Mark Irwin’s resume will put yours to shame any day of the week. In the past 30 years his jobs have included: Inker / Illustrator for Marvel, DC, and Dark Horse (X-Men, Star Wars, Batman, Green Lantern, Justice League, Spider-Man, The Avengers, etc.), Art Director at Heavy Metal Magazine, Creator of Jack Secret, Art Director for Entertainment at Upper Deck, Editorial Director for IDW Publishing, Publisher and Owner of RocHedz Publishing, Co-founder of Creative Militia Studio, and now, the Vice President of Business Development at Mad Cave Studios.
*Mark and I met at Beach Break Café in his hometown of Oceanside, CA to discuss how he managed to turn his passion into a lifestyle. He was a surf bum working odd jobs until, at 22-years-old, he found focus and direction at The Joe Kubert School of Cartoon and Graphic Art. He's found a way to incorporate the 3 things he loves most: surfing, heavy metal, and comics.*
Comic Book Curious: What would you say to high school kids right now who want to become Mark Irwin? How do they do it?
Mark Irwin: I would say you really have to understand how much work is involved. I had a 30-year Inker career where I basically worked 18-20 hour days, seven days a week, 365 days a year. I mean, I remember watching my kids open their Christmas presents then going back into my hole to work. You truly have to be prepared for that.
Don't be afraid to know what you know. And don't be afraid to admit to yourself what you don't know. I was just a guy who drew “Eddie” from [the band] Iron Maiden on my math homework. School was really integral for me. But there's a lot of people who don't need that, who can watch YouTube videos and just figure it out. All of the power to them! Know what you know and seek guidance for what you don’t know.
And the other thing I would say that's super important because it has gotten me to this point in my career and made my career last this long, is network. I hate saying it, but you just never know. It's good to treat people well. Don't burn any bridges. Always be nice. And you'd be surprised where those paths will take you.
When you say “Inker or inking,” what do you mean?
Comics are an assembly line. There's a ‘Writer’ who writes a script. That script is given to a ‘Penciler’ who draws everything on a board or big piece of paper. Then those original pages are either scanned or mailed to the ‘Inker’ who adds shadowing, foreground, background with black ink to make it readable for the printer. Then it’s scanned to a ‘Colorist,’ and off to a ‘Letterer’ who puts on the script.
This is the way I always describe comics for people that don't read comics yet. Comic book artists are the greatest artists on the planet. They have to be able to draw anything - us sitting at this table - make it look real and representable from a bunch of different camera angles so that it holds your interest. But they also have to be able to draw space aliens and giant monsters and stupid things.
What is the pace of a deadline on say, Green Lantern?
A lot of times what happens on comics with Marvel and DC, is the books are always behind schedule. If the writer delivers the script late, then this automatically puts the Penciler behind. Then the Penciler pages get sent out to multiple Inkers, rather than the sole Inker for that comic. In your head, you're like, I want to be the Inker on Green Lantern or Batman. You do the math on the number of pages per month and the pay. The reality is you'll probably get 6 pages versus 22 a month, and then you're scrambling and talking to a bunch of editors to ask for more work. You jump on anything no matter how quick a turnaround just to pay the bills.
*With a wife, two kids, and a California mortgage, Mark became a jack-of-all-trades fighting to turn freelancing into salary based. The saga of his career made my heart ache as he described learning new skills on the fly to hold the titles of “Art Director” or “Trading Card Manager” or “Executive Editor” only to find himself laid off three times in the process. Comic books cancelled out from under him, financial impacts due to COVID, and a company’s mismanagement of successful products sent him couch surfing late in his career to make ends meet.*
You’ve held so many different positions and now you’ve made it to “the other side of the desk.” How did that transpire?
This is why networking is so important. Basically the day I got laid off, I was panicking. My wife told me to go surf. I came back super relaxed and this PR person I worked with in 2016 called me and said she knew of a small publishing company in Miami that needed a guy like me and asked to pass my resume. That same day, the owner of the company and I had a 2 hour Zoom call and he offered me a job. I was skeptical of joining a small company because they say, “If you want to make a million dollars in publishing, start with two million.” But I needed the job!
It's a Vice President position, the highest I’ve certainly ever held. I've never been treated better at a company. I've never experienced better camaraderie. Everyone is gung-ho and committed to making things go. It's been a great experience.
Do you think that there will always be a demand for the written comic or graphic novel?
Absolutely. I think it's all cyclical. People reading comics, in some respects, have changed quite a lot. There's a lot more kids reading comics. There has been a middle age graphic novel explosion. Then you have the guys that are my age (53-years-old) who still love the superheroes they grew up with.
I’d like to think that now there’s no such thing as “jocks” and “nerds.” It’s okay to be more than one thing. If you meet comic book artists these days, half of them are super ripped, like shredded, like spend 4 hours at the gym -
They are very muscular, Mark, I understand.
But it’s true! And the number of women in the business has increased significantly, plus there’s a huge market of women who love romance comics. You can find professional athletes who are huge comic fans as well.
I love the idea of being able to tell any story to any person. So long as you accomplish it graphically, you can keep any readers’ attention.
*He pauses here. Takes a breath. Looks at me with a giddy smile.*
There's just so many things that make comics awesome.
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About the author: Erin Edwards is a Navy pilot who has seen the world from the sky and is eager to write about it on the ground. Though she is just beginning to dip her toes in the comic world, she is passionate about meeting new people and unfolding a whole new universe.
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