August 16, 2011

How Cleo Got Her Groove Back

An Interview with Mike Maihack

Page 1 of 2 (link to
Part 2)
Click on any picture to enlarge to full size

I think the most telling description of
Mike Maihack’s work came from a recent discussion on his Facebook page. Mike had just posted a ‘quickie’ sketch portrait that he likes to release every now and then just to whet the appetite of his flock of fans. One colleague responded:

‘Is this your morning sketch? I love it! But... I hate you sooooo much right now!’

Granted, it was said very much tongue-in-cheek (and perhaps with some weeping, too? No, wait, that was me...), but what was being said is simply that Mike makes what he does look easy. Wonderfully, enticingly, ecstatically easy! It’s like taking golf lessons for years and never breaking par, then taking out a younger colleague to try it one day and he winds up being the next whoever-is-the-next-Tiger-Woods.

And it’s this ability to make these ‘amazing shots’ that he shares look so easy that has garnered Mike a huge number of fans and that he continues to be a favourite of all at any number of comic-cons, illustration displays and of course his very well known collections and also web-comics!

We’re very pleased then to bring you this interview with one of our own favourites of the past moons!


Hi Mike, welcome! Before we start, I have to ask from where did the name Cowshell come? And do you pronounce it ‘cow shell’ or ‘cow’s hell’?
Hi Ziggy, thanks for the invitation!

That is a great first question! And I have a completely uninteresting story for it. There was a project back in college where I needed to create a name brand. I’ve always loved cows and at the time I was throwing spirals into practically everything I drew. So I drew a spiral, placed some cow spots in it and called it a Cow Shell. It was magic!

Then, for whatever reason (probably laziness), I decided to keep using it. Now it’s on my tax forms so I guess I’m stuck with it. I really wish I had thought of something like ‘Mega Quantum RoboDragon.’

Can you tell us then, please, a little about Mike Maihack and how he got to be the popular illustrator that he is today? What were your biggest influences from childhood to now?
Popular? Haha. I don’t know about that. I just like drawing. And watching cartoons. And reading comics. So all my influences spawn from those things.

I’d have to say though that animation has been and continues to be my biggest influence. I devoured all those 60’s & 70’s Disney animations growing up, when it seemed like the greats
Ollie Johnston, Frank Thomas and Milt Kahl were animating almost every character. Even though it was talking animals for the most part, those characters were as real to me as anything else on screen. Or off-screen for that matter. ‘Robin Hood’, ‘The Sword and the Stone’ and ‘The Jungle Book’ still remain some of my favourite films.

Eventually, I also of course I discovered comics, like ‘Calvin and Hobbes’, ‘Far Side’, ‘Outland’ and eventually the X-Men. I had very little interest in drawing an actual comic book though until I picked up this old Bone trade that collected the first six issues. It was the one that had Fone Bone stepping on a rock and looking off into the distance with a map or something. Hm, now that I think about it, I loaned it to someone who moved away back in high school and never got it back. Dang!

It is kind of depressing because that is the book that pretty much started me on my career path. Again, it was such a character-driven story and the art was this amazing mesh of comic strips, animation, ‘Lord of the Rings’ and everything else I was into. I fell in love with Thorn and that was that.

I find your style unique in that (at least for me) it balances very fine pen-work with a subtle, maybe even often simplistic (not right word, I’ll work on that) way of depicting both every day and more complex or even fantastic scenes. Now that may sound like I’m trying to slap a ‘manga’ label on your work, but it’s not that. How would you describe your style, say, if you were writing an introduction for promoting your work to a general audience?
It’s funny you mention Manga because I just starting reading it last year. I mean, I’ve been watching anime for years but manga is an entirely different vehicle.

But what I’m resonating with, besides the dynamic storytelling, is what you said: this balance between incredibly fantastic situations with everyday life. I mean, looking at things like going to school or what to eat for dinner. I love that!

Even my favourite X-Men comics were the ones where they were all hanging out by the pool or playing baseball. It’s one thing to take all these crazy characters with all these extreme personalities and pit them against the Juggernaut or something, but when you place them into a real world situation—something anyone can relate too—well, that’s when the character dynamics really shine. And that to me is more interesting to read than say, ‘having to defeat the evil super villain or else the world explodes.’ But in turn, you need those impending world exploding events to make the ‘everyday’ stuff that much more enticing. It’s a balancing act.

Miyazaki is a master of this. The scenes in ‘My Neighbour Totoro’ where the girls get to have these unreal adventures with forest sprits only makes the scenes where they are dealing with her ailing mother that much more powerful. Or in ‘Kiki’s Delivery Service’, where even though she can fly and has a talking cat and all this other awesome stuff, the real drama lies in whether or not she’s going to deliver pies on time. I love that stuff.

