Featured Faces: Sean Mack
Small photo at Galaxy Comics, Saginaw
Photo and interview by Gina Myers
September 4, 2009

Even though he has just entered his final semester at the Center for Creative Studies in Detroit, local artist Sean Mack has already been working in his field.  The freelance illustrator has designed album covers and
t-shirts for musicians and a clothing company.  Additionally, the twenty-two year old keeps himself busy by illustrating two comics, The Smack Chronicles and The Revolutionary Times.  His work is influenced by anime and Saturday morning cartoons, so it is no surprise he daydreams in the shower of the movies and animated series he would like to someday make.

GM:  You are about to enter your last semester at CCS for illustration.  What do you plan on doing after you graduate?

SM:  I will continue to work on the projects that I am currently working on—designing t-shirts for Identical Variant and working on the comic strip The Revolutionary Times—but I will mainly focus on getting my name out there, doing freelance work, whatever I can get my hands on, but basically comics and t-shirts.

GM:  How has CCS helped you?

SM:  It has helped me tremendously.  I went in there thinking the art that I was already doing was the greatest thing in the world, but then on my first day I was immediately blown away by other artists.  Since that first day, I have put myself to the test, saying I have to be better than that person and that person.  Even though they're my friends, I have to be better than them.

GM:  Before CCS, you attended the Saginaw Arts and Sciences Academy.  How was that experience?

SM:  It was weird at first.  The art program at SASA is separated into 2D arts and 3D arts, and when I first entered I wanted to go into 2D but they put me in 3D.  I didn't understand why they put me there.  I had no experience in making sculptures or anything like that.  I was in 3D for the first three years of high schoo,l and over that time I started to figure out why they put me there.  I got to learn about statues and different types of art, and I learned to bring all these things together.  It definitely broadened my horizon. 

GM:  Do you still do any of the other stuff or are you primarily focused on drawing?

SM:  Primarily drawing. . . . It was good to learn, but now I am definitely focused on drawing.

GM:  You currently design t-shirts for Identical Variant.  Have you done any other fashion or clothing stuff?

SM:  I have been asked to design shirts for some emcees in East Lansing, JYoung and P.H.I.L.T.H.Y.  I am currently working on something for them entitled "The Black Shirt," but mainly I just do designs for Identical Variant (IV).  In the future I think it would be cool to do my own shirts, to put my characters on shirts ... I don't know, maybe have my own line with IV.

GM:  You mentioned JYoung, whom you also designed an album cover for.  And you did Big Sean's album cover too?

SM:  Well, I didn't actually do the cover for Big Sean.  I met Sean at Wayne State and originally he had asked me to do the album cover, and he wanted me to make it look like Kanye West's Graduation.  So I drew Sean with this row of Kanye teddy bears in front of him.  When I showed it to him, he was like 'Oh man, this is dope, but I don't want it to be too much like Graduation.'  [laughs] So I had to re-do it.  Come the time the mixtape came out, I looked at it and was like, 'Wait a minute, I didn't do that.'  But then I looked at the back cover and was like, 'Okay, I did do that!'

And I did JYoung's cover, which was an easy process.  I know JYoung; I know his music; I know what he's about, and he had a clear idea of what he wanted done.  It has JYoung, P.H.I.L.T.H.Y., and their producer on the medal podium with their fists raised in the air, sort of like the black power salute at the 1968 Olympics.

GM:  Do you see yourself getting involved with doing more album covers?  Do you enjoy that kind of work?

SM:  I do; I do.  If there is something I love more than art, it is probably music.

GM:  When you are commissioned to do work, do people come to you already with an idea of what they want done, or do you have more freedom when it comes to the design?

SM:  It varies.  Sometimes people come with an idea ready that they just need for me to flesh out, and other times people will just want me to go crazy.  Actually, another album cover I am working on—for the mixtape IV is putting out—the owner Randall Pointer just said,"'It needs to have the title, and it needs to have IV on it.  Other than that, go crazy."  So basically I went crazy.

GM:  You also work on two comic strips—The Smack Chronicles and The Revolutionary Times.  Can you tell me about those?  I guess start with The Smack Chronicles, which I am guessing is autobiographical.

