Monday, June 4, 2012

Hellraiser Art Styles: the Good, Bad and Ugly...

Here's a funny one: Can't remember the single issue it appeared in, but a loooong time ago, i drew an short story for Marvel's version of Clive Barker's Hellraiser comic.  Unfortunately, I did an absolutely AWFYL job on this Hellrasier story (Sorry Clive!). So don't bother buying the trade, juts pick up a single issue in a bargain bin, much cheaper that way. 

So why am I throwing up a bunch of pages from it here then? Because, even though i tried WAY too many styles in it, most which didn't mesh at all. Even though i changed styles not just page to page, but panel to panel?  Despite all of that, i LEARNED more from watching it fall apart before my eyes.

Many of these same style that fought each other here, eventually flow together much better in future comics i'd draw. This story... for me, was like a textbook in how NOT to draw a comic book. 

I was also experimenting with photo ref, using an old friend of mine Tim, and his friend, a nice woman named Christina ... (who you can see here posing for this photo taken many years ago). Course Christina and Tim look NOTHING like they do in the panels below. But i wasn't going for realism.

So I used these photos to draw totally unrealistic... or 'surrealistic' figures. My goal was to see how wild things could get.. and maybe go down in flames doing something weird of different. Even if i failed, i was sick of trying to please everybody ELSE when i drew a story. 

I was dabbling with Sienkiewicz, used repidograph pen lines that i later used in Epicurus, some smooth brush work, some grungy rough brush work, a couple Moebius panels, some Kyle Baker ones, even some Frank Lloyd Wright architecture in one panel for kicks  - everything but the kitchen sink. 

Some of it was messy and down right ugly, some delicate and ornate, both styles weren't supposed to mix, the point was an abrasively  WIDE variety of textures. Lots of it didn't work either. But it wasn't supposed to. 

I threw it all in a blinder, but, just forgot to hold the LID down and it sprayed a HUGE MESS all over the ceiling. The coloring didn't help either. Couldn't blame the colorist or writer on this one though, it was totally MY fault in the black and white pages themselves. 

As i remember, editor at Marvel was 'less than pleased'... to put it mildly. Maybe understandably.

What i was unable to articulate at the time, and what my editor couldn't see was,  was that while it may have failed as a cohesive Hellrasier story, i was using it as a chance to strive for some NEW synthesis in my style.. try to stitch together 'crap that didn't even belong together'.

Sort of like those early Jae Lee efforts in Marvel Presents comics? Back when he was wildly experimenting and looked like a weird cross between Byrne and the Biz? I was trying to find my OWN way to throw elements together like firecrackers, even if it blew up in my face.  

and Blew Up it did.  Iaid low after that.. managed to survive the fall out from the 'accursed' story, and everything that didn't mesh in it, seemed to slowly blend together in later LATER stories, which set the stage for the Maxx, though i didn't realize that yet.  


So, let me leap forward a few years after all of this. 

One day i get a call from a some guy worked with with the Wachowski Brothers. This was when they had finished Bound yet, which i and seen and loved, so this defiantly was pre-Matrix. 

So this producer dude called me up, and said Andy and Larry had  wanted to know if I'd draw a comic book version of some movie called the Matrix to show to studio heads to get a green light. He pitched the plot over the phone, and i said it sounded more like something Geof Darrow would draw, lots of bullets, dark suits, and futuristic action stuff.. and he said Geof WAS doing some stuff on it already, and i said my stuff was too introverted and didn't seem to fit the plot he'd told me. 

Instead,  l told him i WISH i could have done story boards or a comic version of their FIRST movie Bound, ( once again, me think with lesbians - plus it was a tight little well plotted thriller)… since I REALLY liked Bound better. But that one had wrapped. He said they weren't doing stuff like 'Bound' anymore. I was bummed. 

So i politely 'passed' on the Matrix. Was it a mistake? In retrospect: Obviously, given it was a HUGE hit. Or maybe not. Style wise.. much as i liked the finished movie, I still think it would have bee a horrible fit for me to draw any part of that story. 

Not that there was a given i would have gotten the job in the first place.  The truth is, i doubt they were all that serious about me drawing the comic.  Remember this is through one of their 'people', not them. Probably just throwing feelers out, this producer was just sniffing out who might be willing to draw it, and who wasn't.  

