Category Archives: Inspiring Art

Time for Pretties!

The guys at SOLARIS came up with this advert for the Outcast Chronicles. (With thanks to Clint Langley for the wonderful covers).

I know, so cool. Feel very lucky!

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Filed under Female Fantasy Authors, Fun Stuff, Inspiring Art

Kate Forsyth tells us about Rapunzel…

Today we have the lovely Kate Forsyth visting us to coincide with the release of her new book Bitter Greens. There is a copy of Bitter Greens for one lucky reader. See the give-away question at the end.

 

 

 

 

 

Rapunzel is one of the most mysterious and enduring of all fairytales, telling the story of a young girl sold to a witch by her parents for a handful of bitter green herbs.

Most people think that the ‘Rapunzel’ story was first told by the Grimm Brothers in the early 19th century, but in fact it is a much older tale than that. There are so many ‘Maiden in the Tower’ stories in cultures all around the world that it has its own classification in the Aarne-Thompson fairytale motif index (Type 310).

The first known version is from Christian iconography with the story of Saint Barbara. She was a virtuous young girl locked in a tower by her father in the 3rd century. She was tortured for her Christian beliefs but her wounds miraculously healed overnight and when she was beheaded by her father, he was struck by lightning and killed. Most images of her show her with long, flowing, blonde hair, and in one version of the story her hair miraculously burst into flame when her father seized hold of it.

The first appearance of the motif of the ‘hair ladder’ was in a 10th century Persian tale told by Ferdowsi (932-1025 AD), in which a woman in a harem offers to lower her hair to her lover so he can climb up to her. He is afraid he might hurt her and so throws up a rope instead.

One of Rosetti's paintings because I love the Preraphaelites

The ‘hair ladder’ reappears in Petrosinella, a literary fairy tale told by a Florentine writer, Giambattista Basile and published in 1634. Basile was living in Venice at the time and so may have heard many tales brought by sailors and merchants from faraway lands. Petrosinella (Little Parsley) is given up to an ogress after her mother steals parsley from the ogress’s garden. The ogress locks Petrosinella up in a tower in the forest, using her hair as a ladder to access the building. Petrosinella escapes with the help of a prince who heard her singing, overcoming the ogress by casting three magical acorns behind her that turn into obstacles that impede the witch and ultimately devour her.

Sixty years later, the story appears again, this time in France. It is told in 1698 by Charlotte-Rose de Caumont de la Force , who has been banished to a convent after displeasing the Sun King, Louis XIV, at his opulent court in Versailles. Locked away in a cloister, much like Rapunzel is in her tower, Charlotte-Rose was among the first writers to pen a collection of literary fairy tales and also one of the world’s first historical novelists. Published under a pseudonym, Mademoiselle X, Charlotte-Rose’s tales became bestsellers and she was eventually able to buy her release.

In Persinette, Mademoiselle de la Force’s version of the tale, the mother conceives an insatiable longing for parsley which her husband steals for her from a sorceress’s garden. When he is caught by the sorceress, the husband promises the sorceress his unborn daughter. The sorceress comes and collects the little girl at the age of seven, names her Persinette, and raises her until she is twelve. Persinette is then locked away in a tower without a door or stair, deep in a forest.

The Bridesmaid by Millais

In time she becomes a woman; the prince hears her singing and chants the rhyme so he can climb up the ladder of hair to her room, where he seduces her. “He became bolder and proposed to marry her right then and there, and she consented without hardly knowing what she was doing. Even so, she was able to complete the ceremony” is how Charlotte-Rose rather coyly describes his seduction.

Persinette becomes pregnant as a result, and in her naivety betrays herself to the sorceress when she complains about her dress growing tighter. The sorceress is furious. She cuts off Persinette’s hair and banishes her to a far-distant wilderness, then tricks the prince into climbing up the braids to the tower. She then causes him to fall from the tower to the ground, and he is blinded by the thorns that grow about the base of the tower. Persinette bears twins in the wilderness, then finds the prince and heals his eyes with her tears. The sorceress continues to torment them, until the young couple’s courage and tender love for each other move her to mercy and she magically returns them to the prince’s loving family.

The story was then retold by the German author Friedrich Schulz (1790). His version is almost identical to Mademoiselle de la Force’s, except that he changed the girl’s name to Rapunzel. It was then retold by the Grimm Brothers (1812), becoming less powerful, mysterious and sexually charged with each subsequent edition. For example, Rapunzel betrays the prince by remarking that the witch is much heavier to pull up, rather than by the witch’s realization that Rapunzel is pregnant.

I love Charlotte-Rose de la Force’s version of the story because of the ardent love affair and the miraculous healing of the prince’s eyes, and also because the heroine takes a more active role than in later versions of the tale. Persinette is imprisoned as a child, but she survives her ordeal, plots her escape, falls in love, and then raises two children on her own. She heals her lover’s wounds with her tears, and she persuades the sorceress to set them free. She becomes a magical agent of healing and salvation, not only for herself and her family, but also for the sorceress.

I am also fascinated by Charlotte-Rose herself. Strong-willed, intelligent and fiercely independent, she once rescued her lover from imprisonment by disguising herself as a dancing bear and entering his father’s castle with a travelling troupe of performers. Her stories were among the first literary fairy tales to be published, and her historical novels are known to have been read and enjoyed by Sir Walter Scott, who many attribute with beginning the historical fiction genre. Her most famous novel, The Secret History of Margeurite de Valois (1697), was also a strong influence on Alexander Dumas’s novel The Queen Margot (1854). She was an early feminist who believed passionately in free love and fought to live her own life liberated from the rigid hierarchy and etiquette of the court of Louis XIV. I find it interesting that her own story echoes the themes of Persinette – she is locked away from society by the king, but she wins her freedom by telling stories.

