Spotlight

Steamroller Man – His Head is Literally a Giant Steamroller!

Matthew Schofield has worked in the animation industry for over 20 years, on films such as Cats Don’t Dance, Prince of Egypt and The Iron Giant. He currently works on The Simpsons as the Supervising Storyboard Director. He is the creator of Steamroller Man.

Synopsis: Steamroller Man is a tongue-in-cheek superhero action comedy, in the vein of The Tick, Venture Bros and the 1960s Batman TV show. The titular hero uses his large, cylindrical head and “steamroller power” to fight crime in the fictional city of Kurtzberg. He’s somewhat lacking in self-awareness, and often does more harm than good – but his heart is in the right place!

Did you go to school for either art or writing? If so, what school?
I studied animation at Griffith University in Australia.

What is the main genre of your comic? What appeals to you about that genre?
The main genre is superhero. I fell in love with the superhero genre at an early age, watching the Superfriends cartoon and the Batman ’66 TV show. I love all the tropes – fantastic powers, outlandish costumes, secret identities, sidekicks… it’s all a bit silly if you take it too seriously, but I think the pure escapism is one of the real strengths of the superhero genre. They’re not supposed to be realistic! That’s part of the reason I created a character with a huge cylindrical head – from the visual alone, you know this is a fantasy, where anything can happen!

Are there any other genres that apply to your comic?
It’s definitely a comedy. I try to put something that will make you laugh – or at least smile – on every page!

What was your inspiration for the story?
About six years ago, my family’s topic of dinner conversation was “what’s a cool superhero name”? My youngest son said “Steamroller Man” and I immediately got an image in my mind that was pretty close to what you see in the comic. I drew it on a napkin and showed it to my son, who loudly exclaimed “NO, NOT LIKE THAT! He’s supposed to have steamrollers for HANDS, not his head!” I replied “Well, that can be your version – this is mine.” Later that year, I took a “Make your own mini-comic” workshop at my local library, and I started to make up a simple story with Steamroller Man. It grew from there!

Do you have any favorite artists or writers who influenced your style?
In terms of my art style, I think it’s a mish-mash of probably every artist I’ve ever admired. There’s no single artist whose style I’ve looked at and consciously tried to adopt. The legendary Jack Kirby is definitely an inspiration, though, in terms of his sheer sustained creativity and his ability to imbue a page of comics with such visceral energy. The man was an idea machine who basically defined what superhero comics can be.

On the writing side, there were two comics that made a huge impression on me as a kid, both of them mixing humor and superheroes: one was Keith Giffen’s and J.M. DeMatteis’ Justice League run of the late 80s, and the other was Ben Edlund’s original run on his self-published comic, The Tick. They were somewhat contemporaneous, and it was the first time I became aware that superheroes and comedy were two flavors that went really well together!

How long does it take you to complete one page?
It takes me about 10 hours, on average, to make a page of Steamroller Man.

What is your process like for creating comic pages from start to finish? What tools do you use?
I start thumbnailing my page layouts on plain printer paper with a pencil. This is where the thinking and planning happens, and for whatever reason that seems to work better for me if I work traditionally. From there, though, I scan those into the computer and the rest of my process happens in Clip Studio Paint EX. I blow up the thumbnails to comic page size, and do a rough layout. Then I draw the panel borders and start dropping in word balloons.

At this point I am working off of a plot outline rather than a full script, because I really believe that the pictures must do most of the storytelling. So the word balloons at this point are just placeholders to make sure they are accounted for in the panel compositions.

Next I do a tight pencil pass. This is where I’m making sure all the “real” drawing is happening, like figuring out shadows, folds in clothing, facial expressions and poses. Then I do the inks, and add screentones, washes or whatever new technique I’ve discovered in Clip Studio that I think might look cool. Then I do my final dialogue pass. This means taking simple placeholder lines like “I’m leaving” and polishing it up to “Well my dear, it’s time I bid you adieu” or something. Then I upload it to my site and start the next one!

