20 Question Tuesday: 201 - Doug Hills

It is another installment of 20 Questions Tuesday with a guy from Ten Ton Studios… what? you are tired of Ten Ton Studios interviews?  suck it up buttercup and step up to the plate to answer 20 questions your damn self.  Leave a comment, leave a note, and quit your whining.

This week we take a deeper look at Doug Hills.  Doug Hills is primarily a digital comic book artist, even though he can seriously throw down some traditional work.  Doug is honestly the first person I have known who primarily works within a Manga style that I have enjoyed.  Manga is typically a form that does not appeal to me… something about the faces… Doug has made me a believer… Doug’s lines are super smooth, and they should be.  Doug is also the author of Manga Studio for Dummies, so really, he should know how to work that program (and he really does).  He has great instincts for his layouts and really knows his particular form.  I love seeing him do non-Manga icons in a Manga format.  

Doug has very strong opinions about the future of digital comics and is free with his sharing of that opinion within social networking.  His opinion is always interesting and well thought out.  So, enough of this drivel… On to the questions!

I was born in Oklahoma City, OK, moved to Montgomery, AL, then grew up in Birmingham, AL, and go off to school in Kent, OH.  I finally settle down in Columbus, OH. Question 1: What is your geographic story?

Pretty simple, when I think about it. I was born in Pittsfield, MA, lived my life across the state line in Chatham, NY, went to school at SUNY Plattsburgh, came back to live in Albany, and then spent the past ten years in Logan, Utah (my wife got a job teaching at Utah State University).

As you can tell, this is the furthest west I have ever been. I’m pretty sure I had not been off the Eastern Seaboard prior to 2002.

That area of Utah is gorgeous, but seriously what part of Utah isn’t gorgeous in some way shape or form.  

So I know a little bit about you from things you have posted before, so I am really interested in your answer to this next question…. I worked selling Nordictracks whilst in college, spent a summer in the kennel of a vet, was a graduate TA, became the Senior Cartographer/Designer/GIS Coordinator for a looong time.  Was unemployed for a year or so, made a mistake in a not-for-profit agency, and now have been in the employ of the State of Ohio for a year and a half… Question 2: What is your employment history?

Well, let’s see. I helped my dad at his construction/woodworking business. I was a clerk at a grocery store. I mowed the (very large) lawn at a Lawn & Tractor store. I worked different jobs at a diner. I was Tech Support at the SUNY Plattsburgh Computer Lab. I did some database and UI programming for a company in Albany. I quit that job and delivered Chinese Food for a while. And now, I’m writing guidebooks for Manga Studio, and drawing comics.

That is a pretty eclectic mix of the cerebral and the physical… So, I take it that your wife is the primary bread winner and holder of all things benefit-like… Question 3: If that is the case, have you gotten any “guff” from anyone for your wife holding that role?

Oh, sure. Lots of times. My comics career aside, the idea that my wife is the primary breadwinner, while I’m the stay-at-home parent gets a lot of comments. The funny thing is that if the roles were reversed, it wouldn’t be an issue (and would probably be the preferred or encouraged form of having a family). So, it’s like this two-tier sexism: on my wife for working and being the primary breadwinner; and on me for being “lazy,” or having a “sugar momma.”

I’ve talked to other guys who work from home, or are the stay-at-home parent while their wife makes more money than they do. They get the same thing from people. A lot of it is cultural: men to a degree have been expected to be the one who works and brings the money while the wife cares for the home. One does get this emasculating vibe from people; like you’re less of a man because you’re the one taking care of the kids.

It is what it is, though. I’ve learned long ago that people are going to think what they want. What matters to me/us is that this has worked out better for the family than doing it the “old fashioned way.”

Currently, my wife makes significantly more money than I do through her insanely more fulfilling job.  My job is currently being kept primarily for the benefits of having health insurance.  I have gotten some guff from some people about having a “sugar mama,” which is absolutely foolish.  Who doesn’t want their partner to make more money?  Those people are idiots, stupid inane idiots from Stoopidton.  Next question for the kept man…

Question 4:  Cake or Pie? Which one and what specific kind?

Either or, really. Today, I’ll go with pie: chocolate peanut butter mousse pie with a chocolate graham cracker crust.

That sounds delightful… chocolatey peanut-buttery mousse sounds amazing. I want one now… Seriously, now.  I have stated this before.  Most people who choose pie, really like pie, while the people who “like” cake really really like cake.  They like cake so much that they would sell people into slavery for some cake.  It is kind of an interesting unproven sociological fact that I have gleaned from these interviews, blown out of proportion, and made sweeping statements about…

Question 5: So, if you were to make up a sweeping unfounded generalization and pass it off as a sociological fact, what would it be and why?

