2012-06-06 / Front Page
Comic artist, writer garners serious acclaim
Freehold Township native’s book reaches international audiences
The Freehold Township native who now resides in Brooklyn, N.Y., has garnered honors and international attention for his short graphic novel, “The Pterodactyl Hunters,” which was the product of his thesis project at the School of Visual Arts in New York.
“I feel totally lucky and amazed about the success I’ve had so far,” Leach said, quick to add, “The idea of success is sort of relative [in the comic world].”
Luck probably had less to do with it than talent and hard work, but one would be hard-pressed to get him to say so.
He pointed out that having a publishing company pick up a comic is not the same as having a traditional novel published. There is no six-figure advance, and even once a comic book or graphic novel is published, its author is not going to get rich from it.
“It’s just a different game,” he said .
Still, the modest artist whose illustrations have gotten him freelance work with high-profile clients could stand to pat himself on the proverbial back for having come so far so fast.
Only two years after graduating with a Master of Fine Arts, Leach has made a name for himself not only with his book, but by doing work for companies such as Sports- Center, Xbox and Moleskine, along with publications like Time Out New York, Time Out New York Kids and The L Magazine, among others.
“I can’t say that success is here just yet, because you never know when the bottom is going to drop out,” he said.
Although anyone familiar with the business might see his point, it looks as if that won’t be happening anytime soon. Case in point: Leach had to reschedule an interview with Greater Media Newspapers when he received a call for a last-minute assignment from The New York Times Sunday Review (Visit www.nytimes.com/2012/05/20/opin ion/sunday/who-arrived-in-theamericas first.html?_ r=1&ref=opinion to see the finished product). “When the Times calls, you kind of have to drop everything,” he said.
It’s not as if the assignment just fell into his lap, however. It was two-and-a-half years in the making. While in grad school, a woman from the Times visited his class and took a liking to his work, but it wasn’t until a couple of weeks ago that he finally got the call. Leach knows that such waiting is the nature of the beast in the industry, having started relentlessly promoting his work by sending emails and postcards to art directors everywhere while he was still in school.
In fact, after graduating from Mason Gross School of the Arts at Rutgers University in 2002, a friend in the industry told him that going to grad school would be a waste of time. Instead, he said, Leach should simply purchase a list of art directors, as many others do, and he would be fine.
“I told him, ‘That was the worst advice I ever got,’ ” he said.
Attending grad school not only gave him the business skills he needed to pursue his career, it also generated contacts he said he couldn’t have connected with otherwise.
It also helped him take his career in a new direction.
“I felt like I needed a shift,” he said .
After his undergrad work at Rutgers, Leach had done several teaching stints with schools and other organizations, providing instruction for kids from kindergarten to high school age, even expanding his own skills when necessary.
“I learned to play the mandolin just because they [the nonprofit] needed a mandolin player,” he said.
Aside from allowing him to focus on his real passion, grad school also gave his pterodactyls, and their hunters, a chance to come to life.
“It was an idea that I had kicking around in my head for a few years,” Leach explained.
The concept of pterodactyls living in New York City during the early 1900s was one Leach knew he wanted to pursue, and he began the long process of drawing them and writing their story.
A final art show was the culminating event for Leach and others earning their degrees, and he decided that he wanted to display his work as a printed book for the show.
Newsprint was the best his student budget could muster, and it happened to work well with the content, too. Leach scraped together $900 to print 1,000 copies of his work.
“In publishing, that’s not a lot of money, but to a grad student, that’s a lot of money,” he said.
Aside from distributing copies at the art show and beyond, he sent his work to every publisher that printed comics that he liked.
“It took a while before the fish started to bite on the hooks,” he said.
But before long, they did.
Leach had applied for a grant from the Xeric Foundation, which offers two annual awards for selfpublished comics. He figured that if he got it, he could at least recoup the money that he had laid out to print “The Pterodactyl Hunters.”
An additional incentive for winning the grant award came from a publishing company called Top Shelf Productions, where he had also sent the book. A company representative told himthat if he got the grant, they would publish the book.
The award winner ended up instead using the grant funds to get proper covers for his soon-to-be published book. He bribed friends with pizza to come over to his place and help staple each of the books into the covers, he said.
Around the same time, Leach received yet another honor. Without giving it much thought, he had sent the book to Houghton Mifflin Harcourt for its annual “Best American Comics” anthology.
He made it in.
In the midst of all of this, Leach continued getting his work out to everyone he could, sending it to blogs where he received recognition, and attending indie comic shows.
“It went pretty quick, which was encouraging,” he said. “I thought I’d be wrapping fish with the newspapers for the rest of the year.”
Apublisher from the French company Ca et La approached Leach at a comic show and took things to the next level. The company scouts work from international artists and translates it into French, which is what they did with “The Pterodactyl Hunters.”
“My mind was blown,” he said, adding of his growing success, “It was all pretty quick, but it felt like an eternity while I was waiting for traction.”
Being published in France was a boon in more ways than one. Leach explained that comics are regarded much more highly there than in the U.S.
“The market there is totally different,” he said. “Adults read them there. They treat it like a regular art — it’s not treated like a second class thing like it is here.”
Therefore, it was truly a thrill when Ca et La offered to fly him, along with other international talents from other countries, to France for the “enormous” annual comic festival in Angouleme.
“It was unbelievable,” he said, explaining that the festival takes over the entire village, with authors from all over the globe.
It was there that Leach received another offer he couldn’t refuse — to have his book published in Italy and Spain, as well. Although he is still working out the details of the contract, “The Pterodactyl Hunters” will reach readers in both countries sometime in the near future, he said.
Although comics are where Leach’s passion lies, his career doesn’t stop there.
The well-rounded artist still teaches, working in after-school and summer programs, and lands freelance jobs whenever possible doing editorial illustrations and advertising work.
“You have to juggle a lot of little things,” he said. “You never know where it’s going to come from or what it’s going to be.”
As uncertain as the business may be, there is no denying that Leach has made his way thus far.
Perhaps part of the credit for his skill and dedication should go to his parents, Maureen and David Leach, who enrolled him in drawing classes from the time he was 6 years old.
“I was one of those kids who was drawing all the time,” he said. “My parents were always really supportive.”
So much so that they often trekked into the city to take him to classes at the Metropolitan Museum of Art and Pratt Institute during his formative years.
To this day, Leach is always drawing, whether working on one of his future books or absently doing what he does best just for the fun of it, as he did during the interview for this story.
“It’s like anything,” he said. “It’s like your bowling score or your golf game. The more you do it, the better you get.”
Check out Leach’s Internet website at www.iknowashortcut.com.