Kevin Vassey interview

I’ve been reading Legend of Bill ever since it started running on GoComics. A few months ago, it was joined by The Gnome Syndicate, and I started reading that because I like the concept. Both strips have simple, clean artwork, and funny, rambling storylines. Bill is an accountant that decides to become a professional barbarian. While in Gnome Syndicate, we have 13, a less than elegant agent out to battle an evil force that has infiltrated his agency.

BC: Who are you?
KV: “Kevin Vassey is a 13 year veteran of the feature animation industry, where he worked on such film franchises as Shrek, Madagascar, and How To Train Your Dragon. While working on many fun animated films, he continued to pursue his passion for cartooning, and making art. In 2011, he started the Gnome Syndicate to help expand the world surrounding Legend of Bill. Now, while continuing to work in the video game industry, Kevin writes and draws both Legend of Bill and the Gnome Syndicate twice a week at legendofbill.com/.

BC: Do you consider yourself a cartoonist, an illustrator, an artist, or something else?
KV: I would say definitely an artist, and still working on the cartoonist part.

BC: How did you get your start as an artoonist?
KV: I started drawing at 4 or 5 years old and haven’t stopped. I was lucky to have family that supported my love of art and music.


(from The Gnome Syndicate)

BC: How long have you been at that, and what do you think your biggest breaks were?
KV: I’ve been a professional artist since I was 18, when I sold my first commissioned piece. But my big breaks came from working at Disney and making friends from co-workers there. It’s all who you know, seriously.

BC: What led up to your working on Gnome Syndicate, and do you have any other pokers in the fire right now?
KV: I did a guest strip for David Reddick, the creator of Legend of Bill, around the time I was working on ‘How To Train Your Dragon‘. From there, he asked if I’d like to do a spin-off strip about the Gnomes, etc. from the Legend of Bill world. I said YES!!! Then a few years later, he got syndicated with Intelligent Life and asked me to take over on Legend of Bill. So, I’m actually writing and drawing both of those strips now. Oh, I have a lot of other comic ideas, and cartoons, etc, but I just need more time.

BC: What’s the status of Legend of Bill on GoComics? Is that going to start updating again?
KV: I actually don’t handle the uploading for Legend of Bill(LoB) on GoComics, even though I write and draw it now. That’s still the responsibility of the creator, David Reddick.


(from The Gnome Syndicate)

BC: Which of your works are you most happy with, or proud of?
KV: Of course I’m proud of all my film and animation work, but I think I’m the most proud of Gnome Syndicate. We are going on seven years of work now and it makes me really happy to see how much I’ve grown as an artist and cartoonist while working on it. Progress feels good, but there’s still sooo much more to learn.

BC: Do you see any differences in the artistic processes of animating and drawing comics? Is one intellectually easier to create than the other? Or, do they both have similar challenges?
KV: They are actually really similar in my eyes, and both have similar challenges. You are always thinking about staging, posing, expression, and how to pace the scene. A lot of the poses I draw in the strip would be key frame poses if I were animating the scene traditionally.


(from Legend of Bill)

BC: How did you get your start as an animator?
KV: I knew I wanted to be in animation when I was 11 years old. I had always been drawing, and then figured out that my drawings could come to life. I was on a trip to Disney World when that happened and that became my goal.

BC: And, do you prefer working with paper, cels or a tablet?
KV: I love working with paper, but these days, I couldn’t live without my Wacom Cintiq. I have a very old model, a 21UX that I’ve had for about 8 years. It’s still chugging along, and I wouldn’t trade it for the world.


(from Legend of Bill)

BC: Are you fully responsible for both Gnome and Bill? That is, do you handle the writing as well as the drawing?
KV: Yes, I handle both the writing and drawing for BOTH strips. Gnome Syndicate since late 2010, and Bill since late 2013. I usually do a quick ‘flatting’ pass on the colors and then the amazing Don Keuhn does the final colors.

BC: Any challenges in switching between the two stories all the time?
KV: Yes, a little. It can be tough world building, and trying my best to keep both narratives interesting. It takes planning, for sure.

BC: How do you keep the character voices separated between the two, so that 13 doesn’t start talking like Bill, etc?
KV: That part isn’t too bad, actually. The Bill characters were so well defined, I have a harder time making sure they are living up to the amazing work that came before me. With the Gnomes, I have a lot of freedom and have sort of grown up with the characters. In both cases though, sometimes, the characters write themselves.

