Some folks in the comics world get by on style or humor, or tricks and processes. And that's totally cool. Tom Herpich
's gimmick is that he has trained his brain how to understand and render amazing things that he clearly is able to view in his mind from every angle.
People shuffle in and out of art schools, sometimes going onto careers in making pretty things with pens and pencils, but I've met few who can look at or imagine a thing and draw it so efficiently and with such understanding of what it is as Tom. When he draws, you get to see what it's like when a human brain is firing all its synapses at once, like a row of cannons pounding away at mental barriers. I am in awe of this man, his drawing, writing, and sense of humor.
Vice: You have a twin. What's it like having a guy who looks like you wandering around and having people confuse you two?
It wasn't a big deal growing up, and it's not a big deal now that we live 2,000 miles apart. But when we were both living in New York about 10 blocks away from each other, with our own separate spheres of friends, there was pretty consistent confusion going on. I remember once having to show someone my drivers license to prove that I wasn't Pete, and they still didn't believe me. Once, a friend of mine who didn't know I had a twin brother ran into the two of us while he was on mushrooms. A really bad trip ensued, I'm told. There are lots of little stories like that and a bunch of people who thought I was a jerk because they waved at "me" and got ignored. I think my brother was slightly less patient about this kind of stuff.
You have a twin brother who draws and so does Tomer Hanuka AND he shares your initials.
Yeah, there's a real deep kinship between the two of us. We're very much cut from the same cloth, though he's got wiser, saner parts I think. I'm really grateful to know him.
Where'd you grow up and how did you discover comic books and drawings?
I grew up in Torrington, CT. Not much to say about that place except that I think Al Columbia lived there for a little while. I used to flip through the comics as a kid when I was buying basketball cards at the comic shop with my brother, and they seemed really interesting. I liked the IDEA of Wolverine and Batman and whoever, but it was all too insular--they're all on issue #5,000 and you don't have any clue what's going on. The first comic I really got into, the one that burst open the floodgates, was called Gen 13
. It was new, so I wasn't totally lost, and it was mostly just really well drawn cheesecake, which I was pretty receptive to at the time. I think the next milestone was stumbling onto Acme Novelty Library #1
and having my mind blown, and then getting into the rest of the 90s Fantagraphics stuff.
I was also really into Gen 13. Everything about that comic seemed really glossy and futuristic.
Yeah, it had all the right ingredients. The first issue I picked up, I vividly remember the team's boat capsizes, and the heroine wakes up alone on a beach with no pants on. I could barely believe such a sexy thing existed, and that I could buy it for $2.50. I think that was technically the beginning of my love for comics books.
Right after you left school you released two of my favorite comics, Cusp and Gongwanadon. Tell me about those things and the significance of the titles.
Thanks, I've been working on a third book for a while now. Most of Cusp
was made to fulfill assignments at school in my senior year. I needed to produce a page or two of something each week, and that's what I came up with. I wasn't initially intending to collect any of it, and I never expected more than a couple dozen people to see it, so it was a pretty innocent way to put a book together. Gongwanadon
was the opposite. I'd published Cusp
and it was really well received and it felt great and I wanted to do it again. So I set up a deadline with my publisher, I think it was eight months. The pressure to top myself made the whole thing pretty agonizing. I don't know if it's qualitatively any worse than Cusp
, but I still kinda wince when I flip through it, cause I had such a miserable time putting a lot of it together. I basically vowed to never let that happen again, which is why it's been about six years since Gongwanadon
came out and I still don't have another book.
As for the titles, "Cusp" refers to teetering between childhood and adulthood, unable to take the plunge--that sense of sort of squirming stasis. The title "Gongwanadon" was a reference to the most epic, longest running narrative that my brother and I worked on when we were kids--a gory space opera thing about a war-torn alien planet. "Gongwanadon" was the name of a side character from really early on in the story, who was only a background character in one or two drawings, but somehow it just seemed right as the title. I think the book was already printed when I went back and saw that I'd remembered it wrong and that the character's name was actually "Gonfonadon", but that just made it even better.
Another thing you did after school was a graphic adventure game on the Altoids site about a nerd trying to meet a pretty goth girl.
If I'd known it was gonna be on their site for six years and counting, I'd have definitely redrawn a few things, but it was a lot of fun. Andy Gonsalves wrote all the dialogue, I don't think he gets credited in the game. I remember they wouldn't put my website address on it, but they would put my email address, and I figured that was alright cause it was blahblah@mywebsite. Then for weeks I was getting 10 emails a day from people who wanted clues on how to beat the game. I had to make a form letter.
Did the form letter tell you how to beat the game or to shove off?
It was a very thorough walk-through. It was the only way to answer every possible question that could come up.
What's that thing you're also working on right now?
, which is a new kids cartoon in production at Cartoon Network. It was created by the super-talented Pendleton Ward and is about a boy and his friend--a talking shape-shifting dog--and their heroic exploits in a post-apocalyptic swords-and-sorcery world. Should be pretty cool. Last I heard, the premiere date is in March, but I also heard May not too long ago, so who knows.
I'm 1/3 of the design team, along with Phil Rynda and Natasha Allegri, although it looks like I'm gonna switch over to storyboarding in a month or so when production starts for season 2. I've been dabbling in the storyboard stuff a little, helping out here and there, to ease my transition, and as a result I got to hear Michael Dorn [the guy who played Worf, no clue why you'd be expected to know that--ed.] read a line I wrote. I'm sure that's old hat for most folks doing this kinda thing, but it felt pretty cool to me. I highly recommend it.
How do cartoons like this work these days, are you guys actually animating everything that goes on the show?
Our team of designers draws all of the characters, props, and special effects that will appear in each episode. What we're basically making, along with the background artists and colorists, is a reference guide that gets sent to Korea where they take the storyboard and make it into an 11-minute piece of animation. The storyboard artists write and draw out the episode, and then the designer bases his designs on the boarder's rough drawings. So a lot of the time I'm resolving or interpreting or embellishing, but not really creating much from scratch. That's been my main complaint about the job. After going at it for a little while though, I figured out a system with the boarders where I draw conceptual stuff to sort of pre-design things before they came back down the pipe to me again, which turned out to be a real win-win. I think that in my professional life thus far, that was the ideal use of my skills and interests. If I could just do that all day, that'd be the true dream job. But I guess somebody's gotta draw all the debris. That's probably 10% of my job: drawing debris. And various clouds.