Driven by Character Development
Reading comics has been a 40-year love affair for 1992 University of Oklahoma B.F.A. alumnus Brian Winkeler, principal partner of the Oklahoma City branding, marketing and creative firm Robot House Creative.
About 10 years ago, though, Winkeler decided to move beyond fandom to become a creative part of the worldwide, burgeoning field of graphic novels.
For the uninitiated, Winkeler jokingly defines “graphic novel” as a name for comic books created by people who wanted to make the genre sound more adult-focused. Technically speaking, however, Winkeler added, comics and graphic novels generally are defined by their binding process at the printing press: comic books are usually stapled, while graphic novels have a spine, like a book.
Winkeler first made a name for himself in the field with his graphic novel titled Knuckleheads. He collaborated with Robert Wilson IV, who at the time lived in Oklahoma City. The story line, he said, “follows a 25-year-old slacker who is given a cosmic weapon to save the world, but … he was massively hung over when he got it, so he doesn’t remember how he got it.”
“We called it a sit-comic,” Winkeler said, saying that this work established his preference for writing character-based stories with a sense of humor.
“I like to create a group of characters and see how they will interact with each other,” he said. With Knuckleheads, he added, “the superhero thing was kind of an accidental occurrence.”
“The best advice I’ve received was from an acquaintance in animation,” he said. “She said, ‘It’s all about strong character. You can place a strong character anywhere, in any setting.’”
Knuckleheads came out in the summer of 2014, and was sold in comic stores in Norman and Oklahoma City. Released at about the same time as the San Diego Comic Con, Winkeler and Wilson were invited to serve on a panel there.
The book is still available for purchase through Amazon and most local comic stores.
Shortly after Knuckleheads, two of Winkeler’s stories were published in a series of comic books published by IDW (publisher of Knuckleheads) based on the Garbage Pail Kids trading card craze of the mid-1980s.
Winkeler credits his experiences working in advertising and marketing, and specifically writing radio spots, for his quick grasp of the techniques involved in writing dialogue and creating credible characters. The 60- and 30-second radio spots, he explains, were great practice for writing comics because they require one to write “theater of the mind”–meaning he had to hook listeners quickly by establishing the scene and introducing memorable and realistic character(s) while also selling a product.
Winkeler is in the planning process of a collaboration with British cartoonist Matt Rooke on a new graphic novel, titled Western (the setting is OKC’s iconic Western Motel), which includes a measure of sex and violence, along with a healthy dose of humor, and featuring a stoic African American character whom he compares to the main protagonist in Stephen King’s Dark Tower series (and soon, movie).
Winkeler said he’s glad to have entered the graphic novel/comic business at a pivotal time in the genre’s history. Traditionally a white, young and male-oriented medium, he said, there has been a real push in the mainstream to include more diversity both in terms of creators and characters.
Winkeler said he is thrilled to be able to do what he loves right here, without having to move to a larger city like Dallas or Austin.
“Twenty-five years ago,” he recalled, “I wanted to be anywhere but here. But today, there’s such a great creative community in central Oklahoma, and lots of support, so I’ve been able to build a successful business from scratch over the past 13 years, as well as pursue work in the graphic novel field. Oklahoma as a state is underrated as far as being a place for culture.”
When not working with the other creatives at the firm or on a graphic novel, Winkeler enjoys spending time with his wife, Vi Le, an attorney at Mercy, and their sons, Van, 14, and Hugh, 8.