Super Friends @SUPERCON 2022: Vol II, Pt I • Max Davenport

Back in July, I attended Florida Supercon at the Miami Beach Convention Center. Earlier in the year, I shared a post about some of the media guests I met while there, but I also wanted to feature some of my favorite artists and exhibitors I had the chance to talk to. Many of these people travel the Con circuit year round, so you may even see them at your local convention.

The first guest I would like to share is Max Davenport, an artist/art teacher from New Jersey. Max is the artist of the graphic novel Tyrant Fall which had its first issue backed as a Kickstarter project earlier this year. I had the chance to read the first issue, and it’s setting up a very cool story — I cannot wait to see what comes next.

Tyrant Fall: Issue One

According to the project page, Tyrant Fall is a mix of “Dragon Ball Z meets Heavy Metal Magazine in this 30-page genre-bending, action-packed first issue.” From reading the first issue I can see both influences.

I talked to Max while checking out some of his artwork. The pictures below are some of his “daily drawings,” where he mentioned he was just trying to draw something each day. There were a few notebooks full of all types of drawings from characters to objects and everything in between.

After Supercon I sent some questions over to Max for a Q&A interview, below you will find my questions along with his answers:

You started drawing as a kid, and just kept going. Can you share any important lessons you learned along the way, including in Art School?

The biggest thing, generally speaking, is to keep in mind that creative growth doesn’t happen overnight. It’s a process that mistakes are an integral part of, and that means it’s important to take risks and go outside one’s comfort zone constantly. Overreach, fail, observe what just happened, collect your thoughts and try again and again, over and over.

Creativity is a muscle and the more you exercise it, the stronger it gets. You also build literal muscle memory in your hands and stuff. As far as comics and line art specifically? I always come back to the idea that it’s all an illusion of depth, and that all linework is just a collection of thick and thin black shapes arranged to create that illusion. You can also learn a lot about sequential art by watching and studying movies! And perhaps the most important lesson of all: remember to take breaks!

What’s your process when it comes to character design, digital art or any work of art? Does it begin with pen/pencil and paper and progress into digital media? What tools do you use?

Virtually every creative undertaking I pursue starts with pencil and paper. Usually scraps. My workflow currently when it comes to narrative is: thumbnails on the script -> scaled down digital roughs on a premade template in Clip Studio -> finished-ish pencils on the final board light-boxed from printed, scaled-up roughs -> physical inks on the final board.

With character design, that’s usually mostly digital and before I draw anything. I think about the character’s story, and how to represent it visually. When I work in color, I’m usually coloring my scanned physical line art digitally. I love to throw around watercolor, gouache, and colored pencil but rarely have the time. As a result I tend to try and use digital brushes and colors that recreate that look.

When creating comic/graphic novel art, do you give each panel the same amount of time/attention as you would a single page piece?

Nope! Splash pages usually receive a lot more time and attention. For one, they’re just physically bigger (obviously) so it just literally takes longer to move my hand across that much larger of a space. I’m fairly detail-oriented and that also contributes to the amount of time it can take.

Generally speaking, the larger the panel, the longer it takes. It depends if there’s a background as well, and how elaborate. Sometimes, a comparatively tiny panel with a city in it can take me longer than a splash page with ten characters fighting and no background.

Where do you find inspiration? What’s the difference between creating something from nothing and working on a commission or client project where you are translating someone else’s vision?

Typically I find inspiration outside of comics and illustration all together. It almost always comes from some form of pop culture, however. A really great story in any format is the thing most likely to get my gears turning. Sometimes that’s a story from a movie, TV show, podcast, video game, or one I interpret from music.

There is one exception: sitting down with any Moebius book for an hour or two will usually do the trick as well. I worked at a studio for around 5 years where we were drawing a 50-page book every month. I was fortunate in that it kind of forced me into a mindset where I don’t really need to wait for inspiration to strike to start drawing. For the project I’m currently working on, I actually asked the writer to send me a list of music to get me in the right headspace.

You’re an art teacher now. Is there any dream job or company you’d like to work for as an artist? Do you want to continue teaching for as long as you have the time?

Easy. Dream job would be to work on an X-Men book. Jim Lee’s work on those books and the 90s cartoon were my first pop culture obsessions and are extremely formative to my style and creative development overall. Any time someone asks me this question I hear that theme song in my head. I’d also love to illustrate some cards for Magic: The Gathering.

I was incredibly lucky that one of my very first big published gigs was on some officially licensed D&D books with IDW, so I’ve already got D&D checked off the list somehow. I’d love to do more with Wizards and/or IDW. As far as teaching: I’m constantly surprised by how much I find myself loving being an art teacher. I just wrapped up my third year of it, and it’s a constant source of fulfillment as well as very important and valuable stability.

