First of two parts
Bill Sienkiewicz, one of the masters of the sequential-art medium, has spent the past 20 years trying to help people pronounce his name as well as shaping the look of comics and influencing current and future generations of artists.
Known for his award-winning work on Elektra: Assassin, Stray Toasters, Moon Knight, New Mutants and the Sandman: Endless Nights, Mr. Sienkiewicz agreed to give Zadzooks a piece of his mind in the 55th chapter of a series that profiles the elite of the comic-book industry.
Official title: artist
Origins of the artist: I mainly drew on the wall as a kid. When I was in kindergarten, I had to draw an Eskimo. It was a contour drawing with the big, seal-fur-lined hood and the reindeer boots. When I finished it, all the kids huddled around and said, “How did you do that?” And I thought, “You can’t all do this?” It was so natural to me that I thought everybody did this. It was nothing unusual.
Decision to be a sequential artist: I was 7 years old and remember telling my father I had found my vocation in comic books. Whether or not that had anything to do with him hitting the sauce pretty hard, I have no idea. It was a mixed blessing because I knew what I wanted to do and I knew the work involved. I studied drawing and anatomy as if I were studying for medical school. I knew anatomy inside and out, and I drew and wrote constantly.
What I read growing up: First of all, I read everything: science fiction from Harlan Ellison, anthologies, comic books, espionage novels, anatomy books and medical journals, while other kids were reading Deputy Dawg.
However, comics really helped me learn how to read. I had a running tally of top-level favorites from DC and Marvel, then Charlton and all the way down to Sad Sack. All of the comic books had a special place in my heart and showed the magnificent array of possibilities in the medium. You had wild space adventures with the Fantastic Four and then came back to Earth and found all of these obsessive-compulsive little creatures like Little Dot.
My father never understood my penchant for comics, and I would hide stacks and stacks of comic books under the front seat of the car.
My heroes: My grandparents used to hand me money to buy comics. They were my pushers. My father wanted me to go to school for electronics, but my grandfather, who was coal miner from Poland, told my dad, “Bill wants to go to art school. Let him and don’t stand in his way.” I was eternally grateful to him. I mean, the man spent the majority of his life down in deep dark tunnels digging and yet was 100 percent there for me in terms of my dreams. It was a miracle.
My ties to Neal Adams: Neal Adams had started doing all the covers for DC Comics, but as a reader, I despised his style. I so wanted to get the ugly stuff away from me because I couldn’t stomach it that I switched over to Marvel to discover Stan Lee and Jack Kirby.
However, somewhere along the way, I found an interior page done by Neal Adams, and it was as if a light switch had been thrown. From that moment on, my goal was to be like Neal Adams. I was the only one who read comic books in a rural area surrounded by three farms, and I had no one else to say, “You might want to try your own style.” I had no one saying it was not OK to absorb someone else’s facets. I just loved his stuff. I never really traced his work, but I studied his style, knew his lines and his idiosyncrasies.
Education: I turned down a scholarship to Rutgers and I went to the Newark School of Fine and Industrial Arts in New Jersey. I just received a lifetime achievement award from them although I never graduated and caused such … problems while I was there.
The problem was that in the second year of courses, you could choose from fine art, advertising or illustration. I wanted some of each, and that had never been done before. And me, just being a punk, asked, “Why not?” I was eventually able to choose, and it allowed me to just walk from class to class and study numerous styles from oil painting or rendering.
First job in the industry: When I finally went to DC Comics with a portfolio, Vinnie Colletta, the art director at the time, sent me over to Neal Adams’ studio. However, Neal called up Jim Shooter at Marvel and said he had a guy over here that should be given some work, but there is only one problem — and that is, he draws like me. Here I am on my first day in New York, and I don’t think my stuff is good enough for DC, yet enough Marvel. So, I went over to Marvel and not only ended up with a job, drawing Moon Knight for 30 issues, but a career.
My style evolution: I had an epiphany one day and decided to do whatever I wanted to do on a page, and if they printed it, it would be a valid way to do comics. It was my not-too-subtle way of slipping one past them, and I felt so … clever at 21 years old.
Anyway, it worked. My way of doing comics became legitimate, so it spurred me on to do further experimentation. In Elektra: Assassin, I would tear sheets in half, glue down pieces, sew pieces together, use doilies. If characters needed a Band-Aid, I would use real Band-Aids on their wound. If something looked like it needed to screw into place, I would use a screw. The style caught on, and I thought well, why not?
It definitely allowed me to finally break away from the Neal Adams clone thing that was an albatross around my neck put there by fans and critics.
Next Week: Computer art, horror art and why Big Numbers wasn’t so big.