In my novel, Bitter Greens, I have entwined a retelling of the Rapunzel fairy tale with Charlotte-Rose’s dramatic life story to create a novel of desire, obsession, black magic, and the redemptive power of love. Oh, and Giambattista Basile makes a brief appearance too …

Dornr Schenschloss, Sababurg

Don’t you love it, when someone really knows their stuff? Kate’s currently overseas staying in the Sleeping Beauty castle at Sababurg. She’ll be back mid week.

Here’s the give-away question: What is your favourite fairy tale and why?

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Filed under Australian Writers, Book Giveaway, creativity, Fantasy books, Female Fantasy Authors, Genre, Inspiring Art, Nourish the Writer, Writing craft

Meet Douglas Holgate…

I’m expanding my series featuring fantastic authors to include fantastically creative people across the different mediums, which is why I’ve invited the talented Douglas Holgate to drop by.

Watch out for the give-away question at the end of the interview.

Q: We met at Supanova and hung out at the cocktail party. Do you get to many of the Supanovas? Is it fun to mix with other illustrators and talk shop?

Doug with Skye, one of the Amazing Supanova Team

I’ve been to Supanova on the east coast fairly consistently over the last 3 or 4 years. I’ve yet to make the trek to Perth but I’m keen (and not just because I’ve never been to Perth).

Absolutely one of the best parts of the shows is mixing with peers, it’s always great to catch up, especially with people out of state and while the internet keeps us all up to date on what we’re up to it’s not a substitute for a drink and chat. I’ve found of late though I actually really like meeting and talking shop with people NOT doing what I’m doing…but working in similar creative fields. I had a ball talking to all the writers just recently at the Brisbane show (where we met), and came away with different perspectives, work ethics and ideas around publishing and the like.

Q: Back in the 80s when I was working as an illustrator in Melbourne we used to have to make appointments with the art directors of publishing houses, lug our folios in and be interviewed in hope that they’d send us work. Now artists have pages on all sorts of sites, as well as their own blog sites, to promote their artwork. (eg. The Loop. Illustrators Australia). Do you still have to do the ‘meet and greet’ with art directors or is it all done over the internet now?

I was saying to someone the other week that I have no idea how I’d work if I didn’t have a scanner, a computer and email. I can’t even imagine what it must have been like to navigate the creative process via the postal system. I do a lot of work for the US market so predominantly I work exclusively with them via the likes of email and sometimes skype. Local clients I do like to try and get a face to face with at some point. It’s nice to put a face and a voice to a name.

As for approaching clients for potential work, when I first started freelancing about 10 years ago it was still a phone call to the AD and physical hard copies of my folio sent to them if they were keen to see it. Now though…it’s pretty much all email and the internet. Which I think is good for ease of breaching that inner sanctum (It makes it less intimidating), and promotion wise you can have global reach instantly. But there is still something about even just talking to someone on the phone and a physical copy of your work in that person’s hands which can’t be replaced (Though I am a bit of a sucker for beautiful printed objects).

Q: You illustrated the Zack Proton (genuine intergalactic hero) books. Was this a chance to let your ‘inner kid’ loose? And how did you hook up with the writer, Brian Anderson, (I see he lives in Austen, Texas)?

I have such a soft spot for Zack proton. Not just a ridiculous, over the top, irreverent and just plain FUN series but also my first big time published work in the US.

All set up through my agent. The way it works is a publisher has a project, they approach my agent and ask if I’m free to work on the series and if I’d like to…and then I (always) say yes.

I then will back and forth with the publishers art director, receive a manuscript, any art direction they’re keen on, cover concepts, internal illustrations etc.

It’s very very rare that I’ll actually talk to the writer at all, especially during the process of putting the books together. This seems to be standard in the industry, which is a bit of a shame…but I can understand it from the publisher’s perspective, they want control of the books and don’t want creative decisions made without being in the loop.

I did however end up after the series was published getting in touch with Brian and we’ve stayed in touch every since, which is great!

Q: You worked on The Amazing Joy Buzzards from Image Comics, which is about an adventure rock-and-roll band. Look like lots of fun. When you work on a project like this how closely do you collaborate with the writer? Are there really tight deadlines?

I sort of already answered this one, but there are always exceptions to the rule. For original material I’m generating with writers to pitch, or self publish then absolutely it’s a complete collaboration.

Of course every writer is different and in some cases they’re happy to let me go away and work on the visual design of these things with minimal guidance. Others I’ve worked with have a strong vision and want to see it realised, from character design and aesthetic through to direction of what is happening specifically in a given scene. Writers like Alan Moore (whom I’ve not worked with) are notoriously specific about their art direction that in some cases almost becomes a novel in itself.

I do like a middle ground though. And there is nothing quite like brainstorming, back and forthing with someone and creating worlds and plots and characters from scratch.

For things like Joy Buzzards there was already an established universe that I was coming in to play around in. So the main characters and the like had pretty much already been fully realised. Which isn’t to say I didn’t have any creative input, it’s just a different challenge to say something original with someone else’s characters.

Q: And you worked on Super Chicken Nugget boy. When you were doing your Post Graduate Degree in Illustration at the University of Newcastle did you think you’d end up drawing animated chicken nuggets? LOL Do you have a personal project that you are madly working on in your spare time?

Haha! YES! Well…sort of. Maybe not chicken nuggets, but certainly I was aiming my sights on comics and material for kids and younger readers. There was a small group of us who were constantly getting in strife with the lecturers for pushing our project work in the comic book, cartooning direction. We were repeatedly told there was no future in it. Ironically I’m pretty sure we’re the only ones from our graduating class now working fulltime as artists and designers.

