Thursday, August 13, 2015

What You Don't See Behind The Scenes

I was once told that someone felt I didn't deserve the success of my book, LMS: Killbook of a Bounty Hunter (2010). I spoke to my girlfriend Allison about the situation, because I couldn't understand why since I had never met nor talked to this person before. I mean, not that everyone has to like each other, but why because of the success of LMS?

She explained that throughout my career, people would only bare witness to what I show and produce--but would never be able to experience the journey it took to get there, unless they went down it themselves.

Here's the story of my journey. 

What You Don't See Behind The Scenes  
A story about how I achieved a dream come true scenario.
But through hard work, dedication, patience, and many, many cats.



So there I was...

Sitting in front of Hollywood's top producers, responsible for such films as Pacific Rim, The Dark Knight, 300, and many other films which have stomped victoriously at the box office. The three of them all held onto copies of my just freshly printed book, LMS: Killbook of a Bounty Hunter.

"So?" one of them said. "Pitch us this LMS."

I could hear the leather couches stretch as Stephan, my business partner, Russell and Peter, my marketing gurus and "Hollywood" guides, and three of WB's producers, all turned in my direction. I sat up, opened the book. My back, my neck, and palms were sweaty...

...something, something, mom's spaghetti.

But hold on. Let's back up. If this was a Martin Scorcese film, this is where everything would pause, rewind and Rolling Stones's Paint It Black would soon bust on.


My story began on the ground with my father, drawing Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles in a coloring book. You wouldn't believe it, but my earliest memory is the first time I ever drew. It's a half-lie, as I have a glimpse of some weird green-bulbous object being stuck in my ear, but the former story sounded better.

I also remember my mother grabbing me by the arm, and storming out of a classroom after my loving teacher, Ms.Reighboy, told her I'd be lucky if I flipped burgers for a living. I'd have many Ms.Reighboys throughout my life, but thankfully I had a lot of inspiring people who defended me otherwise. Let's begin with my parents. 

My father and mother were both artistically talented, each coming from different fields. My father, from more of a traditional painter, whereas my mom studied interior design. I like to think that I absorbed my mother's OCD tendencies for detail, and my father's stubborn passion to succeed.

While my mother was my first cheerleader, my father was strict and demanding when it came to work ethic and skill. I always believed it stemmed from never pursuing his passion of an artist, as he would advise me that this wouldn't be the safest route to go down after high-school.

At the time, I always felt he was incredibly difficult on me, and that I'd never impress him. Only now do I realize he was simply looking out for his lanky, dorky boy--especially with the troubles he had gone through financially during the pinnacle of his career.

It helped, however, watching him rise and fall, only to get back up. Thankfully it only hardened me for what was to come. I would require it for the numerous fight's I'd have to go through the years. From battling with "disabilities" such as ADD/ADHD, or with teachers who refused to believe that art was a real career. Along this journey, the word negativity would long be my worst, and best of friends.

Somewhere in the early 2000's, I had flunked middle school. There's a lot to pre-cursor that, a divorce in the family, the step-mother from HELL, being an introvert, and other nasty-bits I'll leave for myself and those close to me. Long story short, I wasn't in the best place, and (to the young, naive and ignorant me) life had dealt me a poor hand. So in return, my father whisked me away to live with him in Rancho Palos Verdes, an hour away from my best of friends as they entered high-school. To say I was angry, was an understatement.

As I managed to push through high-school and this foreign transition away from my friends and the neighborhood I grew up in, art had became a safe haven for me. When I was younger, I drew and wrote a lot of silly comics. From scribbles, to making up stories, or to try and impress the girls I crushed on in school by drawing them as Princess Leia. Out of all the things in my life, art had been the only thing that never hurt or betrayed me.

Art by the amazing Justin Sweet

When I was 15, I was introduced to art from Justin Sweet, who would soon become one of my deepest inspirations (and just recently having met and hung with him, he lives up to the bill). But it was through his work where I discovered how to digital paint. Inspired by a Lord of the Rings painting of his, I rushed to my father and asked for him to buy me one of these... tools. 

