Wednesday, October 6, 2010

INTERVIEW: Stealing Some Time With Artist Cindy Ramey

Cindy Ramey has been drawing, making comics, taking commissions for as long as I can remember. Humble, soft-spoken and one of the hardest working artist I've had the pleasure to know, Ramey keeps her feet set and her eyes ahead, always working on that next project. Even more amazingly, she juggles this talent and the output that talent creates with a family and a full-time job that has little or nothing to do with her true passion. And through it all, there's always a smile, a kind word, a moment given to a fellow artist or writer to listen, truly listen. Ramey is that rarest of artists, maybe. The single talent in the room that can only be overhead praising the work of others and never her own. It was time to give her the chance to reflect on her own work. I'm so thankful she agreed to talk with me here.

Sheldon Lee Compton: We've talked a lot over the years about art and writing and that lovechild of all creative efforts – storytelling. But let's start with what it is that brings you to the work every day, day in and day out. Where does the need to create come from for you?

Cindy Ramey: What brings me to do this art day in and out is my need and want to tell a story about the characters that I have created inside my head. It's me wanting to be creative and share that creativity in comic/graphic novel form. Because telling stories with pictures is just what I love.

SLC: I know that you work a full-time job and have a family and do most of your work late at night once things have settled. It's a familiar system for many of us and it is love that keeps us going on all fronts, I couldn't agree more. So, tell us about what you're working on presently during those stolen hours.

CR: Yes, after the kiddo is put in bed, the night hours are when I work. Currently these last couple of months have been spent drawing up paid commissions for folks in order to purchase some new drawing tools. During this time, I have also been collaborating a new story with an artist from Louisville. So far characters have been developed, as well as the setting and the plot. The script is currently being written.

SLC: Before I jump too far ahead, let's talk about your two main comic projects, STARFIRE AGENCY and NIGHTSHIFT. These are published independently and portray anthropomorphic characters you've been developing for years. With a background in a broad spectrum of art forms and the degrees to show for it, what brought you to work with comics and with anthro characters in particular?

CR: First lets look at why anthro? Anthropomorphic characters were always something I enjoyed drawing since I was a kid. I enjoyed TMNT (Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles) cartoons and comics, Darkwing Duck and Swatkats. Those three would have to be the main shows that kept me drawing these sort of characters for as long as I have. TMNT having the strongest influence on me as an artist. I at one time wanted to get myself into animation, but once I got into college and had a chance to meet with a person in the animation field, I was sad to learn that cartoons were changing from what I knew. Funny "furry critters" as cartoon characters were being traded out for more loosely drawn "humanoid" characters.

That same day after meeting with the animation fella, I got to talk to Amanda Conner, a comic book artist, who at the time was the penciler for Vampirella. She had positive feedback for me upon seeing the short comic that I had made on computer paper and colored pencils. And so I have to say she caused me to keep up with drawing my comics.

I'll talk about Nightshift first, since it was the first story and plot that I created back in grade school. It has evolved so much over the years and I suppose it is my favorite story since it contains a lot of my loves as I've evolved as well. It's a story about a group of cops that live in a feline world. They have to keep the city from going corrupt under the hands of the Big Claw. Not only is this a cops-and-robbers plot, there's a group of vampires tossed into the mix.

Starfire Agency is a newer storyline that was created in 2005 as like a "Hey, webcomics look like a cool idea." So I made up this handful of college kids that go out on investigations of the paranormal just to see how I could fair with creating weekly pages. Soon, I discovered that Starfire Agency was receiving fans. So I kept the story going these last five years. Like Nightshift, this comic is anthro-based, with a wide variety of animals.

What some people don't realize is I do have stories and character that are non-anthro and sooner or later, once I get the chance, I want to tell those stories as well. There's just not enough time in the day.

SLC: I know you do a lot of work with other artists and often collaborate on several projects while also continuing your own comics and paid commissions. Walk me through one of these collaborations and also maybe talk about how these paid single commissions come about.

CR: Collaborating with other artists to get a final project is something that I've been wanting to do for about a year now. I do love doing my own comics, but at the same time, that can get lonely. Being able to work with another artist helps keep creativity up and ideas fresh. The three artists in the past that I have collaborated with are from other areas, so what we do is use an instant messenger and the internet to plot out our comic scripts. We create characters and mix them into this big plot we've created for them and just roll with the story, most of the time in a "role play" sort of form. The role play is then broken up into panels and pages for the comic.

Job roles between us artists are different. Sometimes I may be the penciler, while another may be the inker or colorer. Being in collabs has its drawbacks as well. Someone you work with or even yourself, may get slowed down with real life and so the project may not go very fast. But if everyone is working smoothly, it's like a machine.

The commissions I do are for individuals out there in the world that want their characters drawn. Commissions are what usually help me buy equipment and art supplies to do my arts with. Commission work also helps me pay for tables and travels for conventions.

SLC: You have an active online presence. Tell me about that and how it compares to your print work.

CR: The nice thing about having webcomics online verses the print is that you can sort of create a sense of community with other people, if that makes any sense. I know which fans like which characters and stories. I feel that I get feedback more often, positive and negative.

SLC: Do you have a routine when working, any certain things that you must have to spur creativity?

CR: I don't really have a routine anymore. Hah! When you have a kid, you draw when you can, which kind of goes back to the drawing at night. I do actually prefer to sit in front of the TV and listen to some sort of sci-fi show or mystery while I draw...though Spongebob or iCarly is usually on the TV screen now a days.

SLC: Here comes the stranded on an island question: If you were stranded on a, well, you know, what three comics or books or paintings, etc. would you like to have with you?

CR: If I were stranded on an island...I would hope to be marooned with a few boxes of bic mechanical pencils and a case of cardstock paper that miracleously did not get wet. So then I can create my own art and stories to help pass the time away and keep me busy.

SLC: Scenario: You have made it. Your work has been awarded and praised and has now found its place among the greats. What now?

CR: Easy...keep creating more stories, cause that's what I love.

SLC: How important is it that people close to you support your work?

CR: Its very important that my hubby and daughter support me. My hubby may not always understand what the heck I'm rambling on about half the time, but he's wonderful in helping out with proofreading, helping out with convention stuff. He supports me in my art, never once thinking it was just a waste of time for me. My daughter is supportive too, only being four, she understands just to give me a bit of time to complete art before we bake cookies or play a game together.

SLC: What's next for Cindy Ramey?

CR: Well, tonight? Once I'm home from work I'll be completing a freelance job and a commission. And starting in November, I will be hitting a new story Nox Prophecy that a good friend of mine and I are working on. It's a bit different from my other stories in that the main characters are humans and not anthropomorphic. So it will be a challenge and a good change.

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