Monsters & Girls

Writer, artist, teacher, GMB Chomichuk shares his thoughts and history around comics

Imagination Manifesto, Art by GMB Chomichuk

Writer, artist, teacher, GMB Chomichuk shares his thoughts and history around comics

As a teacher, designer and artist, local writer GMB Chomichuk is truly a renaissance man. He teaches the minds of tomorrow and spreads his creativity to the masses through books such as The Imagination Manifesto, the web-serialized Raygun Gothic, his recent collaboration with Winnipeg artist Justin Currie on Cassie & Tonk, as well as his upcoming book Infinitum from CZP.

Since publishing his first books in 2005, he has been entrenched in a battle for comics. Not just creating them himself but also inspiring people to take up arms and write books themselves.

Imagination Manifesto, Art by GMB Chomichuk

Mike Haynes: You’ve been writing for a while now, winning the Young Writers Award at 15. Looking back, how motivating was that for to keep doing it or even pursuing a career in writing?

GMB Chomichuk: When I was in grade 9 or so, a teacher told me that she has submitted my name into a story-writing contest. I promptly forgot all about it. Then the day before the deadline she reminded me that I had a story due in final draft to submit to the contest. Like all writers do at some point in their careers, I told her I had it “under control” and promptly set to work to start and finish before the next-day deadline. Thinking about this question, and looking back on that time, I realize that I wasn’t lying. I did have a story. All I had to do was write it down.

“A fifteen-year-old kid has other things on his mind. I wanted to draw monsters and date girls.”

The deadline gave me fortitude to choose something from the creative hurricane and stick to it. My mother helped me edit and type up the final draft. It was months later when the phone rang and it was for me, no I was not in trouble at school, I had won the contest. They were giving me a whack of cash, I had to read the story to an auditorium and I got my picture in the paper. I invited some teachers that had always encouraged my creativity.

It was a great day. All of that was amazing. That sort of experience is not conducive to motivation toward a career in writing though. Quite the opposite. It feels like luck or a fluke. I hadn’t sweated it for one second you see, and that isn’t good in the “life lesson” department. A fifteen-year-old kid has other things on his mind. I wanted to draw monsters and date girls.

It’s in retrospect that I realize what I learned there. Don’t sweat about it, pick one and write it down. It wasn’t until much later that I figured out that I had already figured that out.

MH: What was your first published work? When was it released?

GMBC: I self-published a number of comics in 2005, got a few shorts published in anthologies and went straight to work on The Imagination Manifesto the year after. I’ve done two graphic novels a year ever since.

MH: What got you into comic books? Are there any moments that stand out for you as being particularly influential?

GMBC: Haircuts got me into comics. My Dad used to take me as a very young boy with him to the Barbershop. Tony had a stack of coverless comics there. (In those days newsstands sent back the covers of what didn’t sell). I loved that little waiting area. A stack of four-color dreams was always waiting.

Central Canada Comic Con 2014
“That’s how comics work. If you want to make comics, make comics.”

I’ll be talking to a friend, playing with my kids, on an adventure with my wife, then POW! A fragment of an idea I’ve been carrying for years will meet with that new experience and the combination will often result in a momentary image or phrase. I don’t know what it’s for yet, (hardly ever) but I know I need to remember it. I used to write them all down. Life and frequency has made that impractical now, mostly I put those ideas in a “think about them right before bed” place in my brain. Sometimes the idea goes away.

If the idea doesn’t go away, I make a picture and see if anything else will stick to the notion. Sort of like a snowball pushed down a hill. If I really want to know what happens next or what came before I’ll either write it down or make that next illustration. I was joking with another comic creator recently: “When I have enough pages, it’s a book.” On any given moment I have eight to ten projects slowly building up in my studio.

As opportunity has been knocking more lately, I now have potential homes for a number of these projects with other publishers, but when I started out I published them myself. That’s how comics work. If you want to make comics, make comics.

MH: Do you have anything that you’ve been particularly proud of or that stands out above some others in your mind?

GMBC: I’m very proud of the fact that The Imagination Manifesto has gotten the attention it has. That one has five separate stories (in three hardcover volumes), that all share a central theme: What happens when the things we believe in start to come true?

The real moment of pride and fear came for me at the Calgary Comic Expo. We had missed a year because I won a Manitoba Book Award for illustration on the same weekend as the convention. The previous year, I had Volume one of The Imagination Manifesto, and that year I arrived with volume two and three. There was a line-up. People had both follow-up volumes and wanted them. It sounds silly, but the truth is: You can sell anyone something with enough enthusiasm. When people come back for more there is a feeling of sudden responsibility.

Imagination Manifesto, Art by GMB Chomichuk

MH: Have the books you’ve worked on impacted your life as a teacher? Does your teaching impact your life in comics or the time you have to work on new projects?

GMBC: I think that I would be hard-pressed to do one without the other. I love teaching. Love it. People think teenagers are “trouble” but the real trouble people have with them I think is that they see adults as better by default. I don’t share that view. I feel that, at the end of most semesters, I’ve learned more about the real world from my kids than I have ever been able to teach them. Creative work comes from life, from living. Who better to surround yourself with than people who haven’t had boundaries take over their lives? People think that the world is in trouble. I’ll tell ya: The kids are alright, it’s us adults who need to change our thinking.

MH: Have you ever had an idea that you’ve wanted to do for a comic or story but had trouble executing it and have it function well with your style?

GMBC: Yes. Everyday. But the stories that don’t go away are the ones that keep me getting better at what I do.

MH: Do you feel like Winnipeg has a strong creative community?

GMBC: Winnipeg Magic. I use the phrase all the time. I love it here. It feels sometimes that the bigger the city, the more people specialize in what they do. They sharpen it to cut the quickest in a fight. Winnipeg is big enough to have all the scenes, but too small for anyone to be too insular, too focused. The same people make music, make art, do sculpture, teach physics, build your addition, write horror screenplays, make movies, design video games, dance burlesque, organize Pecha Kutcha, work for the government, do graphic design, make leather work, publish comics, work for Marvel and DC. The result is a potential for amazing cross-pollination and collaboration. Get out into the city, you live there, so, live there.

MH: What is it about comics, the idea of using both pictures and words, that you feel is the most appealing part for readers?

GMBC: People need to process words. Pictures kick them right in their feelings. Look at an image and your entire limbic system responds instantly. Conditioned emotional response. You love it or you hate it. In comics the art is the hook, the words reel you in.

Raygun Gothic, Art by GMB Chomichuk

MH: What would be the biggest piece of advice you would give to people looking to get into creating comics?

GMBC: Create comics. Nothing will get you ready to do a few hundred pages of comics like having done a few hundred comic pages.