Tell us your name and what you do for a living.
My name is Mike Barron. I’m a Systems Administrator for the American Museum of Natural History in New York City. I also make comics.
Tell us a little bit about your art background.
I’ve been making stuff my whole life. I got my Bachelor’s degree in Fine Arts: Painting from the University of Cincinnati and my Master’s in Electronic Arts from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute. After grad school I became a Systems Administrator for the School of Visual Arts’ MFA Computer Art department, where I also taught Video for Computer Artists. During this time I focused on video, music and performance for my art practice. Eventually I grew tired of using high technology to create art, and that’s when I decided to rediscover drawing, particularly the drawing of comics, which I’d always loved.
How long have you been drawing comics?
I’ve been drawing comics off and on since I was a kid. It is one of my earliest memories. I drew superhero comics throughout my childhood, then stopped to pursue painting and more “grownup” approaches to art. After college, in the ’90s, I again dabbled in comics for a few years. Grad school took me away from comics again as I explored sound and video. But finally I find myself making comics again. Things are much different now; the comics industry has boomed significantly since the ’90s and methods of distribution are far more plentiful. Nevertheless, there is still a homegrown, grassroots vibe to the comics world that I find particularly appealing. It’s great to be back.
How did you come into contact with Martin?
Facebook, of course. How else?
Actually, Martin is an old friend of my girlfriend’s. I’ve only met him in person a few times, but we always got along well. Martin is quite a character, which comes through in School Street, I hope. And Martin loves comics, which I obviously appreciate.
The way I understand it, Martin had been making short posts on Facebook about his encounters with students for some time. It seems people eventually began clamoring for him to make them into a comic strip, which seemed a natural evolution. At the same time, I was getting back into comics and had started my own strip, called Malcontent, which I began posting to Facebook. I guess Martin liked my work, because before too long he contacted me about School Street. We quickly hammered out a deal, and here we are, 20 strips in and going strong.
What has been one of the biggest challenges working on the strip?
There have been a ton of challenges. For one, I’ve never really drawn kids. Truth be told, I don’t really even like kids that much. So learning how to draw kids was something I had to do, and learning how to portray them as actual people was also difficult. It’s actually been great, and now I find drawing kids — with their weird proportions and crazy expressions — a lot of fun. There’s a great freedom to invent there.
I’ve also never worked on someone else’s material; I’ve always written my own stuff. Figuring out how to communicate someone else’s writing using my pictures was a challenge, but a fun one. It’s nice to not have to worry about every aspect of the strip and just focus on the drawing. And this is strong material that, I think, particularly lends itself to comics.
Can you tell us a little bit about your creative process, for example, do you listen to music while creating and how do you decide which strip will get your attention?
I pretty much just sit at table and draw. And not a drawing table, either, just a regular table with wooden legs and porcelain top. No music. Sometimes the TV is on, but when I’m drawing I’m very focused, so it all gets blocked out.
I keep a text file with text for all the strips. When I first began the project I started with the strips that seemed easiest — the ones I just got and knew instantaneously how I wanted to draw. These days I’m more comfortable with the material, so I pretty much just do them in chronological order.
Generally I’ll start with quick layout sketches, just to figure out where everything will go. Then I rule my bristol. Then pencils. Refinements to the pencils. Then inks. Finally, I scan the drawing and do the lettering in the computer. I hate doing hand lettering, and I’m terrible at it.
Inking is the hardest part, but it’s also my favorite. It’s where all the decisions get made and the drawing becomes something beautiful, to me anyway. One of my favorite things to look at is inked comic pages. I can look at them for hours.