Creator Wave Vol 33: Daniel Thing Stiner
Creator Wave has served as Sound Colour Vibration’s online art gallery since the inception of the organization in January of 2010. Starting with an exclusive pre-drawing sketch of a released painting titled Jetty from surrealist painter Jeff Jordan, our online art gallery has never stuck to one setting or idea towards creating art. This week at SCV we are celebrating the mark of 250,000 views in total on the site with the inclusion of very special and personal articles that will define the next phase of SCV.
With Creator Wave being such a strong influence on the small legacy surrounding SCV, there was no way we could leave our online art gallery behind for what is to come in the next year. Enjoy our latest offering in our online art gallery series Creator Wave. Full length interview with this Creator Wave is included below the artwork.
Daniel Stiner has been drawing, writing and rapping since he was a young kid. With a vast and long love for comics, the intention of creating them in formal terms was never a thought until much later in his life. According to Daniel, the closest he came as a young child fascinated with the sequential art world was when he would draw huge spreads on over-sized paper with all kinds of tanks, jets, surfing lizards, etc. In first or second grade, his parents got called in for a meeting with his teacher because the teacher was freaked out from the abstract ideas coming forth from his tools of creation. This creation: a drawing of a parrot sitting on a toilet on the moon. The creative and weird state that has manifested the world we see as Daniel Thing Stiner doesn’t stop there. He used to make flying multi-headed dragons with missile launchers on them out of legos, and then meticulously recreate them in fleshed-out versions on paper. Pretty damn epic for a little kid, right?
Summing up who are you and why you do what you do is pivotal in defining your presence within the extreme rate of new and powerful talent that encompasses all the arts. Here is what Daniel had to sa. “One day I was sitting at work and an idea for a comic beamed into my brain. It was like a latent mutant power got switched on because I haven’t stopped thinking in the language of comics since. Escape from Cubicleland! is that first comic idea, revived from a nearly 10-year dormancy, re-drafted, and revised. I live in LA with my wife, 2 daughters, 2 step-kids, and a grip of jazz records.
Below is the first 6 pages of the online comic Escape from Cubicleland! along with an exclusive interview with the creator of this comic, Daniel Thing Stiner.
Creator Wave Volume 33
Daniel Thing Stiner
Escape from Cubicleland
Daniel Thing Stiner Interview
Conducted by Erik Otis
I wanted to dive directly into your latest creation, Escape from Cubicleland! How many titles did you choose from before you finalized the one you choose?
In its first incarnation, I had the name of my actual job in the title. I eventually thought better of endangering my employment and/or creating some sort of legal problems, and scrapped that idea. For a while it was going to be “Insert Name Here” vs. Cubicleland, where the name was going to be any one of a number of different monikers I’ve created for myself over the years. I cycled through a few versions of that, and finally settled on Escape From Cubicleland! because I thought it had a nice ring to it, and didn’t obligate me to officially tie my identity to the character in the comic – at least not by label.
Did you have a lot of story boards for the conceptual aspect of pre-planning on Escape from Cubicleland! or did those grow in another way?
The heavy lifting of pre-planning was done in writing. I have a complete printed plot/script that’s scribbled over from front to back, and further annotated with post-its and mad random scraps of paper all over the place. Ironically, I rarely look at that thing anymore… haha. The story lives in my head and I just draw from what I remember and kinda improvise the flow of the plot page by page, or in blocks of pages, whatever the next sequence needs, including dialogue. Every once in a while I’ll look back to it for reference and trip out at how different what’s being made is from what was originally planned.
As to the pages themselves, I usually pre-empt each one by doing a small thumbnail with the general composition I think I want and go from there. Sometimes I skip that step entirely. Some pages are much more spontaneous than others. I can say that not a single page has ever gone exactly according to plan. Without a doubt, something in the composition always changes from what I thought it was going to be, yet it still starts and finishes where I need it to.
I really enjoy the use of colors in your comics. How do you go about making your color choices?
