-By Dan dos Santos

Let’s rewind 20 years…

The year is 1992, I am fourteen years old, and a Freshman in High School. The holidays are near, and my Mother has decided to take my Sister and me to the mall to do some holiday shopping. Well, they did some holiday shopping. I, as usual, made straight for ‘The Dream Factory’, a comic book shop just 4 doors down from the food court. My Mother knew there was no need to schedule a meeting time, or a meeting place. When she was done shopping, be it 1 hour, or 5 hours, she knew exactly where to find me. I would be right there in The Dream Factory, looking at comics for as long as I could.

My weekly allowance was quite low, and it took a few week’s effort to save up $5. That meant I could buy about three or four comics depending on the cover price, which varied between $1.25 and $1.50 back then.

I would spend an inordinate amount of time in the shop, deciding exactly which 4 comics I was going to buy. I could get the new X-Force, the new Uncanny X-Men, and still have enough left over to browse some back issues! Or maybe try out a new series! Or maybe grab an issue of Dark Horse Presents! Or maybe I could get that really cool issue of Spider-Man with the foil cover! The possibilities were endless.

Walking out of a comic shop with four new comics in hand was my idea of heaven when I was fourteen years old. I would be able to read, re-read, draw, and re-draw those issues ALL weekend long. I would copy every spread, trying my hardest to emulate the style of Jim Lee. They would be my inspiration, my education, and the sustenance I needed to get through the weeks until I could convince my Mother to take me back to mall to indulge some more.

After spending an inordinate amount of time deciding exactly WHICH four comics I was going to buy, I approached the register. But as I put my purchases on the counter, confident in my decision, I looked at the rack just below me, and saw this…

I was stunned.

The realism was unlike anything I had ever seen before. I grabbed the magazine, and before my eyes were paintings by Michael Whelan, Hajime Sorayama, and H.R. Giger! All of whom were artists I had never heard of, and all of whom I fell immediately in love with.

But the cover price… What?! $4.50!!!

I had never spent more than $1.50 on a comic book. In fact, I was angry when the cover price went up from $1 to $1.25. I had the money I needed, but was this one magazine seriously worth as much as FOUR of my favorite comic books?!! I had just spent several hours picking out what I thought were the four best comics I could possibly purchase given my funds. Was I really prepared to put ALL of them back on the shelf just so I could buy this ONE, insanely expensive magazine?

I was tormented.

I remember thinking about the decision so long that the man at the register asked me to step aside so he could help other customers while I made up my mind.

Eventually I did.

I put all of my comics back on their respective racks, and walked up to the counter, once again, but this time with Airbrush Action in my hand.

It was the best $5 I ever spent.

The work inside opened up my eyes to a whole world of art I never knew existed before! Up to that point, I thought Jim Lee and Rob Liefeld were as good an artist as one could possibly be. I realized then that there was so much more out there! The haunted paintings of Giger… The sexy Gynoids of Sorayama… the magestic landscapes of Whelan! The level of realism, detail and imagination was unbelievable. I seriously didn’t know a person could make images like this.

From that point on, I was on a mission. I clipped out my favorite images from the magazine and pasted them onto the inside cover of my sketchbook as a constant reminder of what it was I was striving for. I slowly moved away from drawing comics. Instead, I found myself drawing fantasy themed images, trying my hardest to make them more realistic and more detailed than I ever had before…

And I haven’t stopped since.