Every so often I get asked why I became an illustrator (or, more accurately these days, work in the arts and with artists). My answer is almost always the same: as a kid I was excited by—inspired by—other visual artists and somehow, some way I wanted to do what they were doing. Never mind that I never came remotely close to creating anything as arresting as the works by my heroes, they still inspire me. Their art—and the art by many, many others that have come along (or whom I’ve stumbled across) in the years since I stopped wearing short pants—still flips that switch in my head and electrifies my imagination. I am absolutely certain every other artist feels the same way and has their own heroes. As for some of the people that grabbed my adolescent attention and have never let go in the decades since? Well…
First there was Russ Heath and his war stories (including “the war that time forgot” that pitted WWII soldiers against dinosaurs) for DC Comics. Heath (who is now 84, I believe) had a meticulous style that I think was unmatched in comics (at least in the 1960s). I always appreciated the stories drawn by Joe Kubert and John Severin (and naturally loved the energy of Jack Kirby and Steve Ditko), but Russ’ work was always something that I avidly looked for.
Next was James Bama and his astonishing run of covers for the Doc Savage paperback series—60+ paintings. I always felt like Jimmy was showing me something real and that his characters could literally step off the book rack and beat my butt. Bama also painted the box art for a series of model kits based on the old Universal movie monsters that were also affecting (and which always looked much better than the actual models).
The third was the tag-team of Frank McCarthy and Robert McGinnis, who collaborated on the posters for Thunderball and You Only Live Twice. McCarthy (who also painted posters for The Dirty Dozen and The Train before moving on to become a Western artist—just as Bama did) handled the action scenes while McGinnis painted the vignettes featuring Bond surrounded by a bevy of beauties. I was a little young to understand why, exactly (was it the gadgets or the girls?), but looking at those movie posters made me want to be James Bond. Or, failing that, McCarthy or McGinnis.
Number four was, unsurprisingly, Frank Frazetta. I hadn’t noticed his covers for the Ace Edgar Rice Burroughs paperbacks, but his paintings for the covers of Creepy and Eerie magazines and the Conan books hit me like a proverbial ton of bricks. Frank had an intuitive sense for capturing the perfect dramatic moment and, when combined with his cartoonist sensibility, was able to produce works that literally stuck in your head for keeps.
As I entered high school, then college, and finally the professional arena, there were other artists—past and present—that had powerful influences on me, but…you never forget your first love, no matter how much time passes. I’m always interested in finding out who (or what) inspired other artists to enter the field. A visit to a museum or gallery? A comic? A film or book cover or magazine or…?