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Feature Wed Jun 16 2010
Characterized by his clean lines and dynamic style, Mike Norton has an admirable sense of discipline, a surprising love of pugs, and is really, really tall. Currently the artist behind Billy Batson & the Magic Of Shazam!, he has has worked with Marvel and DC Comics for the past 17 years and recently put out a sketchbook of his work, Ruled!. In the last year, he has begun exploring the world of self-publishing.
Name: Mike Norton
Job: Comic Book Artist
Education: Can't remember...I think maybe an Addy somewhere? Bowling trophy once.
Location: Logan Square
Hometown: Jackson, TN
Website: http://www.ihatemike.com, http://www.fourstarcomics.com/
Favorite place in Chicago: My apartment. Or Challengers Comics.
How did you get into drawing comics? Professionally, and I guess pre-professionally?
Non-professionally, which obviously came first...it was how I learned to relate to the outside world. I learned to read from comic books.
How did you learn how to read from comic books?
My dad gave them to me. Reading them and drawing them was my fun homework. I mean technically, it's not like I was left in the wild and picked up a comic book and learned how to read.
That would be kind of an awesome origin story though.
It was my teaching aide, they gave them to me when I was in school.
I would read comics and I would draw them as soon as I would pick them up. It was all I ever wanted to do.
What comics did you first get into?
I can't remember the exact issue number, but it was a Ross Andru Amazing Spiderman. My dad worked 30 miles away, but he would bring them home. I don't know where he got them, I guess at a gas station.
It's sort of interesting how many people start reading comics because of gas stations and grocery stores.
It was easy to get them there, and when you live in a small town, it's the only place you can get them. It was awesome.
Green Arrow/Black Canary
When did you start drawing comics for a job?
I started in 1997, drawing a book for Image called Badger. It'd been out since the late 80's -- it was about a superhero with multiple personality disorder who lived in Madison, Wisconsin. He talked to animals. He knew karate.
Badgers are pretty vicious, I guess.
It's a pretty weird book. The writer was pretty out there.
What did you work on and not get money for?
I never -- there was never any self-publishing....just my own stuff in high school, samples for companies that I would send out to Marvel and DC. That's what I thought you were supposed to do, like this is how you get into comics, you make samples and send them out to Marvel and DC. The whole idea of making my own comics wasn't even a thought in my head for some reason.
Really -- like you never made your own strip, a zine, anything?
I did it when I was a kid, but for some reason there was a little signal in the back of my head that was like this is not how you make comics, you're supposed to make them for the companies that put them in the grocery store. It was hard to get my head out of that. I've never -- it wasn't until last year that I actually paid money to publish my own comic.
What made you want to publish your own?
The Curse was a 24-hour comic. I didn't plan on doing it. I did it just because I've never done it before, and Patrick at Challengers really kind of pushed me into it. I probably would have never done it...he just kind of volunteered me for it.
The Curse was really fun.
Thanks. He said well, do you want to publish. And I said yeah, that sounds good, if you think people will buy it.
Did you like self-publishing?
I did. I mean it was kind of stressful, but rhe actual making it felt oddly easy, like I didn't sit there and go hmmm, what am I going to do now, I just kind of blazed through it.
Do you want to do more comics of your own?
Yeah, I've kind of got the bug. My friends do their own thing in some capacity, and I want to now.
Aside from your project The Curse, your career's been pretty much on the straight and narrow -- single-minded, too. Did you hold any other jobs before working with major comic book companies?
I've had a single-minded determination since I was very, very young. There were two stops on the way -- I tried to be a guitarist in a band, and I also wanted to be a veterinarian, but those didn't work out. I can't do math, and being a musician is even dumber than trying to be an artist.
I guess...if you want to make a lot of money or something.
I was used to eating and buying toys when I was a kid. I was practical for a child.
I like those things too.
They're still important now. Seriously, I was a pretty boring kid. My mom brings it up -- she doesn't use the word boring, but she's always like your brother used to play and tear things up, and you used to organize your toys.
Are you enjoying Billy Batson and the Magic of Shazam!, the title you're working on now?
Very much. It's the first time I'm getting to pencil and ink my own stuff. I'm doing it all on the computer too, so its like I'm getting to play around for a job.
Billy Batson and the Magic of Shazam!
What title have you liked working on the most?
I don't know. I really liked working on the Atom for DC with Gail Simone. That was really fun. I really liked working on Gravity at Marvel with Sean McKeever, which was my character. It was my first Marvel, they let us make our own character up. You work with Marvel, the first thing you do is contribute, it's kind of cool. So it'll probably always be my default favorite.
Gravity: Big-City Super Hero, trade paperback cover
What did you do in the beginning that you wouldn't do now?
When you're in the beginning, I think everybody does it- you tend to try and complicate stuff, you do things several times just to make sure it's perfect. You'll do preliminaries of pages and you'll want to design characters before you've got the script and stuff like that. I'm much more in the moment now.
Best thing you can do, especially in an art form where it matters that you produce the artwork, is just get it out there and not worry about whether or not it was perfect. That's something you just don't understand when you're first starting.
What project do you think you've done your best work on?
That's a really good question. I hope it's always the last thing I worked on. I really like the stuff I'm doing on Shazam just because there's a freedom that I haven't had before with it, I'm doing different stuff. I really think it's that. I'm working my own secret project too, and that I'm writing and drawing. I think that's really good too.
Your process obviously changed somewhat -- how about your tastes?
I'm not really into comics that take themselves too seriously anymore...when you're a kid, everything is serious. It's funny because when I was a kid, I thought that superheroes that were fun or funny were stupid. And now, as an adult, that's actually the good stuff.