Black Nerd Problems had the fortune of attending Mighty Con – St. Louis. While there, we sat down with some of the visiting guests and peeked into different parts of the industry. Below are highlights from the interviews, trimmed for length. It was a blast to sit down with each of these talented artists.
Tom Nguyen – Virtuoso of Visual Artistry
Tom Nguyen has done covers, colors, and pens for DC, Marvel, IDW, and a bunch of other publishers besides. A Vietnamese-American visual artist, he’s the co-creator of the successful Kickstarter hit comic book The Switch.
BNP: You have a pretty diverse portfolio and visual artistry. You’ve done stuff with the Big Two. You’ve done small publishing housing, even photography. What’s it like having such a wide cross-section of media in your portfolio?
Nguyen: Oh, I think it’s one that keeps me busy and productive and out of trouble. You know there are a lot worse things to do, hobbies to have. And I think it’s great. And I think that by showing some versatility in what I do, it makes me in a sense more employable.
BNP:You have a relatively new comic out: The Switch, about a villainess who, pardon the pun, switches side and becomes a hero? What was it like helping create a new superhero?
Nguyen: It was such a blur because it was OK from my perspective. I mean, we kind of rushed it out. First of all, this is mostly Keith Champagne, my partner and the writer. He’s also a fellow DC creator. This was his idea. I created it in the sense that I designed all the characters basically with some input from Keith… he hit the ground running and I just designed on the fly and incorporated my little style… It’s exciting. I mean it’s still very much feels like it’s also my own character. So to actually have a book that’s finally being published after almost 22 years, 23 years in the business now. To finally have my own creation on the shelves is very exciting and gratifying. It’s definitely a bucket list achievement in my career.
BNP: What are your favorite projects?
Nguyen: Well my favorite comic book I’ve ever worked on is my first comic I’ve ever worked on when I broke in at 19. It was a DC comic pulp hero, Major Bummer. It lasted only 15 issues. Of course nowadays any book the last 15 issues would be considered a success. It does have its cult following which is kind of cool. But. That was my favorite one maybe. Partially for the sentimental reason that it was my first gig. And mostly because I just really enjoyed the story.
It was written by John Arcudi who first got his fame writing The Mask for Dark Horse Comics. He’s moved on to other big things. But yeah, John Acrudi on story and Doug Mahnke on art and then me inking it. I mean, it was a dream come true gig for me at the time especially fresh out of high school. But the stories are just so fun. It was just goofy slapstick superhero stuff. Dark Horse has it collected. So you could still pick it up now, you might have to. Ever since John and I have progressed throughout our careers, our names have gotten a little bit bigger and our followers have gotten bigger too.
BNP: So on your site you have a section dedicated to some photos you took in Vietnam in 2013 with a quote: “Art is the only way to run away without leaving home” (Twyla Tharp). What are the places that you call home?
Nguyen:: What other place I call home… That’s a good question… Any other place I call home. Well, Vietnam I definitely call like my second home just because I try to go there every year. And that’s where my fiancé is. So. She’s my other home.
I found home in all of the cities where I do a lot of comic cons and I have built a lot of friendships. For instance, in Knoxville, Tennessee. Really. Believe it or not, Nashville, Tennessee because I do that show at least once a year. And I’ve made so many friendships there. I don’t know what it is. I don’t know why they love me so much in Tennessee but, I always feel welcome there. I definitely can call it a second home. If I ever needed a home, I know I’m welcome there. But, you know I’ve got very, very good close friends in San Antonio. I’ve got great close friends in Southern California, so basically, my second homes are anywhere that I traveled to on a regular basis. Other than that quote on my website which basically means that if you need to get away from reality you can create your own alternate realities just through our own work.
Bishop Stevens – Up And Coming Actor
Bishop Stevens is a pro-wrestler turned actor. He’s appeared in The Walking Dead and Empire.
BNP: So IMBD says you’re very popular on the Sci-Fi and Horror convention circuit. I take it you consider yourself a Black nerd at this point?
Bishop: I consider myself a jack of all trades. I am doing very well on those conventions, but that’s more because of The Walking Dead reel. But I think I’m doing well with action.
BNP: Action? That makes sense given your background with the WCW and WWE. How did you get involved with that, and how did that progress into acting?
Bishop: Well, basically, wrestlers are actors and athletes anyways. I got into wrestling here in St. Louis down at South Broadway Atlantic Club and then from there I got hooked up with Harley Race and got trained. My career just took from there. The acting just kind of fell in. ‘Cause you had Stone Cold Steve Austin, The Rock, and all those guys were doing television and movies, and I think everyone is looking for the next Rock, y’know?
BNP: I can see that.
