The Kubert School Spotlight recognizes a chosen Kubert School instructor or alumni, showcasing their work and journey as a comic book professional.

    Talent from The Kubert School


    Kevin Mellon

    Cartoonist, storyboard artist

     Interview by Michael Kraiger

    The Kubert School: What got you started as an artist?

    Kevin Mellon: I remember drawing in early grade school, but not more than any other kid at the time. I was always obsessed with stories and, more importantly, characters. I remember reading the Hardy Boys in first and second grade and then being on the
    playground and re-enacting, or coming up with new stories that involved Joe and Frank. The street I grew up on was a cul-de-sac, and there weren't a lot of kids around that were my age, so my toys and my imagination were a huge part of my life. I pretty much lived in the worlds in my head. I remember one point where a kid I was friends with would draw a certain way using blue and black crayons that achieved a visual look that I was drawn to. I asked him how he did it and then began to mimic it and then taking drawing further and doing my own thing. As I mention this, I have the sudden recollection of drawing a lot of werewolves then. Fortuitous that I ended up doing a werewolf book later once I got into drawing comics as a job.

    Anyway, drawing now seemed like a great way to visualize the stories and characters that were occupying my mind, and it was an easy way to get attention from other kids and adults. I don't know how much attention my parents had paid to what I was doing before, but I specifically remember one night I had painstakingly copied a cover to CRACKED magazine that had Batman on it. This was around the time of the first Keaton/Burton movie. I showed my parents and they were in awe of what I had done. They couldn't quite believe it. Art supplies became a fixture of Christmases and birthdays from then on. Comics were a no-brainer from there and I remember making my own Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles comics as early as fourth grade.

    TKS: What or who were some of your early influences?

    Kevin Mellon: The Hardy Boys novels (particularly the Case Files series) were a huge early influence. My parents are both former teachers, my mother being an ex-English teacher, so reading was of paramount importance to them in raising their child. I was taught to read from a very young age and developed a reading level far beyond my peers pretty quickly.

    My parents also had a large library of books, so I would dig into whichever cover or back cover blurb caught my eye. Books were always on my Christmas and birthday lists, and were also something easy that my grandparents could get for me without having to wander around in some toy store asking for specific GI Joes or Transformers. Soooo… long story longer, I got into Stephen King, Anne McCaffery (The Dragonriders of Pern series was a favorite in grade school), Piers Anthony (Not as much his regular fantasy stuff, but more his one-off weirder books), and then in middle/high school: Anne Rice, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Arthur Rimbaud (oh, poetry...) and more flowery/descriptive writers like that. My dad always had Tom Clancy lying around, so I read those. My mom had trashy romance novels and John Grisham books mixed in with the Fitzgerald and the Hemingway and the Steinbeck, so I read those, too. I just really read whatever crossed my path. I was obsessed with situations and how characters dealt with them, so anything that was character-conflict based, rather than straight-plot based interaction, was infinitely more interesting to me. It still holds true today.

    Comics-wise, the first comics I remember my dad getting me were Transformers and then some Green Hornet comics. Transformers were what I was into, but Green Hornet was what my dad had grown up with, and like most fathers, any chance to get his son into the things that he loved as a kid, he took. I have an irrational love of Green Hornet to this day, which is based on nothing that's happened in comics or movies other than that being one of my first comics.

    I got into the X-Men and New Mutants around the time that Jim Lee and Rob Liefeld had taken over those respective books. And I instantly fell in love with the soap opera of Chris Claremont’s dialogue/characterizations as well as the immediacy and energy that was in both Jim’s and Rob’s art. It quickly led me to the standard line-up of what would in a few years become the Image Founders, but I was obsessive in that I went and found as many of their older books as I could. I loved tracking their development and seeing what changed and what didn't. 

    Around this time, I also found magazines like David Anthony Kraft's Comics Interview, the Comics Journal, Comics Scene Magazine, etc. These blew my mind because they talked about the things I was thinking about – or rather beginning to think about – and to notice in these books. Also, there were ads:  ads for books and companies and artists that I had never heard of. That's how I got into 80's black and white indie comics. But like most things awesome, I was late to the party. At ages 11/12/13, I had missed out on most of the things I was reading about. But thanks to parents who were willing to do so and trusted me, I was often dropped off at comics shops (later conventions) while they did other things. There I was left to dig through back issues to find these gems, and often discover other ones.

