Ask Me Anything: I am Andy Fish, published author and artist of several how to art books, comic books, graphic novels and soon to be prose novels. My wife is also a comic book artist and our latest project together is through Dark Horse Comics.

Andy Fish
Dec 31, 2017

I have been a freelance artist and writer for 15 years making a very comfortable living at it while maintaining the discipline to meet deadlines, balance a social life and family and stay in shape all while working some crazy hours from home.

In the past I've taught classes at Massachusetts College of Art and Design and Emerson College in Boston.  Currently I teach a series of Comic and Graphic Novel Programs via an online program on my own.

I attended the School of Visual Arts in New York where I studied under Will Eisner and got my advanced degree at Rhode Island School of Design.   I also have a business degree from Clark University and I have extensive experience in investing.

Working as a freelancer is rewarding but it can be all consuming when you're on a deadline.   I've worked with several major publishers in the United States, Canada, the UK and India.

Feel free to ask me anything, and I'll try my best to answer it.


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Before you start your digital art project, do you sketch a rough concept first? Or can you develop your image straight away?

Jan 5, 6:39AM EST0

Do you have other jobs aside from being an author?

Jan 2, 12:09AM EST0

I am a full time freelance artist and writer.  I teach a class once a week to upcoming writers and artists online but that is done more because I feel it's an obligation to the upcoming creators as was instilled in my by Will Eisner rather than as a method for creating income.

Jan 2, 10:31AM EST0

Do you work with collaborations with others and if you do, can you tell of some of those collaborations?

Dec 31, 3:50AM EST0

I've worked with many collaborators and it's always been a positive experience.  Everyone has their own way of working so there is always an adjustment.

If you're drawing someone else's words into comic sequentials they may have a pretty specific vision of what things should look like, so in those cases I'll have them sketch something out, even if it's in stick figure.

I'm lucky in that I get to choose my assignments pretty carefully so I've never been stuck with someone who is unprofessional.

My favorite collaborator is my wife and then comedian Steve Altes who was just a lot of fun to work with.

There are some well known writers in the industry, however, that I wouldn't work with, because they are awful at meeting deadlines and that puts the whole book behind and lateness is almost always blamed on the artist.

You'd be shocked at some of the names I could drop (but won't) and the idiotic excuses they make.   There was one writer notoriously late every month and their excuses were more and more outrageous-- they allegedly slipped and fell and got a head injury was one of the excuses, but when we asked their spouse how they were doing they didn't know anything about it.  The next month their cat ran away and they were just distraught-- and this is someone that's supposed to be professional and CONTINUES to get work even though the vast majority of the writing is just regenerated ideas that have been around for a long time.

Dec 31, 1:40PM EST0

Do you think being a freelancer is better than working in a career where someone else is your boss?

Dec 31, 12:24AM EST0

Without question, but you have to be the right kind of person.  Before I was a freelance artist I worked in retail grocery and I ended up getting promoted pretty highly up the ranks fairly quickly, so I've always been someone who is decisive and enjoys being in charge.  You have to have a lot of those same qualities if you're going to go out on your own.

Dec 31, 1:35PM EST0

Why did you decide to become a freelancer? Did you ever regret that desicion?

Dec 30, 8:38AM EST0

Great question.

Freelancing isn't for everyone, but it's got an incredible amount of freedom to it-- you get to decide which projects you're working on.  You get to decide which assistants to hire and then assign the work.  You get to decide if you want to work Tuesday-Saturday because you have something to do on Monday that week, or whatever.

When I first made a jump from being on staff to working freelance my income fell about 90%-- and that certainly caused a great deal of anxiety but I never regretted it because the freedom was so great.

I stuck it out and within two years I was not only matching was I had been making I was exceeding it.

With the tax system being what it is here in the US if you make over a certain amount your income tax increases so on the advice of my Tax Attorney I ended up taking the last three months of the year off and that was GREAT.  My wife and I traveled and spent some time in Japan.

Dec 30, 1:11PM EST0

If you have to create your own novel, what will it be about?

Dec 30, 6:37AM EST1

I always have 4-5 ideas kicking around at once, but there will be one project that I'm focused on-- but when I find myself getting stalled out on that project I jump over to the other one for a bit-- it helps to get the ideas flowing again.

All of my work tends to have a darker feel to it, although there is always an element of humor to it.

