Showing posts with label nostalgia. Show all posts
Showing posts with label nostalgia. Show all posts

Wednesday, November 08, 2017

Catching up with graphic artist Marty Baumann

by Mike Rhode

We're checking in with Arlington's Marty Baumann again on the publication of Toybox Time Machine, his new book from IDW, . We've featured his work in passing a couple of times in the past, and it's been six years since I interviewed him for the Washington City Paper (which sadly is currently for sale in case anyone reading this can afford to buy a newspaper). He's answered my usual questions again, but in new ways, as well as discussing his recent work so I'm running the whole interview here. Honestly, both Marty and I forgot about that interview (an occupational hazard when you know people personally and socially. I've seen him at the Baltimore Comic Con in September and at a flea market last weekend when he bought some Kirby and Kubert comic books). I highly recommend his new book; Marty is one of the cleverest illustrators I know -- as this interview shows.

Marty has provided the following biographic information:

Marty Baumann is an illustrator, graphic artist and production designer. He has contributed to some of the most popular, Oscar-winning animated films of all time.

Marty has worked as an artist at Walt Disney Pictures and Pixar Animation Studios as an illustrator, graphic artist and production designer on such films as “Toy Story 3,” “Big Hero 6,” “Zootopia,” “Cars 2,” “Planes,” “Wreck-It Ralph 2” and many others. He also helped develop theme park installations, toy packaging and Pixar corporate branding.

Marty has rendered illustrations and developed characters for toy manufacturers, magazines and newspapers, illustrated children’s books, created logos, info-graphics, broadcast promotions and presentation art for Hasbro, Universal Studios, National Geographic, Scholastic Books, Nickelodeon and many others.

Recent projects include his role as concept artist for the new “Mystery Science Theater 3000,” and the visual development of Sir Paul McCartney’s feature film, “High in the Clouds.”
Marty's dog Summer

Marty has been a rhythm and blues singer/guitarist for more than 40 years. He’s shared the stage with Hound Dog Taylor’s Houserockers, Danny Gatton, Bobby “Blue” Bland, Jr. Walker and the All Stars, Fenton Robinson, John Hammond, Johnny Winter and others. Marty’s sold-out CD “Let’s Buzz Awhile” features 13 original blues tunes.

He encourages everyone to adopt at least one dog.

What type of comic work or cartooning do you do?

As far as personal projects: My influences are primarily of mid-century vintage; the logos, designs, signage and draftsmanship, often combining limited color palettes, stylized figures and crazy type treatments. They communicate fun and excitement in a way we don't see today. I tried hard to emulate that aesthetic in my book, "Toybox Time Machine."

As far as film work goes: Logos, title card design, billboards and signage, magazine covers, posters and general production design and just about anything you see in the background or applied to the body of a character.

How do you do it? Traditional pen and ink, computer or a combination?

I do some pencil roughs, scan them and use primarily Illustrator and a bit of Photoshop. If I'm doing a commission or a personal piece for someone I might print what I've done digitally and finish it with touches of ink.

When (within a decade is fine) and where were you born?

I was born in Maryland the same year "Invasion of the Saucer Men" hit theaters. Is that specific enough?

What is your training and/or education in cartooning?

Jack Kirby comics. He's one of my heroes. It might not show in my style but I started drawing because of him. I've had no formal training.

Who are your influences?

The first books I actually recall buying were Joe Kubert's Sgt. Rock comics. Starting in grade school it was Kirby. Then a friend said, "If you like Kirby, get a load of Steranko -- and I got a load. Then I discovered Ditko, Toth, Meskin. As time went on I became aware of the great magazine, paperback and movie poster illustrators -- James Bingham, Robert McGinnis, James Bama. And then the groundbreaking design work of the UPA cartoons and the logo and title designs of Saul Bass and Paul Julian. Not to mention the great children's book artists, a particular favorite being the great Mel Crawford -- who also worked in comics and fine art.

If you could, what in your career would you do-over or change?

