Jay Leisten with his comic book art | Courtsey of KyCad

Once upon a time, comic book artists were mostly packed as tight as sardines in offices in New York City, where the greats like Jack Kirby and Steve Ditko banged out the best comics in the world.

These days, the industry’s top artists are more spread out, and you might find one just around the corner.

This month, comic artist, Louisvillian and Manual grad Jay Leisten is sharing his success as a comic artist with Spalding University, where the Huff Gallery presents Leisten’s work, along with illustrations from a number of Leisten’s friends and colleagues.

“The Death of Wolverine” | Courtesy of Jay Leisten

Leisten chatted with Insider about how he got into the comics business, why you should respect inkers, and why he’s excited to partner with Spalding.

Leisten got started as an artist making band flyers and painting custom skateboard decks in high school. He wasn’t even taking art seriously enough to major in it at duPont Manual.

“I was at Manual, YPAS specifically for music. My next door neighbor was actually one of the teachers in the arts program there, and I kind of started up a conversation with her at one point,” says Leisten. “I would kind of sit in my yard and draw the front of our house, draw other kids in class, that kind of thing, and show her what I was doing.”

This led him into taking on a double major his senior year. After he finished school, Leisten started beating the pavement. In the comic book business, that included going to lots of comic conventions with his portfolio and showing industry pros his stuff.

It paid off.

“I eventually started making connections with Marvel and DC, and then with some of the studios on the West Coast — Wildstorm and Top Cow,” he says.

He went out west to work for Top Cow, a big name in the business, though it doesn’t have quite the same mainstream recognition as Marvel or DC, which are known in the industry as “The Big Two.”

“What they had was, like, low-paid staff jobs for people who were gonna be artists, but they wanted to get them in the studio doing something, to sort of be able to train them on site,” says Leisten.

After two years at Top Cow, Leisten went to work all over, including a few gigs for The Big Two on flagship titles like “Uncanny X-Men” and the comic event “Death of Wolverine.

Leisten mostly works as an inker, a job that doesn’t always get the same recognition as penciling. In comic art, there are a myriad of ways the work gets done, but the most typical process goes like this.

First, pages are laid out and drawn by a penciler. They get handed off to an inker, who adds shading, depth, line width, sometimes blacking out some objects and highlighting others. From there, the pages go to the colorist and then the letterer.

It’s a huge part of the process, but terms like “line width” are pretty opaque if you haven’t read books on how comics work.

“With line weight, the thicker the line, the more forward it becomes, and the thinner the line, the more far away it becomes. It’s a visual trick on the eye,” Leisten explains.

So if Wolverine has jumped out of an airplane and is falling toward the reader’s viewpoint, in your face and ready to do what he does best, he’s going to have thicker lines. However, that plane that’s 1,000 feet behind him is going to have thinner lines.

It’s all part of the hundreds of tricks artist’s like Leisten use to fool your eye into seeing action.

As a working professional, Leisten has an ongoing relationship with Spalding University and the Kentucky College of Art and Design (KyCAD). He often takes on students as interns, imparting the same lessons that helped him become a respected professional in a very competitive business.

Part of working with those interns has included giving them access to his large personal library of reference books, as well as extra copies of his own work in comics. But Leisten decided to go one step further.

“They’re books that when I was learning, I would look at every day, but as time has gone on, I look at them once a year, if that,” he says. “After a while, you build up your mental library, so I decided to donate that to the school in support of the KyCAD program.”

“Wonder Woman” | Courtesy of Jay Leisten

Leisten mentioned it as an afterthought when discussing the exhibit of comic art, but a representative from KyCAD informed Insider that the donation was upwards of 600 books.

The artist also works as a curator for further acquisitions that are still being added to Spalding University’s growing comic book library.

“One of the things we try to do is bring a variety of books in,” says Leisten. “Because not everything in comics is super heroes.”

The growing literary art form of comics includes works that have won World Fantasy Awards, Hugo Awards and even Pulitzers. Those kinds of graphic novels also can be used at Spalding for literature and creative writing classes.

Check out a variety of art, including Leisten’s work on “The Death of Wolverine,” at Huff Gallery, located at 901 S. Fourth St., through Oct. 29. The gallery is open to the public and is located in the lower level of the Spalding University library.

Library hours are Monday through Thursday, 7:30 a.m.-10 p.m.; Friday, 7:30 a.m.-6:30 p.m.; Saturday, 8 a.m.-5 p.m.; and Sunday, 1-8 p.m.

You can also find Leisten’s work wherever comics are sold and in the Louisville Free Public Library.

Eli Keel

Eli Keel

Eli Keel is “pretty much” a Louisville native. You may have seen him around town reading poetry, short stories, dancing or acting. He’s a passionate locavore, so you may have also seen him stuffing his face at one of Louisville’s amazing restaurants. When he isn’t too busy writing short stories, he blogs at amanwalksintoablog.wordpress.com.