Indie Interviews – Argent Starr: Tales From The Archives
This week we sit down and talk to the awesome people responsible for Argent Starr. If you like comics, and we’re sure you do, you’ll want to take a peek at what Altemus and Lyn T. Byrd are up to. After you’re done, be sure to check out their work here.
What was your reason for getting into comics? That is, how did you end up involved in comics?
Altemus; Always wanted to be a comic book artist from the time I was a small child, drew every day of my life from age four, started selling drawing to other kids on the school bus when I was in kindergarten. But I was eventually dissuaded from that path when I went to Philadelphia College of Art in the 70s, and they convinced me that comics was not a “viable career path.”
Byrd; Most of my life has been spent involved in all kinds of art from fine illustration, sculpture, graphic design, digital art, as well as music composition and performance. At some point in the nuttiness I fell in love with comics so hard, that when Altemus, one of my favorite artists, suggested we team up on one, I said ‘Si!’
Who would you say is your comic book inspiration as an artist?
Altemus; Originally it was Wally Wood, I was in awe of his spectacular drawings when I was growing up. A lot of other artists and storytellers would inspire me as well; in books, it was Joe Kubert, John and Marie Severin, Carmine Infantino, Will Eisner, Steve Ditko. There’s also a lot I loved and learned from the strip guys — Hal Foster, Milton Caniff, Frank King, Al Capp, Walt Kelly, Alex Raymond. Many newer artists still amaze and inspire me like the Hernandez brothers or Frank Miller. I also think, that looking at my work, one would say that there’s a lot of Anime influence there too.
Byrd; As a little kid it was Tintin’s Hergé. Later, Moebius, Will Eisner, and Frank Frazetta, whose class I used to sneak into at the School of Visual Arts where I was NOT officially a student. I adore historical work like Winsor McCay’s Little Nemo but also current artists like Eduardo Risso, Mike Allred, Mike Mignola, and Miller’s Sin City artwork. I also love Alex Ross and Marko Djurdjević, but, like Frazetta, I view them primarily as traditional illustrators rather than comic book artists. I’ve left out so, so many, Jerome Opeña, Darwyn Cooke, Arthur Adams…
Before comics, what did you do? If you’re still doing it, what are you doing?
Altemus; I’ve made my living as a commercial artist from since I was 13 years-old, when I was making T-shirt designs for the other kids, school posters, illustrating yearbooks, painting murals, hand lettering windows in pizza shops, hand-setting type, printmaking etc. Early on I worked as an assistant cameraman and art director for film and TV. Then I worked as an illustrator doing ads, posters and magazine illustrations along with hand lettering, that is until I got bad Carpal Tunnel and had to stop. Then I art directed magazines for the next 25 years, including a lot of sci-fi/fantasy ones. When desktop computers emerged I became a somewhat of an evangelist for the technology and consulted with big publishing concerns about their making that transition. Then in 1996 I started designing dingbat typefaces and moved into creative directing for web and interactive. Work on the Graphic Novel, improving my art, building my writing skills have pushed everything else aside at this point.
Byrd; I moved from odd job to odd job, gotta pay the rent, but always involved in art, mostly graphic design and writing for magazines. In the 80’s I joined synth-pop band ‘Comateens’ as a keyboard player, singer & songwriter. When we got signed to a major label and started touring, I still contributed art, designing marketing materials, non-stop. After I got sick of the recording industry, I got a real job as art director at one of those spiffy internet development companies that went away.
After that, I figured it was high time I got into producing comics, which is what I’m doing now, as well as writing screenplays and doing some freelance design work.
What was your first work in comics like?
Altemus; Argent Starr is my first, and at this point, only direct comics work. I art directed a short series of comics that were included in official The X-Files magazine I did for Topps in 1996, but I don’t think that counts.
Byrd; Argent Starr is my first. After brainstorming with Altemus I tried to develop a 3 book arc, but he wanted more. I wound up working on a gigantic ‘scriptment’ which then turned into an equally mammoth comic book script, over 350 pages long. I had no idea how we were going to tame this monster into a tight shooting script! We succeeded by brutally eradicating well over half the material. I also did a lot of character designs, and seeing Altemus put my characters to work was a true thrill.