Nearly everything! I tell aspiring artists to look at my career path and do the opposite. I wish I'd taken art classes, studied life drawing, studied painting, tried oils, charcoal, etc. I fell under the sway of rhythm and blues and began playing in clubs as a teenager. I was trying to focus on two creative areas. Maybe I should have focused on just one -- but I couldn't! In the end I think they complimented one another.

What work are you best-known for?

I didn't know that I was KNOWN! So I'd have to say my Disney/Pixar work.

What work are you most proud of?

I'll cite this example: I did a TON of work on "Zootopia." My wife and I saw it in a theater packed with kids and they LOVED it. I was kinda proud that I helped in some small way to make those kids happy.

How did you come up with the idea of Toybox Time Machine?

Well, after having one children's book idea after another rejected, I decided to draw whatever the heck I wanted. I love old toys. I have a small collection of old favorites. And I think my real artistic strengths are design, typography and color. I tried to channel the artistic influences mentioned previously and I never had more fun working on a project.

What's the process of conceptualizing and then drawing a toy that never existed?

My wife and I go to lots of estate sales. I buy the stuff nobody else wants: stacks of old magazines, postcards, travel literature. I snap pictures of anything with nifty retro packaging. It seems that in the 1940s and 50s every advertiser employed an illustrator in lieu of using a photo. With inspiration like this the ideas flow.

How did IDW come to publish this?

At the risk of sounding like a name-dropper, Jim Steranko has been something of a mentor since I was a teenager. (When he critiques your work, you KNOW you've been critiqued, and HOW!) He mentioned to IDW that they might want to look at my work, and, as Bogart would say, it was the beginning of a beautiful friendship.

What's your favorite non-existent toy?

That's the one question I'm going to side-step -- because I just don't know! The sci-fi and monster related toys would be near the top of the list. And I love cowboys!

How did you end up working for Pixar?

I had always loved what Pixar was doing. That retro sensibility seemed to be present in everything they turned out. Quite by accident I discovered that they were looking for a Graphic Artist and I sent them some stuff. They called me a couple weeks later, flew me out there, apparently liked me, and within a few weeks, we were living in San Francisco! I know that makes it sound easy, but let me be clear, I paid my dues for years working for newspapers, magazines, ad agencies, toy companies...

How has the experience been?

It's been great -- and also tough. Every artist working there was better than me! So I really had to up my game.

What have you worked on for them?

"Big Hero 6," "Zootopia," "Toy Story 3," "Cars 2," so many shorts that I can't remember them all -- "Hawaiian Vacation," "Small Fry," "Partysaurus Rex". I also worked on installation pieces for Disney resorts and contributed to the development of Cars Land at Disneyland.

What would you like to do or work on in the future?

Well, I worked on the visual development of a film with Paul McCartney. It would be cool to work with Ringo one day!

What do you do when you're in a rut or have writer's block?

Writer's block? Let me see. I, um, er -- sorry…gimme a minute...I just can't think of anything to write at the moment…

When did you start collecting comics?

Maybe 1961 or 1962, when I first discovered Sgt. Rock and the Kirby monster books. I wouldn't call it "collecting" in the modern sense of the word, i.e. as if a comic book were a precious object to be preserved for posterity to accrue in value. I traded them, rolled them up and stuck 'em in my back pocket to read again later, and sat down with pencil and paper and tried to copy them. I read my favorite ones until the covers came off. Isn't that how they were meant to be used? Then -- a familiar story -- my mom threw a ton of them away.

What do you focus on? Who are your favorite comic book artists?

I guess my big four are Kirby, Kubert, Toth and Steranko. But there are so many -- the great Jack Davis, Ditko, Mort Meskin, Fred Kida, Wally Wood, and the incredibly underrated and versatile Bob Fujitani. The "Hangman" stories he did for MLJ in the mid-1940s are some of my favorites. I love the books Hillman put out in the 40s, ("Air Fighters," "Clue") and the stuff ME (Magazine Enterprises) published in the late 40s and early 50s ("Jet," "The Avenger"). I've often been asked what, in my opinion, are the best comics of all time. Without hesitation I say choose any issue of Fantastic Four from numbers 30-90. Any one of them is better than anything produced since.

