don’t judge a book by it’s illustrators desk
to see yourself as the world sees you
A by gone era of comic book publishing known as “the Golden Age” gave us the industry we have now. Out of that era came the greats like Jack Kirby, Wally Wood, Alex Toth, Jack Cole, and many other visionary craftsmen who pioneered the language and techniques of telling a story with word balloons and pictures. The stories these men made have outlived them and will likely outlive us all. A glorious time yes? NO. Back them comics were considered the bastard step child of publishing and illustration. Men would toil away at books that were looked on as fodder and at best a meager paycheck, in hopes of more dignified and prestigious work. Seems odd in retrospect. What seems even more odd in this day and age is the environment in which they worked.
Having no internet or Fedex they would travel into New York and go to a central office or “shop”. A “sweatshop” is the more accurate term they used. Rows of shabby decks clogging the capacity of whatever office the publisher was willing to pay rent on was scene in which they existed, while making the stuff of legends. Today of course everyone is everywhere. By and large we illustrators work at home, with whatever desk and tools we see fit and can acquire on our own. While it is easily argued this is a much better work environment, many of us look back at the previous era romantically, wondering how much fun it much have been to all be in one room, together, while working. Although our environment is much more relaxed…it is solitary. Solitary in an already solitary job. Our work is unlike most other jobs and also unrelatable to most of our fellow man, technical frustrations and the problems that arise can hardly be vented about to those we know, who exist in a normal working world. The trials and tribulations and struggles of each page go by and large unseen.
A by-product of this difference between how comics are created now and how they were in the golden age is the vast difference in styles, not simply in how one person draws a face compared to another, but also in the storytelling styles. Standard panel counts, standard camera angles have all gone by the wayside and with no editor underfoot, different techniques have been explored and expanded and tailored by each individual illustrator. We have each chosen different storytelling techniques, perhaps because we each struggle alone. Back in the golden age, if you were stumped on pacing and timing, or some composition issue, you could wander over to the desk of whoever in the office was best at that. He in turn could come to you with troubles deciding on placement of a vanishing point or the best camera angle. This made the illustrators of the golden age by and large “jacks of all trades” in illustration. Any deficit you had in your own skill set could be improved with the aid of the man seated next to you. While this is a good thing, you only have one life to develop your skills in any direction and so few of them could be specifically looked at as a “specialist” or wildly separate his work from that of his peers on technique. The contrast in styles of that era did not have the stark difference the styles do now. You could argue that is bad, you could argue that is good. One era had men who could all do everything well, in this era you have people who do specific things that are great.
The more knowledgeable among you might scoff and declare that any idiot could tell the difference between Wally Wood and Alex Tooth. A discerning fan might well notice the difference perusing the bookshelf, but consider the contrast now between say…Mike Magnolia and Lienel Yu. The bookshelf we pursue in this era has differing styles contrasting each other far and away beyond the golden age illustrators…and more importantly the storytelling styles contrast. Wild page layouts, splash pages, wildly varying panel counts between one page and then next all different from one illustrator to the next. We have all found our niche and sharpened out skills for that niche. We are in the era of “specialists”…which I argue is a by-product of being isolated from each other as we work.
I think about this sometimes…usually when I am stumped on something and turn to see no one to ask but an aquarium full of angel fish.
I bring all of this up because I noticed a pic posted online, of the desk of my friend and colleague Christopher Herndon. Herndon helped burden the pop culture with the zombie apocalypse notion with his groundbreaking book “Living With Zombies” nearly a decade ago. He currently works at illustrating Terra Tempo. His style and mine are about as different as it gets. While mine relies on methodical planning and rigid old school panel placement countered by deceptively manipulative vanishing points, his relies on fluidity, wild sweeping composition and laying down exciting lines that seem to be alive on the pages. If I had to guess, I would have said his desk would generally look different from mine…but when I saw it, a giant WTF popped into my head.
