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GLASS HOUSE GRAPHICS’ 15TH ANNIVERSARY: A Look Behind The Company That’s “Behind The Scenes”

by David Lawrence

            Homeless, a young man in tattered clothes and ratty hair steps through the trash and muck of a garbage dump.  He “lives” there.  Finding an old tire and a discarded sheet of transparent plastic, he fashions a makeshift drawing table and practices inking a comicbook page with whatever tools and supplies he can scrounge.

A married illustrator in a small foreign city works long hours as a newspaper paste-up artist to house and feed his wife — weeks away from giving birth to their daughter — on less than five dollars a day.

An unemployed commercial artist survives a tragic public bus crash where others lost their lives, only to be turned away from his hard-won job interview after arriving disheveled and bloody.

A student, poor and uncommonly thin, struggles to learn to draw comicbook pages before a congenital heart defect ends his dream and his life.  His family cannot afford to have the necessary surgery performed.

Sad stories with more in common than undiscovered talent and a love for the comicbook medium, they share a happy ending called Glass House Graphics — a company well known by editors and publishers but something of a secret to comicbook fans.

Happy Endings Are Only The Beginning

*  The homeless inker became Jeffrey Huet, star Marvel embellisher on The Incredible Hulk, Iron Man, New Avengers Annual, and other titlesHe has bought a home for himself and his family.

*  The undiscovered paste-up artist was Mike Deodato, Jr., the Marvel superstar on Spider-Man, The Avengers, Hulk, Thunderbolts, and more.

*  The rejected crash survivor was Will Conrad, soon a prized inker who later became a top Dark Horse penciller on Conan, Serenity, and the upcoming Kull.

*  The artist needing open-heart surgery was Wilson Tortosa, now healthy and noted for his work on Battle of the Planets, Lara Croft: Tomb Raider, and the upcoming Wolverine: The Manga. 

All were discovered and trained by, with careers carefully molded and developed by, Glass House Graphics.  But they’re just the tips of the comicbook iceberg.

Celebrating its 15th Anniversary this month, Glass House Graphics is a professional service firm and agency that is home to those and 118 other artists, writers, designers, painters, and colorists hailing from the U.S., Canada, Mexico, Argentina, Chile, Brazil, England, Portugal, the Netherlands, Australia, India, Malaysia, Hong Kong, and the Philippines.

Founded in 1993, Glass House Graphics’ genesis came when its C.E.O. David Campiti was  founder and publisher of Innovative Corp. (Innovation Publishing) in 1988.  Under his leadership that little company became by 1991 the fourth largest comicbook publisher in the United States — its success built upon adaptations and tie-ins of books, TV shows, and films, helping the company to carve out a unique niche in the marketplace.  Among its most successful were adaptations of such Anne Rice novels as Interview with the Vampire, The Vampire Lestat, and The Queen of the Damned.   Securing the rights to adapt Rice was a coup that put Innovation on the map.

The company also published comics based on Piers Anthony’s On a Pale Horse; the TV series Dark Shadows, Quantum Leap, Beauty and the Beast and Lost in Space, its biggest seller; and the seminal science-fiction movie classic Forbidden Planet, all of which Campiti personally negotiated, edited, and often wrote or co-wrote.

Those were heady days for the entire industry, with an unprecedented number of publishers producing a quantity of material unmatched since the halcyon years of the Golden Age.  The extreme demand for quality artists inspired
Campiti to search far from traditional sources to fill the pages of Innovation’s expanding line of titles.

He turned first to Brazil, where a thriving market for American comics existed alongside a seamy homegrown industry that paid starvation wages to artists.  His attention initially drawn there by bootleg reproduction of Innovation titles, Campiti was impressed to discover an unexpected and untapped goldmine of talent.

Among his first discoveries from Brazil in late 1990 was the now-legendary Mike Deodato, Jr., whose earliest American work was published in the pages of Innovation’s full-color painted adaptation of the cult favorite TV series Beauty and the Beast.  Others, such as Joe Bennett, Luke Ross, and Joe Pimentel, followed as Campiti built connections to a rising roster of international talent. 