How large is your collection?

It's quite modest. I'm no big-time collector. I buy comics I think I can learn from. I have dealers who save their coverless, moldy, brittle, flaking old books for me because they know I love the obscurities, learning the forgotten history of comics and discovering great cartoonists who have been unjustly overlooked. Mike Roy is a favorite, and Tony DiPrieta, and John Cassone, and Mike Suchorsky, etc. etc.

What do you think will be the future of your field?

Do you mean animation or comics-related material? In either case I don't know. What used to be marginal pop-culture interests are big, BIG business now and it's all too complicated for me to understand.

How was your Baltimore Comic Con experience this year? How often have you attended it?

I always have a great time at Baltimore. I was at the very first one! I believe I've been a guest at all of them except for those that I missed when I lived in the Bay Area.

Do you have a website or blog? 

What's your favorite thing about DC?

That I don't have to commute there.

Least favorite?

The times I DO have had to commute there.

What monument or museum do you like?

Without a doubt Arlington Cemetery. Not only do we have relatives buried there, but it's brimming with history and trivia. For instance: My wife's uncle is buried just a few tombstones away from Lee Marvin -- who is buried right next to Joe Louis! Dashiell Hammett is resting there, and cartoonist Bill Mauldin.

How about a favorite local restaurant?

Caribbean Grill in Arlington, hands down.

Thursday, September 21, 2017

An SPX Interview with French Cartoonist Alex Alice

Alex Alice at Takoma Public Library, photo by Bruce Guthrie

by Mike Rhode

I was walking around at SPX when ace photographer Bruce Guthrie introduced me to a French cartoonist he had met previously at the Takoma Park Library. I wasn’t familiar with Alex Alice’s work, but I was quickly impressed by his new book and asked if we could do an interview.

Amazon says, “Alex Alice is a French graphic novelist, working in France and sometimes the U.S. His works have been translated into more than fifteen languages. Born in 1974, he grew up in the south of France and had the chance to travel around Europe, where he developed a lifelong passion for the ruins and castles of the medieval and romantic ages. This experience influenced his art, from the grim setting of his esoteric thriller The Third Testament (co-written with Xavier Dorison and published by Titan Comics) to the primeval, mythic world found in Siegfried, an operatic re-telling of the northern saga of the great dragon slayer (published by Boom Entertainment). In Castle in the Stars, he draws on Jules Verne and nineteenth-century romanticism to create a watercolor world of adventure and wonder to enchant adults and younger readers alike.

Alice’s new series is described as “In search of the mysterious element known as aether, Claire Dulac flew her hot air balloon toward the edge of our stratosphere—and never returned. Her husband, genius engineer Archibald Dulac, is certain that she is forever lost. Her son, Seraphin, still holds out hope. One year after her disappearance, Seraphin and his father are delivered a tantalizing clue: a letter from an unknown sender who claims to have Claire’s lost logbook. The letter summons them to a Bavarian castle, where an ambitious young king dreams of flying the skies in a ship powered by aether. But within the castle walls, danger lurks—there are those who would stop at nothing to conquer the stars.”

Mike Rhode: [After two other series, now] you are the author of Castle in the Stars: The Space Race of 1869. How many books are there in the series? Four?

Alex Alice: Probably more than that. This first story concludes in book 2. The universe of the story is so interesting to me that I keep having new ideas. The idea is that there is space travel in the nineteenth century, so I ask, ‘What if we had come up with a way to travel through space in 1869 instead of 1969?” and this opens up a whole world of adventure and possibilities. Space isn’t the way we know it today; it’s the way scientists imagined it at the time.

MR: Are you more influenced by 19th century authors such as Jules Verne or by 21st century steam punk? Or both?

