In our current age, it’s easy to be distracted. Glued to smartphones, scrolling through endless articles and comments on Reddit, watching funny cat videos on youtube…time slips away and it can be easy to lose focus on the things that are impacting our society. Nicholas Roth recognized this and put his artistic ability to use to call it out in a project called Blinders Off. A 5-part webcomic miniseries, it documents his personal journey in discovering these crises, as well as what we can do as a society to open our eyes to them and work for a better future.
He also happens to make his argument using a fantastic comic-based art style. After coming across his project through a mutual friend, I reached out to Mr. Roth to discuss the project further. Check out what he had to say!
For those who may not be familiar with your work, tell us a bit about yourself – where are you from, and how long have you been creating art?
Well I grew up in Northeast Ohio, outside of Cleveland, where my family still resides. It was a pretty quiet childhood, I was drawing a lot. I had a buddy up the street who I would draw with quite regularly, either at my house or his. I remember at an early age my Aunt bought me a three-pack of comics for my birthday, just a random assortment of Marvel Comics. She bought it because there was a GIJoe issue in the mix, and being a child of the Eighties I loved that franchise. It was issue #44, with the cover illustrated by Mike Zeck. Also in the mix was New Mutants #37 illustrated by Bill Sienkiewicz and an issue from Walt Simonson’s critically acclaimed run on Thor. It was an incredible introduction to comics for an eight year old. So these got the ball rolling. I ended up taking a ton of art classes through junior high and high school, and attended the Columbus College of Art and Design afterwards. It was an odd time at CCAD, the internet was reshaping the industry and the tools of the trade were adapting as well. I got a BFA in Illustration, but was completely burned out after this experience. Nothing against the school, I had an amazing experience there, I was just fried. My senior year there I got a job as a server in a restaurant, and over time this helped with my transition to the west coast. I moved to San Diego in 2006, and around that time I felt the calling to rediscover my first love, drawing. It’s been pretty awesome, rediscovering illustration with that child-like curiosity I had from my youth. Comics were a part of this again, I never stopped collecting them, and after visiting numerous Cons I knew this was an industry I wanted to be a part of. For the last few years I have been putting my toe in the water, attending Artist Alleys in Seattle, Austin, Columbus, Salt Lake City, Anaheim, and Charlotte. I love connecting with people from all walks of life, so the Con circuit is a great way to do this and make some new fans along the way.
What inspired you to start drawing? What led you towards your particular style?
Comics. Comics. Comics. There’s always been something inside of me that enjoyed applying a pencil to paper. Even in the years I wasn’t actively pursuing a professional career I was still drawing in some capacity. But seeing the art in the comics I grew up with was total inspiration. As for my style, man, it is totally in flux! I enjoy a more “animated” feel to my work, but I’m still trying to perfect the look I want. It will come in time.
Who are some of your favorite artists and why?
Wow, how much time do you have? As an outsider just reading comics, you’re drawn to particular styles. These artists shape you to a certain extent, but more importantly you look to them during times of inspiration. But as an artist trying to share your love and work on a larger scale, certain artists have come along on my journey that have really made an impact too. Patric Reynolds is a phenomenal artist and human being. I had the pleasure of being seated next to him at my first con a few years back in Seattle-the Emerald City Comic Con. He’s been doing some stellar work at Dark Horse Comics for a number of years. Proton Factories out of Charleston, SC has become a friend too. I really dig what he does, and when I look at his work it reminds me to keep it fun. Chris Bachalo, Jim Cheung, Oliver Coipel, Stefano Caselli, Joe Mad, Alex Maleev, Fiona Staples, Humberto Ramos….honestly there’s a ton of great talent out there. Some people I look at for design, others for linework, others for color-there’s a global talent pool out there and people are popping up every day.
You recently completed a project called Blinders Off – what’s the story behind this project? What inspired you to create it?
Blinders Off has been in the works for about 4 years now, at least in some capacity. It started with my drive to break into comics, I had been working crazy long hours in my studio. I need some background noise as I work, so after exhausting much of the music and movies in my catalogue I needed new content. Podcasts, audiobooks, and documentaries filled that space. And as I learned I began realizing how little I knew about so many issues we face as a society. It was a great Ego-dismantling exercise. This drove me to other realizations and as time went on I felt a drive to share this information. Comics fit the bill. The first issue of Blinders Off covers this part of the journey. Other factors played into this, but I will leave it for you to read about in the first issue.
What do you think makes Blinders Off unique?
That’s tough. To my knowledge, nothing has been done like this before. It falls into the same vein as Howard Zinn’s “A People’s History of the American Empire” but the information is quite different. For starters Blinders Off is a Free Comic, a web mini-series that is to be utilized for educational purposes and awareness. It will see no print, and only be available online. The time it takes to create a project like this-the art, the research, the promotion-people look at me like I was crazy for not attaching a price-tag. But this is what I wanted to do, what I NEEDED to do to make sure this information was able to get in front of as many people as possible. Attaching a price-tag limits the potential reach of the series.
So Blinders Off is structured as a five issue mini-series. Even my art is different, it’s all black & white and much more photorealistic. This was done to keep the reader grounded in reality, I didn’t want to have bubbly cartoon characters trying to convey the message I was trying to share. A sequential story takes place over the course of the series, but equally important are the Bonus Pages found at the end of each comic issue. They may feature a person of interest like Carl Sagan, Jeremy Rifkin, Abby Martin, or Noam Chomsky. They may feature an issue we face in society like that of Citizens United, the TPP or the War on Whistleblowers. Books, websites, podcasts, videos-there’s a ton of great content found in these bonus pages that give the reader new avenues to explore well after they finish reading Blinders Off.
And I believe that’s part of what we need right now. We need to wake up, self educate, and start exploring some content to open our minds. Blinders Off has gotten a lot of positive reviews so far, people are writing in sharing their experiences with the comic. It’s definitely planting some seeds of consciousness.
Do you have any plans to continue marketing Blinders Off? What’s next for the series?
Any con I attend in the future, I will have postcards available promoting the book. My team and I ended up passing out 10,000+ postcards at the San Diego Comic Con when it went live! And that’s the beauty of this concept, its reach branches out from here. My street team is anyone who reads the book and wants to get involved because it resonates with them. Simply sharing is how this message spreads. Talk about it with friends or spread the word on Social Media. Whatever you want to do, it helps.
Moving forward, social media is going to play a big part. The intention of the Facebook and Twitter pages will be to share vetted information and reliable news concerning technology, science, politics and many other topics. I have a few trusted friends who are going to help with this. There are some other options I may explore too, but nothing I can get into right now.
Any final comments?
Aside from that, I’m looking forward to returning to my roots and drawing superheroes again for a bit. I’m planning on attending a few Cons in the fall as a fan, and will be passing out content for Blinders Off. And I want to thank you for the opportunity today to open up and talk about the series. I hope more people are able to check out Blinders Off and explore a lot of the resources available in it, yourself included.
You can find the comic at: www.blindersoff.net
It’s also available on Facebook at the BlindersOff page.