Many thanks George for your kind and simple answers.
Here's the interview below
1. You're one of the best contemporary artists that works in comics and in arts, how do you see the comics arts market and their movements today?
Thank you for the kind words. Honestly, I’m pretty out of touch with the comic arts market today. I go to the comic shop and I’m pretty depressed. There’s very little that interests me there. I enjoy anything Mike Mignola does as well as Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips on Criminal. Darwyn Cooke’s work on Parker. Tommy Lee Edwards and John Paul Leon do wonderful black and white work, and their storytelling is wonderful. Danijel Zezelj is brilliant. I love his work and his storytelling. I love Miguelanxo Prado’s work as well as Nicolas DeCrecy and Teddy Kristiansen. Dave McKean continues to amaze.
Beyond that, it’s like a wasteland to me. I miss the anthologies of my youth, Creepy and Eerie, etc. Most comics, when I was younger, tended to be anthologies. They were filled with various stories and you didn’t have to invest so much time into these sprawling story arcs. Not that there’s anything wrong with the long story arcs, I can appreciate those, for sure. But if it’s something that’s been ongoing it makes it difficult to jump in and get your feet wet. I also wish that creators looked outside the world of comics more for inspiration and topics to write about. It all gets a little incestuous and self-referential. Europe seems to have a more interesting take and the stories are more humanistic. You don’t have to have two costumed characters beating each other up all the time, if ever.
2. I know that you worked in the excellent graphic novel "Enemy Ace - War Idyll", how was it for you to draw and write with the help of Andrew Helfer, that book that deals with a theme such as war?
I have always been intrigued by war and the stories of the men and women caught up in the vast struggles they were cast into. I approached DC to do the book as I had been working on the idea for a number of years. Some of the first work I did upon graduating from art school was illustrating for a Vietnam Veterans magazine. I was fortunate to work with Jim Morris who would give me a job every month, even though the magazine came out every other month. He would commission a painting and several pen and inks. It was a great learning experience.
I was thoroughly petrified as a kid during the Vietnam War. Remember, I was born in 1960 and this war was ongoing for basically my entire childhood. You couldn’t escape it. And I was scared to death that I would have to go, even though I would have been ineligible for duty due to my heart surgeries. But I didn’t know that.
In Texas, where I grew up, young boys played war all the time. Audie Murphy was from Texas and so we played World War Two all the time. Our parents were all World War Two veterans from various branches of the armed services, so we had all this gear to play with. There was a real fascination with all this stuff. And on television and at the movies there was a plethora of material coming out about that war. Tons of comic books were all about World War Two. DC Comics Big Five titles were the best and I could not get enough of them. Sgt. Rock, The Haunted Tank, The Unknown Soldier, Blitzkrieg, Weird War Tales. And there was also Enemy Ace, which was basically the Red Baron in World War One. Robert Kanigher was my favorite writer of those books, though Bob Haney was great as well, and later Archie Goodwin’s take on the Haunted Tank blew my mind. Joe Kubert, Russ Heath, Alex Toth, Ric Estrada and Sam Glanzman were my favorite artists in those books. So I was immersed in this topic.
It was all fun and games, playing war. But at one point it clicked for me, the reality of what all that really was about. The finality of that stuff and I couldn’t do it anymore. It ceased to be fun. My father had been in the Navy in World War Two and my grandfather had been in World War One. Dad was constantly reading histories about his war trying to better understand it. So I was surrounded by this ever-growing library of books on that war. The pictures, of course, drew me in to them. I was in equal parts fascinated and repelled by the photographs. And though I was quite young, I tried to read these dense books on that war.
Anyway, after illustrating these stories by Vietnam vets, and reading piles and piles of books on Vietnam in an attempt to understand that for myself, I wanted to try and put down my own thoughts about war. And for whatever reason Enemy Ace popped back into my head. I always had an affection for that series and thought it would be a great counterpoint to Vietnam. So I started working that up just for myself. It was like my own little personal toy. This was around 1985 or 1986. So I played with this idea, writing and sketching for a couple of years, but didn’t have the gumption to actually take it in and try to sell it. Scott Hampton deserves the credit for making that happen. He was coming into the city from South Carolina and asked me to bring all the material in to Rick Bryant’s studio which was where we’d all congregate sometimes. Rick made the best coffee on the planet and had piles of books to dig through and movies to watch, etc. So I brought all this stuff in and Scott basically picked it all up and walked out the door with it, proclaiming that if I wanted to be there to see it get published I’d have to follow him. We went to DC and he got Andy Helfer to look at the material on the spot. Without missing a beat Andy said he wanted DC to publish it. I was stunned.
