Discuss your meeting and collaboration with poet Steven Michael Pape.
This project is aimed at connecting artwork to re-edited pieces of dark poetry for Steven’s book Awakening Soul which he had published previously. The artwork is directed by the poetry and what came into my head once I’d read them. Steven and I are cousins. I was working on artwork for comic cons I attend in which I do paintings, and a4 and a5 size traditional art. I invited Steven to my Facebook page; he saw my style of work and thought it could be used to re-edit this book initially with a view to do more in the future. I was more than happy to work on these poems and thought it would be a good way to express myself.
What did Pape like about your artwork on Facebook?
The originality and grit of the art, as if the attitude of the piece was connecting with him. When he saw the work he was impressed and had the idea of getting me to do some pieces for him.
Is this your first collaboration project? What gave you the idea of crossing over into poetry?
For me it is a first. I am not sure if poets normally use the comic style to project their poems, I was just happy to be given the chance to work on his poems. The idea was a mix of 'what have I got to lose' and 'this could be something fantastic'. It was purely opportunist as Steven was doing his latest book launch and I provided an art piece to be raffled for charity at his event. The discussion began then and of course I would have been mad to turn it down. In fact, it was a direct 'I'll do it' when he asked.
Were you familiar with Pape’s work previously? What attracts you to his writings?
I had known about some of his latest work but didn't realize he had a back catalogue of published poems. His past work gets my mind thinking of dark places, taking me into a gothic and sinister mindset depending on the direction. I read the poem several times for an image to form in my mind but it’s mostly my first image that is illustrated as a rough base before I work in more detail.
Which of Pape’s poems spoke to you? What mental pictures do they evoke?
The title “Awakening Soul” drew me in straight away, Reading the poem took me away from the first instinctive image. I wanted to develop an image from the other side of the living. The dead in a rotting shell until fed would awaken the soul: that is what I imagined after reading Pape's edited version. “The Witches in the Forest of Pendle” took me to the hanging scene straight away. The image of death and the curse it would bring to all involved. The poems give me an image of a scene, trailing directly onto the characters and the design. The pieces I have completed are dark, gothic. His poetry reads so well I generate ideas quickly from line to line.
What are the lines and images in Awakening Soul and The Witches in the Forest of Pendle that awakened your imagination?
There are a couple in Awakening Soul. These are not in order as I don't want to spoil it:
“Born into this tasting despair, Praying for the moon to rise, so the people are not there,
We are the ghouls, the freaks, the lost generation, scream frustration.
Confused and frightened, with no recollection.”
The picture I got was a zombified person that had a full mind once fed, and the despair of not wanting to hurt the living but having no choice to survive. It was the character rising from the grass after feeding on a human, quite aged and worn out showing the pain and relief of the act.
Honestly, the first thing that went through my mind with The Witches was a movie I watched with my kids a few years ago. Paranorman was about an outcast kid that can see ghosts and he has to battle the curse put over the village by a little girl who was murdered for witchcraft. The scene was of her imitating a larger being above the trees; there I got the first vision from for the piece. I then searched Google for historic events and Youtube for witchcraft documentaries; by then I'd had my image I wanted.
How often do you browse Google for new ideas?
I used it once for The Witches poem so I could research the stories that reflect that time and get a closer relationship with the piece I was designing. I will be working on a poem about Ted Bundy. As I only have basic knowledge at the moment I will be looking at images and the background so I can make it the best way I can. This one is a bit weird as you can imagine. Pape has put together a fantastic poem about the evil of Ted Bundy and the pure prowess of his murderous mind, almost animal-like. I read the poem once but the first image is him dragging a female behind him by her the hair in the woods. The second image was a comic strip of him stalking, converting, capturing and finally murdering the victim.
Do you think you and Pape will collaborate again in the future? Do you have a feeling your current collaboration will be special?
I would like to do a full series of themed poems in whichever direction he decides to go in. It’s quite exciting to be a part of something like this and hopefully it will be a success regrading how people relate to the work. I wasn't sure my work would match up to his poetry to give a complete package, but after the first piece of art I did for him you could see the direction complimented it well. I checked in with him to see if he had a different idea of what he wanted to achieve, but my ideas were on the mark.
How long have you been designing art? Were you inspired by any TV shows or movies?