So all moot now. I have a history of turning down big protects, designing the hulk on the Ane Lee Hulk feature.  I passed not out of ego, but i knew concept artist work rarely makes it to the finished screen. So maybe another bone headed move on my part? I'm still open to it, i'm not anti Hollywood, or i wouldn't have done the MTV animated series. i also know MOST of the time most things people create get watered down once the reach the screen. It's nothing personal, just the process.

But the reason i passed on the Matrix story board/comics stuff is why i choose a Hellraiser comic to have fun with. My style can work *against* the material if it's a bad fit. Maybe that happened on 30days? maybe not. Who knows?

Oddly enough, years later when i was a bigger name, Clive Barker and i once kicked around the idea my drawing a creator owned idea together. It never happened, but i sheepishly never had the guts to even draw his attention to that old Hellraiser story i did.


But seeing this old pre-historic relic got me reminiscing ... remembering various artistic experiments that some times worked... *because* they were so bat-sh*t crazy.. or others than went 'horrible wrong' despite all good intentions.

And THAT reminded me of OTHER regrets, or missed opportunities. Paths not taken. Even today. But, even this all thru this post i keep dumping on this story, i actually have a weird affection for it.  I would  probably STILL draw it the same way, if i had it to do over again.

Because even though i couldn't pull it all together at the TIME ... in act of Trying... somehow GOT me to the other side of the artistic pond I was drowning in. 

Turning down the Wachowski Brothers, inadvertently re-affirmed to me, that however much professionally, it was a stupid to pass on the Matrix? Personally, after seeing Darrow's amazing storyboarded comic, and the finished movie itself, wouldn't have NOT been the right fit for a goof ball like me, creatively speaking.

It also affirmed me i am RIGHT to seek out stories/projects that seem more tailored to my style.

So, in a weird way.... i have Any and Larry (later Lana) to THANK for my not being involved in the Matrix, even though i've never met either of them, and probably never will.

But back years before i passed on the Matrix, back when i was still struggling comics artists (and the Wachowski's were struggling to get movies and comic made), all this all was ZERO help to the Editor of the Hellrasier book i'd ruined. if i were him i'd have been furious about the pages too. He seemed baffled by 'how weird' my art got on this specific story from panel to panel even. He said, "it's not like you can't draw... so what the heck WERE you thinking sam?????? " 

 then he grew MORE pissed off to think i drew it this way maybe just to deliberately screw with him, poor guy.   

To be fair to him, he was right. They needed a regular horror artists to just do a regular Hellraiser story. It might not even be that successful of an experiment really..  art wise... drawing skinny figures with oddly shaped heads, was something i wouldn't pull off until much better later on. 

This was before Maxx too, so most editors hadn't a CLUE how weird i would eventually get yet. 

To cap it all off, I noticed i'd never known before. Not when it was written, or published, i didn't even notice it until *this weekend* ... when i digging the original art. I finally noticed WHO the writer the Hellraiser my old story was..... 

... Larry Wachowski ~ ! 


juvinwo said...

Lol wow Sam, what a crazy story!! Things always come full circle. Who would have thought?! But I can't wait to see more stuff you do. Everything you do is fantastic and us as hardcore fans are just along for the ride.

cody said...

Sam your trippn those pages are awesome, really great story. do you like Clives art, I really like his ink and charcoal drawings.

Marcus Collar said...

WOW WTF you need to publish the blog as a book someday if it's not already in proecess. I met Lana/LArry at Coppola's winery in Napa very shy and weird, I'm sure given the "changes". Recently I saw Bernie Wrightsons concept stuff for the Spider man movies with Toby MAguire and they looked NOTHING like the movie but were very cool and didnt have that sort of comic panle limitation just huge splash pages!! they were on sale for like $3,000 how much do you sell your originals for?
please do a con in Nor Cal!!

Derek Oberg said...

I met Neil Gaiman at a meet and greet once and asked him about his work with you. He said (to paraphrase) "I would actually love to work with Sam again. But only if HE called me with a project he was interested in. The thing about Sam is... Well, he's a very wierd guy. You never know quite where he's going to want to go." It made me laugh. But makes total sense at the same time. I've read you saying before that Sandman felt like being Hendrix as a member of the Beatles. If the marriage of styles is off, then no amount of work is going to save the finished product.

Mas said...