Thanks! Originally, the plan was for this to be a short photocopied mini-comic. I bought a million shades of gray Prismacolor markers because I was going to shade it by hand it in grayscale. When I decided to publish online instead of as a mini-comic, color became an option but I wasn’t sure that it was the route I wanted to go. My lady was making a strong case for me to color it… But I wasn’t sold, because I consider colors to be one of my biggest weaknesses in art. Luckily, that’s where the computer came in handy – with Photoshop, I can keep changing the colors around until I get something close to what I want. When I was coloring the first few pages I had this really unimaginative color scheme going on and I was not feelin’ it. I gave up and just started choosing colors at random to screw around. I ended up with a bunch of bright flashy colors that I would normally never have thought to use, and it looked pretty tight. A little light bulb flashed above my head and I though “Aha!” …Then my girl is all “See, I TOLD you!” Haha. I’ve been happy with the results. Every once in a while I’ll change a page over to grayscale in Photoshop and still imagine the comic in that format looks pretty cool that way too.
What method do you use in creating your art, by hand? All digital?
“Pencil first, then pen – that’s my shit” Haha. I said that to a buddy once after I screwed up trying to freestyle a whole page in pen. I draw everything in pencil and then meticulously trace over it in varying sizes of Micron pens. I’m way more anal with this stuff then I want to be. I tend to me a perfectionist, which can really get in the way of a good comics page. My linework has been described to me several times as “clean”. I had really set-out to stray away from that with this project – I wanted to get more spontaneous and funky with the linework. I think you can see that a little in the first couple pages, but I eventually slinked back into meticulo-mode and now I’m back to sweating bullets with silly things like making sure curves look ‘just right’. I’ve decided to just live with the habit until the end of the project, just so things stay somewhat stylistically consistent. Anyways, to answer your question: first pencil, then pen, then I scan in the page and do the coloring with Photoshop. Each step in the process has its own flavor and brings me different joys.
Do you see many of your works for Escape from Cubiceland! as a conceptual piece that is done before you create it or does the finality reveal itself as you dive into a general idea or basic blue print you have devised?
Well, as I mentioned, I usually have a general idea of what I think the page is going to look like, and that always ends up changing to some degree. From the start, I intentionally kept the linework very simple, because I wanted to be able to finish the book quicker. When I was finally faced with actually putting the pages up online, I began to sweat the lack of rendering in the linework because there were these huge blank spaces or huge blocks of color staring at me and I felt they were inadequate, particularly because of the large size I ended up displaying the pages at. Because of that, I started experimenting more and more with adding elements with different layers of color via Photoshop. Thankfully a friend had given me a tablet right at the time I started working on this – which made all this possible. Any design elements you see that aren’t enclosed or defined by a black outline were improvised on the computer. I had up to about page 30 or so already penciled before I even started coloring or posting online. Now with some of the newer pages I catch myself leaving space for things I want to try with just the tablet and Photoshop.
What are some of the biggest aspects of sequential art that made you want to create in that medium?
I’ve always liked drawing. I’ve loved comics forever. I’ve always had a creative drive, so it just was a natural step for me to try my hand at this thing I loved so much and see what comes of it. Within the framework of the form, which in itself is flexible, the only limit is my imagination. Comics doesn’t require special equipment – just a pen and a piece of paper. It enables me as an artist to live out fantasies or create new ones. It both draws from and adds to my imagination. Also, I’ve always loved to read and my mind is naturally very able to fully immerse itself in reading, whether it’s a regular book, or comics…I just kinda beam in, and I’m there.
I love completing a figure, or a page, or an idea and being pleased with the results. It’s a very rewarding feeling. I look forward to having that feeling with the completed Escape From Cubicleland! under my belt.
Who do you consider your teachers in the sequential art world?