It is only recently I have been designing art to sell. When I was younger I would draw my favorite characters from memory, put them in action poses and give them menacing features. I was about five years old when I brought my first comic. It was a Transformers comic by Marvel Comics in 1987; I still have it to this day! I loved the Transformers movie; the animation captivated me and I wanted to draw those characters. Other shows I was in awe of were The X-Men, Thundercats and He-Man. Drawing at a young age helped me develop shapes and perspective images quicker without realizing it would lead me here.
Are you a self-taught painter or did you take art classes in high school or college?
I’m self-taught. School was good as we had a great art teacher that allowed you to express yourself, but painting was never something we did a great deal of. I can remember drawing what we wanted after learning the basic face shape. I went on to college to study graphic design and technical illustration but I was never as good as I am now. Comic art tuned me on to my art style after years of trying to find what it was. After collecting comics you'd think it was smacking me in the face all those years.
While your interest in comic art grew did you admire any painters?
Comic art is full of great colourists who mostly focus on Photoshop. I use traditional methods but they have the same end. At school we studied the arts of Di Vinci and Michelangelo who had an impact on me as their detail was phenomenal. At school you learn the basics of primary and secondary colours and the effects of mixing them. It is good to have that base info but it’s what you do with it next that matters, how to get the right style and effect. As with everything, practice makes you comfortable and repetition gives you flair.
Which paintings of Da Vinci and Michelangelo did you study at school?
When studying there were only a few I liked such as The Last Supper by Da Vinci and The Last Judgement by Michelangelo. This was because when you studied these things there was a basic curriculum to follow. It gave me a good base to work from and enabled me to try ideas and formulate a style. These painters have been a perfect reference point for anatomy painting; most have contorting body poses that would be difficult to achieve without practice.
How did you develop your approach to using colors after completing your classes?
I just messed around with colours. Most comic art is bold. I try and add the detail as if drawing on paper. I had years of exile from art so it was nice to remind myself of the basics and begin the process again.
Do you regularly collect comics? If so, what else is in your possession?
I collected the Transformers comics from 1987 to 1990. I had a few Hulk, Dandy and Beano issues but stopped collecting as the small local paper shop couldn't get the comics I wanted. At the time I stopped collecting I was about nine or ten years old. The collector in me is still there as I have a collection of Funko Pop figures, and for a few years I have been collecting graphic novels. Mainly Batman but I also have the Saga series. I have a first edition Spawn from the 90's and I have a one edition of the DC Rebirth series and their variants. I was pleased when DC announced Rebirth as it puts things back on track as the 52, for me, just wasn't right.
Where do you look for the comics you are collecting? Do you visit collectible stores or look on the internet?
I generally shop online and I have a few connections from other traders at the cons. It helps getting the best deals.
How long have you been going to comic conventions? Does the UK host noteworthy conventions?
I have been attending the cons in the UK for two years now. The early cons I was talked into doing art for by my partner who sold gothic items at the events. Now it’s turned into an artist table with all my original art on sale. I have yet to go to the London Cons and I am hoping to get in the MCM cons starting with Birmingham. The biggest event I have done is YCC (Yorkshire Cosplay Con), a full weekend event that has guests such as the former Power Rangers and various English actors from Star Wars, Doctor Who and a host of other sci-fi actors. This event gets a huge fan base which gives me the opportunity to get my artwork out there.
How many times have you attended YCC as a dealer? Who usually purchases your work?
I have been a dealer three times. The con has lots of different visitors including couples, families, teens and adults. Items are purchased by all kinds of people. The younger ones buy the work I do on Batman and Daredevil, but you can't really call the rest as the sales are so diverse. The big sell from me is I don't make prints so they buy original work. I always draw characters I can relate to whose story I know
Are there U.S. conventions you’ve heard of that you’d like to visit?
I'd love to visit New York Comic Con; that would be my first choice. I'd like to attend cons in San Diego and Washington. It is way bigger in the U.S. We do have some great guests and traders and the cosplayers are always awesome but the U.S cons always have more of an edge.
Where on the internet have you looked for information about U.S. conventions?
I use Facebook to look for events. I check out Youtube videos of past conventions and check out the reviews. I enjoy watching as some of the costumes are out of this world. I especially like the handmade ones, it shows the wearers’ craft. There is one called I-CON which seems really good and its looks to have a real buzz. From what I understand it’s a nonprofit con run by volunteers which is nice to hear. I'm a firm believer in giving people what they want without costing the earth or ripping people off. Comic Cons should be for the fans and families to have a great time and anything with that as its primary objective is a winner in my eyes.
