Alumni conquer real-life boundaries — and serious topics — as illustrators, editors and actors of graphic novels, comics and anime.
In the world of graphic storytelling, a teen morphs into a super-hero and swings between buildings with webs spun from his fingertips, and an orphaned goblin faces danger and creatures we’ve never seen before with a wolf pup friend on a mission for justice.
What’s fantasy for readers and viewers is another day at the office.
For several alumni, who have turned their passion into successful careers as an illustrator of graphic novels, an editor at Marvel Comics, and voice actors of anime films. “The freedom of it is that you can tell a story as big and crazy as you want. There aren’t really any limits,” says Alanna Smith ’12, who has gone from superhero aficionado to associate editor in the Avengers office of Marvel Comics. “Graphic novels and comics set fire to your brain,” says Kelly Keegan, assistant professor of education at Geneseo, who uses them in her courses, noting that the format of words and pictures allows readers to follow storylines at their own pace.
You can read them and look at them and have a way of understanding things that are not just words, or just pictures. You fill in the gaps. It has become a new literacy, distinct from traditional books and film.” Often, the stories told aren’t just entertainment but a tool to explore shared experiences as people, ethics and topics of the day, from the blurred lines of right and wrong and personal responsibility to the ramifications of artificial intelligence that may not be far so far off in the future. “That’s the beauty of comics,” says illustrator Will Perkins ’07, who will soon publish the “Goblin” novel and explored artificial intelligence in a previous series. “You can make what you imagine.”
WILL PERKINS ’07
BRINGS FANTASY WORLDS TO LIFE AS AN ILLUSTRATOR. | By Kris Dreessen
For his latest project, illustrator Will Perkins ’07 is bringing to life the fantasy world and creatures of a graphic novel. Working from the author’s script, he’s imagining, drawing and coloring the characters and scenes of the incredible tale of a young goblin who seeks justice after a mysterious warrior robs his home and leaves him orphaned.
The long, pointed ears. The yellow eyes. The tufts of fur of the stray wolf pup who becomes his companion. The muted greens and browns to convey foreboding in the dense forest.
“It’s a feeling and a pace to capture people’s attention,” says Perkins. “It’s almost like creating a movie. In the end, the holy grail is to connect with the reader. It’s like when I was a kid and I’d read comics and have an emotional reaction to them. I love participating in that.”
When finished, “Goblin,” which will be published by Dark Horse Books, will be a labor of love more than two years in the making.
“You put in time piecemeal at all different times of day and it’s all in service of a final product like aiming for something off in the distance,” says Perkins. “When you get to the finish line, it’s amazing to sit back and see not only the final product of a true collaboration with a creative writer, but also all the nights and days that inspired the process along the way.”
Perkins, who is a full-time freelance illustrator, also created and published the “Beware” comic series with his brother, author Mike D. Perkins ’02. He also serves as the art director of an independent publishing platform for comic makers, 215 Ink., and does storyboarding for advertisers and commissioned projects, including illustration for shorter comic pieces.
“Goblin” will be Perkins’ second graphic novel and second collaboration with author Eric Grissom. The sci-fi themed “Gregory Suicide” (Dark Horse Books, 2017) is about an obsolete artificial intelligence program named Gregory, who wakes up in a cloned body and is haunted by the memories of his past lives, ach one ending in death by his own hand.
“Gregory is about what humanity really means and how failure and weakness are these precious sparks within every one of us,” says Perkins. “It is also a perfect narrative tool to talk about generational divides in our near-future world, and how quick we are to throw out imperfections from our life without finding their inherent value beyond newest, fastest or best. It’s corporate greed and planned obsolescence versus the human heart. What does this generational divide in Gregory’s new world say about their own self worth, where a new generation decides to define for themselves what it means to be human.”
Everything, says Perkins, is very much a partnership with the author. Sometimes Grissom has a specific vision for how scenes should play out as images; other times, Perkins develops all of the visuals. Sometimes, they debate details and direction for an entire day.
“The process is very much give and take. The script is the seed,” says Perkins. “It’s synergy. The final product is not one person’s baby.”
Reading and looking at Perkins’s work can also be a personal snapshot. Perkins draws on his own experiences and visual memories for illustrations or as foundations for visuals, such as a favorite toy he had as a kid or a favorite place in the woods. When he needed a creepy-looking alleyway for a scene, he enhanced the dark, uninhabited alley that he walked by on his way to work.
He has always loved to draw and use color.
