Friday, August 1, 2014

THE LONG ROAD TO THE WENDIGO (An naked truth of the editorial process)

by Greg Ruth with Jordan Brown

No one likes to have to make do-overs. You know it's true. Your editor or AD don't much go for them either, but they happen all the time. Most of the time it's valid, as certain nuts are really hard to crack. Other times... well it's preventable for a thousand reasons. The below example is happily the former.
This is the long and winding road to find the perfect wendigo for THE SECRET JOURNEYS OF JACK LONDON: THE WILD, (Written by Christopher Golden and Tim Lebbon) for Harper Collins! Jordan was my editor on OUR ENDURING SPIRIT, so we came into this particular briar patch with a strong working and friendly relationship in place. This is an ideal situation. Needing to make a fix means there's something wrong, and rarely is there enough patience and time offered to be able to find the right way out without having to A. settle for the good instead of the perfect, or B. Fire the artist. Happily none were required in this case.

J: This was Greg’s first take on the Wendigo close-up.  Even in this first stab at the creature, I knew that we would have a spectacular image by the end of the process.  This didn’t exactly mesh with my interpretation of what we might want the Wendigo to ultimately look like, but Greg is a master at creating terrifying, stylized monsters, and there was no doubt in my mind that we would want to work with what Greg had here toward a final monster that all of us loved.  My initial email response noted that I loved the mouth and eyes, but that the creature overall was perhaps a bit too yeti-ish – that it looked really great, but that the compositional elements of the beast didn’t quite get across the feeling of horror we were going for.  In this first email response, I said what I think would become our guiding principle to meld Greg’s fantastic vision with what Christopher Golden and Tim Lebbon were doing in the text: 
G: The best way I can put it is also unfortunately the most vague: I want to look at this beast and know that despite how perverted it has been, how much of a beast it has become, it was a human once (and, therefore, something into which Jack could turn). The reader needs to smell this thing by looking at it. I want it to make you feel wrong inside and also feel like what it is to stand in front of something like this. 

J: Here’s the reason why I love Greg: he knows that peeling off or adding layers is often a better way to revise than simply redrawing something, and he never runs out of ideas.  Greg’s response to me (and I so very much love that Greg explains his thinking, it’s so helpful, from an editor’s standpoint, because it’s always my aim to figure out what the illustrator’s vision is and to work with that – Greg always gives me a great summary of his vision with every sketch):

G: Yeah. That's a trick crazy editors taught me. Assume the need to cut and patch and make sure you can do it on a dime. I always weep for who make actual oil paintings when faced with changes. I really do. Anywhow... These two wendigos are indeed a might bit different, both in pose and look—the former here below is a bit more trimmed that the previous version, but essentially the same fellow. Both are scaled up a sight bit more than the last take.  The second is more like a flying monkey gone mad, with darker fur and more animalian features... see which one you like to pursue forward as I suspect neither does the deed entirely.

J: In 2a you can see how he went about taking his first creation and making him more human.  This still wasn’t quite right for me, but Greg’s changes helped me to focus my thoughts a bit, and I expressed this to him in an email response:

G: What I feel like we might want here is a sense of desperation to the beast’s hunger.  Right now, his hunger for Jack’s flesh and life has a ferociousness to it, but I’d love to get the sense that this is a beast who hunts not just for a love of carnage, but also as an attempt to assuage a desperate, endless starvation – not simply a hunger, a starvation.

J: I wouldn’t have been able to say this without seeing what Greg had already done, what was working well and what we still needed from the image.  2b I include just to illustrate how full of ideas Greg is.  This one wasn’t quite right, but is an insanely awesome drawing in its own right.  Made me hope that Chris and Tim might find a way to take Jack to the dark impasse of the African continent at some point.  Greg never leaves a stone unturned.

J: Here, Greg starts over a bit, giving us a beast onto which we can add layers until we’re satisfied.  You can see how he’s focused in on the hunger and made a beast who is an embodiment of it.  According to Greg:

G: I've gone a bit far and wide from our previous more monkey style version as you see....emaciated, desperate and hauntingly post-human monster that he now is. Let me know if we're a sight bit closer to the mark... I suspect this fellow needs more of the hair.  

