Michael Hacker on Keeping it Old School
Once the place called home for the likes of Beethoven, Mozart and Sigmund Freud, Austria’s capital other-wise known as ‘The City of Dreams’ has been voted the most liveable metropolis for the past seven years straight. No wonder the Illustrator come Comic Artist spends half of the year living and working in Vienna. Splitting his time between his Viennese home and the city known for its art scene and urban landscape, Michael is in no means short of cultural input being based from Berlin alongside Vienna.
Since graduating from a dual education at Vienna’s University of Applied Arts and Oslo National Academy of the Arts, the Illustrator has worked within the freelance game, gaining big name clients. Working with the likes of Penguin Books, Dogfish Head Brewery, Slash Snowboards, Vice and Kerrang allowed Michael to develop within his career and branch into gig poster design and print. Highlights from this segment of his career don’t stop at working with bands such as Queens of the Stone Age, Green Day and Pixies or The Melvins. “My favourite side effect of doing gig posters is attending all these amazing poster conventions. Over the past years I had the chance to travel e.g. to Austin, Chicago, Barcelona, Hamburg or Istanbul and meet other poster artists from all over the world. I’ve met tons of talented and great people and made a lot of new friends.”
Being in this position of building a career from freelancing means that the endless benefits of working for yourself become reality. It allows you to create a lifestyle where you can manage your own time, often working on something you’re passionate about and constantly think of, and implement, your own creative ideas. However, one thing that seems to be a secret that circulates the silo workers network, is the barriers to cultivating your own motivation and creating a daily schedule when the comfort of your bed can call your name so lovingly. This aspect of freelancing is something that Michael has now gotten down to a T, but also something that perhaps hasn’t always been plain sailing.
“It took me quite a while to establish a strict daily routine. But nowadays I get up at 8am, do some exercises for my back, have some breakfast and start working at about 9. When I start working on a new project everything starts with an idea and a very rough and stamp-sized sketch. After blowing it up and adding details I ink it with a brush pen by tracing it on a light table. As I often try to integrate the typography into my artwork I do the lettering by hand as well. In recent years I’ve managed to organise my schedule and project deadlines much better to avoid tiring night shifts.”
As mentioned, Michael adds detail to his initial ideas with a brush pen (the same Pental one that he’s been using for the past 15 years!) and describes himself as ‘old fashioned’ when it comes to his tools. As a lover of ink and paper, they consistently provide the resources when approaching an outline drawing. Even when the colouring process comes into play, although Michael predominantly complete this digitally, when creating screen prints, “I often draw the different colour layers on separate sheets of paper”, keeping traditional methods alive throughout.
This classic approach and the final artwork that exists as an outcome from this process, is one that captures the hearts and minds of many around the world. We get chatting to the Comic Artist about a certain memory that really reflects the community that surrounds him. “Last year I did my first crowdfunding campaign for “Pizzeria Disgusto” – a cartoon book full of illustrated puns and wordplays about Pizza, Pasta and other Italian delicacies. In 17 hours the whole project was funded and I ended up with double the amount I was trying to raise. The kind of support I got from my fans was really overwhelming.”
Backtracking to his schedule, I wanted to know – what does Michael get up outside of his freelance work? “I still like to go to metal and punk shows. Somehow that never gets boring for me. I also try to ride my mountain bike a lot. Although around Berlin there aren’t that many mountains to ride honestly. The highest one is about 120m and made out of debris and rubble. I love to go hiking but I don’t do that as often as I’d like to do. And I read a lot of comic books.”
Aside from spending past-time riding on mountain bikes and attending metal and punk shows, Michael is also a part of an artists movement in Austria named ‘Isolation Camp’; something the Illustrator describes himself ‘lucky’ to be a part of. “It’s a regular gathering of artists from different genres in some remote hut in the (Austrian) alps”. And, within an industry where so many work alone, a goal of the movement is to join forces with other creatives rather than working independently. “The outcome of these collaborations is always very refreshing. I’ve attended about 10 of these camps and every one was really inspiring and memorable.”
This inspiration could partially contribute to the fact that Michael very rarely experiences creative blocks! “That doesn’t mean that every project or idea comes easy but if I feel stuck with a certain project I try to concentrate on another one. And I’ve always got more than one project going on at a time.” This approach to work is one that is backed by the Cartoonist, Ernie Bushmiller; somebody who has impacted the metal music lover and his take on cracking on with projects. Talking on the book that gives the break down on this outlook, Michael explains, “he has a couple of drawing tables in his studio and is working on five or six comic strips at the same time. I try to include this advice into my own work and I started to work on a couple of drawings/illustrations/comic pages simultaneously. But I still have to get those extra drawing tables…” Extra tables, or no extra tables, this approach appears to work wonders for the creative in that he is still able to be productive and create incredible work consistently.
One area that can sometimes create barriers to the free flow of creativity for Michael, is personal projects. “I do have a couple of personal projects that I had in mind for ages but still couldn’t figure out how to make them into reality. It has mostly to do with some kind of pressure that I put on myself which I have to get rid of first.” Something that so many of us experience and the effects can be debilitating when the lights are on green and it’s time to start something new.
Finally, I find the concept of success a fascinating subject, so had to ask – what does success look like to the punk music lover? And for Michael, success isn’t only focused inwardly, but also centred on the emotions of the people who share his creations with him. “First and foremost, I try to enjoy the process of creating and drawing as much as I can. And secondly, I want to share this joy and I love to see when people react emotionally to my illustrations.”