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During my research for this interview, I found myself learning an awful lot about another Mike Mayhew, who is apparently a Stuckist artist from New Zealand. It made me wonder if you’ve ever had to disappoint one of his fans, and also how many times he’s been asked to sign a Vampirella or Mystique book.
That’s the internet for you! There are a few prominent Mike Mayhews. We are legion. I am jealous that he has a Wikipedia entry and I do not. I have not run into any fans of his art.
Your overall style is very distinct, but you don’t really confine yourself to one method. How do you decide the approach when you’re starting a new project?
Time is the biggest factor. If time is short, I’m going to choose a simple style.
Next, what emotions do I need the audience to feel? Something sexy will have a different visual dynamic than something sad. I would probably approach comedy differently than a war story. If it’s a broad range of emotions, then I’ll pick a style I feel will portray many situations well.
Personally, I always admired the “auteur” directors in cinema that had a singular voice and vision, but would tackle all sorts of subjects and stories.
I like to bend my style to cater to each gig. I also try new techniques in my style with each gig. It keeps things feeling fresh and always feels like I’m always learning.
There was a great studio tour article about you a few years back, which showed off some of the weapons and other items you use for reference. In 20+ years of comic work, what is the craziest reference shooting you’ve ever had to do?
Probably for an issue of FEAR ITSELF: HOMEFRONT, where I had 3 hooligans attacking Speedball by trying to suffocate him with a plastic bag! Fortunately, the fellas I cast as the hooligans were friends with my Speedball model, so we had fun with it. I cut a tiny hole in the bottom of the bag so my Speedball model could breath, the pics looked super cool and scary when they pulled the plastic bag tight around his face with his frightened expression showing through.
Another crazy one was for SPAWN #179 where I rented actual WWI British Army gear for a story set in at the Battle of Somme. I wanted the shadows from the helmets to be correct on the model’s faces that I photographed. I live in LA, so 20 minutes away I was able to rent genuine WWI helmets and more from a Hollywood prop shop. I figure the cost was less than the anxiety I’d have looking at reference and trying to get the shapes on the helmets “just right” from every angle on my own panel after panel. It actually became a cool storytelling tool because in the photo shoot, you could angle the helmet to maximize an expression.
The Star Wars is a really unique book, and it obviously has the benefit of coming out during a period of major excitement for fans of the franchise. How did you come to be involved?
Sheer luck! As folks can see now in THE STAR WARS #0, there was another artist attached early on, and when he bowed out, I’m sure there was a frantic flip through the Rolodex (there’s an historical reference for ya). I’m lucky Scott Allie showed my samples to Randy Stradley, an editor that I’d never before had any contact with whatsoever. Never did anything for Dark Horse before this either. It was a really leap of faith for them to give me so much responsibility on this gig, but I’ve been chomping at the bit for years to show folks that I can produce event-level material on time.
What degree of conceptual freedom do you have on a book like that?
I had a lot of free reign, especially since time was of the essence! As a child, I was way, way into sci-fi and horror pre-1977, reading FAMOUS MONSTERS OF FILMLAND, watching TV in the early 70s with Saturday morning matinees, etc. I was also a lifelong student of cinema, and especially fascinated with independent filmmaking in the late 60s/early 70s. It was very easy for me to imagine being amidst the cinematic landscape of 1975 and having a young George Lucas approach me about space-opera concept. I think the tone I was hitting and the references I was touching on were exactly the type of thing that Randy and Jonathan were hoping for, and we just had a lot of fun with it.
I encouraged a lot of input from Jonathan Rinzler, the writer adapting George Lucas’ script, and Randy. I’m not in tune with STAR WARS in the 21st century, and those two know if something has been done already. Jonathan Rinzler, who also works at Lucasfilm, made available some never before seen concept art and opened the vaults for me to dig deep on artwork that was commissioned for this draft or thereafter.