And I’ve got a list as long as eternity of personal projects. It’s one of the things that frustrates me some about what I do. IT TAKES SO LONG! If only I could snap my fingers, get that thing that’s gnawing at the back of my head DONE and then move onto the next thing. OH…and be paid a gazillion dollars for it…that would seriously not only make me happy but the world!

But yes. Right now I’ve got a couple of things in the works that I’m really excited about. The main one taking up all my time (When I get it) is an all ages graphic novel with a fantastic local Melbourne (though she’s been swanning about the streets of New York for the last 12 months) kids comic writer, Jen Breach.

Q: On Twitter we were talking about fantasy movies we loved like Mystery Men. “We struck down evil with the mighty sword of teamwork and the hammer of not bickering.” What were your biggest influences when you were growing up?

Oh, you mean the list of things that never seems to end? It’s funny, it’s only in the last couple of years since I’ve had a little boy that I’m rediscovering things that I used to love and adore as a kid…and I realise are a direct influence on what I’m doing right now. They’re obviously always in the back of your head, consciously or unconsciously, but tracking down vintage copies of Richard Scarry’s busy town series to introduce to him, looking at them and having this epiphany that he is a major influence is pretty wild. I spent some formative years in the UK and was obsessed with weekly kids comics magazines like Beano and Dennis The Menace. A lot of annuals like Eagle. Was a big fan of Roald Dahl and CS Lewis. And long form comics wise I was reading things like Asterix, Tintin and Lucky Luke a long time before I discovered American comics. Herge and Uderzo definitely are the two seminal influences though. Relatively strict realism of form with a cartoon sensibility inhabiting that world.

Q: If you could go back and give that starry-eyed kid advice, what would it be?

Get serious sooner. YOU’RE WASTING TIME!

Q: I was prompted to start this series of interviews because there seems to be a perception in the US and the UK that fantasy (in books) is a bit of a boy’s club. I’ve come across quite a bit of talk on the blogs recently about female comic artists and writers, and their lack of representation in large companies like DC. Have you come across this in your professional life?

Not really no. I’d argue that illustration is actually a pretty even spread, in my experience anyway. There are as many female illustrators (if not more) whom I know and love working fulltime and being consistently published by major publishers. Also the majority of art directors I’ve worked with at the major US and Australian publishers have been women.

I’m a little torn on the issue of women in comics. On one hand I think that It’s pretty well established that there is indeed a boys club at the upper echelons of the likes of the major publishers, and obviously being a man I have no idea what that boys club mentality would be like to breach being a female creator. Not to mention the weird curtain wall of fandom thing you have to scale before even making your way to the keep.

But I also think that now is probably the best time in the history of comics for women. I can name you dozens who might not be published by the likes of DC or Marvel but they’re making original comics that are above and beyond in creativity, aesthetic, storytelling and vision than any run of the mill churned out monthly.

The push by established book publishers such as Random House and Scholastic into graphic novels, Independent comics publishers like IDW, First Second and Adhouse, the rise and rise of webcomics, artist sites like Deviant Art, Concept Art and the growing tendency for a lot of animators dipping their toes into comics making are all being driven by some incredible amazingly talented female cartoonists. I don’t see that stopping anytime soon.

This can’t help but change attitudes eventually at the dinosaurs. You know…if working on spiderman is something that you really want to do.

Q: Following on from that, does the gender of the writer/artist change your expectations when you approach their work?

No not at all. If it’s well written, drawn, crafted and published I’m all over it. You know…I read my first babysitters club a few years ago and LOVED it, all because it was adapted by one of my favourite cartoonists (Raina Telgemeier) into a brilliant graphic novel.

There are as many male creators I like and don’t like as female. And none of that is based on gender it’s just about the work they create.

I don’t go into a movie or a novel thinking “oh it’s directed or written by a woman therefore it’s going to be formula X.”

Certainly there are directors and writers and creators who work in specific genres so you’re going to consume that material based on that. But that has little to do with gender and more to do with the genre’s I appreciate.

I think if a creator is specifically broaching topics of gender or social acceptance or struggle and it’s a key part of their approach or the material they’re producing then absolutely you view that work with that in mind. And that’s probably why you’re reading or watching it in the first place.

At the end of the day it should be about creating the best material you can, and letting your story speak for itself regardless of gender.

The best work always will.

Q: And here’s the fun question. If you could book a trip on a time machine, where and when would you go, and why?

Rowena, this isn’t the fun question, this is the HARD question! I’m a pretty mad history buff…can I go EVERYWHERE?!

God…just one?

I love pre history…but I’m not sure I’d want to get eaten by a giant mosquito (It’s not the dino’s you’ve got to watch out for).

Adore American history…from Revolution, The Westward push to Civil war to Cold War and modern politics.

I’m doing a lot of reading and playing around with  Gallo/Romano Britain at the moment for a project. So I’m a little obsessed with that. And Roman history in particular…so maybe Ancient Rome?

Do I really want to gad about in tartan and blue body paint screaming murder at Roman legionaries in their incredibly well drilled formations? Yes…probably. So I think I’ll go there. But only if I can use the time machine again to scoot to medieval England for lunch, then shoot to Aztec south America for a couple of days and then over to Ancient China for tea and then take a break on a circumnavigation of the globe with Magellan, back in time for dinner with Caravaggio.

(And then wake up in WWII occupied France.)

To win a copy of Zinc Alloy and Super Chicken Nugget Boy here’s the give-away Question:

 What was your favourite comic book character when you were growing up?

