October 17, 2012

Life After Pratt With Comic Illustrator Bernard Chang (B.Arch, 1995)

By Britt Gettys
Chang at NYCC 2012
Bernard Chang received his BFA in Architecture from Pratt in 1995, so it’s a little strange to find him manning a booth in the Artist Alley of New York Comic Con (NYCC).  Since his years at Pratt, Chang has transitioned his a career path to become a professional comic book illustrator.  Names like Marvel, DC, and Disney fit neatly on his resume and he has worked on comics featuring some of the world’s most iconic characters, including Superman, Wonder Woman, X-Men, and Deadpool.  Saturday of NYCC I got to sit down with Chang and discuss his experience as a Pratt student and how he managed land a career in comic illustration while studying architecture.

Before attending Pratt Chang studied fine arts in Miami at the New World School of the Arts as a high school student.  There he heard about Pratt’s national, architecture talent search and figured he’d give it a shot.  It ended up paying off big time as Chang won the search and a full scholarship to Pratt.  However, once he’d settled down in Brooklyn Chang found particular brand of creativity was stifled by the first two years of the architecture program and his inability to explore other fields within the program.  “Essentially every class you take your first two years is planned out for you,” he explains.  “But I wanted to find a way to draw on my own time, and that came through comics.”

Chang gives tips and advice on writing
graphic novels to Pratt writing major, Emily Fogle.
The events that led to his first illustration job seem almost unbelievable and speak of an endless amount of perseverance and determination on Chang’s part.  “I’d walked into a drug store on Myrtle, which is now the grocery store, Associated, and found a comic book stand with books on drawing comics.”  His interest peaked and it was then he decided to find a side job in the industry.  “I started asking around campus, talking to illustration majors and trying to find someone connected to the industry.  I ended up meeting Mike Thomas, who was interning at Marvel, and he gave me a try out script I could practice drawing with.  Eventually I pulled a portfolio together and I brought it to NYCC that year.  The next summer I went to San Diego Comic Con, showing my work to other artists and industry specialists.”  Eventually he ended up working for Valiant Entertainment, under the mentorship of comic legend Bob Layton (who Wizard Magazine calls “The Definitive Iron Man Artist”).  By his third year at Pratt Chang was working as a professional illustrator.

Chang stresses Networking as one of the most important aspects of career building.  “If I hadn’t been in New York this wouldn’t have happened,” he asserts.  “The people I met at Pratt and just being in New York, it opened up a lot of opportunities.  Pratt has a large network of artists, and being surrounded by artists and art all the time, one can’t help but be inspired and engage in the creative process.  You have to take advantage of that.” 

Demon Knights vol. 13
On top of networking, Chang notes that professionalism and reliability are key.  “Companies are more concerned about your portfolio and reliability rather than your degree.  You have to be able to produce high quality work on time.”  The freelance mindset, he describes, is different from that of other employment types because, in freelance, without work you can’t make any money.  While most students find this concept and the management of independent projects intimidating, Chang comes at the issue with a level head, offering some reassuring advice.  He recommends artists keep their workspace as separate from their living space as possible, especially if they work from home.  “I mean, I still work in my PJs, but the studio space is on the second floor of my apartment, and that’s specifically for work.  It’s set up to feel like a workspace, to get me in the right mindset.  When I’m not working, I decompress in a different space, such as my living room.”  He also spends his time working on a variety of projects at once.  While he may be illustrating for DC’s Demon Knights comic series, he’ll also be completing other, independent illustration work for different companies.  As a freelancer he says it’s important to always have projects lined up, “so you’re working constantly all the time.”           

Despite his savvy knowledge and tips for the freelance artist, Chang is more than familiar with the nine to five, office job us artist types try to avoid.  But working as a Disney Imagineer seems a lot more engaging than accounting.  Chang spent five years at Disney, utilizing his architecture background as a concept designer for Disney’s theme parks.  California Adventure’s Animation Pavilion and Epcot’s Millennium Village are among his projects.  However, he does warn that when working in conceptual design it’s rare that one’s work is physically made.  For the most part, everything remains an idea, a creative possibility.      

When asked about the shift from majoring in Architecture to graduating into illustration, Chang doesn’t talk about the two fields as being completely unrelated.  In fact, he finds studying architecture has helped him with his illustration work.  “There is no degree for comics,” he admits. “[So] I got my degree in architecture, but now I draw comic books, and by taking that design mentality I learned at Pratt through the architecture program I’m given an edge over other Illustrators.”  He applies those lessons to his work through the composition of panels and the layout of art and text over the page.
For Chang, every aspect of his time at Pratt has been invaluable, to the point that he wears a Pratt shirt to every convention he attends and never fails to tell young, hopeful illustrators that Pratt is where they need to be if they want to succeed.  “You get the intensive education from your teachers, and the rest is networking.  Most of my close friends I met at Pratt, and you have to take advantage of that.  Foster relationships with students, alumni, and teachers.”  According to Chang, these are the people that will help build one’s career.   

Interviewed by Britt Gettys October 13th, 2012

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