SM:  Yeah, The Smack Chronicles started in high school, but it wasn't a fully functional comic then.  In high school you have all this drama going on, teachers you don't like, girls you have crushes on.  I didn't talk a lot in high school, but I made comics.  I basically turned it into a regular thing when I started college.  It had started out as a single project, but then I did another one, and after that I did another one, and I thought maybe I should turn it into a series.  I like web comics a lot—like MacHall and Penny Arcade— so I thought "Why not?  If they can do it, I can do it."  So I put my own urban spin on things.  It wasn't really anything steady, but I had fun with it.  Then I started adding in people I know, and people really liked it.  At first I put it on a blog, but now I have a site that hosts all the comics. [http://smackchronicles.smackjeeves.com/]

GM:  The Revolutionary Times you work on with another person, Brandon Howard.  Who is he and how did you guys start working together?

SM:  Oh, he's a mysterious person ... No, basically, Brandon and I had been best friends when we were young.  He used to live here but then moved to North Carolina for college.  We lost touch, but then in 2007 or 2008 he got in touch with me, and he heard about the art I was doing and was "like we should do a comic."  At the time I was already doing The Smack Chronicles, and I wasn't sure if I could do two comics at once.  But he told me the idea—two kids trying to get conspiracy theories out to people—and I was like, "Yeah, why not?  Let's do this."  He's basically the writer and I am the artist.  [http://www.drunkduck.com/The_Revolutionary_Times/]

GM:  How often do you put out new comics?  Is it on a regular publication schedule?

SM:  With The Revolutionary Times, we are doing it weekly, updating on Monday or Tuesday.  I'd like to do more of The Smack Chronicles, but I have a hard time finding time.  Everything else comes first, so it is pretty much monthly right now.

GM:  Who would you say your influences are?

SM:  When I first started to get into art, I was into Japanese animation like Dragonball Z.  Actually, when I was a kid, I saw the anime that kids shouldn't have been seeing like Akira and Ghost in the Shell.  As a little kid, seeing this kind of stuff messes with your head and stays with you. On the comics side, I am definitely influenced by Adam Warren—he's an American artist who does Japanese-inspired anime art.  And there's J. Scott Campbell.  He did a book called Danger Girl, which again was probably a book a kid shouldn't be reading. 

GM:  How did you first get into art?

SM:  Oh man.  If I wasn't doing homework, I was drawing—Ghostbusters, Mario Brothers, and so on.  When I first started drawing, everyone was wondering where I got that talent.  My dad was an engineer and my mom was an architect.  But I found out my grandma on my dad's side did a lot of arts and crafts.  For our church she basically made these houses and figurines, and that's where they think my interest and talent in art came from.

GM:  Do you have a work schedule—do you set aside time each day to draw?

SM:  If there is a day where I am not drawing, I wonder if I am sick—or depressed.  Even if I am depressed, I am still drawing.  I draw all the time.  I mean, if it's not for the comics or for a job, then I am drawing for fun.  Even just now, when I was waiting before the interview, I punched a bee, and was like, "Do I have time to draw this?"  So it is definitely everyday, any time I get.

GM:  So you find yourself out at the club doodling on napkins—

SM:  Oh, no [laughs].  I can't really draw at the club.  But if there was the right light and I had the right pen and there weren't all these girls to distract me, then I could draw.  I'd be like, "Oh, that guy just spilled his drink, I can draw that ..."

GM:  So you really are influenced by everything going on around you—anything could be the subject for a piece?

SM:  Yeah, definitely.  Recently I started doing a series called "The Art of Noise," and it started off when I was listening to 808s & Heartbreaks, and I drew two pieces based on "Heartless" and "Love Lockdown."  I would be listening to music while working on the comics, and it occurred to me that I could be working on something that showcases my other love, music.  I did a piece for "Day and Night," the Kid Cudi song.  So that is another thing I am going to work on this semester to build up that series.  I find music really inspires me.  As much as people try to say how whack music is today, you can still find a lot of great artists.

GM:  One last question: after you graduate, do you think you will return to Saginaw or stay in Detroit?

SM:  I am torn on this.  I want to come back to Saginaw because there are a lot of things I would like to do here to help promote the arts in this area.  A lot of people know me in Saginaw, but I really need to expand, and there would be more opportunities to do so in Detroit.  But I really would like to come back to Saginaw.  I heard the art museum might be closing, and I'm not happy about that.  I would love to see more local artists' work there.  The last time I was there, I volunteered.  I was helping them put on a show that was basically professors showing their art, and it was all local and it was really dope.  If they are able to keep it open, I would like to see more local artists represented because we have a lot of artists here, but it can be hard to get your work out there.