 

Follow Doug on Twitter: @douglasbot

See Doug’s Blog

My folio is here – http://www.flickr.com/photos/douglasbot/sets/72157627375431276/with/3265305994/

But some of my favourite (read, newer) images are at these links –

http://www.flickr.com/photos/douglasbot/5830416545/in/set-72157627375431276

http://www.flickr.com/photos/douglasbot/6304341159/in/photostream

http://www.flickr.com/photos/douglasbot/5239949004/in/set-72157627375431276

http://www.flickr.com/photos/douglasbot/5308333564/in/set-72157627375431276

http://www.flickr.com/photos/douglasbot/4673721219/in/set-72157627375431276

http://www.flickr.com/photos/douglasbot/4884587173/in/set-72157627375431276

http://www.flickr.com/photos/douglasbot/2208125088/in/set-72157627375431276

http://www.flickr.com/photos/douglasbot/3265305994/in/set-72157627375431276

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Filed under Australian Artists, Australian Writers, Book Giveaway, Children's Books, Collaboration, Comics/Graphic Novels, Conferences and Conventions, Conventions, creativity, Fantasy books, Fun Stuff, Gender Issues, Genre, Inspiring Art, Movies & TV Shows, Tips for Developing Artists

Winner Les Petersen Free E-Book Cover!

Shadow Queen by Deborah Kalin

Les very generously says:

There were three very good responses. Andrew Warrilow did the hard yards and researched the web, and then came up with a splendid response; Thoraiya mimed a brilliant answer and gave me a great smile for an hour, and Narelle was right on song with her response.

The other responses from BartBart, Greta and Melissa were well considered.

However, the answer that comes the closest to what I imagined when writing out the question was Narelle’s, therefore she wins the give-away and I’d be delighted to do a cover for her. If Andrew and Thoraiya want to get in touch with me, I’ll see what consolation prizes I can come up with.

So Narelle for your free cover contact Les on this email address:  les(at)lespetersen(dot)com(dot)au

And Andrew and Thoraiya contact Les to see about your consolation prizes!

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Filed under Australian Artists, Australian Writers, Covers, creativity, E-books, Fun Stuff, Indy Press, Inspiring Art

One Writer’s Daydream Directors

Normally, I would put an interview up today, but I figured everyone is probably madly scrambling doing holiday/christmasy things so I thought I would indulge myself. I’ve watched the trailer for The Hobbit.  Who hasn’t?

Sigh … Love that deep, melodic male singing.

Since this is the silly season I’ve compiled a list of the directors I would like to see turn my books into movies/TV series. Here goes:

Peter Jackson. Why? Because he took LOTR and did what I did when I read it for to boys. He picked the narrative high points. He knows how to craft a story. Have you seen The Frighteners?

Allan Ball. Why? Because I’m impressed by his interpretation of Charlaine Harris’s books – the humour, the exploration of prejudice and the humanity. A very perceptive man.

Guillermo del Toro. Why? I find his sensibility fascinating. Look at what he did with Pan’s Labyrinth and the backstory of Hellboy 2. Something can be both beautiful and frigthening.

So there you have it. This is what writers daydream about when they should be writing …

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Filed under creativity, Fantasy books, Fun Stuff, Genre, Inspiring Art, Movies & TV Shows, Nourish the Writer, Obscure and Interesting, Resonance, Story Arc, Writing craft

Meet Tom Taylor …

I’m expanding my series featuring fantastic authors to include fantastically creative people across the different mediums, which is why I’ve invited the talented Tom Taylor to drop by.

Watch out for the give-away question at the end of the interview.

I usually put a photo right here, but I couldn’t resist this:

Artist Harrison Chua draws comicbook writer Tom Taylor

Q: Not only do you write for comics, but you’re also an ‘award-winning playwright who has written for radio, musicals, film, magazines, satirical news and sketch comedy. (For a full list of Tom’s works see here). Tell me, did you sit there doodling in your school books while daydreaming about what you’d do one day? Did your teachers encourage you, or tell you no-one ever makes any money from writing? Did you ever dream you’d see your work performed in the Sydney Opera House?

Yes, I absolutely spent all of high school doodling in books, especially in Geography, where I just drew and drew… in-between sleeping. My geography teacher wasn’t very engaging. He’d probably have far less-kind things to say about me.
Outside of the arts, the education system was never really my friend. I did have a few teachers who encouraged me, and one in particular who used to let me leave class and do creative writing up a tree.

No, I can’t say I ever thought my work would be on at the Sydney Opera House or at the Edinburgh Festival. However, being involved in theatre from the age of 12, and in a singing group before that, I probably thought I’d have a better chance of having something on at the Opera House than to be writing in a galaxy far, far away.

Q: I’ve interviewed authors who write books for Star Wars, Star Gate, Doctor Who etc. And many of them start out as fans, so it is no trouble for them to immerse themselves in the world. You’re currently writing for Star WarsBlood Ties with Chris Scalf, Invasion with Colin Wilson published by Dark Horse Comics, with more on the way. Looks like you are thoroughly immersed! Is there a huge ‘bible’ of information you have to refer to? Do you get to add to this ‘bible’ as you develop your stories?

Absolutely. Star Wars canon is immense. On top of the movies, you have the cartoons, computer games, short stories, role playing games, novels, and more, and almost everything that is created becomes canon. So yes, all creators need a bible and I think everybody becomes fast email friends with a man known as Leland Chee, Lucasfilm’s keeper of continuity.  He’ll be called on a lot in the next year as I work on the next instalment of Star Wars: Blood Ties ‘Boba Fett is Dead’ and some other Star Wars work.

Q: You also write your own original material. The Deep: Here be Dragons has just come out from Gestalt Publishing, art work by James Brouwer. In a review on Broken Frontier Kris Bather says: ‘Comedy in this artform can always be tricky, but the pair know what they’re doing and elicit the most laughs out of each comedic moment, thanks to great pacing, expressions, and dialogue’. Comedy can be challenging. Did you have to work at developing your relationship with artist James Brouwer, or did the two of you just click?

