ALL PULP INTERVIEWS MIKE FYLES, PULP ARTIST!
AP: Mike, thanks for stopping by All Pulp for an interview! Before we get to the nitty gritty, tell us a bit about yourself, personal background type stuff.
MF: My working week (of four days) takes place with students in a local College here in Staffordshire UK. My job is to provide them with further opportunities outside of the classroom. I used to teach more formally across a wide spectrum of subjects but I like the fact that I can now introduce students to more than the specified aspects of a syllabus. Around this job and a typical family life I get to pursue my artistic interests. I have been drawing and making things for as long as I remember, and what I remember best about doing it was how it has always been a motivation. I played out a lot as a child, walked to school, climbed trees, collected insects, and when it was rainy, stayed in and played with scale model figures and tanks, built nearly every evil hideout and spaceship I could with household items, and drew and traced a lot of pictures. Two comics came to our house every Saturday with the newspaper boy, one for me and one for my brother and together we read our way through The Beano, The Dandy, Topper, and Smash, and then we graduated to the Victor, the Valiant, and finally Look and Learn and TV21. We also used to revel in the old films and serials that were screened at our local cinema for children. When the first wave of American comics came to our local newsagents in the 60’s it was overwhelming. I just couldn’t get enough of them, but between friends we were able to collect different titles and then swap them to read. Nowadays my leisure time is more eclectic but does still involve comics, watching old films, swimming, and watching and playing cricket.
AP: How long have you been a working artist? Where can readers see some of your work as far as published things go?
MF: I’m far from being what I would call a ‘working artist’, still having to pay the bills with a day job, but I’ve been much more in demand in the last five years or so. It would be nice to spend more time producing artwork for other people’s projects and to be sometimes paid for it, but I’m a little too old in the tooth, at 55, to do anything now other than enjoy each opportunity as it arises. A friend once said that I was a good proponent of the view that at the point you get better at what you like doing, someone will notice!. The most prominent examples of published work are the Marvel cover commissions. There were four for an Iron Man Noir mini-series in the Marvel Noir collection and four for The Grim Hunt story arc in the long running The Amazing Spiderman comic. I’ve two covers and nine interior illustrations published for Airship 27/Cornerstone’s Green Lama and Green Lama: Unbound, with a comic and new GL novel to come this year. There are some very nice bookmarks that previewed ant the New York Comic Con last year and I’ve some pulp art in the three downloadable Commander X Christmas specials by Jay Piscopo. I’ve also a cover gracing a fine Elastic Press short story collection by Mat Coward called So Far, So Near.
AP: You definitely have an affinity for pulp style art. Are you a pulp fan? Who are your major artistic influences?
MF: I don’t count myself as a ‘pulp fan’, in the strict sense. I’m not a collector or for that matter an avid reader of pulp fiction – although I’m really enjoying some of the reworking of pulp characters going on at the moment. I began exploring the genre initially for the cover art work on old pulp magazines and paperbacks. I particularly liked the images that had more than just a basic illustrative aspect, the ones that really implied a compelling story or narrative. I also really began to appreciate the context of their production, and the skills of the commercial artists producing them. The whole idea of producing ‘faux’ covers was so that I could pretend to be working to similar constraints and schedules. I have a soft spot for the commercial illustration of the mid 20th Century that was made to promote ‘popular’ fiction and non fiction (especially children’s annuals, pulp magazines, paperbacks and comics). There is so much creativity and artistic competence to be found on the covers and within the pages of even the most mundane examples that it is difficult to credit any artist in particular as an influence – so my answer is, all the artists I’ve liked enough to ask, “How did they do that?”I have a soft spot for the commercial illustration of the mid 20th Century that was made to promote ‘popular’ fiction and non fiction (especially children’s annuals, pulp magazines, paperbacks and comics). There is so much creativity and artistic competence to be found on the covers and within the pages of even the most mundane examples that it is difficult to credit any artist in particular as an influence – so my answer is, all the artists I’ve liked enough to ask, “How did they do that?”
AP: Does pulp art have a place in modern times? There’s this obvious renewed interest, some even say ‘renaissance’ in pulp fiction. Do you agree that pulp is making a comeback and, if so, is art a relevant part of that?
MF: I think that for most ‘revivals’ to be successful, or long lasting, they require a certain authenticity, otherwise people just won’t be able to sustain their interest.
Art (and Design) were important factors for the original pulps, and it already seems they are just as important this time around. The constituency and context might be different now, but an interest and demand for the characteristics (and stylings) we associate with the genre is very evident. What I like most in what I’ve seen to date, is that some writers and some artists are trying to ‘reframe’ these elements for a more modern audience and sensibility. It would be nice to see that enterprise grow both commercially and artistically.
AP: You’ve done some work for the comics recently, including Marvel’s IRON MAN: NOIR. Is working for a comic company different than putting together a piece for a novel or magazine?
MF: Very different indeed! The work I’ve produced for Marvel has so far all been cover art. All the briefs started with background/scenario and usually some visual reference material. It was then a case of submitting ideas, which it is sensible not to over work (and which of course I did), because of the changes you might have to make to your artwork. Once a decision has been made by the series editor, and I think they have to pass it by a higher authority (known as Joe Q), you can concentrate on the final art work. The main difference for me was deadline, which was always sooner and stricter than I had bargained for. If you were working full time to produce work for the company I think you would have to be well organized and fix on your ideas and concepts quickly. What was particularly nice about the editors I worked for, Jeanine Schaefer and Stephen Whacker, was how pleasant and encouraging they were. There’s some talk about producing some more work for Jeanine in the near future.