Let’s go with: “Anonymous Internet Commenters know how to fix all the world’s problems, and that their words should be heeded, no matter how crazy they may sound.”

Mostly, because there’s probably some company or group out there that would actually follow through on something like that, and I want to see who’d do it. :)

Too bad all the fixes equate to “First,” “Yur so Gay,” “Look at my youtube channel found at….”

Question 6: You recently dropped some serious weight.  What was your method to your weight loss regimen?

The big thing was just mentally getting to the point where I was like, “you know what? I’m done being 225 pounds.” I say that, because I’ve paid lip service to the idea of losing weight. But until I was really, truly, mentally ready to do it, that’s all it was: lip service.

Past that, I’d attribute it to four things:

1) Earlier that year my wife and I sat down and discussed whether to go pay for a gym membership (again), or use that money, and just invest in a good treadmill. We decided on the latter. Once I was really ready to drop the weight, I just worked the hell out of that thing. I don’t run, so I just ranked it to the highest elevation (12% incline), and hiked uphill at about 3.5-4 miles per hour. I tried burning off about 600-800 calories a day using that.

2) I didn’t want to rely on the weight loss services that you have to pay for. My wife told me about MyFitnessPal, which is a combination food/exercise diary and nutritional wiki. You’d be surprised at how much you’d be willing to change what you ate when you saw how many calories you were consuming.

I never really stopped eating the kinds of food I ate. I still ate pizza, or drank beer, or had dessert. I just learned that I could get by with smaller portions. Like a basic cheeseburger instead of a double; one bratwurst, instead of two. Things like that. When you see those caloric numbers staring at you, you take heed.

Since I had a net calorie goal (at the time, I believe it was 1200-1300 calories/day) to reach, I also made a game of it. Like, if I’m going to eat that much, I need to work that much harder on the treadmill. Stuff like that. I became a bit of a stats junkie, in that regard.

3) Related to number 2, I started followingEat This, Not That! on Twitter. There they’d post things, like lists of the world’s worst desserts, or restaraunt foods. and they’d put things in real-word relations, like “that Baskin-Robbins shake is the equivalent to 42 Fudgecicles!”

I don’t know if I ever followed the “Eat This” suggestions, as I didn’t really like them. But, I did pay heed to the “Not That” stuff.

4) This last one sounds pretty dumb, but a digital scale is a nice thing to have. Watching the numbers drop as you weigh yourself every day is an amazing motivator. It’s also great at this stage, when I’m trying to maintain the weight I’m at now (175 pounds, so that’s 50 pounds lost).

Congratulations!  Dropping that amount of weight in a healthy method is very difficult.  I am currently doing some lifestyle change things to shed the pounds I have gained since I had kids.  The biggest one that I am doing is to stop eating when I am full, regardless of how good the food is or how much is left on the plate.  That has helped a bunch.  Now I just need to cut down on the morning Mountain Dew and the sugar reduction will help as well.  Increasing my exercise will help as well, but my feet need to be golden again before I will really feel comfy doing that. It is never easy.

Question 7: So, when did you realize that you enjoyed drawing and more than that, you were good at drawing?

Well, when I discovered the 1990s X-Men Animated series, that’s what got me interested in comics, and therefore, into drawing comics. Getting to draw comic book characters (either existing ones, or my own) was always fun and enjoyable for me.

As to when I realized I was good at drawing? I don’t know if I ever really thought that.

Scratch that. I think that the inverse has happened over these years. When I started drawing, I thought that I was really good, when I really wasn’t. Ignorance being bliss, and all that.

As I progressed and improved, the more self-critical I became, and the less “good’ I thought I was. I think it’s the usual artist’s deal: you’re always your own worst critic. So, I’m always pushing myself further to do better, and I tend not to be overly happy with what I produce. That can be more of a detriment, than anything.

So, I’m much better than I was five, ten, and especially twenty years ago. I do sometimes act like I haven’t improved at all.

Hell, I have seen improvement in your work in the last few years alone.  I took a way too long hiatus from drawing.  In many ways I am not nearly as good as I was 16-17 years ago.  Taking 10 years off from drawing will do that to you.  I backslid so much. It is really nice to see some of my skilz coming back, but it is still frustrating to see how much I lost.  What is really interesting is that I am stronger in some aspects than I have ever been, but still atrophied in other areas.

Question 8: The 90’s X-Men was a fairly traditional western style of animation and drawing, what was it that drew you to the more Manga-like style of drawing and art?

