Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Artist Spotlight - Mike Fyles, Iron Man Noir Cover Artist Extraordinaire

 Iron Man Noir #1

I had the honor of having my first published fiction feature a cover by the talented  Englishman, Mike Fyles. Mike has gained attention in large part due to his  brilliant retro covers for magazines that never existed. He uses both traditional and electronic tools to create his art.

Mike was generous enough to grant an email interview and was also kind enough to send along a pair of exclusive images that he hasn't posted on the net before.

Recently, Mike has gotten some big-time exposure via Marvel Comics. Mike scored the plum assignment of doing the covers for the Iron Man Noir limited series. He also has covers for Amazing Spider-Man #634 and #635 coming up. Given that, I thought I'd get the lowdown on his experience with Marvel as well as a bit about his life and art. You can look at his two galleries, here and here.

Where did you grow up?
My formative years were spent in East Kent, down in the bottom right hand corner of England, but I was born in South Wales. My memories consist of long summers, and very cold winters. When it was fine I played out a lot, walked to school, climbed trees and collected insects and when it was rainy, I stayed in and played with scale model figures and tanks, and drew and traced a lot of pictures.

Did you read books or comics as a kid?
The home grown comic industry was pretty healthy when I was growing up in the 60’s. Two comics came to our house every Saturday with the newspaper boy, one for me and one for my brother. Together we read our way through The Beano, The Dandy, Topper, and Smash, then we graduated to the Victor and the Valiant, and finally we took Look and Learn and TV21. When the first wave of American comics came to our local newsagent it was overwhelming, I couldn’t get enough of them, but between friends we were able to collect different titles and then swap them to read. I had all the Lee/Kirby Fantastic Four  and most of Steranko’s Nick Fury.
Do you still read that stuff?
The bottom dropped out of the British comics industry pretty quickly. I still read comics, but not many mainstream superhero titles. Instead I really enjoyed the rise of independents and tended to pick and choose amongst those quite eclectically. There was also everything I had missed the first time around – so browsing second hand is always a pleasure! I have no particular favourites but good art work and storytelling wins every time.

 Did you start doing art as a kid or did it come later? Drawing, Painting, Sculpture, etc?
I have been drawing and making things for as long as I remember, and what I remember best about doing it was how it always made me happy with my own company. It was a favourite lesson at school, but by the time I got to Art College everything had become ‘conceptual’ – and there just weren’t the people around to teach traditional practices. You could say that everything you see me do now, I learnt to do myself (with of course the help of all the artists I’ve ever liked enough to ask, “How did they do that?”).

Do you have a day job? If so, what field?
My working week (four days) consists of providing academic support to students studying A level subjects in a local College. Generally, the students seek tuition (one to one/sometimes in groups) for clarification and further practice in the tasks and activities representative of their level of study. Specifically, it often means, cultivating the judgement, and confidence, that makes it possible for them to start teaching themselves. It also means that I get to explore, with the students, two things I particularly like; the ‘craft’ of writing – particularly how to build academic exposition and argument – and ‘research’ – particularly how it always leads to unexpected discoveries.

Chesley Bonestell influence...

When and why did you start exploring digital art?
I started using a digital toolset about six years ago. It consisted then of Poser 3, which I bought largely to see how it might help in the composition of pictures. It had always been difficult asking friends to wear sheets as capes, and hold broomsticks for spears.

 An early Fyles faux cover

What digital tools do you use?
At present I use Poser 6, Vue 5, Photoshop, and Corel. I use Poser/Vue mainly to set up scenes/scenarios, just like a stage director/architect might have used actual scale models for visualisation. I like to experiment with viewpoints and lighting, and both applications provide this function as basic given. In all honesty I don’t really need many of the higher functions they have grown to incorporate over the years – most of which are devoted to the ever elusive search for verisimilitude.

The result of this process is always a ‘rendered’ image that is either used as a reference for traditional painting or has been optimised for Photoshop in someway. The aim is to generate an image that will function something like an ‘under painting’ in traditional work, where the basic elements of the picture are available and can be refined. The ‘painting’ I embark on in Photoshop is the result of a fairly intuitive use of it’s basic tools and usually involves adjustments of colour, tone, brightness and contrast, some use of masking, some blending using layer options, some use of filters (but I find them a little crude), smudging and painting with preferred brush types, and the usual standing back and squinting! It is stating the obvious but Photoshop provides a speed and various levels of correction that cannot be achieved traditionally, and I enjoy how that contributes to my ‘creativity’ and anything I am invited to do commercially. It is only recently that I have begun to experiment with Painter, especially the blending tools, but I intend to persevere with the other elements it offers too.