Comics/illustration full-time has been my goal for decades, but more and more lately I’m seeing a half-teaching, half-comics career as the most attractive path. The best part is that I’m constantly engaging my creative brain during the day, but I’m not burning out because I’m not actually “doing the thing” until I get home, where I’m all charged up from thinking about it all day. I would also love to take a crack at storyboards for TV and film, but have no idea how to get my foot in that door.

Any advice for young artists? Maybe how to work on creating your own style?

I’ve thought about this a lot, as it comes up often with some of my high schoolers! Forgive me, as this is a little long. I hope it’s helpful. Finding your style is a little counter-intuitive, as it works best when you don’t look for it. First, there’s a difference between Talent and Skill. Talent is an artist’s ability to clearly see the thing on the page before they draw/paint it. That’s it.

You’re born with a certain fidelity of Talent, and it remains more-or-less static. Talent allows you to basically trace the thing from your brain, and it’s fantastic. As a result, people that are very Talented often don’t tend to have to worry about style because it works itself out. Except for a rare few of us, Talent only gets you so far.

That’s where Skill comes in. Skill is any practiced method of mark-making; an identifiable process that makes things appear on your page when talent doesn’t fill in the blanks for you. Studying figure-drawing is one way of building Skill. Many of the most successful artists have developed their own mixture of Talent and Skill. You can start with nothing, but with a little focus and determination, honing your Skill will take you farther than most Talent.

Skill makes drawing become procedural and systemic (building your figure with basic shapes, drawing a perspective grid before you draw your city, etc), rather than emergent (like talent, where the image kind of just magically happens). This gives you control over your imagery, and out of all that, finally, *deep breath* comes your style! Style should NOT be worried about consciously, at almost any point, ever. A good, strong style is ideally the result of all of your influences coming together in the creative melting pot that is your brain, and being reinterpreted subconsciously by you or your hand as one cohesive thing. As students of the illusion of depth, we should focus on mark-making with the goal of achieving that illusion, not perfecting a style.

Don’t worry about your feathering and stippling. Don’t worry about the tool that other artist used, or how you draw noses. Learn the skill of creating consistent depth with black, white, and gray shapes (or color if you’re painting). Your style will develop on its own, and it will be unique and beautiful. To be clear, I don’t personally think I’m all that talented. All my artistic “breakthrough” moments have come as a result of focused study.

Since is primarily focused on video games and gaming, do you have any big gaming memories (either recent or from your childhood)?

I think the first time a video game enchanted me was when I saw Super Mario 64 played on a screen in front of me. I couldn’t have been older than ten, and it was the first time I ever saw 3D imagery moving on a screen under the control of a user. Absolutely mind-blowing. That’s probably the first time I ever had a truly life-changing moment.

Actually, seeing it written so closely to my previous answer about the illusion of depth, perhaps it explains a lot! I don’t recall too many revelatory video game experiences after that until the release of Pokemon Red/Blue. I’m a sucker for an RPG and that was the first one that I can remember grabbing me, followed later by Morrowind, Star Wars Galaxies, and City of Heroes.

I’ve since abandoned the MMO for the most part as my time is more in-demand. Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic (KOTOR) is the next flash point in my video gaming tenure, as it showed me the pinnacle of what you can do with interactive storytelling. A lot of my passion for comics can actually be seen reflected in video games, as both are sort of immaculate forms of storytelling for different reasons. I love the immersion of playing through a well-wrought story as a fantastically-powered protagonist, and when that’s paired with a cohesively-realized world from an art team I respect, it truly is like nothing else.

I have massive respect for comics as a medium, but when I need to turn my brain off and lose myself for a little while, nothing does it for me like my favorite games. Great action/adventure RPGs will always have me firmly in their grasp, and if there’s a character creator, even better. It’s not a video game, but the next (and probably last) big gaming moment in my life came during college when I finally found a group to play D&D with for the first time.

To this day, D&D is probably my favorite gaming property, but I don’t know if I could pick a favorite video game. The things in the most constant rotation for me right now have been Warframe (can’t quit it, literally all my favorite ingredients except robust story… but headcanon! Tremendous art direction too), Elden Ring, Outriders (criminally underrated in my opinion), Cyberpunk 2077, Mount & Blade: Bannerlord, and Baldur’s Gate III (hope it comes out soon). I guess that one was a little long, too. Whoops!

I want to thank Max again for sending me these great, lengthy answers to my questions.
Follow him on social media at @maxdavenportyo | Twitter | Facebook | Instagram
Check out Max’s work here.

Stay tuned for more Superfriends @Supercon posts coming soon…

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