BC: How would you describe the sense of humor in either/both strips?
KV: I think Bill can be a little lighter than the Gnomes. Although Bill has been in some dark areas, and the story has had serious undertones, ultimately, his personality sort of sets the tone, which is bumbling and good-hearted. He started out as an accountant after all. The Gnome Syndicate started out as an expansion to LoB dealing with office humor, and more sit-com style jokes. Then, my film background sort of took over, and it morphed into quite the soap opera. It has a large over-arching plot and I’m using the time to try and grow the characters and their relationships. Although 13 is definitely the star, the cast has each had their spotlight through the years. You could say LoB has the ability to operate in a long form story mode as well as a gag-a-day format, where the Gnome Syndicate is more serialized, where you have a harder time jumping in. That was a wordy answer.


(from Legend of Bill)

BC: That’s ok, interviews are built on words. Which one do you think is the most fun to draw/write for?
KV: I think the Gnome Syndicate is a little easier just because of being the creator of the characters, and the number of years I’ve been doing it. But, Bill offers such a breath of fresh air, and the characters are such a challenge to draw. I try my best not to stray too far into my style with the characters, and keep a lot of what makes David Reddick’s work so appealing. He has this amazing skill with the shapes of the characters and how the rhythm of those shapes play off each other in the face, etc. It’s actually really complex, and trying to capture that appeal in my drawings of the characters is crazy fun. Also, as an aside, it’s one of the reason’s I love webcomics as a medium. It’s always amazing to see an artist grow in skill with the characters. My early work on Gnomes and Bill is super hard to look at now. As an artist, I don’t think you can ever stop improving….ever.

BC: How do you approach that blank sheet of paper?
KV: I try my very best to have at least some idea of what needs to be there. Often times, when inspiration hits, I pull out my phone and write, or sketch panels quickly with my finger. Since I work digitally, it makes it pretty easy to transfer that and get to work. The blank page has always been a nemesis of mine.

BC: If your strip had a soundtrack, what would it be?
KV: It would definitely be something orchestral from Hans Zimmer, John Williams, or James Horner.

BC: Who are your favorite artists/writers?
KV: Wow, hmm, …ok here’s just a few… Monet, Degas, Picasso, Dali, Norman Rockwell, Sargent, Schiele, Schulz, Watterson, Kelly, Jeff Smith, Walt Disney, Glen, Jeff and Claire Keane, Trey Finney, Aaron Blaise, Goro Fujita, Shannon Jefferies, Kendal Cronkhite, Travis Koller, Mark Behm… I could go on and on. And yes, some of these I’ve worked closely with in the animation industry. They’re just all so inspiring, sometimes I have to make myself stop looking at their work and make some myself.

BC: Do you follow any other comic strips right now?
KV: I follow Intelligent Life, PVP, Table Titans, Girls with Slingshots, Wonderella, XKCD, Rip Haywire… the list goes on and on. I follow all these great strips because I love seeing the diversity in the work and hopefully to learn a thing or two.

BC: What do you look for when you read someone else’s strips?
KV: I don’t think I’m looking for anything in particular. If the strip hooks me, it just kind of happens.

BC: What do you think makes for a good comic?
KV: Oh I wish I knew this one. It would make it much easier to be a huge success. Hahaha. I think you have to make the comic for yourself, using your voice, and just maybe it’ll catch on.

BC: Do you use Patreon?
KV: I definitely use Patreon, and I think it’s great… now if I just had a few more patrons. Seriously though, I think the patronage system is an awesome way to go, but I also believe you need to have a comic that targets an audience that is comfortable with online spending and has some disposable income. Here’s my page if anyone is interested: www.patreon.com/kmvassey.

BC: Do you have any projects coming up? Appearances scheduled for conventions?
KV: Well, definitely another great year of Legend of Bill and Gnome Syndicate. I will be at SC Comicon in Greenville SC on March 25-26, as well as a few local library events here in the Raleigh, NC, area.

BC: Anything you want to add to address potential new readers?
KV: Please check out Legend of Bill and Gnome Syndicate, and feel free to join me every Monday night at 9pm EST for my art stream on Twitch. I am usually inking and coloring a strip and chatting with people about comics, animation, movies, etc. Here’s the link: www.twitch.tv/kmvassey. And if you miss my stream, you can usually catch a copy of it here, on YouTube.

(Pokemon fan artwork covered under the legal agreement at www.pokemon.com/us/legal/)
(All other artwork here has been reproduced with the permission of the artist. Copyright Kevin Vassey (c) 2017.)
(This interview is the copyright (c) of Curtis H. Hoffmann 2017. It may not be reproduced in whole or in part without the permission of the author.)

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