Project: Get Known! SEAN GREGORY MILLER!
Sean Gregory Miller made himself known to me through his emailed comments to the Paperkeg podcast. Through mentions on the show, I would come to learn he was a freelance artist who created his own indie comic, and would eventually get published nationally. However, I wanted to get to know the man beyond social media presence. Get to know Sean Miller!
Mikey P: First question - something I always wanted to ask; what’s the origin behind that sweet Under An Anchor handle?
Sean: Haha! I’ve actually been meaning to change that but its been too long now so I think I gotta just stick with it. The whole anchor theme started when I was playing in bands and doing session work as a guitarist. Music and songwriting always acted as an anchor for me in that it helped ground me when I was feeling down. I don’t get a chance to play that much anymore but drawing and painting does the same thing for me. Really, any artistic outlet acts as an anchor for me. Thus the twitter handle!
I have to be careful though. I’m the type of guy that will get really into something and it’ll take all my time. It’s always been a struggle for me to be balanced with creative pursuits so that’s where the “UNDER an anchor” comes in. An anchor can steady you but it can also hold you back if you let it. “Under an anchor” is a reminder to not let my hobbies or passions keep me from my responsibilities.
MIkey P: What is the earliest memory you have of drawing or making art as a kid?
Sean: Some of the earliest memories I have are from when I was about 4 or 5. My dad was really into drawing and painting when I was little. He had a ton of art supplies and a big drafting table in our basement and sometimes I’d hang out and draw with him down there while he worked. He did a lot of architectural drawings but he also drew for fun too and watching him work definitely had an impact. He was really cool about letting me use his stuff too, so having all those tools and supplies at an early age didn’t hurt.
Mikey P: At what point did you realize art was going to be part of the rest of your life?
Sean: I actually have never thought about that before. I think I’ve always just known. Obviously I didn’t know how large of a roll it would play until I really went after it as a career, but I collected art as a young kid so I think I always knew I wanted to surround myself with stuff I liked. I don’t know that there was ever an “ah ha” moment with it. Subconsciously I probably pursued a career in art to make sure that it would be part of the rest of my life. Some people give up on their passion as they get older. Whether it be music or art, I didn’t want that to happen with me.
Mikey P: The design work you churn out is eye catching, somehow minimally complex. Did you develop and hone these skills at school?
Sean: I don’t have any formal training or schooling to fall back on. I did do a 4 week online graphic design course through Coursera and that really helped me develop some chops. I’ve pretty much learned everything from making mistakes or imitating other artists and designers I like. There are a TON of free resources online and books that can teach you everything you need to know about being a designer, but it really all boils down to applying what you read and practice. There is no better teacher than practicing and failing...and practicing and failing again.
Mikey P: I love the penchant for, say, that mid-century aesthetic to your work. What is it about this style that attracts you?
Sean: I’ve spent a lot of time trying to figure that out myself. Ha! It probably stems from what I was exposed to at an early age. Almost all of the cartoons that I was allowed to watch were from the 50s and 60s, so they all had that look to them. Hanna Barbera and Looney Tunes probably had something to do with that.
Mikey P: I imagine your house decor is amazing...
Sean: Well, we’ve got two cats, a dog, and 3 kids so my decor isn’t as amazing as I’d like it to be but yeah, its got a mid-century vibe to it for sure. One day it’ll look the way I want it to. One day!
Mikey P: Talk to me about the Original. What gave you drive to start this project?
Sean: When I decided I wanted to pursue art, specifically comics, I knew I needed a character and at the time I was really into superhero books so I came up with this guy called The Original. I was driven more by the idea of being a comic artist than having a good story to tell. Looking back, I should have developed the character and the story way more but novice enthusiasm got the better of me. The first two issues are pretty crappy to be honest.
Mikey P: Incorrect. Despite the super-hero alien aspects, the plot to the Original is grounded in some form of historical realness. He must go alone because people on Earth are not ready to collectively understand their place beyond what they know, This wasn’t just another vehicle to showcase your art but also a thoughtful plot. What was your writing process like?
Sean: Thanks! I’m very self-conscious about my writing so tackling that issue you’re talking about was a big step for me. There are actually three issues of The Original that came out before the one you are talking about. This issue, “The Original: Beginnings” was a way for me to kind of hit the reset button on this series. I started out way too ambitious and wrote myself into a corner. “The Original: Beginnings” is an origin story for the character but also sets the stage for the larger points I want to make with the final issue and fills in some gaps for people who have the first three books.
With “Beginnings” I really wanted to showcase my love for the superhero and sci-fi genres, but I also snuck some social commentary in there too. I want to SAY something with my books now. I don’t want to just make a comic for the heck of it. I want there to be some meaning, you know? So that played a part when it came to writing the issue and writing the father figure in that book specifically.
