Between the Panels: Artist Shawn Crystal on His Dream Phone Call, What He Shouldn’t Admit in Public, and Finding Wisdom in ‘The Wire’

“Between the Panels” is a bi-weekly interview series focusing on comic book creators of all experience levels, seeking to examine not just what each individual creates, but how they go about creating it.

From his beginnings as a crayon-wielding kid with dreams of an art career, Shawn Crystal has forged a distinct style that’s graced the pages of DC, Marvel, and other publishers’ comics. Off the printed page, he’s expanded his Inkpulp brand into podcasting and now his newest venture: educational videos for up-and-coming artists.

First, the particulars…

Your specialties (artist/writer/letterer/inker/etc.): Artist

Your home base: Atlanta, GA

Social Media

Instagram: @inkpulp

Twitter: @inkpulp

YouTube: Inkpulp

Fanbase Press Contributor Kevin Sharp: To jump right in, why comics? Of all the realms in which an artist can ply their trade, what attracts you to making comics specifically?

Shawn Crystal: Well, I wanted to draw for a living and tell stories. Once I realized that's what comics were, I was in. All the way in. There is no other medium where the artist's/storyteller's voice can reach the reader with little to no interference. Most of the time, what you see on the page is the artist as opposed to something like animation where the individual artist is invisible.

KS: How did your first pro comics assignment come about?

SC: Being in the right place at the right time. I met Lee Bermejo and John Layman — an editor at Windstorm at the time — at a con in Orlando. We got along, and they both liked my work. Lee quit the book he was working on at Wildstorm, and the editor needed a replacement. Lee and John both recommended me.

KS: Where did the idea of being a professional artist enter into your thinking?

SC: Honestly, it was a calling. I wasn’t ever going to do something else. I just knew that I had to do this.

KS: Was that an early calling, or something that developed over time?

SC: This goes back to the days of crayons. At a very young age, I realized I could do something that most other kids couldn’t. It made me different, and I liked that.

KS: In addition to your comics work, you’ve also been a sequential art instructor. An artist can obviously point to project X or Y after they’ve finished, but since a teacher is more of a “behind the scenes” role, which aspects of that job give you the most personal and professional fulfillment?

SC: I learn from my students. Being a teacher keeps me growing as an artist. I’m not really a teacher now, but I am kind of? Inkpulp Instruction is a new venture for me, where I create art instruction videos. Does that make me a teacher?

KS: How could college-age Shawn have benefited from your class? What advice would you have offered about the art business?

SC: Create and own your own stuff. Don’t play the game; it’s rigged. I live by wisdom from The Wire.

KS: Let’s go back to when you first really started getting into comics. What were some of your favorite titles, and where did you used to get them?

SC: I started getting my floppies off of a spinner rack at 7-Eleven. Amazing Spider-Man with McFarlane on art. Uncanny X-Men with Silverstri on art and Claremont writing.
KS: What about artists? Did anyone stand out above the rest?

SC: My first favorite artist was Frank Miller. My current favorite artist is Frank Miller. I have followed him and his work for the past 30 years, from book to book, publisher to publisher.

KS: To flip that around, can you think of an artist you didn’t “get” as a reader, but who you now have more appreciation for as a pro?

SC: I shouldn’t be saying this in pubic, but I’m an honest dude. When I first read Daredevil: Born Again, I loved the book... but I thought David Mazzucchelli’s art was crude and unrefined. Hey, I was a kid and he wasn’t shiny like Todd McFarlane. Over the years, I came to cherish the art of David Mazzucchelli. He’s really one of a kind — a true master of comics, painting, design, and drawing.

KS: Your own art has such a distinctive “flavor” to it. Looking at your work, can you see the influences of anyone else?

SC: Thank you for saying that! I think, finally, I'm almost purely “me.” I used to see my influences all over me, but a lot has clicked over the years, and just this year… I think I found myself entirely.

KS: Fanbase Press launched the #StoriesMatter initiative this year to highlight the impact that stories can have on their audience.  What’s a comic story that’s had a real impact on you?

SC: Honestly, right now, The Loneliness of the Long Distance Cartoonist by Adrian Tomine is really hitting home. To read that book right now, being where I am... whoa.

KS: Thumbs up or thumbs down: listening to music, or anything else, while you draw?

SC: Music, most definitely! Sometimes a podcast or a movie.

KS: Does the Inkpulp playlist change depending on what you’re working on?

SC: [It’s] mostly hip hop. When I’m in a chill vibe, I’ll put on The Pharcyde’s Labcabincalifronia. When I’m in a dark, muddy vibe, Cypress Hill: Temples of Boom.

When I’m in an amped vibe, any Gang Starr or Wu-Tang.

KS: Looking back over your career thus far, is there a special memory of pride or joy that really stands out?

SC: Yeah, a lot of them actually. But I have to go back to the first call where Marvel offered me my first job. It was the night of Obama's first election, and the world seemed like goodness was winning. Axel Alonso called me and offered me the Deadpool Games of Death Annual. My dream call came in.

KS: How about a passion of yours totally unrelated to art? Can be something you study, collect, practice, whatever…

SC: Cooking and eating. When I cook, it’s just another outlet for my creative mind. I think taste is the ultimate medium with which to work.

KS: As we come to a close, what’s a comic or graphic novel by someone else that you look at as an example of the craft at its highest form?

SC: Elektra Lives Again by Frank Miller. It’s a crazy hallucination of a story. Exactly the type of books I want to do. Off-beat, art house comics. Also, it’s lesson number one in page design. Sure, it’s Miller pulling from Eisner a ton, but it’s masterful. The color is also something to behold.

KS: Finally, tell us what you’re working on these days and what we should be on the lookout for in 2021.  

SC: I recently launched Inkpulp Instruction. This is the first in a series of videos aimed at teaching artists how to hone their craft and “up their art game.” Included in the episodes is an inside look at the artists’ studio and life. I want to show people how life informs every artist’s art, as well as teach[ing] them to be better craftspeople.

Inkpulp Instruction on Indiegogo

I also host a weekly podcast, The Inkpulp Podcast. There are several different forms the podcast takes: instructional art demos, ink jams with other creators, one-on-one interviews, comic discussions, etc.

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