The long and varied comic book career of Louis Small Jr. goes as far back as the early 90’s. He helped put Harris Comics on the map as the original artist for Vampirella. His pencil worked a unique blend of sexiness and horror while he quietly built a worldwide fanbase. He has social media pages dedicated to him and he never hesitates to book a table at a comic convention if he can make it. His illustration portfolio includes Supergirl, Ka-Zar, Dark Dominion, and over two decades worth of others. With gig experience all over nerdom, from DC Comics to his own independent projects, Small is one of many personable and talented workhorses that power the industry, yet cruise below the lion’s share of radars. So personable, in fact, that he obliged our request for an interview. This is what he had to say.
It was a long and drawn out process. He was in the middle of a move, feverishly trying to tie up loose ends of personal business and activate the wifi at his new place. We’d talk on the phone, I’d email him some questions, he’d answer them at cafes and libraries, we’d talk some more to tweak the answers. Having begun my entertainment industry career in print, it dawned on me that this would be my first actual interview. Let’s see how it worked out.
At what age did you realize you had a gift for drawing?
I realized I had a Gift for Drawing in Elementary School where I was pretty successful in selling my superhero sketches to my classmates.
That’s pretty young. Who were your favorite comic book heroes growing up?
My favorite comic heroes were, Batman, Superman, Captain America, Black Panther, and so many other characters from Marvel, DC Comics, Harvey Comics, and several other companies.
Did you watch Anime when you were a kid? Which shows did you like?
I used to watch 8th Man, Kimba the White Lion, Gigantor, and the usual anime shows from back in the day. I didn’t consider any of them “anime” but eventually, I realized they weren’t american toons. I still love them all.
As you got older, how did you cultivate your own art style? Did you pattern yourself after anyone?
I learned how to draw from copying Neal Adams’ and John Buscema‘s work in Marvel and DC Comics over the years. Luckily, since I couldn’t afford college after I left the military, the knowledge I had from trying to copy their work helped me hit the ground running at the many comic companies I eventually worked for.
Did your parents help by nurturing your talent in any way?
My family in general was always very supportive of me…I drew on their walls and any random pieces of cardboard, or notebook paper. My father so believed in my skills that he never thought I’d need a college education to succeed in life.
Do you do anything else besides penciling? Colors? Inking? Writing?
I started out as just a penciler at Harris Publications, but over the years (thanks to going to dozens of Comicons) I had to learn how to ink, and eventually color the commissions I did for fans. I’ve never tried writing anything. I was never much interested in penning my own stories till about 2007 when I was about to collaborate with my brother who used to work at Disney and Nickleodeon.
How did you go about pursuing a career in comic book art?
A year before I got the Job (at Harris), I was still trying to figure out what I actually wanted to do for a “living”, as I had just gotten out of the Military shortly after Desert Calm. It was a dream come true, when I was asked to draw Vampirella for Harris Comics – a dream I never consciously had.
Describe your Harris Comics experience.
I mostly loved working at Harris, since I got to work with Dave Bogart, and some of their other staff members. Running into Rob Stull, Mark Morales, Tex, Caesar, and Buzz was the icing on the cake. Plus, I only lived a few blocks away during some of my time on the book.
Why did you leave Harris Comics?
One weekend after a Comic Con, I got a call from Marvel and Continuity. I think Continuity had a gig doing Ms. Mystic, which allowed me to work with Neal Adams. I couldn’t possibly pass up that opportunity.
What gigs came your way after Harris fizzled out?
I picked up some stuff with Marvel and penciled an issue of Ka-Zar. The resident artist at the time needed a break and I stepped in to cover him. I also worked on a few issues of Dark Dominion, some Chaos Effect stuff, and loads of pinups for DC.
Have you ever collaborated with anyone on a project? How was that experience?
I once collaborated with Rob Rodi, but it was all a telephone effort. Axel Alonso and I co-owned a comic book with Vertigo called ‘Codename: Knockout’ and we worked together on that. It was very progressive in that it sported a gay male lead and a biracial heroine. Collaborating with someone can be great because you get to share ideas. And plus, there’s the networking opportunity.
The life of a comic book artist: Pros and Cons?
Wow. Pros – besides fans and money, which I had lots of. But, first let’s do some Cons. 999% of the time out of a thousand, I’m often ignored by black fans. Not sure why, it just turns out that why and I find it curious. And sometimes Comic Cons have a propensity to place black artists in weird places and it’s tough for fans to find us. That’s also a very weird custom that I definitely put in the Con file. Back to the Pros…I love meeting up new and old fans at conventions. And another big thing would be travel. I love being able to hit cons overseas. Also, I love doing on-the-spot commissions.
Some artists use live models while drawing. Do you?
I do, yes. Especially during my time in NYC. It makes things easier for me because I never took a life drawing class. So, depending on the project, I’d use models. If I was doing something for Wonder Woman, I’d pick a model who closely resembled that physique.
Ever “cheat” by using models in magazines?
No, I don’t ever copy a model’s form verbatim. When I started with ‘Vampirella,’ I’d take an arm here, a leg there, from different female poses in mags.
Describe your approach to starting a day’s work. How do you hype yourself up for a page?
I’ve never had to. It’s just one of those things where once I read the script, I’d be amped to get it all down. Once I get the gist of the story, I’m immediately into it and I’ll go right to drawing. I’d lose sleep at night thinking about it and all I’d want to do is get the work down. It’s easy for me to get started.
Give us as clear a picture as possible of your present individual projects?
I’m collaborating with some friends on a children’s book. That’s Eric Mccray and Mike Wilson. They’re both doing the writing and Mike’s handing the pencils. I’m in charge of covers and pinups. It’s sort of a pirate comic book and it’s called ‘Cap’n Mojo,’ so be on the lookout for it. But most of my outside stuff involves painting, which I’ve gained an appreciation for lately.
And we appreciate you spending some time with us here at Nerd Bastards. We’ll definitely be on the lookout for ‘Cap’n Mojo’ and we wish you all the best in your upcoming projects.