Mikey P: What was your experience like promoting this book?
Sean: It was actually really enjoyable. By the time this issue came out, I already had a little following of people who were familiar with my previous endeavors and I was confident in this issue. I felt like I really gave it my best effort and was happy with the finished product. That’s half the battle right there.
When self-publishing, the success of your book rests completely on your shoulders and how hard you push it. With platforms like Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter I didn’t have too much trouble getting it out there. Plus, I had a lot of support from friends and followers. Those retweets go a long way when it comes to promoting a book!
Mikey P: I assume the world will have to wait a little longer for future issues because you were picked up to illustrate Kid Sherlock. How did discussions begin for this book ? Who brought together the collaboration between you and writer Justin Phillips?
Sean: Yeah, The Original is on hold for right now but I hope to finish it sooner than later.
Justin and I were acquaintances but neither of us knew the other was into comics. He showed up to a signing I was hosting at a comic shop and we both just started talking about stuff we were working on. He asked if I would be interested in collaborating on something and told me his ideas for “Kid Sherlock”. Justin is one of the most easy going guys I know and he had a very casual approach to the project. He was just like, “Knock out a few pages whenever you can. No pressure.” I think if he had been a little more intense about it, I probably wouldn’t have agreed to do it. His laid back approach to working together was the most appealing thing about the project. He’s a really easy guy to work with.
Mikey P: My own 4 year old son was able to enjoy Kid Sherlock and Watson so I assume your own kids did. What is that feeling like to make an all ages book?
Sean: That’s really great to hear! I’m glad he liked it. Going to the local shop and seeing my kids spot Kid Sherlock on the shelves was a really special feeling.
I have a naturally cartoony style that lends itself to doing a kids book so Kid Sherlock was a good fit. Plus, being a father of a 7, 5, and 3 year old means I’m subjected to all-ages stuff almost all day long. I like to think I know my audience pretty well.
Mikey P: How has working with Action Lab been beneficial?
Sean: They are really easy to work with. Dave Dwonch (former president of AL) was the one who helped get this book off the ground and walked us through all the steps of putting together a formal pitch packet and making sure everything looked as good as it could before getting it printed. Everyone I’ve interacted with at AL have been super supportive and patient.
Kid Sherlock is also my first professionally published and nationally distributed book, so the exposure has been extremely beneficial. Aside from the exposure, you learn a lot when working with a publisher that you can apply to other projects. So far its been a really positive experience.
Mikey P: How do you structure your time schedule to be able to create?
Sean: When I figure that out, I’ll let you know!
Mikey P: Being an artist isn’t exactly a 9-5 you can punch out of at the end of the day. Sometimes that schedule you make for yourself can blend into obligations and other passions. How do you find the balance as an artist with a family?
Sean: As I mentioned earlier, I can get really absorbed in a project and neglect more important stuff. Once I made the choice to always put family first, everything else just kinda fell into place. It’s a constant struggle though because ideas tend to hit me at the most inopportune time. It all comes down to self-control and giving priority to the more important things. My kids will only be kids for such a short amount of time and I’d hate to look back and think, “Shoot. I missed some really special stuff because I wanted to draw cartoons.”
Mikey P: You sent a tweet out a few months ago that you were actually going to step away a little and try to be there more for your kids. What gave you cause to evaluate your course?
Sean: While I was working on Kid Sherlock I was getting really frustrated because I felt like I never had any time. I was staying up really late to work on it and was turning into a grump, to be honest. I also felt like the quality of my parenting was suffering. Both my wife and I were working a ton and the stress of our daily routine was starting to take a toll. I love my family more than anything so it was the only choice that made sense.
Mikey P: Since that time, it seems recently you've been able to find that balance. You've been producing and there is talk of Kid Sherlock Volume 2. How do you feel you’ve changed your approach?
Sean: Yeah, Kid Sherlock Volume 2 is in the works! Justin recently sent me the plot breakdowns for the next 4 issues and they are gonna be a lot of fun. I’m looking forward to drawing them.
As far as my approach, I guess I’d say I’ve learned to be kind to myself. I was very focused on all of the things I wasn’t good at or all of the time I wish I had. On one hand, that can be a motivator for getting better but the sad thing is, you miss so much of your natural style coming out. You miss the joy and the therapeutic nature of drawing. The fun is taken out of it when you just focus on what you wish you did better, you know?