I always had an interest in the manga/anime style, without realizing what it was. I grew up loving shows likeVoltron, Robotech, Mighty Orbots, andTranzor Z. I remember being disappointed that the main portion of Thundercats didn’t seem as exciting as the opening looked. It wasn’t until years later that I discovered that there were these amazing cartoons coming out of Japan, and realized that I really liked that kinetic style. It was around then (mid-90s) that I re-discovered the genre, and fell in love with movies and series like Akira, Macross Plus, Ninja Scroll, and Cowboy Bebop.

I discovered manga shortly afterwards, by reading titles like Dragonball Z and Trigun. That’s when I fell in love with that style of storytelling. It was much more decompressed; it didn’t seem like you had to cram as much as you can into 22 pages. You could take your time telling the story. I think the storytelling influenced me more than the art, the deeper I went down that rabbit hole. That said, I fell in love with artists like Akira Toriyama, Yasuhiro Nightow, Katsuhiro Otomo, and Ken Akamatsu, as well as animation studios like GAINAX and Madhouse.

I think what’s funny is that my style was (and is) still influenced by western artists. But they were guys that were either influenced by the Japanese style in their own right, or just went in a direction opposite of the hyper-realistic or that Image-style that was so prevalent. I was inspired by guys like Joe Maduriera, Chris Bachalo, Oscar Jiminez, and Skottie Young. Even the Bruce Timm-produced cartoons, like Batman and Superman influenced my style. Much like the anime and manga I was seeing, these guys just had a kinetic way of telling stories that drew me in.

Ironically, for every person that tells me that my style is so “manga,” I’ve had manga fans tell me they don’t see it. I’m an artist without a genre. Whaddyagonnado?

I was going to say that your style is definitely betwixt a western style and a manga style.  I think that is one of the reasons I find your work so compelling. In many ways your genreless style is one of the reasons it is so awesome.  You are allowed to be as realistic as you want to and also easily capable to be as over the top emotive as the manga style allows for.  All I can say is draw more, monkey!  My eyes need the entertaining.

I have found that people living in Utah, Mormon or otherwise, have a seriously bias towards all things Utah… Question 9: What is your favorite part about being in Utah?

The mountains, definitely. I mean, I grew up around the Adirondack Mountains, so I thought I knew what mountains were. Then I moved west, and saw what the Rockies look like.

Big difference. :)

Actually, I’d say the countryside in general is what’s nice about Utah. I mean, it’s gorgeous here. It’s so open. You can head down the interstate, and just look out for miles. And then, when you head down south, towards the Arizona border, you get to see the most colorful mesas I’ve ever seen. Like, you can see the color banding in the sediment layers: red, orange, purple..it really is beyond description (at least beyond my description).

It’s definitely worth coming out and checking the state out at least once.

Utah, is definitely a gorgeous place.  I had the wonderful opportunity to stay in Sundance for a few days a few years ago during some off-peak seasons.  It was amazingly gorgeous.  It was still snowy and cold in the mountains but kind of balmy down in SLC.  Gorgeous is correct.

Question 10: Do you naturally find yourself to be a morning person or a late night person? I am a night owl who is cursed with morning kids.

I think I’m whatever I need to be. Prior to my daughter being born, I was most certainly a night owl. Clearly, the new schedule changed things, but eventually as she got older, things evened out some.

Now, it’s a case of however the schedule is. I can easily switch from morning person to night owl, as situations permit. That said, I tend to be more of a morning person at the moment, so that I can help get my daughter up and ready for school (give or take when my wife has to go in for work; 7:30 am classes can be brutal).

7:30 classes are nasty for anyone, even if you are a morning person.  My first TA posting was for a 7:45 Intro to Geography class with an instructor who was truly a scary scary individual.  I believe he got his PhD because his board was afraid of him bringing a gun back to his defense if they did not pass him.  He was in the doctoral program for 12 years before they gave him his PhD…. He. Was. A. Crazy. Man.

Question 11: I know via the Twitters (and my extensive stalking program) that your daughter is in ice skating.  Since you are artistic, have you tried getting her to do anything artistic, or have you noticed any artistic talent within your offspring.

Well, for one thing, she’s got one hell of an imagination. I mean, I wish I could tap into that wellspring she’s got going in her mind. It’d probably make what I do a lot easier.

As far as being artistic, she does like to do a lot of painting and drawing. Most of the stuff is abstract, though she has started to try and draw people and cats (our two cats, specifically). But really, she’ll create anything out of anything. Case in point: she’s been watching stuff on ancient Egypt (thank you Netflix), so she decided to take a group of colored glass “jewels” and made an outline of something on the couch. When I asked her what it was, she said it was King Tutankhamen’s Tomb.