The Birth of Glass House
            By 1993 things had turned for the worse at Innovation.  In spite of the company’s solid success, or perhaps because of it, squabbling investors were making their presence felt throughout the company’s operations.  Before long they pushed it to the brink of ruin.

In March of that year, Campiti decided he had seen enough and resigned — immediately launching Glass House Graphics and soon representing many of the artists he had been publishing.  Glass House Graphics took only two days to secure its first assignment, a pencilling job for Joe Bennett on the Green Hornet.  Innovation, sadly, was dead within a year of his leaving it in the hands of those who’d wanted control.

For Glass House, timing of the launch was perfect.  Marvel Comics was publishing nearly 200 comics a month; DC Comics about 100; Image and Dark Horse were becoming forces to be reckoned with in the industry.  And they all needed artists.
Soon Glass House was providing writing, art, inks, lettering, and/or coloring for up to two dozen titles a month.  Mike Deodato led the charge.  His eye-popping work on Wonder Woman was just the beginning.  He soon caught the eye of Marvel and made his mark on virtually every character in their universe.  The Mighty Thor, The Avengers, Elektra, Spider-Man, and The Incredible Hulk were just a handful of the heroes’ titles to get the Deodato touch.

Meanwhile, other Glass House stars were turning heads as well — Luke Ross on New Gods and Spectacular Spider-Man; Al Rio on GEN 13 and DV8; Ed Benes on GEN 13 and Supergirl; Joe Bennett on a half-dozen different projects in a variety of styles; Cliff Richards on a five-year run of Buffy the Vampire Slayer; and many others.

For aspiring artists and writers, Glass House Graphics was the place to be.

The House Keeps Growing
            Keeping pace with the ever-growing demand for artists was a challenge.  One answer was found halfway across the world in the Asian island nation of the Philippines, where Glass House first opened an office in 2000.

A flock of great Filipino artists had made their mark on American comics in the ’70s, led by such artists as Nestor Redondo, Alex Nino, Alfredo Alcala, and Rudy Nebres.  Though their work had mostly disappeared from the American scene, surely talent still flourished there.  An old friend helped Campiti make connections.   Steve Schanes, founder of Pacific Comics and one of the fathers of the comic book direct sales market, put him in touch with the Marvel Comics licensing representative for the Philippines, who helped Campiti contact artists.

There Campiti discovered a sprawling artistic scene bubbling with good young talent.  He also found a situation much like that in Brazil, only worse: artists capable of producing professional quality working only earning pennies a page.  It was a situation he set out to fix.

Today many of those artists are making their mark.  Such artists as Carlo (Hulk, Iron Man) Pagulayan, Harvey (Ultimate X-Men) Tolibao, Wilson (Wolverine: The Manga) Tortosa, and Bong (Star Wars) Dazo are already on high-profile titles at Marvel and Dark Horse,  while another surge of Filipino artists — including Stephen (Countdown to Mystery, Vampirella) Segovia, Jonathan (Battlestar Galactica) Lau, Jinky (Banzai Girls, Avalon High) Coronado, and Lui (Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic) Antonio — are not far behind.

But for many of those artists, a peculiar hurdle remained before they could find success drawing American comics: artists used to churning out piles of pages each day merely to survive had a hard time slowing down to focus and create the higher-quality work required to earn top American page rates.  Gradually the message got through and,  today, more than 40 artists work through the GHG Asia office.

Roughly half of the business GHG now does each year is not traditional comicbook related.  One arm of the company, BigJack Studios in Belo Horizonte, Brazil, concentrates primarily on advertising and graphic design.  Another, Studio Sakka in the Philippines, produces storyboards, animation, sculpting, and thousands of pages of manga each year.

Other parts of the company do book illustrations, photo retouching, specialty printing, custom comics, 3-D animation for medical clients, web design and maintenance; talent representation; and even private commissions.

What’s more, GHG’s tight roster of writers script not only comicbooks, but also short stories, children’s books, feature articles, screenplays and teleplays, technical writing, advertising, web copy, publicity, and award-winning novels.

