A career in comics has been the dream of many a Spidey underoo-clad youngster. Like many of those who imagined their futures laid out in the monthly exploits of Doc Ock, Cap and Batman, Juan2.0 grew up with the certainty that he too would one day see his creations become a tangible reality. With the recent release of his creator-owned book Allision, Juan2.0 is now realizing the fulfillment of those dreams. In the first issue of this comic, Allison is thrown into an unfamiliar and fantastical world, with only a robotic rabbit to save her from what can only be described as an altogether surreal and frightening fate. We caught up with Juan2.0 and asked him to talk about his journey in comics so far and what is in store with Allison as she ventures deeper down the rabbit hole.
PCZ: Give me a history on the genesis of your artwork and how Allison came to be.
Juan2.0: I’ve always known that I wanted to be a comic book artist since I was five years old. My father and I went to the local grocery store for something or other and I happened across a spinner rack full of comic books. I remember he bought me an issue of Spectacular Spider-Man and Merc issue 5. That is what began my whole love/hate relationship with comic books and wanting to do this for a career choice. After I got those first two issues, I read and collected every comic book I could get my hands on.
I remember one time, when I was around 11, my mom had surprised me with a bunch of comics that she had bought from a local comic shop to help me pass the time on a bus field trip we were taking. In that stack, was Amazing Spider-Man issue 318 and 319 where Spidey fights the Scorpion and the Rhino. I was in awe as I flipped through those books. I had never seen anyone draw comics like that before and Todd McFarlane changed my life that day. He made me want to draw… and draw I did. After that, every chance I got, I would spend hours in my room with a pencil and printer paper trying to draw my own comic books. I mostly did it for fun… just something to do to pass the time away while growing up on a farm out in the middle of nowhere.
But at sixteen, I decided that after collecting comics and trying to learn to draw them for so many years, I was done. I don’t know why it happened, but I woke up one day, packed all my comic book boxes in the car, drove to the nearest comic shop and sold all of them for ten cents a book. I gave them away for next to nothing because I didn’t want anything to do with drawing or comics for as long as I lived. And I was serious too… I didn’t pick up a pencil again from then on until after I had turned 18 years old.
What changed my mind when I was 18 was this. My then girlfriend at the time had come over to my parents house to see me and while she was there, she saw some of my old drawings in my room. She said they were great and asked if I had anymore. I told her that I didn’t draw anymore and that those were just old ones I still had and I switched the subject to something else. I didn’t think anything of it… and then a week or so later, we went to a Dairy Queen for lunch and she’d brought up the comic thing again. I think I mentioned something about there being a local shop still in town, so we decided to check it out and see what they had to offer.
“I had never seen a drawing or a comic book done as beautifully as that before. Michael Turner changed my life that day.”
I hadn’t been in a comic book shop since I sold all those books and I went in not really expecting much to have changed, which it hadn’t. Spider-Man and Superman were still doing their thing. Batman was still around… everything was pretty much the same. But as I was walking down the aisle looking at the new release shelf, my eyes happened upon a copy of Witchblade issue 8 by Michael Turner. There was only one copy left and the shot of Sara on the cover with the Witchblade wrapped around her naked body blew me away. I had never seen a drawing or a comic book done as beautifully as that before. Michael Turner changed my life that day. I was back to drawing and buying comics full force again. I would spend countless hours staying up late into the mornings trying to learn to draw like him. I bought every comic book of his I could get my hands on. Just looking at his art was breathtaking and I couldn’t get enough of it. The fever was back with a vengeance and I knew from that day on that no matter what happened in this life, I would never again give up my dream of illustrating comic books for a living. This is what I was meant to do, it’s always what I was meant to do. I could just feel it in my heart and I’ve always believed that if you follow your heart it will never lead you wrong. I’ve been doing so ever since that day.
As for Allison, she didn’t come along until around 2004 or 2005. At the time I had been doing several eBay commissions to keep money flowing into my pockets for food and bills and a guy had approached me about doing my own full comic book series. He was willing to pay for the majority of the production fees while I focused on the art aspects of the endeavor. But without going into detail, things just didn’t work out. At that time in my life, I just wasn’t ready. Allison just wasn’t what I pictured her as being and as time passed, she died and was buried in the past and I moved on with my life.
Then in 2007, when I was completely fed up with my artwork and just about to throw in the towel and give up for good again, I called my mama one night and talked to her about how I was feeling. My heart wasn’t in anything that I was producing and every day I felt like a failure. But all she said was that it had to be my choice on what I wanted to do with my life and my art. Either I could stick with it and make it somehow or I could give up and get a different job working for a company somewhere. I told her that all I wanted to do was be a comic book artist, but that no matter what I did when it came to my artwork it just wasn’t good enough. None of it was ever good enough in my eyes. I would draw for eight hours a day and then at the end of the day, rip up everything that I had done. It was a vicious cycle and one that went on for a very long time. Eventually, a good friend, Adrian Sularyo, pointed me in a different direction with my artwork. He introduced me to the world of Ashley Wood and after that, my life and Allison’s were changed forever.
All I could think about from then on was Allison. How I needed to bring her to life and that now was the time. Not tomorrow, not next month, not next year… but NOW. So I got to work on reviving her. It’s been a very slow process. It’s taken me almost a year to get issue one out, but at the time I started doing this, I had no clue what I was doing or even how I wanted Allison’s book to look. None whatsoever. So it’s been a long nine months of trial and error and learning from my mistakes one step at a time.
PCZ: What inspired you to create your first published work in the form of a comic book instead of another medium?