How many years have you been working in comics?
Altemus; Argent Starr is the first serious comics work I’ve done, not counting numerous books and strips I created as a teen. At that time I had sent in samples and a story idea to Marvel, got a very nice encouraging letter back from them, telling me to check back when I had more experience. Since its inception, the Argent Starr project dates back almost ten years, from something we worked on for a week or so, here and there between other freelance gigs.
Byrd; Since I can’t count all the insane strip comics us art students created, I’d have to say Argent Starr represents all my published work in comics. As a team, we’ve been working on this for years, in between all the demands of a busy multi-disciplinary commercial artists life.
Tell me a little bit about your work. Where does it draw inspiration from? Where do you come up with your ideas?
Altemus; I think you draw inspiration from everything you have been exposed to, from books, comic books, film and from life, hopefully, you stitch it all back together in an interesting and somewhat “original” way.
Byrd; I can find something to inspire me in almost every art category, across a span of media, whether cult classics or high art. I also read voraciously, from non-fiction history to hard-science sci-fi, therefore write a lot. In terms of comics writing, touchstones for me are Enigma written by Peter Milligan, The Dark Knight Returns by you-know-who, Love & Rockets by the Hernandez Brothers & 100 Bullets by Azzarello & Risso. There’s nothing new under the sun, you can only hope your version of entertainment will be as engaging as possible.
Who have you worked alongside in the industry?
Altemus; No one really, although Gary Groth the Publisher of Fantagraphic Books used to work for me doing paste-ups in the mid-seventies.
Byrd; Unless you count posing for popular French comic book artists of the 80’s like Serge Clerc and Yves Chaland, for my band’s record sleeves, posters, etc., no one.
Growing up, who is your favorite character or team? Who is it now?
Altemus; I was an early Marvel kid. I got all the books; Spiderman, Fantastic Four, Iron Man, Doctor Strange, Daredevil. Eagerly picked them all up when they first came out, perhaps the first two to three years of all their runs. The only DC book I was into was the sci-fi book, Adam Strange. My mom also had a friend we would visit, the woman’s son was away in college and he had left behind a big box of old pre-code EC comics which I devoured. Also liked some Gold Key books Magnus Robot Fighter and Brain Boy. Today I think Doctor Strange resonates the most of all for me, as a character.
Byrd; As a kid, there was no money for comics, but my favorite characters were on black & white TV for free! ‘Japanimation’ like Astro Boy and Tobor the 8th Man were huge for me. Later I got into Batman, Hellboy, and Wolverine and still do now, as long as they’re in loner mode. Dramatic loner characters, in general, are my favorites, but for comedy, I go for Lobo & Deadpool.
Do you have any advice for a new artist who is just getting into the business?
Altemus; Don’t wait, keep plugging, read more, refine your skills, draw, draw, draw.
Byrd; Self-educate, because what they give you to read in school will not cut it. Read great classic writers constantly. I’m talking prototypical deathless winners. There’s a reason why old-school content keeps getting re-told, re-packaged and re-sold — often from to generation to generation. If you want your material to have any power you need to study the power of the best writers in storytelling, try reading that big hit from 1844 ‘The Three Musketeers’.
Where do you see your work taking you?
Altemus; We’ve developed some spin-offs from Argent Starr. It’s a massive universe and we have some deep back-story already baked. We’re looking to dive into those stories and get a couple of scripts done. Then we hope that readers will want to read more after our current Argent tale is wrapped up. We have Brazilian production partners and they have been shopping around an Argent Starr animated series, so far they have gotten a good response to the property.
Byrd; Argent Starr is a vast and complex universe with numerous intriguing side characters. I know their stories have legs and I intend to run on them.
What are you up to next?
Altemus; We have a really good screenplay for Mrs. Thorne, Argent’s Latina commando side-kick. It’s written for the screen, but until that happens, we’ll concentrate on a comic book, that might be next.
Byrd; I’ve already done a script for Mrs. Thorne, and am now looking at another Argent universe character. A highly-talented rogue super-spy with a supernatural background from a clandestine organization called g_Division. It’s like a mix of James Bond and the Bible.
Where do you see the direction of the comic industry heading in 20 years?