AA: I would say I’m a fundamentalist steam punk writer so I go back to the roots. It’s Jules Verne and actual scientific hypotheses of this particular time period. It’s hard core steam punk, or hard steam punk, or… I’m trying to be as science-based as I can, perfectly realizing that this is a fantasy. I’m trying to be as close as I can to what people of the 19th century would have found believable.

MR: It’s Newtonian physics, instead of Einsteinian physics, and you can propel yourself through the space because there’s something to push against?

AA: Yes, and use as fuel.

MR: How many books in the series are out already?

AA: Book three just came out. My publisher in France is a fairly new publishing house Rue de Sèvres, which is an imprint of L'École des loisirs. They are a very respectable children’s book publisher that started a graphic novel imprint. This is very exciting for me because this is not a book for kids, it is a book that is also for kids, and I’m very glad to work with this publisher who has an ability to reach a younger audience.

MR: The same is true for your American publisher First Second…

AA: Is it? I was hopeful for that, because that’s what they told me [laughing].

MR: Let’s talk about technique… you occasionally build models for some of the spaceships?

AA: Yes, again, in the idea to have something as believable as I can. I was fascinated by this idea setting the story in a world where it’s not just alternate history, it’s an alternate cosmos. It’s not consistent with what we know about space and science now. My challenge was to say, “This is not believable for modern audiences so how am I going to pull the reader into my story?” My idea was that I didn’t care if it wasn’t true, [rather] it was something people could have believed at some point. 

The important thing for me is as I’m writing it, I believe it. I am not a scientist, and I’m perfectly aware that aether doesn’t exist. I believe in my story as I’m writing it, and it’s easy for me; to be perfectly honest, the vision of Venus that people had at the time … we could see from the telescope that it was covered in clouds, which is true; we could see it was closer to the sun so it must have been very hot ,which is true; so they thought, it’s hot, it’s cloudy, there must be a lot of water so there must be huge jungles down there. Because they thought that planets had appeared in the order of their distance from the sun, they thought Venus was younger than earth so life must not have reached the same development and be stuck in an earlier era. So they genuinely thought Venus was a jungle world filled with dinosaurs, and this sounds like a pulpy sci-fi world of Edgar Rice Burroughs, but it is the actual science hypothesis of the time. This is fascinating to me, and very poetic. I find this hypothesis easier to envision, and too imagine, and frankly easier to believe in than the actual reality of Venus which is a hell world with incredible pressure and acid rains [laughs]. 

I found it was quite easy to believe in this world as I was writing it. To help me believe in it, I had a model made of the main machine that will allow the characters to travel to the stars. I even had an aether suits made life-sized of leather and wood. I had to talk with model makers and costume makers, and having their input of how they would do it and what would work. This world is 100% believable for me and I’m comfortable writing this story.

MR: How has the reception been for it in France?

AA: I was very happy with it. I was hoping to make a book that would appeal to adults and children alike, in the tradition of Tintin, that was marketed as for ‘children between 7 and 77.’ That was a  catchline for Tintin in France. That was my goal and I was very happy to see families to come signings, and say, “This is the only bandes dessinee that I read, that my children read as well.” And vice-versa.
MR: So what brings you to the Washington area?

AA: My American publisher, First Second, thought it would be great for me to come to SPX which I’ve never been to before. I’m much more comfortable here than I was when I visited Comic-Con in New York a number of years ago. First of all, I’m not a huge superhero fan, and secondly, it was strange for me to talk to artists who work on someone else’s character which is not at all in the French tradition. Whereas here, I feel like everyone is doing their own story, and I find much more common ground, even if their stories or their visual styles are completely different from mine. I feel I have maybe something in common with a lot of the artists here.

MR: So how do you do your art? Is it drawn in pencil, and then inked, and then water-colored? Or digitally colored?

AA: It’s all done in the real world. I try to do everything on the same page – the pencilling, the letters, the color… because I really like to have the original artwork in front of me, looking as it will in the final page.

