Alumni Spotlight recognizes a chosen Kubert School alum showcasing their work and journey after The Kubert School.
Talent from The Kubert School
Dan Duncan is a 2007 graduate of The Kubert School. He is currently living out his childhood dream by drawing the adventures of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles for IDW Publishing.
Interview by Michael Kraiger
The Kubert School: Was there something that inspired you to think about creating art as a profession?
Dan Duncan: I knew that I wanted to do this so early as a kid. My inspiration was comics and cartoons. The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles cartoon and the X-MEN comic specifically, that's all it took to hook me. I drew Ninja Turtles all the time and then I saw an issue of X-MEN by Jim Lee and Andy Kubert, and was blown away. And that was it.
TKS: Had you considered any other career before you decided on art?
Dan Duncan: Sort of. In high school I considered what I felt were more practical forms of drawing – like drafting and architecture – and I hated it. I actually considered psychiatry for a couple of years.
TKS: Who were some of your early artistic influences?
Dan Duncan: All of the people who were popular when I was a kid – Adam and Andy Kubert, Jim Lee, Todd McFarlane, Stephen Platt and Joe Madureira. There were a lot. My favorite hobby still is hunting down new artists. The internet really helps. Ha-ha!
TKS: What prompted you to attend The Kubert School?
Dan Duncan: I saw an ad in WIZARD magazine as a little kid and knew I wanted to go. Flash forward to me out of high school. I was deciding whether to major in art or psychology, and made an appointment with the counselor for Thursday. On [the] Wednesday before that appointment Scottie Young's first published comic work came out. I bought the comic and in that comic was another ad for The Kubert School that said student housing was available. I never even went to that appointment.
TKS: What were your thoughts in your first few weeks at the school?
Dan Duncan: It was really exciting and intimidating to be around so many focused and talented people, but thoughts that stand out are – who draws this much, why is it so cold, and how come no one can pronounce coffee right?
TKS: Are there any classes or lessons that stand out in your memory? Perhaps something that still resonates?
Dan Duncan: I think everyone for the last ten years has said lettering. Ha-ha. All of the painting classes had a huge impact on me. And Joe Kubert's assignment to adapt the Crucifixion story is memorable because for whatever reason, everyone brought their "A" game to that one.
TKS: Was there any particular aspect of your art that you struggled with?
Dan Duncan: Drawing in general. I still struggle with it. I like to think everyone does. But it's the foundation for everything else you do and you can always do it better.
TKS: What best prepared you for your career in comics?
Dan Duncan: I think it was the attitude and ambition at the school. Just a close group of us all trying to figure out this business while we were in school. So when we got out it wasn't so bad or scary.
TKS: What was your first professional work once you finished The Kubert School?
Dan Duncan: I did some work for Tell-A-Graphics* before I went back to California. Then I did some sketch cards and worked for artist John Dismukes at his studio doing light illustration work and graphic design during the day and drawing comics at night. That was cool because I got to work for Blizzard and it felt like my first big client.
[*NOTE: Tell-A-Graphics is an art production studio associated with The Kubert School that creates the illustrations and graphics for the United States Army's Preventive Maintenance Monthly.]
TKS: One of your pieces that I really like is the one you did for the beauty school. How did that job come about?
Dan Duncan: I was looking for work all around after school and was assisting at a small ad agency in Orange County. They needed an illustration and while they couldn't pay at the time, I got to have complete control. It's the small victories.
TKS: Another favorite is your piece, in stitches. Is that a cover for something?
Dan Duncan: It was, and thank you. I was supposed to be doing a graphic novel for Archaia and this was the cover. We had scheduling conflicts so another artist did the book, but I've been told this will still be the cover.
TKS: Looking at your work on Music Box it looked like full color art. What was your process for that?
Dan Duncan: That was a fun one. It had two segments with a very different feel to them and the editor gave me a lot of freedom. The first half I penciled, inked and colored in Photoshop in the standard fashion. The second half was inked in blue so the linework would be less aggressive. Then I carefully painted over that in acrylic and finished it all off in Photoshop. It was a lot of work but a lot of fun, too, and very educational.
TKS: How did you come to be considered for the TMNT book?
Dan Duncan: Well, actually my editor on Music Box was Tom Waltz (now the writer on TMNT). I kept up with him after Music Box came out, and about a year later I tracked him down at a convention. We talked for a bit, and he said they were collecting samples for a bunch of licensed properties and asked if I would be interested. Of course, I was, so over the next month I did a bunch of spec work for Turtles, Dead Rising, and Duke Nukem. I love me some zombies, but I was beside myself when they offered me TMNT. When doing the samples, I didn't think I had a chance. You can imagine my surprise when IDW called!
TKS: Were you required to do samples pages?
Dan Duncan: I was. It's licensed through Nickelodeon, so they wanted samples. I did three pages and three pinups, [and] then a fourth pin-up just to secure the job. I did sort of get paid in the end because those first three pinups became the first three covers.
TKS: Have you experienced much fan response to your work on TMNT?
Dan Duncan: I have. I don't really like to read it and I have too much work to really indulge that urge, but I hear good things from my circle of friends and colleagues. I've seen some negative stuff too. Overall it has thankfully been super positive, and I am incredibly touched and very grateful. It's been an awesome experience.
TKS: Along with your comic book work, you seem to be doing paintings for gallery shows. How did you get involved in that and what has the response to your work been like?
Dan Duncan: That was all very underground, I got involved by word of mouth, and while it was really fun, it wasn't very productive professionally or financially. But I do love that part of this business and want to have another go at it soon.
TKS: What's your typical day like?
TKS: How did you get involved with doing storyboards?
Dan Duncan: Unlike with comics where I was hustling mostly on my own, animation work came through personal networking. A friend I made at school (Shaun O'Neil) moved to LA to work on the Ultimate Spider-man cartoon. At one point they needed help, and asked if he knew anyone. A couple weeks later I was on staff. It was something I always hoped to move into. It just sort of happened unexpectedly. It just goes to show the importance of the bonds you make at school.
TKS: Comparing storyboards to comic book pages, which is more challenging and which is more rewarding?
Dan Duncan: I think if you weigh the pros and cons of both, they end up about the same. In comics you have to do finished art (even if it's loose), but you do fewer drawings. With the storyboards I'm doing 50 to 70 board panels a day, but they're much rougher. Yet a lot of the same story rules apply just in slightly different ways, or how you apply those rules works a little differently. And in regards to which is more rewarding, I think it depends on how your ego works. Comics can be more rewarding in the sense that it's your name, and people come up and talk to you. You also have a product that you can hold in your hands and instantly see what you did, whereas, with storyboards it's a team effort. You are a cog in a much bigger machine. But it can be really awesome to see what that giant team makes and to know it wouldn't be the same without you.
TKS: What are you working on now?
Dan Duncan: As I write this I'm getting ready to start page 13 of issue twelve of TMNT and looking at boards for episode 25 of Kaijudo.
TKS: What's next for you?
Dan Duncan: A nap! And then I'll keep pushing forward. I want to continue learning more and working in animation, and doing comics as well – moving more towards my own books, or shorter, more contained stories. I love illustration work and got to work as a cover artist on a book called Xenoholics for Image Comics this year. It was a blast and I'd like to do more of that, too. This is such an incredible industry. How could you not want to at least try to do everything? Just maybe not all at once. Ha-ha!
IDW, Image Comics, Film Roman, Hasbro Studios
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles