Original short interviews with notable, rising or overlooked
figures from comics or the larger entertainment field by Bill Baker.
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BAKER'S DOZEN for 09/13/2006
Who Was That Masked Man?
David Michael Beck on Jonah Hex and more
I've known David Beck for about six years now, although some times it seems like it's been forever. But that's forever in a good way.
A large part of that is due to David's temperament and personality. As he notes below, he wears his heart on his sleeve, and remains one of the most forthright, honest and truly real people that I've ever had the pleasure to know. The fact that he's an incredibly skilled and accomplished artist is but a bonus. A huge one, it's true, but still it's just another factor which makes David the good, solid and creative person he is.
So it's little wonder that I'd seize upon the first real chance I've had to talk with Beck about his work for this column. In this particular instance, our conversation is occasioned by the recent appearance of Jonah Hex # 11 from DC Comics, which presents the first publication of sequential work by this illustrator.
Bill Baker: So, did you get this gig right out of college, kid? [General laughter]
David Michael Beck: Not likely, amigo! Ironically, within a couple of weeks after graduating from art academy back in '72, I found myself helping my old friend Mike Grell pack his belongings for his move to New York to begin his work on The Legion of Super-Heroes.
I remember thinking, with great envy, that "Iron" Mike was taking his first steps towards his life-long dream of becoming a comic book artist. I've followed comics all my life but never thought I'd actually ever be working in the industry.
I chose to pursue the field of illustration. In my 38 year career I've worked in every major market of illustration, including advertising, editorial, book publishing, institutional, and entertainment. I've also been with a number of art galleries over the years.
BB: What lead to your entering the comic book field, and where might people have seen examples of that work in the past?
DMB: Eight years ago I began an intensive pursuit to enter the comic industry working as a cover artist. My entire illustration business was on the verge of total collapse due to the implosion of the illustration market in general. I lost 75% of my business in a heartbeat, and found myself along with thousands of other illustrators scrambling to stay alive as a working artist.
I was looking for work in a number of niche markets and thought the comic industry might afford some opportunity. In these past 8 years I've illustrated covers for Marvel, DC, Dark Horse, Devil's Due, Top Cow, a number of smaller comic publishers, as well as illustrating for the gaming industry.
My cover work can be seen on titles such as Star Wars, Aliens vs. Predator, G.I. Joe, Lady Death, Thor, Rising Stars, Red Star, Road to Perdition, Belle Star, Jade, Evil Ernie, Kolchak, and Buckaroo Banzai. I've worked on computer and board games such as Everquest Online Adventures, Mage Knight, Creepy Freaks, and Eberron.
BB: How'd you get the gig doing the interiors on Hex #11? Was it mainly on the basis of your comics and other work, or is there more to that story?
DMB: I got the gig doing sequential art for Jonah Hex by submitting a six page black and white short story for the soon-to-be-released Wicked West 2 to a number of DC editors. Bob Schreck, Stephen Wacker, Shelly Bond, Mike Carlin, and Will Dennis all gave high response. Stephen Wacker was particularly interested in those submitted pages as he was the editor for Jonah Hex at the time.
Actually, I sent the six pages to numerous publishers around the industry, and within two days was offered three book deals.
The aforementioned Wicked West story was my first attempt at illustrating sequential art. My very good friends Bob Tinnell, Neil Vokes, and Todd Livingston worked together to write the short story "Taking Big Medicine" especially for me, keeping in mind to write towards my artistic sensibilities. They gave me an open door to approach the style and execution of the artwork.
I had also at the time of the DC submissions, sent the six page story to my good buddy Jimmy Palmiotti. Jimmy and Justin Gray had just begun writing the Jonah Hex book and, along with their support, I was offered the opportunity to furnish the interior art for issue #11.
BB: Well, what took so long, my friend? Why didn't we see sequential work before this?
DMB: I have always been an illustrator and painter. This reinvention, if you will, or adapting my art towards sequential art is a bit of self-experimentation. My art is detailed and labor-intensive. There was a question in my mind if I could tell a story well visually and deliver the work on deadline. I've never missed a deadline in my entire career, so that along with the financial aspects of doing sequential art at this high level of execution was a great concern.
BB: How do you create your art, and how much has your approach changed over the years--and in the transition from advertising and editorial pieces to comic covers and interior pages?
