In this, Part 2 of our two part interview series on The Black Coat, Ray C. Tate caught up with Dean Kotz to talk about his new position as artist on Ape Entertainment’s The Black Coat, created by Ben Lichius and Francesco Francavilla.
For Ray’s interview with Co-Creator, Ben Lichius, click here.
Ray C. Tate: First, let’s talk about your experience as an artist. What’s your art background?
Dean Kotz: I went to a state college for painting and drawing and messed around with fine art for a bit. About 3-4 years ago I decided to go back to comics, something I loved as a kid.
RT: What did your art classes do for you? I assume you were doodling all along as a kid.
DK: Sure, and I took private lessons when I was young. But the classes really only teach you the actual process…all the technical stuff like mixing paint, etc. The actual draftsmanship just comes from loads of practice. Something I still need to do.
RT: The advise usually given for writers is to write at least three or four pages a day. Do you sketch every day, outside of your professional work, or do you only do it when inspired?
DK: That’s true for artists, too. I once chatted with [Jim] Steranko at a Con and he told me the secret was to “draw every day.” A couple months ago I gave up my day job and I’m trying to make a go with just comics. I’m sitting at the drawing board at least 8 hours a day, 7 days a week. Sometimes 10-12 hours. You’re not always inspired, but as long as you’re putting down lines something will get done.
RT: I had better get cracking after this interview then. I’ve kind of let my art fall by the wayside. I do see some Steranko in your work. Is he an artistic influence? Who are some of the others?
DK: Yeah, not his figure work, but his layouts, definitely. Most of the guys I really study are from the seventies: Kaluta, Wrightson, Sutton, Boyette, Draut. A lot of the Creepy and Charlton guys.
RT: You’ve just named a lot of my favorite artists. I loathe art that looks the same as everybody else. What medium do you prefer? You mentioned fine painting.
DK: I don’t paint anymore. These days I prefer black and white. Inking is probably my favorite part of the job.
RT: Really? A lot of artists look at that as busy-work. What is it about inking that appeals to you?
DK: Well I think that comes from the way modern inkers ink. They expect the pencils to be super tight and then they just subtly mess with line-weight. That would drive me nuts. I see the inking stage as another complete drawing. There’s no need to be faithful to the pencils if you can make something better.
RT: So it sounds like you’re in the Bob McLeod school of thought where inking actually completes and embellishes the pencils. The Black Coat started as a black and white, but now it’s in color. Does the color affect the way you ink?
DK: A little, but I don’t think about it as much as I should. I just try to make a page that looks good in black and white first and hope there’s room for the colorist, in this case Ben, to play with.
RT: I think you guys mesh well.
DK: Thanks. Ben shares a lot of the same sensibilities as me. We both like a little subtler approach to colors. Not flash.
RT: Your inks are much more overt than the colors. The colors are almost subliminal. So, how did you get involved with Ben and The Black Coat?
DK: I stopped by the Ape booth at WWPhilly in 2008 and showed my portfolio to David Hedgecock. It was the last day of the Con and I wasn’t expecting much, but he told me he might have something I’d be right for. He put me in touch with Ben and we hit it off.
RT: Cool. The Black Coat takes place in colonial America. How much research do you do for each issue?
DK: Quite a bit at first. Library, google, etc. I live in downtown Philly, right across from the first hospital in America and not far from Independence Hall and stuff. I took my camera on a few walks and got a lot of great reference material. There are some houses on my street from not long after the story in Black Coat.
RT: Do you enjoy the research aspect of the job, or is it more a necessary chore of the job?
DK: I love the research stage because it gives you a lot of freedom later on. Once you figure out how say, colonial window frames looked, you can be more creative when you’re doing the real chore of perspective, etc.
RT: Heh. Love that.
DK: The bane of my existence. Nothing ruins a good groove like having to break out rulers and crap.
RT: Man, I hate rulers. My lines are straighter when I don’t use one. Unlike say The Swamp Fox or Scarecrow of Romney Marsh. Black Coat also delves into the occult. Here be monsters. Was that another aspect that appealed to you? Would you have been happy to simply have the Red Coats be the enemy?
DK: I love horror comics, so I was cool playing with that aspect. I think a purely espionage type story would be cool, but the supernatural element ramps up the tension on a story we all know the outcome to.
RT: So, do you have a favorite character in Black Coat that you like to illustrate more than the others? Ursula perhaps?
DK: Ursula is definitely fun to draw, for obvious reasons. The female Gypsy character does some really fun things in the later issues that were a blast to draw as well. Ben really choreographs scenes well and made everything really fun to envision.
RT: I noticed the female gypsy. Very unique face and physique.
DK: Ben gave a great reference to that classic National Geographic cover with the Afghan girl with the piercing eyes. I took that and added some curves.
RT: Nice. How long did it take you to finish that issue of Black Coat? The detail was fierce.
DK: Oh, boy…Ben was very patient with me. This was the first full issue I ever did and with my day job it took about 4 months or so. Much longer than it should’ve.
RT: You know, I’m not sure that was too horrible. I mean Spider-Man/Black Cat took what two or three years p
er issue? Of course, I’m not sure whose fault that was. The finished product sucked too. Unlike yours.
DK: Thanks, but we know how the fans reacted to that.
RT: Yeah, but I think fans have a different threshold for lag time for independent type books.
DK: I hope they would. Especially since most of the guys can only do it in their spare time.
RT: Well, I just think it was worth the wait. I mean when I put an independent title onto my pull list, I don’t expect it even to show up every year. Seeing all the detail you put into Black Coat, I can see that it was a labor of love.
DK: It was. It’s everything I like about comics. Funny, when the first trade came out I said to myself “this is the type of book I would like to draw.” I never imagined I would happen to stumble into it eventually.
RT: So apart from Black Coat, what other type of book would appeal to you? Super-heroes, Phantom types, monsters? Please, tell me it’s not zombie based.
DK: Well, I dig more of the pulp stuff or gothic horror. I just finished up a book for Boom dealing with Edgar Allan Poe and that was a good fit. Stuff where the people are down to earth but strange stuff happens.
RT: Well Dean, anything you would like to add?
DK: Not really. Thanks so much for taking the time to chat, Raymond. I’m so glad you’re digging the book.
RT: Totally. Call me, Ray.
DK: Will do.
RT: Oh, what’s the name of the Edgar Allan Poe book?
DK: It’s called Poe. Issues 1and 2 are currently out. It’s a 4 issue mini released by BOOM! Studios.
RT: Well, easy title to remember. Thanks again.
DK: Thanks, goodnight!