J: Here, Greg’s nailed the spirit of this spirit – this is something that is terrifying not only because of what it might do to you, but because it presents you with an image of what you might become.  This is the key element of the terror present in all good zombies, and Greg has outdone them all in this image.  Now, it’s all detail work, taking this human beast and adapting him to the north.  This is where I become a douchebag editor and try to order my monster a la carte.  Luckily Greg doesn’t start hating me for it (or maybe he does?)… My response:

G: This has something necessary that the others didn’t.  But I think you’re right, I think we need to add the hair back a bit – is there a way to get the hair and the strength of the last incarnation and combine that with the desperation of this one?  I know I’m being a jerk editor now, trying to make physical changes happen by repeating vague nonsense.  Maybe this will help: I actually love the Wendigo in the camp attack scene (note: there’s a more silhouetted version of the monster depicted from afar in an earlier chapter illustration) pretty much just the way he is, and would be delighted if we could retrofit this to match that.

J: An awesome thing happened with this revision: I called Greg after emailing him about the last image to talk this over a bit, and we discussed the wendigo for a while, and then got off onto Battlestar Galactica and French silent panchromatic films of the 1920s and whatever else we were talking about that day, and then after like twenty minutes he said “done.”  And I said “huh?”  And he said “I finished the new sketch.  I’ll send it off right now.”  He had been sketching the whole time we were chatting, finished a whole new design.  See why I love this guy?  Anyway, you can see Greg applying a layer of hair on this one, and we’re much closer.  My response was long, so I’ll paraphrase: I asked that we have a bit more firm stance, make the beast slightly larger, and let the mouth own the face a bit more.

J: Greg, as usual, solves all the problems in ways much more cunning than I had expected.  The mouth is fantastic, and I love that he accomplishes the firm stance by simply hiding the feet.  An inspired move.  And he has the most astute and enlightening comment on the size issue, which I have to share with you here, because it’s brilliant:

G: It's a funny thing, scale. Counter-intuitively, something on the scale of King Kong doesn't have the same level of terror as say, a Mighty Joe Young. There's this horrid middle ground between about seven or eight feet and about ten or so feet that to me is the real sweet spot for the bad feelings when comes to the beasties. Personally I love this weird middle ground—I think there's a lot of great tension in any creature that occupies this arena—but let me know if we're hitting the right spot on this here one. 

J:Anyway, the beast is perfect.  Which means, of course, I ask him to tweak it one last time, because I’m a jerk like that.  I asked for a slightly more powerful stance, and a bit more of the claws.
 And here it is, the final, in all its glory.  My favorite of the bunch.  Flawless.
G: I don't know about flawless, but I agree. It turned out to be exactly what we both were looking for but didn't know we wanted until we saw it. The thing I think works best is the scale. There's something far more scary about something that is Mighty-Joe-Young-big versus something the size of say, Godzilla. In my book anything that can work its way through your front door with great difficulty and still pull it off is far more than something smaller or the size of a skyscraper. There's just something more intimate and immediate about it. It can sit next to you even if only barely. So making certain we got this horrible fellow at the right scale was what it was all about for me at first. That best final is as you see it below:

J: If there’s anything to take from this, it is the sheer inventiveness of Greg Ruth, and his ability to read my mind when I am throwing at him the most vague feedback possible.  He came up with a monster that is entirely his own, my favorite rendering of the Wendigo that I’ve ever seen, and the perfect rendering for this story.  It’s a funny thing, illustrating monsters – they often have to physically embody the themes and narrative of the text in an even more acute and representative manner than illustrations of the heroes.  The heroes are meant to represent the reader, and are often made to look somewhat universal for this reason.  But it’s the monsters that represent the struggle, in the narrative and often in the hero him/herself, and for this reason, they are often the most difficult to design.  But also the most fun, if this is any indication.

G:I have to say working through this with Jordan was tough but never unpleasant. I think the friendly relationship we have, and the same with Tim and Chris made the whole process something really extraordinary. We got to go back and do a second volume in the series together, THE SEA WOLVES. And I may post about that later. Though I have to say by that time, we pretty much had our thing down so there was little trouble going forward. Sort of. But what the hell... a little trouble can be a good thing. 

Thursday, July 31, 2014

Silent Tragedies

by Donato

Tyrion and Shae     30" x 30"  Oil on Panel

Within a month, I will be opening the first exhibition of my art in New York City in years at the newly renovated spaces of Last Rites Gallery. This show will feature not only my art but that of Fred Harper as well.  Fred is a long time friend who helped land this exhibition at the exceptional tattoo artist Paul Booth's gallery in mid-town Manhattan.