…a nice view, organized paints, he’s even got some plants. Nothing that would hint at the wild fantastic imagery that is being produced there.
and odd contrast…odder still when you see my work…
and MY desk.
This got me wondering, and made me curious as to which is the norm…or if there is no norm. So I asked a few other Illustrators to share a pic of what their offices look like in the era of having no dress code, no regular daily hours to arrive at work, and no editor to tell you to not leave 16 empty cups of coffee lying around.
Brian Koschak is best known for Oni Press’ Narcoleptic Sunday as well as a handful of Star Wars graphic novels for Dark Horse Comics.
Amazing work…painfully boring desk. What’s the matter with this guy? I’m going to tell myself he took the photo in black and white to hide various stains. Let’s try someone else…
JK WoodWard has been hard at work on 49 Key which can been seen in upcoming pages of Heavy Metal. He’s also done work for Marvel, IDW, and BOOM! Studios.
That’s a bit better, it could use more dank though, and what’s with everybody and letting sunlight in anyway?! Let’s try again.
Sara Richard Illustrated Kitty and Dino for Yen Press and culled an Eisner Nomination for her efforts. She has had her hands full lately doing cover work for IDW.
NOW we’re getting somewhere! A little chaos, paint smears and smudges, a fist full of brushes in a pile…signs that hard work is going on AND See that in the upper corner…booze. BOOZE people. What’s the point of working at home otherwise?!…I question the wisdom of having a CAT anywhere near paint…or booze for that matter. Let’s try again…
Kristina Deak, has formidable fine arts resume as well as having work published in Heart of the Goddess, Kerrang!, Launchpad Press, Metal Edge Magazine, and various 80’s-90’s underground music fanzines in the US and abroad.
Here’s some of her work
Haunting work, one imagines it being made in a dusty basement, or a shed that’s been converted into an office with paints and brushes side by side with mason jars full old doll parts…let’s take a glimpse into…
…Are you sh*tting me??! THIS is where she creates work like that?
My doctors office isn’t that well organized. …This is frankly taking an ugly turn from a glimpse into co-workers offices, into a subconscious induced intervention with the goal of me getting my act together.
Joseph Michael Linsner, who needs no introduction is the man behind Cry For Dawn, Sinful Suzi, as well as work on Vampirella and more eye catching covers for other publishers than I can name here
…My faith in humanity is restored, and more importantly the nagging suspicion that I should clean my office has passed.
Last but not least Rich Koslowski! Rich’s works are too numerous to mention but the highlights are his self published series The Three Geeks, and more recent Zombies vs Cheerleaders as well as over a decade of service at Archie Comics! Let’s take a look at his work.
and now…his desk.
whoa. You can go ahead and put some nails in the coffin of me feeling bad about my work space. Although, what you can see of his carpet is pretty clean. Hey! I have that same stapler…so I guess I’m doing okay.
of course these are all American illustrators…what about back in the old country? Perhaps in Europe , home of the great masters of art and old world craftsmanship, the land where Michelangelo made his own brushes and Da Vinci ground up his own ink the work spaces have more romance to them. I asked Greek cartoonist Spiros Derveniotis the man behind World of Ugh, and κροκό among other projects, to join in. One look at his work is a loud statement that Greek Illustrators play second fiddle to no one
….I wondered what Renaissance esque, old world looking workshop he would have…
…this f*cking guy.
anyways, thanks to the good and skilled people who were brave enough to share their private offices. I’d recommend you check more of their work. We may not be working in “the golden age” but I think if you stuck any of us into a time machine and dropped us into 1952 we’d do just fine….as long as they didn’t expect us to get to work before noon….or 1:00…or sober.
Just a reminder you can see me and Joseph and Kristina at Cincinnati Comic-Expo Sept 18-20
and Me Joseph Kristina and Sarah at Baltimore Comic-con Sept. 25-27.
You can see JK Woodward, Herndon, Brian, Rich and Spiros at…I can’t remember, gimmie a break I can’t keep track of everyone, you’ve seen my desk. just go to their websites.