Let me confess two things right off the bat. 1. the core original Dune series is by far my favorite series of novels of any genre. While a lot of friends were getting lost in Middle Earth, Raymond Chandler novels, or Stephen King, Frank Herbert commanded my heart and soul. Even to this day I reread them at least bi-yearly. 2. Because of this this series was both inevitable and the hardest one so far I have taken on. These characters are so integral and fixed in my mind, and have been attended to so well already, this was not an easy thing to tackle. I knew that it would largely be an exercise in disappointment, and true to that it turned out that way. Not because I dislike the work I did and still need to do for it, but because it would never be possible to truly capture Paul Muad’dib or Thufir in a single portrait. It was never going to happen but I wanted to try anyway. I had actually planned on this series a couple of years ago… until I saw Sam Weber’s forthcoming work for Folio and simply could not. He did such a terrific job it was just not going to be possible to try and stand next to it in any reasonable way. it made things to muddy in my head as well, and I needed time to flush it out and come back to it clean, if possible. I had recently completed and seen published a children’s picture book for Scholastic, third in a series entitled, OLD TURTLE, and Jon Muth had done the one before me. Cost me at least four months of madhouse neurotic hand wringing before I accepted the fact the best thing to do was forget J had ever done it, stop looking at his work, and just do my thing so I could at least be functional. That project had the benefit of a deadline to goose me forward whereas Dune could wait. The 52 Weeks Project is at it’s core an exercise in playing hooky- the key word being… PLAY. So anything that made it feel at all burdensome, meant it should not happen. SO I waited… and while updating my website I saw this last Spring, the little placeholder for the series and thought… why not?
I had originally planned for ten portraits- knowing it meant not everyone would get their time in the sun. I ended up doing 11 and still need to finish it as it seems entirely improper to miss doing a portrait of Dr. Yueh, Gurney Halleck, Duke Leto, Emperor Corrino and at least a single Sardaukar trooper. So While it’s not yet entirely done, it is at a pause due to a simultaneously unexpected single image for THE WHITE LODGE series from before turning into… well, another dang series. SO here I was doing YWO weekly drawing series at once, which as it turns out… is not so fun after a few weeks in. It came down to having to choose which to put away and which to focus on, and since DUNE had hit it’s mark numbers wise already, and the new Twin Peaks drawings were flowing like a mad river, aided by both David Lynch and Kyle MacLachlin’s ringing approval of the effort… the choice was an easy one. So you can still see the new series each and every week via my facebook, twitter and instagram pages… but for now let us reflect on the DUNE, where my heart still lives and breathes. I’m even bringing the first novel with me to the rocky shores of northernmost Maine next week as proof positive of my goofball obsession. So there will be more later, have no doubt. Unlike the usual approach to these weekly drawings, I wanted to do large full scale 13″ x 19″ graphite portraits. I had intended a year before to do this for a series of portraits of historical gods, but found it took too long to be doable weekly. Turns out a year of doing these for work in other formats and themes made me both a lot faster, but also perhaps more insanier… so I ended up doing it for this anyway.
“The Reverend Mother Gaius Helen Mohiam”
The Reverend Mother Gaius Helen Mohiam was the first one and the one I started over the most. I think I threw out at least four prior versions before finally committing to this one here. Largely this was the case due to the realization that whatever form and format I committed to here would be in stone for the others to follow later, so I had better get it right…. ( that ended up going out the window because, well… me being the boss, the boss gets to change his mind whenever he damn well pleases- ESPECIALLY if it’s a hooky-playing indulgence like this). I knew I wanted to use color pencil for blue within blue eyes and paint of some sort, gouache or liquid paper, to denote stars and the overall universe in which these drug addicted futurists dwelled. The Reverend Mother, (secret actual birth mother to the Lady Jessica via the Baron Harkonen), was a great character to tackle. Cruel, hard as stone and noble to her intent and loyalty towards her sisterhood and their breeding program, she is shown here with he gom jabar and the box she used to test Paul’s humanhood.
Paul Muad’ Dib of Arrakis
Paul Atreides of Caladan
Paul Atreides of Caladan and Paul Muad’Dib of Dune. Never did I ntend to do two of these but for not feeling like I got hold of him right and full the first time. There truly are two Paul’s- three if you count The Preacher from the later volumes, and also again Sam Weber’s picture perfect portrait of Paul on his cover and Kyle’s perfectly cast turn in the Lynch film made it all the more vexing and tricky. Young brash cocky Paul of Cladan and the ubermensch character he would become that would set off the most violent jihad costing the lives of literally billions of people across the Known Universe… was a lot to try and tackle in one go.
