Q:

Tell us a little about yourself. Your working name is Jim & Ruth. Who is Jim and who is Ruth? How did you two meet and how did you become interested in art?

Ruth:

We met in art school and Jim was the first person I ever knew who liked comics, so we really bonded over that. I grew up in a very small town and comic books were really hard to get. I saw DC much more than Marvel so I’d read some Green Arrow, Superman, Justice League, George Perez’s Teen Titans, but I also was a huge fan of Peanuts, and of course there was Mad Magazine. I loved Mort Drucker, Don Martin, and Sergio Aragonés. 

Jim & Ruth Keegan
Illustrators, artists, designers

 

Maybe I should add that all these things were strictly forbidden in my house, and I had to do all my reading/collecting on the sly, which of course made Jim this ultimate “bad boy” in my eyes, lol. He had loads of comics and knew so much about them, even took to me to a comic book store! Who knew there were comic book stores?? Haha.

Jim:

I’m a lifelong fan of the comics. When I was just a small child I became fascinated by Peanuts, and tried to learn everything I could about Charles M. Schulz and his process. He was (and still is) my comics hero. Even by the time I was five I knew I wanted to do something like that. I became obsessed with early newspaper strips and their creators, things from way before my time. The works of E. C. Segar, Roy Crane, Milton Caniff, Hal Foster, etc.; I devoured everything I could get my hands on from that early era. I discovered comic books shortly after, and again, it was the older stuff that really spoke to me first—the Harvey comics, Carl Barks, and Steve Ditko’s Spider-Man reprints opened the door, and I was soon into more current stuff like John Byrne and Frank Miller, and later I learned about Alex Toth, Hugo Pratt, Robert Crumb, etc. I loved it all.

Q:

How do you divide the workload? Could you tell us about your process of working together?

Jim:

Our process came about slowly and without any conscious awareness of its development. At first we had separate clients and worked independently of each other, but even then there were things that I knew she drew better than me, so I’d ask for her help on those parts of my illustrations. And she did the same thing—asking me to complete parts of her work that she knew I had a particular knack for. Conveniently, my artistic weaknesses correspond directly with her strengths, and visa-versa. Eventually, we realized we were doing everything as a de facto collaboration, so we just started signing everything jointly, acting together as one artist. We were married by then, and at first we signed our stuff with our last name, but everyone seemed to assume it was me alone, so we switched to our first names.

Ruth:

I always really dread this question to be honest. It’s hard to describe how we collaborate because it’s not a case of one of us being the penciller and the other being the inker. We both do all the steps together. Many of our artistic influences converge, and our training is the same, so although we’re two individuals, when we work, we create a single artist who is Jim & Ruth.

Houdini - by Jim & Ruth Keegan
El borak - by Jim & Ruth Keegan
By Jim & Ruth Keegan

Q:

Tell us a little about the way you work. Do you only work on paper or do you do any digital work? What kind of traditional brushes you use?

Ruth:

We work both digitally and conventionally, depending on the job. For digital work we use Photoshop, but our conventional work varies a lot, from ink wash to colored pencils to oil paintings. We prefer to create conventional art vs. digital because it’s the most satisfying to us, but sometimes it’s a matter of client’s needs being best served by digital.

Jim:

For most of our illustration we work conventionally—ink wash on paper, or oil paint on canvas or board. For our comics we draw everything conventionally (ink on paper), then we scan the art and letter/color it digitally.

As far as tools go, we use all kinds of things. We ink mostly with Pitt pens these days, but we also sometimes do brush inking using the same Windsor Newton brushes everyone else seems to use. For our ink wash stuff we actually use these cheap craft brushes that cost about a dollar each. Not sure why, but they seem to work the best. And for our oils we paint exclusively with M. Graham walnut oils, because they’re great, and largely nontoxic.

Q:

Do you sell any of your art or do you have any plans of doing that?

Jim:

Sure. Occasionally, we do a piece we’re especially fond of can’t bear to part with, but otherwise we sell our originals.

Ruth:

We also do commissions that we sell.

Solomon Kane by Jim & Ruth Keegan
King Kull by Jim & Ruth Keegan

Q:

How did you get interested in the works of Robert E. Howard, and how did The Adventures of Two-Gun Bob come about?

Jim:

Okay, so, I guess this is gonna be a long answer encompassing a lot of stuff.

I was only vaguely aware of REH as a kid, and never read any of his stories. I’d seen the Conan movie, but didn’t really enjoy it, and consequently never read any of the Conan comics. Much later, in the mid-90s, my friend Jim Van Hise mailed me an old British paperback collecting Howard’s Kull stories. Fantasy wasn’t my favorite genre, but I started reading it anyway, and I was only about two pages in before it became obvious to me that I absolutely loved the way Howard wrote!

