Tony Harris Talks About His 20 Years in Comics

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Oct 5 2009 at 5:00am

Posted in General News,Interviews

Eisner Award-winning artist Tony Harris has lent his dynamic skills to many comics over the past 20 years, including Starman, Ex Machina, Conan, Spider-Man, and many more. Now you can get a comprehensive overview of his artwork, plus Harris’ own commentary and testimonials from his peers, in Tony Harris Art & Skulduggery, which will be released by Desperado Publishing in November.

We got a chance to ask Harris about his lengthy career in comics, how he feels he’s evolved in two decades, and what the upcoming Obergeist Essential Edition will be like. Read on: Hi Tony, thanks for talking with! What was it like compiling 20 years of work for Tony Harris Art & Skulduggery?

Tony Harris: A lot of work!! Mostly on Joe’s part, along Tony Shasteen, a few interns scanning art, Kevin Anderson from 12 Gauge Comics. The book has been “in” production for about two or three years. Lots of stops and starts, but we are finally in the home stretch. It really has made me take stock in what I have been a part of over the years, and see it for what it really is. Once you have stepped away from the work for a period of time, and the working relationships you had while doing it, you see it in a very different light. Sometimes good, and sometimes not so good. I was so pleased that all of my publishers over the years were so cooperative regarding the usage of my work in this book. What are some of the main comics featured in this book?

TH: Well, all of them. From Darkhold, to Nightbreed, to Hulk, to Spider-Man. Obergeist, Lazarus 5, Ex Machina, Starman, JSA: The Liberty Files, and its sequel, JSA: The Unholy Three. Vampirella, Sword of Dracula, Classics Illustrated, Batman, Fantastic Four, Iron Man, The Mummy, Star Wars, Indiana Jones, and lots of obscure books, too. Do you have particular favorites in this collection? What are you most proud of?

TH: No. It sounds cheesy, but when you create art, they really are like your children. It would be like saying which of my kids is my fave. Not gonna happen. They all bring me joy, and pain, in some way or another. But I do have high-water marks throughout my career. Properties that I was able to be a part of that were dear to me. Like Conan, or Indiana Jones. You know, sort of bucket-list jobs that I can scratch off my list. What drives you, what has attracted you to various projects these past 20 years?

TH: The need to be creative. To strive to improve as a creator, day to day. I guess to search out those opportunities that will push me to produce the best work I can. Also the weird, offbeat stuff that I am known for. Skirting the mainstream, and then going back into creator-owned stuff, and then back again. It’s a nice balance to be able to do Spider-Man, then off to do something like Ex Machina for five years. Is there anything that surprised you while working on this project?

TH: Yep. Just how much I have done over 20 years. It’s a lot of work. And it’s diverse. It’s not all horror, or superheroes, or even all comics. There really is a good range here. And also, the testimonials that my buddy Seabon Mercer compiled with dozens of friends and collaborators that will be peppered throughout the book. Really honest stuff, not all of it positive, either. Just real. What’s the most obscure piece of artwork in Tony Harris Art & Skulduggery?

TH: I dunno about one. But there are a lot of previously unpublished pieces in here. Paintings, family portraits, anniversary cards, illustrations, and design work. Hopefully it’s more of an insight into my little corner of the world than previously seen. I’m trying, with Joe’s help, to produce the kind of art book that I would want to buy for myself. How do you feel your style has evolved over the years?

TH: Well I certainly have gotten better at it! It took years, but I think I found my voice as an illustrator. I truly think that when you see my work, it is singular. And I have tried very hard to be original. Of course I had my missteps early on like all young artists. But I am fairly comfortable as an illustrator now. I am nowhere near where I want to be, but I keep working at it. And I have never worked in one style. I try and let the job dictate to me what it needs to look like. What have your influences been?

TH: Mostly turn-of-the-century American illustrators, as I didn’t start reading comics until I was about 19, and I am 40 now, so I have had a lot of catching up to do with you guys that have been following comics since you were small. Once I did become a fan, I would have to say, Mike Mignola, Bernie Wrightson, Kevin Nowlan, P. Craig Russell, Frank Frazetta, Rudy Nebres, Adam Hughes, and the one guy that has shaped me as a comic-book artist has to be Al Williamson. Brian K. Vaughn recently mentioned that you’ve started inking yourself for Ex Machina. Is that new for you, and if so, why now?

TH: Well, necessity is the mother of invention. Our inker quit the book mid-issue, so rather than have all the pages Fed Exed out to one or more inkers, and then have them inked and shipped back Fed Ex, just wasn’t feasible. Time would have killed us.

So I decided to switch to a softer lead in my pencil, pencil tighter, then scan the pages in, and adjust them to look like an inked line, then dump my blacks in digitally. So all the pages from issue #44 on to #50 will remain in pencil form. It’s great. I really am not a fan of digital inking, so I tried to come up with a way to do it that didn’t suck. Everyone from fans, to editors, etc. have said they actually prefer this. That it’s my work undiluted.

Now, I am happy with the results, but I don’t think anything can replace a good inked line. Sometimes as I am drawing pages I actually ink stuff instead of taking the time to pencil it anyway, because it’s just quicker. But for the time being, all the art chores are mine! And I have always inked my own cover work traditionally, so the real inking isn’t all gone from the mix. Your other big upcoming release with Desperado is the Obergeist Essential Edition. What would you tell a new reader about this title?

TH: Well, it’s overdue. I am really proud of this one. It’s a lesser-known project from me, but one dear to me. We’re printing the book in black and white, with a hardcover, and maybe a dust jacket. You originally drew the artwork for Obergeist in 2001. How has your style changed since then?

TH: It hasn’t, it’s just adjusted to whatever work I’m doing. That was a very cartoony style that used in Geist. It was an experiment. One that led to the style that I am using on the Roundeye book I’m doing, and that graces the cover to this book.

But I still use my photo-real style too. I use a more open version of the photo-real look on Ex Machina, because of the subject matter. But I plan on going back to more heavy blacks, and a noir look on my next series after Machina: back to what I was doing on JSA: The Liberty File for DC. But I am still using that more animation/cartoony style on Roundeye, which I have been working on for years now. The storyline deals with almost biblical themes like atonement and redemption. How was that reflected in your art?

TH: That was part of the reason for doing the style so cartoony. I felt it brought levity to a very heavy subject matter. If I had done the book in my photo-real look, I just don’t think it would have resonated with fans the way it did. Or with me and Dan Jolley. What’s different and new about this version of Obergeist?

TH: We did a one-shot after the initial six-issue mini called Obergeist: The Empty Locket. This one-shot was chopped up for the trade paperback, and inserted between issues as flashbacks. So here we wanna print it in its entirety as a prequel in the front of the book, with the complete six issues to follow. What does extras does this book include?

TH: All of the line art I did for promo, and design work for the series, will be collected in the back. A lot of which has never been published. And last, but certainly not least . . . a brand-new cover by me and my colorist JD Mettler! Howzat sound? Thanks again, and we look forward to seeing these books!

TH: Thanks to you!

Questions? Comments? Leave ’em below! And while you’re here, make sure to check out Tony Harris Art & Skulduggery and Obergeist Essential Edition and save 20% off the retail price until November 24! You can also check out Harris’ message board, Ships and Giggles, Jolly Roger Studio, and the excellent!