Is your comic a finished work? If not, how long do you think you think it’s going to be when it’s complete? Is there a definitive ending or will you just keep going for as long as possible?
I once heard superhero comics described as “never having a third act” – meaning the story never really ends, and what seems like an ending is really the opening act for the next story. So I want Steamroller Man to have a similar feel. It’s intended to be an ongoing series of self-contained adventures. There is no definitive ending. At this point I have so many ideas for stories and characters I don’t know if I’ll even get to them all!

How long did it take you to plan the comic before even beginning to physically create it?
There was literally no planning before I started drawing the first page. In fact I originally called the comic “The Ad-Libbed Adventures of Steamroller Man” because I thought it would be a funny gimmick to do an improvised comic story where I didn’t know what was going to happen from one page to the next. That lasted longer than you would think! But after I started showing it to friends and family, I got asked a lot if I was going to eventually print it. I realized if I was going to print it, I had to have some sort of an end point to the story. So about halfway through the second issue I started figuring out how the second issue would end. In hindsight, not a sustainable way of making a comic. Live and learn!

What was the biggest hurdle you faced during the course of making of your comic? If you could go back in time to the point where you just started making it and give yourself a pep talk, what would you say?
I think the biggest hurdles for me have been navigating the specifics of putting the comic on the web. I had probably only read a handful of webcomics before I decided to put Steamroller Man online, and certainly had no experience with building or maintaining websites. I started off by arbitrarily deciding to post a page a week, and then painfully learned that I couldn’t draw that fast! So I had a lot to learn, and am still learning new stuff all the time!

If I was going to give my slightly younger, more naive self a pep talk, I would probably say “Figure out your plot synopsis and page breakdown before you start – then you’ll at least have a roadmap to build off of.”

What is your favorite part about working on your comic?
My favorite part is the inking. At that point, all the hard stuff has been figured out, and I can just put headphones in, zone out and make a finished product that looks cool.

What is the most difficult part about working on your comic? How do you overcome it?
I don’t find any part of it particularly difficult, but if I HAD to pick something, I guess I’d say that writing the dialogue is a part where I second-guess myself a lot. Especially when I’m trying to come up with just the right way to word a joke. To overcome this, I just keep going over it until I settle on something I’m happy with. I’ll run ideas past my family, and they’re a pretty good test audience. I’d always heard the maxim “writing is rewriting”, but I never really knew the truth of it until I started writing my comic.

Do you have a favorite character to write for? If so, why? Tell us more about them!
The current story has a villain named Sugar Daddy, who practices Candymancy – the lost art of confectionery magic. He’s created a Golem out of gingerbread to be his henchman – his name is Tough Cookie. They’re a fun duo to write – it’s the typical smart guy/dumb guy dynamic. Sugar Daddy loses patience with Tough Cookie a lot.

Which character gives you the most difficulty to write for?
Paige Wan is a scientist character who I introduced to give Steamroller Man someone to talk to and bounce off of. I don’t quite have a handle on her yet, and a lot of that probably has to do with the fact that she’s a “straight” character rather than a comedic one. She’s a normal human, no superpowers, no costume. A lot of her dialogue so far has been expositional, so it’s hard to have a character explaining things but also give her a personality. I’m sure it will get easier with practice, though.

Do you have a favorite character to draw?
Steamroller Man, of course! I really do love drawing him, so much so that the pages he’s featured on seem to fly by, while the pages where he’s absent are sometimes a real slog to get through! It’s weird!

Which character gives you the most difficulty to draw?
At this point it’s probably Sugar Daddy. The costume I designed for him was the most ornate of the cast – sort of a Victorian-era dandy type of thing. I never produced a model sheet for him so I’ve constantly had to go back and refer to earlier pages – “How did I draw the lapels on the coat? How many buttons did I put on his cuffs?” It’s a bit of a pain, even though I do like the costume.

Where can we find you?
The website for the comic is http://steamrollerman.com
There is a Steamroller Man page on Facebook on which I post finished pages, works-in-progress, and news – that’s at www.facebook.com/steamrollerman
My Instagram is instagram.com/matthew.r.schofield/
Deviant Art – deviantart.com/steamrollerman

Anything else you want the people to know about yourself or your comic?
It’s suitable for all ages!

Have you read Steamroller Man yet? Let us know what you think in the comments!