Again, I wish I could be as creative as she is. Seeing the level of raw, unbridled, imagination she has is amazing. Biased? Hell yes. But it’s still true. :)

Recently she did say she wanted to be a comic book artist like me, which was nice to hear.

That is really great.  I love how creative people’s kids consistently trump their parents creativity with their raw untapped energy. My youngest is most likely going to overtake me in the crazy creativity department.  The oldest is far too regimented for the creativity bug… but I could see him creating things with Lego’s as a professional.

Question 12: So what is the status of your online comic endeavours?

Slow, mostly because I have other commitments and responsibilities that keep popping up. The second issue of Dixon’s Notch is done, and is currently being lettered, , while the script for issue 3 is going to be sent my way any day now. As far as any personal projects, I’m working on the relaunch/reboot of the webcomic I started with my wife about 10 years ago, Chibi Cheerleaders From Outer Space.

That was a comic that we enjoyed doing, but kinda wrote ourselves into a corner of sorts. And then other projects came up, so it got our comic was pushed aside. Recently, we decided we wanted to go back and do the story right, this time. So we went back, reworked the story, and I’m now starting some work on the art port on of it.

We don’t have a timetable, but hopefully you all will be seeing something new fairly soon.

Well we are up to Question 13.  And you can probably guess what that means.  Question 13: Do you have any superstitions or specific “rituals” for your life?

Outside of “knocking on wood” every so often, not really. I’m not the overly superstitious type. I think I might have when I was younger (the usual things, like not stepping under a ladder, or fearing breaking a mirror), but it was something I actively stopped following after a while.

It was probably a case of wanting to be in more charge of my life/destiny, and not let myself be afraid of superstitions and the like.

I should note that the “knock on wood” bit is done ironically these days, as more often than not, I’ll use my head to knock on. :)

I really don’t have much ritual in my life as well, and truly I don’t have much in the way of superstition either.  I was waay more superstitious as a kid, but who wasn’t.  

Question 14: Fill in the blanks…  ”I find that I am mostly _________.”  ”Other people find that I am __________.”


I find that I am mostly creative, with a hint of being overly critical of myself. I think (from what I’ve gathered through my experiences with people on the web) others feel that I’m very helpful. Especially when it comes to technical support questions regarding Manga Studio. I get a lot of those questions.

Boy howdy, you get a bunch of Manga Studio questions.  Every once and in a while your twitter feed is clogged with “@DNHills answered X questions about Manga Studio.”  It is quite fun to see how many you have to answer at a time.  

Let’s go deep… Question 15: What is the burning question that is driving you?  What question are you consistently trying to answer though your actions, thoughts and efforts?

I guess it’d be: “What will I be remembered for?”

And it’s two-fold. First, how will I be remembered in comics? Will I be known for my work in helping people understand Manga Studio? Will I be part of the Great American (Graphic) Novel? Will I have created a legacy that will live on beyond me?

And second, how will people remember me as a person? Creating a legacy in comics is cool, but I could have a great career, and be remembered as a raging asshole. I’d rather not be remembered that way. So, I’d like to think I do my part to be there for my family and my friends, respect and thank my fans for bringing me to the level I’m at, and…well…hopefully be remembered as a good person.

I don’t have much control over whatever kind of legacy I have in comics, outside of continuing to work at it. However, if I’m at least considered a decent human being by time I shed this mortal coil, I’d be more than content with that.

A laudable question to live by indeed.  Speaking of words to live by… Sometimes one cannot live through the open endedness of a question and needs some definiteness in their existence.  I have adopted my Mother-in-Law’s personal saying, “Don’t let the fuckers get you down.” Question 16: Do you have a family saying or age old adage that you use as a mantra in your life or “words to live by?”

“Life is Short.”

Related to that is the fact that life is unpredictable. It probably sounds fatalistic, but there is no way to know what my future holds, or when I may die. I could live until I’m 102, or I could die before I finish this senten

…kidding. :)

The point is, I don’t know what five minutes from now will bring me, much less tomorrow. So, I’d like to go through it with as little regret as I can. That’s why I’m drawing comics. That’s why I tried my hand as professional wrestling a decade ago. To say that I did it. It have as few “woulda, coulda, shoulda” moments before I go.

Oh, sure, you bring out the professional wrestler thing in the answer to Question 16? That is how you roll?  FFS? you holding out on me, Hills?

Question 17: Is there anything I should have asked that I haven’t?

