Childhood Love Turns Lifelong Career

Writer / Joshua Deisler

Photographer / Brian Brosmer

Stuart Sayger had hit the jackpot. His father was just steps away, discussing dusty lamps at a local antique show. But Stuart was huddled on the floor with a pile of old, torn comics at his side. As he opened the first page, the musty, grassy odor lifted from the comic book like a wave. It was just the beginning of a long, successful career.

“I can remember being 5 or 6 years old and seeing old comic books,” says Stuart Sayger, professional comic artist and illustrator. Some of his first memories with comics involve visiting antique shows with his father, paging through Batman comics, anticipating the next adventure and meeting his childhood hero, the artist of the comic Micronauts. “I remember thinking that this was the guy I looked up to,” he says.

Stuart remembers often drawing superheros as he grew up, and his love of comics led him to work at Comic Carnival throughout his middle and high school years. Cataloging and selling comics helped gain him experience for his future success.

Stuart attended IU where he studied journalism and art history. There, Stuart regularly worked as an illustrator for the student newspaper. “That was a good training ground in becoming a professional illustrator,” says Stuart. He notes that working with deadlines and editors helped prepare him for publishing comics.

At IU, Stuart built friendships with other artists. Stuart happily remembers his friends meeting at his apartment to create a comic book—in a single night. Stuart and his buddies worked non-stop, finally breaking at midnight to make copies of their new book. It was the first of many publications to come.

After graduating and moving back to Indy, Stuart considered making his own comic book. He liked the style of ’70s DC horror comics and wanted to create something similar. “I was going to make a comic book that I liked,” says Stuart, who wanted the comic’s art style to fit the mood of the moment. A fight scene, for example, could feature hard, jagged lines. Some frames could be colored while some could be in grayscale.

Stuart set his eyes on Chicago’s Wizard World, the second largest comic book convention. “I decided to dare myself to go,” recalls Stuart. He had attended several times as a fan, but this time, he was on a mission to observe how the event was organized and executed: different artists, editors and publishers all gathered in the convention hall. For people to know his name, Stuart would need to set up his own table.

After the close of the convention, Stuart called the organizer to secure a table for following year. “I had nothing to set up, but I had secured the spot and had N116StuartIMG_0024given myself 11 months to get the book done,” remembers Stuart. “The ticking clock kind of does some things to help you be motivated.”

Nearly a year later, Stuart had self-published the first edition of his comic book “Shiver in the Dark.” The story revolves around Grace, a college freshman who finds herself in a dark and untenable situation after stealing an old book. Stuart honored his desire to draw the scenes to fit the mood of the moment. “There was no editor to tell me no,” says Stuart.

So, Stuart had his table set and his book copied and ready to show. He was nervous; he had no idea how the book would be received. “You make this thing, and you don’t know if you’re going to sink or swim,” he says.

Soon, a comic book store owner approached and picked up his book. The man liked Stuart’s savvy art of psychological horror. “I don’t care what this is about. I want it,” Stuart recalls the man saying. More and more admirers arrived at Stuart’s table, excited to see something new.

As the convention neared its end, Stuart looked over to the Diamond table. Officials at the comic distributor noticed how busy Stuart’s table was, and after examining his book, Stuart recalls them saying, “We’d love to have it.”

Stuart’s first achievement would not be his last. “I felt like I had crossed the finish line. I had no idea it was just the first leg of the race.” From there, Stuart reprinted his book, which sold well on a national scale.

Soon, Stuart began working on issues two and three of “Shiver In the Dark” and began planning where to visit next. “I literally looked at the map and thought, ‘Ok, what are some places I could go to?’ It was either this or get a real job,” he laughs.

It was at that first convention where Stuart would forge a career-long partnership with an editor when he handed him a copy of “Shiver in the Dark.” The editor soon called Stuart. “I never forgot you,” Stuart recalls him saying. He offered Stuart a job drawing a vampire series, “Bram Stoker’s Death Ship.”

Stuart scored one opportunity after another and was soon asked by DC Comics to draw “Bionicle”—a comic that accompanies the popular LEGO series. “I was stunned because it was such a big project. It definitely elevated my exposure,” he says. Stuart worked as the penciler and inker for the comic for several years. In fact, the comic Bionicle was translated into eight different languages.

Stuart now has so many opportunities, he often has to turn some down. “I can’t tell you how frustrated I’ve N116StuartIMG_0030been when the phone has rang, it’s been a great job offer and I’m already booked.” He just recently spoke with an art director at LEGO who has asked him to draw another project.

In recent years, Stuart has completed work on graphic novels that accompany movies like “Trick ’r Treat” and “Krampus” and TV shows like “The Walking Dead.” Stuart even drew work for “Man of Steel”—art that ended up on T-shirts and mugs. “There’s always something new. It’s often the situation where the right project sort of pops up.”

Stuart faces plenty of competition. “If you’re lucky enough to make the cut, then you’re very fortunate.” As he travels to national conventions, he not only showcases his work, meets fans and holds seminars but also interviews for future jobs. Many opportunities have simply arrived while sitting at his table, talking about his work with someone he thought was a fan who was actually an editor. It was one such occasion that led him to drawing Batman and Green Lantern.

Stuart will soon be a guest at the upcoming Indiana Comic Con at the end of April. Currently, he partners with the Nickel Plate Arts Center as a featured artist, and he recently organized the center’s comic-book themed Christmas party. Finally, Stuart helped plan an event at the center called “Comic Book in A Day” where over a dozen artists compiled an 80-page comic book.

But even as Stuart’s opportunities continue to grow, his heart continues to lead him back to where it all began: “Shiver in the Dark.” “It’s always on my mind,” he says, hoping to publish a fourth edition soon. “I know there are people waiting for it, and I’m sorry I’ve kept them waiting.”

Indeed, perhaps it’s these times that are in Stuart’s heart as he travels around the country, meeting publishers and fans: the memory of curling up among old antiques with a crumbling comic in hand, the memory of paging through Batman’s latest adventures and the memory of meeting the Micronaut artist, his childhood hero.

Now, 20 years later, the artist has arrived back where he began—this time on the other side of the convention table. He often encounters young adults who recognize him from his work with Bionicle. Many see his name displayed and stop in their tracks.

And Stuart smiles when so many of them say, “Wait a minute, I know your name. I learned to read because of you.”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Welcome Back!

Login to your account below

Retrieve your password

Please enter your username or email address to reset your password.

Send me your media kit!

hbspt.forms.create({ portalId: "6486003", formId: "5ee2abaf-81d9-48a9-a10d-de06becaa6db" });