Bart Sears has been a comic book artist since 1985 and has worked for all of the big comic companies. He’s known for his work on X-O Manowar, Justice League Europe, the First, Warlord, and many other titles. I was absolutely blessed and fortunate enough to land an interview with Mr. Sears and I hope you’ll enjoy his insights on the comic industry!
First off, let me just say that you are my dad’s all-time favorite artist. He swears by your X-O Manowar run as being the best artwork ever.
Tell him I said ‘Thanks’. He is obviously a man of impeccable and discriminating tastes. Seriously, X-O was a blast – both times. And I think my enjoyment really shows through in the art.
You started your career in 1986, what was your first book? How did you get started in the industry?
My first work was for Marvel comics, actually in 1985. I did two stories for a black and white book… hmmm, can’t recall the name of it… It was cancelled before my work was printed – something of a blessing looking back. The two stories I did were about biker chicks. Not the best work I’d ever done, though the second story had some decent moments, and I grew a lot artistically working on them.
You’ve worked in the comic industry through some very epic eras. From the boom of the 80’s, to the bust of the 90’s, to today. How would you characterize these eras? What was it like working in comics in the 80’s?
I think the 90’s ruined the 80’s and set-up the horrible state comic pamphlets are in today. In the 80’s, as I recall, comics weren’t… ‘cool’. Very few people were trying to break in, but comic pamphlets/comic books actually sold… to people who read them. This is the beginning of the direct market, which heralded in the false ‘collector’s boom’ of the 90’s, and while the number of comics on the market boomed in the 90’s, people reading them steadily declined.
In the 80’s top sellers were maybe 200-300 thousand issues per month… if I remember correctly, DC had a policy back then to consider cutting books that sold less than 30,000 issues monthly. There were collectors, comic lovers who bagged and boxed them, but the vast majority of those sales were fans – people who loved the form and read the books.
It seems to me that when the card collectors set their sights on comics, and the direct market killed the mass market, comics were… well, maybe not doomed, but definitely crippled.
Paper prices skyrocketed. Gone was the awesomeness of newsprint, in came Baxter and… the other paper, and computer color, and suddenly it cost MONEY to print the pamphlets, and even more money to produce them. The hugely inflated sales, driven by speculators, was pretty much the nail in the coffin.
The Comic Industry has never been the same, and with the rising prices – comics at $3.99 – it’s hard to imagine comic pamphlets ever will regain any real sales. Graphic storytelling is/can be a beautiful art form, and a great way to tell all kinds of stories, so it will most likely survive, but I doubt the 22-page story pamphlets will – at least not as a money-making enterprise.
What was the 90’s like?
The 90’s were pretty wild. Tons of books coming out, tons of new people finding comics, new people were getting into comics… a sudden, huge growth in the work force. Initially we didn’t think it would end. Obviously, we were quite mistaken.
After 93, through 94 and beyond, as the market tanked and kept shrinking, things weren’t so good. Not as many jobs. Not even close to as much pay. In the 80’s, comics were fun for me, and I think for fans as well. Fans had their monthlies they loved, artists and writers worked on the same book for years… comics had a niche. I think that was lost in the ups and downs of the 90’s.
What was the new millennium like?
Comics sales seemed to even out, though they settled in at a much smaller number than when I came into the industry in the mid 80’s. New areas really started to open up; web comics, motion comics, video games, the internet in general had and is still having a huge impact on comics and the way that all of these platforms can be used to tell a story and deliver it. I find that incredibly exciting.
Companies that create games and apps are really expanding the horizons even further looking for the best quality in art and much more complex storytelling. I think these companies have the excitement and energy that comics had in the 80’s.
You’ve worked for all of the big publishers, which has been your favorite and why?
That is a tough question. I had some great years at DC and I fondly remember the early days, with JLE, as well some fantastic times with Marvel. X-O was a blast. Wizard Magazine and especially Gareb Shamus were always very good to me. I love working with Dark Horse, The Helm was different and a lot of fun. There are many really terrific people in this industry and I have been in it for a long time… too tough to choose.
Your “Brutes and Babes” tutorial was a regular column in Wizard for some time. What was that experience like? Any favorite memories or lessons from that series?
I started writing Brutes and Babes while I was teaching at the Joe Kubert School. I always enjoyed it – teaching in any manner, that is. The hard part was trying to shoe horn so much information into 2, 3 or eventually 4-5 page segments… there was just so much that wouldn’t fit into those columns. I’ve been honored and humbled that fans and aspiring artists still refer to them with so much appreciation.
We are starting a branch at Ominous Studios called Ominous Ed. It is a new platform that we are kicking off in October with the staggered, free release of all the old Brutes&Babes tutorials, revised and reformatted in easily downloadable PDF’s.
We will be releasing new B&B PDF tutorials periodically, starting in October, and have a slate of new drawing books in the works, for both digital and print release, as well as plans for DVD tutorials and downloadable lessons. Ominous Ed will also be releasing a revised and updated Drawing Power book, both digitally and in print, which will be re-edited, contain some new art/material as well as reprint all of the old Brutes&Babes tutorials, and that’s just the tip of the iceberg.
There is a lot happening in that area right now, it’s pretty exciting.
Your current project is Ominous Studios, what is it and how did that get started?
Ominous is many things… we offer art services to all aspects of the Entertainment Industry; toy design, concept art, storyboards, asset creation, graphic storytelling – whatever is needed.
We also and perhaps more importantly, create and develop Intellectual Properties, our own, and properties brought to us by clients. We develop the idea, flesh out the story, create the worlds, the characters, the visual look and style, and then we create a variety of products and applications across multiple media to promote, advertise and sell each IP.
Ominous Studios is way more than a project. It’s more like a way of life. That may seem a bit extreme, but its how I feel.
What’s coming up from Ominous Studios?
We have several projects in the pipeline in various stages. Some traditional comic book work as well as several projects showcasing different media. We have associated Ominous Studios with DarkMoon Studios on a ‘dream’ IP development project that we are very excited about and a slew of other things that we can’t talk about… yet, it’s just too early. We have Ominous ED coming online October 4th, and all that’s involved with that, and early next year Ominous Studios will start rolling out some of our new Intellectual Properties.
Am I correct that you’re taking open submissions from artists?
Correct. We are looking for artists from all disciplines, not just comics, Painters, sculptors, digital artists, concept artists, all manner and styles – just go to www.ominousstudios.com for the guidelines.
Any advice for aspiring artists?
Draw. And draw some more, and when you are done pick up your pencil and get back to the board (or computer). A kid who wants to play basketball or football or soccer carries the ball everywhere he goes and lives with the game 24/7. You want to be an artist, the same applies; it has to become your life.
Thank you so much for this interview! This really means a lot to me!
My pleasure, anytime. All my best!