My first girlfriend. 

I had never heard of a Graphire Tablet before. Cintiq's weren't the jam back then, and instead I was forced to buy the infamous Graphire tablet. When I brought it home, I was garbage at it, not knowing how to even draw a competent human face. It sucked, and walking away from the problem felt a lot easier than to learn it (You have to remember, this was early 2000s. No Artstation, Gumroad, FB study group, or Schoolism. I'm talking straight up, you learn, you draw). And after a life of being told "No", I wanted to prove to myself that I could do this.
My first digital painting at 15. 

I was obsessed with the Matrix.

This is where I finally felt "comfortable" with digital painting. Years later. 

This painting I did helped launch my "artist career" I guess. So, it'll always mean something to me. 

A study I did. Where shit started to actually make sense.


So I stuck at it in the long run, and eventually throughout time managed to figure out how to digitally paint with confidence. When I graduated high-school, I got my first job a couple of months after as a conceptual artist on a triple A game, only to be fired four days later. Deadlines weren't my thing, and I had a lot to learn before I stepped into that battle-zone again.

I earned my keep by working on cell-phone games, web-site games, apps, and advertisements for lesser known clients. I got paid either in cash, coupons, or compliments. Eventually I had run out of my savings (pro-tip: save up lunch money for 4 years in high-school and walk out with enough to rent your own place), and was forced to get a real job.

So I bagged groceries at Ralphs.

That job taught me a lot. It humbled me, and taught me a lot about having respect for others. I went in thinking "I can paint! Why am I not working for Marvel or this or that?" and realized that I was no different than anyone else in there at that moment. As a bagger, people have absolutely no respect for you and will look you in the eye like you're nothing. 
For you LMS fans, this was my Level-9. A place for me to evaluate what the hell I was doing with my life.

I eventually got fired a few months after for wanting to attend junior-college courses pertaining to art. After that, I hit rock bottom. My father was right and had always warned me of this. That art wasn't exactly an easy business, nor would it continue to pay my bills. But that just made me want it more. 

Then one day, I received a phone call from my mother, whom had wanted me to meet a friend of a friend, Stephan. Thinking he would kill me the moment we met (German/stranger-danger paranoia?), Stephan proved to be one of the most sincere out of them all. We sat down and I did some work for him, promising him I was hungry for more. Later than night, we spoke on the phone for hours, dreaming of what we could be and how to do it. We were both dreamers, pipes and all. We wanted the world, we wanted respect. Money kept lights on, but we didn't give a shit about that. 

But more importantly, we wanted to change this business for the better. 

But man, there was still a lot more shit to eat.

So we hustled. He managed to get me on my first movie gig for 20th Century Fox's Aliens in the Attic. Being able to now survive off funding, I moved myself and my girlfriend at the time down to Santa Monica. No longer drenched in sweat in the middle of Fullerton's asshole, I had now a new perspective on life.

We were then positioned to work on a job for Microsoft, to help build a digital-movie pipe-line through XboxLive. Believe it or not, James Gunn (Guardians of the Galaxy) was also one of the directors on board. So we worked, and worked, and worked, but eventually I had come to realize that...I was barely being paid.

I had all these great connections, yet I couldn't afford to buy dinner? I was turning down jobs for promises, and burning bridges to save a property that wasn't going anywhere. Eventually it got worst, and I started to be put at blame for wanting to do other projects or jobs. I won't air my dirty laundry, but let's just say it soon became volatile, and there came a point where enough was enough. The final nail in the coffin was when I met Richard Taylor, of WETA (responsible for Lord of the Rings and...yeah, you should know by now who Weta is). He looked through my portfolio, and with kind words, told me to stop by the next year to check again.

Months passed. I'll never forget the day I walked up Broadway, Santa Monica, phone in hand, panicking. 

