Project: Get Known! KEITH GRACHOW
The Miami Book Fair is an annual opportunity where the public and authors alike rub elbows in a street fair type setting. I went headlong into the comic area and was called over by Keith Grachow, who had a table full of his independent works which ranged from plenty of comics, to illustrated children’s books. Figuring out a better time to continue our conversation, I called Keith up on the eve of his birthday to discuss his journey. Get To Know: Keith Grachow!
Mikey P: The first book which attracted me was Donnybrook, a story revolving around a minor league ice hockey team. I always feel like sports comics are an untapped market. How did this project come about?
Keith: Can’t take credit for it really. Basically, Dom Riggio, who came up with Arcane Awakening, he used to be a hockey player, football guy, and he wrote a bunch of scripts for comics he wanted to do. One of them was basically a semi-autobiographical take on the life of a hockey player, loosely based on experiences he had was a minors.
We had worked together before. He thought I would have been good on this one. I knew it was going to do well because I had confident in the stories he put out with Arcane Awakening. It is sports and sort of niche, but it’s done real well. Came out about a year ago.
From that, he’s in the works with getting some pro life hockey players to tell their stories. Another guy has approached him who got the rights to Rowdy Roddy Piper life story from his estate and wants to make it a comic. Some other stuff with Dom on the horizon. Can’t really talk about at this moment and hopefully be able to talk about in the new year.
Mikey P: You worked on that comic with Riggio - Arcane Awakening?
Keith: Book 2 and 3. And the way it came about, Jake Crippen did the art on Book 1. We met at SDCC and hit it off. He wanted to get me work cause….he’s that kind of guy. When Jake had finished Book 1, he couldn’t keep working, and saw my other work so put me in touch with Dom and we hit it off really well.
Mikey P: Great relationship network.
Keith: Yeah you never know. Sometimes it takes a while often times it can pay off
Mikey P: Going through all your works, I notice you are paired up with different writers. Did you have plans to self-publish your own writing too?
Keith: I did collaborations with writers for years but nothing came of it until 10 years ago maybe. A lot of it is trial and error. I’ve been pretty steady working on comic books or children’s books or anthologies for the last 4-5 years. In the last couple years I’ve been doing my own writing. That’s where I’m kinda at now. Trying to get my own story out there. I’ve done some anthologies, co-creating of stories, but I am working on doing a story beginning to end all myself
Mikey P: Speaking of anthologies, I also picked up ‘Osgoode as Gold,' which is a collection of short stories from many Toronto creators. Were you invited to contribute or did you have to pitch for it?
Keith: Yeah, I had top pitch for it. I knew people part of it and I’m sure it doesn’t hurt that they knew who I was. The first story in volume 3 was with Howard Wong, great writer on some Image and Marvel stuff. I pitched last year and didn’t get in with my story, but because they knew me from volume 3 where I worked with Howard, they put me with Peter Hawrysh and we did ‘My Heart Burns for Thee.’ I really liked the story we did.
Mikey P: It must be difficult to try and create your own self-published stuff when you are involved in so many projects already.
Keith: I don’t know I like working on multiple things at the same time. Just the way my brain works. This year, I was probably working on four projects, all different kinds throughout the week. And last year as well. Depending on the project or the workload, it kind of determines how much time I work on one project. Some of them have deadlines and need to get priority. It all just depends on the project.
Mikey P: You mentioned to me at the Fair that you worked in South Florida in the past for a toy company. You were involved in graphic design but has the goal always been comic books?
Keith: Yeah I would say so. At an early age, I just wanted to do comic books. I guess when I got to the age of deciding what I should go to school for, I kind of chickened out a bit and thought “well I don’t know if I’ll get into comic books but I can make money as a graphic designer…”
Mikey P: I don’t think that’s a chicken out.
Keith: You know, it’s one of those things where every artist goes through a point where they are like, “I’m not a professional artist” and then at some point they decide they are. And I kind of was like that for years. I was like “well I think I’m a graphic designer but I’m not really a comic book artist.” I think it was an excuse just to forgive myself for not getting into comic book work. So I went to school for graphic design, got work in graphic design and they decided to change the gears of my life. At that point, I decided to go all in. Went full time comic book creating in 2001. But I still had a long way to go and probably took me another decade before I started working in it professionally. I wanted to work comics and graphic design was getting in the way.
Mikey P: I think I talk to a lot of people who loved comics and have that same experience as you where you had to recognize that passion is not going away.
As a kid, what were some of the comics which started that love?
Keith: Definitely X-Men and Spider-man as a kid. All the way. I dabbled in Captain America and little DC. But X-Men Spider-man, anything related, I’d pick up which was probably the case for a decade until I got into mid teens where I looked to DC and then as I got older started getting into indie stuff. All I wanted to do was read X-Men Spidey, and draw it. Now, I change the way I might feel about it. Don’t get me wrong I’d work in it, but my priorities have changed
Mikey P: Priority being?
Keith: What I’m doing now. I wouldn’t mind working on my own stuff and having and editor pick it up so I could keep working would be cool. That’s the next goal. I will create my own comic but if a publisher picks it up, that’s on them.