I am thrilled to get the chance to share many of my recent oil paintings and drawings with a large audience.  The show, Silent Tragedies, will feature recent interpretative works from the worlds of J.R.R. Tolkien’s Middle-earth to a handful of paintings from George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire 2015 Calendar, and works related to my water/beach mythologies. The show will comprise of approximately twenty oil paintings and a dozen drawings, including a few of my favorites from this past year, most notably that of Tyrion and Shae from the Martin Calendar.

The theme of tragedy runs deep in much of of these works, thus the title of the collection, and the reasoning for my previous post here on Muddy Colors regarding Torment in Art. I believe a person's true character reveals itself under moments of extreme duress. Taxing an individual to their emotional limits forces them to make decisions and choices which cannot be carefully planned nor over thought, one must respond intuitively.  It is from these intuitive responses that we see an individual unmasked and unfiltered. The works of Caravaggio, de Ribera, Velazquez, Waterhouse and Michelangelo among others all speak to these issues of tormented and burdened humanity, and I am continuously drawn to their art.

For years as an illustrator I felt the best works were those that conveyed a strong and directed spirit of character - a person in commend of their fate and motives. As I reflect upon the art which I now gravitate to, I see that these themes no long entice me the way they once did.  I am most sympathetic and prefer to converse with narratives where the protagonist is unsure of themselves, caught in a precarious situation or loss. It is through these moments that I find we define ourselves more thoroughly and empathetically as humans, and the reason I now choose such themes when possible in my art.  It is not that I have abandoned the older themes, but rather feel the need to explore a new path opening before me.

Through the use of careful draftsmanship,  dynamic compositions, and my love of fine oil painting, I hope to poetically convey narrative while challenging my viewer with emotional turmoil.

I am not sure how these original works may be received, but I am grateful for the chance to share them with you over the coming months.

Recent works from Donato Giancola

August 30 – October 4, 2014
Opening reception with the artist August 30, 7-11pm

Last Rites Gallery
325 W. 38th Street #1
Between 8th and 9th Avenues
New York, New York 10018

I Threw Down My Enemy    33" x 45"  Oil on Panel

Mechanic - Thresholds      18" x 24"  Oil on Panel

Nienor and Turin - Cabed-en-Aras    11" x 14"   Pencil on Paper

The Tower of Cirith Ungol    48" x 36"   Oil on Panel

The Aftermath of the Whydah     in progress    96" x 48"    Oil on Panel

For those of you who wish to learn about my thoughts in this direction and how it has landed me numerous major awards in the field of narrative art I will be holding class lectures online this Fall with the SmArt School.

Information and lecture descriptions at

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

A Sculptor’s Secret World, Part 6: Jon Matthews

-By Tim Bruckner

I’ve never known any sculptor who can read and translate 2D art into 3D with such skill and creativity as Jon Matthews. That he is a truly gifted artist is confirmed by the superb quality of his work, piece after piece. Whether an action figure or a collectible statue, his sculptures capture the essence of the artist’s intent without compromising it in the translation. His interpretation of Mike Mignola’s Batman is one of the bravest, most inventive and original pieces I have ever seen. Ladies and gentlemen, Jonathan Matthews!

Most of what I do as a figure sculptor for DC Entertainment is to translate a specific two dimensional artist’s style from the comic page into three dimensions. I’ve always had a talent for noting certain eccentricities in the way an artist renders parts of human anatomy or the way they use their particular medium. Seeing what makes one artist’s work specifically different from another’s is one step in the process. Figuring out how to represent those stylistic oddities from the page to 3D is another. Over the years, I’ve attempted to translate quite a few different comic artist’s drawings into three dimensions in either action figure or collectible statue form. I’ve had some great successes and some pretty epic failures, but the inherent challenge each new artist represents is always fun.

In the most successful outcome, the sculptor’s work is almost invisible. From every angle, the sculpture needs to match or evoke the 2D artwork. I try for a result that looks effortless… of course the work is anything but.

The example I’ve chosen to walk you through is Jack Kirby’s character, Darkseid.
The challenge with this type of work is finding the ideal intersection between what I know as a sculptor and what the comic artist is trying to represent with their unique perspective on anatomy and the line work they use to represent light and shadow on a dimensional form. Comic art is very much about line work and I feel to make a successful sculpture that represents the drawing, some of that line work needs to be present in the sculpture.