The first time I cracked open “40 days dans le desert B” by Moebius, it really changed the way I thought about drawing as a form of expression. Those drawings reached deep, deep down into my subconscious memory. It was like the first time you tried LSD or Salvia, y’know? Like that feeling that you’ve been to this place before, even though you never consciously remember being there? Like you’ve forgotten it, but it’s in there somewhere? Those pictures draw from something pre-primal or neo-primal that we all have probably encoded into our DNA. Moebius liberated my mind in that way, and I learned from his work that comics could express from those mysterious regions. It’s not really something that pertains to the style or story of Escape From Cubicleland!, at least not overtly, but it’s something I strive to reach for in some of my other work. We all have those dream worlds within. To be able to express them in any medium is amazing. Hayao Miyazaki’s films are another prime example of something that hit me in that same way…
Some of the artists who were influencing my ideas about art when I was conceptualizing my chosen path for Escape were: Corey Lewis, Andrew Huerta, Matt Wiegle, Scott C., and Bill Watterson. Mostly I was admiring their different dynamic approaches to figures and action. I think their collective influence got me to loosen up a bit on my figures, exaggerate proportions more, and guided me towards the kinda subway graffiti type style I’ve adopted for the main character and some of the other elements.
I have so many amazing artists’ work on my bookshelf or in my bookmarks. I’m not always sure how the inspiration they give me translates into my work, but some of those I’ve read the most are Moebius, Jim Woodring, Los Bros. Hernandez, and Dave Sim. Also my buddy Antonio Martinez has been a big influence on me art-wise.
I know you have been creating music well for over 15 years along with your art, when did you choose to make sequential art your most active vehicle of expression?
Kids + Apartment = Comics! Music and comics have always been a parallel passion for me. One is much easier to get away with at night after the kids have gone to bed without upsetting your upstairs neighbor than the other. Plus, with the amount of passion I put into what I’m doing, I can’t handle approaching both music and comics simultaneously. I’ve tried it for many years, and since each requires so much attention, one or the other always ends up relegated to the background. Rather than continue to subject myself to that painful balancing act, I decided to put my all into one… and I chose comics!
I feel my music is informed by my comics and vice versa. As a matter of fact, I think what originally got me thinking about actually making comics was the idea of transcribing the events of my first tape, Folding Spacetime to the Moon, into comic-book form. That never materialized, but I’ve always pictured the worlds I create in music happening in sequence on the pages of a comic. Likewise, I can picture the worlds I create in comics taking shape in musical form.
If I could duplicate myself, I’d definitely put one of my doppelgangers to work full-time making music. Right now, I look at music as something I’ll be able to return to in some mythical future where I retire or get rich or something.
I pull out the didge or bass clarinet every once in a while and mess around, or play hand drums with my daughters. I still rap in the car.
How much of the characters in Escape from Cubicleland! reflect your own personal experiences?
That’s a funny question because the original version of the story was going to have most of the characters intentionally based on people I work with, and it even poked at them from the perspective of this self-invented idea in my head that they wouldn’t understand the type of person I am if they really knew the full extent of my interests and beliefs. I took a break from the story for a long time, and when I got back to it, that just didn’t seem like the right way to go about it. Those are my thoughts, not theirs, and I changed the story to reflect that. The ‘supporting cast’ of the story now are there mostly for humor. I think my real world Cubicleland would be a lot more tolerable if my co-workers were unicorns and vampires and robots, etc. Not that there’s anything wrong with my co-workers at all, most of them probably have their own fantasy Escape plans too.
Conversely, I have observed an interesting phenomenon in that my personal experience seems to be reflecting events I create in the comic, after the fact. Shortly after I drew that the first few pages, with the monster J-O-B building, and the elevator scene and stuff…I ended up moving to a different area and was transferred to another office within the same company.Keep in mind I had never been to this office before. Not only did the new building have an elevator, which the smaller building I had just come from certainly didn’t – but it was also laid out in an odd parallel of the fictional building I had created. It was a five story tower, with a centered, cyclopean illuminati logo peering down at me, and the first floor parking garage I drove into every day was oddly similar to the gaping maw of the monster that swallows me whole in the first pages of the comic. Then the manager of that office ended up looking oddly like the vampire guy I had drawn…This is all especially cool considering that in the comic, my character decides to create a story to manifest change in his reality. I’m convinced that it’s working. My goal is to really use this thing as a law-of-attraction mechanism to transition me out of this cubicle-body lifestyle.
The craziest synchronicity, which I intuitively knew ahead of time was going to happen, was when I was at my desk on lunchbreak, working on the page in the comic where random work heads invade my cubicle, catch me drawing, and ask me about it. Well, one of my real life co-workers walked up while I was drawing that page, saw me, asked me about it, and our conversation played out nearly identical to the dialogue I had already written for the page. It was some real Paul Atreides shit.
