Comic book artist leaves his mark on Calera

Published 3:08 pm Wednesday, June 5, 2024

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CALERA – Growing up, comic book artist Geoffrey Gwin spent his Saturday mornings glued to the television absolutely infatuated with cartoons. He watched “Jonny Quest”, “The Herculoids” and all the classic Hanna-Barbera cartoons.

“I just had an eye for animation,” Gwin said. “I just loved the visual aesthetic that it created. From those earliest days, I just remember scribbling and trying to imitate what I saw.”

After years of scribbling, Gwin is now a freelance artist with a vast portfolio of projects such as comic book illustration, storyboarding for commercials and a massive mural in downtown Calera. Gwin has even drawn for Marvel Comics through a trading card company called Upper Deck.

From watching Saturday morning cartoons to becoming a professional artist, Gwin shared that his journey started with 100 bad drawings. Of those 100, maybe one of them was good, so he would draw 100 more. He started drawing constantly.

“I would definitely say I met quite a bit of pushback to a degree because I was drawing in class a lot of times,” Gwin said. “Someone told me that you must love it if you are willing to get in trouble for it.”

Despite his passion for drawing as a kid, Gwin never imagined that he could make a genuine career from his art. He cites that he had no one in his life that could tell him how to pursue art professionally.

“It was the trial and error to keep pushing through because nobody around me really saw the same things that I did,” Gwin said. “I had to stay the course and keep working on it, keep getting better and keep getting better.”

As an artist, Gwin is mostly self-taught. Although he took a few art classes in college and completed an online course with The Kubert School, Gwin said that he learned from those classes, but the most valuable lessons came from self-discovery.

His first freelance gigs mostly consisted of small jobs for independent comic book companies. Friends would also ask for his help here and there. Eventually, these gigs developed into a full freelance career.

“It’s an ongoing process of trying to let people know what you do, how you do it and to develop (your skill) and I guess get better,” Gwin said. “That’s the beauty of being a freelance artist. Your services are always available for individuals to jump on.”

Gwin shared that the life of a freelance artist can vary wildly. Some days he has a stack of assignments and is drawing non-stop, while other days can be slow and quiet. The nature of freelance work is inconsistency.

“I think that the unpredictability really is exciting to some people,” Gwin said. “Now, not entirely to me because I also have another job that’s kind of industrial as well. Inconsistency does tend to have you ready to pull your hair out a little bit.”

In addition to the unpredictability, Gwin noted that the inconsistent schedule is exacerbated by the flow of the creative process.

“You’re talking erratic sleep schedules,” Gwin said. “I can attest that artists have that creative brain—it doesn’t shut off sometimes. It can have you up at two and three in the morning drawing sometimes because you can’t sleep on the idea that just hit your head.”

Despite the inconsistency and the lack of sleep, Gwin wouldn’t change it for the world.

“For the most part, it’s still awesome,” Gwin said. “I love it. It’s what I love, truly love.”

Over the course of his career, Gwin has had the opportunity to draw some of his favorite characters from Captain America to Spiderman through a trading card company, Upper Deck.

When Upper Deck sells boxes of trading cards, they will occasionally include small pieces of original art, called sketch cards, made by artists like Gwin. Each sketch card is hand drawn by the artist, sent to Upper Deck and then sent to Marvel Comics for final approval.

“The Marvel editors say yay or nay on the cards,” Gwin said. “That is the grading process. I don’t work directly with Marvel, but the cards have to be passed and approved through a member of the Marvel administration or whatnot.”

For Gwin, it is incredibly rewarding to create these small pieces of art of his favorite characters that are then delivered to fans around the world.

“Knowing that something (you create) is fixing to be in somebody’s hand that they can hold for the rest of their lives, that’s kind of the beauty for any artist,” Gwin said. “Whatever I’ve drawn is going to last way after I’m gone.”

Traditional comic book art featuring superheroes and villains is just one aspect of Gwin’s professional career. His portfolio boasts a true multimedia line-up with a range of work spanning concept design to storyboarding for commercials.

A storyboard is a series of drawings that display how a scene will appear on screen. Storyboarding is an essential part of planning movies, animated films and commercials like the ones that Gwin made for Subway.

“Mind you, the storyboard artist does not get the kudos,” Gwin said. “He sits and he designs how the commercial is supposed to move, what it is supposed to say and incorporate.”

Live action commercials are very different from comic book sketch cards, but Gwin shared that the fundamentals of art transcend mediums.

“You won’t believe it, but so many (mediums) have elements that are similar to each other,” Gwin said. “The storyboarding process is very similar to comic book making, so it was very easy to take those elements and put them into storyboarding. It’s very easy to do graphic design work or logo design work because you have knowledge of how comic book covers and logos work. A lot of elements automatically just transfer.”

One of the most ambitious projects that Gwin has completed to date is a large mural in downtown Calera. Commissioned by Calera Main Street, the murals spans an exterior wall of a building near the Calera Courtyard and depicts Calera High School students engaged in multiple different sports, watched over by a fierce Calera eagle.

When he was first approached by Calera Main Street about the mural, Gwin was excited.

“They wanted something to inject a little bit of life into the area because there’s a lot of stuff that’s about to be happening around here,” Gwin said. “I’m excited because this is the biggest canvas that I’ve ever seen in my life.”

Gwin shared that he had a few health issues during the process of painting the mural, so it took longer than expected. He is incredibly grateful to the Calera Main Street team for giving him the opportunity to leave his mark on Calera.

“They trusted me and they really wanted me (to paint the mural),” Gwin said. “It was an honor and a pleasure and a privilege. I still walk over there every now and then from time to time to look at it. I’m still very thankful to them for allowing me to do something like that.”

When asked about where his career might take him next, Gwin said that he has no idea, but he is excited for the future nonetheless.

“I don’t know what is going to happen on the horizon or whatnot, but you stay optimistic,” Gwin said. “You know that the future is bright and you know that you already have a pretty decent body of work to speak of. I hope and wish for the best and I’m very optimistic that the best will come.”