Artist Interview: The Creator of Kyrie!

Kyrie, artwork, illustration, Matt Crotts

In addition to being the illustrator for the extraordinary KYRIE graphic novel, Matt C. (MC) has a Masters of Science in Medical Illustration, a BFA in illustration and five years full-time professional illustration experience. Some of the programs he uses to create his impressive artwork includes Adobe Creative Suite (Photoshop,Illustrator, InDesign, Aftereffects and Flash) , Maxon Cinema 4D and Pixologic ZBrush. In the following artist interview, I was able to speak with Matt about what inspires him – as well as about KYRIE (from Ancient Greek Κύριε, pronounced “Keer-ee-ay”), a graphic novel set in 3rd century Roman North Africa. It follows a curious band of thieves, traitors and cut-throats as they attempt to outsmart the Imperial authorities, while navigating their own dark and competing desires as outlaws of Rome! Enjoy!

Axiom: Thanks for chatting with us! First off, what could you tell our audience about your work? MC: My comic, KYRIE, is a heist adventure story set in 3rd century Roman North Africa. It is my attempt to blend my illustration interests (european comics and euro-manga), my storytelling interests (character-driven travel sagas) and my passion for ancient world history. But my overall investment in the project has been directed towards learning how to convey Christo-centric themes without using Biblical allegory. Allegory is a time-honored approach to storytelling, but is only one of a great many storytelling approaches, and I am attempting to contribute to some of those other approaches, in my own small way.

Matt Crotts, character, artwork, illustration, designAxiom: How did you get started in this area? MC: Like a lot of comic creators, I grew up watching tons of movies. There was a time when I wanted to be a film director. But I didn’t read comics as a kid, particularly because comics as an American storytelling medium didn’t popularly expand beyond superhero subjects or comic strip usage until really the last ten or fifteen years. I wasn’t interested in comics as a medium until I saw their potential for conveying compelling narratives of any genre, and produced in any style – and this wasn’t until I saw Kazu Kabuishi’s Flight anthologies while in art undergraduate school. Flight showed me that comics were limited only to the constraints imposed by their creator – that they were a just a medium like any other. And then I found Tony Cliff’s Delilah Dirk and the Turkish Lieutenant. From then on, I was hooked.

I think comic writing and illustrating is my way of ‘directing’ a visual story, in a way that isn’t dependent on the technical and budget challenges of film. I just need to keep up with the motivation to turn off the TV and work on KYRIE instead.

Axiom: Do you have any favorite books, movies, artwork or games that you find inspiring? MC: The art that I get excited about mostly comes out of Europe. The comic artists from there seem to my American eyes to enjoy a smorgasbord of Eastern and Western influences, much broader and freer than those in the States. Steven Universe is just one example of the sort of blended style that I enjoy (though the story I don’t really get excited about). Anime from the 60s through the 80s, Belgian ligne claire comics, and many other bits of influences are regularly on my mind. Oh, and Japanese wood-block printing – can’t get enough of their flowing folds of fabric!

Kyrie, artwork, illustrationAxiom: Do you have any interesting stories regarding the work you’ve already done in this area? MC: I have always wanted to find a character drama wrapped in an adventure story, set in an ancient historical setting. A big reason I’m making KYRIE is because I think it’s still very much an underserved market. There are some contemporary graphic novels set in historical time periods, and many are excellently crafted and very successful for what they’re meant to be – neat character pieces, with a plot for backdrop. But mostly the historical setting is presented superficially, and lacks the research that, in my opinion makes a setting truly immersive. And there are many fantasy stories that have plot satisfyingly serve the arcs of the characters. But very, very few recently created, historically set comics where the setting is a character in itself, or rather a rich and believable extension of the protagonist – something like a Lawrence of Arabia or Indiana Jones of comics. And even fewer (only Asterix comes to mind) set in the Roman era. Or, if they are out there, they’re still only published by Belgian publishers, and my French is pretty limited.

Axiom: What’s some of your goals for the future while working in this area? MC: I am finding that producing a comic like KYRIE takes so much time that finishing it is about the best goal I can have at the moment. I design the pages with an eye to what they look like on 8″ x 10″ paper, with the distant goal of self publishing, or possibly seeing if one of the many credible small press publishers out there would want to pick it up. I’m in no hurry, though – I’ve put so much of what I want in a story into KYRIE, that I think I’m completely fine if this is the only comic I get done in this brief life. I just want to be able to put it into my kids’ or grandkids’ hands, and have it demonstrate a standard of quality that’ll keep them interested for 200 pages or so, and also hopefully encourage them to meditate a bit more on the Good, True and Beautiful.

Axiom: Do you have any recommendations or thoughts on how Christian creatives can get involved in their community? MC: This is a very good question. Doing work that is meant as direct investment into your community (anything from graphic design to installation and liturgical work for your local church, for example), is a great thing to do. But I’ve also discovered that having a personal project that you work on pretty much by yourself can in turn help the community – it can be a means of introduction to others, which can start conversations that you might not otherwise get the chance to have if you’re only working on commissioned work. Commissions largely show how you can help others with ideas they already have – personal projects help to spark conversations and ideas that have yet to be thought of by your community.

Axiom: Where can readers find out more about your work? MC: I have lately been using ComicFury for hosting KYRIE. They are a nifty little community and the hosting is free, so I suggest it. My comic can be found at www.kyrie.thecomicseries.com. The comic won’t be published in print until it’s completed, but a hi-res PDF for reading on digital devices can be purchased for just $1. If you go to the ‘store’ tab on the KYRIE site, you will find the link to the Gumroad store site. I’ll soon be putting a ‘making of’ PDF up there too, where you’ll be able to see how I do the research, make the reference, design the characters and construct the story’s pages.