Mike has posted a tutorial with some information about how he makes his covers.

Do you listen to music (and if so, what kind) while you work?
I don’t tend to listen to music while I work – I find it distracting. I like music, I like it a lot, and for awhile I used to go out and play music with others whenever I could.

Who inspires you?
These are some examples of what I have been listening to lately: Soul Monster, Rod Piazza and the Mighty Flyers; Cristo Redentor, Harvey Mandel; Cheap Thrills, Big Brother and The Holding Company; Bonaparte’s Retreat, and The Chieftains.

What led you to the faux magazine cover series and did you age them right away or did that idea come later?
I had been exploring Cover Art in general, particularly the commercial illustrative work that was produced for popular magazines (and pulps) and kid’s annuals before photography became the default choice for publishers. I had really begun to enjoy what was good about that work, but at the point I began to want to emulate it in someway I realised how much I also wanted the same kind of ‘audience’, ‘purpose, and ‘context’ those illustrators had been subject to. So I started to pretend to commission and brief myself and then to start work on a picture (sometimes two or three at the same time).

Suddenly there was a whole gamut of genres and styles and publication types to explore. Then I got the idea of presenting the images by means of a notional and fictitious types of publication. It was the best kind of ‘picture frame’ the original art work could possibly have, and besides it also meant trying may hand at Cover Design and Typography as well. It soon followed that together, the Cover Art and the Cover Design, could also have a life of their own, especially if they were seen to represent real objects. The decision to ‘age’ the covers was made to strengthen the subterfuge, to make everything just seem more authentic. Interestingly, I hadn’t anticipated the part nostalgia would play in how they were received, or indeed how many people, like me, missed these kinds of narrative illustrations with their stories.

Was "The Green Lama" Volume One your first work with Rob Davis and Ron Fortier? How did your work at Airship 27 come about?
Yes it was, but the route to Airship 27 and other American colleagues, starts with Jay Piscopo, who as the generous and talented man he is, teamed me up with Ron Fortier for a story in one of Jay’s annual Commander X - Xmas e-comic releases. I enjoyed that work a great deal and later got asked by Ron and Rob to produce a cover for the Green Lama Volume One Anthology.

What led to the Marvel covers? Did the Iron Man Noir come first, and then the Spider-Man? Do you have more upcoming?
Apart from acknowledging the causal chain described above, the key figure is Jim Krueger, whose interest in working with me, some conversations online and by telephone, and some samples of work, connected directly to Joe Quesada at Marvel and him recommending me to one of his editors (Jeanine Schaefer) for an upcoming project (Iron Man Noir) that she was overseeing. The Spider-Man commissions followed on from my the initial work prepared for the Iron Man Noir Series when seen by editor Stephen Wacker.

What is your "dream assignment?"
Difficult, but it would be nice to be asked to re-illustrate some ‘Classics’ of literature.

What artists inspire you or do you admire?
So many, and the prospect of missing someone off the list prevents me from starting it.

What media do you like or find inspiring?
I like Film, but it’s really the print media of the early part of the twentieth century, in which illustration played such a vital role in promoting, that I keep returning to. Ironically, given nearly everything I produce is digital, it is the paper stock, the ink, the smell, the ‘feel’, the physical object, that I like the most.

Is there anything else you would like the readers to know about?
I am currently working on a cover and illustrations for Adam Garcia’s The Green Lama Unbound, to be published by Airship 27 later this year – which looks really promising. There should be some more comic covers in the pipeline. If anyone wants to look at the art work for Marvel it is here.

I have one hundred and one projects in my head, but wouldn’t mind putting out a book of some of my illustrations in the next year or so. I really do like collaborating with writers.

All artwork © Mike Fyles.
Spider-Man and Iron Man  © and TM Marvel Comics.

1 comment:

Paul D Brazill said...

Top interview, amazing artwork.