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How do I become your Facebook friend?

How can I get an original Gene Ha sketch?

What materials do you use? How do you work?

How do you get into comics?

What comics do you read?

The Life of Gene (is that a question?)


How do I become your Facebook friend?

This isn't a question I'm actually asked. It's just that I get a few hundred Facebook Friend requests every month. But I'm already close to the 5000 Friend limit on Facebook, so I'm trying to save Friend slots for future co-workers, personal friends, and relatives.

You can still follow everything discussed on my personal Facebook page on the unofficial "Gene Ha Author" Facebook page. I don't know how it works, but everything on my personal page or tagged with my name on Facebook gets repeated there.

If you want to follow my comic book work and comic geek discussions, I've moved most of that to my Official "Gene Ha Visual Artist" Facebook page.

I'm also on MySpace, but I honestly don't have enough time to maintain that, my Facebook pages, and the website.

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How can I get an original Gene Ha sketch?

In general I don't take sketch commissions through my website. I'm very committed to my published comics work and I'd never get it done if I did that.

I do make sketches at cons and signings. If the event is sparsely attended I might do sketches for free. If things look busy I'll either charge enough to slow down demand (think Adam Smith) or offer a dare to the collector.

If I have time I'll do quick head sketches for free, usually of you as a superhero. I'm also liable to give small free sketches to kids and bored significant others.

So if you'd like a really nice sketch free track me down at one of the smaller store signings or regional cons. Check the list on the homepage for events near you!

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What materials do you use? How do you work?

For interior work I use:

  • a lead holder pencil filled with H leads for sketching and 2B for shading
  • a rotary lead pointer
  • warm gray Copic markers in the Wide and Sketch (brush) tips
  • nice 11"x17" inkjet paper. I like Xerox. Marker paper tends to get smudgy and oily on the surface. I've tried watercolor paper and may do so again.
  • white chalk pencils and white Gouache paint
  • Staedtler Mars tech pens
  • Photoshop

For digitally painted covers, I use:

At some point, I really should make an illustrated “How to Draw Like Gene Ha” web page. It mostly involves sitting alone in a small room for most of the daylight hours. But here are the basics.

Once I get the scripts, I make little tiny sketches of each page, about the size of my thumb (thumbnails). Then, I make layout sketches on shrunken copies of comic art board, two per page. Both of these have to include word balloons (no text), figures, major background elements, and panel layout. This is also where I work out the light/dark balance of the page.

Using the layout sketches as my guide, I might take digital photographs of people modeling as the major characters. Usually, these are friends. But if you’re nice, you can often get complete strangers to model for you! I don’t know about the rest of the country, but Midwesterners are incredibly gracious to comic book geeks who want to take photos. For minor characters, I just work from my imagination.

During a photo shoot good lighting is essential. A sunny day is good, but a 500W incandescent photo lamp is better. If you can’t get one of these, a 500W halogen work lamp does a good job. They do get insanely hot, though. They’re available at most hardware stores. Get one with a sturdy tripod and good height.

Once I've taken all the photos I need, it's time to draw. Actually, 90% of my drawings are done without using photo reference. A big mirror helps as I often pose for characters myself.

Here are some tricks I've learned over the years for my drawing tools. I use a lead holder pencil because nothing else can be sharpened as nicely. Also, you only get lead shaving but no wood shavings.

I take a scan of the rough layout and blow it up to 8.5"x11". I then draw a tight pencil on top of this. That gets scanned and printed on 11"x17" paper in very faint blue line. This is where I go all out with the markers, pencils and other mixed media.

For traditional Black & White inked pages for someone else to color, I ink with a 2B pencil and a 9W Copic Sketch (brush) marker. I have a very controlled brush hand, so I can get as nice of a line with a Copic as most inkers get with sable brushes and India ink. Markers and inkjet paper aren't archival, but frankly I've never gotten enough for my interior pages to make it worth selling them. I give them as gifts to friends.

I use a variety of warm gray Copics, pencils, and paint to get my current inkwash style. For outlines and precise shading I use the pencils. The white materials are used for highlights and corrections. Keep corrections to a minimum. If you have extensive mistakes reprint your pencils and start over again.

Here's some advice on tools I used to use.

Quick tip on refillable tech pens: shaking them is an awful way to get the ink flowing again. I know, that's what the manufacturer recommends. Instead, dab the point against a moist paper towel.

Winsor & Newton have started shipping their brushes individually sealed in airtight tubes. Since they've started doing this I've never gotten a truly bad brush, but quality varies a little.

To clean them, pony up for a plastic canister of Masters Brush Cleaner. I add some water to give it a gel consistency. Don't mash the brush into the soap! Scrape up a dab and knead it into the hairs, working from base to tip. Rinse and repeat until cleaned. Gently swab the brush against the soap to leave a conditioning layer to protect the hairs. Allow the brush to dry tip down, ideally on a spiral coil brush rack.

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How do you get into comics?

I got into the industry in the early 90’s, when Marvel and DC were looking for warm bodies to staff the books. It’s a lot harder now.

At most comic conventions, there are no editors from the big companies. The artists will usually give you good advice if you have sample pages, but they don’t do any hiring. Smaller companies might be there, and they often ‘hire’. However, don’t expect to receive much in pay ($15/page isn’t unusual). A lot of things can go wrong with small publishers, so be prepared. They're really paying you with nicely printed samples, not that page rate. Yes, this sucks.

