If you like old school video games, horror films, comics, humor and really cool artwork, then prepare to get AM-inated by the crew at Six AM Comics. Mark Marianelli, Kevin Letourneau and Daniel Griswold are the creatively talented trio that make up the company.
Q: Tell me a little bit about you and your role at Six AM Comics?
Mark: I do a lot of odd-jobs within the site, more specifically though, my role within the group is the head illustrator. I’m responsible for illustrating our featured webcomic, “Scholars”, as well as creating the majority of imagery around the website. For example, the page headers and any basic web design. On our Facebook page, we select people weekly (through various contests) to be “AM-inated”, in which we draw caricatures for them to use as Avatars. If you’ve had yourself drawn, it was me who did it.
Kevin: I serve as the Marketing Manager for Six AM Comics and help develop overall brand identity and strategy. I also contribute scripts and ideas for the development of new comics and games. I do a lot of social media strategy and creative consulting for clients as a freelance contractor, but my long-term goal has always been to get into the arena of developing intellectual property and franchises through interactive storytelling.
Daniel: I do a bit of everything from writing with Kevin on Scholars to making my own web-comic Honestly, which has a more random humor to it. Mark, Kevin and I go back quite a bit, and in High School we made a lot of video shorts based on my stupid ideas. We did obscure classics (to us) like “The French Director”, “The Mystical Green Face”, “Baby Demons”, and “Kung Fu-tage”. We all collaborated to make our longest running character “Refrigerator Man” – a man who sold his soul for the ability to move between any household appliance due to a need to escape from his tortured childhood. I like to think of myself as an idea guy, and when I have a cup of coffee and something to write or type on, I enjoy creating, drawing, laughing and hanging out to make stuff. That’s probably why we all get along so well – we’re all that way. That was a long answer, but to be a bit more professional, right now my role is Creative Support, making Honestly happen every Thursday, shooting game and Scholars ideas/scripts to support Mark and Kevin, and thinking up new ways to get people excited about Six AM like we are.
Q: How long have you been drawing for?
Mark: Since I had the motor skills to hold a pencil. I don’t think my parents have ever seen me without a tablet and pencil in hand. My brother is a very talented artist and as a younger brother I’ve always looked up to him. So naturally when I was very little and saw him drawing, I felt inclined to do the same. I guess it just stuck with me.
Q: What is the source of your motivation for your illustrations?
Mark: I think I’d go crazy if I didn’t have some form of creative outlet. I work as a web designer when I’m living in the real world, so regardless of how good you are at design, your JOB is to create what other people are thinking. Call me selfish, but once in a while, I like to create what’s in MY head. So when I’m illustrating, I’m doing it for me, and if that can entertain a few other people along the way, then I think that’s pretty awesome.
Q: Who are some of the artists and writers you look up to or whose work you enjoy?
Mark: Jim Davis (the creator of Garfield) was my biggest inspiration growing up. Throughout grade school, my classmates kind of knew me as “that kid who drew Garfield all the time”. Davis’ style is, in a way, the root of my own style (hopefully that’s not an insult to the man). Another artist who’s been a major source of inspiration to me is Mike Krahulik of Penny-Arcade.com. I’m fairly convinced that he’s one of the most talented artists on the planet.
Kevin: I’ve always admired Bruce Timm’s style and influence on DC Comics animation. I’ll devour anything by a Paul Dini/Bruce Timm match-up. They worked together on Batman: The Animated Series, Batman Beyond: Return of the Joker, Superman: The Animated Series, Justice League/Justice League Unlimited… the list goes on and I love it all.
I’m a huge fan of Warren Ellis’ creation, ‘The Authority.’ A totally bad ass comic. I also just finished Grant Morrison’s new book, ‘Supergods.’ Great read.
Daniel: Chris Bachalo (http://www.comicartcommunity.com/gallery/categories.php?cat_id=92) – this guy did “Generation X” which really spoke to me artistically. It was simple, with lots of shadows – very stylistic. Love it. I still have the Generation X comics #s 1-5 which I feel were the best drawn.
Half the stuff I have ever loved have been influenced and written by Len Wein (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Len_Wein) – This man was real. He created Wolverine, wrote for many Marvel Projects, and worked on writing shows like Reboot and Exosquad – come on! This guy is real.
Q: Were you a comic book fan growing up? If so who were some of your favorite characters?
