I never thought I’d have to wait this long. But I did. When I was 11, I had a vision of the future… my future. It was like illumination. Enlightenment. It was an out of body experience that showed me, definitely, that I had control over my own destiny.
Soon after, a character came to me while having pizza with a friend. I drew him that very night. Soon other characters joined in, and I came up with other stories that I would combine into it. Spaceships. Suits. Mythical animals. Seers and wise men. Beautiful and powerful maidens. Maps. You get the picture…
So… I would make comics, no two ways about it.
“It's taken me nearly thirty years and my entire family fortune to realize the vision of that day. My God, has it been that long? Things have certainly changed around here. I remember when this was all farmland as far as the eye could see! Old man [Marvel-DC] owned all of this! He had this crazy idea about breeding [work-for-hire clones].”*
Skip ahead to today… In a few short years, my opus will be complete. But good lord, man. Did it really have to take this long? Sure I’m smarter, now. Faster. Better. But even in my innocence I had some skill. Guess fate has a strange way of manifesting sometimes.
Back to 25 years ago… it was 1990. I was 13 years old. My first published comic appeared in a student anthology assembled by a reputable French Canadian publisher. I thought to myself, it won’t be long now. 4 years later I met a Marvel Comics artist who had done work at Image, got his break through Jim Lee in fact. What a strange world [only two years prior, Lee was Marvel’s top grossing hired gun, only to defect and co-create Image Comics]. This artist said I could get work at Marvel. All I had to do was contact him. I was 17, still in HS, and paralysed with ego. I wanted to make my own comics. The propaganda against corporate comics was in high gear. No one wanted to work for Marvel at that time. It was a different industry back then, where Image Comics was king, and I soaked it all up. In fact it remains with me, still. I may yet work in corporate comics as a credited creator, we’ll see, but it’s not on my bucket list per se. I’m indie – flesh, bone and soul. I love the idea that an original idea can trump the big guys. On the comics shelves. In book stores. At the movies. I believe.
2 years later, I went to San Diego. I was weak, looking for any kind of work at this point, work-for-hire work. I came back home with nothing, except a few very special encounters with fellow artists. Dave McKean told me to go to art school, so I accepted my invitation to Ontario College of Art. It was with a heavy heart that I went to Toronto and attended the newly renamed OCAD [Ontario College of Art & Design]. I went from a perfect line and crosshatching technique environment, into a world of abstraction, broad brush strokes, design fundamentals, basically the other side of the coin. From tight to loose, full stop. It was hell, and did not help my drawings until years later. It helped me experiment with style. God, I must have tried over a thousand different styles, and hundreds of mediums. It almost broke me. I worked on some big projects from 1998 to 2001. Comics projects, while still in art school. But they were un-credited, and so I was doomed to lie in the shadow of bigger named artists. It was hell. When I left, I could hardly draw anymore.
Each new drawing after that was a radical experiment. More cartoony. More realistic. Ink washes. Crosshatching. Watercolour. Gouache. Oil. Scenery. The fantastic. Superheroes. Anti-heroes. Projects with zero commercial appeal that moved my soul. I was lost. So lost.
I ended my gig as an editorial cartoonist for a prominent weekly paper, and moved back to Ottawa, where I started looking for work. Any work.
I started by trying to become a waiter. That didn’t work. I’m quiet, I’m shy, and nobody wanted me. I finally got a job in a fruit and vegetable grocery store as a cashier. In two days I’d redesigned the code sheet for all of the items. I gave my 2 week’s notice after my first week.
I was losing my mind with grief that I had not made it in comics yet.
The grocery store staff was grateful I did not just leave them there in the lurch. I worked another 2 weeks, came back home, and redoubled my focus. Luckily, a friend was leaving a post as production designer for a local paper. I just slid right in. After about a year I was given an opportunity at another paper, then finally started working for Industry Images Creative Studios’ Ottawa location. They were young, hungry, sexy even. They did great work. I started in production there, and eventually became a full-time designer for major liquor labels, restaurants, magazines and other things.
When I took up the 2006 24Hour Comic Book Day Challenge, ‘ii’ was right behind me and helped me print a limited edition of 240 copies of Like Never Before & Like Never Again. We had a party, comics were sold, music was played; those were the good old days. It was grand. I was offered a promotion soon after that, but I turned it down because I wanted to return to comics.
