Meet a Local Cartoonist: A Chat with Chris Flick
I don't keep up with Web comics very well, so I didn't know about Chris Flick and his strip Capes & Babes, but when I saw him selling his book collection at a local convention before Christmas, I bought two. One for me of course, and one as a Christmas gift for another comics fan. Chris spent about 20 minutes doing a nice big sketch in each book. Here he is to answer our standard questions about the life of a Web-comics cartoonist.
Washington City Paper: What type of comic work or cartooning do you do?
Chris Flick: Besides doing the occasional freelance gig for a variety of different clients, I currently work on two comics strips for the Web. The first is a comic strip for a tech-based Web site devoted to teaching all about web design. That strip is called CMX Suite and can be read every Wednesday on the home page of www.communitymx.com. I have done that strip for five years.
The other strip is an independent project of my sole creation called Capes & Babes. The premise for that strip is a strip mall, a comic book store, and one crazy werewolf. It can be read three times a week at www.capesnbabes.com
WCP: When (within a decade is fine) and where were you born?
CF: I was born in 1967 in Alexandria, Va. With the exception of when my dad was in the Air Force and we lived in Germany, Las Vegas, and Florida, I've pretty much have resided here in Northern Virginia—well, except for those four and a half years I attended Radford University.
WCP: Why are you in Washington now? What neighborhood or area do you live in?
CF: If I had a preference, I think might have eventually moved back out west to Las Vegas as I loved it out there as a kid and enjoy visiting my brother out there, but I'm living in the Washington, D.C. area because this is where I grew up, and my wife and her family live here, as well as my folks too. Plus, this is where I have always made a living in a variety of different ways... coaching high school baseball, being a freelance illustrator, or making my living as a full-time Web and graphic designer. I currently reside in the Woodbridge area of Virginia.
WCP: What is your training and/or education in cartooning?
CF: The only two things I have done the most of are drawing and playing baseball. I started drawing a few years before I started throwing a baseball around though, so in that aspect, I have been pretty much self-taught in my early developmental years. But as I grew older, I took a wide variety of art classes—some in animation, some in painting. I went to art school in Maryland for a year at the Maryland College of Art and Design where they tried to turn me into a painter. But I've always been a cartoonist—ever since my grandmother sat me down with sheets of her typing paper and encouraged me to try and copy Bugs Bunny off of her old Arby's collectible glasses years ago.
Then, at Radford, it was a case of honing my illustration skills, combining them with my new-found love of graphic design, and seeing what I could do in combing cartooning with graphic design.
WCP: Who are your influences?
In high school, even though I couldn't draw super heroes like them, I was always a huge fan of George Perez and John Byrne. Later on, I discovered Matt Wagner—he was a HUGE influence on me. I've always LOVED Chuck Jones' animation style. Even at a real young age, I could tell his cartoons from anyone else's. These days, I'm really getting into graffiti-style artwork or ultrastyled and angular work like Jim Mahfood or Skottie Young—and I like Tom Beland's work as well.
My artististic influences are sort of like the music in my iPod—it's all over the place!
WCP: If you could, what in your career would you do over or change?
CF: Well, if reality and economics wasn't a factor, I would move to California and become a character designer for an animation studio. I found out real early working in animation classes that I enjoyed designing the characters, but hated the repetition of drawing them over and over again.
The other thing I would change is I would have started Capes & Babes years sooner than I did. Right now, I'm having so much fun going to conventions and meeting people that I'm really sad that I didn't start the strip years earlier. It may not have been as good as it is now but I would have been much farther along by this point.
From a career standpoint, I really wouldn't change anything. All of my graphic design and Web design jobs led me to something bigger and better and I've had some great experiences along the way. It wasn't always easy, but each experience was a stepping stone to something bigger and better. That's the same kind of thing I'm hoping will happen with Capes & Babes as well.
WCP: What work are you best-known for?
My biggest claim to fame might be the two Web design books I helped co-write for New Riders Press. They were called Designing Websites with Macromedia Studio MX and Designing Dynamic Websites with Macromedia Studio MX 2004. That may seem strange, but both books features Web site designs integrating my art and cartoons, so I got to fulfill all three levels of my expertise at the time... graphic design, Web design and cartooning/illustration.
WCP: What work are you most proud of?