    Oddly, Wizard Magazine issue #7 is what got me into Dave Sim’s Cerebus. They did a nice write-up on Cerebus having just passed issue 150, and I was drawn into the idea that this guy was devoting his life to telling this story, and the art looked amazing. Cerebus also led me to get into The Puma Blues by Stephen Murphy and Michael Zulli, which is probably one of the most influential and formative things for me in my life as a comic artist -- next to the Image guys -- and Sim's work in Cerebus.


    TKS: What led you to the Kubert School?

    Kevin Mellon: I remember seeing ads for the school in comics for many years and thinking, "Oh, that's perfect. That’s where I'll go." Then I got into playing guitar and being in bands, and my parents’ dream of me going to college became a distant want for them – and thing to rebel against – as I found it unnecessary. I play guitar and I draw. What the f*ck is a school going to teach me about either of those things I can't learn on my own? 

    In 1997 I graduated high school early. I was so eager to get the hell out of there and get to work. I was playing in a band that had self-released two albums and was working on its third. I turned 18 right as I graduated and – while I still drew – music was the obsession. I had quietly labored away at a few hundred pages of comics from middle school through high school, all while playing in bands and recording albums, but I wanted a career in music. My notion at the time was that most musicians are done by the time they're 30, and that's when I'll switch back over to comics and that'll be my path.

    Needless to say, the band broke up by the end of 1997. I spent 1998 working in warehouses while trying to put together another band. Not drawing much, I seem to recall. Then the main friendship that had been the basis of all my previous bands – and the current musical endeavors I was trying to pursue – went south, and I ended up working a sh*t job. No band, and frustrated with where my life was going… and I was only 19. So I started drawing. I retreated into comics and stories, and I realized that I needed direction. I needed focus. So I started entertaining the notion of going to college. I knew that I could get to where I needed to be artistically on my own, but I wanted a place and path that would get me there -- without much distraction and faster than I would get there while working a sh*t day-job and drawing at night.

    That ruled out most normal/state colleges. And after looking into schools like SCAD and Ringling and various Art Institutes, I determined they had too many bullsh*t classes that I didn't want to f*ck with, not to mention their astronomical prices for just one year. I wanted to draw, and not be surrounded by academic classes or math/history/English/science classes. I just wanted to draw and get better at storytelling.

    Then I remembered The Kubert School. I'm sure I had always had it in the back of my mind, but I certainly exhausted looking at other places first. So I did the research -- the Internet was a baby form of what it is now -- but I sought out info, former graduates… anything I could to make sure it was the place I needed to be. My parents had their misgivings about it, but they trusted my judgment and, really, they were happy to see me "finding direction", for lack of a better term.

    I then spent the latter portion of ‘98 and all of ‘99 up until the fall semester drawing pages and filling sketchbooks while working a sh*tty warehouse job. All just trying to catch up on time lost and to be as good as I could be when I got there, ‘cuz I knew I was gonna get my ass kicked.


    TKS: Was there a specific class or lesson that still resonates with you today?

    Kevin Mellon: For sure. Fernando Ruiz's storytelling class in first year was a great way to break down the fundamentals of what I'd been doing but point out the obvious and clumsy ways I was f*cking that up. A lot of what Frank Teran was trying to convey to us didn't make sense to me at the time, but after working in the business, I get it. He was coming from a very interesting and different place the year he was there, and it's a place that you don't understand at all when you haven't been "in the trenches" so to speak. But things he went through and things he tried to impart to us are constantly coming back to me. Plus, Frank has remained a good friend all these years and we still talk to each other weekly, if notdaily.

    Charles Perkalis was a huge influence. He was our life-drawing teacher in second year, but a few of us became good friends with him. We spent two years hanging out with him once or twice a week at his studio, learning to paint, talking about life, music, women. That was a college in and of itself. One of the best things he did for me in-class, though, was this: he taught life-drawing and would often get frustrated with our (as comic guys) incessant need to draw structure lines before drawing the live figure before us. He would come by, grab whatever we were drawing with, and say, "You see it, you draw it," and draw the line of the leg, or breast, or arm. One swoop. There, done. He'd then say, "Draw the rest." That's something I still struggle with today, but I am a better artist for him having done that. He was saying essentially: you know what to do; just do it. Be confident in the lines you make before you make
    them. Many years later, when I was struggling with my art and my inking "style", I would go back to that day – those lessons from him about confidence – and they would give me the basis to just say, "F*ck it," and just put the lines down without hesitance. 

