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Illustrator Thane Benson on the Art of Drawing Comics in a Digital Age

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You can find art all over town — not just on gallery walls. In this series, we'll be looking at some of the local artists who serve up their work in coffeehouses and other non-gallery businesses around town.

Thane Benson studied illustration at Syracuse University before computers ruled the world. It was there that he honed his drawing technique and learned basic pen-and-paper skills that have helped him stand out in a digital era.
After college, Benson grew disenchanted while working in the coloring department at a toy company. (Yes, the coloring department — that’s a real thing.) Benson was coloring prototypes of toys before they were tested and mass-produced overseas, and while it was fun to have a behind-the-scenes view of toy production, working for the man in an environment where people weren’t always treated well didn’t jive with Benson.

“Ever since the toy company job, I’ve had a long string of odd jobs — from construction to substitute teaching to milking cows,” Benson says. (Yes. Milking cows.) While toiling away in various fields, Benson decided to take ownership of his art. “I wanted it to be my own expression, not just art for the sake of a paycheck,” he explains.

In addition to drawing, Benson always liked stories. He’d also been interested in comics — though mostly as a reader, not a writer. But that changed when he starting writing and illustrating his own stuff in an effort to combine two passions: art and storytelling.

After gaining traction with web comics, Benson’s career took off when an artist friend introduced him to Kickstarter. The crowdfunding phenomenon “opened a whole lot of doors,” he says, and allowed him to start publishing his artwork in the physical world, too. Benson now has graphic novels in Kilgore Used Books & Comics. “They’re really great there; they’re very supportive of local artists,” he says.

As far as he’s concerned, making comics is all about finding elements that are fun to draw. Benson is currently wrapping up the third volume of a mini-series, Quick, the Clockwork Knight. “That started with me making a list of all the things I like to draw: monsters, knights, robots, dragons and monsters,” he says, adding that it got him thinking: “What if I made a knight that’s also a robot and he fights monsters?” The result has definitely been fun to draw.

“I’m not very good at keeping my comics in boxes,” continues Benson. “I do lots of little drawings that are all over the place, then scan them into the computer, put boxes around them and shrink or stretch them to get them to fit.”  

After that, it’s a combination of handwork and computer work: Benson prints his prototypes, draws over the printing in pencil, pen or marker (sometimes it takes several tries to get it right). Then the page goes back into the computer, where Benson draws over it once again, this time using a tablet. “Drawing on the computer is a little odd, but it saves time,” he says. “For me, the big advantage of the computer is the undo button.”

In his comics, Benson strikes the perfect balance between dark and, well, comic. While many of the plot lines delve into the nature of existence and the meaning of life, Benson says, “it’s also silly and cartoony and doesn’t take itself too seriously.” 

His favorite thing is when readers bring their own take: “I’ve had a lot of religiously-minded people read my work and tell me it’s very interesting theologically, and others have read and thought there was a political metaphor.”

Benson recently completed his master of library and information science degree, and he currently works for the Denver Public Library, where a few of his pieces were recently displayed in the staff art show at the Central branch. 

“I've been able to use a lot of my creative talents for the library,” Benson says, explaining that he’s done poster illustrations to promote events such as Banned Book Week. He’s also had an opportunity to write and perform his own original stories for preschool storytimes, and to illustrate his own interpretation of classic stories via the Quick Draw Storytime video series released on YouTube last year.

For more information on Benson and his work, visit his website
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