DMB: I approach my art as an illustrator or painter would. My work is realistic and reference driven. I begin by thinking of a concept followed by very rough sketches--which end up in the trash--extensive research, and photography. I do a lot of "sketching with my camera" to refine the composition and point of view of each image. Most of the preliminary work is done in my head, not on paper. I've used this process all through my career.
I approach sequential art the same way. The current editor, Michael Siglain, gave me the freedom to work up the interior pages as I see fit. I do not submit page breakdowns for the story. Michael and I go over the script verbally taking notes. I then work up the panels of each page as I would any single finished illustration--to what I would refer to as "first stage finished art," well defined but not refined--submit that to Mike for approval, then move to the final stage of completion. I know this all sounds very unconventional in terms of common practice, but it works well for me, and DC loves my results.
BB: That sounds incredibly demanding, and time-consuming, Dave. What's your typical working day like, and how many of those do you cram into a week or month?
DMB: I work 7 days a week. Typically, Monday through Friday are 12 hour days--sometimes longer. Saturday and Sunday are 5-8 hours long, but can go longer if deadlines demand.
I get up very early in the morning in order to get the day's work done so I can spend time with my family later in the day. I try to save a good portion of Sunday for my family and the rest of my life.
I'm extremely anal retentive; I plan my days way out ahead so I get the work done and still have time to live my life. I seem to have an almost manic work ethic and a commitment to my family driven by a very high energy level.
BB: Why do you prefer using that particular method? Is there something about the results--or perhaps even something as ephemeral as a "feeling"-- that you get using this approach that you haven't gotten from using other methods?
DMB: My method of working as well as just living my life is charged with high emotion, and passion...or so I'm told! [General laughter] Everything in my life is a priority. It's crazy as hell I know, but it just the way I'm built.
BB: When will we see some more of your work, whether it's comic interiors or covers, or even commercial in nature?
DMB: I'm half way through another Jonah Hex story, which is the sequel to issue #11. I recently illustrated the cover to Nightwing # 126. DC has left the door open for more sequential work for any character I would choose...we'll see where that goes.
I will be working on a cover project with Dynamic Entertainment, as well as an on going poster campaign for the Cincinnati Automobile Dealers Association. I have a few personal commissions in the wings, too.
BB: Are there certain characters or even titles at DC that you'd love to work on? How about at Marvel, or even from the general entertainment world?
DMB: I would love to do a cover series for Batman. I would enjoy producing covers for most any comic character though. As I mentioned earlier, the sequential work is an experiment for me--my first love is finished illustration.
BB: What do you get from making art, be it professionally or personally?
DMB: Art has been a major part of my life since I was very young. I was first enrolled in art academy at the age of 7. I simply love to draw and paint. I have a body of "Modern Art" that I would like to expound upon that could be marketed in a gallery situation. I get tired of doing the same thing all the time, so I have my own personal work which very few people ever see.
I'm always pushing my art in different directions because of my many interests in varied art forms. I get a lot of satisfaction at producing a variety of art executed at a very high level of expertise and craftsmanship. As a personal joke--and it is a joke--my close friends and peers refer to me as "The God Of Art." [Loud general laughter]
BB: What do you hope your readers get from your work in general--and from you comics work, in particular?
DMB: My hope for any audience I might acquire is that my work be entertaining, and possibly educational. I would hope that in some small way the art I produce in my lifetime may touch others as I've been touched by all the art I've experienced through my own and other artists.
BB: Is there a question you've always wanted to answer, but no one's bothered to ask yet?
DMB: Dude, I can't think of an answer to this question! [More general laughter] I tend to wear my life on my sleeve. You pretty much get what you see from me as an artist and a person.
BB: Anything else you'd like to add before I let you get back to work?
DMB: If you would like to view more of my work, I invite you to visit my website at www.davidmichaelbeck.com. And anyone who might be interested in purchasing my work will find those links on my site.
Jonah Hex # 11 hit stands on the 6th of September, 2006, while Wicked West II is due out in October, 2006 from Image.
As of press time, the second Jonah Hex story drawn by Beck had not been put on DC's publication schedule.
Finally, if you'd like to read more of Bill's thoughts on comics, literature and pop culture, or would like to read his graphic novel reviews, simply head on over to http://www.specfric.blogspot.com/, the new home of his blog Speculative Friction.
<< 08/23/2006 | 09/13/2006 | 09/27/2006 >>
Discuss this column with me in World Famous Comics' General Forum.
Read my weekly blog, Speculative Friction, on my website BloodintheGutters.com.
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