The Door is Always Open
            Today Glass House represents 122 authors, artists, inkers, letterers, colorists, and designers.  Not all are comic book artists.  There are painters, digital artists, animators, web designers and sculptors, novelists, and freelance editors, as well.  They are considered a professional service firm with far-reach clients both in the U.S. and abroad  — including Sony Pictures, POW! Entertainment, Hasbro, Harcourt Achieve, Reader’s Digest Books, Harper-Collins, Lego Toys, and Random House.

One of the keys to the growth and success of Glass House has been an open door policy for aspiring talent.  For many a talented creator, the biggest hurdle they face is simply getting somebody to look at their work.

At Glass House Graphics, it’s exactly the opposite.  Every single sample and submission is carefully reviewed by Campiti and, no matter how busy he is, he always makes time to give suggestions.

The Glass House website makes submitting samples simple, too.  An entire section on assembling a portfolio is filled with plenty of useful advice.  Test plots and scripts feature a variety of well-known characters that hopeful artists can draw as samples and, by “leveling the playing field” with professional stories that hopeful artists can draw from, Glass House teaches by showcasing a variety of successful interpretations of those plots.  Those plots are designed truly to put the artists through their paces.  In six pages they include everything an artist needs to show, to work in comics.  If the artist isn’t ready, the plots will expose weaknesses, showing the artist what s/he needs to improve.  Links are provided to submit the pages to Campiti, and he’s found work for many artists beginning with just those samples.

Yet the question remains — why did GHG evolve from merely a comics agency to a full-scale professional service firm?  As David Campiti explains it, “Let’s put it this way:  IBM used to offer business computers and, later, home computers.  Now they offer systems management services — the ‘soft’ services, the thinking stuff — and, by the way, they sell these computers and business systems as part of the package.  We’re the same way.  Yes, people can come to us for comicbook scripts or art or lettering or coloring or whatever, but that’s only a small part of what we can offer.  Need a property from concept through printing?  Done.  Want to start a publishing company for comics or for books — or both?  We can handle their entire start-up, with everything from setting up their office facilities and equipment to staffing and training.

“Is somebody looking to create a new format, an unusual type of book with embossed, die-cut, fold-out, magnetic, 3-D pop-ups, and can’t figure it out?  That’s what we’re here for, to help solve the technical problems and even supply the printer.
“A medical company wanted to expand its newsletter into a 3-D DVD that showed medicine injected and flowing through a bloodstream and what it did in the human body.  We scripted and animated the video, produced the DVD, handled the manufacturing and the packaging design, even did the publicity and the direct mailing.  In business, it’s often a strategy of ‘re-invent or die.’  By constantly evolving, we stay ahead of the curve and anticipate services that clients will need.  Yet I’ve done it in a way that, instead of abandoning comics, we’re doing more comics work then ever.”

Hands Across the Water
            Yet for all that, the greatest accomplishment of Glass House is not found in the pages drawn or the jobs completed, but in the lives touched and affected.  It sometimes results in intense, fierce loyalty — Mike Deodato, Cliff Richards, and Joe Pimentel are among the artists who have been with GHG since it began fully 15 years ago.  And counting.

As mentioned earlier, Wilson Tortosa, from the Philippines, is a good example of what Glass House has been able to do.  He appeared about eight years ago, young, with a good heart and a desire to draw – but, ironically, it was his physical heart which gave his life its biggest hurdle.  He didn’t know how to draw comics, but he knew how to draw.  He had an excellent  portfolio, rendered on the back of scratch paper,  jammed with wonderful images: a woman running through the driving rain, trying to protect her little daughter with a newspaper; a teenage boy and a teen girl flirting in a tree; a gang of kids hanging out at the mall, all with animated body language, gestures, and expressions.

