|Berni Wrightson, Jeffrey Jones, Michael Kaluta and Barry Windsor-Smith|
Octavio Aragão – You had an incredible experience early in your career: to share a studio with other illustrators where all of you worked together. Who were the other artists, how was that experience and how did it helped you to build your style (if it helped at all)?
Michael Kaluta – Between 1976 and 1980 I shared a Studio on West 26th Street, NYC, with Bernie Wrightson, Jeffrey Jones and Barry Windsor-Smith. The room was large, had three huge banks of windows that looked out over Manhattan, high ceilings, wood floors and enough space for each of us to mark out an equal large area in which to work.
Of the four areas, Jeffrey Jones' space was the most austere, but that doesn't mean uninteresting. Large canvases were flanked by tripods mounting 4x5 format cameras, hand crafted easels, shelves of books and supplies with an almost Oriental Art approach to the art objects that enhanced the area into a quiet, encouraging work space.
Barry Windsor-Smith's area, up against the windows on one side of the room, had large dark wooden filing cabinets and elegant shelving, large 4' x 8' tables with areas for print and art storage, a huge drawing board and drawing easel and at least one large, old-fashioned desk. Amidst this furniture were large areas of art prints, originals, lighting and tall stools to work from. This space also included a Gibson Les Paul Guitar and Marshall Amp.
Bernie Wrightson's area against the windows on the other side of the room had more idiosyncratic shelving, the spaces filled with skulls, bottled specimens, primitive weapons, pieces of machinery and masonry, pelts, towers of cabinets in which no one knew what lurked, all surrounding his very large drawing board and comfortable, if older, office chair. This area also sported a full human skeleton hanging from the ceiling.
My space, the Michael Wm Kaluta area, had bits and bobs of everything that the others had: guitars, though non-electric, skulls, perhaps the most books (all had books but most were kept at our homes), buckets of brushes and other tools, toys, doo-dads, large tables, supply shelving, art, frames and personal sound system for late night listening, all surrounding and supporting my large and smaller drawing board. Every Space and the Spaces In Between had Peacock Feathers, Art, Drapes, Costumes, Swords, a Dart Board, screens, light boxes, a darkroom, etc.
Art was done in all areas, though there was only a small time of the day when all four artists were in attendance. I was a Late Night, Over Night artist. Jeffrey Jones: an Early Morning to Afternoon Artist, Bernie Wrightson: an Afternoon to Evening Artist, and Barry Windsor-Smith a Later Afternoon/Evening and late night artist.
The best part about having so many really top flight artists in close proximity was how it enhanced the urge to do work that they'd admire.
|A pastoral scene from The Lord of The Rings|
OA – Your ambitious series of illustrations about Tolkien's The Lord Of the Rings, produced for a 1994 calendar, surely wasn't an easy task to accomplish. How long did it take from the first research to the final rendering? And what were - if there were any - the problems you faced in the making of this project?
MK – The Tolkien Art was originally developed to try to "get" the job of doing the 1979-1980 Tolkien Calendar. In conjunction with my old friend Steve Hickman, then living in Northern Virginia but working through New York City, I worked up 6 to 10 drawings to try to get Ian Ballantine to let Steve and I do the new calendar. Steve had been called by Ian Summers, the original Tolkien Calendar Editor at Ballantine, and told the Hildebrant Brothers had been "let go", and that the calendar was open. Steven and I both did our best to get a huge bunch of art together to impress the company. Had it all been painted at the time it was shown there's no doubt we'd have got the commission: After the Hildebrants left, Ballantine didn't commission a new artist, but rather collected finished art of varying quality from several convention art shows and put it all together in that next year's calendar. Too bad for everyone except the artists represented.
In 1982-84 a publishing friend sent copies of my Tolkien pencil drawings to Jane Johnson in the UK, the publisher that was handling the Tolkien Estate publications, in hopes she'd allow him to do a limited run of prints. She said she couldn't license that but kept the art on file. To my utter amazement I got a letter in 1992 asking if I'd do the Tolkien Calendar for 1994. I said Yes and tried my best to get information on what dimensions they wanted the art. This is all Pre Internet: calling the UK and getting hold of folks you needed was still somewhat of a mysterious endeavor. I never got a firm answer: mostly I heard: just draw them up: they are due by February of 1993. I used the American Tolkien Calendar as a guide. SO: The 1994 American Tolkien Calendar, still put together and distributed by Ballantine, looks great and shows all the art (though the first month's art is flopped...). However: the beautifully produced calendars from the UK and Australia used a very wide format. The UK production folks cropped the top and bottom of the almost square art so it would fit the wider format: it makes me weep!!!! Such beautiful paper and color: the tops of heads and the feet of characters lost to all those UK/Australia Tolkien Calendar owners.
