Free Comic Book Day was fantastic this year, in part because of the awesome comic book creators who took the time to travel to our stores and sign for fans. One of these fantastic creators this year was Shawn Cruz from Salem, Oregon’s Corrosive Comics, an indy studio best known for its music-comics mash-up, Psycho Guitar Killers.
We had a chance to sit down with Shawn and pepper him with questions about Corrosive Comics, how Psycho Guitar Killers came about, and what it was like breaking into the indy comics scene. Read his insightful, in-depth responses below!
TFAW.com: Hi Shawn, thanks for taking the time to answer some questions!
Shawn Cruz: Thank you so much for having me!
TFAW.com: Tell us about Corrosive Comics. How did it get started?
SC: Corrosive Comics was founded in 2008. I had just moved to Salem from Modesto, California. Down in Modesto I was working on indy comics under the flag of “Curb-Job Comics.” When I got to Salem, I was visiting the local comic book shops looking for opportunities to move my indy comics that were already printed. Through the pool of folks at these shops, I met some friends who were also interested in making comic books; writers and artists alike. (What better place, right?) Micah Baker, Tim McHatton, and Sean Hollenhors completed the creative team for Corrosive Comics. I created a new logo and studio name to give this new relationship its own life.
Now we’ve been working together for about a year, and together we have produced some pretty cool titles. We’ve all got jobs that pay the bills, so Corrosive is what we do after work, and in our free time. The past few months leading up to the release of our new titles (P.U.N.K.E., Cherry City Derby Girls: The Comic Book, and Psycho Guitar Killers) were especially busy and many energy drinks/cups of coffee were consumed (laughs). All of our titles have been well received, and we’re busy now working on our next ones for release later this year.
We hope to establish Corrosive Comics as the premier comic book studio in Salem, and become a respected studio in the Pacific Northwest. Honestly though, we are aspiring artists/writers, so the sky is the limit for us.
TFAW.com: How long have you been a comics fan? What did you read?
SC: I’ve been a comics fan since I can remember. Some of the earliest photos of me are at the comic shop with a guy dressed as Wolverine (laughs). I was a huge X-Men fan! As I got older, I kind of dropped the superhero books and started reading the alternative books, such as Tank Girl. Jamie Hewlett is a personal hero of mine in the realm of art. I was also into The Maxx, Spawn, Evil Ernie, The TICK, and Johnny the Homicidal Maniac. As a kid during the ’80s/’90s, it was cartoons like X-Men, Batman the Animated Series, and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles that gave me the lust for heroes and comics.
TFAW.com: How did you make the leap from reading comics to making them? What inspired you?
SC: I have been drawing my entire life. During school I was always in art classes. The small town I grew up in didn’t even have a comic book shop, so I would make my own. I had a big family (four brothers) so trips out of town to the comic shop were rare, as we had no money for things like that. As I got older I wanted to be an illustrator, but I couldn’t shake the desire to do my own comic books.
TFAW.com: Where did you get the idea for Psycho Guitar Killers?
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SC: When I moved to Salem, I got started on looking for promotional opportunities with local comic shops. One shop gave me the opportunity to do a signing at their Free Comic Book Day celebration. From there, Jim Normandy of Normandy Guitars of Salem found me, and he had an idea for a comic book to complement his guitar company. He had a vision for an awesome promo/press kit for him to hand out at trade shows and clients. He already had created the premise and theme for the book. We met a few times and decided that our talents would mix well together, so we started working on the comic book right away.
Jim had a few foundation ideas for the book: 1.) It would be a world where the music industry has monopolized (what a stretch, huh?) 2.) The guitars will have special powers, adopted by Robert Johnson’s magical blues guitar. Each Normandy Guitar would be special. 3.) Much like Scooby-Doo, each issue will feature a real-life band to come in and help the main characters defeat the bad guys.
Jim came up with the idea for the name, Psycho Guitar Killers, which, initially I was not so keen on. But it has proven to be one of the strongest points of the book. People at comic-cons literally walk up to our booth and say “OK, You got me over here with that title, what’s this book about?” So it was a good decision on his part (laughs). Since then, the book has become so much more than just a “promo-kit”; it has developed a fan base, and earned a place with comic book shops and music stores alike throughout Oregon.
TFAW.com: What’s coming up next for the title?
SC: Issue 2 of PGK has offered us an insight as to what Music Inc.’s motivations are, and how they have dealt with problems like Jim Normandy in the past. They’re worried that Jim and his friends will revive creative minds, and undo the brainwashing that they have successfully instilled amongst the music consumers. Meanwhile, Jim has figured out what makes his guitars work against the Thought Police, so he is getting more and more aggressive and open about his fight against Music Inc.
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The general public is labeling him as a terrorist, while others are joining him for the cause of musical freedom. The next issue, depending on which band will be featured, will focus on the severe backlash that Music Inc. has in store for Jim and his friends. Jim Normandy and I will be cooking up details on that soon.
What band will be in issue #3? We’re not quite ready to disclose that yet .
TFAW.com: You co-wrote and illustrated Psycho Guitar Killers–which do you prefer, writing or drawing? Do you want to continue doing both?
SC: Some of my heroes have been artist/writers, such as Eric Powell (The Goon), Tim Seeley (Hack/Slash), and Jhonen Vasquez (Johnny the Homicidal Maniac). So I’d like to continue writing/illustrating because I find that the creative control you have doing that makes for a better book.