Mark: I’d like to answer yes to that… But I think die-hard comic fans would be a little offended. I never followed any story-lines or held any loyalty to any specific character, but I was always drawn to the comics which had the best illustrations. I’d read through a comic and by the end of it realize I hadn’t read a single word, I had just been looking at the pictures! I did, however, collect Marvel trading cards like a fiend. They were pretty much comics without the words to me.
My favorite characters growing up were Wolverine, Spawn, and Carnage. Carnage for some reason always captured my attention anytime he was on a page. He was just so dang EVIL. You always had these villains who were hellbent on taking over the world, or executing the perfect crime, or had some personal vendetta against a specific hero, but Carnage just wanted to kill people! No rhyme, no reason. Just crazy. And he had an alien life-form helping him do it! Wolverine, well, what kid didn’t like him? Spawn captured my attention because I had never really been exposed to an anti-hero like that before. He was dealing out justice, but rather than cuffing up bad guys and leaving them for the police, he was LITERALLY sending bad people to Hell! A few other honorable mentions in my book were Nightcrawler, Gambit, Batman (obviously) and Savage Dragon.
Kevin: Totally. I was a Saturday Morning Cartoon junkie. Like clockwork, I would wake up early every week in my pajamas, grab a bowl of cereal and hunker down in front of the fluorescent glow of superheroes, mutants, aliens, and monsters. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles was my gateway into comic books. I was completely obsessed. I collected all the action figures and would set aside hours to develop plot devices and dialogue for my army of plastic and ooze. I’d even try to manipulate the light until I nearly burned my room down. Later, I would start to really get into X-Men and Batman.
My love for the Ninja Turtles will never die, but I still really get into Batman and all of his Rogue Gallery. Nightwing is my man. I’m also a huge horror fan, so I’ve got mad love for Freddy Krueger and pretty much anything werewolf.
Daniel: It used to be Wolverine. I like the outsider who was nearly impossible to beat. He smoked and swore but had a soft heart to take care of Jubilee. That appealed to me. But an old favorite has come back and taken over. Superman is now my favorite comic character – the Hero of heroes theme really resounds with me. Back in the day, I read all the Death of Superman and Reign of the Supermen comics and lately, I’ve started to read lots of Graphic Novels from the library concerning the Kryptonian. Being from another planet and being misunderstood appeals to me lately. And the fact that he has all the cool powers doesn’t hurt.
Q: Do you prefer DC, Marvel or Independent comic book titles?
Mark: As much as I love Batman, Marvel’s always been my favorite. And I’m not one to get into the Marvel/DC debate, but as a kid growing up and getting into comics, let’s be real, how many kids in the 80s/90s knew who the Justice League were? X-Men won the marketing battle as far as I could tell, and I was more or less a product of pop-culture, so I naturally just leaned in Marvel’s direction.
That’s not to say that Vertigo and Image aren’t excellent companies, but they haven’t fleshed out their Universe in the way DC and Marvel have (in my opinion). Personally, I’d like to see all of those universes be one big Megaverse. So I choose that.
Kevin: No preference, but I’ve been really intrigued by DC’s New 52.
Q: How did you meet?
Mark: Kevin and I met in 5th grade in Math class. A friend and I thought he was “the smart kid” in class and we befriended him in the hopes of cheating off of his exams… Turns out he sucked worse than we did at Math and we all flunked the test. He’s been one of my closest friends ever since.
Dan and I met later on in high school. There’s not really any story associated with it other than we introduced ourselves, clicked instantly, and we’ve never stopped acting like fools together. What I will say is that Dan has always been my motivation to be better at what I do. He’s an amazing artist and one of the funniest people I know, and he’s always getting better. So I’m constantly upping my game to break even with the fella’.
Q: How did you find out you all had a love of comics in common?
Mark: Kevin and I used to go over each other’s houses when we were younger and draw for hours, creating our own worlds, superheroes, story-lines, etc. So it was just a given that we were determined to do something with our creativity down the road. When I met Dan, all I had to do was look at the doodles in his notebooks to know that he had a love for comics as well.