Within a year I left and started working on my own books. I had 8 panels of Ghost King done. The Bird Caller was all drawn. I had tight pencilled the final art for Treadwell. But they weren’t finished. They weren’t lettered or designed or ready to print. It was a mess. I assembled a book chronicling this mess – a sort of ‘me’ anthology of comic book sketches. Then I headed to Baltimore Comic Con.
In 2008, a professional colorist friend of mine introduced me to a publisher. He liked Ghost King. We developed it together. It was ready to go a few months later in 2009, then the economy tanked.
I was that close to my big break but it never happened. After almost 20 years I’d done work for so many other people, but my own books were getting nowhere.
Then I started Mirror Comics, circa 2010. Good lord, man – please – when you start – self publish!!! For the first time in my life I was free to create my own destiny. Had I known I’d have done this years before!!! I was my own boss and I was hungry. The first proposed project was a film adaptation… it came real close but it was vetoed by some of the actors. Then I started my own thing. Ghost King was done, I just had to tweak a few things. I released it online through a comics platform and waited for the money to roll in, but it never did. So I printed a few books and visited the inaugural Ottawa Comic Con in 2012. And there I found my audience.
The rest is very much history, as they say. I published over 650 pages of comics through Mirror Comics, more than two thirds of it my own artwork. I lettered and designed almost every book. It was great. But it also created a beautiful paradox – I wasn’t drawing anymore. I was publishing. Designing. Lettering. Promoting. Marketing. And that was unacceptable. Sales were fine. We’d found distribution. But I wasn’t a publishing beast in my heart and soul. I had done it as a necessary step to getting exposure. It was not… me.
In March of 2015, I wrapped up Mirror Comics. I killed the publisher. But the dream remained. My last graphic novel, Treadwell, drew two award nominations, an Aurora and a Shuster, two very high visibility national awards. I didn’t win, but it was like an eye wink, saying ‘hey kid, you’ve made it.’ Or something like that. I’m on the map now. And all it took was 25 years of getting lost and found again.
6 months ago I recycled the name Mirror Comics and added Studios at the end of it. I didn’t sell a thing. All I’ve done, towards this project, since January 2015, was to draw that saga I came up with as a kid. Lately I’ve visited smaller shows. CAN CON was my favourite. The writer community is so supportive. So engaged. It’s amazing. I’m on deck to appear on a few podcasts. People know who I am. It’s fun. It’s like I’ve arrived. I could say so, now. But I won’t concede to this victory until I’ve gone and finished this next project. Until then, nothing has ever come close.
It’s been almost a year since I started drawing this project, over 25 years since the original idea. I’ve told you about it. It is all I talk about, while at the same time I keep mum about its specific contents. It’s okay. As soon as I can I’ll let the whole world know. Right now I’m still pencilling. Soon I’ll be inking. Colouring. Lettering. Putting it all together. Then, a copasetic publisher and I will let you all know what all of the hype is all about. Just a few short years. I’m almost there. “One point twenty-one gigawatts!!!”**
*attributed to Doc Brown in ‘Back to the Future’ .
When I wrote the final script for TREADWELL, I learned one thing : Readers like a confident narrator.
TREADWELL garnered two award nominations, so I believe this is true.
Last night I wrote a proposed blog post. It was good but it wasn’t great. Too much trepidation. Too many questions. Not enough umph. Not enough confidence. Just a meandering of what ifs, doubts and… questions.
So let me whittle it down. I asked why you willingly grant me support, encouragement and favour. The answer was not easy.
At first I thought that it was the human need for community, or a quantum interconnectedness. But it wasn’t complete.
Finally I landed on it. Alchemy. That together as creator and reader, we are making pages and exchanging energies through the pages I draw for you. We are in this together. My past affecting your future. Your future affecting my past. Like magic.
This magic connects us. I do not create [write, draw, design] in a void. We are part of a continuum.
I thought for a long time that I would create no matter what, even if I was the last man on Earth. But I have come to realise that there would be no point. That I create because there are readers. Either now or in the future.
A personal creation, something outside of state or church, is a very recent thing. Say the last 500 years or so. Nowadays, art is co-opted by big business, say the last 300 years or so. And yet personal creation thrives. For the last 100 to 200 years, artists have been set completely free. Free of the rich. Free of academia. Free to live like an animal in the wild. Free to move us, from heart to heart, without the interim of a gatekeeper.
Thanks to the web, we are now banding together, free, strong, able to affect the world with only our souls to guide us. And we don’t do it for approval. We do it for revolution. To change the way we see things. To change the world.
This makes us dangerous to the bigots of this world, those who would control everything.