    Irwin Hasen was one that I don't think a lot of my peers really took advantage of. Hell, I talked to him more than they did, and I know I didn't talk to him enough. He was great at looking at what I had done, looking back at me, looking at what I had done, then cocking an eyebrow and saying, "I get what you're doing, but knock it off." He understood how clever I was trying to be (and failing at), and he also understood that clever doesn't tell the story by itself. He was great at getting me to focus and simplify the storytelling.

    Hy Eisman, God bless him, was and is the champion of hand-lettering. And while I never got great at it, the lessons he imparted about lettering and layout and storytelling and how they should all work together were – and are – invaluable.

    Everything Joe Kubert said was a master-lesson. I wish I'd written it all down. 


    TKS: How would you finish these sentences?

    My biggest gain attending the school was...

    Kevin Mellon: It allowed me to get better at storytelling and drawing in a manner that was faster and more constructive than I would have been able to accomplish on my own. It taught me to work, to put my head down and do the job, and once the job is done, to move on, having learned something and the ability to apply that to the next thing. It also gave me friends and a pedigree that I will cherish for the rest of my life.


    TKS: My biggest fail was...

    Kevin Mellon: Allowing myself to burn out my last year there.

    TKS: Looking at your classmates, you had some really strong artists in your group. Have you kept in touch with any of them?

    Kevin Mellon: Yeah, definitely. I still talk to Paige Pumphrey, Phil Balsman, Gabe Bridwell, Ben Dale, Jeremy Mohler (all via FaceBook, Twitter, and conventions). I (stupidly) haven't been in touch with him in a while, but Ed Herrera was a good friend long after school, and he inked my first book: GEARHEAD. I'm sure I'm leaving several people out, but those are the ones I'm in regular contact with to this day.


    TKS: Did you feel challenged or competitive with your classmates?

    Kevin Mellon: To a small degree, in that seeing them do good work or talking theory would challenge me. But unlike some of the people in my class, I was not competitive in a "gotta beat this person at this" way. I was, and am, self-driven. Outside competition has never worked on me or for me. If I don't feel it, I can't do it. So, competitive? No. Challenged? Yes. Doing good work, and learning and growing as an artist and storyteller is its own challenge, and I think the environment the Kubert school provided put us in a place where we could discover and challenge each other with what we were learning and how we were applying what we had learned.


    TKS: You finished the school in 2002. What happened between then and your work on GEARHEAD?

    Kevin Mellon: Well, to not mince words, I allowed myself to feel/get burned out. I had gone through some stupid relationship stuff the summer between second and third year, which put me in a weird place emotionally to start third year. I was less and less enamored with some of my fellow students, and the drama of having been around each other almost daily for three years. I just wanted to do the work and learn, but I allowed stupid bullsh*t to get to me and wear me down so much that I wasn't really speaking to anyone or hanging out with anyone by second semester. I was just working in class, working at Tell-a-graphics * (Thanks, Pete!) and working at home on assignments. 

     I convinced myself that ifthe industry was like and full of the kind of people I had issues with at school, then I didn't want to be a part of it. Isolating myself did nothing to help or dissuade that silly worm of a thought from burrowing into my brain and festering. By the time graduation rolled around, I was done and gone.

    So I moved back to Kansas City and proceeded to start a new band. The friendship that had previously fallen apart was repaired and I spent the next 4 years playing in various bands, recording albums and working at a bar as a bouncer, then a liquor store, then a Pizza Hut, then the liquor store again.