I’ve written a lot of comedy over the years – musicals, sketch comedy, and plays, including for the Comedy Festival, and generally I don’t really have to think about, or analyze, if something is funny. With James, I found a guy who also just gets it, and just as importantly, is a fantastic storyteller. I used to direct theatre back in the day, and for me the characters on the page need to react appropriately to situations, and need to react to whatever people are saying, just like actors. There are some fantastic artists in professional comics who think that 22 pages of some dark superhero, switching between the same two expressions tells a story. James isn’t one of those guys. James puts so much character and life into the Nekton family (The main characters of The Deep). No character stands around blank-faced while someone else is talking. Every page he sends me has me smiling. So yes, James and I did just click. And, thanks to that click, The Deep is the most joyous comic I’ve been a part of. Seriously, get this book for Christmas, for yourself and for your children. It will fill your heart with rainbows. It will fill your heart with exactly six rainbows. Any more than that and your arteries would begin to clog with rainbows and that would end messily… but probably very colourfully.

Q: Rombies (written by Tom Taylor, illustrated by Skye Ogden, Colours by Mikiko Ponczeck) is a historical paranormal tale set in ancient Rome. What inspired you to set a story in ancient Rome? Have you always been fascinated by its history?

Skye Ogden inspired me. Honestly, this was originally his idea. I just ran with it, and I’m very glad I did. Gestalt actually asked me to write this very early on in our working relationship and I said no.  I’m not a massive horror fan and I wasn’t sure this was the project for me. The night after I said no, I had a dream about Gladiators fighting zombie lions beneath the Coliseum. I called them the very next morning to say yes. I wanted to see Zombie Lions come to un-life. We made that happen. Where we plan to go next is epic.

Q: Example (written by Tom Taylor, Illustrated by Colin Wilson) is being made into a short film. Newsarama said: ‘This book should be used in writing classes everywhere, and should be the primary example (no pun intended) for aspiring comic writers to reference when trying to learn how to write dramatic and compelling dialogue.’   This is quite an accolade for any work, let alone a graphic novel. (I see it is an adaption of your award-winning play Example. I always tell my kids a play needs to be really well written because it has to hold the audience with the power of the premise, characterisation and dialogue – no special effects).  Do you do a lot of train travel? Do you listen in to people’s conversations or does it all spring from some deep dark part of your psyche?

The Example was written in the wake of the London Bombing. And it was these events, along with a typically appalling, fear-mongering ad for A Current Affair, which inspired the play. The government in Australia at the time was pushing the ‘Be alert, not alarmed’ slogan and that was also driving me insane. A lot of my writing is a vehicle for vent – an outlet for outrage. Almost all of my short plays stem from this.

On the surface, The Example is a story about a man, a woman and their reactions to an abandoned briefcase on a railway platform. Below the surface, it’s an exploration of terror and racism. It’s essentially a prejudice versus preservation story. And it’s just been optioned and filmed.  Yay!

Q: Flinch is a collection of stories including Shaun Tan, Justin Randall, James Barclay, Terry Dowling and yourself among others. The stories all revolve around each person’s interpretation of the word ‘flinch’. One of your stories White Dove 111 is about a colonist ship leaving a dying earth. This looks like an SF mystery from the description. Did you grow up reading Science Fiction?

I did read a lot of sci-fi, but I was far more into Fantasy. White Dove III was another great excuse to work with the man, Colin Wilson.  I also wrote another short story in Flinch called 96,000m, illustrated by Tom Bonin, which was my first published underwater story. It was the first time I’d publicly shown my fascination for all things underwater and squid-like.  Although, that story was a far cry from the joyous all-ages adventure of The Deep: Here Be Dragons. 96000m is pretty disturbing. If you like disturbed, or are disturbed, you’ll probably like 96000m.

 

Q: You are working for DC comics (Green Lantern and Sinestro). Is this one of your childhood dreams to write in the DC universe?

Yes. So many times, yes.

I grew up with DC comics. I loved all of these characters as a kid and never stopped loving them (except outwardly when I was a teenager). Superman is my absolute hero and writing him is one of my ultimate goals. I’m really proud of The Brainiac/Sinestro Corp War which is the story I’ve just written in DCUO Legends #16 and #17 and I was very lucky to get to work with a great artist like Bruno Redondo (another guy who, like James, just gets it). I’ve written something else unannounced, and I’m also still staggered I got to write The Authority for a year. The Authority was the super team that made me realise that superhero comics could also serve as an outlet for outrage.

Q: Looking at your published works you have been amazingly productive. In an interview on HYPERLINK SciFiBlock you say: ‘Like any work, there are times when it’s a hard slog and things get very hard, but then you just have to pick up the nearest blunt object, smash yourself in the face, and remind yourself that you’re writing Jedi and superheroes for a living.’ Do you have a work routine that helps you meet these deadlines?

I’d like to say I have a routine but, really, I have kids, including a baby who doesn’t sleep very well, and that throws all routines out. My only real routine is that I stay up very late to write. The rest of the world needs to be asleep before I can do my best work. The Example was written one night between 1am and 5am. I started writing this very interview at 2am, it’s now 4.27am… and the baby’s already been up twice.

Q: I was prompted to start this series of interviews because there seems to be a perception in the US and the UK that fantasy (in books) is a bit of a boy’s club. I’ve come across quite a bit of talk on the blogs recently about female comic artists and writers, and their lack of representation in large companies like DC. Have you come across this in your professional life?

