From Fan Art to Dark Forests: Cara McGee Talks Making the Jump at ECCC
Fan art isn’t a new phenomenon. Through various forms of social media, people have been posting drawings of their favorite characters for years, displaying both their own talents and their appreciation for TV shows, movies, and books that they love. Do a search on Tumblr for “Fan Art, Spider-Man,” and you’ll see that there’s no shortage of talent out there in the world.
Few, however, are able to actually use it as a springboard for a career.
Boom! recently tapped well-known fan artist Cara McGee to draw their new Over The Garden Wall on-going series, making her one of the few to actually make the jump from posting (and selling) fan art online to drawing actual comics. It makes sense, too—a quick look at McGee’s Tumblr shows an inventive knack for re-imagining virtually any character you can throw at her, with beautiful results. McGee is an incredibly versatile talent—she’s drawn everything from the Avengers as punks to remixed versions of Sherlock Holmes, Harry Potter, and Archie. Her first issue of Over The Garden Wall arrives this week (4/27) at your local comic shop, and it’s worth every penny.
McGee was kind enough to sit down with Project-Nerd during Emerald City Comic Con and talk about her beginnings in fan work, her work on Over The Garden Wall, and ways for artists to use the internet to promote their own work.
Matt Carter: Hi Cara! Thanks for making the time, how’s the con been?
Cara McGee: The con’s been great, this is my fourth or fifth year doing Emerald City, and every year it just gets better and the crowd is always really nice, really big, but for as big as it gets, everyone stays really chill, so it’s a great con.
MC: You’ve done the con before, I know you’re relatively new to comics art. I’m familiar with a lot of your work from Tumblr. I remember your punk Hawkeye was my background for a year. When you were here in previous years, what were you doing then?
CM: I’m mostly known on Tumblr, mostly through fanwork and having a presence in a lot of different fandoms. I got my start in comics, technically because I went to SCAD and got my degree in sequential art there a few years ago, but then kind of just fell into doing fanworks and that’s what propelled me forward in the con-circuit. But the goal, was ultimately always doing comic pages.
MC: What was it like to make that jump from selling fan work to actually making comics?
CM: It’s very different because, as a fan artist, you’ve built a fan base, and so the struggle is, ya know, worrying that people are still going to want to buy your stuff when you’re not drawing Avengers or what have you. But so far, the support from my own fan base and the already established fan base from Over the Garden Wall has been incredible and I’m really optimistic about it.
MC: Yeah, that’s exciting, I’m glad you’re drawing Over the Garden Wall. Now, I know they’re splitting that book into two parts, are you doing the Greg and Wirt part or the Anna part?
CM: I get to do Anna, the Woodsman’s daughter.
MC: I bet you get to draw all kinds of fun stuff with that.
CM: Oh yeah, so fun! And the nice thing about doing Anna’s story, too, is I feel that Greg and Wirt are really amazing characters, but they’re already very established in the show, so there’s a lot more room to kind of play with Anna’s personality and how she comes across, so that’s been exciting.
MC: How did you end up on Over the Garden Wall?
CM: Whitney Leopard. I had worked with her a little bit before, doing covers for Lumberjanes and Adventure Time, and she’d been wanting to do a project with me for a while, and I think we were just waiting for the right project to come along.
MC: I like your style because it has a very loose feel to it, but it’s also refined in a lot of ways, too. You pay attention to a lot of details that I think people miss. Is your work influenced by comics, animation, or other types of art?
CM: I grew up, like a lot of female artists my age in the industry right now, with a very Manga influenced background, watching Sailor Moon and Dragonball Z, all that. Buying Manga in middle school and high school, and it’s probably had the most profound influence on my career and on my style, but going to school for comics and learning from other comic artists, the most important thing is to have as wide a range of inspiration as possible. The last 10 years or so, it’s been more expansive.
MC: Why do you think that Manga has influenced so many female artists working in comics currently?
CM: Manga will tell stories that you don’t find in American comics, stories like slice of life stories, real simple everyday stories, romance especially, just so many more genres than you find in mainstream comics in the States until very recently.
MC: Are you going to be moving away from doing fan art to focus on comics?
CM: Probably a little bit, just because of time constraints, if nothing else. The thing with fan work, what triggers it, is being motivated passionately by something else. Creatively motivated to make something for that. So I guess as long as I find something I want to draw something for, I’ll probably cave.
MC: Have you ever tackled a project of this size?
CM: No! This is probably my biggest project. When I was fresh out of college, I was working on a graphic novel for another publisher and that fell through for various reasons. That was a huge learning process, and I’m grateful that that happened even if it never ended up getting published. Since then, this is definitely the biggest project I’ve done.
MC: As far as your independent comic Marked, which is available at Gumroad, where did that come from?
CM: Honestly, I had a really weird dream along those lines, as a lot of comics start, I’m sure. I like creepy horror comics, which is what I was originally aiming for… unsettling horror comic, and as I was going along, I was drawing it as it was coming. I didn’t sit down and script it or thumbnail it or anything. At the end of the story, I was like ‘this is completely different than what I had set out to do,’ but I think I’m much happier with the end result.
MC: I read it as more emotionally driven than a horror story.
CM: Oh, definitely.
MC: And anyone can read into that whatever they wanted into it and get whatever they wanted out of it. I was moved by it.
CM: Well, the great thing that has come from Marked, is definitely all the responses because people do interpret it according to, I think, what they need to read from it, which is really cool.
MC: You made this very rare jump from fan art to making comics, and I think there are a lot of people who are trying to do that now, what advice would you have in terms of how it’s presented? I think you’ve got to have something special in order for a publisher to look at your fan art on line, have not much of it be sequential, and say, “this person can do this.” How did you make that jump?
CM: It is very important to post work online, for sure, because even if it’s not sequential, at least you’re getting your work out there. People are seeing it.
Put watermarks! Make sure your name is attached to it as often as you can. Things are gonna get stolen and mislabeled, regardless, but have a presence online, interact with your followers because you never know who is following you. It could be editors, it could be writers. Whitney got in touch with me because she liked some of my fan art. I’ve had Marvel get in touch with me because they liked the punk Avengers.
MC: That was the first time I saw your work, I came across it on another site, I just thought it was really cool, and then from there I found your other work.
I was really excited to see your name pop up for Over The Garden Wall, because I think it’s a book where you have the opportunity to draw these picturesque, big pages. It makes a lot of sense, and I’m excited to see where you go with it.
Thanks again for the time and enjoy the rest of the con!
Project-Nerd would like to thank Cara McGee for taking the time from her busy schedule to sit and chat with us.