The story definitely grew in lots of positive ways over all that time and ultimately with the help of Andy Helfer and Scott Hampton. The story was really pretty bare bones and I worked visually from that sort of odd outline I’d created. I knew what the major beats of the story were and the basic idea of what was going to be said. It was like a sort of emotional flow chart for the story, then did the art based on that, which took three years to complete. The dialogue was written over the course of a weekend or so with Scott Hampton and I sitting in my studio with a tape recorder throwing dialogue back and forth, looking for the stuff that sounded naturalistic. I wouldn’t work that way again because it left quite a bit up to chance, but it worked. Andy was great to work with, and though we butted heads of some things, we got along wonderfully. Kevin Dooley, Andy’s assistant, was also fantastic to work with. In fact, everyone I worked with at DC really did contribute so much to the success of that project.
3. You worked in world wide iconic comic book characters such as Batman with your novel Harvest breed and Wolverine with Netsuke and you brought some different ideas for these comic book characters, are you proud of your work in these books?
Can you tell us a bit of how you see these characters?
Batman is the major reason I became an artist in the first place. I had two open-heart surgeries when I was little and so spent a good amount of time in the hospital. The Batman television show had just come out and I was hooked, absolutely enthralled. My family saw how into the show I was and so began buying me the comics to read. That was it. It was all over at that point. I couldn’t get enough of comic books. Batman, Sgt. Rock, the Haunted Tank, Superman, the Fantastic Four, etc. It was an unbelievable time to be into comics. I loved those characters. I was more of a DC guy (Batman, Sgt. Rock, Superman, Swamp Thing, Tarzan) but enjoyed a lot of the Marvel stuff as well. I spent hours and hours and hours copying those drawings and realized I wanted to do that. So then the artists and the writers became very important to me and I emulated their styles and points of view.
I like what I’ve done with the characters. I think the Netsuke book is more successful for me in the way of storytelling, etc. than the Batman book. There were issues there that I won’t go into. But I am happy with both books. I think my Batman covers are more successful for that character for me. The editor wanted me to basically revisit Enemy Ace in how I painted the book and even how the story was told. I had moved way beyond that way of working and, too, I don’t see Batman as real. I wanted to do something much more graphically and bold but was restrained and that took the wind out of my sails. I was able to work in the Vietnam angle on the Batman book and treat various shifts in storytelling/time with different media so that made the book interesting on an artistic level for me.
I read Wolverine in high school and in college, totally eating up the Chris Claremont and Frank Miller work. But I don’t have the same emotional attachment to Wolverine that I do with Batman. So with Wolverine I was able to have fun drawing again without all the emotional baggage that I had/have with Batman. I was already interested in and reading quite a bit about Japanese folklore and ghost stories and so was able to wrap a lot of that up into the story. That series came about because I bumped into Chris Claremont, who lived in my neighborhood, on the street. He asked what I was up to and I sort of vented about what was happening with the Batman novel. He told me to come to Marvel and do something. He had just been hired to be the Editor-in-chief, or something, and would make it happen. That was on a Friday afternoon. I asked him if it would be okay to do something with Wolverine. He said yes and I told him I’d be in on Monday. Spent the weekend fleshing out the idea of a sort of ghost story and tying into what I remembered of his series and Mariko. Someone informed me that she’d been killed so that became the germ of the idea, to take Logan, who was still struggling with her death, to her ancestral home and try to let her go.
On Enemy Ace and Batman I was still doing the art as full pages of continuity. For Batman I was doing these fun pencil studies for my panels and realized after transferring them to the boards and painting them that I was losing the freshness and energy that those drawings had. So when I got to Wolverine I threw out the whole idea of finished pages of art. Instead I used my layouts to refer to individual panels and drew straight in ink onto pads of Canson drawing paper. I’d then hit those with watercolor and charcoal. It was liberating. I had fun drawing again.