I have heard this, and I do know this was an issue for DC in the announcement of the New 52, one they’re trying very hard to rectify. I think mainstream superhero comics have the perception of being a boys club, but the comics medium absolutely isn’t.

This year alone, I’ve worked with four female artists on eight different projects, which is possibly more female creators than some of the majors are working with.

I’m not sure superheroes have the same appeal for women. And I’d argue that they are often narrowly written and illustrated with men in mind. For every brilliantly written and lovingly illustrated superhero book like Secret Six by Gail Simone and (Australia’s own) Nicola Scott, there is a book with a scantily clad superheroine tearing her clothing while scratching the face of… probably another scantily clad woman who is tearing her clothing.

But outside of the Superhero genre, there are a lot of women telling brilliant stories.

Keep an eye out for Believe, which is set to be published soon, to see the incredible work of Emily Smith (and two other huge unannounced things we’re doing together). On top of Rombies, Mikiko Ponczek has just handed in the last pages of a 22 page story she has illustrated and coloured. I can’t wait for that one to be announced. It’s a script I’m very happy with and Miki has just smashed it.
Kate Moon has already finished the story Poppins which will be included in Brief Cases (whenever that comes out) and I have a small, but very cool story coming out with someone else who must remain nameless for now. She knows who she is. Hi, you!

Q: Following on from that, does the gender of the writer/artist change your expectations when you approach their work?

Nope. I never really think about it. And, when I do, I actually tend to get genders wrong.

Sorry, Robin Hobb.

Q: And here’s the fun question. If you could book a trip on a time machine, where and when would you go, and why?

I think it’s ridiculous that a time-machine company needs to take bookings. You can be anywhere and anywhen! Why do you need me at the time-machine depot at 9.30am?? It’s a disgrace!

Having gotten over my rant, and glared at the Time Machine operator who apparently couldn’t come to my house at 12, I would take a trip a very long way back.

I hypothesized earlier tonight that a pterodactyl may have eaten a missing link which would have caused humans to have one extra thumb. I would go back in time and ride that Pterodactyl into a live volcano before it ate our three-thumbed ancestor, thereby making all of us fifty percent more opposable.

You’re welcome.

Give-away Question:

For your chance to win a copy of The Deep: Here Be Dragons, and the six rainbows in your heart that come with it, answer this question.

If you had three thumbs, what would you do differently?

 

 

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Filed under Australian Artists, Book Giveaway, Book trailers, Characterisation, Collaboration, Comics/Graphic Novels, Covers, creativity, Dark Urban Fantasy, Fantasy books, Gender Issues, Genre, Indy Press, Inspiring Art, Movies & TV Shows, Nourish the Writer, Writers Working Across Mediums

Meet Les Petersen …

I have been featuring fantastic female fantasy authors (see disclaimer) but this has morphed into interesting people in the speculative fiction world. Today I’ve invited the talented Les Petersen to drop by.

Look out for the give-away at the end of the post.

Q: Your web page doesn’t have a bio. I tried to find a bio for you on Wikipedia. The closest I came was your numerous  listings as cover artist of various books. Next I looked up your listing on Linked in. This is about as brief as a bio gets ‘self employed illustrator and scriptwriter’. I know you live in Canberra, are married and have a son. Are you being deliberately mysterious or is a bio just something you haven’t gotten around to doing?

Not so much ‘haven’t got around to it’, rather I don’t really see the need for it. I know I’m not good at self promotion, but again there’s no need for me to promote myself at present. I have a steady income and so throwing myself to the lions (both fans and clients) wouldn’t necessarily be healthy. Maybe I’m a little bit private, as well, rather than being mysterious. But just for your info, I come from a large family of talented musicians and film makers, but I’m the one who wants to draw the pictures. My wife and son are my own world of wonder.

Michael Whelan's Cover

Q: Where did you go to study art (if you did study formally)? What artists inspired you to dedicate yourself to this calling, to the speculative fiction genre specifically?

Blame Michael Whelan. Short answer but it packs a punch. I saw a cover of his (Edgar Rice Burroughs’ Princess of Mars) way back in the 70’s, and loved it. Tried to paint like that, but I don’t have Michael Whelan’s sense of colour. That drove me to follow up on art as a course of study and I did 6 years at a couple of art schools. BUT I didn’t end up painting, rather I ended up print making for other artists because that paid a few bills. I learnt then that you can get trapped into professions you don’t enjoy by not sticking to your guns. Eventually I was lucky enough to get work as an illustrator and things turned around. But I would have wasted about 10 years doing something I didn’t really enjoy as much as I had hoped to. And artists can be suck picky, fernickety people with egos as big as houses.

Q: You have done at least 40 covers for speculative fiction books, magazines and anthologies (see ISFDB list here). This data base only goes up to 2009. In the book cover section of your web page there are 13 recent covers and it looked like only two of these were from the end of the ISFDB list, so you must have done more covers recently.  Do you have a couple of favourites and if so, why?

Shadow Queen by Deborah Kalin

Yes, the database is a little out – I am pushing 100 covers now. Many of the missing ones are for ebooks or self-publishing clients. That area of publishing is growing all the time and is now the mainstay of my illustration work.

As to favourites, I think Shadow Queen for Deborah Kalin  and Myrren’s Gift for Fiona McIntosh.

Myren's Gift by Fiona McIntosh

Both these really pushed me for design and the colour work started to get where I was trying to go, and the task of painting them was extremely enjoyable. Both began as scribbles on a piece of paper and expanded out to a full spread. Myrren’s Gift book design was also shortlisted for the 2005 APA Book Design Awards, which made everyone happy. It was my first cover to break the US market.