Sorry, I’ve gone completely off topic. But I’d say that’s the gist of what I want people to get out of my work. The fantastic mixed with the mundane. If the result ends up being a little absurd, then that’s all the better. But hopefully it comes off kind of sweet as well.

Before we get to your latest awesome comic, ‘
Cleopatra in Space’, I wanted to ask you about a couple of your longer running previous offers, including ‘Cow & Buffalo’ (your creation and art) and ‘Parable’, which if I understand correctly, was or is a collaborative effort:

First, what is the current status of these ventures? ‘Cow & Buffalo’ seems to have ended; or will the closing promise of ‘to be continued’ be realized? And will ‘Parable’ continue as well now that Volume 1 has been released?
I always intended to get back to ‘Cow & Buffalo’; but now that it’s been almost two years I feel kind of bad about putting that ‘to be continued’ on there. Haha. But I don’t think it’s out of the realm of possibility that we’ve seen the last of them. I mean, those characters are a part of me. I used to describe ‘Cow and Buffalo’ as two sides of my personality having conversations with each other. It would be incredibly sad to find out I’ve become completely sane and have no more conversations to draw about.

‘Parable’ on the other hand was a massive undertaking, and I had a lot more time on my hands at the time I organized it. I guess we’ll see if another one happens. There are already a handful of stories already done for a second volume. I even fully pencilled twenty-four pages that I’d like to see finished someday.

‘Parable’ seems to have ... well, sorry, the best description I can think of is that it has an intriguing ‘
mission statement’. What was the impetus behind putting this collection together?
Well, as a comic fan and a Christian, I was frustrated with what I was seeing out there as far as Christian or faith-based comics go. Not even in terms of quality, but in the material being delivered. Like the Christian music scene of the 80’s, everything was derivative of something that was already out there in mainstream. There were good intentions, but very little on the side of creativity. But there were exceptions, like Royden Lepp’s excellent ‘David’ miniseries, and I thought, ‘This can be done.’ It’s just hardly anyone was doing it.

What was your role in getting ‘Parable’ started and up and running?
I brought up the idea of it on the Flight forums a while back (this is back when there were two, maybe three Flight books out at the time). There were a lot of like-minded artists on there so I thought it would be a good place to get some honest feedback.

It wasn’t actually my intention to do something like Flight, or even a printed anthology. I was actually thinking of maybe a website with cycling stories every now and then. But somehow the idea of doing an anthology got brought up anyhow and I ended up editing it. My role was then really more or less selecting the artists and making sure the book stayed on the path I envisioned for it.

I’m really happy with how it turned out, but the whole ordeal was a huge learning curve. If we do end up doing another volume, I would do certain things differently and hopefully end up with an even stronger book as a result.

collection of books that has been published is also very impressive. What has it meant to you as an artist to have these works put into book form vs. ‘just’ having them appear on the Internet?
I don’t know. I don’t really see much of a difference.

For me, the comics remain the comics whether they are on a computer screen, on paper or on an iPad. Where it changes is the timing within the actual story. ‘Cow & Buffalo’ worked as a serialized webcomic because even though it had these long, inane story arcs, it was essentially a gag-a-day strip. It was easy to only read one page at a time and not lose too much of its integrity.

I think ‘Cleo’ on the other had suffers a bit since I’m asking readers to essentially wait a week to sometimes find out a response or reaction between the last and first panels of each page. Which maybe isn’t fair to the comic or the readers but I think many of them have adapted to that sort of timing. And I appreciate their loyalty more than I can put into words. But I do think Cleo works better as a whole and that’s where it’s nice to see it collected in print or as a digital download.

Continued in Part 2

How Cleo Got Her Groove Back

An Interview with Mike Maihack

Page 2 of 2 (link to Part 1)
Click on any picture to enlarge to full size

Mike, we’ve been looking at your different offers, including comics, books and prints, and much more! However, it seems that your newest venture, ‘Cleopatra in Space’, which is gaining more and more new fans every day, is a significant change of pace. What was your inspiration behind this comic?
Pretty much everything! But for now I’ll just say it’s kind of a love-letter to science fiction, including ‘Star Wars’, ‘Star Trek’, ‘Buck Rogers’, and all those really awful films the MST3K guys would make better for me!

But I was also itching to write a strong, identifiable female protagonist. Those who follow me on the various social networks know I’m a huge fan of characters like Batgirl,
Kitty Pryde (shown below), Veronica Mars and others! So, I wanted to contribute in my own small way to that excellent batch of characters. I think we’ve actually come a long way in entertainment where female action heroes are right on par with – if not more exciting – than their male counterparts.