Altemus; Multi-platform delivery, emoji titles, guided panel by panel, scan and pan with no word balloons, a computer-generated voice over, sound effects and a soundtrack. It will all be available as an app, just add your artwork. But on weekends a small kid will still be able to go down to the flea market and buy a vintage printed Batman comic book.
Byrd; Physical comic books will give way to digital until printed books will be released only as promotional items in support of their virtual properties. However, I think future collectors of digital comics will most likely want some kind of hold-it-in-your-hand souvenir of whatever title they are fans of. In the meantime, analog artists will move their art to the digital realm and hopefully thrive there, the shift has already started.
How can people get ahold of you?
Where can we buy and/or see your work?
Altemus & Byrd; Argent Starr is available on Comixology and IndyPlanet, we also sell signed print books, along with trading cards and more, on the Argent Starr website.
Any last words for the industry?
Altemus; There’s a lot of good talent out there, give it a chance.
Byrd; Hire more women.
A Little Background…
Altemus, a life-long artist, was dissuaded from his childhood ambition of becoming a comic book, artist, after being told that it was “not a viable career” by his art college counselor. Instead, he pursued a career in illustration and design.
After he graduated from the Philadelphia College of Art with majors in illustration and film, he worked extensively as an illustrator and designer for print and broadcast projects. As an illustrator, he created artwork for annual reports, magazines, NBC and CBS show ads for TV Guide, posters for movies such as Raging Bull and for Broadway plays such as Mass Appeal.
Unfortunately, he was forced to abandon a successful illustration career over 30 years ago due to advanced carpal-tunnel syndrome which made it impossible to draw without his hand going dead. In 2007, medical procedures had advanced sufficiently and he had his hand operated on. He has spent the last few years drawing, “getting his hand back” and learning to use his Wacom 21UX tablet. In many ways, his work on ARGENT STARR is the fulfillment of a life-long dream.
He has art directed numerous consumer magazines including Washingtonian, Penthouse, and US. He was able to tap his love of film during his tenure as Creative Director for the official souvenir magazines of many popular fantasy and sci-fi films including; Blade Runner, Back To The Future, Gremlins, Goonies, Jurassic Park, Star Wars, Mad Max, the first three Batman films, and The X-Files TV show.
He was a founding partner, COO and Creative Director of the late ’90’s Silicon Alley streaming media internet development corporation, Interocity, which was sold to the Chyron Corporation in 2001.
He currently markets a series of picture and dingbat fonts he designed, which consist of over 10,000 unique designs, offered in a suite of 57 digital fonts, sold worldwide through various online sites including altemus.com.
Altemus lives in the East Village in New York City where he operates Krel Studios, producing quality work for print, video and online. He is the recipient of well over a hundred and fifty national design, illustration, and typographic awards.
Lyn T. Byrd
Lyn T. Byrd is a native New Yorker, born in Manhattan, and attended New York City’s Art & Design Highschool. She is a writer, designer, singer, song writer and musician, with over fifteen years experience in designing for the internet.
She has written articles for a number of New York-based publications, including City Magazine, Tart and aXcess magazine as well as crafting promotional copy for numerous websites.
At Krel Studios she concepts, designs, builds and writes copy for a wide varriety of websites.
Lyn was a member of the ’80’s first wave of synth-pop bands Comateens. The band was one of the first in the world to record solely with a drum machine, joining the ranks of the burgeoning electropop avant garde along with bands such as Suicide, Kraftwerk and Soft Cell. They released three albums between 1979 and 1984. Pictures on a String, their first album for Virgin Records in 1983 yielded the dance club hit “Get Off My Case”.
Lyn Byrd recorded an additional album, West & Byrd In 1988 with gold and platinum award winning songwriter Nicholas West. In 1990 that duo, again under the name Comateens, recorded the song “A Place For Me” which became a European hit. Virgin Records released a retrospective compilation of their music in 1991 called “One By One: Best Of Comateens” which has become a rare and much sought-after record among collectors of New Wave music.
On October 28, 2010, a three-person version of Comateens featuring Nick West and Lyn Byrd with guitarist Mitro Valsamis performed their old songs at the 30th anniversary Mudd Club reunion at New York’s Delancey Lounge nightclub.