Well jeez, I figured that’d be easy: “Why pro wrestling?”

Well then Question 17a: Why pro wrestling?

I wanted to see if I could do it. Simple as that. :)

And, I’d say it was a fantastic experience. In addition to making some great friends, and getting a chance to live out a childhood dream, it actually helped me prepare for my life as a freelance artist/writer.

See, when you’re working on the indie circuit (I worked primarily upstate NY and Vermont), you’re doing it for the love of the game, because you’re certainly not doing it for the money. If I got paid $20, I was lucky. It’s the nature of the beast.

But, that’s not why I did it. I wanted to be a wrestler. I wanted to see how well I could do that. From bell to bell was the best time, because nothing else mattered. Politics, money, any of that stuff got pushed away, and I got to focus on wrestling. There was nothing better, and I’m glad that I had the chance to do it, however brief.

I say that it helped me as I became a freelancer, because it’s the same thing, in a way. Unless you make it really big, you’re living paycheck to paycheck. You’ll get screwed over. You will have periods where if you make any cash, you’re lucky.

But again, that’s not what drives me. Being the best comic artist I can be is what drives me. Writing the best guide book I can, to help people is what drives me. It goes back to what I was saying earlier about how I want to be remembered. I don’t think I’m going to be remembered for how much money I made (or didn’t make). Odds are, I’m going to be known more for what I created, and who I entertained or helped. That’s what keeps me moving forward in this business.

Hell, if I was in it for the money, I wouldn’t have quit my computer programming gig.

I swear to God, Doug.  Why do you wait to throw in the programmer thing at Question 17?  It is like you are trying to kill me.  Well it is Question 18, and Question 18 is where i turn the tables and open up the floor… Question 18: Is there any question you would like to ask me?

Sure. What would you like to be remembered for?

Interesting question.  I used to think that I wanted to be remembered within a small specialized community as an expert in that particular expertise.  For example, I wanted to be the most bad ass mapper out there.  I wanted my work left behind in that field to be recognized as superior… that desire seems to have died down for me.  I now don’t quite think that is what I want to be remembered for.  I think now I would love to be remembered for being someone who was thoughtful and insightful.  How one gains that reputation, even amongst one’s peers is an interesting questions as well.

Question 19:  What are you taking from these 20 Questions that you did not bring in with you?

I think I had a lot of ideas about what my current philosophy towards my life and my career, but it was never put down in words. I’d talk about them a decent amount, so they kinda just hung out there in the atmosphere. When I see it written down, I have to say I’m pretty happy that this is where I’m at right now.

Related to that, I see a lot more confidence in myself than I had even a year ago. I couldn’t tell you why; I’m sure succeeding in my weight loss goal helped a lot, but I have felt a lot more capable of myself, and what I bring to the table in this business, regardless of my status in it at present.

I guess I see a pretty decent bedrock to build upon, that I didn’t really notice prior to the interview. So, I have to thank you for that. :)

I live to serve.  Actually, I am very happy to have helped you formulate your ideas more concretely.  There is always a different feel to one’s ideas when they are written down instead of just rolling around in one’s head.

Here we are at the end of the 20… Question 20: What’s next for you?  Be as vague or precise or as philosophical or concrete as you want.

I’m going to keep plugging away at my work, I suppose. I have a new Manga Studio guide book that I’m going to start working on soon. I also have two more issues of Dixon’s Notch that I’m working on with Josh Flanagan and Charles Pritchett. I’m working on the prologue section of Chibi Cheerleaders From Outer Space that I’m working on with my wife that’ll hopefully be done in a couple of weeks. There’s always Ten Ton Studios Sketch Challenges to work on.

So, I guess I’ll be a bit busy this year. And really, what more can you ask for?


Busy is always good.  Everyone, if you don’t already follow Doug on the twitters you need to.  Go check out his work

I really enjoyed this back and forth.  Doug is a great guy and I wish nothing but success for him.  One day we will meet and chat in person.  Take a look at his website and follow him as @dnhills on the twitters.

To recap:
This house stuff needs to be done
We basically need to find a new house now
Or we will be the homeless
Well, technically homeless
But not really
More of an inbetween homes thing
Next week me and the fam will be at Walt Disney World
You heard that right
Disney World in Orlando
It will be stupid hot
And crazy fun
I cannot wait
The wife cannot wait
The kids are out of there freakin minds
So, I might have an issue posting next week
Deal with it
I would be deliquint as an American Nerd if I didn’t mention SpaceX
Yep, commercial re-supply of the International Space Station
The future is now
Good on ya SpaceX!
have a good weekend everybody!