Dec 30, 1:07PM EST0

What tools do you mostly use for drawing?

Dec 30, 5:00AM EST0

In my studio I have two setups-- one is strictly digital-- a Wacom Tablet connected to an iMac and a secondary monitor to hold scripts or reference material.

On the other side of the studio is a large drawing table and traditional tools, bristol, ink, brushes, pens, etc -- and I have a large format scanner so I can scan in pages in one piece (most comic art is done on 11x17 bristol).

For the most part with projects, I'm working about 80% digital.  In my off-time I often sit with a sketchbook in a coffeeshop or even in the living room and just draw with a brushpen.

Dec 30, 1:05PM EST0

How do you manage to balance your life and your work?

Dec 30, 4:17AM EST0

It's not easy, but strictly scheduling time is a great help and I have a smart watch which reminds me to get up and get some exercise.

Since my wife is also a freelance comic artist, we have to make time to eat meals together.  If we're on a strict deadline we'll sometimes sacrfice lunch together but we go out of our way to either make a nice dinner each night or go to a restaurant to recharge.

When you don't balance and just focus on work, the work suffers.  You may think that pulling a string of 18 hour days is helping to make your deadline, it actually hurts since you're often doing sub-par work that you end up redoing anyway.

I can't stress enough how important it is to sit down and do a monthly deadline calendar with daily checks, so if I've got a 20 page book due at the end of the month each day on the calendar will have a number to represent how many pages I need to have done on that date.  If the number isn't hit I have to sacrifice things to make up missed time.

But that calendar allows me to comfortably take time off.

Dec 30, 1:04PM EST0

How has your degree in Visual Arts helped you decide where to mostly invest your time?

Dec 30, 2:50AM EST0

Art School isn't for everyone, but it's a good place to figure out what you really like to do.  In my case I love to tell stories using words and pictures.  Initially I wanted to get into film, but as you see with the vast majority of movies coming out today being real messes, that's a medium that often suffers from too many cooks because it's all about making money over the art or craft.With comics, you have a far higher level of creator creativity without interference from people above you. 

With each assignment at SVA I'd try different disciplines but it was clear I didn't enjoy Editorial illustration and that caused me to focus on sequential art (comics).

Dec 30, 1:00PM EST0

Among the many publishers you worked with, to whom did you have the most positive experience?

Dec 29, 10:35PM EST0

I've been lucky in that I've enjoyed working with nearly every publisher I've worked with.  Each has their own positives, but right now I have to say working with Dark Horse has been nothing but positive.

Dec 30, 12:58PM EST0

When did you first realize that you wanted to be an artist?

Dec 29, 3:35PM EST0

Probably in middle school (Grade 7)-- that's where I had the first teacher who showed me you could be an artist and make a good living.  At that point my thought was to be a policeman or a lawyer.

It never occured to me that artists get paid for their work-- up until then I equated artists to starving people selling paintings in the park.

Dec 29, 3:47PM EST0

What was the first thing you ever drew?

Dec 29, 3:35PM EST0

Ha-- no idea.  It was probably either King Kong or Batman since I was obsessed with both as a kid.  I'd have been around 3-4 years old.

Dec 29, 3:47PM EST0

What do you enjoy more - writing or drawing?

Dec 29, 3:01PM EST0

That's a great question.

I draw for fun on my downtime but in terms of work I find it easier to write.  I can knock out 15-20 pages of script in a day but drawing that takes substantially longer, so there is an immediate gratification to writing that takes longer with art.

Dec 29, 3:10PM EST0

Was there a time when you failed to meet deadlines? How did you handle it?

Dec 29, 2:54PM EST0

It's extremely rare-- I build in a "safety net" when scheduling for deadlines.  I don't work on weekends and I calculate the time it will take me to finish something based on ending work each day around 6 (I usually start at 10).

I keep an active calendar nearby so every few days I can check my progress so I know if I'm on track to hit the deadline, if I'm not I need to do the following steps;

1- Start working nights-- try to keep weekends open.

2- Work nights, start working weekends too.

3- Work nights, work weekends and if further in I'm STILL not going to hit a deadline I reach out to the editor right away and let them know.  They already have enough stress without me lying about progress.

9 times out of 10 they will work with you to shift things so that you can have a few more days.