    Around 2005 I met Dennis Hopeless as he'd started working at the comic shop I went to at the time. The proprietor of the store handed me one of his scripts, saying, "Hey, Read this. He’s good." (Or something like that.) I read it, told Dennis I had no interest in drawing that particular story (which is ironic since he re-worked some of its central conceits to be LoveSTRUCK), but that I loved his writing. Then we spent a year becoming friends and hanging out, tossing around concepts, and working on pitches until we hit on GEARHEAD. In January of 2006, the band I was in dramatically imploded, and that same week we got a rejection letter from Erik Larsen and Image for GEARHEAD, then a week later we got an acceptance note and contract from Arcana, and I spent 2006 drawing what would be my first book. I was fortunate in that the people who ran the liquor store didn't care if I drew on the clock as long as my duties and the customers weren't ignored. So a lot of GEARHEAD was drawn while selling liquor and cigarettes.

    The thing I see now, that I should have seen then, was that the industry has some sh*tty things about it, but the vast and overwhelming majority of the people in and around it are wonderful. I just allowed myself to be a b*tch in how I dealt with things and spent the next four years working myself out of it. Stupid. I don't really have regrets, but if I had to pick one, it's allowing myself to lose that time. That said, I am who I am and where I am today because of (or in spite of) it. I'm grateful for the life I have.


    TKS: I understand GEARHEAD was optioned for a movie. What could you tell us about that?

    Kevin Mellon: Not much. A Canadian production company optioned it in 2006 and that went all kinds of nowhere. Then in 2008 Valhalla Productions optioned it and that's also gone nowhere. Both options got us press releases, but no money and a lot of phone calls saying, "Hey! So-and-so is interested! Isn't that great?!" A few weeks later, "They backed out, but hey! So-and-so is interested! Isn't that great?" Gets old real quick. 

    There are more "no-money" options in comics than people want to admit. Trust me. Plus, getting optioned by a producer isn't the same as optioned by a studio. Huge difference. Studios have and pay money. Producers? Eh, maybe, not as much. But that's my limited experience.

    I'm glad the GEARHEAD movie thing hasn't gone anywhere. It was more headaches than not, and I got into more yelling matches with our publisher about money and rights than I care to think about. I don't make comics to make movies; I make comics to make comics. That's why you don't see a LoveSTRUCK option. Dennis and I haven't pushed to get one. The comic is the thing. I'll have to get my lawyer to look into it, but I believe our producers option with GEARHEAD expired a while back and I think the portion of the rights our publisher has on the book revert to us shortly, if they haven't already. But that's a whole other thing.


    TKS: Once you were being published, did that lead to more work? Did you still have to hustle, or were writers and publishers seeking you out?

    Kevin Mellon: One thing that The Kubert School hammered home is that -- being in comics and being a freelance artist -- it's always a hustle. You're constantly looking for work even when you have work. Doing GEARHEAD allowed people to see that I could do the work. So, yeah. It got me more work, but I wasn't always the smartest about what I took on and the quality of the work I was doing. Publishers sought me out to a degree as I've never really been great at sending out portfolios. I basically operated under the mantra "Do the work to get the work." And I think that, barring a few missteps, it's mostly worked out for me. Writers did seek me out, but I was and am picky about whom I work with. There's a reason my creator-owned work has been with Dennis, Blair Butler, and Steve Niles. 

    On paid gigs, I was a little less picky for a time. I spent a lot of 2008 doing a lot of work that I then spent 2009 and 2010 trying to distance myself from. I got greedy for a
    freelance career, quit my day job prematurely, and then got into massive debt because of late payments and bad publishers. I knew to be more careful, I knew how you could get f*cked, but I made those mistakes anyway. 

    I was and am fortunate that people like Phil Hester and Tim Seeley saw something in me and I was able to do 13 Steps and some issues of Hack/Slash with them (respectively), but I also know that I could have done better on those books and made better choices with the other jobs I was doing around that time.

    That said, pretty much everything I've done in comics/illustration/freelance has come to me. As I said, I'm pretty bad about sending out portfolios and looking for work in the way most people seem to go about looking for work. Doing creator-owned comics and becoming friends with the people I have worked with have done more for me than I could fully explain.


    TKS: Do you feel like you've come into your own stylistically?

    Kevin Mellon: Maybe. I don’t know. That's always tough because one tends to trick himself into thinking that whatever he’s doing at any given time is "who they are" stylistically, and then you move out of/beyond that moment into the next one where you tell yourself the same thing. 