I have been to I-CON and can say from firsthand experience a lot of work goes into their shows. What are the advantages of appearing at fan run conventions?
There seems to be more care and dedication taken in planning and delivering what fans would want to see at the events. The communication level seems to be higher with fan run events as they want to make sure that you as a trader are prepared. Fan run conventions are great as the knowledge they have clearly shows on the guest and event booking.
Do you think more fan run conventions will appear now that the mainstream is giving the culture more exposure?
I certainly hope so. As comic cons have shifted in the volume of people it attracts, it’s only natural and beneficial to have more variation in its following. I would like to think these events give the next generation something to adore and give inspiration. When I was growing up there was nothing like social media feeding your geek side. I'd love to be able to come and showcase my work someday. I'll have to save up to make the journey.
Do you have any method of redeveloping Batman and Daredevil while drawing them?
I start the process with a few different sketches, which are just basic outlines on a page to set the scene for where I want the various elements of the picture to be (if you ask any artist THIS is the most important thing to do; if the base is wrong the picture won't look cool). This is the rough I use to add predominant shapes and landscape. When I'm happy the detail and layering is added. It sounds simple but from the beginning to the end it can get frustrating and I'm a nightmare for adding more when it seems to be done! Allowing myself to design characters I want by inspiration is perfect, you have a real sense of ownership on what has been produced. Even when I do existing characters the poses are always the first people comment on and are very much my own. I hear from different people that I have a cross between Frank Miller, Jim Lee and Simon Bisley; to be compared to any of those is amazing. I do however doubt that my comic art is of THAT level but it’s a nice compliment either way. I am a stickler for moody and brooding poses in my characters, I love drawing 'baddies' too. I find it easier to connect with those characters.
How many sketches do you try before you find one you’re satisfied with?
I'd normally do two to six, depending on the difficulty of the character and the position I want them in. I have been known to come away from the work for a day if I'm drawing blanks mentally then return with a fresh head and a more determined mindset.
Who are Frank Miller, Jim Lee and Simon Bisley and how often is your work compared to theirs?
Frank Miller is a god of comics who worked on many things, he is best known for his work on Daredevil: The Man Without Fear, Batman: The Dark Knight Returns, Sin City and 300. His structure is what most artists still use as the benchmark. Jim Lee is the best artist I've ever seen work on Batman. His career was originally at Marvel working on the bestselling X-Men series and he was one of several that broke away to create Image Comics. The care and detail he puts into his art is immense, the lines and rendering are where I took my inspiration from. Simon Bisley is a fellow UK artist that worked for 2000 AD on Dredd and other titles but I prefer his work on Slaine. The art and storytelling he uses are just mind blowing. You get a real sense that fantasy art is what he was born to do.
Do you have any thoughts on the film versions of Batman, Daredevil and Dredd?
One of my favorite things to talk about! I really enjoyed Tim Burton's Batman movies; they were extraordinary. I only wish his Batman was more of a trained fighter as he was in the Dark Knight trilogy. Keaton was being knocked all over the place by basic henchmen. The dark gothic feel of Burton's films were perfect. When he didn't make the third it was a tragedy; we were robbed as fans! Christian Bale was a good Batman but never really felt right as Bruce Wayne. Now Affleck is perfect for both. He can just look arrogant as Wayne bringing a real presence and ownership to Batman. I am a massive fan of Frank Miller’s Batman from the comics so to see the rough interpretation of the character on film is a dream. I just hope they can keep hold of the actor as he in my opinion is the best yet.
Daredevil was a good benchmark of what not to do to beloved characters. This project was hugely underestimated and could have been so much more, I don't think Affleck was the problem and more the direction of the movie.
Stallone’s Dredd was another 'we made a mistake' movie. The latest one with Karl Urban was what we needed. To me Dredd is violent and action packed, with the helmet on more than off. Although there is a clear advantage now with advanced CGI effects which can sometimes be overused.
Do you have any thoughts about the Batman TV series with Adam West, or the older Batman series from 1943?
I loved it when I was growing up’ they were reruns on early Saturday morning in the 80's. The series had so much character and showed the rogues gallery well. The Batman 60's series is iconic in bringing that generation of comics to the screen. Adam West is really the original Batman; anything prior was not done as well in my opinion.
What do you think cinema is doing for classic superheroes (Batman, Superman, Wonder Woman et cetera)?