Juan2.0: I love comic books. I’m very passionate about them and seeing as how I’ve studied them and how they are created for several years of my life, it was just natural that I should choose to bring Allison to life in that form over anything else.
PCZ: The book seems to be drawn on a number of inspirations, both through the art and storytelling. What artists or writers most influenced your work with Allison?
Juan2.0: Hands down, Ashley Wood and Lewis Carroll.
Ashley Wood is one hell of a great teacher. I’ve learned so much from him in such a short time period about what art is and what it can be. Gone are my days of perfectionism with pencils only. Life is so much better now. I feel like I have freedom with my art again and everyone who has come into contact with my artwork lately is really reacting to it, so I guess I must be doing something right.
But I’m not just an Ashley Wood clone either. I draw my influences and inspirations from a wide variety of others… I’ve always had this belief that you can learn something from every new piece of art you encounter, even if it’s what not to do. Art is everywhere, so I’m constantly studying new ideas and techniques to bring into my own work from every piece of art I encounter. Hell, just the other day I was studying a postcard that had come into the place I work. I really liked the design work on the lettering and image placement so I scribbled out a rough sketch on a post it note and brought it home to hodge-podge it with my other ideas for Allison.
As for writers, I chose Lewis Carroll because I’ve always loved his work on Alice in Wonderland, which obviously plays a major influence with my Allison book. But again my influences are far reaching, I never draw from just one pool. I read new books (actual books, not comic books) on an almost weekly basis and a lot of my storytelling comes from always wanting to be a writer as much as I’ve always wanted to become an artist. More of which you will all see in my Snippets art book coming out later this month. It’s more of a storybook than anything and really gives me a chance to improve upon my writing skills. If you like stories that deal with the end of civilization as we know it and zombies… definitely check it out.
PCZ: If you were to draw comparisons, what will this series most closely resemble once you are completed with it?
Juan2.0: It would closely resemble nothing. I don’t want my book to be like anything else out there on the stands… nor like anything else that has ever been offered. Allison is a hodge-podge of a lot of different things and I can’t think of anything else out there today that she is even remotely like. She’s very unique in her own right. A lot of people will read the first issue and think, ” Yeah, this is kind of like Allison in Wonderland”, but once they get farther into it they’ll see that it is much, much more than that. Not everything is as it appears and everything in Allison’s world has double or triple meanings to it. Keep that in mind as you follow her journey.
PCZ: This first book ends with a number of unanswered questions. Who is Allison? Where is she? Why is the android rabbit trying to help her? Why is she the only one who doesn’t seem to know what’s going on? Without giving too much away, tell us what we can expect from the next few issues.
Juan2.0: Probably more unanswered questions. Right now with the first few issues, I’m laying out the groundwork for what is to come. You’ll see and read a lot of things that you won’t understand in the first few issues. This might put some people off, but I am a fan of not spoon feeding people when it comes to storytelling. I’ve always felt the best books/movies are the ones where you get a tidbit here and there and by the end you’ve figured out exactly why such and such happened when and where it did. It’s all part of the bigger picture, the one that you don’t see or realize until later on through the story.
Allison is a hodge-podge of a lot of different things and I can’t think of anything else out there today that she is even remotely like.
In this next issue, you’ll get to meet the Nit Nam. A very evil character in the Allison world… one that is going to do some serious damage to our heroine.
PCZ: Why did you decide to create this story with four panels per page? Was this a stylistic choice (to separate it from more mainstream comics) or did the story naturally lend itself to this larger canvas?
Juan2.0: All of my favorite artists over the years have used the basic formula of 3 – 5 panels per page, so I guess subconsciously I just followed suit. I tend to like the larger panels. I’m not a fan of the claustrophobic pages some artists do with a million tiny panels on the page. In fact, I absolutely hate having to draw tiny panels. I need room when I work.
PCZ: Describe the process of self-publishing this book. What were some of the challenges you faced and how will this affect the way you publish future issues?
Juan2.0: Self-publishing this book has been a great challenge for me. Going into it, I honestly had no clue what I was doing. I had to teach myself everything from the coloring, to the lettering, the art style, layouts, design work… everything. It’s all been months and months of trial and error. Would I do it over again if given the chance? You bet your ass I would! Nothing beats good old fashioned trial and error to teach you what to do and what not to do. When you make a mistake on your own without anyone else giving you a helping hand, it’s a mistake that you will never forget and I, being the hardheaded stubborn mule that I am, tend to make many mistakes, but I learn from each and every one of them…so in that aspect my future issues should go a lot smoother. They always say your hardest challenge is getting through the first issue, because that’s where you learn your biggest mistakes from… and they are definitely right about that.
PCZ: What advice can you offer to artists or writers who are looking for a venue to publish their work?
Juan2.0: Honestly, I don’t know. With me, I just set out with the goal to get Allison off the ground this year and now that it’s finally happening, all the sleepless nights full of hard work (blood, sweat and tears) has been worth it. I guess the best advice I can give anyone is to just get out there and do it. There is all kinds of online publishing companies out there nowadays to get your work printed. You just have to be willing to put in the hard work and dedication to see things through no matter what the cost. If you don’t believe in yourself and your work, how can you expect anyone else to?
Thanks to Juan2.0 for taking the time to share answer our questions about Allison and how she came to be. You can pick up your own copy of Allison #1 over at Juan’s Original Art. Also, you can follow Juan2.0’s exploits on his blog as he gives readers a behind-the-scenes look at Allison, Insomniac and his other works-in-progress.