    But, that said, there was a point in 2009 where I was overly frustrated with how I was drawing and the level of craft I knew I was capable of but was not delivering on. I was in the midst of starting to file for bankruptcy (stupid mid-20's life choices and the aforementioned shitty 2008 being the main culprits) and was living in my parents’ basement to get back on my feet. I took that chance to take a hard look at how I was drawing – and what bad habits I'd picked up in my ensuing time out of school – and proceeded to "re-train" myself how to draw. I broke down what I was doing from the ground up and worked to re-apply the fundamentals I'd learned, and to learn new things/ways of approaching my drawing and storytelling. This led to in early 2010 a breakthrough in how I'd been inking.
    I was overly frustrated with the thin-line style I'd been using since getting back into comics with GEARHEAD, and it had become an unwieldy thing that I wasn't going anywhere with, and I was increasingly disappointed in the outcome every time. I bought some new brushes (as I'd accidentally broken the Windsor and Newton #2 I'd had since my first day at Kubert) and started looking at my pencils as less of something to be preserved, but as the guideline to be interpreted by the real drawing stage: the inks.

    The bad part was that I'd already started a graphic novel in my previous inking style. And since that would be my main source of income that year, I had to stick with it for a while longer. But the whole time I was developing the mindset and style that I am still working with and honing to this day. The Devil Wears Prada: ZOMBIE one-shot that I did in the fall of 2010 (for the metal band) was the first real work I put out that reflects that change. It also was the first work cementing my current philosophy of trying not to let anyone else color over me. It didn't help that the aforementioned graphic novel I was getting paid to draw was being colored in a style and manner that was less than flattering and more than frustrating.

    So long answer even longer, sure. Maybe. I try not to think about it much anymore. Once I started just slapping ink down, allowing myself a freedom to be whatever happened as I was doing it, people took notice. People perked up. I'd always been complimented on my storytelling, but now people commented on the actual finish – the drawing. 


    TKS: I remember you being involved with making music. How important is music to your working environment?

    Kevin Mellon: Very. I am still obsessed with music and listen to it daily. I do go through phases where I want to listen to people talking, so podcasts and TV shows/Netflix take care of that. But I still seek out new music to get into. Anything that tells a story (even if it's one of my own conjuring while listening to it) or allows my mind to wander to the place I need to get to in order to be creative that day/week/month, I look for. I have a tendency to get an album and then listen to it on loop for days/weeks at a time. I can track projects often by what I was listening to at the time. Most of GEARHEAD was drawn while listening to The Mars Volta. LoveSTRUCK is a bit odder since it took me 3 years to do between work-for-hire gigs, but that book was Mars Volta, Tool, Clutch, and Deftones. Most of Heart was drawn while listening to The Weeknd, as was American Muscle and a lot of season four of ARCHER. 

    Lately I've had the last two Coheed and Cambria albums in a playlist on loop as they are a singular story/concept and flow together well and provide a nice ebb and flow to my working headspace.


    TKS: Now you're drawing storyboards for ARCHER. How does a guy from Missouri end up working on a popular animated show for FX?

    Kevin Mellon: Very oddly, I'll say. 

    I was a fan of FRISKY DINGO, the creators’ and producers’ previous show. So when I heard about ARCHER as being the new show from those guys, I got on board from episode one. I found the art director, Neal Holman, on Twitter at some point. I want to say it was because I tweeted about season two premiering on my birthday and he replied, "You’re welcome. Happy birthday.” Or something like that. He often posts random research tangents related to ARCHER stuff. It’s all usually pretty fascinating (and still is, having worked next to him for a year), so I would reply occasionally and retweet stuff. One day in the fall of 2011, he tweeted that Floyd County (the studio that created/makes ARCHER) were looking to hire for a bunch of positions, one of them being storyboards. I tweeted back that I would love to apply for it, not thinking much of it. It was more just a "in a perfect world" reply that one expects to go ignored. A few hours later he direct messaged me about sending in a portfolio (which I did not have and had to scramble together), and then he sent me a test scene to do. I did the test scene, sent it back in, and he replied with an email telling me
    everything I'd done wrong. I laugh now, but at the time I was all, "Oh, well, that was a thing." Then I noticed that he said they'd hire me on freelance to help out here and there and I started to work on season three from Kansas City. 