Feyd Rautha of House Harkonen
This nasty fellow, young and beautifully cruel, Feyd Rautha fo House Harkonen, another failed attempt at a Quisatz Haderach, along with Lord Fenring, was actually executed live online with the immeasurable help of our glorious leader, the Reverend Dan Dos Santos, and if you’d like to get a hold of it ghaving perhaps not yet seen it, please do so. It’s about 2.5 hours of non stop drawing, but with a lot of live-answered questions and chats with Dan. Really fun to do and expect more of the same in the future.The trailer can be found HERE
The Baron Vladirmir Harkonen
Next up was the horrific visage of the baron Vladimir Harkonen. Like with Paul and frankly most of the cast of the Lynch film, he and others were tricky due to having been already so perfectly portrayed as to render another approach extremely difficult. I saw Dune before reading it, 14 years old as I was and so to me that cast IS the cast. Having Herbert also say so while working on the film made it even harder to forgo this. But one must. This was after all a love letter to the book, not the movie so they had to be specifically different. The Baron seemed a perfect candidate for a portrait of the Anti-Buddha, angry twisted with hate greed and power mad as he was, afflicted with the necrotic disease he received at the hand of The Reverend Mother Gaius Helen Mohiam who he attacked and sired Lady Jessica. He hold sin his hands the articles of Kanly, the forms of vendetta of one Great House against another, and a poisoned dagger, a favorite weapon of his.
Alia Atreides of Dune
St. Alia of the Knife, the Koan Teen and child born as a fully aware Reverend Mother thanks to her own mother taking the Water of Life while pregnant. Alia is one of Dune’s great tragic characters, but in the first book she is little else than kick ass and terrifying as a young child preternaturally ancient as she was. Hers is marred by the dark shadow of the Baron’s inner voice that would eventually consume her and drive her mad.
A Navigator of the Spacing Guild
While not a specific character as listed, I confess to swinging wildly between images of both the latter day Edric of the Spacing Guild and its founder, Norma Cenva, the first mutated Navigator. Again going up against the beautifully rendered filmic version was supremely hard to do, but a lot of fun as a challenge, the universe in her mind and the swirl of spice saturated gas all around allowing her to fold space and navigate through the universe unharmed.
Princess Irulan of House Corrino
Princess Irulan was in many ways the Dune Universe’s Melania Trump- a pretty objectified pawn at the hands of strong men of power.. but she would eventually toss her lot aside to become Paul Muad’Dib’s archivist and biographer and foster parent to his children. I always found her to be an interesting charachter in that she was never possessed of her own agenda, until later… essentially, like all actual princesses, a point of entry to power and consildated empires via marriage. Here in a weak gesture to guard herself against others, she is followed out by the four worlds that struggle to posses and exploit her for their own ends… Caladan, of House Atreides, Kaitain of House Corrino, Wallach IX of the Bene Gesserit and Arrakis.
The Lady Jessica of House Atreides
The lady Jessica bound Cpncubine to Duke Leto Atreides and Mother of Muad’Dib, hers is one of the more fascinating portraits of women in this imperialized universe. The entire course of its history hinged on her betraying her own sworn duties to the Bene Gesserit sisterhood from which she came by bearing a son to Leto to replace the one he lost via a previous wife killed in an attack by the Harkonens. She needed to be beautiful and imperial in her power but deeply vulnerable as she was…it was among the hardest ones to capture.
And Finally, good ole Thufir Hawat, Master Assasin and Mentat for three generations of Atreides- Paulus, Leto and finally Paul before being captured by the harkonens during their Emperor-backed sneak attack on Arrakis. An old classical warhorse of a man I had been itching to capture since this series started out. There’s a parental sweetness about him despite his stalwart seriousness and sense of duty as he served the Atreides like one would serve one’s own family. Also a great place to pause for a while.
SO It felt good to have finally done this- though I still feel drawn to redoing a number of them, insane person that I am, because I know I’ll never quite get it fully right in a way that will put me at rest. But I have decided this is a sign of the book’s depth and quality that also allows me to rediscover it and a million new unknown previous tidbits with each re-read. There are worse problems to have than this.
As always I thank everyone who supported this series as it rolled out- it really keeps me going sometimes. Until next month, I hope you all have a lovely Summer in July and get some serious drawing done. Summer break is for kids- so get hopping!
You can see the whole series and all the other 52 Weeks Drawings HERE.
If you’d like to order a copy of the book, which contains a sumi portrait of young Leto II, please go HERE.
Greg Ruth has been working in comics since 1993 and has published work for The New York Times, DC Comics, Fantagraphics Books, Dark Horse Comics, Harper Collins, Hyperion, Macmillan and Simon and Schuster amongst many others.
He has shown his paintings in New York, Houston, and Baltimore, and exhibited a series of murals at New York's Grand Central Terminal.
He has also helped craft music videos for Rob Thomas, and Prince, and has illustrated children's pictures books including; Our Enduring Spirit (with President Barack Obama), A Pirate's Guide to First Grade (with James Preller) and Red Kite, Blue Kite (with Ji Li Jiang), as well as many illustrated novels.
Greg currently lives and works in Western Massachusetts.