The best way to get into comics is to make a webcomic or print your own. Hopefully you want to do your own comic for it’s own sake. Even if you want to work for a big company, doing your own comic first proves you have the chutzpah and talent to get a comic done. They make great samples for a portfolio. Don Simpson had a great quote on the subject, “Now that my comics are on the Internet, I’m losing less money than ever making comics!” And Don is a comic book genius.

Ideally, you’ll want to have some good drawing tools (NO felt tip pens!) and a good computer. Advice on self-publishing can be found on the net (Dave Sim is the patron saint of self-published comics). Expect to blow a thousand or two doing this. I really hope you’re not expecting to get rich in comics.

The second best way is to become a comics journalist. Interview an editor in a bar and keep buying him/her drinks. Then threaten to send the pictures from the hotel room to his/her spouse and the police.

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What comics do you read?

Of course, anything by Alan Moore. Anything by Kyle Baker. Or Zander Cannon. And anything written by Bill Willingham. Fables is incredible and Jack of Fables looks like a winner too.

Just about anything Top Shelf puts out nowadays is wonderful. They put out the latest Alan Moore/Melinda Gebbie opus, Lost Girls. It is not, to put it mildly, for the easily shocked or their kids. (Pssst - It's got sex!) And they've put Alan's best work ever, From Hell, back into print. I can't tell you exactly how it differs from the movie because I've never bothered watching it. The book is a work of genius; I've never heard this said about the movie.

Top Shelf has lots of other wonderful stuff, much of it kid friendly. Blankets is one of the best comics I've ever read. Here's a preview. And I'm seriously studying the work of Derek Kirk Kim in Same Difference and Other Stories. I love his elegant line.

I think the greatest “sequential artist” to show up since I’ve been reading is Bill Watterson. I really miss his stuff. By the end of Calvin and Hobbes’ run, it had become an ideal mix of story, drawing, color, and design. Just amazing. He never tired of experimenting. He even ‘invented’ the Sin City style before Mr. Miller did.

Little rant: IMHO, what the comics industry needs now are comics that you can throw at any of your friends (comic geek or not) which they’ll enjoy. My new favorite in this category is the Scott Pilgrim series. It's positively brilliant!

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The Life of Gene

I figure if you're reading this bio, you're either interested in how I got a job in comics or how to keep your kids from becoming comic book artists. Good luck either way. Anyhow, I'll try to explain how I ended up working twelve hours a day sitting alone in a small room.

I was born in Chicago, but raised in South Bend, Indiana. The home of Notre Dame University. My parents were well-educated Korean immigrants who hoped their three sons would get prestigious degrees and move on to prestigious jobs. Didn't happen...

I was the most introverted of the three Ha brothers. Being both a geek and a first generation Korean-American made me seek out escapist fantasy, especially comic books. While my brothers were both more artistically talented than me, neither of them had the patience to sit for hours on end working on one drawing. Or maybe they just had better things to do. I was the only brother not to play high school football.

I think there are a lot of parallels between my generation of Asian-American comic book artists and the generation of Jewish artists and writers who created superheroes in the 1930's. Mystery men with super powers, secret identities, and absurdly Anglo names seemed to have attracted both generations. We were all the children of immigrants struggling to fit into America, and the fantasies of 1930's Jewish geeks still held appeal to 1980's Korean geeks.

All of the typical comics names from the 80's were influences on me: Byrne, Miller, Sienkiewicz, Simonson, Moore, etc. But the most important was Matt Wagner. Mage is still a magical series to me, and the stubborn Kevin Matchstick and Sean the ghost are personal archetypes to this day. My dream is to make a series that will be as powerful to you (and myself) as that book was to me.

Art appealed to me, not in and of itself, but as a way of creating comic books. South Bend public schools offered few classes in realistic drawing, so I took few elective classes in art. I mostly drew in other classes and after school. I was quite good at taking notes, then caricaturing the teachers before they moved on to a new idea.

My high school's newspaper, the Clay Colonial, was where I really began to understand the graphic arts. I won the Most Valuable Staffer award, an unusual honor for the staff artist. I don't know where my high school and college degrees are, but I know where that plaque is.

The most important thing one must do before learning is figure out what you don't know. When it came time to go to college, I had no proper portfolio and couldn't get into any self respecting school. Which is how I ended up at the Center for Creative Studies (now the "College for Creative Studies"). In my first two years, I learned how little I knew. The last two years I tried to learn it. Art school can be incredibly useful, but the degree itself is meaningless. My art was still a mess when I graduated. I've met kids stuck on farms their whole lives who can draw better than I did then, and I've met art school grads whom I wouldn't want working on the Clay Colonial. In Minneapolis I shared a studio with two artists who held day jobs and hadn't been to art school. They were incredibly dedicated and were better artists than I was when I graduated.

In my last semester at CCS, I sent out drawing samples to Marvel, and a week later to DC as an afterthought. Marvel sent an unintentionally vicious letter criticizing my perspective, anatomy, and technique, everything except my storytelling. In retrospect, they were mostly right about everything but the storytelling. Still, they were needlessly harsh.

DC was interested. They sent me a sample script, liked the results, and I've had regular gigs ever since.

Recently, I moved back to the Chicagoland area with my wife, Lisa. She fills me with joy, and keeps me from going crazy. Feel free to write a note and let me know how you’re doing.

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