Perkins’s classical training as a studio art major at Geneseo taught him “how to draw anything,” he says, but the comic world has always attracted him most. He remembers when he was 10 and he drew Spider-Man over and over and over. He can see his progression throughout the years. It is a hustle, he says, to be able to do his art full time, but it’s worth it.
“Like everything in art, it’s very much a passion,” he says. “You keep going for the love of the craft itself.”
ALANNA SMITH ’12
MAKES THE AVENGERS SERIES FOR MARVEL COMICS SING. | By Kris Dreessen
As a kid, Alanna Smith ’12 always looked forward to the prizes she could send for if she ate enough Rice Krispies. One of them — a demo CD of a Spider-Man home computer game — would spark a love and her career.
“I played it about 500 times and got super obsessed with Spider-Man,” she says. “I’d go to the library and take out everything Spider-Man, which spiraled into X-Men and a lot more superheroes.”
Smith immersed herself in the imaginary worlds, where a teenaged boy could spin webs from his fingers to swing from buildings. Each story could be as fantastical as the author’s imagination. Smith even wrote and published her own web-based comic in high school, re-imagining the ending of a favorite manga so her favorite love interest got the girl.
Now, Smith is associate editor of the Avengers office at Marvel Comics, helping writers and illustrators make storylines of some of the most popular comics sing.
Smith works on 17 titles, including “Avengers,” “Captain America” and “Iron Man.”
It’s a role best suited for multi-taskers: Smith manages production, hires artists and other talent and collaborates with writers to develop and finesse stories in an issue and within an entire series. She may, for example, identify where action falls off in the plot, where it may not be clear, or when a character hasn’t fully thought out consequences of their actions.
“I see myself as a story mechanic,” says Smith.
Smith has helped develop new characters in the Avengers world, including Nadia, The Unstoppable Wasp, and Ironheart, a teenage African-American girl who takes over for Iron Man for a time in the “Iron Man” series.
Comics and graphic novels have always been great vehicles for incorporating varied experiences into stories that are really accessible to readers, says Smith. Those experiences and voices are growing
more diverse, with Ironheart and other characters. Her team also recently introduced a character in “The Unstoppable Wasp” who has bipolar disorder. The character portrayed is a complex person for whom the disorder is just one facet of their life.
“It’s important for people to see themselves as heroic and know their experiences are valid — that they are not alone,” says Smith. “I want people to feel that they are seen. That’s a responsibility I feel very strongly about and try to incorporate into my work.”
Smith remembers how, as a child, she saw herself reflected in Bilbo’s character in “The Hobbit” book series. Awkward and unsure of himself, Bilbo and his dwarf friends embarked on an often terrifying journey against evil — and won.
“I was a super shy, scared and timid kid,” says Smith. “I still was after reading the books, but I also saw that it’s okay if I’m this way because this awkward, shy dude just saved the world. I don’t have to upend who I am to be worthy.”
Smith feels fortunate to go from kid fan to superhero editor: How she got there might be its own story of diligence for a passion.
At Geneseo, Smith built her skills as a writer, editor and cartoonist for The Lamron while studying English and art. She applied for an assistant editor opening at Marvel before she graduated.
“I made it to the second round of interviews. One person was foolish enough to give me their phone number,” remembers Smith, laughing. “And I was like, I’m never losing that. I was persistent.”
Smith often checked in with her Marvel contact as she completed internships in New York City in publishing, film and theater. Two years after her initial interviews, Marvel offered her the job. She was promoted to associate editor about four years later.
“Marvel was always the dream. I’d tell anyone who’d listen that I’d get in the door someday, but I don’t think I really believed it until I got the call,” says Smith. “To call the job challenging would be an understatement, but getting to tell stories that matter with the characters I love is more than worth it.”
BRITTANY LAUDA ’14 AND MATT SHIPMAN ’14
LEND THEIR VOCAL TALENTS TO SCORES OF POPULAR ANIME. | By Robyn Rime
Surprisingly, the highest-grossing media franchise of all time isn’t Star Wars or even the Marvel Cinematic Universe. It’s Pokémon.
The Japanese media phenomenon helped ignite anime’s popularity in the United States, and it represents an animated world that Brittany Lauda ’14 and Matt Shipman ’14 have made their professional home.
The couple, married since 2018, consider themselves primarily voice-over actors. Lauda, who majored in history with a minor in Asian studies, is in “Pokémon XY,” among many other anime, and her directing credits include captivating titles such as “That Time I Got Reincarnated as a Slime” and “Hensuki: Would You Fall in Love with a Pervert, as Long as She’s a Cutie?” Shipman, a Geneseo communication major, can be heard as the voice of Shay Obsidian in 100+ episodes of “Yu-Gi-Oh Arc-V” as well as in anime like “My Hero Academia” and “Attack on Titan.” As voice actors, the two have performed on scores of video games, multimedia projects and TV shows, such as the current hit anime “Dr. Stone.”