MR: Ah, a classicist.

AA: Yes, part of it is the pleasure of having the actual page in front of me; part of it is laziness [laughs] because I like to be able to judge the exact amount of details I will have to put in.

MR: That makes perfect sense to me. There’s a political cartoonist here at SPX named Matt Wuerker who still watercolors his cartoons every day by hand because it’s faster. And he knows what he’s getting.

AA: And it’s faster. People don’t realize that. The computer will not save you time. For most things…

MR: So it was watercolors that you use, and not colored pencil?

AA: It is actually at little watercolor and a lot of calligraphy’s colored inks that are permanent.

MR: You water those down a little bit to get the wash effect?

AA: Yes.

MR: Did you pitch the book to your publisher, and then get an advance to do it?

AA: Yes.

MR: Because traditionally in France in the golden days, and I think this is mostly gone now, but Tintin would be one page per week in the newspaper, and then be collected in an album.

AA: Right, and the artist would have a salary. The salary is entirely gone, but we do get an advance in France, when you sign with a major publisher.

MR: You have the complete original art at the end of a book. Do you sell it? Is that another revenue stream for you?

AA: Potentially yes. [laughs] But I haven’t sold pages in a while especially because I wanted to set up an exhibition, which we did at Angouleme which is the biggest festival in the south of France. This year at Angouleme we had the means to do a big show, with even more props and models and sounds and a moon and a lot of costumes of the time period… we made the world pop out of the page. I wanted to keep my art for that. I will be doing a commercial show in New York next year.

MR: You mentioned ‘the world’… I just bought your book and I haven’t read it yet. Is this book about going to Venus?

AA: In book one, Seraphin is talking about Venus in the beginning, but the story is actually him and his father trying to follow the footsteps of his mother who disappears in the first scene in a balloon flight. Her logbook is found by someone who sends a letter to Seraphin and his father and gives them a rendezvous in Bavaria. We don’t know who this character is, or what he wants, but when they get there, we find out that it is the King of Bavaria, King Ludwig II, and he is planning on space exploration.

MR: Is he still building a big castle?

AA: Actually, it is only the historical approximation that I made consciously. I might have made several mistakes, but he has already built his Neuschwanstein castle at this point, because I really wanted to draw this castle and I wanted to set the story just before the Franco-Prussian War of 1870.

MR: So you are using real historical characters and following real historical events?

AA: I am. I made a point of having the story begin the real world as much as I could.

MR: Where are you finding your background information from? In America we had Popular Science, and Popular Mechanix and even Scientific American. Are you using the French equivalent of those?

AA: Yes, I guess. I’m especially using Camille Flammarion who wrote a popular astronomy in the latter half of the 18th century. It was very popular at the time, and these sort of popular science texts were quite an influence.

MR: In America they have a lot of magazine covers of the giant airplanes, and the future was going to be great…

AA: Or terrifying, depending on the cover.

MR: Looking at the cover of your book, are you influenced by Miyazaki?

AA: The answer is definitely yes, but my primary influences are the reading of Jules Verne and the travels I did through Europe as a kid. There’s a lot of things here that I’m using that Miyazaki was also using. That being said, I adore Miyazaki’s work, and his influence with this type of story is impossible to escape so I embraced it. The title of the book, and one of my characters, are influenced by a Miyazaki character from Future Boy Conan. There’s also a wonderful film that’s maybe lesser-known called The Castle of Cagliostro. It’s a masterpiece. It’s one of the best adventure films ever made. It’s incredibly fun, and touching, and full of wonder... one of the greatest. One of the scenes from Castle in the Stars that I was really happy with, where I had a wonderful idea and did the scene and did the book, and the book was printed, and I showed Castle of Cagliostro to my son and realized I had stolen the whole scene! [laughs] As it happens.

MR: Are you going anywhere else in the States?

AA: Yes, it’s a short but intense tour with the Brooklyn Book Festival tomorrow and then the Boston area for libraries and schools.