Comic artist Ken Knudtsen talks illustrating for Wolverine, the art of storyboarding, and so much more!
Ken Knudtsen is a recently relocated NY writer, storyboard artist, and comic illustrator. He is the creator of the comic My Monkey's Name is Jennifer (SLG Publishing), and has also has illustrated for Marvel's Wolverine (My Mutant Heart) and Wolverine by Daniel Way: The Complete Collection Volume 1. Ken has also worked on animation for projects developed by Comedy Central, Robert Reich, and PBS.
1. First off, the question I ask everyone: How did you become a professional artist? What inspired you to become one?
I've been drawing since I can remember.
Thankfully for me, at a movie theatre job that I had in high school, one of the other employees said "hey, these are pretty good. Have you looked at going to SVA?" The School of Visual Arts in NYC is a 4 year art college, and had comic artist pros Klaus Janson, Walt Simonson, and Joe Orlando teaching classes. So I was pretty psyched when I was accepted, and I have been pushing myself since.
2. You seem to be involved in a whole bunch of different things- from writing, to illustrating, to creating your own series! What is the full scope of your work? And what projects are you working on now?
A major shift in the last generation of artists is that you pretty much have to be adaptable to more aspects of being a professional artist than before. And this is something that is certainly accelerating even more for younger artists. The more I show everything I can do, the more valuable I become when editors are considering portfolios for jobs. While picking up shorter jobs (storyboards, commissions), I am working on a new comic written by Scott Bryan Wilson (https://twitter.com/scottbrwilson). Like I said before, I'm pushing myself on this project in that I will be using a mix of watercolors and oil bars to color the pages.
3. You’ve also done illustration for Wolverine! How did you land such an awesome gig? And what was your experience like working on such a legendary comic?
It was great working on one of the most recognizable characters of modern fiction (that sounds weird just typing that). I'm fortunate that the editorial team and the writer were JENNIFER fans, and were excited to see what I would do.
4. Were you a big Marvel fan growing up? What are some of your favourite series’?
My favorite superhero team is still West Coast Avengers, led by my favorite Avenger, Hawkeye! Art by Ken Knudtsen
5. You’ve also got your own graphic novel: My Monkey’s Name is Jennifer! Can you tell us a bit about that? Where did you get the inspiration for this hilarious and wacky story? And where can we get a copy?
I was heading out to San Diego Comic Con for the first time, and I had a portfolio that was essentially the first 22pgs. The first 3 editors that I showed this to all said, "I feel like I've seen this before". And all I could think was "Fuck, I have a comic about a little girl and a crazy monkey AND SOMEONE ELSE DOES TOO?" But it turns out that Peter David (who I had handed a packet of the pages to a month before at a NY con) ran a review of my comic in his Comic Buyer's Guide column. And David really helped people take a look at my pages with his column saying that he hoped this comic would get published so that everyone can see it.
While JENNIFER is currently out of print, I am looking to set up a Kickstarter next year to reprint it.
Art by Ken Knudtsen
6. Your art is very stylized! Was there anything in particular that inspired this style?
I love drawing from life. My favorite class at SVA was taught by John Ruggeri (https://www.instagram.com/jrugger1949/), and we would go to different spots in NYC and draw what was going on around us. Creating life into drawings through shapes (thank you Ruggeri and Jack Potter!) really clicked with me. And I am super responsive to highly stylized work ranging from Mike Mignola to Bob Peak to Jerry Ma (https://www.instagram.com/epicprops/) .
7. I notice a range of different mediums used in your art: from traditional markers, to digital art, to painting- do you use all of these in your work?
John Ruggeri's studio class at SVA had us using a variety of mediums (oil bars, collage, color pencils), many times for the first time. I like to try different and new things during life drawing and then bring that to my comics work.
Art by Ken Knudtsen
8. You’ve also worked on animation for Comedy Central, Robert Reich, and PBS- can you tell us a bit about these projects?
I was fortunate to work with Brian Oakes (http://brianoakes.com) as his studio was being hired for animation sequences that Oakes was pitching as a very stylized super hero comic look. I learned A LOT on these projects, and everyone at Oakes was great to work with.
9. Do you have any techniques to relax/destress from drawing?
Drawing is actually how I destress from life. Which was very important to do this year.
10. You’re also a storyboard artist! For those out there who don’t know, what does a storyboard artist do?
A storyboard artist is the step in film in between writing the script and filming the scene. Working from the script (and sometimes the director and producers), the storyboard artist will draw what they see as the scene by visually answering important questions (Is it a close up? How many characters are in frame? Whose point of view is being seen?). This ranges from a quick sketch all the way to finished illustration. Depending upon the project, I get to have fun with lighting and color in the frames.
I have done storyboards for film, TV, commercials, and instructional guides.
11. What is the storyboarding process like? What elements make a successful story?
Like with a comic book script, I like to read through the project script all the way through. That way I know if something important on the last page (the main character has an important ring on their left ring finger), I know to draw that for the entire time. Depending on time deadlines, I draw sketches to be submitted for approval. After taking in feedback, I can then draw a more fully realized drawing. Like any kind of storytelling work, my most successful jobs result from making deliberate choices (character design, dramatic lighting and framing) that make me excited to see what happens next.
12. What are your favourite kinds of stories to tell?
My favorite stories to tell are the ones that have some humor in them. Think of your favorite dark and serious movie. There is always at least one scene of humor that gets you to relax just as the worst thing in the world is about to happen which shocks and impacts you even more.
13. What kinds of stories would you like to see more of in the future?
I'm excited to see more stories from people that have been previously not allowed to tell them, and in any form that they want to try.
Art by Ken Knudtsen
14. Do you have a favourite project you’ve worked on so far?
For me, My Monkey's Name is Jennifer will always be my favorite. I was excited when I wasn't terrified at the thought that I got to decide everything about the book. And then people that didn't already know me loved it. I have been very fortunate to have made so many friends all over the world from this book.
15. Would you like to create another comic series in the future?
Freelancing means that I should always be looking for what the next project, big or small, might be. I'm talking with some people, so let's see what happens next.
16. Can people commission your work? Where can they buy your merch?
I have a nifty online store here https://kenknudtsen.bigcartel.com/ with original art, prints, and commission slots all up for sale.
17. Any final advice for aspiring comic book artists (or artists of any kind)?
Reading and watching all kinds of different things will make you both a better artist and person. It's important to be around other artists, the more varied the better. You'll never know when something a sculpter says could click in your head as a new approach to visualizing solving what is in your head.
When people ask for advice for another artist getting started or feeling down on themselves, my response is "you have to be an artist if you can't not do it". A lot of times it sucks. It's hard. You're often broke and barely balancing on the edge. Time with friends or family gets pushed off because that is the only time you'll have to be creative. It gets so tough as your normal not art friends get older and do normal adult things (get married, have an awful kid, buy a house that'll put you in debt for 400 years). Don't be afraid to take a hard and honest look at what your life situation is. I was super fortunate that I jumped at a chance to bolt from living the retail job Long Island life four years ago to be surrounded by super awesome and supportive artists in Charlotte.
Follow Ken Knudtsen on instagram at: https://www.instagram.com/kenknudtsen/?hl=en
Visit Ken Knudtsen's website at: https://www.kenknudtsen.com/