    At the end of season three, Neal offered me one of two options: continue to be in Kansas City and work freelance with the caveat that they might not use me at all (depending on their in-house situation) or I could move to Atlanta and be full-time, in-house. Needless to say, I was ecstatic. He cautioned me of the things to be wary of, coming from comics and freelance, and what they could offer me. I took a week
    or two to weigh all those things, then (obviously) said yes. It was a huge life change for me, but one that I am grateful for. We just finished storyboards for season four the second to last week of February and this season is getting the best ratings it's ever gotten and I am proud to have been even a minute part of that. 


    Last year you were involved with Creator Owned Heroes - playing with some industry heavies. How did you get involved with that project?

    Kevin Mellon: I've been friends with Steve Niles since he contacted me to say he liked Thirteen Steps when I did that in 2007. We talked off and on for a few years, always trying to find something to work on. The closest we'd gotten was when I was tapped to take over Mystery
    Society for Fiona Staples when that was going on at IDW in 2010. But then the editor at the time left and it just went away. That was heartbreaking for Steve and me, but it lit a fire under our asses to find something to do together. He had the bare idea for American Muscle and had told me about it, but there was another artist attached (Phil Noto ironically). I told Steve that if Phil couldn't do it, I wanted it. Eventually that happened (and Phil ended up doing the Palmiotti/Gray half of Creator Owned Heroes). So we started putting it together, talking about things, me doing concept stuff. Then at one point in 2011 Steve came to me with this not-quite anthology thing that he and Jimmy Palmiotti were putting together, and said that he thought American
    Muscle would be a good fit for it. He explained the concept – how the format of the book would work – and I thought it seemed like a fun thing to try, so I was in. So really, Creator-Owned Heroes was later in the game as Steve and I were already working on AmericanMuscle.

    American Muscle is one of the things I'm most proud of that I've done. Steve and I were insanely collaborative on it. The first and fourth parts were done very loose Marvel-style. We allowed each other to go to fun and exciting places with it, and I think we ended up with a solid and fun story – characters and a concept that we both love.


    TKS:  What's a typical workday like for you?

    Kevin Mellon: I have two types of workdays.

    Freelance: Get up, make coffee, d*ck around on the Internet, go through my RSS reader, sketch, d*ckaround some more, then get to work. Some days start earlier than others, but I'm usually drawing by 2 or 3 p.m., and work until 11 p.m. – 1 a.m.

    Studio/ARCHER: Get up at 8 a.m., shower, get to the studio around 9 a.m., start work ASAP, lunch at 1 p.m. with the other storyboard guys, then back to work. Technically the day ends at 6 p.m., but I often will work till 7 p.m. or later. It's generally a 40-45 hour work week for the majority of the season, but the last few episodes of the season I was clocking 50 plus hours a week regularly. Then I get home and try to work on comics. Some days it happens like clockwork, others not as much. But I try to get in about 3 - 4 hours at night on comic pages during the season.


    TKS: What are you working on now?

    Kevin Mellon: At this exact moment, I'm on hiatus from storyboarding. ARCHER got picked up for season five, which is a no-brainer for FX; so hopefully I'll be back on that horse in a couple months. Comics-wise, I've started on Dennis Hopeless and my next book. I'm a few pages in and it's a lot of fun. We haven't shopped it around yet, but that's not a concern. I'm working on it because it's a concept and story I love, and am excited to finally be doing. I'm also coloring a book called SUICIDE SISTERS that I wrote and drew in 2009/10 that's just been sitting on my hard drive since. I'm also doing writing on a few ideas I've been picking away at for a while and taking care of the list of commissions/favors I've promised people in the last few months. 

    TKS: What's next up on the drawing table?

    Kevin Mellon: I'm going to get a dozen or more pages into the book I’m working on with Dennis along with the coloring I mentioned. I also have a one-shot that I drew a year ago that I need to finish. Basically just going where the day takes me, not trying to plan out too far in advance, trying to do things that are fun and that challenge me. I spent too long being too serious about things and not getting anywhere. Now I just want to create and put things into the world that I enjoy and want to have out there. 

     * Tell-A-Graphics is a commercial art studio created by Joe Kubert and overseen by Pete Carlsson. Tell-A-Graphics produces P.S. magazine for the U.S. Army.



    Image Comics, Floyd County Productions