First, I begin the sculpture by compiling as much of the comic source material as I can. I pick out images that stand out to me as key to the character and the comic artist’s representation of same. I’ll search for front, side and 3/4 views of the body and particularly the face. I’ll usually make up a style sheet to tack up in front of me as I work so I can continually check the sculpture against the source material.

With Jack Kirby’s artwork, he takes a lot of anatomical liberties. His proportions are all his own and he reuses certain facial expressions repeatedly. These are just the things I look for when collecting my reference. In fact, the more stylized the source artwork is, the easier it is to represent three dimensionally. If I see the same expression repeatedly being used on the face, that’s the expression I know I need to match-same with the anatomy.

As with any sculpture I do, I’ll start off with a sort of block figure in wax. I’ll do this while looking at the comic art and keeping an eye out for anything the artist does that sets their art apart. In the case of Kirby, my block figure is overly wide and stocky, with huge blocky knees and large, square fingered hands. I’ll pay close attention to how the skeletal anatomy is implied in the art and adjust the sculpture away from realism accordingly.

When I have the block figure proportionally correct, I start thinking about how the sculpture needs to be broken apart. If the sculpture is to be a collectible statue (static, pre-painted and posed) it will need to be cut apart with a mind toward making the factory production as easy as possible. I’ll look for natural breaks in the piece like where arms go into shirts or shoes into pants, etc..

In this instance, the figure was manufactured as an action figure. The sculpture has to be cut apart at each joint that will feature an articulation point, and engineered with either a pivot, ball or hinge joint.

I cut the figure’s head off where the skull would go into the spine and add a sphere and corresponding socket. Your basic ball joint. This type of joint allows the figure to move it’s head in both an up and down and side to side motion. I do the same at the shoulders. For the elbows and knees, I do a hinge joint. The wrists and waste are pivot joints. Between the different types of joints on the arms and legs, you can get a semblance of natural movement. There’s a modified sort of hinge joint at the hips that allows movement of the thighs forward and backward, but in this case, the joint is covered by Darkseid’s little skirt thing he’s wearing. The skirt is a thin piece of wax that lays over the underlying joint and was manufactured in a soft material that allowed the joint to be manipulated. The engineered joints are indicated by the metal pins present in the images.

Engineering the joints on an action figure usually takes some time and consideration. I try to achieve a maximum rotation or movement with a minimum of distortion once pivoted. I cut the joint parts out of a hard foam on a lathe and center drill the plates that make up the joint parts so they can be pinned together and rotate without any off center wobble. As I’m working in the joints, I’m usually beginning to play with sculptural ways in which to represent some of that line work I mentioned earlier.

Kirby’s line work is perhaps the thing that stands out most about his artwork.
The approach I took here was to describe that line work as graphically as I could and to use the shapes I saw repeated in Kirby’s art to describe the anatomy of the figure.
The challenge was to make these graphic indentations remain apparent as light moves around the figure and at the same time describe the muscular and skeletal shapes in a way that is representative of Kirby’s drawings. The effect is a bit harder to achieve in an action figure versus a statue because of the compromises adding the joints requires. You can fake a better brick shaped knee if it doesn’t have to move!

I used Kirby’s anatomical peculiarities in concert with some tool marks intended to evoke his line work to try and capture his work in 3D. The success of the translation is ultimately up to the fan or collector to decide, but for what it’s worth, here’s my take on Jack Kirby.

In the interest of variety, I’ve included some other 2D to 3D translations in which I’ve relied heavily on sculptural line work to achieve the effect.

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Thinking Outside the Box

-By Dan dos Santos

Oftentimes, I'll get a client that tell me to paint 'whatever I want'. As good as that may sound at first, it's actually quite intimidating. There are a limitless amount of things I could paint, and without some sort of direction, I flounder, usually resulting in a mediocre piece.

I've realized in recent years, that from a creative point of view, I flourish under restrictions. Maybe it's a restrictive subject matter, or a difficult template, or even something as simple as a specific palette choice. However simple, or complex, the restriction... I like having one. The inherent problems immediately causes me to come up with solutions, and ideas begin flowing quickly from there.

After all, you can't think outside the box, unless someone puts you inside a box first.

Artist David Jablow recent completed a series of drawing that I feel capture this sentiment perfectly.

