Michelle Stanford writes,
I’ll always remember a certain day in art school: I was working as a TA for the animation department head’s class, doing cartoon studies while in-between tasks. The department head was an incredibly stern, blunt woman; I think the years of working at the male-dominated Disney studios had evaporated all her tolerance for BS. So the fact that she welcomed my presence and didn’t want to melt me with glaring eye-beams of disapproval was meaningful to me.
But on that day, I felt her looking disdainfully at my drawings. “If you want to keep drawing like that,” she scoffed, “you should just move to Japan and get paid nothing. You know they don’t make any money over there, right?”
Mortified, I quickly scrapped my work, and started over with something more acceptable, more exaggerated and Disney-friendly. When she came around again, she patted my shoulder and remarked “MUCH better!”
This summed up most of my experience in school. While I have nothing against styles like those found in a Pixar film or a Warner Bros. cartoon, I always leaned toward realism. I explored every different style and technique being taught, but at the end of the day, I liked what I liked. This lead to many explanations that no, I don’t really watch a lot of anime. I’m a big fan of Satoshi Kon (Paprika, Tokyo Godfathers), but outside of that I’ve only seen a handful compared to the mountains of series my friends watch.
Cue a long period where no one knew exactly what to do with my style. Too much this way, not enough that way. I was losing hope that I’d ever find a place in animation to tell the kind of stories I wanted to. I realized that the only way out wasn’t through, but over, around, underneath– a path other than the neat and clean one I was given. So I turned to webcomics.
It’s a big, messy frontier, full of misfits and experiments, tons of yet-unproven stuff that major publishers are wary to touch. Some of it’s brilliant, some of it’s baffling, a chaotic mix that I find kind of endearing. I’d tried my hand at webcomics in high school, though nothing serious; 10 year later I gave it another shot, now armed with training in storyboarding, animation, and a hefty heaping of stubbornness. I took the idea that had been rattling in my head since college, shamefully filed in the “too anime” drawer, and turned it into Centralia 2050.
Over the last 3 years, I’ve published 3 issues of Centralia, currently working on the fourth. What started as a passion project (and, okay, a bit of a “screw you” to naysayers) grew overtime into a story much bigger than myself. Readers have expressed a connection and catharsis from Centralia that I hadn’t anticipated, and I’m still astounded when people know the comic before they’ve met me. And hey, people actually like its art style! But Centralia wouldn’t be what it is if I were still trying to force it into the tidy mold that art school had given me.
I’ve culminated the first arc of Centralia 2050 into its first volume, which is currently available on Kickstarter through November 14. If you love mysteries, cyberpunk, or a great female protagonist, be sure to check out the campaign page and watch the trailer! If you back the project, be sure to message me and let me know Bleeding Cool sent you– I’ll add an original drawing to your pledge.