Cleo’s a blend of all those fictional and non-fictional woman in my life – including a healthy sprinkling of their faults so that readers are able to watch her grow. My hope is that younger readers are able to grow along with her but at the same time also someone they can look up to.

And of course, now I have an excuse to draw cats all the time!

Congratulations are also in order in that ‘Cleo’ was named
‘the webcomic list’s’ Best Character for 2010! Hurray!! What does this kind of recognition mean to you both professionally and privately?
Well, it’s great! It means I’m a step closer to actually creating what I stated above. But what means the most is that Cleo had fans out there who actually took the time to nominate her. That’s an awesome feeling!

How do you plan out each episode? Is the writing for the entire series done? Also, as you’re releasing a new ‘page’ every Monday, I’m just curious how long each mini-episode takes to complete?
In terms of Cleo, her journey is pretty much planned out. I know where she came from, where I’m taking her, where she ends up and all the little ways in which these events in her life connect. Now granted, most of this is in my head. Haha. But it’s still pretty concrete.

My writing tends to be pretty fluid in that I know what points A, B and C are but the little details in-between I leave open enough to let the story develop and breath how it needs too. Dialogue and action sequences are often written on the fly on the margin of whatever page I’m drawing.

After the first story-arc, which ends with Chapter 3, I have the next four or five arcs roughed out and then some events beyond those arcs that need to happen for the final pages to work. I intend on taking this series to a lot of places and really fleshing out the world in which Cleo finds herself in. I’ve often said I have about ten years of story charted out which is fairly accurate.

Unfortunately, at its current page-a-week time-frame, ten years could wind up being the rest of my life. It only takes me about a day to draw a page and another to colour it. But since Cleo isn’t really a giant money-maker for me, I have to apportion the rest of my time with work that actually supports my family. Maybe that’ll change one day.

Where would you like to see ‘Cleopatra in Space’ eventually wind up (full length comic, made for TV movie, YouTube fan video, etc.)?
Um… on people’s bookshelves? Haha.
(ZN: yes, haha... oh, look! I’ve conveniently included the covers for Volumes 1 and 2 here!!)

Seriously, I’m drawing a comic for the sake of a comic. The most I can hope for is that people are still reading it long after I’m gone. Although as I delve further into the story I’m realizing there are some things in my head that I just CAN’T DRAW – but I know WHO could!

To that end, I would not be opposed to seeing ‘Cleopatra in Space’ as an animated series or something. You know, getting a chance to work with a team of people who would be very able and talented to contribute and enhance story ideas. Creating new characters, drawing better vehicles and more. That would be wonderful! But it’s not my ultimate intention. I just want the story to be told the best way possible.

A YouTube fan video would be pretty rad though.
(ZN: methinks this is what the call in the business a hint, as in hint, hint, bloody hint!!)

How about the work you do as part of various art and webcomic collectives, including
DrawerGeeks, Lunchbox Funnies and Spacedock 7? Is there a different kind of energy you get from working in or with these teams?
Well, we’re not really working together so much as supporting each other. I think more than anything it just forces you to keep putting out awesome work to keep up with the rest of the group. Most of the other creators in those groups are friends of mine, so it’s just cool to be able to have a collaborative space that we can share our work with others.

Cats obviously are near and dear to your heart. My favourite is easily ‘The Catastic 4’ (shown here), as I grew up on the latter years of the Kirby era and beyond! How do your cats influence your work?

Now I think it’s safe to say that you spend if not a lot then a good deal of time at
ComicCons, both promoting your wares as well as keeping the faithful alerted to your latest releases and projects. How important are these events to your work?
I think what I look forward to most is simply seeing all my fans stop by my table. Putting a face to those that comment or follow me on Twitter of even those who I’ve never heard from before who stop by and tell me how much they are loving ‘Cleopatra in Space’. It’s such a recharge.

And of course I love seeing all my comic creator friends who I only get to see at these shows. But ultimately these shows are what financially fuel my ability to create comics. I’d have a hard time justifying turning down a few non-comic jobs otherwise. So it’s business during the day and hanging out and catching up at night.

Looking again at ‘Parable’, you make the importance of your faith in your work and life very clear. What role or even responsibility, if any, do you think that you as an artist hold in reflecting these core beliefs in your work?