Anime tells many types of stories — mysteries, romances, dramas, comedies — for audiences ranging from children to teens to adults, explains Lauda.
“This means as actors, we can stretch ourselves a lot and play many archetypes in very different settings, regardless of our actual age, appearance or gender.” The wide variety of shows requires different acting muscles, says Lauda, “sometimes being very low-key and natural, or sometimes being over-the-top and goofy, and sometimes all in the same day.” And even though they use their voices as their main tool, performances can be unexpectedly physical, adds Shipman. “It’s less just standing behind a microphone and speaking and a lot more acting.”
The pair’s favorite jobs tend to feature compelling storylines that tackle (mostly) serious topics. Lauda is drawn to “Legend of the Galactic Heroes: Die Neue These,” a space opera based on a novel series from the 1980s. “It still feels so poignant, with discussions of corruption, propaganda and politicians,” says Lauda, who directed the show’s English dub. “The main character feels like a millennial icon, even though it was written in the ’80s.” Shipman connected with the show “Darling in the Franxx,” on which he played a main character. “It’s a post-apocalyptic show,” he says. “There’s discussions about genetics, exuality and purpose. And it has giant robots, of course.”
In addition to voicing in anime, games and commercials, Lauda and Shipman launched Kocha Sound in 2016. Working primarily out of Dallas and New York City, the production company complements the pair’s voice-over acting by marketing their skills in directing, casting, script adaptation, voice-over production and more.
Shipman does anime script adaptations, which means finessing the language in a Japanese script translation so that it does two things: matches the completed animation; and sounds like something a native English speaker would say. A familiarity with Japanese is valuable — both Shipman and Lauda studied the language at Geneseo — because translations that are too literal can muddy a script’s meaning or become repetitive.
“One example that pops up in anime subtitles is the phrase ‘It can’t be helped,’” says Shipman. “It’s my job to look at the situation, at the characters, at what’s going on and change the words, making sure they match the visuals and the look of the mouth animation. For example, I could say, ‘Eh, what’re you gonna do?’ or ‘It is what it is.’ Sentences that sound better than saying ‘Itcan’t be helped’ repeatedly.”
Lauda casts and directs for anime and video games, work that’s more consistent for her than voice acting. That consistency is helpful, because just like regular acting, voice-over is a gig-based profession. “You’ll have dry spells and you’ll have times when you’re super-duper busy,” says Lauda. “It’s always going to be a hustle. When I was in New York City, I must have auditioned for over 400 things through my agent and I only booked one, and I was told, ‘That’s really good for your first year!’”
Despite the hustle of the profession, their convention fans often remind them that they have cool jobs, and Lauda and Shipman agree.
“Working in anime gives us the opportunity to connect and engage with a wide range of fans, since we gain visibility from being in all sorts of shows,” says Lauda. “There are happy and loving fans out there who share their warmth and excitement and gratitude with us.”
INTERESTED IN EXPLORING GRAPHIC NOVELS?
Assistant Professor of Education Kelly Keegan recommends these award-winning and acclaimed titles, which dive into life experiences and use interesting storytelling tools to emphasize subject matter.
• Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic”
Author and illustrator Alison Bechdel’s best-selling graphic memoir, which became a Tony Award-winning musical. It follows her discovery of her sexuality, the complicated relationship she had with her gay father and the mysteries he left after his suicide.
(2006, Mariner Books)
•“Stitches: A Memoir”
The #1 New York Times bestseller and National Book Award finalist by David Small tells the story of the author’s journey from sickly child to cancer patient, who escaped his hardships through his drawings. (2009, W. W. Norton & Company)
• “21: The Story of Roberto Clemente”
Wilfred Santiago writes and illustrates a biography of Roberto Clemente, Puerto Rico’s biggest baseball star and respected humanitarian, who died in a 1972 plane crash.
(2011, Fantagraphics Books)
• “The Arrival”
Using only illustrations, Shaun Tan shares the story of a father emigrating to a new country where he doesn’t speak the language. Readers interpret the tale entirely through context, as the father did each day. (2006, Hachette Children’s books)
• “El Deafo”
Cece Bell chronicles her experience losing her hearing as a child and her experiences with Phonic Ear, a powerful hearing aid that brought about awkward and funny moments. (2014, Amulet Books)