I predict that within a hundred years, we free artists will be corralled and taken advantage of if we are not vigilant. Our minds are already pretty much at the whim of a spectacle put on by the super rich. They control our food, our entertainment, our governments and assail our religions. But they do not control our souls, and this drives them crazy, looking for, year by year, a way to colonise our spirit. We must not let them. Ever.
The artist is free after millennia of sculpting tyrants, painting fantasies for emperors and kings. Some artists still do. But it is a dying tradition. We love freedom too much. We just could not handle being in a cage anymore. I sure could not.
For twenty years, I drew what people asked me to. Designed logos and business cards. It was my job, I get it. But when I started publishing my own works, I realised I could create free of all of that. I don’t think I could ever go back. The constraints made me a better artist, technically, but now the freedom makes me a true artist, whether we like that term or not.
But this new tradition must persist despite opposition. Despite an evil that wants to control it.
You read because your mind and heart move you to do so. It’s the same with making a book. It is a continuum based on the hope that we can affect and be affected.
We must not lose this. Ever. Our favourite storybook heroes are brave. We must be brave also. In our choices. In our desires, in our wish for a better world. And we can make a better world. Books, education, storytelling and art help in this regard.
And it may not be us on the front lines of an eventual battle for our souls. Therefore we must lay the land for it, and tip the scales in our favour.
We must win. Our soul is in the balance.
Which reminds me… my dear friend J.F. Martel recently wrote a book that speaks to some of the themes above. You should read it. It is called Reclaiming Art in the Age of Artifice. It is an amazing account of the battleground that is art. It is an amazing read, highly recommended for the practitioner, the appreciator and the academic. It is beautifully written and speaks to a truth we often take for granted.
Ottawa, Canada. :)
It’s weird, you know. Writing and / or drawing, day in and day out, and still not having created my best work yet.
Ghost King is a great adventure. Like Never Before & Like Never Again is a great legend. Mission Arizona is a great cautionary tale about selling your soul. The Bird Caller is a great – if bleak – story about man and machine. And Treadwell is a great allegory about the many planes of existence.
At each new book, I created a distinct style appropriate to the story. Each one is different, and sets the tone for the progress of the characters.
It’s almost 400 pages of stories, each one unique, and yet I feel that I have failed to impress based on my potential. Sure, they sold, but that’s not what I mean. I mean a story with art and words that reflect me through and through. I feel that these stories point to it, like a finger towards the moon, but it isn’t the moon. I want to give you the moon. Once and for all.
I sincerely think that my current project is – so to speak – the moon I intend to offer you.
The art is fresh, angular, robust, simple yet detailed. I have grown so much since my first comics over 25 years ago.
The story is insanely complex, and yet I’ve managed to break it down into simple chapters.
I speak to humanity, elaborate on our universal essence, our history and our future as one. I broach the line between mysticism and quantum physics. I speak of Gods and ghosts, love, loss, power and responsibility.
Part of me wants to delegate the art to others, but I know I’ve reached a point in my path that makes me unique, and both simple and intense all at once.
I would love to delegate the dialogue, but I’ve lived with these characters for over a quarter of a century and no one know them as well as I do.
So I’m stuck in the unique quandary of creating something only I could come up with.
Even if I managed to gather my favourite writers and artists in one room, I could not properly convey my instructions, tone, hope and care. They would just do their own thing and it wouldn’t be the same.
I’ve hit a sweet spot, the moon, and I will finish this even if it kills me. Not that it will… I’m just saying.
What does that unique responsibility feel like?
... Frikking amazing.
It’s like I’ve distilled the approach of a thousand amazing creators and made them my own. I’ve been studying comics my whole life. And hopefully it will show in the final product. So far, so good.
I sometimes find it hard to sit down, ass-to-chair, and just work, but when I get over that, I’m... fast, I’m efficient. I create enough detail but not so much that it bogs you down. I’m happy with my layouts. My line work improves with each new page. My characters are like real people to me. They care. They love. They lose. They win. It’s very real to me.
Instead of extrapolating a style that is outside of me, I’m bringing all possible approaches into my mind and heart and focusing all my energies into my own best personal style. And it is so refreshing. I love it.
Finally, I’m creating something not to please this-or-that segment of comics, but something that I myself could not live without. Artistic success.
Because of my versatility, some of my peers have ventured that I am an “artist’s artist.” And that is incredible. But I wonder what they will say when they see this.
I’m not aiming for flashy or erudite or classically trained or deep and profound or heavy or even ‘artistic.’