Please forgive me for prying, but it's just I'm interested in knowing from your perspective, with some of the titles out there – ranging from your typical Wolverine, Punisher or Hellboy story-line to even something like ‘Sin City’ or ‘Kick Ass’ – is it even possible to find content in line with what you’ve created with ‘Parable’ within the covers of mainstream comicdom? (I am also curious to discuss this as I remember only too well the scare in the early 70’s that led my mother to getting rid of my ‘first’ collection of comics.)
I do think that a person’s faith is going to enter their work whether they’d like it to or not. It’s just part of who we are and if we aren’t putting ourselves into our work, it’s going to feel hollow. And readers are an intelligent bunch these days. They are going to tell if you’re holding back on something. Or even going against something you’ve already indicated you believed in.

Now that being said, you also need to serve your story. So I’m not saying ‘such and such character has to believe in this because such and such creator does to.’ That would be ridiculous. For example, even though I’m very open about my Christianity, it doesn’t mean it holds a place in ‘Cleopatra in Space’. In fact, later in the series I’ll start to show how important the Egyptian deities are to the events circulating the story. Granted, their existence goes completely against the monotheistic core of Christianity; but the main themes of ‘Cleopatra in Space’, faith and destiny, are still two very strong components of my belief.

In other words, don’t let your characters speak for you. Let them speak to you and then guide them to where you think they belong.

I’ve asked this question to other peers that have published on-line comics, but where do you see the comics industry as a whole going concerning print vs. electronic media?
It’ll go to electronic media. It’s inevitable so the industry better get around to embracing it.

But print isn’t going to completely fall the way of the dinosaurs. I know because there are still people – and younger people – like me out there. It may surprise some but, with the exception of a few I can follow weekly, I personally don’t read a lot of comics online. I generally wait for an old-fashioned biodegradable version to become available that I can flip through before I turn off the lights.

That may make me sound like an old man, but that’s just how I‘m used to reading stuff. No electronic device will ever be able to compete with the smell of pulp and the ability to ‘zoom’ into a page with merely a thought.

There’s also the collectable market, which every few years or so has another boom. I don’t know though; maybe that’ll transition into original art instead. But once devices like the iPad and Kindle become as common as cell phones, I don’t expect monthly periodicals lasting much longer. Trades will be here to stay though.

You’ve offered lots of fun goodies in the recent past, including of course books, commissions, prints, post cards and more! Where or perhaps better said via what medium would you like to see your work pushed in the future?
A video game. I want someone to make me a ‘Cleopatra in Space’ video game. Even though I would never have any time to play it!

What’s next for Mike Maihack?
Well, there’s a baby! People (mostly my wife) tell me that’s a pretty big deal.

There’s also a few possible things on the horizon but most of which I can’t talk about yet. One thing that did recently get announced was ‘
The Jim Henson Storyteller’s’ anthology that Archaia is putting out. I did some colour work for that.

But mainly I’m going to keep focusing on Cleo and making sure she keeps blasting her way through space. Right now the comic is on hiatus while I get enough pages done so the story can update twice as much next year. But Chapter 3 is really exciting. Can’t wait for people to start reading it!


Mild-mannered Mike Maihack was edujumacated and grajiated from the
Columbus College of Art and Design! He spends his time drawing pictures of cats, superheroes, space girls, combinations of all of these or just about anything else he can think of that might involve a giant pink heart or serving tea. Not being a tea drinker, I can’t vouch for that last bit, but the others definitely rock!

Among his accolades – which I think is also a flavour of tea – Mike is the editor and art director of the Christian comic anthology, ‘Parable’. In addition, he is the creator of the all-ages webcomic, ‘Cow & Buffalo’. You’ll also find Mike’s contributions on a fairly regular basis as a member of many art and webcomic collectives such as Lunchbox Funnies, Spacedock 7 and

As mentioned, he’s been privileged to have also been a contributor to anthologies like Jim Henson's ‘The Storyteller’ and
the Eisner and Harvey award-winning ‘Comic Book Tattoo’. Currently, Mike remains hard-at-work bringing his sci-fi epic, ‘Cleopatra in Spaaace!!’ to life. When he’s not doing the illustration thing, he likes lots of movies with his wife and two Siamese cats down in far too hot and humid Tampa, Florida, USA.

Be sure and check out all of Mike’s work and plethora of services, including his con schedule as well as
details for commission work, at these exciting links:




ZN also highly recommends just cruising through the
Google Images listing of Mike’s pics and getting lost in a world of terrific fantasy and more!!


All pictures, videos and other media are used with written permission of Mike Maihack, including all current or previous business affiliations related to same, or are available in the public domain (noting copyright and other restrictions, accordingly). No further reproduction or duplication is permitted without contacting the artist directly.

Some pictures have been modified slightly or combined only for the purpose of space limitations. In all cases, we invite you to visit the artist’s site(s) for more!