Daniel: The easy answer is that as High School guys, the three of us would film ridiculous video footage all day, we would continue to goof around most of the night, and then edit from about midnight to 6 am in the morning. Eventually one of us suggested that we call ourselves 6 AM productions since this happened so frequently. Later, in college, we started writing, drawing and digitizing comics (Scholars and Honestly developed simultaneously). To show off our comics, Mark made a flash website that we called 6 AM Comics because that is what we were doing at the time. Since then we have gotten so much better at making these webcomics and we still do often stay up until 6 AM writing and drawing (because we all have day jobs). Personally, I love the name and hope that we never lose it.
Q: How has the response to Six AM Comics been since its launch?
Kevin: Great! We’re extremely excited. We’ve been rolling out our launch through a grassroots campaign by engaging and involving our audience incrementally from the get-go. To date, we’ve been able to transform 60 of our first readers into cartoon avatars as a way to say thanks. A few of them have already appeared in our first few comics. We are continuing the effort to “AM-inate” more of our readers and offering links to their own personal websites, blogs, and other projects. A month in, and we’ve already begun to establish a good foundation for a large creative community.
Q: Can you talk about the importance of using social networking platforms, such as Twitter and Facebook, to promote any company and especially Six AM?
Kevin: The Internet has transformed the way we communicate and consume information and entertainment. In theatre, there’s a term called the ‘4th wall’ which means the invisible space between the audience and the action. When a character in the play turns away from the scene and looks directly to the audience and shrugs, that’s what we call ‘breaking the 4th wall.’ That’s the experience I’m most interested in. With social media platforms like Facebook, Twitter, YouTube etc, we can talk directly to the people who are most interested. That’s powerful, and I think what makes for a compelling step in the evolution of entertainment. Our goal is to incorporate our audiences directly into the action. Not only do we want their feedback, but we want their involvement.
Q: SIX AM’s website suggests you guys are old school Nintendo fans. What are some of your favorites?
Mark: That’s putting it lightly! Nintendo was the first system I ever played, and the only system I ever played until the PlayStation came out. Nothing beats the classics. My personal favorites? Contra, Ducktales, Metroid and Pro Wrestling.
Speaking of Contra, if anybody’s bored, you should think about applying a little Konami magic to our website.
Kevin: Even to this day, anything that requires ‘jumping on heads’ to succeed is my kind of game. Mario has always been king, although I had a lot of fun with Ducktails, Kirby and Yoshi. I still play Yoshi in obsessive bursts on the Wii every now and then. I wanted to love the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and Who Framed Roger Rabbit? games but those were impossible!
Q: I understand you are working on your own comic titled “Honestly”. What is is about?
Daniel: Honestly is my attempt to get people to think and laugh at the same time. A lot of it is about gut emotion and creating something that seems like reality, but is totally off the wall. The first Honestly comic I ever drew had a grandson asking his grandfather if “Giant City Destroying Monkeys” had every destroyed his city? The grandpa exclaims “You know nothing!” over a picture of a Giant City Destroying Monkey, destroying a city. Accidentally upsetting your grandpa is a real thing, but doing it that exactly is funny to me – and it is ridiculous. I like ridicul-arity. Honestly has gone on to be the way I push my thoughts on life, which are often ironic, into the public sphere to see how people react. The first few Six AM Honestly comics have been Sci-Fi themed, but I can go all over the board. One older comic had Thomas Edison displaying to a Maid his new invention like it was an iPhone. He was in rapture. It was a multi-book holding swivel so he could read more than one book at a time. “Eureka!” The tagline was “Old School Tech”. I laugh at it everytime I see it. I hope people appreciate that I’m having a good time with it.
Q: Are there any plans on releasing a physical comic book or, is digital content the avenue of choice for Six AM?
Kevin: It would certainly be nice, but our primary focus right now is consistency and quality control. Our website has only been live for a couple weeks, so we want to make sure we’ve discovered and understood our audience. With the proliferation of ereaders and tablets, there’s also an exciting future to be looked at in terms of developing apps. We’d love to publish new works on multiple platforms both digital and physical, but for right now we’re focused on earning our stripes.
Mark: It certainly isn’t something we haven’t thought about doing… I think it would depend on the amount of content we can gather on the site and the overall demand for something physical. For the time being, however, we’re just finding our niche and discovering/building our audience.
Q: Tell me about your horror movie blog. What are your favorite horror movies?