I didn’t want to pencil, again because I was trying to loosen up. When I pencil and then ink I always feel like I’m trapped by those pencil lines and I have to just go on autopilot and sort of color by numbers. While working on Enemy Ace I had also begun working on my still unpublished Blues graphic novel, See You in Hell, Bllind Boy. In that work I wanted the art to be as honest as the music it represented. The blues guys would play their music and if they hit a sour note they left it in there. That was part of the honest earthiness and homegrown quality that I loved about the music. So I began drawing straight in pen and learned to roll with the punches. That perfection was overrated and that the honesty of a truly felt line was more important. So that was very stimulating while working on Wolverine.
Right before I began work on Wolverine Joe Quesada called me to offer me the art chores on the Wolverine origin story that Paul Jenkins was writing. I had just finished Batman and my son was a newborn and I needed to get to work on Wolverine immediately. The origin story was months in the future and Joe said I needed to choose one or the other. Argh! So I got to work on my Wolverine. Chris had tried to convince me to add the X-men to the story, which would generate a ton of sales/money for me, but I nixed the idea because I didn’t really want to draw them, but more importantly I didn’t think anyone would believe it. I’m not a superhero artist really and I felt that I wouldn’t really do them justice at all.
4. I remember some of your work in Neil Gaiman's comic book character Sandman, that I've loved a lot and I was hoping that you could draw an issue at the time.
What do you think of Sandman's character?
The Sandman character is wonderfully original. I enjoyed inking those issues and would have loved to have done my own take on a book. Now I think I could do a lot visually with him. Neil’s writing is superb and it would be a treat to work with him on something like that.
5. I also remember your work at Vanguard publisher in some issues of the comic book "tales from the edge" with several known artists such as Barron Storey, Bill Sienkiewicz, Marshall Arisman, J. David Spurlock, Greg Spalenka and Jim Steranko. I find this sort of movement/anthology fascinating, How was your experience in this comic book with all these excellent artists?
David Spurlock hit me up to do a lengthy interview and allowed me to design my segments and include a lot of work I’d been doing on the blues and the Holocaust. I was proud of the way those turned out. I would put them together on my early Mac with Photoshop and Quark and send them to him on floppy disks.
It certainly helped to be in the company of such great talent. Barron was my teacher in art school and I have nothing but the highest regard for him and his work. He was the teacher that pushed me to have further develop a sense of social awareness and the power of art to express meaningful dialogues rather than just bolster entertainment. He also inspired me to be more exploratory with media and ways of working. Marshall Arisman was the same way. An incredibly inspiring artist and wonderfully sincere human being. Steranko was a great inspiration to me when I was younger. I loved his comics and his forays into graphic novels and publishing. We have Steranko to thank for ComixScene which was one of the only places, pre internet, to read about our heroes and how they worked. That was worth it’s weight in gold. Greg Spalenka I’ve been friends with for years and really enjoy his work.
6. You also worked for Allen Spiegel Fine Arts with artists such as Kent Williams, Dave Mckean, Greg Ruth, Jon J. Muth, Bonnie To, Phil Hale, Scott Morse and several other known artists, what's your idea of asfa movement?
Well, Kent and I went to school together and basically learned how to paint together since the school wasn’t really giving us what we needed. We met Allen and J Muth through Jeff Jones, who we had been painting with. Greg Ruth used to hang out in my studio in Brooklyn and we’d talk about growing up in Texas. I don’t know if I’d call ASFA an actual movement, but a collective of like-minded artists who aspire to create quality individualistic work. We all have very similar artistic heroes and aims.
7. You're a Fine Arts artist with exhibitions all over the world, do you love seeing your work spread to all public in general?
Absolutely. It’s all about communication, right. Art, as Jeff Jones once said to me, is inclusive, not exclusive. It should be universal. It’s not about how different we are, it’s about how similar we are. The more people we can touch, the more we can have a positive effect.
