The Mad Inklings of Troy Nixey

I first ran across Troy Nixey’s artwork on Facebook, likely because he was a friend of a Facebook friend and his work appeared on that friend’s page.  Whatever the case, thank goodness for social media (though fewer people are saying that these days) because it introduced me to the work of a modern ink-slinging master.  Troy had a Big Cartel page at the time and would sporadically offer up ink gems for sale.  The subject matter varied, from monsters and guys with lightbulbs atop their heads, to assorted thugs and the great Lobster Johnson.  The thing that remained consistent was the beautiful, lush, textured inking that Troy brings to his work.  So, I bought one piece from Troy.  Then another.  And another.  I was always bowled over by 1) his experimentation with the medium, and 2) his ability to imbue character into the figures, spaces and drawing. 

For those unfamiliar with Troy and his work, here’s a brief biographical blurb supplied by the man himself:

Troy Nixey jumped headlong into his storytelling career in 1991 with the hugely bewildering PREY from Monster Comics. He punched and kicked his very steep learning curve creating his most famous character in 1997, TROUT who appeared in Dark Horse Presents #119. Along the way Nixey has worked with the likes of Mike Mignola, Pete Craig Russell, Neil Gaiman, John Arcudi, Guillermo Del Toro as well as telling a brand-new TROUT story in 2019. Believe it or not Nixey is still kicking the cartooning can down the road nearly thirty years later and having a helluva fun time doing it.

Troy is not the self-aggrandizing type and lets the artwork do much of the talking for him.  And talk it does.  There are mad scientists housed in strange dark laboratories, a goggled 1930s vigilante, boggle-eyed creatures, superheroes, Victorian-era characters with steam punk accoutrements, and ink.  Gallons and gallons of ink.  When I first saw Troy’s work, I instantly noticed his line work, with tons of hatching marks for textures and shadows.  More recently, Troy has worked the bristles of his brushes until they plead no mas.  When Troy uses heavy black in his backgrounds, it appears to infiltrate the characters, allowing the light to shine out of the darkness.  In these two versions of Lobster Johnson, you see two very different approaches.  The top piece, from 2015, uses the black space, seeping into the darks of the figure, lit from just behind the figure to the viewer’s left. 

Lobster Johnson, 2015

The second piece, drawn entirely with a brush, has a much more active space, with beautifully lush brush hatching leading right into the shapes of darkness behind the figure.  The textures also beautifully echo the folds in the Lobster’s coat.

Lobster Johnson, 2016. Collection of J.M. Dragunas

Don’t get me wrong.  Troy still loves his textures and brings plenty of lush line work into his insane drawings.  Those lines often bend around forms, creating volumes in the figures, objects and spaces, until they bleed into the background darkness.  Just look at the work in this crazy Popeye versus Brutus drawing from 2019.  Oh yeah, I forgot to mention the sea monster.

Popeye vs. Brutus with Sea Monster, 2019

In this detail of the sea monster, check out those wonderful hatch marks that dance around the giant tentacle, creating texture while forming the roundness of the cylindrical form through cross-contour mark-making.  Between the tentacle and the crashing waves behind the form, there is a ton of movement in this small section of the drawing.

Popeye vs. Brutus, Detail 1

And then comes the pure, joyous cartooning in the two main characters, as Popeye socks Brutus with a solid BOP!  The contour lines on the figures do most of the work, but the contrast Troy incorporates into the clothing really helps set the figures off from the water behind them.

Popeye vs. Brutus, Detail 2. BOP!

I mentioned mad scientists and laboratories a bit earlier.  Well here you go! 

Mad Scientist in Laboratory with Tentacles!

You can tell that Troy is a man who likes most things in his life to be tentacled.  There is so much going on in this incredible drawing, but let’s unpack some of the main elements.  You’ll notice that every square inch of the drawing is filled with stuff:  babies in jars, mad scientist, clothing, tentacles, metal container for said tentacles, and assorted wheels, pipes and gauges.  Yes, you’ve correctly noticed that the kitchen sink is missing, but pretty much everything else is in this drawing.  You’ll note that Troy has worked a bit of ink wash into this drawing, which does a couple of things.  It helps set the dank, dark mood of the space, but it also separates the main elements: the mad scientist and the tentacled monster.  Further, the heavy blacks used on the tentacled monster help to create a visual anchor of sorts, with the li’l fella tucked right into the lower right corner.  That, along with the slight diagonal positioning of the metal containment device, which does not seem to be doing a good job of containment, helps to lead the viewer’s eye directly to the mad scientist.  So much going on here, yet Troy manages to keep everything clear, even with all of the crazy detail.

In this drawing of DC’s Swamp Thing, Troy took a slightly different approach, by laying in some lovely atmospheric perspective in the background with ink washes.  The organic handling of the washes plays off of the ink work in the foreground beautifully.

Swamp Thing!

The upper portion of the drawing has an almost airy feeling to it, with space in the background and between figures, especially when compared to the jam-packed details in the swampy area, under water.  As with the previous drawing, the space in the water doesn’t have a square inch of open space, creating a mass of textures.  It’s also one of those drawings in which the more you look, the more you find.  And for those of you saddened by the lack of tentacles in this drawing, look closely.  They’re there, under water and to the right.

Swamp Thing, Detail

In this final drawing, we take a look at Troy’s handling of Cartoon Network’s Rick and Morty.  You can see the characters battling a hellish band of creepy monsters, with Rick trying to hold off the fray while pulling his grandson Morty out of the muck.  Troy really pulled out the stops with this drawing, incorporating a couple of million (yes, I counted them) textural lines, combined with some beautifully spotted blacks in the foreground and background.  This piece is composed in a similar fashion to the Swamp Thing drawing, with three horizontal bands making up the action: foreground, middle-ground, and background.  But like the Swamp Thing drawing, there is tremendous depth in this piece, as Troy places the heavier contour lines in the foreground and more textural lines in the background.

Rick and Morty Fighting the Good Fight. SBLAZ!

The action in the drawing is really quite wonderful, with diagonals creating movement throughout the picture plane, along with the contrasting tones and textures.  And yes Virginia, there are tentacles!  And claws.  And teeth.  And miles and miles of rich, glorious ink. 

Troy is sadly no longer on Facebook, but you can keep abreast of his inky shenanigans by following him on Instagram.  Just look for the ink trails at:

If you’re looking to purchase a Troy Nixey original, or are interested in arranging for one of Troy’s incredible commissions, please head on over to his art rep at: 

Thanks for tuning in.  Next time we’ll take a look at H.G. Peters’ pre-Wonder Woman cartoon illustrations from Judge magazine.

Rob Stolzer

Rob Stolzer has been collecting original comic strip and cartoon artwork for over 40 years. He has written numerous articles for Hogan's Alley, the CFA-APA and other journals. Stolzer teaches art at the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point, where he teaches Drawing, Figure Drawing, Graphic Narration, Illustration, and Painting.

One Comment

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    robert gerson

    What a find: Your site for ink + drawing devotees!! Appreciating your well-crafted articles and insights. Always enjoy seeing new black, white & gray artworks and rediscovered drawings from the pen+brush+ink past master artists.

    Troy Nickey is an artist I was not familiar with. Enjoyed your in-depth presentation. Excellent observations into his technique and style. He knows how to tame a sable (?) brush and a bottle of ink. I’m assuming most of his art that you’re showing here is brush work.

    Thanks again, looking forward to more articles.

    -robert gerson

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