1. Tell us about yourself and how you got into sequential art and drawing.

I’ve been artistic since I was a toddler, and was lucky enough to have parents and teachers who nurtured and supported that ability. Once upon a time, I’d hoped to work for Disney as an animator, but—obviously—the scale of an animated movie requires the efforts of hundreds if not thousands of people, and I realized at about age 15 that sequential storytelling allowed me to reach more or less the same goal by myself (with total creative control).
By far the hardest part was recognizing and acknowledging that it’s really a dual skill-set: writing and art. If you don’t want to work with a partner, then you need to be professionally competent in both. I’ve been writing books (terrible, terrible books mostly) since I was 11. But trying to be both artist and writer means competing in both areas against people who can commit to each full-time. In short: I often feel as if I’m failing in one direction or another. I’ve also had a few occasions where I’ve received rejection letters on both fronts within a day or so of each other, and then you’ve got to just laugh or else you might cry!

2. What would you want other Offbeaters to know about you?

I feel a sales pitch coming on! No, to give a serious answer, I’d say that I became a mom 4 years ago and had a lot of trepidation about whether or not I could still devote the time needed to pursue my career goals while being a parent. As it turns out, I wrote, penciled, inked, colored and found a publisher for my first graphic novel while my infant daughter slept on my chest. If you want something bad enough, you can make it happen; that’s what I would want just about any creative person to know. And sometimes the things that test us the most end up refining us into better versions of ourselves.

3. What was your inspiration for “The Cave Painters”?

I had read an article in National Geographic about recent scientific studies of the hand prints commonly found in cave art that indicated up to 75% of the artists were women. It blew my mind. Having been raised on a steady diet of cheesy reenactments and history books that all pretty much assumed men were responsible for cave art and any other achievement worthy of note, I felt this sudden, intense burst of inspiration at the idea of my artistic fore-mothers pioneering the very same thing I do today: telling a story with pictures.

4. Why did you choose to have no characters in “The Cave Painters” speak?

In short, I was worried it would come across as forced—there’s two ways to go with archaic dialog: either make them sound like stereotypical ‘cavemen’ or give them modern English. Neither of those appealed. Since we simply don’t know what—if any—language prehistoric peoples might have spoken, rather than make an ugly choice I decided the more elegant approach was to go completely non-verbal.
The one downside of this being that words and thought-bubbles do help break up the “reading” experience and slow the reader down. It’s quite possible as the story stands now to breeze through it without pausing once to ask yourself what’s being communicated. So, as an experiment in visual storytelling it produced mixed results to my mind.

5. What did you use to create “The Cave Painters” and how did the more technical side of the process go for you?

Ah, it was wonderful! During this time, I was switching from my old method of doing pencils and inks in traditional media to scanning pencils into the computer and inking digitally. The line-work is infinitely cleaner, and having it available on its own layer allows for all kinds of new possibilities when adding color. I was experimenting with new software (I typically use Photoshop, but this particular program was designed to support a more painterly experience) and I used reference photographs of the actual cave art while I was painting the backgrounds. I learned so many new methods and techniques doing these eight pages that I still apply in my work today; it was marvelously satisfying. This is precisely the reason why I sometimes do these short stories, they give me the freedom to experiment in ways I wouldn’t dare while doing client-work or full-length graphic novels.

6. Do you have any advice for future submitters/artists wanting to get published?

I actually mentor two younger artists, and I still find it difficult to boil all that advice down to a pithy paragraph. I would say that it’s a very tough industry. I worked as an artist for ten years before I started pulling down reliable clients and projects. I would say that it’s unlikely you’ll ever make a living wage at it, I’m lucky but I still spread myself out over a lot of different fields (I do graphic design work, t-shirt graphics, logos, brochures, flyers, you name it!) I’ve been exploited on more than one occasion by a publisher or a client who broke contract and failed to pay for a finished project. I have worked “for exposure” and I hated myself for it, but it did open doors later. And the taxes you pay as an independent contractor are the worst. But if you’re anything like I was when I started, you’ve read all that and thought, “Things will be different for me. I’m so talented that everything will fall into place.” So I guess I’d say that you have to keep the faith in yourself even when the pursuit of your dreams feels like crawling belly-down over broken glass. It probably will. I’ve heard of authors papering the walls of their office with rejection letters; I don’t do that. I put up every published book I’ve ever worked on, every acceptance letter, every award or recognition I’ve ever received. Some days you need a reminder that you aren’t a failure. Don’t be afraid to reach out to other artists that you like and admire, we’ve all been there, and we are often the best support you can find. Oh, and always be kind. You never know who you’re talking to.

7. What are your future creative plans?

I’m currently working two major contracts and negotiating a third—one is a children’s book, one is a comic book about a Taiwanese fairy tale, and the third I don’t quite dare discuss in case I jinx it! I’ve also got another full-length graphic novel I’m solo-producing; it’s a YA fantasy about giant winged cats called Wildskies. I’m very much enjoying the lighter fare after the two and a half years I put in working on my last book, Witchfire. (It was historical fiction based on the trial records of a woman executed for witchcraft in the Scottish Highlands ca. 1620.) And I’ll be doing more conventions, though I doubt if I’ll leave the west coast—I get crippling mom-guilt if I’m gone too much!

On a final note, I’d like to thank The Offbeat and its readers for the chance to share my work. There are so many things out there competing for our time and attention—books, movies, games, you name it—that I am always infinitely flattered when a stranger takes even a moment of their valuable time to look at my art.

An Offbeat Interview With: The Cave Painters artist, Melissa Hudson

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