"Stephan, you need to save me. I have to go work for a studio like ILM, Pixar, or WETA."

He stopped and said, "Well, what if one day one of these companies could work for you, or have your own?" I laughed, and said that'd never happen, and asked him to seriously help me out. So he tried. Stephan knew of a guy who could potentially get me to work on World War Z. Hence, why I did this painting: 


When I painted this, it managed to find itself on numerous film-blog posts, as people had mistakenly thought this was painted for the film (but instead, an attempt to get on the film). Soon the picture had gone viral, and I was getting job offers from DC Comics, and film studios. Finally, I had a window to breathe and live as an artist

Artwork created for Your Highness 

As I began to work on a new film for Universal, Your Highness, I also started to work for DC Comics as a cover artist on their title, Secret Six. I was finally able to live off my work, and have fun, and it felt great. But still, there was something missing internally. 

During that moment, there was another passion growing. One inspired by the hardship of the Microsoft gig, its downfall, and being poor as absolute hell during that process. And that all began with a character named Alice: 

After submitting her to Deviantart, there was a reaction to the piece. People enjoyed the style, strange design and mix of pop-culture. It's as if she was a staple of what LMS would one day be, yet I had absolutely no idea and just wanted to paint a cute chick.

Soon I began to post more. 

With each one, more people began to react and ask who these characters were for, and what property. Even when I worked on that Microsoft gig, they managed to spot a few of the girls, asking if they could use them for a project of theirs. Glad I didn't do that.

Then, I was introduced to a man who would change my life forever (sorry Allison). 

Towards the end of 2008, I designed Gabriel, a faceless bounty-hunter, with a knack for candies. Inspired by the Flame-thrower guy from MGS, I wanted to create the ultimate badass. But, instead of him being so super serious and what not, give him the soul of a child placed into an unimaginable role. While someone like Deadpool may seem as an inspiration, funny enough, he wasn't. I didn't want rude, or sarcastic, as much as I wanted a pre-mature super-soldier, who had a lot of room to grow up.

But at that moment, I just wanted someone cool. I didn't know who hid behind that glass and kevlar, or who'd he'd one day become. So I posted him, and soon he became the most popular out of them all. After this, I had realized that maybe there was something more than just an aesthetic here, but instead a story as well.

So I called in Stephan, and I said let's talk. Let's sit down and figure out what this is. We stood in front of his fireplace (as I was living in his apartment with my gf, at the time) and I pitched him this idea:

"So, it's about this bounty hunter guy, Gabriel. He breaks into a police station, and steals the dossiers of 15 wanted criminals he's going after. Make the book like a scrapbook, his "hit-list". Only going to be like 35 pages. Get it done quick."

"I'm going to call it:" 


Boom, Stephan was in. He knew a publisher, Heavy Metal, and had ties with Kevin Eastman. Bada-bing, bada-boom, as the old italian stereotype goes. However, little did I know how much of an ass-kicking I was about to receive.

I created a pitch first, designing about ten characters, along with previews of what the book could look like, and ideas for where we could take the series afterwards. Printed it out, Stephan set up the meeting, and then I pitched my heart out. High-school, all over again.

When I pitched it to him, I couldn't read his nonchalant vibes. He was quiet, calm, and then half way had to pay his meter. I knew I fucked it, and Stephan started to feel the same. But after he returned, Kevin said he'd love to be a part of the process, and agreed to publish LMS: Killbook of a Bounty Hunter.

Over the next year I taxed myself to the utmost level. I can't write about what each day was about, nor do I remember half of it. What I remember is that I worked full-time, not in a studio, but in the tiny corner of Stephan's apartment. I didn't go out, I didn't hang with friends, I didn't go partying or drinking, smoking or chilling. I worked DC Comics in the morning, Universal in the afternoon, and LMS at night. Rinse and repeat for a year and a half straight.