AP: The NOIR concept definitely has pulp overtones. Do you think comics and pulps are taking full advantage of the ties they have to each other or could there be more pulpy comics, more interaction between the two genres?
MF: That’s an interesting question and maybe, yes, more could be achieved. My overview is far from extensive but I have noticed that it’s comic creators, rather than pulp writers, who tend to try and address the issue most. I’m thinking Mike Mignola, and more recently Darwyn Cooke, particularly his, ”The Outfit”, which retells one of Richard Stark’s Parker novels in various pulpy/retro styles and combinations. I would quite like to be involved with a prose and illustration story that took equal shares of the narrative but that didn’t just revert to comic book format for the storytelling.
AP: You’re also the artist on Airship 27’s/Cornerstone Books’ THE GREEN LAMA: UNBOUND as well as upcoming Green Lama projects. Is this just another gig for you or do you have particular interest in bringing the Green Lama to life?
MF: No, it’s not a commercial commitment anymore; I do genuinely want to contribute to the development of all the Green Lama characters. I actually enjoy making pictures which are not directly tied to any preconceived narrative, precisely because it’s a fictitious world I like to explore. Infact, while I was awaiting Adam Garcia’s draft of Green Lama: Unbound, and for Airship 27’s decision on what scenes they wanted me to illustrate, I kept on producing pictures. I’m not sure how exactly but Adam has said repeatedly that some of them directly influenced the content and direction of his story. It’s a very nice relationship to have with a writer, when your contribution extends to that kind of creative development. In fact my working relationship with Adam is very special.
AP: This goes back a bit to the comics/pulp discussion before. You’re working on a Green Lama comic story for Airship 27. Is there any difficulty in translating the Lama from pulp to comics for you? Does the character lend himself to both?
MF: I didn’t think about that too much, mainly because Adam has already done such a good job moving The Green Lama, and his friends, away from shallow characterization. I like to think that good characterization, with characters we grow to care about, balanced within a plot that keeps us interested, should be workable with most formats. My initial thoughts were actually concerned with my lack of experience of the comic book format, knowing full well how challenging it can be. Fortunately, Adam and Ben Granoff, passed over a very good script to work from, and which, interestingly, further developed two of The Green Lama’s lesser known associates, Gary Brown and Evangal Stewart. I think it works, especially because the comic has been designed to bridge the gap between Green Lama Unbound and the forthcoming Crimson Circle.
AP: Walk us through your process. When you start working on an art piece, what goes into preparation and such? Are there any special techniques you use?
MF: Once I’ve made important decisions in a sketch book I use the 3D computer programmes Poser and Vue to set up scenes/scenarios, incorporating costume designs and poses, just like a stage director/architect might ‘dress rehearse’ with models for visualization. I like to experiment with viewpoints and lighting, and both applications provide this function as a basic given. In all honesty I don’t really need many of the higher functions they have grown to incorporate over the years – most of which are devoted to the ever elusive search for realism. The result of this process is always a ‘rendered’ image that is either used as a reference, like photographs were used by commercial artists for traditional painting, or has been optimized in some way for digital painting in Photoshop/Painter. The best solution is when the ‘rendered’ image can function something like ‘under painting’ in traditional work, where the basic elements of the picture are available and can be refined. It is stating the obvious to those who choose to work digitally but a ‘digital toolset’, as they call it, really does provide a ‘working process’, and I state ‘process’, that cannot be equaled by traditional methods. I find it acts as a spur to my ‘creativity’ as well as improving the opportunities of working commercially. In a modest way illustration again becomes fairly cost effective so there must be some other reason why the popular print media still opts for an almost default use of photography to illustrate it’s pages.
AP: There’s a lot of talk within the pulp community about whether or not pulp characters should be fitted into the molds we all identify them with and/or left in the past, in more ‘pulpier’ times or if the envelope should be pushed and pulp characters should hop into the modern era. As an artist and a fan, what are your thoughts on this?
MF: That’s another very interesting question. I certainly think there is still a place for heroic characters, toughing it out in light plot orientated fiction, but I think that they should now become something more than just a collection of personality traits. What I’m not so sure about is whether they can do this in modern times, because of how close we are to the actual events that might be portrayed. A late nineteenth or early twentieth setting, beside the wonderfully varied content it tends to provide writer and artist, also allows the reader the opportunity to sit back and enjoy the ride, without ‘real’ life interfering too much.
AP: What work do you have coming up that would interest pulp fans in say, the next year?
MF: Well, I’ll be producing a cover and interior illustrations for Adam Garcia’s second Green Lama Novel: Crimson Circle, from Airship 27/Cornerstone, which is a sequel to Unbound as well as a sequel to the very first Green Lama story in the original pulps. The comic short, “Green Lama and the Dealers of Death,” should also be available soon from Airship 27. And an original short by Adam Garcia, called “Final Column”, which I’m producing the cover for, will be included in Vol. 3 of Altus Press’s Green Lama reprints release. I’ve also been creating some pulp illustrations for Peter Miller of docsavagetales blogspot who plans to release some e-book stories featuring his Clark Tyler character. I also think it’s about time I started to make some original art and prints available for purchase.
AP: Mike, thanks so much for your time!
MF: Well, thank you for the opportunity. Best wishes. Mike Fyles.