8. Could you tell us a bit some influences that you've in your work?
Not sure there’s enough space to cover all of my influences. :) I have so many influences and I’m constantly being inspired by other work. But, here goes — a truncated list, incredibly incomplete of inspirations past and present:
Early on, as mentioned, were the comic artists along with pen and ink greats (in no particular order): Alex Raymond, Hal Foster, Roy Crane, Charles Schulz, Milton Caniff, Noel Sickles, Joe Kubert, Jack Kirby, Will Eisner, Wally Wood, Alex Toth, Russ Heath, Ric Estrada, Al Williamson, Angelo Torres, Frank Frazetta, Berni Krigstein, Harvey Kurtzman, Gahan Wilson, George Herriman, Al Hirschfeld, Charles Dana Gibson, Frank Robbins, Johnny Craig, Sam Glanzman, Mort Drucker, Jack Davis, Bill Mauldin, Bruce Bairnsfather, Heinrich Kley, Joseph Clement Coll, William Heath Robinson, A B Frost, Eduard Thony, Olaf Gulbransson, Bruno Paul, Rudolf Wilke, Wallace Morgan, Winsor McCay, Norman Lindsay, Daniel Vierge, Austin Briggs, Lyle Justis, Paul Coker, Gerry Gersten, Craig Russell, George Woodbridge, John Severin, Neal Adams, John Romita, Howard Chaykin, Mike Golden, Paul Gulacy, Gene Colan, Al McWilliams, Gilbert Shelton, Ralph Steadman, Edmund J Sullivan, Lullivant, Frank Brunner, Val Mayerick, Pat Broderick, John Buscema, Tom Palmer, Bernie Wrightson, Mike Kaluta, Barry Windsor-Smith, Jeff Jones, Vaughn Bode, Marshall Rogers, Jim Starlin, Frank Miller, Alex Nino, Alfredo Alcala, Jorgé Zaffino, Teddy Kristiansen, Robert Crumb, Will Crawford, Will Low, Billy Debeck, Louis Leloir, Maurice Leloir, Ernest Peixotto, Loius Raemakers, on and on.
Later came the European comic guys: Hugo Pratt, Alberto Breccia, Dino Battaglia, Jose Ortiz, Jose Munoz, Felix Mas, Attillio Michelluzzi, Fernando Fernandez, Gonzalo Mayo, Victor de la Fuente, Auraleon, Ivor Milazzo, Jordi Bernet, Miguelanxo Prado, Jacques Tardi, Moebius, Caza, Hermann, Guido Crepax, Bilal, Sergio Toppi, Nicolas DeCrecy, Palacios,
Painters and Printmakers in no particular order:
Rembrandt, Winslow Homer, James Mcneill Whistler, John Singer Sargent, William Merritt Chase, Gustav Klimt, Egon Schiele, Kathe Kollwitz, Jules Bastien-LePage, Degas, Alphonse Mucha, Frank Brangwyn, Thomas Eakins, Norman Rockwell, Edouard Manet, Pierre Bonnard, Jacques Vuillard, Edvard Munch, Rossetti, J W Waterhouse, Fernand Khnopff, Gauguin, Solomon J Solomon, Lucien Freud, Sorolla, Anders Zorn, Antonio Mancini, Leonard Baskin, Brad Holland, Jeff Jones, Claude Monet, Gary Kelley, Theodore Robinson, Vincent Van Gogh, Toulouse Lautrec, Howard Pyle, Edwin Austin Abbey, N C Wyeth, Harvey Dunn, Dean Cornwell, Walt Louderback, Frank Schoonover, Herb Tauss, Mark English, Robert Heindel, Marshall Arisman, Barron Storey, Robert Weaver, Robert Cunningham, Lisbeth Zwerger, Bob Peak, Burt Silverman, David Levine, Willy Pogany, Sandy Kossin, John Lagatta, Carl Larsson, John Lavery, John Collier, Arthur Rackham, Edmund Dulac, William Russell Flint, Meade Schaeffer, Leo and Diane Dillon, Yoshitoshi, Hokusai, Frederic Remington, J C Leyendecker, Maxfield Parrish, Raphael Soyer, J Messonier, Hiroshige, James Bama, Jessie Wilcox Smith, Ivan Bilibin, Repin, Nikolai Fechin, Edouard Detaille, Kerr Eby, Fortuny, Robert Fawcett, James Montgomery Flagg, Matania, Paul Nash, Fred Otnes, Francis Bacon, Max Beckmann, George Bellows, thomas Hart Benton, Elmer Bischoff, Robert Blum, Bouguereau, Emil Carlsen, Carravaggio, Mary Cassatt, Paul Cezanne, Russell Chatham, John