Bishop: Now, I may not be as pretty as he is, but I damn sure got the charisma.
BNP: No kidding. Yesterday, you were out at the front lobby with a camera, talking with your fans, promoting the con. You were very energetic at 9 AM in the morning when the rest of us needed coffee. But did you expect your career trajectory to go in this way? Or did you have something else in mind before the gym?
Bishop: It was an interesting way that my career went. But I am the type of person who starts something is gonna find a way to make it work. I’m a hustler. I am very driven. I loved wrestling, but once I got a taste of the big time, I was going to make it work. And once I did my first acting job, a trailer for a movie that never got done, I was in front of those cameras and went “oh wow, I could be a star without going home sore.”
BNP: What are some of your favorite roles?
Bishop: I loved being on Empire. But my favorite gig was Rayden Valkyrie, from a bestselling author’s book, and hopefully, it will get picked up because it was so cool. It had sword fights. I got to play a character from ancient times, kind of like Hercules.
BNP: And in the future?
Bishop: This year, I have three movies already out and four more are coming out in the fall. Next year, I have signed on for five big projects already. And I’m working with some really big stars. I actually landed the lead — I’m taking over an established role in a series. I’ll be playing Alex Creed for the series called T.H.E.M (The Horrific Evil Monsters) from DefTones Studios out of New York. I signed on with a multi-movie deal with them.
BNP: So, anything you want to tell the audience?
Bishop: I want people to know that St. Louis, as they say, is one of the biggest small cities, and there is a lot of talent here. The problem that we have is that they aren’t a lot of opportunities. What I want to tell people is “Get Out.” There’s a lot of major celebrities that came out of St. Louis, but at some point, they had to leave. I did the best I could to make sure that my vacation time was used. Filming these roles. Now. And now it worked out that is what I do for a living.
Tom Cook – Animator Behind A Lot of Our Childhoods
Tom Cook, wow. He worked for Hanna-Barbera Studios in the late 1970s. There he worked on Challenge of the SuperFriends, Godzilla, Scooby Doo, Smurfs, Pacman and The Flintstones. He is a legit legend.
BNP: I’m sure you get this a lot but, what’s it like being a driving force behind so many childhoods over a couple of decades really?
Cook: Well you know it’s weird to kind of think of it that way because for me it was a job. You know, I was just going to work just like everybody else did. But I knew that I had a really cool job. You know, I grew up in the late 50s and early 60s with all of the Yogi Bear and Huckleberry Hound and all those shows and then eventually Johnny Quest which is really the one that got me excited about what the animated cartoon could be. Because that was a super-venture show and I just loved it.
And I really was interested in comic books. Early on Marvel Comics came out in 1960/1961 and so I was about 8 or 9 years old. And that’s what really affected me was Spider-Man and the Fantastic Four and Jack Kirby and Steve Ditko and Stanley and… That’s what got me drawing as a young kid. But, it feels really good to know that I was part of something that everybody loved so much. To be 35 years away from here man, and yet, people are still coming up, you know, just loving the show so much. It’s quite humbling to realize that these shows had legs like that.
BNP: So what were some of your favorite properties that you got to work with?
Cook: Well my favorite was probably Thundarr the Barbarian. And that’s for a couple reasons. It was a little bit more adult in the theme of the show. The Earth had been almost destroyed by a comet. And the Moon actually broke in half. And it took place way in the future in “1994”. But it was one of the shows that Jack Kirby helped to design. And again, with Jack Kirby being one of my main influences to be able to work on a show that he created and getting to meet him a couple of times at the studio. That’s a big part of why that’s my favorite.
But as far as some of the other things I did, of course, The Flintstones because it was, you know, the first real sitcom that was a cartoon. And I used to sit and watch it as a kid and I would sit there with a pad and paper and I would draw Fred. Every time he’d turn a certain way. Then the very first drawing I ever did at the studio was of Fred Flintstone. So it kind of was full circle there. Movie-wise I really like working on Roger Rabbit because that was such a groundbreaking movie. I worked on the short that was called Tummy Trouble. And then also being able to direct episodes of King of the Hill.
BNP: How has animation changed between when you first started and when you mentioned it ended? And even today, what are some of the trends that you saw what might be better what became more difficult.
Cook: One of the examples I give all the time is there was a little owl character. In She-Ra. And a friend of mine had to make this owl. Kind of do a little anticipation back and then zoom offstage you just see those zip lines go off. And. As soon as the character moved back in as soon as he started to move off the screen he turned them into the space shuttle. So the character looked like the space shuttle even though it still colored like the character. And then that was like maybe two or three frames of that. And then he went back to the bird… You really had full control when you could draw anything because you could turn anything into anything that you wanted.
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