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Comics 101 for 01/09/2003
The Echo Base Magazine Interview
This past November I was interviewed for the international Star Wars fan publication, Echo Base Magazine, and along with another Star Wars artist, Jeff Carlisle, I provided the cover art for it (which you can see here). My following interview for them from the magazine is translated into English and reprinted below. Enjoy!
Echo Base: Could you tell us a little bit about yourself, how you grew up, how you came to be an artist, etc.?
Joe: I lived in Indiana until I graduated high school and then moved to Columbus, Ohio for art college. I graduated from the Columbus College of Art and Design in the Winter of 1995 with a degree in Illustration. I was freelancing for some independent comic companies and role-playing game companies while still in college so I continued my illustration career with West End Games soon after my graduation. I really wanted to create art for their Star Wars Role-Playing Game and got the chance after they reviewed my portfolio and called me with an assignment in 1996.
I illustrated consistently on a number of Star Wars books for the next few years until WEG lost the license in 1998. I also created art for some of their Men In Black and Hercules and Xena books and games which never saw publication.
But since I loved Star Wars so much and really held it close to my heart all through life at that point, to finally be able to illustrate for the saga was an absolute dream come true for me. And when WEG lost the license to make any more Star Wars products I was heartbroken. I ended up freelancing for Star Trek books and games and White Wolf Publishing for the next few years until the oppurtunity to illustrate Star Wars for Wizards of the Coast happened for me a few years later.
Echo Base: How do you usually work out an idea? Does it all come together in your head, or do you create an image while drawing?
Joe: Usually when I'm working for a publisher I'm given art direction for what it is I'm needed to draw. Editors and art directors give me a project and after reading the material I pop open my sketchbook and begin working out rough ideas and compositions. I work small, doing thumbnail drawings and scribbles, sometimes alot of them, until I feel like I have the idea for the design of the picture down on paper.
Since I'm an artist, I'm a real visual person obviously so as soon as I read the story material a mental image usually pops into my head right away. With Star Wars, it's real easy to visualize scenes quickly for me since I know the universe so well and enjoy it so much. The only reason it sometimes takes me more than a few thumbnail drawings to get the exact composition is because I really take alot of pride in my Star Wars art. I want it to be perfect.
Echo Base: What kind of role does Star Wars play in your life?
Joe: It plays a real important role in my life since my illustration career is so important to me. When I'm working on a Star Wars project for Lucasfilm or any of their licensees, I really do feel complete and satisfied. Almost in a spiritual kind of way. I know that sounds kind of 'hokey' but when I'm not working on Star Wars, I feel like a little part of me is incomplete. If I'm working on other fun and exciting projects at the time, I may not notice this feeling as much but it's still probably there.
I may be a bit too hung up on the material, but I don't think anything I'll ever work on again will have the same kind of impact on me, unless it's one of my favorite comic book characters I would get to draw monthly or perhaps one of my personal projects that would become real successful for me hopefully.
With my Star Wars art, I'm always giving it one hundred and ten percent no matter how much I'm being paid or what the exact subject matter is of the piece. It's ALL fun and exciting to me and I just feel really fortunate to contribute in my own small way to something so important to me and universal as Star Wars.
Echo Base: It seems to be quite a small world for Star Wars artists under each other. Do you meet your fellow artists occasionally or are your ways separated?
Joe: Since I travel alot each summer to conventions, I've been real fortunate to meet other Star Wars artists who I almost all look up to. I've met Dave Dorman a few times and shared a panel at a show with Walt Simonson, an inspiration of mine for years. Chris Trevas is another exceptional Star Wars artist I met and does amazing illustration work for Star Wars too.
Actually, a few years back I met a Star Wars artist who was really a big idol and inspiration of mine. It was in Chicago at Wizard World in 2001 and I had the privilege and fortunate oppurtunity to be seated next to Jan Duursema in Artist Alley. We really hit it off since I was big fan of her work and she had noticed and enjoyed my work in Star Wars Gamer too. She's been so helpful in directing me and teaching me with my art. Her guidance and friendship has been making my work stronger and helping me along in my career so I'm eternally grateful to her. Besides the fact she draws all of these wonderful Star Wars comics so consistently and on a monthly basis, she's got this level of positive energy about her that's just wonderful and inspirational. I think she loves Star Wars equally as much, maybe more than I do if that's possible, and it really shows with her work. She's really a great artist and a good friend.