Kevin: You mean Stan’s Dungeon? That’s not me, that’s Stan! The characters we have on the site live, breath and blog on their own. We do both share a love for horror, though. I would stay up late nights and watch TNT’s ‘MonsterVision’ with Joe Bob Briggs and watch classic 80’s horror edited down to acceptable proportions for late-night Saturday showings. You’d be surprised by how much they could get away back then.
Between Freddy VS Jason, I’d have to go with my man, Freddy Krueger though Michael Myers’ ‘Halloween’ is really the superior film. I love Carrie, Black Christmas, Bride of Frankenstein and House of the Devil. Poltergeist and Gremlins are hands down my favorite PG-rated horror. Michael Dougherty’s ‘Trick ‘r Treat’ has become one of my annual Halloween traditions. Also, want to see a fun flick? Go rent ‘Jack Brooks: Monster Slayer.’ Great movie in the spirit of the Evil Dead series. Speaking of, AMC’s ‘Walking Dead’ is amazing, as are the comics.
Q: What is your ultimate goal for Six AM?
Daniel: I think that Six AM has always been about laughing and having a good time together. I would like to see Six AM become something that people come to with their friends to experience the lighter side of life from three goofballs who really just want everyone to laugh and have a good time and contribute creatively to it as well. That’s why we have the East Valley University part of our site, where tons of our creative friends projects are part of our community. As a group, Six AM can be something we three pour our fun sides into, and perhaps one day it will become something that we can do on a full time basis. That may be a bit down the road, but all three of us do this because we love doing Six AM. I don’t think that will ever change.
Q: Where do you see the company in one year? Five? Ten?
Daniel: It is hard to determine what the future will look like. In one year, I see us having lots of fun inter-connected content for people to explore on the website. We will have started hanging out at Comic-Cons around where we live and hopefully have a solid base of supporters who will show what we’re doing at Six AM to their friends.
In five years we could have an office somewhere where some of us put all our computer gear down and throw paper airplanes at each other (just kidding, but seriously). I would love to see our base of supporters to have grown and our characters (Jason, Stan and Kal) become more recognizable in popular culture. These guys we have created from our own personalities have something to speak to the world about our generation. Hopefully, our ideas will have bloomed into a universe of characters that have lives and histories that people can follow – A Six AMiverse of sorts, and many of those characters being real people with real creative projects out there – connecting a community of artists who appreciate what we’re trying to do. And I won’t lie, I’d like to see Six AM support at least one of us in a more full-time capacity so that we can make this universe more and more real.
In ten years, our characters will be worshipped as gods in some parts of the world. We will be rich beyond our wildest dreams, and we will constantly have to remind people that we are just normal men like any other. No one will believe us though.
Seriously though, if Six AM could support all three of us full time and allow us to create content full time, that would be wonderful. If so, I see the Six AM Characters being made into a movie and I can’t imagine how many awesome app games will be made. Oh, and we’ll probably have a cadre of funny t-shirts that people can proudly wear. I’m looking forward to that.
Q: What is in the works at SIX AM Comics?
Mark: For the time being, we’re working on establishing the world of East Valley University via characters Jason, Kal, and Stan through our comic, “Scholars” and a few other spin-offs in the works. We’re looking to find new ways to incorporate our readers into the comics and create a more interactive experience on the site. In addition, we’re hoping to develop more Flash Games down the road as well as gearing up to start hitting the Comic-Con circuit. So be on the lookout!
Kevin: Expect to see more people getting AM-inated into the universe with new Scholar’s and Honestly comics with a spin-off series and other Flash games in the works. We’ll also be having fun with the holidays, so be sure to follow Six AM Comics on Facebook.
Daniel: Right now we’re working on a FlagShip Comic that will be called “Six AM”. It will chronicle Jason, Stan, and Kal’s earlier years when Six AM was just starting but also be about new stories and exciting adventures with video cameras and funny or odd friends who come in and out of our lives. We’ll run that comic when colleges are in break and Scholars doesn’t make as much sense. There are other projects like “Got Apocalypse” which we would like to launch, which will be insights into life from the future to now from beyond the Apocalypse. Of course, we’ll have fun making more insane Flash Games (thanks Mark!) and writing more and more. There’s more than I can detail because the three of us are very creative guys – always throwing new stuff in the air. We think we have a pretty good mix right now but we’ll keep improving and honing the humor. Looking forward to seeing where we are able to go with everybody tuning in.