ROB DAVIS, Comic/Pulp Artist, Designer, Co-Publisher
AP –Thanks for stopping by All Pulp HQ, Rob. Let’s start with some biographical data. At the present, who is Rob Davis? Where do you live and what is you current occupation? Etc.
RD – I live in central Missouri near Columbia, home of the University of Missouri. When I’m not drawing, painting or working on designs on my computer I drive a bus for the Columbia Transit system.
AP –What kind of formal art education did you have?
RD – Most of what I do these days I taught myself, but I worked three years toward a Graphic Design/Illustration degree at what is now known as Missouri State University. The basics I learned there were a great foundation for what I ended up having to teach myself later.
AP –Were you a big comic book fan as a kid growing up? What was your favorite comic company, Marvel or DC?
RD – I read both Marvel and DC comics as a kid in the 60’s, though my favorite characters were those at Marvel. They just seemed more “real” to me somehow, though I certainly enjoyed what was going on at DC at the same time. I bought the Marvel comics off the stand and read the DC comics at the barber shop. Ha!
AP –Which graphic artists did you admire the most and which do you think had the most influence on your own style of drawing?
RD – Jack Kirby was/is a major influence. His dynamic storytelling and wild, exciting concepts were a magnet to lots of imaginative kids in the 60’s. I was no exception. It was his work that inspired me to try to become a comic book artist. Also, it wasn’t conscious, but I was told that some people see the influence of Curt Swan (long-time artist of Superman and the Legion of Super-Heroes at DC) in my work. After they told me that I thought about it and agree that Mr. Swan’s influence is definitely there.
AP – What was your first professional comic assignment? Who was the writer and for what company did this appear?
RD – Oh, my. Now you’re making me dig back! Ha! My first professional comics work was as a letterer for NOW Comics’ “SYPHONS” comic. I can’t tell you who the artist/writer was- we’re talking 1988-89, here-, but after that first issue I was made the inker of the strip too. After about 3-4 issues of that I also lettered and inked another book from NOW that never saw print and eventually penciller on DAI KAMIKAZE! Before my work at NOW I did some illustration work on Mayfair Games’ DC HEROES role-playing game.
AP – Describe the feeling of seeing your work published for the first time. Were you happy with it, or are you one of those critical types who sees where you’d have done things differently?
RD – I always see the flaws. Ha! I’ve been told that as an artist if you’re ever completely satisfied with your work, or stop growing and improving then you’re “dead” as a creative person. I’d tend to agree with that assessment.
AP – What other companies did you work for during your career?
RD – After NOW I worked for a number of years at what became MALIBU Comics. Perhaps my biggest individual and creative success there was on R.A. Jones’ SCIMIDAR. R.A. and I developed what I called a “synergy” working on the book where he’d send me page by page plot breakdowns that I would then interpret and send back to him to script- very “Marvel-style.” It turned into a “the sum is greater than the parts” thing where we amplified each other’s creativity. R.A. and I worked on a couple of other projects, most notably MERLIN.
Shortly after doing MERLIN I moved over to David Campiti’s INNOVATION Comics for a few issues of QUANTUM LEAP and a black and white mini-series, STRAW MEN. I then jumped back to Malibu to work on STAR TREK: DEEP SPACE NINE for its whole run there doing mini-series and backup work. At that same time I also did some work on DC’s STAR TREK titles, both the original series and Next Generation.
For Marvel I did a three-issue stint on PIRATES OF DARK WATER, a Saturday morning cartoon adaptation. This assignment grew out of conversations I’d been having with Marvel’s promotions manager, Carol Kalish. She was planning to start up a line of religious-themed comics there and I was in talks to be one of her stable of artists. We had all but sealed the deal. Unfortunately Carol collapsed and died from a heart-attack before we could get it going. It was her assistant who got me the connection to work on PIRATES.
AP – When did you leave mainstream comic works? Was it for purely economic reasons?
RD – Yeah. The mid to late 1990’s saw a collapse in the comics market. Marvel had bought out Malibu and initially promised not to shut it down, but after a couple of years they did. The started up their much-touted STAR TREK books which I had hoped to work on, but they decided to try a whole different approach to producing the books which meant using different artists. Just before that happened I had been tapped to be the regular artist on Malibu’s STAR TREK: VOYAGER comic- which would have been my first month-to-month work as regular penciller on any book since DAI KAMIKAZE! It would also have made me the only artist to work on every incarnation of STAR TREK up until then- STAR TREK, STAR TREK the NEXT GENERATION, STAR TREK: DEEP SPACE NINE, and finally STAR TREK: VOYAGER. Alas it never happened.
AP – Since then, you’ve actually illustrated several self-published projects. Tell us about those and how that came about?