Another Star Wars artist, who's a friend of mine as well is Jeff Carlisle and he helped me produce the cover illustration for your magazine by painting over my pencils. He's an exceptional talent! His painting techniques and illustration style are great. We both actually went to the same art school together but we really didn't meet until after we graduated. He began working on Star Wars Gamer about the same time I did and he even helped me out on some of my illustrations for HoloNet News.com, Lucasfilm's official Attack of the Clones website I created art for this Summer (you can check my artwork for that project here). Everyone should check out Jeff's new official website at JeffCarlisle.com.
Echo Base: Do you work with any kind of material, or do you have favorite media?
Joe: I love just to draw. That's why I'm pursuing comics right now but I'll always love to do the full color Star Wars work too. Mostly what I use is pencil, pen and ink and Photoshop and Painter with my Macintosh computer. If I feel like going the more traditional route with my art or if an art director requests it, I'll use acrylics and a little color pencil and airbrush for a mixed media technique.
I'd have to say working digitally is my favorite way to go these days though. It's faster for me, cleaner and I can fix my mistakes alot easier than I can with a real paintbrush. Though, everything I do starts out as a drawing in pencil on paper or Bristol board, like this cover, and ends up being painted or colored digitally usually.
Echo Base: You’ve made art for a lot of franchises such as Star Wars, Star Trek and Men in Black. Do you have a particular favorite?
Joe: As much as I enjoy Star Trek, nothing really comes close to the experience and feelings I have working on Star Wars. It is definitely my favorite property of the group and has been the most rewarding for me.
Echo Base: Your latest Star Wars assignment was art for the HoloNet News web site for Lucasfilm. How did that come about?
Joe: Since I had been doing work very steadily for West End Games and later Wizards of the Coast's Star Wars Gamer magazine and their RPG, Lucasfilm had noticed my work and contacted me last year asking if I'd be willing to work on a new website project, creating art for the backstory of Attack of the Clones. My jaw hit the floor! I accepted the job and early in 2002 I began illustrating for them.
Lucasfilm was sending me all of these amazing pictures from the new movie and behind the scenes shots for reference and I was like a kid in candy store. I was under a strict confidentiality agreement though and wasn't able to show these images or my art to anyone but I got to enjoy it by myself all the same. I had the time of my life with that project. The weekly deadlines were pretty tough but I tell everyone I came out alive and I'd do it again in a heartbeat.
I was working with the Star Wars.com crew, Paul Ens and Pablo Hidalgo, and they came up with some really wonderful and entertaining stories that fleshed out the Expanded Universe of the new film really nicely I thought. Those guys don't get enough credit for the wonderful work they do each day on the official Star Wars site. The stuff they came up with for HoloNet News.com and how they tied it into the backstory of the movie and the already existing Expanded Universe so nicely really deserves alot of praise. Pablo definitely knows every corner and detail of the Star Wars mythos too. He and Paul were just wonderful to work with and I learned alot about Star Wars from that experience. More than I already thought I did.
It seemed the fans really enjoyed the concept and the website too. I don't know if I'll ever be that lucky and get to work on something so big and fun for Lucasfilm again but I hope I do. I imagine we could see HoloNet News come back in the future. And I'd love to try and outdo my previous work and be able to create art for a new version sometime.
In the meantime, Star Wars fans will be able to view my art for the website as part of the CD-Rom content on the first disc to the Attack of the Clones DVD when it's released this November. That's definitely really exciting for me.
Echo Base: Do you have any Star Wars projects coming up?
Joe: I'm working on some new art for Star Wars Insider right now (issue #66 which comes out this March). My art director at Paizo Publishing is such a great guy to work for! He's definitely one of the finest art directors I have had the pleasure of working with in awhile. I'm really excited about this work I'm doing for Insider too and hope everyone really likes it. I'm hoping to do more Star Wars art for them soon.
Echo Base: What are your other thoughts and plans for the future?
Joe: My thoughts for the future... that's a good question. I kind of feel like Luke in that regard, since I'm always looking to the future but not always concentrating on where I am currently when I should be. Sometimes that gets me into trouble.
I've got some personal comic book projects I'd like to write, draw and publish someday. And I'm really hoping to do some sequential work for Dark Horse Comics on their Star Wars books in the near future so that's probably my biggest goal. I'm just always hoping to be doing Star Wars art for Lucasfilm for as long as possible. That would be a great future for me and would make me really happy.
Hope you liked the interview and I'll see you next week for a new Comics 101 feature!
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