Growing up in Brookline as a comic book geek, Rob Stull devoured iconic titles like Spider-Man, Captain America, Iron Man, and Batman.
As an African-American, he was especially enthralled by Black Panther and X-Men’s Storm, as well as other characters of color in Green Lantern. Stull assumed — correctly, of course — that even these superheroes of color were mostly created by white men like Marvel’s Stan Lee.
But, says Stull, 50, who has worked as a comic book artist for every major comic book publisher, black comic book artists actually have always been part of the industry — they just haven’t gotten the visibility they deserve. He’s met many of them at comic conventions and became so passionate about African-American artists’ contributions to comic books that a decade ago he curated a traveling exhibit that he still talks about today.
“In many ways, I’m amazed that I’m a black comic book artist, but if you move in my circles, you start to realize that we have always been here, pursuing work in comics,” he says. “I am hardly an anomaly.”
Stull’s credits include Slingers, Iron Man, X-Force, New Mutants, and Wolverine, as well as art and illustration for record labels, custom clothing, posters, advertising, and graffiti-style murals.
If Stull’s surname seems vaguely familiar, his father, Donald Stull, was the founder of Stull and Lee, one of the oldest black-owned architecture firms in Boston. Also an artist, the elder Stull went into architecture to ensure a more steady and lucrative income. He instilled the same business mind-set in Stull, who is a freelancer currently under contract with Lion Forge. Rob Stull also teaches at art schools and universities, in addition to developing his own artistic properties.
While Stull says freelancers don’t like to share how much they make, he said a typical pay rate might be $200 to $400 and up for penciler, colorer or inker, depending on what you can negotiate.
“Comic book production is a huge time consumption which requires a solid understanding of art in many different forms, as well as fundamental drawing ability,” he says.
The Globe spoke with Stull, who lives in Milton, about being a professional comic book creator.
“I have a vivid memory of having a pack of jumbo crayons when I was maybe 3 or 4. I went straight to the bathroom – all those white walls – and completely covered the surface with drawings. My parents were so angry, but I remember my father said, ‘Wait a minute, maybe there’s something to this.’ He also liked to paint and draw — my uncle was a renown ceramist, and my mother was a dancer. Art was all around me growing up, and, of course, I read a ton of comic books.
“At a young age, I understood that creating these comic books was a collaborative process that required a writer, penciler, inker, colorist, letterer, and editor. I had my favorite titles but even more so, I noticed the different artistic teams within those comic books. I’d open up the books and become completely transfixed by the art. I was fascinated by artists who could draw or paint in a photo-realistic style.
“My main objective was always to try to capture my subject matter with a significant degree of realism. But after years working in comics, advertising and graphic design, my personal style became more minimalistic and cartoony – more deadline friendly. Back in the day, I’d be trying to make each page as pretty as possible, and it was taking one to three days to do one page. An old battle-tested veteran told me, “If you can’t get it done 9 to 5, don’t do it.’ I thought, ‘He gets five of those pages done a day? I really am a slow poke.’ So whatever I do now, I have to get it done in a timely manner.
“It’s never been easy to make it as an artist, but the opportunities to be expressive and visible are better now than ever before. But you can’t just do one thing – you need to do a bunch of different projects. Being an artist is a full-time job to keep the bills paid. The drive, passion, and determination should be there from the beginning. Whether you’re working on established properties or doing your own stuff, today there are cool ways to fuse sequential art into other forms of youth culture.
“I’m both a fan and a creator and I always feel fortunate to be doing what I’m doing. And my father? He was indifferent at first to my career and didn’t think it was lucrative, but now he loves it. With all the artists in my life, it’s like I was in the Mafia – I was born into this thing. I had no choice.”
Cindy Atoji Keene can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.