Q: I see you did the cover for Isobelle Carmody’s The Stone Key. I love this cover.  Did you do the whole series? They have a wonderful feel. Could you describe for us the consultation process that went into the design of these covers and then the actual physical process involved in constructing the covers?

In truth, I can’t take credit for these covers. Cathy Larsen, the lead designer from Penguin is responsible for the design of this series; I added some of the backgrounds and a bit of jewellery etc, but Cathy’s ‘touch’ is what makes it so successful.

As to the process: Cathy sent through a design brief, which lays out what is needed for the cover. I then worked my magic on the backgrounds and she incorporated that component into the design, changing things to suit the finished product. Interestingly, the most difficult part of the process is to get sign-off from the marketing team at Penguin (it’s the same at any publishers – they are trying to get a perfect product, after all). The design team can ask for change after change, to the point it kills a product’s freshness and drives designers and illustrators batty. Note how I call the book a ‘product’. That’s exactly what we have to keep in mind when working on a cover – we are selling the author and the story and the packaging must evoke the power of the writing. It can be tricky, but that’s what makes in an interesting profession.

Q: Back in 2001 you did the cover for Trudi Canavan’s best selling book The Magician’s Guild. The new covers for Trudi’s books are very different. (They were produced in the UK). Cover styles are constantly evolving what do you think of the current ‘look’ for fantasy covers?

The short answer is ‘fashions change’. I think a cover has a life of about three years before it’s considered in need of a renovation. And there are regional differences – something marketable in Aus or the US is definitely not ok in the UK, and vice versa – so each area produces their own covers. What is frustrating about the process is every now and then you see your cover design ‘utilised’ by another illustrator working outside Australia, probably because they have been asked to adapt what you have provided. But you live with it because the contracts are fairly flexible and the remuneration is ok.

The other side of the coin is that illustrator’s change. Many new skills are need and we’re ‘updated’ as new illustrators come through. That’s life. We move on to other projects, other genres, other lives, really. I’ve been fortunate to have work trickle in, though the nature of it is different. I spent some time doing computer games, and that’s a whole new board game – a production line kind of work ethic is needed, with its own challenges and deadlines.

UK cover of Trudi's book

One influence worth noting on illustration is the influence of computer games, and special effects from movies. They’ve really shaken up our skill sets and many publishers expect you to have that kind of vision for their covers. Interestingly, the response to it has been a reliance on photo-manipulation and 3D modelling, which sometimes works and sometimes doesn’t.

And finally, there’s a wealth of talent out there. Now we can get illustrators from around the world working in our ‘patch of dirt’. I’m amazed at some of the Asian illustrators that are around – that’s skill to die for. Sometimes when I see their artworks, I feel like a fake, or a hack. Young, talented, and their currency isn’t as strong as ours – they’ve got everything going for them.

 

Q: You were one of the Exhibiting Guest Artists are Conflux in 2006. Did you come to fandom as a fan, or did you come to it after you became a professional artist?

I came along as a professional artist. Though I love the genre, and especially Terry Pratchett’s humorous take on it (my Fav author of all time), I wouldn’t put myself down as a genre ‘fan’, because I read so widely and have a few other interests. I go along to see the authors and some of the people I know, but that’s about the extent of my participation. Sorry. Mind you, if I had a fan base…nah, I’d probably die of embarrassment.

And 2006!  You realise that’s five years ago already. Sigh. What good have I done since then? No, that’s a rhetorical statement.

Q: In 1998 you were shortlisted for the George Turner $10,000 Fiction Prize for your novel Supplejack. Are you still writing? I see you’ve had several short story sales. What have you done with this book?

Supplejack sits in the archives of my computer, still unpublished. I’ve written five novels since then, all of which exist in the archives, probably because I don’t self manage well. I’m glad to say that I still write, but have moved onto scriptwriting, and have produced six full length screenplays and about twenty shorts – and you guessed it, all in the archives of my computer, though I have produced and filmed one of the shorts myself, and two of the full length and one of the shorts have been optioned by productions companies. Those of course have been shelved though because of the global financial meltdown (or whatever the current term is being bandied about).I still hold out hope.

Q: On your web page you have the stills from some animations. Are you animations up on You Tube? (I looked but couldn’t find them). Do you have a secret project which you are going to unveil to the world? If so, what is it?

Yes, I’m working on a secret project, but if I tell you what it is, it won’t be a secret.

OH OK, SINCE YOU INSIST.

I’m working on a 17 minute short ‘The Weatherman’s Gift’, which is part puppetry, part 2D animation, part 3D animation. It’s based on a short script I wrote, which was in turn based on a really crappy animatic/animation I did the Parallel Lines Film Competition in 2010. I really entered that competition to test a few animation techniques and I quite liked the story concept and the feel of the work, in the end. So decided I’ll have a try building it into something magical.

The plan is I will be making a music video first, based on the theme song my brother wrote so I can learn a few puppetry techniques, and then (using the skills I learn) produce the final 17 minute version.

At this stage I’m building the background mattes and puppets, and finishing the storyboards. I’ve been warned by Jonathan Nix not to do the final product until the animatic for the final version is exactly as I want it to be, and I’m taking that advice seriously.

Q: Also on your web page you have some character designs. Are these from your animations or for something else entirely?  

Something else entirely.

 

Q: And then you have your Gallery Pieces, which you say you do to keep your skills ticking over.  What programs have you been playing with to develop your skills?

Over the last five years, I work almost entirely from pencil sketches, utilising Poser for figure maquettes and Photoshop for production final work, but recently I’ve moved to using Vue for landscapes and I’ve been looking at a lot of film editing software, as well as 2D animation packages. I’m ok with some 3D packages, and have gotten familiar with particle system generating software to round out animation effects, but there’s still so much that interests me. I’ll probably be fiddling with all these packages till I go blind. But I always, always, always have the base work of a concept drawing to go from. It’s the cornerstone of the craft, I believe.