All that to the side: drawing and painting the Tolkien art for that calendar is a high water mark in my career!
|The Shadow in a striking pose.|
OA – The Shadow, from all the characters you ever worked on, seems to be the one who lives closer to your heart. What’s your relation with the Maxwell Grant - Walter Gibson novels and what's your favorite rendition of his creation? When do you think you "got the spirit" of the Shadow?
MK – I read what I thought were two Shadow Paperbacks when I was in Jr High School (approx 13 years old, say in 1960). When I was asked to do the comic book, 1973, my memory of those rather dull, tame books still lingered, but: my pal Steve Hickman had had a really strong portrait painting of the Shadow he'd done in Luminescent paints on the wall of his room: it impressed me enough to know I wanted to try to draw the comic book. Like everyone in America, I'd hear about the Radio Show, though it was on the air way before I was born. The "Who Knows What Evil Lurks In The Hearts Of Men?" phrase is as much in the American psyche as "Hi-yo, Silver!"
As it turns out: those two Belmont paperback I'd read thinking they were actual Shadow Books, were bogus, newly made up stories as unlike the real Maxwell Grant stories as they could be. As soon as word got out I was drawing the comic book I began to get packages from total strangers, packed with xeroxed info/art and stories of The REAL Shadow. Of course, I wasn't writing the stories, but these Care Packages got me well on my way to researching the actual pulp stories so when it came to drawing the comics, I was able to imbue the art with the sense of the pulps.
By that time, 1973, Pyramid books had reprinted a number of the actual pulp stories in paperback, like The Living Shadow: the first pulp story, I believe, and there were a couple hardback collections of the seminal titles like Gangdom's Doom and The Grove of Doom, so I had plenty of foundation material.
My favorite rendition of The Shadow from the old pulps, the covers I wish I'd done? That's easy: The Creeping Death, January 15th, 1933, The Book Of Death, January 15th, 1942 and the cover I used from the very beginning as my template for my representation of The Shadow: Partners of Peril, November 1st, 1936, all art by George Rosen.
The biggest surprise for me as a very young artist: as soon as I started drawing The Shadow, he and his world leapt from my pen... it was as if I'd spent years expecting to draw the 1930's New York City. But I hadn't: I'd been drawing Edgar Rice Burroughs material.
|A cover from Starstruck, a piece with an Art Nouveau flavor|
OA – Do you consider yourself an Art Nouveau artist? If so, how this style would fit in your graphic narrative? Any sample of how Art Nouveau concepts and elements appears in your comics?
MK – I consider I'm very influenced by all the Art Nouveau art I've seen and studied. I'm not a scholar on any subject, and only have a feeling from the art I've tried to absorb. It does come out in my pictures, and really helps when I remember to try to use an Art Nouveau approach. The style is most evident in poster art I've done, less so in Comics, though early Carson Of Venus had some obvious usage in the title boxes, certainly. The Nouveau and Deco styles informed all the art I did for the 2002 and 2003 Celtic League Calendars. When the influence is subtle, it shows in the way cloth moves, water flows, etc... organic. I could stand to use it more!
OA – How computers, scanners, the Internet and the contemporary graphic process affected your work? What changed after you had to deal with Photoshop alongside ink, pencils and crayon?
MK – The chief result of Computers, in the form of Photoshop, is to reinforce the knowledge that there's no mistake that can't be undone... that knowledge frees my hand and mind, allowing me to take a concept further without fear of wasting time if it All Goes Wrong. In smaller ways Photoshop allows one to alter sketches on the fly to test ideas and compositions without investing so much time in each idea that the project hangs fire.
Sending digital files instead of original art gives one real peace of mind: the art never leaves the house!!!
All that said: I've yet to create any complete art on the computer... I don't have the skill set. Pencil, Ink and Watercolor are still my media of choice. Enhancing their result with Photoshop points the way for further investment in the traditional materials.