About a third in, I almost stopped. While I was able to finally afford my rent off of art, I wasn't fulfilling up to the idea I always had of the book. Something was missing, and I had spent far too many hours looking at the same characters, art, dialogue, and checkmark-list to care any longer. So I gave up.

I'll never forget that morning at 6:00 AM, as I laid down on the carpet, my girlfriend her own bed, as we no longer were really sleeping together any more. My relationship had crumbled, my mother was furious at me for never staying in touch. I had turned down multiple well-paying studio jobs, in order to follow a silly dream of mine. I looked up at the pop-corn ceiling, and decided fuck it, towel is thrown.

As weeks passed, I didn't talk much about it, nor did I tell Stephan. I let it settle, as I would sometimes open up pages of the book and try to figure it out, only to no avail. But it was my father who inspired me later on, sending me a quote that would stick in my head to this very day:

"Every day you're not perfecting your craft, someone else who wants it more from you is catching up." 

So I went back at it. I kept on pushing and perfecting the book I had given up on. I can't explain to you what I learned in that moment, as it's a crucial story beat for later on in Gabriel's journey, but it was there where I finally had some clarity on the project. 

The first 230(270) pages of LMS: Killbook of a Bounty Hunter (spreads)

Comparison of 2013 edition and 2010. 

In 2010, I finished it a day before my deadline, at 200+ sum pages all by myself. I didn't have any money to originally fund the book, so I had my girlfriend at the time and Stephan edit the first pass. Much as I expected, the story evolved from a simple concept I had, into an entire universe, with over 40 characters not including Gabriel himself, to explore and hunt down. It became a world I'd never be able to leave, and one I'd always try to protect. 

After, we set up Pre-Orders through my Deviantart. We smashed our cost for the printing price in the first day due to an incredibly supportive following, and with that were able to fund LMS: Killbook of a Bounty Hunter. 

The books came out, but weren't the ones I had proofed months prior. Blurry and pixelated covers, along with misprinted interior pages, these books were in no shape to go out (Why they did, is another story).

Every copy. I told the publisher I could not allow this book to come out, and in return Stephan and I took out a hefty loan to cover the new books ourselves. A business move I was advised was a bad one, but one to this day I do not regret.

This forced-business move hurt me a lot, but in no way would I allow a book I didn't agree on to go out. I like to believe I have integrity for my product, and if you've seen the Killbook, I hope I've fit the bill. I didn't take money up front to make this book. I did this for me, to build something I would be proud of.

After revealing the book to the publisher, I was introduced to the marketing duo who would eventually lead me into the doors of some of Hollywood's largest studios: Dreamworks, Legendary, Paramount, Sony, Bad Robot, Fox, and more, in hopes of picking up the property as a film. We even pitched it to a few game developers (Activision--heh--and Gearbox included!).

And here I was, this tiny, sweaty, tadpole trying to pitch a tomb of a book to these giant empires. While each one of them (well, not one of you. You were a fucking dick and completely disrespectful to me, and I'll never forget that) was kind and considerate, not to mention just TALKING to these guys was humbling enough, they all passed. While they appreciated the book, the world was just too large to focus on, with no idea where to start. 

At that time, without knowing it, I wanted to make Guardians of the Galaxy. I take nothing away from James Gunn and the amazing movie he made, but that's the type of movie I wanted LMS to be in 2010. But unfortunately (for me) James Gunn hadn't graced us yet with that movie, so no Studio was willing to drop such cash for a movie like that. Nor did they even know how to make one (again, cheers Mr.Gunn.)

But then we had a bite. Summit, the studio behind Twilight, wanted to take up the mantle and orchestrate a deal. While they worked on the contract, another party saw it from the WB camp, which prompted yet another offer. 
And then another studio, Paramount, stepped into the fray. Soon the titans battled, and a winner was chosen... 

While they hired a writer to put a script together, unfortunately the IP was sat on for four years. The vision wasn't clear (hell, even then I didn't know the story like I do now) and while I wouldn't put any blame on anyone, it just didn't work the way we all thought it could. 