I want friends and fans to use simple modern expressions…
Awesome. Cool. Amazing. Sick.
That would please me most. Cool. Slick. Sick ass. Dope. I want to thrill my readers with what they see. I want to touch people’s hearts.
At long last I think I am achieving this.
I worry about the art sometimes, as this is what I’m working on these days. I wonder if it really is my best, and I hope to arrive. As my entourage of mentors tells me, it’s not a concern.
As my mother told me when I asked her about the art, she said the irony of comics is that people will READ it, not write an essay on the qualities of the art, not critique the art if it is decent. It all comes down to the story. [Funny enough, I feel the story IS good enough]. The visuals are a vehicle for the story, not an end in and of themselves.
Recently I arrived at a place I call ‘no-style,’ with my art, where it became impossible for me to discern any clear influence from this or that artist. It wasn’t Jim Lee or Moebius or Dave McKean or Sean Murphy or Kenneth Rocafort, all of whom are huge in my pantheon of favourites [among others]. It existed free of all styles – hence ‘no-style.’ When I reported this to my mentor, he simply said : “Welcome, you have made it.” The following drawings were all ‘me.’
When I tell my friends about my progress, they simply marvel at the fact that on a good day I can draw three or four or six pages. And they tell me to continue as is. There is no guillotine deadline. Just love and support.
The art has to be good enough. I’m there. The story has to be original. It is. And I have an infinite amount of time to create this… actually that last part is not true.
As the years passed by, I noticed more and more similarities between my concept and other stories appearing in pop culture.
I gather in 5 years someone will create something with a similar flavour. An exact duplicate is highly UN-likely but the flavour, well… it is almost upon us.
That is why I’m giving myself one to two years to finish this beast, this monstrous 700-800 page behemoth. And so I will.
By this time next year I hope to be done 95% of the pencilling. I’ll finish up, find an inker [I hope!] to do a few sample pages, create a lettered pitch and take my chances.
Some of my friends think I’m crazy NOT to pitch right away now that I’m 150 pages into it. And that is indeed traditional wisdom, so I don’t blame them for thinking this. But the truth is that I want to do my own thing, without editorial interference DURING the creation of it all. I want to communicate MY vision, this is not a potluck party. This is MY party, and I’ll adjust when I’m ready to have someone pick at my spelling and sentence structures.
Plus, an editor who meddles is someone I want to categorically avoid.
I want to find a true champion. Someone who loves what I’ve done and will help make it BETTER, NOT different.
As for the art, minor tweaks here and there to clarify the action is okay with me, but I don’t want to write and draw based on someone else’s tastes.
I’ve been around long enough that I’ve developed my own tastes, and I know they are rooted in a lifetime of learning, mistakes and successes. I am now a fine tuned machine.
I have faith that this publisher exists. I believe they are out there and will want nothing more than to give me ‘carte blanche.’ So I’m taking it now.
It’s not a freedom I take for granted. I will honour this blank slate with my best superhuman effort. And when we meet it will be as equals, nothing more, nothing less.
The point is that by all accounts… this is by far the best comic book story I’ve ever created. I love it, I hope you love it, and I trust that a publisher will see that creator and reader will connect for real on this one, and so will champion both the creative product and the final reading experience. It’s going to be awesome.
I’ve had to put aside many projects in order to focus on this one. In a way I feel bad, but not as bad as if I’d not done it at all. I know my priorities, and if friends and readers can be patient enough, we’ll meet on the page again soon enough.
In the meantime, I’ll keep updating you with cryptic messages, hinting at the story and art. It won’t be Alan Moore and it won’t be Dave McKean, it will be little old me and my little saga. But I think you’ll find it sufficiently complex and intricate, and hopefully, even if it’s just for a little while, it can become one of your favourite efforts by a comics creator.
Comics are my life. With this… I will prove it.
I will return to my pages and continue improving the no-style.
I will review my dialogues and make them even better than the last draft. I will finish the dialogues of the second half, even if it’s after I’ve drawn the pages, Marvel style.
It will be grand. It will be great. And I hope you’ll feel that you are a part of it as I share my journey with you from time to time.
I would also like to ask you for a favour during this time as I push through. Please send me good vibes, pray for me, and think good thoughts when you imagine me hunched over a page, drawing for you.
This is the biggest task I’ve ever tackled, and though I am creating it alone, technically speaking, I can feel the encouragement of those around me, both near and far.
Let’s do this.
All the best,
This is the blog of writer-artist-designer-author Dominic Bercier, MCS principal and founder.