Constable, Lovis Corinth, Camille Corot, Daumier, DeKooning, Delacroix, Tamara leLempicka, Thomas Wilmer Dewing, Edwin Dickinson, Richard Diebenkorn, Jim Dine, Leornardo DiVinci, Albrecht Durer, Frank Duveneck, El Greco, James Ensor, Helen Frankenthaler, Gericault, Giacometti, Goya, Childe Hassam, Robert Henri, Edward Hopper, William Hollman Hunt, Jerome, Gwen Johns, Gurne Jones, Jasper Johns, Anselm Kiefer, Freida Khalo, Jack Levine, George Luks, Methurin Mehuet, Matisse, Adolf Mensel, Modigliani, Berthe Morissot, Odd Nerdrum, emil Nolde, Nathan Olivera, Jose Clemente Orozco, William Orpen, David Park, Jules Pascin, Pablo Picasso, Camille Pissarro, Jackson Pollack, Edward Potthast, Maurice Prendergast, Raphael, Robert Rauschenberg, Gerhard Richter, Fritz Scholder, Ben Shahn, Walter Sickert, Alfred Sisley, John Sloan, Abbott Thayer, Tiepolo, Turner, John Twachtman, Minola Valdez, Velasquez, Vermeer, J Alden Weir, Andrew Wyeth, John Alexander White, Jerome Witkin, and on and on.
Photographers in no particular order:
Berenice Abbott, Ansel Adams, Diane Arbus, Eugene Atget, Werner Bischoff, Margaret Bourke-White, Matthew Brady, Manuel Alvarez Bravo, Cartier Bresson, Frank Burrows, Margaret Cameron, Cornell Capa, Robert Capa, Keith Carter, Marjorie Cunningham, Edward Curtis, Thomas Eakins, Eisenstadt, Walker Evans, Laura Gilpin, Lewis Hine, Geoffrey Holder, Hans Horst, Frank Hurley, Karsh, Jill Krementz, Matt Mahurin, Sally Mann, Lee MIller, Tina Modotti, Sarah Moon, Alphonse Mucha, Edweard Muybridge, Beaumont Newhall, Helmut Newton, Tim Page, Ray Man, Bettina Rheims, Jacob Riis, Salgado, Luc Sante, Ben Shahn, W. Eugene Smith, Edward Steichen, Alfred Steiglitz, Jock Sturges, Fox Talbot, VanderZee, Roman Vishniac, Weegee, Eudora Welty, Albert Weston, Minor White, Joel Petere Witkin, Mary Post Wollcott, on and on.
9. Can you tell us also your favourite artists ever or movie directors?
See above for artists. Directors in no particular order: Kubrick, Spielberg, Ridley Scott, Alfred Hitchcock, Francois Truffaut, Robert Altman, Woody Allen, Richard Attenborough, Bruce Beresford, Ingmar Bergman, Robert Mulligan, David Lean, Steven Soderbergh, Milos Forman, Hal Ashby, Jean-Pierre Jeunet, Richard Brooks, Peter Weir, Francis Ford Coppola, Wolfgang Petersen, John Huston, John Sayles, Jean-Jacques Annaud, Jane Campion, Sam Fuller, Guy Ritchie, Jean Cocteau, Terry Gilliam, Clint Eastwood, Mel Gibson.
10. What's your opinion of the present world, that's filled with images everywhere in social networks, do you think that a image is worth a thousand words today?
I think the present world could use some tender love and care. The proliferation of images is wonderful, but I wish creators had a little more to say than just aping what they love. Certainly not everything needs to be a protest or anything like that, but I wonder where all the work is that does take a stance against hatred, racism, war, etc.
There are also lots of powerful forces out there determined to undermine and steal the intellectual property of image makers. It’s scary. Image makers have a lot of power. The trick is in using it to its most potent and effective means. Watching Steve Brodner and Edel Rodriguez during this last election here in the United States was incredibly gratifying. The images were simple yet powerful in their condemnation of what’s been going on. Thomas Nast brought down Boss Tweed with his cartoons and that power still exists in the hands of artists and in the imagery of today.