Depending on how closely they followed your designs (like they somewhat did with Darrow), I would've absolutely loved seeing your interpretation of some of the key points of The City on film.

Your art deco buildings and crazy architecture I think would've fit right in for Morpheus' crib (when Neo takes the pill choice) and the building where Cypher gets Morpheus' captured. Let alone the Merovinchian's digs (both in Reloaded and Revolutions).

Plus, there was some seriously dark/weird stuff going on in all three movies that I think you'd have really brought out.

If anything, that's always been kind of a failure to me that the Wachowski siblings didn't keep with the tone of the first movie and keep pushing. You can tell they wanted to, but instead they played it safe and went with incresingly bigger action (not that that's a bad thing) but the things that stick out the most/and most memorable overall for me was the concept stuff/ideas/character pieces.

the danman can said...

Fascinating post.
Personally, I'm glad you didn't do The Matrix as well.

I have all III of the Hellraiser: Collected Best GNs and I'm pretty sure that your story does not appear there.

I've been collecting the new Hellraiser ongoing series from BOOM! comics and passed on the Hellraiser: Masterpieces comics because I was under the impression that they were just reprints of the comics that were already reprinted in the Collected Best GNs.

But it looks like your story IS reprinted in this recent issue of Masterpieces...

...and will also be in this GN:

Tomek said...

It's actually quite impressing how you've managed to tell us a real-life story with an actual plot twist :)

I hadn't seen it coming :D

Jeff Lafferty said...

Beautiful stuff Sam.

Sjors Trimbach said...

Great story!

aftermathcomic said...

Hey Sam!

I have to disagree and say that these pages ARE AWESOME! I am a long time fan (and lurker), but I've never seen these and had to tell you that they are so insanely good. The bottom 3 panels in what looks to be page 7 blow my mind. The contrast between them is so beautiful! It's magic...

Btw, I am one of those "crazy" Sam Kieth inspired comic artists, myself. There's an army of us out there. (I posted with my blog ID).

If it weren't for you and the Biz, I might not have chosen to pursue comics (or art), at all. So, thanks!!

Arjan said...

Now that made for an interesting read! Plus an interesting look as well! These pages look great! I can imagine that from the perspective of the Hellraiser comic readers back then your art style isn't the most logical thing to digest, but purely speaking as a Sam Kieth fan I love what I'm seeing here! I managed to find a web page which shows some of these pages in colour and I do agree with your that the coloring didn't help. In fact, in black and white it looks WAY batter than in color:

What's with all the soft tone blueish, purpelish and greenish stuff going on there?

And I do understand your point that you thought you would not be the best person to do the Matrix thing. Yet I am very curious what you would have made of it! But I guess some things are better left to the imagination :)

Thanks again for sharing!

Aaron Desira said...

Ahh sam. Magic.

adrian said...

I miss those old days. Your old style. I miss those MCP stories and covers, DC covers, Epicurus and Maxx stuff etc. It was brillant :( I'd love to see AGAIN doing stuff like this.

adrian from Poland :P said...

* I'd like to see YOU again doing stuff like this... :P

aftermathcomic said...

Looking at the colored pages in the link... They definitely look best in BW. I think you would need somebody with an eye for abstraction to color these.

You shouldn't just lay a flat skin tone down behind the lines. It's not drawn in that style - sometimes the edges fade into the background or disintegrate into abstraction. If you make firm edge with the color where there wasn't one in BW, then you just DREW on Sam's work.

I love the pages that Sam colors by hand... They are my absolute favorite.

Anonymous said...

Wow, 20 some years later I see what you did with those photos!!

I wasn't a nice lady, I was just a happy geek, pleased to help. So glad it made some really incredible art! I'd love some kind of copy of it, scan or other. I'm cwodtke *everywhere* (i.e. the twitters, the facebooks)

Anonymous said...

I knew a guy that worked on the Matrix. He was still telling stories on it 5 years later. Telling stories ONLY about working on the Matrix, like it's the only good thing that had ever happened to him.

Blockbusters can be a curse, I guess.

Sam Kieth said...

Thanks for all the positive comments gang - and geek lady! : )

I'll see about getting you some scans of it cwodtke, least i can do after posing for it in the first place!

and hope i wasn't too hard on you adrian about the old days. Their cool too. Just what cody said about a 'sore neck'. ...or maybe it was me, i forget.

- sam

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