It was Van Hise again who suggested I join REHupa (The Robert E. Howard United Press Association), which is an A.P.A. (Amateur Press Association) limited to 30 members who (every other month) create several pages of original content related to Robert E. Howard, make 30 copies of that content, and mail it to the editor who compiles complete sets of the contributions, and mails each member back a full set.

For a few years, I’d been fooling around with an idea for how to do an anecdotal biography in comic strip form, and I realized that Howard might make a perfect subject for such an experiment. The concept was to create a series of individual strips based exclusively on the first-hand anecdotes Howard’s friends had told about him. I thought maybe we’d end up with a few dozen strips that gave a vague idea of what it was like to actually know Robert E. Howard.

Once we started publishing the strips in REHupa, Rusty Burke (one of the world’s foremost authorities on Robert E. Howard) graciously offered us access to his massive collection of research—unpublished letters, unpublished interviews, unpublished photos—a massive amount of material that we had no idea existed at that time. Other Howard scholars followed suit, and soon our original plan for dozens of strips became hundreds of strips!

We did those strips for REHupa for several years, and eventually Wandering Star offered us the chance to create a few strips for their Worms of the Earth graphic novel—that was the first public appearance of The Adventures of Two-Gun Bob (a title derived from a nickname given to Howard by H. P. Lovecraft). Eventually, in 2003, our friend Gary Gianni showed our strips to editor Scott Allie at Dark Horse, and suggested our strip as something DH might like to include in their Conan comic books.

And for the next 13 years our Two-Gun strips appeared in almost all of the Robert E. Howard related comics published by Dark Horse. It was a unique situation, established by Scott, that allowed us to create our comic strip for a comic book independent of the usual editorial process (though the Dark Horse editors did provide some much appreciated proofreading from time to time).

We’ve always created them in a random biographical order, researching and approaching each strip as an isolated incident, with the hope that it might prevent us from imposing any sort of an editorial narrative onto Howard’s life. Eventually, when we collect them all together in book form, they’ll be reordered into a strict chronological and biographical order. Ultimately, we’re hoping the reader might feel like they’d gotten to hang out with Howard, rather than just reading about him.

Ruth:

All I knew of Robert E. Howard was seeing the Arnold Schwarzenegger “Conan the Barbarian” movie—I didn’t care for it. So I had a bit of a prejudice when Jim started talking about the paperback he was reading—I was like, hmm… I don’t think so! ha ha. He kept suggesting I read it, promising me that I would like it because it had all the ingredients I’d always loved: adventure, romance, action, and a clear influence of real history, history being a life-long interest of mine. Having little faith that I’d enjoy it, I started reading The Shadow Kingdom and it just blew me away. I’d never read anything like it. There’s only one REH, and I was hooked.

Solomon Kane pinup by Jim & Ruth Keegan

Q:

Do you have a favorite REH story?

Ruth:

Beyond the Black River

Jim:

Geez… so many… yes, Beyond the Black River is awesome. So is Red Nails. The Valley of the Worm. The Shadow Kingdom. It would be easier to name the stories I didn’t like.

Q:

What other authors and subject matter do you like? As a side note, Ed [Chaczyk] asked me to mention Ronald Coleman.

Ruth:

We’re both huge readers, and that’s been quite a help with our work, both as illustrators and art directors. We’ve both read a lot of the same things, though I’m more apt to read non-fiction, reference-type stuff, like history, than he is. I can read pretty much anything you put in front of me, really. I’m more prone to have favorite books (my very favorite book is The Once and Future King) than favorite authors, but when I was growing up, I loved the works of Hawthorne, Flannery O’Connor, and Poe. Today, certainly Donald E. Westlake, Shirley Jackson, and Sarah Waters would be among my favorites.

Jim:

I’ve read a good amount of pulpy fiction from the early/middle 20th century. Edgar Rice Burroughs, of course. And obviously the Weird Tales guys (Howard, Lovecraft, Smith, etc.). Victorian and Edwardian ghost stories can be fun. Arthur Conan Doyle is great. Jack London, Kipling, William Hope Hodgson, and Stephen King are all favorites. I probably read detective and crime fiction more than any other genre—the Black Mask and Dime Detective authors (including, obviously, Hammett and Chandler), along with lots of other crime guys like Cornell Woolrich, Donald E. Westlake, Charles Williams, David Goodis, etc.

As for Ronald Coleman… hmm… apart from him being a wonderful actor (and star of Lost Horizon, one of my favorite movies), I don’t know what Ed is getting at. Our son, Rourke, does an awesome and hilarious Ronald Coleman impression—maybe that’s what he means, lol!

Q:

You’ve done great work on both the artwork in the publications of the books from the Robert E. Howard Foundation and the books from Del Rey. This really made the books look classy and great. I hope this have not been just charity work for you? Have you been asked to do more works in this area?

Ruth:

Thank you, that’s nice of you to say. I guess you’re asking if we got paid for those projects? Yes, this is our profession, so we get paid for all the things we do.