However, I think that co-writing the story for PGK with Jim Normandy has been a ton of fun. We have a blast thinking up plots and gags for the books. So for the sake of PGK, writing with Jim is the best. After all, he’s the main character, so we can write Jim’s character in a true-to-life way, and provide a unique personality to the pages.
TFAW.com: You’ve also done artwork for various bands–how did that come about?
SC: I have always enjoyed album art, and with this digital age of music upon us, I’m a little sad that we’re seeing less albums coming out and more downloads being done. Albums like Radiohead’s OK COMPUTER, Rammstein’s SENSUCHT, and Subhumans’ THE DAY THE COUNTRY DIED are some of my favorite examples of sweet album art. Those kinds of albums inspired me to look for opportunities to throw my hat in the ring.
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Unlike comics, it’s a much faster project and it is a one-time deal. Who doesn’t want to be the guy that puts illustrations together with a good album?? I’ve done promo posters for tours and shows too, and those are fun. My wife and I collect those, we have some tour posters hanging up around the house.
TFAW.com: What bands have you been working with?
SC: I’ve done album art for The Frightmares (MA), The Automatons (MA), and Single Action Army (NY). I’ve done promo/tour posters for Potatoe Famine (OR), The Casketeers (OR), and also for roller derby league bouts. I’m working on album art for two other Salem bands over the summer, so I’m pretty excited about that!
TFAW.com: Do you think indy bands and indy comics have a special connection?
SC: I do. We’re kind of the same, too. Some of my good friends are in the band Potatoe Famine, which is an Irish-Punk band from Salem. We both face the same struggles of having to get our projects out there to the masses, and finding places to exhibit those projects. It’s what we’ve heard every band/studio say before us: we’re paying dues.
The cool thing is that we’re coming up together, and we help each other out. Normandy Guitars made Potatoe Famine their first featured band, which was an excellent gift to Salem, and so Potatoe Famine has actually played a huge part in the exposure of Psycho Guitar Killers, and PGK has helped promote Potatoe Famine.
TFAW.com: So what’s it like creating independent comics in Salem?
SC: In California where I started, there was no audience. You might be thinking that’s weird, since San Francisco is a “cultural Mecca,” but California has no room for you. There is already so much for you to do, and so much for you to buy, that people don’t create; they just consume.
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When I moved to Salem, it was a total culture-shock. People here crave creativity. We don’t have enough to do in Salem, so we make it happen ourselves. I love that about this town. The comic shops here are so helpful that it gives indy studios a chance to test the waters. There are failures and triumphs, but ultimately the readers decide what potential your book will have.
This kind of criticism and feedback is crucial to an indy studio at this stage. California book stores do not really take a chance on indy studios. So Salem has been a welcoming place for me, and great place to meet some of the best up-and-coming talent, such as Micah, Tim, and Sean.
TFAW.com: Have there been any big surprises?
SC: I would say the biggest surprise has been how supportive the community has been. We receive support from roller derby leagues, comic shops, bands, bowling alleys, and others. It’s like it takes a village to raise a comic book studio (laughs).
The other shocker was this last March when we took our studio down to California for the San Francisco WonderCon, we had a booth there. Our books sold quite well! It was the first time we took them out of our comfort zone and presented them to readers in another part of the nation, and people scooped them up!
TFAW.com: What’s the response been to your comics so far?
SC: The cool thing about Corrosive Comics is that we offer very different styles and genres, because of our eclectic mix of artists/writers. We have sci-fi books, roller derby books, and books about rock n’ roll. So no matter where we go; San Francisco, Seattle, or Portland, the readers always find something they want, and are intrigued because our heroes don’t wear capes. We have been successful in tapping the alternative crowds so far. Psycho Guitar Killers has especially developed a readership and our readers are always asking about when the next book will arrive . . .
TFAW.com: What’s your dream project or collaboration?
SC: It would be awesome if Brendon Small wanted to do a Metalocalypse/Psycho Guitar Killers crossover. It just seems natural. What say you, DETHKLOK!?!
TFAW.com: Where do you see Corrosive Comics in five years?
SC: Corrosive Comics is constantly working on current projects and developing new projects. By the end of this year we anticipate to have new titles out as well as new issues of current titles.
Down the line, we want to have a studio in downtown Salem where we churn out comics for a living. We would like Corrosive Comics to be widely distributed. More importantly, we want to have books in circulation that readers love. It’s our turn to put out books that people will hold as an important piece of this time in comics.
TFAW.com: Do you have any advice for comics fans who want to start making
SC: You’ve heard it a million times, but I swear it’s the truth: don’t stop drawing/writing. The only reason we have come this far is because we have organized ourselves, and we do not stop working on this stuff. And remember that at the amateur level, you want people to critique your stuff.
I’ve been told “no” by Diamond Distributors on some of my prior projects, and it was the best thing that ever happened to me. It defined my attitude toward my work. They have set a bar so high that only dedication, practice, and determination will allow an independent artist/studio to overcome it. The important thing is that it is possible.
TFAW.com: Thanks again!
SC: Thank you very much for the support and opportunity.
Make sure to check out Psycho Guitar Killers and find out what all the fuss is about! You can view a three-page preview of Psycho Guitar Killers #2 here.
What do you think? Are you looking forward to seeing more from Corrosive Comics? Post your comments below!