I'm most proud of the current Capes & Babes book I am self-publishing, titled You Can't Print Flick—a play on my last name and the problem that used to arise when poorly printed, all-capital comic book lettering ran together. This also is a project where I used all of my previous design, illustration, and cartoon skills to their absolute maximum. The book is 164 pages and filled from cover to cover with cartoons, illustrations, and designs. You can find the book on www.lulu.com or you can contact me and order it directly.
WCP: What would you like to do or work on in the future?
CF: I think almost all cartoonists—at least Web cartoonists—would like to be self-sufficient. There are a small handful that currently are making a living as a Web cartoonist, so I think many other Web cartoonists (like myself) look to those people as a source of inspiration and want to achieve those same goals. I know, from a graphic designer and a part-time freelance illustrator perspective, exactly how hard that can be, but yeah, that's where I would love to wind up some day... being able to be in control of my own destiny by doing nothing but cartooning and traveling to conventions all over the country AND making a good living at it.
The VH1 tour bus, reality TV show, and groupies wouldn't be too bad either.
WCP: What do you do when you're in a rut or have writer's block?
CF: I record a weekly podcast with a fellow cartoonist friend of mine, Matt Stout, where we have talked about this very same subject before. I don't think there's such a thing as "writer's block" or "cartoonist block." What I believe is there is such a thing as "this idea could be so much better than it is" block. I think we all have plenty of creative ideas, but they may not necessarily be the best. Or we get worried that the idea has been done to death. Or it could be better in some way, shape, or form. So we end up not using it or not reworking the idea to be better. Other times, we simply have SO many ideas, we get over whelmed with too many ideas flying through our head, that we end up suffering from paralysis by analysis.
Certainly, you can find yourself in moments where you just don't feel like creating. That's real, but I think that's different then "writers/artist block." In those cases, it's similar to feeling like not going to the gym. Sometimes you feel too tired, but other times, if you force yourself to just work out for 10 minutes, you find yourself re-energized and able to do a full workout.
When something like that happens to me, I try to go to someplace public—like a coffee shop or a library. Many times, by changing your atmosphere or setting, you can instantly recharge your batteries. You can also join a drawing group or find other cartoonists in your area via Twitter or Facebook, meet up at a local mall or dinner and just 'talk shop" for an hour or two. Those are some of the things I try to do anyway.
WCP: What do you think will be the future of your field?
CF: One of my first graphic design jobs was working for a local newspaper. Because of that experience, I don't necessarily subscribe to the belief that newspapers will cease to exist in a few years. I think they might be something completely different than what they are now, but I don't really see them completely vanishing. What might vanish though, is the strips in them.
And being a Web designer, I sort of see a correlation between comics on the Web and the early look of "Web design" in the early '90s. Back then, Web sites were exploding at an alarming rate... everyone had a Web site—or they were designing one—on a daily basis. I'm seeing similar things with Web comics... everyone is creating a Web comic almost on a daily basis and I think they are just going to keep growing. I'm not sure exactly where all of this will end up, but right now, I'm just happy to be on my surfboard enjoying the wave I'm riding.
WCP: What's your favorite thing about D.C.?
CF: I like the incredible resources the city offers... the Smithsonian, the Corcoran... even the Metro... I don't get down there as often as I'd like, but there's a ton of resources that people don't always take advantage of... maybe that's because they know it's always there.
One cool thing I would tell people to do—if they can—is to go check out certain things at night. When I was younger and before my wife and I had kids, we would love to take our out-of-town friends to the Vietnam and Korean War Memorials, but we wouldn't go during the day. We would take them there at night, after a long dinner. The wall gives off a totally different vibe at night, especially in early fall where there might be a bit of fog coming in over the Potomac. Stuff like that is really cool and best of all... it's all free!
WCP: Least favorite?
CF: Oh, without a doubt... the traffic congestion and crazy drivers around here. And, I guess, after these last couple of months, we could probably add "snow" to that list as well, huh?
WCP: What monument or museum do you take most out-of-town guests to?
CF: Ahhhh... well I think I covered that in the question about favorite D.C. things...
WCP: Do you have a Web site or blog?
CF: I actually have a couple.
My personal portfolio website can be found at www.csfgraphics.com.
My "Capes & babes" strip can be read three times a week (plus a blog post) at www.capesnbabes.com
My weekly Community MX strip can be read every Wednesday at www.communitymx.com
And I can be found on Twitter at twitter.com/capesnbabes.
My name is Chris Flick.
I'm a cartoonist.
And a husband. And a dad.
And a graphic designer/Web designer.
But I'm mostly a cartoonist.