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Aspiring comic-book creator struggles to achieve childhood dream


P.J. Fry June 18th, 2009

Robert Wilson waited four long months for one word.


It was four months of pride and four months of worry. Four months of confidence and four months of crippling self-doubt.

Robert-Wilson-double-page-s
And when the word finally came back, it wasn't the one he wanted to hear: No.

No, Image Comics would not be publishing his new series. Better luck next time. Keep plugging away, kid.

But those four months, oddly enough, were a pretty good sign for the Oklahoma Baptist University graduate. His collaboration with writer Alexander Grecian didn't get picked up, but it was better than 98 percent of the other submissions the company gets.


"Sometimes you get a rejection on day one," Wilson said. "Ninety-eight percent get rejected in the first three days. For us, it took four months."


Still, it was nerve-wracking, he said " a classic hurry-up-and-wait scenario.


NOT ALL BAD
When the news came down, it wasn't good. But Grecian, who already writes the series "Proof" for the company, made sure Wilson knew the news wasn't all bad.

"He let me know that nobody gets it their first time, which I understand," Wilson said. "But it can still feel so devastating, because to be an artist " to even show people your work and expect them to appreciate it " you have to have a certain amount of hubris."


Along with that pride of ownership comes incredible insecurity and a craving for acceptance. Getting turned down, he said, has only galvanized his resolve to try again.


"I mean, a working pro sought me out, so I must be doing something right, right?" he said. "I'm not going to quit. I've already pitched something to (the anthology) 'Popgun,' so we'll see how that goes."


Drawing comic books has been a dream for Wilson since he was 10 years old. That was the year when, traveling with his family, his mother bought him the first three issues of the new "X-Men" series.


"I was instantly obsessed," he said. "I copied portions of every page out of that first issue. I basically wanted to be (artist) Jim Lee."


BUSTY MUTANTS
But sketching busty mutants in skintight outfits and brawny heroes with interesting facial hair is easy. A pretty picture is a pretty picture, but pinups do not a story make, Wilson said, at least not since the '90s.


So when he got the call from Grecian, he had to flex his creative muscles in service to the story.


"I can't say too much about it, but it was a kind of retelling of a classic piece of literature that turns the story on its head," he said. "I was drawing a lot of things I'm not used to, like animals and buildings and water. Drawing water is hard. And there was a lot of water.


"I'm still learning," he said. "You have to feel like you know what you're doing, but you have to be open to finding your flaws and working on them. For me, it's telling a story visually, instead of just drawing a visually appealing picture."


It's a skill he works on daily in his leather-bound sketch pad, not just refining his artistic style, but working on page layouts and even dialogue.


"The pitch I sent in to 'Popgun' was something I wrote," he said. "If I've got the time, I'll do everything " write, pencil, ink " though I might hire a colorist."


Wilson said he's luckier than some who toil at menial tasks all day and come home too tired for art at night. His great loves have dovetailed, allowing him to get creative at his job as a graphic designer for North Church, 1601 W. Memorial.


'TRANSLATABLE SKILLS'
The job is full of "translatable skills," he said, because everything he does at his day job gets him better prepared for his dream job. At the same time, it can be really frustrating, too.

"It's fulfilling, but it's hard to get the same creative satisfaction as I get from telling stories," he said. "It's like, I'm so close to doing what I really want to be doing, but I'm just not there yet."


And he knows it might take him longer still to get there. After being turned down by Image Comics, he got word that he won't make it into the latest edition of 'Popgun,' but maybe the next.


Still, if it were easy, every 15-year-old kid would have his own contract with Marvel, so Wilson swallows the rejection and keeps plugging away.


"As far as getting actual work, it can be really hard," he said. "I am finding that relationships are the real X-factor."


Making contact with Grecian and former Image Comics publisher (and creator of "Savage Dragon") Erik Larsen were good first steps, but Wilson is planning to visit HeroesCon in Charlotte, N.C., this year to pitch his work to more publishers.


And while his heroes include artists like Paul Pope, who does a lot of independent and mature work, Wilson said he's learning that nobody starts out on top.


"A few months ago, the thought of doing superhero comics didn't really excite me, at least not long-term," he said. "Now I'm a beggar. If they asked me to do 'Pet Avengers,' I'd say, 'Yes, sir! Right away, sir!'"


In the meantime, he will follow the advice he received with his rejection: Keep plugging away, kid. Better luck next time. And maybe next time, the answer will be "Yes." 


 
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