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A career in comic art has had something of an effect on Robert Atkins’ family. When his now 10-year-old son Connor was 4 years old, he told his friend in preschool that he wanted to be Dr. Fate for Halloween.
Connor started explaining to his friend, who wanted to be Superman for Halloween, that Dr. Fate was a sorcerer from DC comics. Then Connor’s friend said that Superman could totally beat up Dr. Fate.
Connor responded, “Nu-uh, because Superman is susceptible to magic.”
“I was thinking, ‘How do you know the word susceptible?’” said Atkins, a comic artist who is a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. “He was 4 years old! So, we have a pretty nerdy house around here.”
His kids like to bring their friends to his studio in their house in Springfield, Illinois. He has a drawing board and a computer where he does his work, but the exciting part is the bookshelves full of the comic books he’s worked on and plenty of toys. Some are toys he’s helped design the packaging for, others are toys he bought to inspire him while he drew comics, and others just started to get added to the collection.
“I got into the habit of collecting toys again,” Atkins said in an interview as he shared about his journey to becoming a comic artists and also about his faith. “A lot of it is really nostalgic.”
It wasn’t until high school that Atkins start reading comic books, but he watched a lot of cartoons while growing up in the ’80s. One of his favorite parts about his job is being able to bring life to the characters from the shows he watched as a child. He also enjoys the amount of freedom he gets as an artist.
“Comics are pretty hands off,” he said. “They give me a script, but no one is telling me what to do. It’s up to me to decide what that looks like. I just visualize and decide how the page looks, how the characters in the story will look, how they’ll act, what parts of the story to bring emphasis to or draw more excitement from. I don’t come up with the story, but it’s my job to interpret the story visually.”
That’s what is unique about comics, he said, that it’s a collaborative process. A writer alone makes a novel or a short story. An artist alone makes an illustration or a painting. When they come together, they make a comic.
Atkins usually doesn’t have the last word with his artwork either. He is typically the penciler, who draws what the art will look like. After that it goes to an inker who goes over his drawings with ink, then a colorist who adds the color digitally, and then the letterer who adds in the words.
“Every person has their own step in that assembly line,” Atkins said. “While I’m making storytelling choices visually, that work gets reinterpreted by the inker, then reinterpreted by the colorist, and so on. They have the final say on what the artwork is actually going to look like.”
Most of his job is spent working solo, and that’s why Atkins said he loves going to conventions. One of the ones he’s planning to be at this year is Salt Lake Comic Con on Sept. 1–3, and plans to have a booth in the Artist Alley. His sister, Elaine Atkins-Manley, helped put on Salt Lake Comic Con in 2013, and Atkins has always wanted to go but has never been able to before.
“It’s good to see people who are fans of my work or who appreciate it. I really enjoy that,” he said. “It’s at conventions that you get a chance to meet people face-to-face and see if they enjoyed the comic or if there’s a fan base for it.”
Conventions are also a great time for networking with editors and other artists. He also always takes time to review portfolios with aspiring artists who approach him.
“That’s beneficial to people who are looking to get into comics,” he said, “especially if you’re not going to school. That’s the best way to get instruction and feedback on your work.”
Salt Lake City also means something to Atkins as a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. He has friends who have moved there from Mormon wards he has been a part of in other states. This includes his friend, a writer named Quinn Johnson, who he is now collaborating on creating their own comic book series titled “Elders of RuneStone.”
“It’s been interesting to collaborate with someone who is a member of the church,” Atkins said. “I don’t get that opportunity very often at all. Having that common background in the church has made that a really smooth partnership.”
His faith in general has had a great influence on his career. Sometimes he won’t take jobs that he feels will compromise his beliefs or that won’t reflect his standards.
“I do have to rely on my testimony and my faith to be successful,” Atkins said. “I rely on the Lord for major decisions as far as what direction to take my work or what job opportunities to take. Even just having the strength to get through the stress of it — the all-nighters, at times being away from my family when I’m traveling — I think my faith offers a level of comfort that helps me do that.”
Michelle Garrett is a journalism graduate from BYU and works as a business magazine writer for a network marketing company in Utah. Email: email@example.com
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