Second of two parts
A self-professed “true rube country boy who grew up idolizing comics,” Bill Sienkiewicz has gone from drawing on walls in rural Blakely, Pa., to creating a mixed-media painting style that eventually was seen in every major sequential-art publisher’s pages.
Mr. Sienkiewicz, a master of the craft, is known for his award-winning work on Elektra: Assassin, Stray Toasters, Moon Knight, New Mutants and the Sandman: Endless Nights. He is working with writer Steve Niles on a continuation of the vampire-fueled 30 Days of Night with the miniseries Beyond Barrow.
Last week he filled us in on his early career. Here’s more with Mr. Sienkiewicz.
The use of computers in art: It can be a crutch if you just start out with the computer and allow what is inherent with the program to solve your problems. If you come at the project with another idea, something painted or drawn, it becomes a much more personal piece.
There was a period when I first started using the Mac, when I thought, “That’s it — this is the wave of the future, and I will never be painting again.” After about two years, I started to miss getting my hands dirty. To me, the computer is like an airbrush or acrylic or pencil: It is just a tool. I tend to really enjoy the physical act of painting, the way a brush feels when I am putting something down.
When I toned down the use of a computer: I remember working on a motorcycle for Ghost Rider, and I was airbrushing something, and the tool clogged and a big splatter of black went over what I had done. I mentally hit the Command Z keys, the undo function, and I realized I had been using a computer too long. So I decided I would just paint and use the computer as a finishing tool.
Current opinion of horror art: A lot of what passes for horror art these days is abysmal, really abysmal. I see a lot of Photoshopped portions of faces, excessive splatter and bloodshed that is meant to shock and horrify the audience. Instead, it telegraphs some kind of germane plot point but always seems to be shrouded in “Let’s get this out of the way so we can get to the money pages.”
The plus to all this is that it forces you to read the story and not much care what is going on in the visuals. Unfortunately, comics are a visual medium, and the juxtaposition between words and images [is] very important.
Approach to Beyond Barrow: I am trying to capture the visuals in terms of color, characterization and storytelling while trying to be as invisible as possible and make the writer’s vision be the main focus. I have already done enough stuff with series such as Elektra: Assassin and Stray Toasters that was all about playing and trying different things to show my chops. Now it’s calling those aspects out only when needed. I am only doing what is needed to get Steve’s point across.
It’s not “Let’s just do something that takes place in the frozen North and have everything be a version of ultramarine blue.” I believe there are warmer colors you need to complement. No color or shade exists without its opposite. Look at a sunset and close your eyes, and you will see its complement. You need that as a viewer; it’s aesthetically pleasing.
Projects that did not work: First, I look at the Hendrix book I did (“Voodoo Child: The Illustrated Legend of Jimi Hendrix”) and consider it a glorified failure. If Jimi were around today, he would be using computers, but I was contractually bound to do 28 pages of painted artwork. He single-handedly invented the fuzz box, and he pushed the boundaries of technology and art, but I did not get to do that with the book.
Also, I really regret not finishing Big Numbers (a failed comic-book series). Not a day goes by when I do not think about finishing it. I kind of painted myself into a corner with the project.
Part of what was going [on] was the absolute steadfastness of Alan Moore’s scripts. His approach was the 180-degree opposite of working with Frank Miller — that was, “You challenge me, and I will challenge you, and let’s see what we can come up with at the end of the day.”
Alan’s work was so completely thought out that for me to vary at all would alter the outcome, and I just never felt comfortable doing that. My natural proclivity is to engage my mind and have as much fun as possible. If you just want to engage my hands, I will cut them off, and the rest of me will go on vacation to the Virgin Islands.
I look at Big Numbers for all the things it could have been. It would have been a seminal piece, and I really poured my guts into the artwork, but Big Numbers is definitely the one that got away.
Advice for young artists: I always ask if they really want to get into this. I am not trying to dissuade anybody unless I really feel they just do not have it. I tell them, “Do not draw just for comics or copy someone else’s mistakes. Find your own voice and vision.”
They may have all of the chops, but it takes a great deal of restraint to do what is necessary. It is knowing what is enough, and that is the ultimate maturity of the artist. Draw all the time. If you get tired of it, draw some more. If you get tired of drawing some more, keep drawing.
Some eyes get glazed over, and some get really jazzed about it.
Still to accomplish: There is so much I would like to do, but I never want to limit myself. It is the Picasso aspect of it. He said two things. It took him his whole life to learn how to draw like a child again and the idea that if you wake up and feel like a cubist, be a cubist.
Words to live by: When you shuffle off the mortal coil, you want to go with the fewest bite marks in the derriere as possible.