For months Tortosa worked with Campiti and his team, devoted to mastering the fine points of sequential storytelling until he was ready for professional work.  It was only then he revealed he had a congenital heart condition requiring surgery he could not afford; with the low wages paid in the Philippines, it was a virtual impossibility he would ever have the money.  Yet less than a year after his professional career began, he was able to get the surgery and is now happier and stronger than ever.  Indeed, drawing comics literally saved his life.  He has even been able to buy a house for his family and a brand-new condo for himself.

Glass House has been able to expand its offices to help artists in other ways.  Managed by Michelle Calanog and Rhene Principe`, with the animation division supervised by Grace Dimaranan, the new GHG building in Manila includes not only multiple floors of workspace for Glass House Asia and Studio Sakka, but an entire floor devoted to artists’ personal lives  — beds and showers where they can stay, complete with kitchen and terrace.    Given that many artists live far out in the provinces, some choose to stay for days at a time rather than travel back and forth.  Some stay for a week or two at a time or even choose to live there, a true adaptation of Glass House to the culture of the country.

“Sometimes I feel like a hotel manager, other times like a den mother, and still other times like a strict schoolteacher with a long stick,” reveals Michelle Calanog, who speaks Illongo, Tagalog, and English and has managed the Manila office for the past four years.  “Each artist needs a different bit of guidance and inspiration.”
With three locations throughout the largest country in South America, each GHG Brazil office brings something unique to the cultural mix.

*  The primary Glass House Graphics Brazil office in Sao Paulo, managed by Vitor Ishimura,  is located within a glass tower — a perfect location, given the company name — for upscale client meetings, television interviews, and talent reviews.  “I also teach a weekly class in comicbook storytelling here in Sao Paulo,” Vitor explains.  “New talent comes of age every day, so the teaching is ongoing.  It has to be.  Editors are too busy editing to become teachers for every new wave of talent.  That’s what we’re here for — so the storytelling and the art will be right before it ever reaches the editor.”

*  The BigJack office in Belo Horizonte, managed by Cristiano Seixas and Joao Camillo Torres, is a workhorse studio in a restored, historic landmark building.  It handles 3-D animation, television commercials, shopping mall photomurals, and advertising work, as well as custom comics.  As part of GHG’s commitment to teaching talent, Cristiano Seixas also owns an art school, which has generated some talents that have joined BigJack, as well.  “As we delve further and further into television services, I felt it necessary to learn and grow as well,” reveals Cristiano Seixas.  “I split by time between managing the business in Brazil and attending film school in California to learn the most progressive techniques and equipment.”

*  The satellite GHG Brazil office, run by Will Conrad from his art studio, caters to a specific handful of artists in the northern regions of Brazil, particularly those in need of translation services.  “Drawing is my passion,” he explains, “but I saw how difficult it was for me to get work before Glass House came along to help.  I’m passing it forward.”

On a different scale, the Glass House Graphics home office in Wheeling, WV, has had a positive economic impact on a town still reeling from the loss of its traditional large manufacturing employers, and more than one employee has been saved from a life on the street, its training programs offering fresh starts to former glass painters, sign painters,  and calligraphers long without work.

What’s more, GHG’s star-studded Creating Comics Seminars are taught annually throughout the U.S., the Philippines, and Brazil, coordinated by each office.

GHG In The Future
Next month’s GHG comicbook, graphic novel, and manga book schedule includes 51 projects for Marvel, DC, Dark Horse, Dynamite, Dabel Brothers, TokyoPop, FOOM Studios, RealBuzz Studios, Arcana, Harris, and other publishers, plus a sizable load of advertising, animation, sculpting, design, web, and custom work, as well as specialty printing and consulting services.

With the first fifteen years under its belt, Glass House Graphics looks forth to an even brighter future.  Having opened its doors last year to a partnership arrangement in India that has brought new art and coloring talent into its fold, guiding force David Campiti has set his sights on expanding further into Europe, with plans to open an office there later this year.

Glass House can be seen at www.glasshousegraphics.com, with Studio Sakka at www.studiosakka.com.

— end —

109 North 18th Street
Wheeling, WV  26003
(304) 277-5557/phone
(304) 277-5558/fax


March 11, 2008 - Posted by | Uncategorized |

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