Under the Surface of Periscope Studio

Two comic book artists are murdering each other at the lunch table. One of them is poised to bring a battle axe down on the other’s head. The victim’s face is contorted with rage as she reaches up to claw at her enemy’s eyes.

They’re both holding perfectly still. There are eighteen other people in the room. Nobody looks up.

“Perfect,” says Ron Randall (the artist behind Trekker, Swamp Thing, and countless other titles), tapping at his smartphone camera. “Thanks!”

The death match breaks up. Ben Dewey (The Tragedy Series, ) drops the foam axe and heads back to his desk to finish off an illustration of a telepathic turkey frowning at a pair of Victorian gadabouts. Erika Moen (DAR, Bucko, Oh Joy Sex Toy!), unfazed by her brush with death, begins applying gold paint to a Renaissance-style portrait of an artichoke goddess. Ron returns to his Cintiq drawing display to load up the reference photos he’s just taken for the next Trekker story.

On-site sketches by Ben Dewey.

At a nearby desk, Paul Guinan (Heartbreakers, Boilerplate, Frank Reade) takes a break from inking an image of a mohawked clone soldier named Queenie. The mailman drops off a postcard from Natalie Nourigat (Between Gears, A Boy and a Girl), covered with observational drawings of cafe patrons in France. David Hahn (Spider-Man Loves Mary Jane, Private Beach, erfworld) holds up two sketches and asks the room: which version of Sasquatch is more disturbing?

Environment design by David Hahn.

Within fifteen feet are a dozen other creators, all hard at work on projects ranging from top-selling superhero titles to storyboards for nationally-airing commercials to children’s book illustrations, digital caper comics, and indie fiction.

It’s Monday afternoon at Periscope Studio, the largest collective of comic book professionals in the country.

Inkwash drawing by Ron Randall.

Nobody at Periscope Studio is “employed” by the studio. This is a true collective, a group of freelancers and self-employed creators who share space, rent, resources, and even clients and projects. More than two dozen creators produce such a large volume of work from their office suite in downtown Portland, OR, that even studiomembers can have a hard time keeping track of it all. Personal projects share time and space with major gigs.

So how do you keep such a diverse group of personalities and careers in harmony?

Painting with gold foil by Erika Moen.

“We’re constantly evolving,” says Steve Lieber (Whiteout, Alabaster, Superior Foes of Spider-Man). “Periscope Studio began as a small group of artists looking to save money by splitting rent. Along the way we’ve invited in the  talented artists we meet who share our core philosophy of hard work, shared wisdom, and a firm belief that we’re each the smartest person in the room.”

Who makes the coffee? Easy – this is Portland, so the answer is any one of five cafes or fifty food-carts within a six block radius. Who cleans up? The building has janitorial services, thankfully, although the dishes can be a matter of contention. Who picks the music? “We have a shared music server,” says Dylan Meconis (Bite Me!, Family Man). “Anybody can anonymously put on music, and more importantly, anybody can anonymously turn it off.” But that highlights an issue – don’t most artists require solitude to be productive?

Erika Moen disagrees. “It’s not the right environment for everybody, or for every kind of work. If I need a day of quiet, I can either bring headphones, or stay home. But I always come back to the studio. This is my family. I feel like I’m so much further along in my career than I would’ve been figuring it all out in isolation.” It’s easy to see this system in action on any given day – Ron Randall runs into a question about a piece of art software; he gets an answer from Colleen Coover (Bandette), who turns to Jonathan Case (Batman ’66) to confer about watercolors.

Illustration by Paul Guinan.

Periscope Studio is ready to harness its numbers into a unique and cohesive brand, and it’s starting with its first venture into publishing. Beginning this fall, Periscope is launching a line of deluxe, limited-edition, collectible art books. Each book will showcase the artwork of a single studiomember. The series will be released in installments of six.

The first roster of artists to receive book treatment – Ron Randall, Ben Dewey, Erika Moen, David Hahn, Paul Guinan, and Natalie Nourigat – couldn’t be a better cross-section of the level of talent that Periscope Studio represents. Publication costs will be funded through the “Periscope Studio: Maiden Voyage” Kickstarter project which runs through December 19th. Reward tiers include original art, signed bookplates, a deluxe hardcover compendium, exclusive merchandise, and more, with new, limited tiers going up every week.

Sketches and life drawing from Natalie Nourigat.

On your way, be sure to stop by the ForeverGeek Kickstarter Store, where you can buy products from past successful Kickstarter campaigns (including plenty for comic book fans), with no sign-up fees!

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