.com
NQE has its own page here: facebook.com/NotQuiteExtinct
Phil Machi (philmachi) on Twitter twitter.com/philmachi