Mikey P: I love the mature content in Donnybrook and it’s interesting how I also picked up a children’s book you illustrated. It’s the opposite ends of the spectrum. I had the privilege of meeting your mom who wrote those books. Did you inspire her or was forced it upon her?
Keith: Little bit of both. (laughs). Glad you liked the graphic content. That scene you are talking about made me laugh out loud.
When it came to my mom. We talked about working together. She was always a poetry writer and thought maybe it would be cool to do illustrations with her poetry. But when she retired, that’s when we had serious conversations about what she was doing next. “Or are just going to sit around watching Home and Garden and reading books?” I don’t think she knew. She is creative and I know what creativity has done for me so I was like, “I want you to feel like you are doing something with a sense of accomplishment.” So children’s book was probably a good idea because the commitment is probably less than say working on a comic book or a novel. She figured out what she wanted it to be and from there we collaborated out what the story would be which turned out to be On A Planet Named Up-In-The-Sky.
Mikey P: Another interesting thing on your site is the family portraits you do.
Keith: Something I’ve been doing for a decade now and my wife and I used to own a wedding photography business. We had a couple that brought a comic to an engagement session for my wife to emulate the poses. And she was like “well actually my husband could actually also draw this for you if you want to be the superheroes.” Yeah so they commissioned me to do that as Wonder Woman and Batman and we got that done for their reception.
Mikey P: That is cool.
Keith: It was. It was a really cool thing. And I have no problem with people. Some people don’t like doing it or it’s difficult to figure out the balance - do I draw what I see or do I think they would want to see. And I’ve always been able to figure that out pretty well. It’s fun to do and people seem to really like it and these couples end up having anniversaries, and having kids, so all of a sudden it’s going from weddings to birthdays to anniversaries and valentines and holidays. I’ve just kept on doing those throughout the years. It’s fun to do for people and it’s a unique gift.
Mikey P: Did you ever help out your wife as like another shooter on on wedding days?
Keith: No. She asks me to move and carry stuff, that’s my job. I’m good though with compositions and scouting an area and seeing what would work. Where the light is coming from. All that stuff just from the artistic background so I can help her in that respect. I also know the process and that the end product is ultimately for an album so I have an idea on how to tell the story in that way.
But it’s all connected in some ways. Art all connects like arteries. They may might not be completely the same but you can always connect one to the other.
It’s maybe why I think my wife and I get along so well because we understand each other when it comes to art side.
Mikey P: What do you guys do for fun when it’s not all about the art side?
Keith: Travel. Drink beer.
Mikey P: Those are good.
In the last ten years, you probably learned a lot in that time. Is there anything that maybe took you a while to figure out, maybe an aspect of the business or some technical aspect that you wish you spent more time on earlier. What’s the advice you would pass onto aspiring unknowns out there reading this?
Keith: (Sighs) Yeah, you know what, I think about that kind of stuff and I don’t think it works like that. Because you if you wished you could have changed one thing, you may not have ended up where you are today. It took me so long to decide to even get into comic books. But I’ve also thought about it the other way, where maybe I pushed myself more to get into comics as a teenager, I may have gotten turned off and not wanted to do it anymore. One of the things to be careful about is the what if’s. Or beating yourself up because really what gets in the way of you actually doing it is you. Yourself. If you’re like “if I didn’t wait so long I would have been better”, or “I’m already in my 30’s everyone else is so far ahead of me why am I even trying”, you’re going to talk yourself out of it. But if you go “well for whatever reason, this is where I am at now, I’m going to keep on trying, and keep on practicing”, look at it with the perspective of doing it until you don’t want to do it anymore.
Giving yourself deadlines for life goals, I threw that out. I said this is a lifelong thing for me. I love drawing comic books. I’m going to do it until I can’t physically do it or don’t want to do it anymore.
Mikey P: Amazing advice. Definitely aspiring. Who are some creators who inspire you?
Keith: Mike Mignola, he’s by far one of my favorite artists ever. John Buscema one of my favorites too. I’ve always loved artists and painters outside of comics like Michelangelo, Da Vinci, Caravaggio, Rembrandt or Norman Rockwell, guys that created the path for us to get here is some ways.
Of course writers and and people outside painting and illustrations too. You take your inspirations from all these different places.
Mikey P: What’s the next thing we can look forward to from you?
Keith: First quarter 2019 Dom wants to work on something with me Sports related. If there’s a project for Donnybrook 2 or something related, I don’t know. I know Dom pretty well and I can tell when he’s confident enough for when the next comic comes out.
Would like to get my own creator owned out there. It’s going to be a one shot mid next year. And then a couple other projects brewing.
My mom has a chapter book coming out called Cattie Beyond. Very proud of her, one of those things where she took the reigns. From the time from when I was trying to help her out to her doing pretty much everything on her own.
Mikey P: Hope you land that can’t-discuss-gig with Dom.
Keith: I will say I’m curious about what happens with it. I think it’s a fun project to work on.
Even if I’m not part of it, I’m happy for Dom. I’ve seen the commitment he’s put in getting his career going . He’s a really good guy and he deserves it. Just glad I’m some part of it in some way.
Mikey P: You’re a stand-up guy yourself there Keith.
Really appreciate you speaking with me!
Check out Keith’s website and social accounts to stay up-to-date with him, especially with his busy upcoming 2019!