Drawn to Drawing
Lafayette artist Kody Chamberlain was a late bloomer but has received national acclaim in the world of comic book art.
The switch controlling the florescent lights inside this downtown Lafayette studio is flipped off.
This isn’t unusual, though it is a stark contrast to the beaming hallway and sun-splashed afternoon. The overhead lights are “a little intense,” Kody Chamberlain jokes while he works on his latest comic book project, a single lamp launching shadows that stretch across the room like spilled ink.
In this way, the confines of Chamberlain’s 9-to-5 life imitate his art.
With a drawing style that has earned glowing praise from his contemporaries and pays homage to the generations-old craft of film noir – dark, low-key black and whites and unbalanced compositions – the 37-year-old has left a sizable thumbprint in the world of comic book art, lending his talents to a healthy sampling of projects.
The most recent was a four-issue comic miniseries titled Luke McBain in which the main character was inspired by country music singer and Louisiana native Trace Adkins, who pitched the project on various late-night television show appearances in the winter of 2009.
Chamberlain also provided the cover and inside art for the 2007 printing of Beowulf by HarperCollins, co-created and illustrated the humorous comic Punks and provided the concept art for the Warner Bros. animated show Watchmen: Tales of the Black Freighter.
Perhaps what’s most surprising about Chamberlain’s gradual rise to prominence is how long it took him to find this path. A self-described “outdoors kid” who enjoyed the hunting and fishing abundance offered in his hometown of Pierre Part, Chamberlain didn’t begin drawing until his junior year of high school.
“The goal right off the bat was to go into comics,” Chamberlain says. “I just wasn’t good enough. It was all about practicing and studying and buying more classes, buying more art books. When I recognized I was having fun with art, I latched onto comics pretty early.”
Still, Chamberlain approached this ambition practically. After graduating from the University of Southwestern Louisiana (now the University of Louisiana at Lafayette) with a degree in advertising and design, he worked for various marketing and graphic design firms to pull down a steady paycheck while he used the little disposable income he could scrounge up to buy art books, supplies and learning materials and travel to conventions and seminars. And if that meant he had to eat ramen noodles or some other cheap, nutrient-lacking meals that would make a dietician cringe, so be it.
“It’s probably one of the hardest things I ever had to do,” Chamberlain says. “But I had to – to be with other creators and editors and publishers to show the work. After 10 years of that, the doors finally started to open up. It was networking, talking to the right people, but it was also improving as an artist.
“If there’s one gift I had – and it certainly wasn’t drawing – it was knowing the things I didn’t know,” Chamberlain continues. “I was able to spot my own problems. I guess it’s something I did naturally. … Like with storytelling: How do you choose the right angle? How do you render a figure correctly? Does a face look naturalistic, or does it look deformed? Stuff like perspective and color theory … I knew what I was missing, so I was able to tailor my studying toward that.”
Chamberlain has become a mainstay in an industry with a fiercely loyal fan base despite not having any allegiances toward a certain hero or series as a child. In fact, Chamberlain semi-ashamedly admits, he really wasn’t into comics growing up and has had to undergo a crash course in trivia and history to get up to speed with his die-hard followers. His inspiration consists mostly of older cop/detective shows – episodes of Hawaii Five-O, Colombo and Starsky and Hutch.
“Even today, I don’t have any loyalty to any specific book or character,” Chamberlain says. “I’m not trying to re-create anything I loved as a kid [because] it was never there for me to re-create. So I’m able to come to it with a fresh eye and bring my own voice to it.”