Early on, I tried hard to imagine this not as a licensed STAR WARS book, but more like a creator owned book, between me and George. I aspired to give my own original vision into the adaptation and make it fresh and not lean on the “baggage” of 35 years of familiar Star Wars images. I hoped to make readers feel how thrilling it was to see STAR WARS for the very first time in ’77. I still remember seeing the trailer as a kid. I was a huge PLANET OF THE APES fan, so when I saw Chewbacca, I was sold. Little did I know he had my same last name!
That was compromised when I made the choice to use as much of the pre-existing art that was commissioned before, during, and shortly after this draft in my art for THE STAR WARS. I just felt it was too interesting to leave out these original designs and ideas, many of which were very, very well thought out already. I even had fun using them as “easter eggs” throughout for die-hard fans to notice and enjoy. I also felt like if THE STAR WARS was like the Marvel Universe, Ralph McQuarrie would be its “Jack Kirby”; the main architect and influence on how everything looked and felt.
Like many fans, I find myself having a lot of mixed feelings about the comic license moving back to Marvel after so many prosperous years at Dark Horse. On the one hand, DH has done a spectacular job with the franchise; on the other, my first comic was Marvel’s Star Wars #1. As someone closer to the inside of this situation, how are you feeling about it?
Well, I think right after I got on the project, the Marvel takeover had been looming large since news of Disney buying Star Wars had been around. I was even nervous during the initial production phase that somehow the plug would get pulled for some corporate reason.
The most negative thing about it from my perspective is that THE STAR WARS might not have the life beyond the singles and initial collections I was hoping for. My intention was to design a package that could be a perennial seller for retailers similar to KINGDOM COME or THE ULTIMATES. With STAR WARS interest at an all time high for the foreseeable future, I wanted THE STAR WARS to be an entertaining historical resource that young and old fans could discover and enjoy long term. I don’t have any reason to think the work will continue to be in print post 2015, nor be collected in any foreign language editions. I think that’s a real shame for Star Wars fans around the world.
You seem to have a fairly steady commissioned art business. Is there a particular character that is clearly the most popular among buyers?
Um…pretty girls? Yeah, I would have to say lots of pretty girl characters.
What about a personal favorite?
A couple personal favorites were a “circus poster” of DC’s Deadman with hand lettering and “torn edges”, and a painted recreation of Jim Steranko’s X-MEN #50 cover. I even got to show it to Jim himself!
I just wrapped up almost two years of writing Vampirella, and I have to confess the tiniest bit of disappointment that none of my stories have your work on the cover. There is just something about the way you present her that gets me every time: I find myself looking at her face first, and her body language in the scenario, and only then does the sexiness of the costume register with me. Is that intentional, or just my weird interpretation?
My work on Vampirella was the first time I “cast” the role with a live model. My concept was that the quality of the model will affect the quality of the work, so I went to the best place in town, Ford Models. Once I had the right girl I had the freedom to let my imagination run wild, knowing that no matter what I came up with, everything from the hands to the boots, to the hair to the nose, would look fantastic and perfectly “in sync”, with regards to the lighting and perspective and everything. I could even move the lighting or the camera around and have “coverage” of lots of choices to pick the most effective one. It does make for some captivating images and I’ve applied that process to all sorts of subject beyond pin-up girls ever since. It’s basically the same way I make THE STAR WARS.
What can we look forward to seeing from you this year?
THE STAR WARS will continue to come out until May of 2014. The collection will arrive in July I believe.
I am deep in thought over my next project right now. I feel the need to do something even bigger than THE STAR WARS. I feel am capable of that. Being forced to push myself to do this much work and take on this much responsibility has empowered me to really think outside the box. The broader exposure we’ve had combined with seeing how much work it takes to make and keep the sales we have has really opened my eyes in regards to what it takes to make great comics. I can see where I’ve limited myself in the past, and I want to use THE STAR WARS as a springboard for a bold, new direction in my career.
NEW! 1. 09/24/2020 - MICHELLE CZAJKOWSKI FUS
2. 09/22/2020 - CHRISTOPHER PRIEST
3. 09/17/2020 - CRAIG HURD-MCKENNEY
4. 09/14/2020 - SHELDON ALLEN
5. 09/11/2020 - GARTH ENNIS