RD – We need a bit of history here to explain it all, so bear with me. After I left NOW comics and went to Malibu NOW’S writer of THE GREEN HORNET, Ron Fortier, approached me to do a version of the character. I think I was being asked to do the 60’s TV version at the time, but my memory is a bit foggy. My break with NOW had not been amicable (a recurring theme there, I hear) so, though I would have loved to draw the character, I had to turn it down.
After that, Ron and I tried to put some other proposals together for various publishers, but nothing came of any of what I thought were some great ideas, sadly. Ron and I eventually lost touch, though we did trade Christmas cards for a while.
Then 5 or 6 years ago I was doing a weekly online comic strip called THE SPIRIT OF ROUTE 66 that Ron caught. He liked what I’d done and pitched me another strip for a startup comics site called ADVENTURESTRIPS.com. “Doctor Satan” lasted for about 32 episodes, if I recall, and then we folded up shop.
Ron being the idea guy that he is, he pitched me another project he’d been shopping around first as a movie script and then a graphic novel called DAUGHTER OF DRACULA. I knew I wouldn’t have the time necessary to devote to the book, though it was a worthy project. So, thinking Ron would reject the idea, I replied that in order to do the book it would have to come as one page per week. At 112 pages that meant it would take a while to complete. To my surprise Ron said “yes.” HA! Two years later I delivered the finished project pencilled, inked, lettered and gray-toned. Ron and I shopped it around, but we finally ended up publishing it ourselves through Ka-Blam and my own imprint: REDBUD STUDIO COMICS. Since then REDBUD has also published Ron and Gary Kato’s MR. JIGSAW. We’re up to seven issues now! We’ve also published a collection of Ron’s BOSTON BOMBERS mini-series from Caliber Comics.
AP – When did you first become affiliated with Airship 27 Productions? Was it your first exposure to the world of pulps?
RD – Initially Ron asked me to illustrate an online book HOUNDS OF HELL that eventually became Airship 27’s first printed book through WILDCAT BOOKS. As for it being my first exposure to pulp? No, that would have to be my initiation into pulp storytelling with TARZAN when I was in High School. I didn’t know it at the time, but that was pulp. One could also argue that comic books, which I’d been reading since I was eight, are essentially pulp. Then there’s Ian Fleming’s James Bond books and movies and similar stuff. Pulp is all around if you look for it. Ha!
AP – What is the big difference between sequential comics work and pulp illustrating, aside from the obvious number of images?
RD – Well, that’s a big part of it, but it’s more like doing a cover image with each illustration. You’re trying to tell a bit of the story in just one image as opposed to a series of images.
AP – What is it about pulp work that appeals to you as an artist?
RD – I’ve always loved telling stories and this is is just one more way to do it. It’s fun and challenging to try to figure out which scene to portray and then how best to present it. It’s some of the same challenges as comics work, but quicker.
AP – Beside artwork, you are also Airship 27 Productions’ designer. Is that a new hat for you and what kind of challenges does that particular task demand?
RD – It’s a “new hat,” as you say, but it’s an outgrowth of my early interest in design from my college days. I’ve really enjoyed learning to use the computer to do my illustration work, so it’s an outgrowth of that aspect too. Some days I’d rather sit down to work out the problems of a book’s design than sit at the drawing table. That’s saying something for someone who’s been drawing nearly every day for almost 30 years!
AP – You helped design the Pulp Factory Awards statue. Tells us a little about that?
RD – At the regular Sunday morning breakfast gathering of the Pulp Factory members at Chicago’s Windy City Pulp and Paper show it was proposed that we create and award for new pulp creators. As everyone else was talking the idea for what that award would look like popped into my head full form. I grabbed the napkin and sketched it out really quickly. Everyone approved it on the spot!
AP – Do you believe this renewed interest in pulp is a passing fad or do you believe it will be around for a long while?
RD- It’s hard to say. But I fully believe that pulps have never left us. It influences all sorts of things without us consciously realizing it. I mentioned James Bond earlier. Then there’s comic books and their attendant movie incarnations. Then there’s the pulp influence on action films. So, I don’t think pulp storytelling will ever go away, it just finds new was to manifest itself.
AP –Lastly, what’s coming down the road for Rob Davis and Airship 27 Productions that you’d like to give a shout out to here? Feel free to promote what you’ve got coming in the months ahead that will excite the pulp community.
RD – Well, I just finished up illustration and design for our next book: MYSTERY MEN (and Women) and sent it off to the proofreader. Once we have the cover finished up and the corrections made it will be off to the press! We’ve also got some great books in pipeline including sequels to our Sherlock Holmes and Robin Hood books that I’ll be illustrating and designing coming out next year. There’s never a moment to rest at Airship 27’s production facilities. HA!
AP – Rob, this has been both enlightening and a real pleasure. Continued success and many thanks.
RD – Thanks. I really enjoyed it.