I know that you are very busy with your family and a day job to support your family, how do you find time to create your art?
Time, time, time. My greatest enemy. I come home from a day at work and split the remainder of the afternoon between chores and errands, playing with my kids, and talking about current events with my girl (which usually includes a lot of griping about work). The ideal situation for getting some work done is to spend the night drawing once the kids are in bed. Sometimes though, work has me too exhausted and I crash out. Or I might feel like spending some time with my lady watching Larry David reruns or something…I manage to make the comic happen one way or another. Sometimes it can be a burden on the fam though, because I forever feel obligated to that Monday deadline for each new page to come out, and sometimes that spills into the weekend when we could be doing other stuff. My obsession with creating is dangerous because I can easily get sucked into my own little comics world and selfishly neglect my surroundings. I do my best to watch that – though not always successfully. I know many prolific comics artists spend most of their time hermetically sealed in their creation chambers, and I think that’s awesome for them. It’s important for me to participate in my family and be there for my kids, which means I work at a different pace. I don’t want to be that dad that misses out on the childhood of my kids because of career or creative choices. So I gotta get in where I fit in, so to speak. Of course, one of the goals behind Escaping is to have more time to create without it being at the expense of the time I share with those I love.
Now that you are heavily into your comic with 30+ pages released online, are there plans to print these materials anytime in the future?
Mos def! Cubicleland! was originally envisioned as direct to print idea. The reason I went with the webcomic format was because the standard page per week release schedule would allow me to create at my current pace, and not have to wait a million years to share what I was doing with the world. I expect the story to be at least twice as long as it is now before it’s done, which exceeds the capacity of the standard mini-comic format. But I’ve been looking into some comics-specialty print-on-demand services and I think I will be able to get this story printed in full color in a large magazine-size format and have it be affordable. It’s gonna be off the hook.
Are you brewing any new plans for sequential art themes for projects that we can expect to be released in the near future?
Totally…this is something I want to do for the rest of my life. The original incarnation of Escape From Cubicleland! was born 9 years ago when I first started working in an office, and it was the first fully formed idea for an actual comic that I ever had. Since then I had two false starts on Escape that only made it up to a few pages each, and I wrote and drew a ton of other comics. But I never completed anything. I would always start something new, and plus I had music occupying half or more of my attention. When I made the decision to focus on comics, I thought hard about everything that was going on in my life, and the spark of inspiration for Escape returned. I knew I needed to not only complete it, but apply this manifestational twist to it that made it as much a part of the real world as it is of itself. I also feel like if I finish up the oldest incomplete comic I have haunting my past, then my comics karma might balance out and the rest of these unfinished projects will start falling into line.
I have a comic called subomnitropica, which is currently up to 18 pages…that might be my next webcomic project after Escape. I have a minicomic written called Paths of Intention. I have a lot of ideas for short stories that I’d like to submit to different anthologies. My favorite thing I have hanging in the wings is a book-length cosmic musical story titled Macaw Peacock and the Omega Clarinet. The script is about 80% done and over 100 pages long so far. I’m really anxious to get to all of these things out, so much so that sometimes I feel like I want to Escape from Escape From Cubicleland!
I wanted to ask, what is the biggest or most important message you are trying to convey with Escape from Cubicleland!?
Well, the overall message is pretty self-evident. Screw work, make comics! Haha. Uh, I guess it’s a message to myself and others like me to keep their dreams alive and keep formulating those Escape plans. It sounds kind of corny, but I think it’s poignant in light of current events – people all over the world are taking a stand against Big Cubicleland which is this conglomerate of multinational corporations and sadistic governments that have been jacking up the planet for way too long.
There’s also an element of the plot which hasn’t occurred yet and carries its own special meaning. It’s something a little deeper and personal. I don’t want to spoil it, but I guess I can hint at it by saying that the source of what we think are our problems in life – is not always what we think it is.
Thanks for your time Daniel, I see a lot of fruitful realities coming from this comic, keep up the prolific work!
You’re welcome Erik. Thank you for giving me the opportunity to flap my trap about all this stuff.