Now I just draw when I have time. I’m producing stuff a lot slower but I feel like the quality of it has improved. I don’t try to force it. There are some days that I might have tons of free time and don’t draw a thing. It’s just all about letting it flow naturally now and being comfortable with where I’m at as an artist. Sure, I wish I was better, but that will come in time.
Mikey P: What advice would you give artists and the self employed in managing expectations?
Sean: Man. That’s a great question. I would say learn to be kind to yourself. Try not to compare yourself to other artists too much. Pulling inspiration from other people is incredibly valuable but just make sure it doesn’t become a source of discouragement.
Learn to be patient. Success can seem like it will never come but you’ve got to keep plugging away at it for a while. Just continue to set reasonable goals and work like crazy to get them. As long as you are making progress, eventually something will happen for you. Staying consistent is key.
If success hasn’t come yet, find out why. The best way to do that is to get someone to take a look at your stuff and give you a critique. It can be painful but it’ll help you improve and make big strides to your ultimate goal!
Sean: Paolo Rivera and Ramon Villalobos are two artist that I know personally and have helped me out a lot. Paolo is the one who got me using a brush for inking and Ramon has been a source of encouragement from the very beginning. I look at them as big brothers in my career as an artist.
It’s hard to narrow it down. I’m sure I’ll think of a dozen more later.
Mikey P: Any cool stories interacting with other creators? You've had some collaboration with Paolo Rivera.
Sean: Yeah Paolo did the cover for The Original trade paperback. That’s motivation enough for me to finish it, huh? He also had me over to his place for lunch not too long ago. We had some burritos, talked shop, and traded some pens. That was pretty rad.
A few years ago Ramon and I did a convention together and our neighbor in the booth next to us got drunk and fell over into our booth. He knocked over a bunch of stuff and bent up my pop up banner. I think he was also wearing a tiny Superman cape when he crashed into our stuff. In the moment it was super awkward and embarrassing but he gave us a story we can tell for years to come.
Mikey P: On top of all that artistic talent, you were also a good lead guitarist in a band. What the hell man?
Sean: Ha! I was pretty obsessed with it. For a while I was working on guitars and customizing them for other players in my area. I was seriously considering becoming a luthier at one point but didn’t have the money to start up a business or go to school for it. For now I just tinker with it when I want to unwind.
Mikey P: Ok top 3 favorite albums of all time...
Sean: James Brown’s Greatest Hits was my favorite album when I was little, so there’s one. Pink Floyd’s “Dark Side of The Moon” cuz...I mean, come on. And I feel like I should give the last spot to the Beatles but I gotta go with Radiohead’s “The Bends” for my last pick.
Mikey P: I feel that there is a similarity between constructing a song and creating a comic. The acts in a story compared to verses and choruses, layers of inks and colors compared to guitar and drums. I don't play music so you have to tell me if I'm off base…
Sean: It’s similar, sure. They are both forms of storytelling. For me though there were always more nerves involved in writing a song than in drawing a comic. There is something about writing a song that’s just scary. You feel more exposed when writing lyrics because your feelings are a little more out there for people to see. I dunno. That might just be me.
Mikey P: What typically fills the air waves in your room during those long hours at the desk?
Mikey P: What do you hope to accomplish in your career? Can we hope for more comic work?
Sean: The ultimate goal is to make a living and provide for my family doing what I love. Thats the dream, right? I don’t care if I’m drawing comics or doing logos or something. As long as I’m being creative, I’m happy.
You can count on another volume of Kid Sherlock and I hope to finish The Original as well. I’ve been working on an anthology called “True Love” and honestly, it’s the one I’m most excited about. I’m moving really slow on it and just enjoying the process as much as I can. I want to really pour myself into this one and use it as a way to communicate my thoughts and feelings about being a husband and father. It’s going to be a very personal project. My goal is to finish that by the end of 2018.
Mikey P: Any advice for the unknowns out there?
Sean: Get yourself a mentor and practice, practice, practice!
Mikey P: Bonus question because we love Paperkeg so much and if you were to play F- Marry - Kill with the 3 hosts...
Sean: My love for PK knows no bounds. I found Paperkeg the year I started drawing the first issue of The Original so it’s been a big part of my journey.
I’ve met a lot of really cool people (most on social media...that counts, right?) through PK and they’ve all been really supportive. It’s rare to find a podcast like that with such a tight little community and I’m super thankful to have been adopted into it. I may never win an Eisner in my comic career but I was dubbed a “Legacy Friend” by Jonesy and that’s good enough for me right there.
Ok ok I’m going way off the rails now and I’ve taken enough of your time. I enjoyed it a lot. Thank you very much for opening up and keep doing what you do. Looking forward to more!
Check out Sean on the interwebs and get your hands on one of his books or hit him up for a commission or two!