As of now? I can tell you this: LMS is moving, and there are respected people involved. But it takes time. A lot of people naively think that movies are made over night and that a single entity is controlling a single film. Couldn't be further from the truth.

Making a film come to life is a miracle in itself. To get where we are today, it has taken us hundreds if not thousands of hours, emails, phone calls, group discussions, meetings, screaming matches and even more that I don't need to get into (mostly the mental game it plays on you. Trust, loyalty, and paranoia are some prime suspects).

Throughout the last seven years, Stephan and I, along with a handful of artists, have fought and bleed to get to where we are today. It's a personal experience that no one will be able to go through but us, so while I can't explain it's entirety it in words--I hope I can in our proof of purchase.   


So, you see, when I see Call of Duty riffing off Gabriel's vibe, or I'm told to my face by my friends that this director or that production designer used LMS as a reference board for their lazy and heartless characters, I can't help but be a little pissed and torn. This isn't just some guy in a mask to me that a twelve year old is going to choose in a videogame. This is my career. The last seven years of my life, every single day trying to better it, type of obsession. I've turned work, relationships, and opportunities down to build this. My nipples are red from the suckage, trust me. 

Lost at birth?

But thankfully there is an amazing fanbase that keeps LMS alive and growing to this very day. 

(far too many to put on this blog, but I'm always accepting donations of dog/cat/lms photos)

Or the dozens of professionals and artists who have not only inspired me, but have helped build Gabriel's journey and bring it to life. I feel honored, humbled, but most of all, in creative debt to this community for what I've received, and will try to continue to live by example of what you can do with a little gut and grit. 

Created by Legacy Effects

Created by ThreeZero 

Created by FUNKO! 

Created by me. 

Created by Barnes and Noble. Wait. What? 

This is why I walked down this road and saw LMS to the finish line. I told Stephan at his apartment that one day, that I would make a book that could platform us for the rest of our careers. 

While it's taken a toll on me mentally and physically to get to this stage (stress and anxiety kills the body and mind, my friends. Go outside often.), it's also allowed so many dreams of mine to come to fruition. That feeling of gratitude is one I wish for every artist, of any nature, and one I hope to bring with our developing company, Section 9. And soon to be, it'll be happening for another artist of ours with his first IP, and I can't wait to talk more about it.

Remember how Stephan offered the idea of one day WETA or ILM working with us instead? How I thought it was some tom-foolery? Glad I listened to him.
Taken from the back of LMS: Killbook of a Bounty Hunter.

Follow your dream. I have not ONCE looked back on my decision. But it wasn't spoon fed like some believe. I didn't get lucky or gifted this opportunity. I sat up, put my money where my mouth is, and built it myself. I've been doing this for a long, long time and I had to eat a lot of shit to get here today.
Make your own destiny. Don't rely on others to build yours. 

Thank you to all of you that have continued to support and inspire me to follow this dream for the past fifteen years (since I began publicly painting I guess). I seriously try my hardest to make an effort to keep you all involved and remembered with what's going on in this crazy life. I'm not saving any lives, or curing any diseases, but hopefully I'm inspiring some to go against the grain like big homey(s) John Lasseter, Steven Spielberg, Todd McFarland, and George Lucas did some years back.
"Kry Baby, Kohai" by Allison. 

And finally, a dedication to the most beloved out there. The Negative Nancies. Don't worry or waste time on those who talk 
snidely behind your back, imitate, or try to tear you down along this journey of yours...

Because if there's one thing I've learned, it's that the more you continue to advance along your dream...

...the harder it is to give a shit about them.


Shout out to: Allison, my beautifully talented girlfriend. Team S9: Alex Konstad, Stephan Lokotsch, Darius Shahmir and a special guest star shout-out to Anthony Jones and Noah Bradley's inspiring entry on what it took for him to get to where he was. 

Figured out a way to explain it all, hope you enjoyed the read.

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