Comic Creator Mad Rupert Keeps it Cool, Stays in School
Most people tackle college and then jump into their careers. Mad Rupert isn’t most people. The Sakana webcomic creator and artist behind comic publisher Boom! Studios' Regular Show: Skips and Adventure Time: Banana Guard Academy comics isn't just producing monthly titles, she's also in the middle of earning a Master of Fine Arts degree from her alma mater, the Savannah College of Art and Design.
Like many students, Rupert initially struggled to pinpoint her passion. She had a bit of a false start at a liberal arts college but continued on a path that would cultivate her true interests.
We asked about her professional journey and for insights on how others can pursue a career in comics.
What brought you to comics and Savannah College of Art and Design?
In my senior year of high school, I knew I wanted to go into an art-related major, but I was wary of going to an art-centric college. I wasn't sure what type of artistic field I wanted to enter: I was interested in animation, theater, and creative writing, so I picked a liberal arts college that offered all three. Unfortunately, as it turned out, my REAL interest was in drawing and conceptualizing, but the animation program I settled on lacked even basic pencil-to-paper practice. In May of my freshman year, I looked up the Savannah College of Art and Design on a whim, and discovered the Sequential Art major seemed to have everything I was missing, and all the drawing and writing and conceptualizing I could ever want. I had never drawn a comic before that point, but I applied to the major as a Sophomore, was accepted, and six years later I'm drawing and writing comics professionally! In high school I thought I'd be working in animation or something like that at this point, but in hindsight comics were the perfect fit for me. It's surprising to see just how many comic pages I've drawn in such a short amount of time, and how fulfilling it is to see my work on comic store shelves.
How does grad school differ from undergrad?
The grad program focuses a lot on production and self-governed projects, rather than on the technique and theory that provide the foundation of the undergrad curriculum.
The grad department and the Dean’s Fellowship also provide a lot of opportunities for teaching and mentoring. I've really enjoyed the demos and talks I've been asked to give, especially the ones on hand-lettering. I think saying your thoughts and ideas out loud really help a person nail down what is important to them about that topic, and what they have to add to its instruction. The lettering technique I use is a very specialized one that doesn't have a lot of application outside of professional work submitted to an editor (basically, how to merge traditional hand lettering and traditional art without drawing them on the same page) but it gave me a chance to express my enthusiasm for hand-lettering in general as an often overlooked part of the comics process. And a few people from the demo have tried and enjoyed the technique, which gives me a lot of personal satisfaction.
With everything you’ve got going on, what happens to “Sakana”?
“Sakana” is very important to me. It's the first long-term project I've undertaken, and it's been my way to stretch my drawing and writing abilities even when I'm not working on professional projects. The experience I've gained from creating and self-publishing my own series has helped me immensely in the comics industry. It's helped me become a faster artist, allowed me to hone my inking skills, and it forces me to think critically about storytelling, and how to properly develop characters. If it weren't for “Sakana,” I would not have the work-for-hire I'm plugging through now! Even when deadlines force me to put “Sakana” on hold, I always come back to it, and I'm always planning and thinking about it while completing other projects. I'm determined to see it through to the end, no matter how long it takes!
Besides instruction with professionals at the top of the field, how does college help your career?
I would never have considered comics as a career if I hadn't come to SCAD. Learning about the comics industry and growing as an artist and discovering that comics was something I wanted to do more than anything else was an amazing experience that seems almost too huge for the three short years I spent in undergrad. Meeting like-minded peers and industry professionals helped encourage me to continue improving, and having interviews with editors from many different comics companies prepared me to enter the industry and shaped me into the artist I am today.
What else do you do to keep your career moving forward?
Conventions allow me to talk face to face with the people who enjoy my comics, and allow me to meet other creators from all parts of the self-publishing and professional comics industries. Shows make you think critically about your work: What makes people interested in it, what do you find most gratifying in creating it, and how can you use this knowledge to promote yourself and your projects? It's like taking a step away from the actual production of comics, and dipping your toe in the world of marketing, distributing, editing, basically every other facet of the comics world that creators often aren't exposed to. I think it's important to understand the whole process from pencil to page to printing on paper. And did I mention it's awesome to talk face to face with fans? Because it's really the most awesome part!
What’s your advice to students who want to get into comics?
Comics are HARD WORK. There's so much effort that goes into each page: Planning, writing, thumbnailing, penciling, inking, lettering -- maybe coloring too! You don't need to be a master at all of these steps (I'm super slow at coloring!) but it's important to understand the significance of each part and have a good working knowledge of how they're managed. It's also important to practice your drawing speed, I feel like a lot of my success has come from the simple fact that I can complete pages very fast.
What’s next for Mad Rupert?
Right now the sky's really the limit for me. I'm very happy working on licensed comic projects, but come this fall, I'm going to start pitching my own ideas to companies. I'd love to have a successful original series under my belt!
Be sure to follow Mad Rupert’s blog to see more of her art for school and work.