David took a vintage doodle pad with an adult theme, and rather than going with the most obvious solution, he came up with literally dozens of alternative solutions... all of them surprising and wildly creative.

The drawings are fantastic in their own right. But I suspect that David wouldn't have been half as creative if he allowed himself to just draw 'a woman doing whatever'. Having that difficult restriction gave him something to push off from.

The next time you're stumped for something to draw, try challenging yourself. Limit your options a little, or give yourself a seemingly insurmountable obstacle. You'll surprise yourself with the great solutions that come out of it.

You can see dozens more of David's solutions at his Tumblr page:

Or check out his Flickr page which also contains a lot of his preliminary sketches too:

Monday, July 28, 2014


by Arnie Fenner

The celebrities' limos have returned their charges to Hollywood, the exhibitors have palleted up their wares and entrusted them to the Freeman to ship, and attendees have returned home, either happy or sad but most definitely with significantly lighter wallets than they started out with. The dust has started to settle on another San Diego Comic Con International, the biggest, glitziest, and gaudiest "pop culture" convention in the US. Lucca in Italy is bigger (with over 264,000 attendees in 2013) and perhaps more prestigious, Comiket in Japan is certainly much larger (with over a half million attendees), but when it comes to buzz, when it comes to media attention, SDCCI is second to none. Sure, the New York Comic Con has quickly grown to match San Diego in attendance, but…no convention can take over NYC, especially not the way that SDCCI invades and occupies San Diego for the better part of a week each year.

I like to refer to SDCCI as Nerdvana, but my friend Heidi MacDonald prefers Nerd Prom, which was really popular for awhile until it started to be used to describe the President's annual Washington Press Club Dinner. And while I use the term with fondness, it gets annoying when the morning news anchors say it with a smirk to describe all the fans and cosplayers (as if they'd never seen a fantasy film themselves or read a Stephen King novel). Anyway I think I attended my first Comic Con in 1991 or '92 (my memory is fuzzy) and I admit I was a bit overwhelmed. I'd been to World SF and Fantasy Cons, I'd been to various regional shows, but they were positively quaint church socials in comparison. It's only gotten bigger and more crowded and overwhelming (and expensive) ever since as the movie, TV, and gaming industries moved in and came to dominate the con. What started out as a modest little SF & comics get together has evolved into a gargantuan multi-million dollar corporate event that the network news covers, A-List actors line up to appear at, Cosplayers clog the halls at, and which everyone now wants to attend—and relatively few can. Now you might think that 130,000+ give or take is more than a few, but when you consider that somewhere around 300M live in the country that's something like 99.85% (or less if someone with better math skills runs the figures) of the population who'll never darken the convention center's halls.


Above: George R.R. Martin and Donato signing the new calendar at Comic Con.
Photo by Lucia D. Correa.

Even with the heavy presence of the entertainment corporations, there are probably more fantastic artists from around the world under one roof set up, showing and selling their work than anywhere else in the country, perhaps the world. Anyone who says otherwise is saying so with their pants on fire. Illustrators, painters, animators, comic artists, concept artists, sculptors: you name it, they're represented. In spades. Mix in the vintage illustration and comic art dealers and we're talking Artpolooza. My fellow Muddies have been/are regular exhibitors at SDCCI: stories about Donato leg-rasslin' all-comers after hours in the hotel lobby bar are now approaching legendary status.

Above: A group signing in the Spectrum booth. Back row l-r: John Fleskes, Gary Giani, Allen Williams, David Palumbo, Travis Lewis, and Matthew Levin. Front row l-r: Donato Giancola,
Todd Lockwood, and Daren Bader.

Is SDCCI for everyone? No. Most certainly, no. It's incredibly crowded, particularly on Saturday. It is horribly expensive—to attend, to exhibit, to stay, to eat. And by it's very nature it's stressful—and if you're an exhibitor, there's never a guarantee that you'll make a profit, regardless of the number of people in the hall. You can't do everything, you can't see everyone, and half the time you can't even get from one side of the convention center to the other. But you know, there are islands of calm in the maelstrom, opportunities to converse and network and make friends. Besides, there's something to be said for going to a 3-ring circus, at least once: and if you do, regardless of the experience you have, you'll never forget it.

If you've ever wondered WTF's the deal about Comic Con, I found the nifty brief history video at the top of this post. If you're intrigued, well, the next SDCCI is only about 360 days away, give or take.