Allow him to illustrate
How Zac Gorman went viral
Published: January 11, 2012
"I found the job tedious and horrible," Gorman says. "It wasn't necessarily the easiest place to make friends. I wasn't in school; everyone I worked with was 10 years older than me, and, let's face it, I spent a lot of my time alone, drawing comics. That's when I started drawing Montgrave."
Montgrave was Gorman's first foray at writing and drawing a regular comic strip since high school, the misadventures of a rather rabbity fellow and his quirky crew.
"Montgrave was born out of a few things," Gorman says. "First, being painfully bored at work, dreaming up comic strips. Second, if you psychoanalyzed this story, it was about me missing home, it was a fantasy, a way I could be surrounded by my closest friends and family."
When the economy went bust in 2008, Gorman was one of those recent hires let go early on, which was fine with him. What the job had lacked in artistic merit, it made up for in time and technology to produce this other work. And all of a sudden there was much more of that time.
Gorman says he wanted to pursue what was out there and popular in the world of Web comics. He wanted to, albeit virtually, stand next to the big boys. He produced full-color Montgrave strips every Monday, Wednesday and Friday for two-and-a-half years. It didn't find much critical acclaim, but Gorman got props from his peers online, mostly other web comic illustrators and blog reviewers.
Then Gorman's girl graduated.
"Right about the time we were getting ready to come back to Michigan, I just kind of stopped doing Montgrave. It fell off. I got burned out on it. I still think about picking it back up, because I feel like I never wrapped it up. There was a story to it, but I was making it up as I went along and never figured out what I wanted to do with it, where I wanted to take it. There's no conclusion, and that bothers me. Sometimes. I want to do something with an ongoing story. At some point."
Moving back to his hometown created what Gorman describes as a mixture of excitement and defeat: "I think that's almost always the case. You're split between the enjoyment of reconnecting with a lot of people, picking up with a life that's familiar and this feeling that coming back home feels like a sad, failed experiment."
It wasn't the worst, but it wasn't exactly smooth either. "I was unemployed and looking for work. It was rough. The job market in Detroit was much more bleak than in California, where at least there were jobs in the market you could apply for."
Not long before moving back to Dearborn, one of Zac's best friends from back here introduced him to Chris Everheart, who, working under the name the Silent Giants, creates art pieces of all sorts (from downhill skis to backdrops that the Dead Weather use on tour) and is internationally recognized for silk screen posters for films and music.
After checking out each other's work online, Everheart and Gorman started collaborating, starting with a poster for an Animal Collective concert at the Royal Oak Music Theatre on May 18, 2009. That performance was in support of their record Merriweather Post Pavilion, arguably the year's most critically acclaimed record. No small gig.
Gorman's line work in the poster is eye-catching and slightly unsettling. Two hornets, a heart, a sprouting seed, a bird of prey, a rabbit, and an incomplete horse skeleton encompass an illustration of a young girl falling into what could be water or a meadow. Not so unsettling, though, that it couldn't hang framed in almost anyone's living room.
They collaborated a couple more times before Gorman moved back home, and continued after the move. "To be honest, it was nice to be around people I was already working with creatively and knew but didn't really know," Gorman says.
Since those early collaborations, Gorman has done well for himself with poster art, namely for Grammy-nominated My Morning Jacket, original art print posters of Abraham Lincoln, a cover for J.M. Barrie's Peter Pan and Wendy (for a series of lit-inspired posters), the Buffy the Vampire Slayer cast (using a blocky 8-bit graphics style reminiscent of early video games), as well as a bunch of video game characters — the latter proving surprisingly successful.
Gorman says that, up until very recently, he had separate artistic approaches for illustrating comics and others for graphic design.
"With graphic design, it was about the final composition, but with drawing a comic I detached from that. You can't spend the time on a strip that you would if you were trying to compose something someone might frame and hang on a wall," Gorman says. "With comics, it's about what happens inside the panels. It has its technical merit. But what you're trying to get across in a brief amount of time requires something different."
But the process, for both, he says essentially begins the same: with a pen or pencil.
"I sketch out some ideas and work from there," says Gorman, whose influences include the French cartoonist Lewis Trondheim — "I'm not able to hide that influence too well," the artist admits — along with video game designers such as Nintendo virtuoso Shigesato Itoi, a hero to Gorman. Another biggie for him is Muppets creator Jim Henson. "It doesn't matter if it's comics, video games or anything else — I enjoy those artful masters that changed things forever."
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