A Variety of Talent

homemade steampunk comic is the result of tons of work

Katie Robertson, photos by Andrea Paulseth

STEAMPUNK SKETCHES. Chris Spiegel of Chippewa Falls creates his Kickstarter-funded comic book series, The Robo-Western Variety Show, entirely by hand.
STEAMPUNK SKETCHES. Chris Spiegel of Chippewa Falls creates his Kickstarter-funded comic book series, The Robo-Western Variety Show, entirely by hand.

For the last three years, Chris Spiegel of Chippewa Falls has worked to make his passion for art and comics into something tangible: A comic book series called The Robo-Western Variety Show. The world Spiegel has created combines the traditional Western genre of cowboys and horses with steampunk, robots, motorcycles, and plenty of explosions to go around. Even more impressive: He’s making it all by hand.

While sketching one day, Spiegel happened to draw a cowboy with a robotic hand. This character developed into an outlaw named Red, the protagonist of the first issue of RWVS, and from there Spiegel began to concoct intertwining storylines for multiple characters, eventually seeing that he had enough ideas to create an entire series.

“I just realized that your dreams aren’t going to make themselves.” – Chris Spiegel, writer/illustrator of The Robo-Western Variety show

“I’d always been drawing these characters, but I never really did much with them. They were always standing the same way, looking the same direction,” Spiegel explains. Realizing that repetitive drawings would not suffice for a “still-life movie,” he worked hard to create depictions that were more three-dimensional, and then worked to finalize how each character would look, dedicating all of his free time to drawing.

Storyboarding became the next step in making The Robo-Western Variety Show a reality. Spiegel wanted each issue to be around 30 pages long, and figuring out how to fit all of his ideas into that space was challenging at first. The storyboarding process for the first issue took about a month, which Spiegel says was the easy part. Once that was finished, Spiegel spent the next year and a half creating the final copy.

Spiegel begins by sketching out everything for each issue in pencil, then goes over it with a fine-line marker. Along the way, he makes copies of his work so that he has a clean black-and-white copy to work with during the coloring stage, making any mistakes that were covered up with white-out disappear. Spiegel then brings the drawings to life with markers and colored pencils, and he prints the issues locally through Eau Claire Printing Co.

Over the last few years, Spiegel has sped up production of the comic and gained a lot of useful experience.  “It’s been a learning process,” he admits, “a lot of trial and error. But by this third one now, I definitely have it down to an art.”

He’s noticed and mastered tricks that other comic book artists implement in the comics that he reads, and his productivity went up once he stopped jumping around to different scenes in the comic and started drawing each one chronologically. Spiegel challenges himself by trying to add great detail to each character, even ones that only appear in the crowd scenes, so that all of them look like they have a story to tell.

Each issue of RWVS focuses on a different character, which means that a person could pick up any issue, read it, and simply get a different piece of Spiegel’s world instead of being lost in a dense storyline.

Spiegel hopes to see this comic continue to grow and would like to add other artists or writers to the RWVS team in the future. The project has been quite an undertaking on his own, but his love for comics and art has kept him motivated to keep creating.

“I just realized that your dreams aren’t going to make themselves,” he said. “You have to put in the hard work, give it your all, and just never give up.”

Spiegel is currently working on the third installment of RWVS. The second issue, featuring a mysterious character named White Widow, is completely finished, but requires more funding in order to be printed. Since he hasn’t been picked up by a publisher, Spiegel gets money to print issues of the comic through donations on his Kickstarter page. In exchange for the contributions, Spiegel sends his backers rewards, which include an autographed issue of the comic Wanted, posters of two characters, and featuring the contributors’ names on a thank-you page in the next issue. The second issue will get printed if enough people make pledges and reach the project’s goal by March 17.

You can find Chris Spiegel’s Kickstarter online by searching his name on the site. For more info or to get a copy of RWVS via email, you can contact Spiegel at robowestern@yahoo.com or pick up a copy soon at The Local Store.