John Lucas can provide plenty of detail on the collaborative work that goes into comic books and graphic novels, mainly because he’s done most of those jobs.
In some three decades as a graphic artist, the 1986 Robinson High School graduate has worked as a penciler, an inker, a colorist and an illustrator. “Cartooning is like a garage band: You play a lot of crappy gigs for no money, hoping you get discovered,” he said wryly.
It’s the last position, illustrator, that brings the 51-year-old artist from Fayetteville, Arkansas, where he and his wife Mindy live, to Waco on Saturday. Lucas is the illustrator forInsight Comics’ graphic novel “Before Houdini,” written by Jeremy Holt.
“Before Houdini,” which was released Wednesday, is a sequel to “After Houdini,” which imagined Josef Houdini, the (fictional) son of escape artist Harry Houdini, called to rescue his father from a World War I-era spy mission. “Before Houdini” finds a young Ehrich Weiss (Houdini’s real name) being recruited by British intelligence as part of a secret squad to hunt down Jack the Ripper.
The two Houdini books are set in a historical period, which made the projects even more enjoyable for Lucas. There were characters based on real persons, allowing some research, and they wore suits and ties, dress that was the predominant fashion for some of Lucas’ favorite and influential cartoonists, like “The Spirit’s” Will Eisner.
“I like drawing people in suits and ties,” he said. “I love old movies and stuff like Turner Classic Movies.”
Lucas will sign copies of the books and other items on Saturday at Bankston’s Sports Memorabilia, Comics & Collectibles.
The Waco appearance follows an earlier one in Austin and both offer the chance for him to visit his mother and sisters in the area in a year when he’s not attending the Bell County Comic Con.
Born in Austin, Lucas moved with his family to Waco in 1979, following his father who worked in radio in Central Texas. His middle school and high school years brought him in contact with the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, which set the path on which he’d follow for a career. The distinctive, wise-cracking style of the Turtles was one thing, but the place that produced them was another.
“It was like a punk rock moment for a lot of creatives,” he recalled. “There were some independent comics (before TMNT), but they were few and far between. In Waco, Texas, that seemed so far away — it was before the internet, after all . . . But TMNT was showing creators we don’t need to go to New York. We can do it ourselves and make our own thing.”
Instead of New York, Lucas found himself working locally with some others in Fort Worth and Austin on the comic “Shotloose.” That led to more work in Austin, where he moved after graduation, and places like Adhesive Comics, where “Too Much Coffee Man’s” Shannon Wheeler works.
That started a career that found Lucas drawing and coloring his way up the ladder, one that led to Caliber Comics, DC Vertigo and finally DC Comics. Among some of the better known projects he’s worked with are Deadpool and, before its recent demise, Mad Magazine.
That climb up the ladder, he admitted, came largely because of the people he met and worked with along the way.
In a world where many contemporary artists and cartoonists work digitally, he’s somewhat old-school, drawing by hand on paper and tablet. “I’m a dinosaur,” he confessed.
Lucas will bring copies of “Before Houdini” and “After Houdini” to sign as well as original artwork, although not anything from the book he’s presently writing. “There will be all types of garbage I’ll be trying to foist on the public,” he laughed.