To say that Brian Hess is busy is an understatement. Hess is the illustrator and co-creator of Awake, an interstellar comic about a 12-year-old girl and her older brother who have the power to heal and communicate with planets. He also is the assistant director of the school of game development at the Academy of Art and the father of a 3-year-old.
Like most parents, Hess has become and expert at time management. Evenings are spent in the converted basement studio of his San Francisco home drawing and working on new material. He is currently developing a graphic novel with Awake co-creator Susan Beneville and another comic series. The weekends are dedicated to manning booths at comic book conventions and creating thumbnails for his new projects.
“It’s timely, but it is really rewarding,” Hess said, adding that he does try to take one day out of the week to do absolutely nothing. Noting that none of it would be possible without an understanding spouse. “My wife is amazing about this stuff,” said Hess.Awake is the brainchild of Illustrator Brian Hess and writer Susan Beneville.
Putting Pen to Paper
In 2008 Hess started messing around with the idea of Awake. Influenced by Disney films released in the early 2000s (Treasure Planet and Atlantis: The Lost Empire) Hess began to draw the characters and their world. But there was one major problem; he is not the best at putting words to paper.
“I’m not a writer,” Hess said. “I wanted to be a writer at the time.”
Accepting his lack of writing skills, he passed along the visuals to Oakland writer Susan Beneville, who he had worked with previously on a corporate project. Beneville, using Hess’ illustrations built out the story and helped develop the characters.
They decided to publish the comic themselves and it has been a little crazy ever since. The comic debuted at Comikaze in 2014. It was a chance meeting with Action Lab Comics creative director Dave Dwonch at the convention that sparked a publishing deal.
Before Hess was a father, he worked for a few different gaming startups. “After my son was born I got really burnt out of that startup mentality,” Hess said. “I really wasn’t built for that.”
In retrospect that non-stop work model might have had an effect on how Hess manages his day job, side projects, and parenting.
Being creative takes time; most of all it takes alone time and that is something many parents rarely get. Hess has figured out how to make it work. After signing with Action Lab, there was less time for sitting around the house or even relaxing after a day teaching.
Hess and his wife, a graphic designer, have adjusted their schedules so that Awake and the pending graphic novel keep trucking along. After getting home from teaching, Hess has dinner with his family then retreats to his studio and works on thumbnails or new pages until around midnight.
It’s a major help that he is not the only one in the house working on Awake – his wife does the title pages for the comic.
“My books would look like someone illiterate had made them if she didn’t help out,” said Hess.
Passing on the Passion
Though it might seem like Hess would be non-functional from teaching in the day and drawing all night, he finds time to sit down with his son and draw. Though it can be frustrating at time.
“He gets super distracted,” Hess explained, adding that they often are drawing with music playing in the background and a father and son art lesson regularly morphs into a dance party.