- Associated Press - Friday, August 14, 2015

ST. JOSEPH, Mo. (AP) - A St. Joseph comic book artist stepped into Kansas City Comic Con this month like he always does, with his art and comics in tow, ready to meet fans and curious onlookers. Oddly, to Kyle Strahm, in his years as an artist, he’s developed a following.

“Over time, people will come up and say ‘Oh, I’ve heard your name. I don’t know who you are, but I’ve heard your name.’ Or ‘I’ve seen your work, but I didn’t know your name,’” he told the St. Joseph News-Press (http://bit.ly/1DHFTxA ) reported.

With extensive credits to his name, from working with Todd McFarlane to being part of a comic collaboration with Ghostface Killah featured on “The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon” and having his own ongoing Image Comics series called “Spread,” there’s a reason comic book fans have likely seen Strahm’s work.

It all comes back to those comic convention floors, where Strahm began, at first as a fan, meeting his comic book artists heroes like McFarlane and then, as a young artist, trying to sell his work for cheap.

As a student at Central High School, who would later graduate from Missouri Western State University, Strahm was an avid fan of comics, from “Batman” to “Spider-Man” to characters from the independent comic book collective Image Comics like “Spawn.” He says he received encouragement from teachers like Renee Beggs.

“I don’t remember the exact quote, but at one point, she told ‘If you want to draw comic books, you have to learn to draw everything, and it’s true. Every page I draw, there’s something that I have to figure out how to draw that I haven’t done before,” he says.

Strahm’s early work informs what would later be his more accomplished art, a mixture of macabre violence and dark humor.

At first, it started as goofy characters like “Demon Easter Bunny” and a “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles” and “Daredevil”-inspired character named “Ninja Killer Blind Alien,” to his self-published debut comic “Clockwork Creature” to his current work on “Spread,” written by Justin Jordan, about a loner named No and a baby, Hope, who have to navigate their way through a deadly infestation. Strahm’s art in it is grotesque, fairly gross, but also funny.

“It’s a horror book, but I’ve never been a fan of just straight slasher-horror, gore-horror. I’ve always enjoyed the goofier stuff like ‘Gremlins 2’ or ‘Evil Dead 2.’ When I’m drawing it, especially on the covers of the books, I always try to make it so at least I can laugh at it,” he says.

The inaugural Kansas City Comic Con is a chance for both fans and other artists to connect, which is what Strahm did decades ago and has seen the benefits of ever since.

“Unlike any other industry, if you set up a table, you become peers automatically with people at the show … The biggest people in the whole industry are in that room. It’s like if you’re in movies, you can walk up and talk to Steven Spielberg. You can go to a show where Jim Lee, who’s a huge guy at DC, and just go right up to him and talk to him,” Strahm says.

Which is what he did, he says, putting away any bashfulness and opening his mind to people’s suggestions and critiques.

“The more you go to these things, the more realize this industry is built on relationships. All industries are, really. But every job I’ve ever gotten in comics is because I had a relationship that opened a door to a conversation that got me some work,” he says.

Of course, he says, the work matters too.

“Your work has to be up to the level that you’re hireable. You could be the artist in the world, but if you don’t talk to anybody, nobody’s going to know you exist … If (comic book editors) suddenly have a position, they’re not going to go on Tumblr to find the best artist,” he says.

He also has had a support group of like-minded comic book artists from the Kansas City area including Kevin Mellon (“Suicide Sisters”), Buster Moody (“Godzilla in Hell”) and Steven Sanders (“Wolverine” and “X-Men”), among many others.

There have been moments that Strahm says would have been unbelievable to his teenage mind, like working with McFarlane on a comic book called “Haunt.”

“(There) was this thing that I drew and he drew something right after it, continuing the action. As a kid, that would have blown my mind if you would have told me that,” he says.

And it likely will only continue as “Spread’s” popularity, well, you know, spreads.

“As long as it’s sustainable, we’re going to do it. I know Justin has a long-term storyline in mind … We’re going strong right now,” he says.

Helping teach at the Kansas City Art Institute, Strahm says he offers the same advice to prospective comic book artists that he was given - keep on drawing and connecting and never stop.

“Draw comic book pages and draw lots of them. If you do that and if you go to conventions and show creators and get feedback and improve, then you will be ahead of 80 percent of people who want to make comics,” he says.

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Information from: St. Joseph News-Press/St. Joe, Missouri, http://www.newspressnow.com

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