Depending on who gets hold of it director-wise and how much influence the studio has. There seems to be too much control over movies from the studios. If they hire the director that they feel is right to take any franchise forward and given that the director should be a fan of what they are trying to represent, they should let them lead. I'm a fan of comic book movies; I feel that there are too many being made and some characters are getting stand alone movies based on the franchise following. They will all blend into one soon! Guardians #2 looks awesome though; James Gunn has got the mix right there.
If you saw the recent Batman vs Superman movie, how did the actors and director handle those characters? If you were involved in a movie like it, how differently would you present them?
I think the actors were right; it’s just the storyline that was lacking and there was too much editing which showed they just wanted the film out with a mixed script with too much going on. Lex Luthor was a poor choice; I may be proven wrong the next time I see him. The movie showed no evidence of Batman as he should be. Too much build up; the fight was good until the Martha crap. I’d have less Lois Lane, more Wonder Woman and a better Doomsday. The storyline has to be bang on, otherwise it’s a non movie for me.
The Blade movies with Wesley Snipes had an atmosphere similar to Batman and Sin City. What impressions did you get from those in terms of the settings and/or storyline?
I prefer those settings, sinister and dark. It makes a better movie when the odds are stacked against the hero more. Along with those you could add The Crow; such a good movie. All these movies influence my artwork. The first two Blade movies were awesome, Wesley Snipes was the Daywalker! I am not sure if he would suit it if they did some more but who else could? They give me reference points to work, it could be a fight scene or a background setting. It’s hard not be inspired when you see movies like that.
Have you considered writing vampire fiction? How about a comic series of your own?
I would be interested in being involved with those projects as long as it matches my style. Lots of black silhouettes and white flashes of detail to make the pages pop. I plan to do a comic and I am currently brainstorming and designing characters, I have a model of a storyline but it needs more time to get it where I want it. It’s exciting to create but it’s hard to stay away from the characters already out there.
How did you think of working on your own series? Was it a sudden inspiration or an idea long on the back burner?
I was looking into getting my art to publishers and saw on the Image Comics site about a creator’s own series and the benefits it holds. I'd like to have a completed project that is mine so I can look back and improve where needed. I was happy doing characters already existing, but as I got better and needed less reference points it was a natural thought progression.
How much brainstorming have you done to devise your comic series?
There is a lot that goes into it, I learned that the hard way as when I first had the thought to design I underestimated the design process completely. I have to leave it and revisit it at the moment as it’s just not right. The list to brainstorm is storyline, character backgrounds, character design, clothing, team development, how they link together, villains, where it’s set. There is more chopping and changing than I expected there would be but I'd rather spend the time and do it the best I can.
How much time do you spend tailoring your series? What are the ideas you have thought up so far?
It’s been on and off for a while as I work full time and I have the event stock to top up. It’s when I get around to it. It’s always in the back of my mind and I need to devote some more attention to it. A team of misfits draw together for a common cause, with a twist, I don't want to give away too much but it’s not Suicide Squad! The ideas are deviating from the devised stories, or at least I am trying to push it to make it individual and not linked to other media.
What have you thought of from the list you mentioned above? How unique are you expecting your completed concept and storyline to be?
I’m keeping it to myself for now. It’s very much WIP. I am hoping to be offset but as with most things there could be certain similarities to existing comics when it’s finished.
Will you publish your series independently or seek distribution through a local company? Are you considering releasing it in ebook format or on Issuu?
I would like to do it independently to see it received by the people under its own merit. The only one I'd entertain would be Image. Those guys are awesome. I’ve never worked with them so it would be the first time if it happened. I'd look into those and get it out there on Amazon and such. I would need a bit of guidance so I will probably ask Pape as he has done this before.
How soon do you think the first issue will come out? How much publishing guidance can Pape offer you?
The art is finished for the first book and it’s a case of editing into the pages, Pape is working on that at the moment. The art for the second book is in progress and there is talk of putting them together in one larger book. Pape can help me with the set up all the way to the sale stage if needed, I've never put media out there for mass sale before so it would be a great guide.
How extensively will you be promoting the comic series once it’s in circulation?
I'll do my best to use social media and local stores to promote. Hopefully the selling sites will help too. Not to forget promoting at cons. I plan to sell the poetry books at the cons to see if it gets some interest directly.
How would you want most to be remembered for your contributions to art and comicdom?
I'd like to be remembered for expressing my style for producing art that is still relevant and looked upon in years to come, the same way I do when I admire the work my favorite comic artists.