Brad Olrich talks about GOLDEN ERA COMICS

FIRST COMICS NEWS: Could you tell us a bit about yourself?

BRAD OLRICH: Sure. I’m a professor of art and design at a small mid-Michigan college and I’ve been a freelance artist and illustrator for over 30 years. I got my start when I was working at a quick print shop in the late 1980s. A buddy and I started publishing mini-comics and ‘zines, selling them locally and through the mail. That led to some professional work in the 1990s before the small press comics scene imploded. After that I focused on graphic design, working at an ad agency and newspaper before going back to school to complete my BFA in graphic design. After that, I had various jobs in the field before being hired to teach graphic design at a vocational education center. This led to an assistant professorship at a nearby college. After a few years of teaching, I decided to go back to school to get a master’s degree. I found an art school that offered an MFA in illustration focusing on comic book and graphic novel illustration, so that’s what I eventually earned. I then moved up to full-time professor and the chair of the art department.

1st: I’m thrilled you chose Golden Era Comics to publish your exciting property Commodore Dinosaur. Could you give us some background on how that comic book came about?

BRAD: I first came up with Commodore Dinosaur while I was in college, probably around 1987. It wasn’t much more than just a name in those days. I drew some initial sketches and didn’t think about the character until a few years later when I was producing mini-comics. I created a 16-page comic and sold it locally around East Lansing where I was living at the time. There was no origin story or anything. It was just this fun little story about this lizard guy hunting down giant mutant spiders. I sent a copy to a publisher that I heard was looking for original content and this version of the character was picked up as a backup feature in a new comic book. As with a lot of small publishers, this one went bust after the first issue. Some years later I decided to create a Commodore Dinosaur web strip. The origin story was similar to the one being published now by Golden Era, but the design of the character was very different. It wasn’t until I was in grad school that a professor suggested that Commodore Dinosaur needed a more distinct profile. That was when I hit upon drawing his head based on that of a Parasaurolophus. This led directly to the origin story “The Quest of Quetzalcoatl.” The story was my MFA thesis.

1st: Alongside Commodore Dinosaur, your other property to see print soon at Golden Era is At Galaxy’s Core, in Surprising Universe #1. Could you share with us the background on how that story came to be?

BRAD: Belly it or not, At Galaxy’s Core didn’t start as a science fiction story. I had an outline for a sword & sorcery story about a Roman Slave who teams up with a barbarian to rob a Byzantine temple. When I pitched it to Carl Potts, the former Marvel and DC editor, he pointed out that it was similar to a Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser story which he had supervised an adaptation of years before. So I switched it up from the distant past to the distant future. I drew the barbarian character as a big bug, but the Roman character stayed the same. You can kinda see it in the way they’re designed. And the whole idea of it being in the age of a crumbling empire also stayed the same. The idea of a church being able to bottle up a soul for profit seemed like a pretty good McGuffin, so I pitched that. Potts liked this idea and, upon its completion, said it was a project to be proud of. This was pretty high praise coming from the guy that wrote the book on creating comics (The DC Guide to Creating Comics) so I was fairly pleased.

1st: Who do you list as your creative influences?

BRAD: Like a lot of comic artists, I’ve read comic books since I was pretty young. Mostly Archie Comics early on, then Marvel and DC by the time I was 10 or 11. But it was while I was in junior high school that I got interested in the idea of being a comic book artist. I started studying how they were drawn. I started studying how the page panels were set up and how you could make some panels have more impact than others. How individual panels could be drawn to maximize the drama? My favorite artists in those days were some of the greats of the Bronze Age…guys like Neal Adams, Jim Aparo, and Gil Kane. I also started buying B&W comic magazines like Warren’s “Eerie,” “Creepy “and “Rook.” I didn’t realize it at the time, but the artists who impressed me from those publications were all EC Comic alums. Jack Davis, Wally Wood, Al Williamson…all of those guys just blew my mind. But the most important influence has to be Will Eisner. I got ahold of Kitchen Sink’s Spirit Color Album around my junior year in high school. It was all reprints of some of the best Spirit stories from the late ’40s and early ’50s. I’d never seen anything like that before. Then at the end of that school year, I attended the Michigan Interscholastic Press Association conference. That was where they handed out awards for school newspapers and yearbooks. One of the workshop speakers was Mike Gustovitch, a Marvel and DC artist and creator of Comico’s Justice Machine. I got to chatting with him after the workshop. We were so into talking comics that we missed the awards ceremony. I’d never been able to talk to a comic book artist before. I was inspired! That summer I threw everything I was learning into a comic strip for my school newspaper. It paid off, too. That next year, my comic strip won both 1st and 2nd place in the Michigan Interscholastic Press Association’s best cartoon category.

1st:: Do you have more issues planned for Commodore Dinosaur?

BRAD: Yes, I do. I’ve got at least the next 5 issues outlined if not more. Commodore Dinosaur’s adventures will continue into the 20th Century and beyond. He’ll pick up many interesting friends and colorful foes along the way. And he’ll investigate the mysteries of how he was he was transformed from a normal man into a reptilian creature…and how he may change back.

1st: Will At Galaxy’s Core be appearing again in comics?

BRAD: Yes, Grif and the Drifter’s vagabond adventures across the galactic core systems will continue in Golden Era’s “Surprising Universe.” As the Highborn Empire crumbles and encroaching alien hordes make their power plays, there will be plenty of opportunity, and peril, for this intrepid duo.

1st: Thanks for doing the interview, Brad. I’m looking forward to publishing your work.

BRAD: I’m more than happy to have found Golden Era Comics as an outlet for my work. I think my style of artwork dovetails perfectly with the overall aesthetic presented by this terrific publisher.

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