Jim:

Well, sure, we’re full-time artists, so getting paid is kinda essential. As for other REH work… we were involved in one way or another with all of the publications from the Wandering Star library, the Del Rey library, and the Robert E. Howard Foundation Press library. Between those three companies we helped put every last word Howard ever wrote into print. Once we finished the last book in the Robert E. Howard Foundation Press library (we painted a portrait of REH for the cover of Post Oaks and Sand Roughs) we stepped aside. That’s not to say we won’t ever illustrate REH again, but it’ll depend on the project and our availability.

Q:

I’ve heard from a number of sources that you did have a housefire a couple of years ago that destroyed a great deal of both artwork and things. What happened?

Ruth:

In 2019 we had an electrical fire that started in the attic late one night. Fortunately, we were still awake and working in our studio at 2AM. Otherwise, I’m sure we wouldn’t have survived it, since the fire originated above our bedroom and the ceiling collapsed. Anyway, we got out fine and the firemen put it out quickly but the water damage was awful. The house was destroyed along with almost everything in it. We managed to save some art work and research materials, at least.

The hardest part was replacing a lifetime’s worth of art supplies. You just don’t realize how big a toll the digital market has taken on real art equipment until you try to replace it. Everything from brushes to canvas stretchers to desks and tables, lights, you name it—some of the things we’d always used since our art school days and relied on just aren’t manufactured any more. So that part has been tough. 

Anyone who’s ever had a house fire will tell you it’s not an easy thing to go through, and even though we know how lucky we are, it’s still somewhat difficult for me to discuss.

Jim:

If there was any sort of silver lining to the fire, it was that when the ceilings collapsed they kinda folded over the walls in each room, which actually protected the framed art on the walls. We lost a good percentage of our own work, but our collection of other people’s work, framed on our walls, largely survived intact (though a certain amount of our own comics and illustration work managed to make it through inside leather portfolio cases). We used to have a massive multi-room library of books, but with just a few exceptions, those were almost totally lost.

Q:

Ruth:

Jim:

Do you own the rights to your Two-Gun Bob comics. I’ve understood that Dark Horse was kind of hard-nosed about the character?

2GB is our strip and we own all the rights, and Dark Horse was always great about it. We had a very good working relationship, always.

Yeah, Two-Gun Bob is our strip entirely. Dark Horse only ever asked for first publication rights. They were a great company to work for.

Q:

Did Marvel ask you to continue the Two-Gun Bob strips? If they didn’t how do you feel about that?

Jim:

At one point we heard that Marvel hoped to run our old strips in their collections, but for one reason or another it never went anywhere.

Ruth:

And that was totally fine with us. Neither of us ever saw Two-Gun Bob as part of the MCU (ed: Marvel Cinematic Universe), lol.

Q:

What are (if any) your plans with the work on Two-Gun Bob. You’ve told me a little about a planned Kickstarter. Is this something I can go public with and what do you want me to share?

Jim:

Ultimately, there will be a little over 300 strips, and we definitely plan to publish a complete collection. I’m really looking forward to it. I can honestly say that I’ve enjoyed doing The Adventures of Two-Gun Bob more than any other project we’ve ever worked on. When Dark Horse relinquished their Howard rights to Marvel, we still had about 40 strips remaining. We don’t have a timeline in mind, but once we finish those, we plan to launch a Kickstarter and release a nicely-bound edition collecting everything we’ve done on the project.

Ruth:

I would say that we’re really looking forward to completing 2GB and really appreciate the support of fans through the years. I’m very proud of that work and the chance to tell his story.

Q:

There are many people that really miss seeing you at Howard Days. There is no activity on your website and almost no media footprint. It seems you have have gone underground nowadays. Have you?

Ruth:

We miss seeing them at Howard Days too! it was always fun catching up with our friends there and meeting new people. Our schedule always seems to be full of deadlines in the early summer.So much of what we do these days is for television and film projects, and all of that is covered by NDA, meaning we don’t have the rights to post it, so I guess the blog got lost in all of that.

Jim:

We definitely plan to attend REH Days again in the future. We love seeing everyone there and miss it a lot.

I had really hoped to keep our blog up to date, but blogging is a lot of work, as you know. And I’m just awful at social media stuff in general, and Ruth is not much better, lol. We’ve talked about maybe starting an Instagram or something easier than a blog. We’ll see…

We still work all the time. We just recently finished several science fiction covers and a fully illustrated Stephen King novel for Centipede Press (we likewise illustrated Logan’s Run and a Fafhrd and Gray Mouser novel for CP). And we also completed an entire graphic novel about Harry Houdini, connected to an upcoming television production.

And hopefully Covid goes away soon, because we’re looking forward to attending conventions and seeing everyone again.

A huge thank you to both Jim and Ruth Keegan for being so kind in answering all the questions I sent them and providing me with all the images used above.I would also like to thank David Houston, Dennis McHaney, Terry Allen, Ed Chaczyk, Scotty Henderson and Bill Cavalier for helpful input making these questions.