The Rock-Stars Of Comics: Steranko, Simonson, and Quesada Talk About ‘Drawing The Line’
On Wednesday May 11th a most extraordinary event took place at The Society of Illustrators in New York City…three of the most important comic book artists of the last fifty years were gathered together to discuss their craft. Jim Steranko (Nick Fury), Walt Simonson (Thor), and Joe Quesada (Daredevil) — along with moderator Dennis Calero (X-Men Noir) — entertained and educated the audience of the lecture “Drawing The Line” with tales of breaking into the business and their approach to life and art.
The following are highlights from this magical night with comic book legends:
“Whoever you are, whatever you do…you bring it into your work,” commented Steranko, who was, among myriad achievements, an accomplished escape-artist and a successful advertising artist. “I brought suurealism, op-art, pop-art, and expressionism into my comics as much as a possibly could.” Jim Steranko’s ground-breaking work in books like Nick Fury, Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D. and Strange Tales influenced multiple generations of comic book artists…but who influnced Steranko?
“I learned to draw by looking at comics and comic strips. That was my school. And the people who initially inspired me would be Wayne Boring and Superman, Chester Gould and Dick Tracy, Frank Robbins and Johnny Hazard.”
He also described the first time he saw Wally Wood’s art in an E.C. comic as “one of those rare moments when we remember exactly where we were.”
Steranko said that his storytelling style came “completely from film”– “I entered the business with one foot in the comic book world and one foot in the movie world…I think that’s what made my work different from others at the time.”
What might not be widely known is that Steranko was hired by George Lucas and Steven Spielberg to design the iconic Indiana Jones look…something that he is extremely modest about. When asked if he felt it was unfair that these movie-makers were more identified, in the perception of the public, with the creation of that classic movie character’s image than he is, Steranko said:
“It was the high-point of my career to work with George and Steven on this project, so any way it goes down is fine with me!”
In case you’re wondering, Steranko based Indy’s trademark style on Humphrey Bogart’s character Fred C. Dobbs in The Treasure of the Sierra Madre.
As for Steranko’s advice to comic book artists just starting out, he suggested: “Draw like John Buscema…you must draw every day until you reach the point of maximum facility.” He also noted that “comics are the most forgiving medium on the face of the Earth…if you don’t get it righ this month, you can do it again next month!”
Walter Simonson described returning to reading comics as an adult after a childhood fascination with the work of Disney’s Carl Barks:
“I was in college in the mid-60s, and discovered Marvel Comics just about the time, in my opinion, that Stan and Jack and Ditko and Don Heck and all those guys were really hitting all the marks in an astonishing way.”
Simonson made such an indelible mark on the mythos of Marvel’s Thor during his tenure on the title that he was surprised to see so much of it show up in the Thor motion picture:
“There might be more stuff in the movie than I realized…you did that stuff 25 years ago, when it didn’t have a very long half-life. There were not a lot of reprints in those days. You basically did your monthly comics and you were done. And it’s kind of fun to see, all this time later, some of this stuff being realized — in many different ways — to audiences in the millions. It’s really kind of neat.”
He also described the people from Marvel Studios, who invited him and his wife Louise to be filmed in the last scene of the Thor film, as being “phenomenally good to us,” and that they referred to the artist as “family.”
Simonson had this bit of advice to comic book artists:
“I try to be a good enough draftsman, so on the good days I can draw my ass off…and on the bad days, people won’t be able to tell!”
“Comics are the last bastion of the glory days of illustration, when you can be called upon to draw anything and everything at any given moment…this is the last place where an artist can be an artist, but they have to know everything about their craft.”
Joe Quesada is a multi-faceted talent: artist, musician, and Chief Creative Officer of one of the biggest comic book publishers in the world. One of his early influences was Mike Mignola, who helped Quesada realize his own style by letting the young artist observe him draw:
“I met Mike at Marvel and he was so gracious — I spent 4 hours in his studio and just watched him draw. That day I went home, started drawing, and never drew like Mike Mignola again. It was watching and realizing that I appreciate what he does, but I could never be that good — it allowed me to say: what can I do?”
When asked how being an artist impacted what he brought and continues to bring to the table at Marvel Entertainment in an administrative capacity, Quesada said:
“One of the things I brought into Marvel was a more creator-friendly background. First of all — how do freelancers want to be treated? It’s sometimes hard for editors to understand that there’s a certain insanity that comes with being a freelancer. The initial insanity: you’re confronted with the blank page every day. That’s a very daunting experience. The second part of the insanity is that you are surrounded by the same four walls every day. It’s helping editors understand that sometimes when a freelancer panics about something, it’s not necessarily about the project…it may be cabin fever, it may be any number of things.”
What lesson does Quesada have to teach artists: “Forgive yourself.”
“I would sit there and say to myself, ‘I can’t hit this monthly deadline but it’s not like I’m constantly out-and-about. I’m constantly at the drawing board.’ And so what is the issue? And I looked back on it and I realized where I got into trouble was that I wasn’t able to forgive myself. I would labor on a panel that wasn’t quite working out…and before I knew it, I had spent 8 hours just on that one panel. What I later on discovered was to forgive myself, I didn’t have to be perfect.”
He also urges artists to maintain a certain amont of distance from their work:
“You will never be able to do your best work unless you’re able to separate yourself from it. It’s only then that you’ll be able to finally achieve mastery.”
In sum, “Drawing the Line” was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to see and listen to legendary artists talk their craft!
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