As I said it's not often, I think in 15 years I've missed TWO deadlines and both by 2-3 days at most. 

Keeping track of your progress and then being realistic as to how the coming days will be productivity wise allows you to see far in advance that you're not going to make a deadline.

Honesty with your editor is extremely important.  Nobody likes to deliver bad news but the sooner you let them know you're in trouble the easier it's going to be for them to take.

If it keeps happening to you, reevaluate how you're scheduling your work.

Dec 29, 3:08PM EST0

How have your studies affected and shaped your style of drawing?

Dec 29, 2:13PM EST0

Style is something I believe is constantly changing, constantly evolving, but the "bones" of your style are always there.

The more you draw the more your naturalized style develops and then eventually you stop trying to be someone else.

But growing up I took turns imitation Jack Kirby, Will Eisner, Don Newton, Jim Aparo, Jim Steranko and Marshall Rogers-- all to varying degrees of success.

Going through art school taught me the ever important fact that you have to draw everyday, even when you don't feel like it.

Dec 29, 2:20PM EST0

Which artist was the most influential to you?

Dec 29, 1:18PM EST0

Can't pick one-- Will Eisner was an amazing teacher and got me to appreciate and understand the storytelling aspect of comics.  Jack Kirby helped me to see how action is best portrayed and about having characters that are bigger than life.

For writers, Raymond Chandler is probably the most influential.

Dec 29, 2:11PM EST0

Can you describe your creative process?

Dec 29, 12:40PM EST0

It depends on if I'm doing the writing or "just" the art.

If someone else is writing-- I print out the script or plot and I take it to the couch where I pop in an old movie pour myself a cup of coffee and read through it-- highlighting things that stand out as good visuals.

Then I give the script a few minutes to "gel" in my head before I go through it again and start making thumbnails, which are small 2"x3" sketches of what the pages will look like including word balloons.

In some instances an editor wants to see those thumbnails (sometimes called layouts) so I'll send them in and wait for a response or requested changes.  If it's all good from there I scan those thumbnails into my computer and I start drawing the pages using a Wacom Cintiq Tablet on an iMac in Photoshop CS4.

Same deal here, some projects the pencils need to be approved, others they don't-- and from there I move on to inking and coloring if I've been assigned those.

If I'm writing something myself I take similar steps but usually I spend a solid day of note writing trying to get the details worked out in my head before I start typing up the script in Pages on my iMac.

So, although each project is a bit different depending on the project itself and the client, for the most part they follow a similar path.

One thing I learned early on is the prep portion is the most important part of the whole process-- don't leave things to "figure out later".

Dec 29, 12:46PM EST0

How did you decide to become a prose novel writer? What brought you to that desicion?

Dec 29, 11:55AM EST0

I've always thought of it-- but in some ways it's even more work than being a comic book writer-- it's all on you-- no handling some of the story with illustrations.  Prose is all you have to tell your story.

I started talking with a publisher about one of the novels I'd written, I sent them two and they liked both of them and offered me a contract to publish them, so now I'm fine tuning between other paying gigs.

Dec 29, 12:01PM EST0

What are some of the perks of being a freelancer?

Dec 29, 11:01AM EST0

You get to set your own hours and workdays.  No bosses looking over your shoulder.   You want to take a month off to travel to Japan (as we've done often) you simply build your schedule around it.

The only downside is the lack of a regular weekly paycheck, but if you do it right you learn how to schedule assignments so your expenses are covered and you're even able to save or invest some of it.

Dec 29, 11:03AM EST0

What advice would you give to young artists?

Dec 29, 9:52AM EST0

Draw everyday.  It's cliched but its true.  You should have a sketchbook with you at all times for down time.  You're sitting and waiting for your girlfriend/boyfriend while they shop-- you draw details you see all around you.  What's actually on a lampost?  It's not just a naked metal pole, there are wires, and stickers, and signs and texture.   Having a sketchbook filled with this kind of thing is amazing reference for when you have to produce a finished product.

When I was a professor at Mass College of Art in Boston I proposed the idea of sketchbook checkpoints set up in the hallways.  We would stop freshmen students and request to see their sketchbooks, which needed to have dates on them to instill upon them the importance of drawing everyday.

If you start doing this professionally you will sink faster than a stone if you can't overcome artists block and using this method will ensure it never happens.

Dec 29, 10:28AM EST0
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