Q: There are also the matt paintings. This makes me think they are back grounds for animations. What have you been doing with these matt paintings?

Three of these are backgrounds for the short film I produced (Treasure) the others are for a Star Wars fan film by a New Zealand company (which incidentally did very well in a competition judged by George Lucas) as well as a background for The Weatherman music video animation. More will be added as I complete them.

Q: What advice would you give an aspiring artist just starting out?

  • Take a deep breath.
  • Work your butt off.
  • Keep a drawing pad handy and use it frequently.
  • Get thicker skin on your ego because you’ll get battered and bruised.
  • Don’t concentrate on just one genre.
  • Marketing people are GODS and can destroy in an instant what you’ve slaved for weeks over so give them what they ask for as well as something you’d be proud to put in a portfolio if they knock it back.
  • Continue building your skill sets.
  • Stay current.
  • Watch what your competitors are doing, not so you rival them but so you get a sense where the market is going (very important).
  • You won’t get rich doing this job.
  • Small jobs and charity jobs can bring paying clients your way, and give you a chance to flex your creativity.
  • Read every word of the brief and watch your image dimensions/ratios.
  • Leave yourself time to do the fiddly bits ‘cause the details make the work sing.
  •  If you’re using photo manipulation, watch the colour matches, the resolution of the originals and the moiré pattern.
  • Black is a colour too (that will cause a stir!). But printers have problems with it so check with your publisher.
  • Contracts get signed but the details are quite often ignored. If you REALLY need to bark about something in the contract, do so and stick to your guns and ask for the contract to be changed before you start the work. BUT be warned, you’ll probably find work hard to get from that publisher if you’re asking too much.
  • Good faith is worth more than a contract, and most publishers work well with good faith. But a contract trumps good faith in a court of law.
  • Be EXTREMELY flexible and forgiving.
  • Work your butt off.

Oh, and one last thing – many people – and that includes authors and designers – “see” images in their mind’s eye in three dimensions so you’ll find they expect to see front and back of objects, as well as all the minute detail, all at the same time – so when you get to the nitty gritty don’t stress. Do your best and learn to smile and mutter under your breath at the same time.

Q: I was prompted to start this series of interviews because there seems to be a perception in the US and the UK that fantasy (in books) is a bit of a boy’s club. I’ve come across quite a bit of talk on the blogs recently about female comic artists and writers, and their lack of representation in large companies like DC. You have illustrated for magazines and done covers. As an artist do you think there is a difference in the way males and females are portrayed on speculative fiction book covers?

Isn’t that two questions? Such as ‘why aren’t there more female illustrators represented by…?’, or ‘why is there a lot more male illustrators?’ or something like that, and then ‘do I think there’s a difference etc?’

If you want an answer that covers both sides of the coin, blame the publishers and their marketing teams. We illustrators do as we are briefed to and it’s up to the publishers to hire the illustrators to do the work. The old ‘scantily clad woman in a battle bikini’ was something that appealed to the masses way back in the 60s etc, so the marketing teams wanted that, but tastes have changed. Now they want strong female role models and men without shirts, or sparkling teenage vampires and werewolves that look like Adonis. Tastes change. There’s no systemic movement to produce work that denigrates any one particular gender or limits them to the backyard studios. Everyone has to find their way through the morass, and skill and a great deal of luck gets you through.

I don’t know if there’s a majority of males in the illustration profession. Both sexes are capable of the skill sets required and most of the students going through art school with me were female, but few of them did anything with that skill. They turned to other professions – usually within management, actually.

All my ‘bosses’ in publishing, with one exception, have been women. I don’t see a gender bias against women in Australia. Also, I like to believe I was fortunate enough to get a job as an illustrator not because I was a male but rather because I’d put a bit of effort into learning the skill, then had a stroke of luck when I put an image on a webpage that Trudi Canavan saw and followed up on. In other words, the skill ‘spoke’ and I was willing enough to sell my soul to get the work that came from that.

Q: Following on from that, does the gender of the writer/artist change your expectations when you approach their work?

No. Out of all the covers I’ve done, with about five exceptions, the authors I have created covers for have all been female. There are very subtle differences in writer’s voice that you pick up on (please don’t ask for examples) and overall women can write family situations a bit better, and men write action better, but that’s probably some reflection on past expectations that boys will play with soldiers and girls with dolls or some such rubbish– and we know that is not necessarily the truth.  However, having said that, in the wash authors are fairly similar and they are usually supportive of your efforts. Some even surprise you and change their work to suit your illustration.

Q: And here’s the fun question. If you could book a trip on a time machine, where and when would you go, and why?

I thought long and hard about this and decided ( as all of you would have no doubt done instantaneously) that this question shouldn’t be answered seriously. If it was, and I said I wanted to go back into the past, it’d be too much about past regrets. If I went into the future, I’d be dialing up the expectation and a type of voyeuristic adventuring. So instead, I’ll strap on frivolity and elect to go sideways, into another dimension, to see if I was ever answered this question with a decent answer instead of all this waffle. Then I’d head over to Dixie’s house and she can explain all that stuff about birds and bees again. Lots of miming. Very interesting conversation. Especially as I don’t know anyone named Dixie. And never will, probably.

Giveaway Question:

A free custom ebook cover illustration. Quest ion: Who was Dixie and what did she tell me about the birds and bees, and how did that affect me for the rest of my life?

 

Les says he’s happy to talk illustration with others if they want to email him through his web page. (If you google him, don’t get Les mixed up with Leslie Petersen a ‘fine artist’).

Contact Les on Linkedin.

 

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