It was in July 2016 when I sent a direct message to Martellus Bennett on Instagram. He’s a football player in the NFL, and at that time, a tight end for the New England Patriots. Off the field, Martellus had been establishing himself and his company, The Imagination Agency, as a staple in the cartoon, children’s books, and creative industry. I told him how I had admired his work, and how I planned to work with him in the future. Martellus and I had never met before, nor had we ever communicated, so I was shocked when he replied to my message. Six months later, I’m now the artist on the first issue of Martellus’ new comic book Towel Boy.
For days, Martellus and I went back and forth over the phone brainstorming and ironing out the project details for Towel Boy #1. This would be the first comic book I had ever worked on. In my head, I would just draw some pictures, color them, and send them to Martellus — sounded simple enough, right? Wrong! It was January 2017, and I had a tight deadline to have the comic book ready in time for the Super Bowl, which happened to be on the first Sunday in February. Coincidentally, the Martellus and Patriots had made it into that very same Super Bowl too. Not only that, Martellus had also commissioned me to create some football inspired t-shirt designs (that were due prior to me starting on the comic book), I had a trip to Dubai coming up in a few days, and I was still working as full-time, graphic designer at my job. Many of my family and friends told me I was WAY over my head, however, my delusional self-confidence wouldn’t let me admit it.
After Martellus sent me the comic book script, I began reading Avatar: The Last Airbender and Teen Titans Go! (TTG!) comic books for inspiration. They taught me how to frame scenes, draw the effects, add the action words, and even lay out the story. TTG! was extremely influential in my thought process. When I saw that TTG! used only five panels (the boxes the drawings go into) per page, I decided to only using five panels per page. It felt right to have the reader enjoy big, blocks of illustrations on each page. Trying to convey a story while only using five panels though is like trying to pack the entire women’s department at Macy’s into the trunk of a Toyota Prius. This task made me creatively stronger when it came to problem solving — that’s the good news. The bad news is when I first assessed the project, I failed to realize that drawing five panels per page would be equivalent to drawing five pages in general.
In my sketchbook, I would sketch the layout for a page, grab a sheet of Canson Fanboy Comic Book Art Boards - 11" x 17" paper, and get to work. I was measuring panel dimensions, drawing the characters, and sketching out scenes with the tenacity of Dr. Frankenstein making his monster. I’d create a page or two, take a pic, send it to Martellus for his approval, then jump on the next page. I was even on the plane traveling to Dubai reading more TTG! comics, sketching like a mad man, and sitting in one of the bedrooms of the AirBnB home my cousin rented, knocking out as many pages as I could. I probably got a total of 8 hours of sleep the entire time I was out there. I came back to the states with the Super Bowl right around the corner. It was crunch time. I went into work late, called in sick some days, and at one point, stayed up for 42 hours straight just to finish this comic book. I started taking immune system pills to keep myself from getting ill.
I used Clip Studio Paint, a great software for creating digital art, along with my Wacom Cintiq 13HD — a graphics tablet that attached to my computer. This Cintiq shows your computer screen a 12” wide display. It was pretty small for me, but it did the job. It didn’t take long for me to realize digitalizing these pages was sort of like doing double-duty. I would have to, in a sense, redraw over the scanned sketches that I imported onto Clip Studio Paint’s digital canvas. And I still had to color the pages, add the speech bubbles, add the effects, clean up the pages, and add the last minute details. The original ending of the comic book seemed off, so Martellus and I decided to add three more pages to the comic book to give the story a proper ending. It was now clear that I would not make the deadline.
Martellus was cool though. He extended the deadline passed the Super Bowl to give me more time. However, I was still feeling the repercussions from not getting any sleep for those 42 hours. It took me an entire week to recover from that (I’m not the young bull I used to be). I was drained mentally and physically. So much so, that I ended up finishing the project a month behind schedule. I lost other potential clients because of my dedication to completing this comic book. The client/contractor relationship between Martellus and I even soured a bit due to frustration too. However, once we both laid our eyes on Towel Boy #1 in all of its completed glory, the clouds seemed to have parted and let the sun beam down on us. This was Martellus’ vision, his idea, and it was an overwhelming feeling of joy to see our 16-paged, illustrated baby that we had worked so hard on come to life. Those past frustrations turned into a positive experience for Martellus and I as we had now learned and conquered the difficulty in creating a comic book.
I’m thankful for the opportunity Martellus Bennett and The Imagination Agency gave me. Working on Towel Boy #1 gave me tremendous growth as an artist. My skills improved significantly due to the constant drawing for hours and hours and hours on end. Plus, I learned better business practices (because creatives usually suck at handling business – yeah, I said it). This was without a doubt the experience I needed to furtherer my career.
Oh, and before I forget, Martellus and the Patriots ended up winning that Super Bowl, which took place in our hometown of Houston, TX. He was the one getting the ring, but there’s a video on my Instagram page of me celebrating like I was in the locker room popping champagne. That night after the game, I stopped by the club to congratulate Martellus on his win. Even Towel Boy got in on the celebration.
Towel Boy #1 – Home of the Flying Hippos on sale now on The Imagination Agency’s website.