This is my interview with Dave Dorman on Thursday, August 5, 2010. During our conversation, we talked about his career as a comic artist, the development of his style, his new book Rolling Thunder: The Art of Dave Dorman, and finally the exciting news with his title The Wasted Lands! I hope you enjoy the interview as much as I did!
A special thanks to two special people: Denise Dorman for helping me set up the interview and Cindy Nicholas for transcribing the hour long cassette tape!
Ed. – I first became aware of Dave Dorman in 1996 when I visited a friend who had two of Dave Dorman’s limited edition prints (Obi-Wan Kenobi on Tatooine and Alien vs. Predator) hanging on his wall. I began to research Dave Dorman and luckily was able to purchase some of these prints through the miracle of the internet. I had the great fortune to meet Dave at Star Wars Celebration III in Indianapolis and was struck by his kindness to his fans. Not only did he take time to talk to his fans, but upon request also drew special remarques on the prints that made each of those prints a truly special item.
I have followed Dave ever since; not just because I love his art (I do) but because he is a genuinely nice person. How rare is it not to be disappointed by those public figures that you admire? Dave stands out about the crowd with his talent and his friendliness which I think is easy to see throughout this interview. I urge you to pick up Dave’s book and maybe even a print or two! You will not be disappointed!
Mickey: What were your favorite titles growing up as a kid?
Dave Dorman: I was reading Fantastic Four, The Avengers, Tales to Astonish with Captain America, and Iron Man, Tales of Suspense with Dr. Strength, DareDevil, Spiderman, most of the major Marvel comics, I really never started reading DC until the mid 70’s. I don’t know why that is, probably because the comics that were bought, were bought by my brother and he’s a big marvel fan. So I had to like until I started to afford my own comic books. It was definitely the Marvel family I was involved in.
M: When you were starting to draw these characters did you come up with any of your own ideas through this point?
DD: At this point, I was just working on the art and trying to do the best to draw Spiderman to look like Spiderman, or Mr. Fantastic to look like Mr. Fantastic and for him to look like his rocky, orange self. It wasn’t until I was in, probably Junior High, that I started thinking that it might be fun to create my own characters. And so I had a couple of friends who were comic book collectors and we’d sit around and I’d draw some characters and they’d say, hey what about doing something with a guy with this kind of power with a cape, and you know a big hood or something like that. We’d talk about it, and you know, I think probably along those lines, I drew a couple of comics, a couple of pages in my simplistic style back in Junior High or High School, but they’re lost in time, yeah, I was part of that influence – that kept me going.
M: Did you have any formalized art training through this early part of your life?
DD: No, I had nothing formal, as far as art training, until I got to my Senior year in High School and then I took an art class, but you really can’t call that formal art training per say, it was more just, you know, a class where the teacher said, you know, here’s what we’re going to do today. Draw or make pottery or whatever, a typical high school class. Um, it wasn’t until I left High School, that I took two years of formal art training, one year at Saint Mary’s College of Maryland, in Southern Maryland. I had started painting at this time and so, the curriculum at Saint Mary’s was more of a painting curriculum and I learned a bit there about painting. I especially learned art history which was real good for me to be exposed to, so much different types and styles of art through history that really opened my eyes to what was out there, and then I decided to follow my dream and after one year at Saint Mary’s, I went to the Joe Kubert school, this was in 1979, the Kubert school opened in ’78 so I was in the second year of the school and at that time, it was strictly comic book and advertising illustration. It was black and white line work and drawing to teach the students how do proper illustration and how to do comics. Now the school is very multi-media oriented. They have drawing, painting, computer animation. The school has grown quite a bit since I was there, but when I was there it was strictly, comic book illustrations. I spent a year there and learned quite a bit about drawing and about storytelling comics and such. But, at that point, I was painting, and I felt more comfortable in doing single illustrations, full-page panels or in the case of painting, doing one painting to tell a story. After the first year I was there, at the end of the first year, I talked with Joe Kubert, and we talked for a couple hours about art in general and my direction, and he said “ the only direction he saw me going” (and he was right) you know, I was going in the painting direction, and he said “the school just didn’t have anything to offer me anymore, beyond that first year because they had no painting curriculum” at the time, and so I left there and went back to teaching myself. So I have limited education as far as structured teaching, so I really do consider myself pretty much self -taught as far as that goes.
M: Do you have any favorite period of art that you look back on for your paintings today?
DD: Yeah, I consider, the Golden Age of Illustration, like 1910 – 1940, something that I look back on with great interest. It was a time, that Norman Rockwell was doing work, Saturday Evening Post was producing you know, scads of illustrations, NC Wyeth and Maxfield Parish J.C. Leyendecker and these great names and classic illustration were all working at that time. So, the knowledge gained from the art history class was a knowledge of world art and it’s context within the time frames that they were in, it certainly opened my eyes to a lot of different techniques and, the meaning of what was being done at any particular moment in time, but because I wanted to follow illustration, art history is more about gallery paintings, classic stuff, even though a lot of that work could be looked at as illustration and storytelling, it’s still sort of set in the classical form, very straight forward approach to the material, where illustrations during the Golden Age were more experimental in the storytelling using different compositions and color to tell the story more so than the classic imagery from history. That’s what really grabbed me visually, were artists like Rockwell, Leyendecker, Wyeth, and it’s just beautiful work and I took that to heart and that’s really my favorite time as far as art goes.
M: So what was your first job?
DD: Well, you know when I was much younger before I actually got my first paying gig in the comic’s field, I would do graphics and illustrations for advertisers/advertising companies locally, business card drawings, ads for newspapers, wherever line work or illustration was needed in the local area just to get work going. It wasn’t until 1982, during a trip to New York, that I was able to make my first big sale with Heavy Metal Magazine, selling them a cover painting directly from my portfolio, something already rendered as a sample, and that’s where I count my start in the business. I was excited and grateful that they found something for their magazine, which to me was a very prestigious start, and I feel very lucky that I have my start with them.
M: When you start a design for a cover, how much information do you get from the creator of the storyline in terms of developing the scene that they or you are trying to convey?
DD: It all depends on the project, the materials that I get from any particular publisher or editor, can be as little as two or three sentences, describing a scene, or it can be a whole comic script or a full novel text if I’m doing a paperback cover. Most editors or directors know my work going into the job, so they trust me with coming up with a design that will work for them, usually, it’s material that I am familiar with so, we don’t have to go through a bog history of what it is, Star Wars, Batman, Aliens those are fairly popular things I have done for many, many years. If I was being hired to do, say a magic trading card for the Magic The Gathering Game, they constantly have new characters introduced, new story lines and such, so they put out a bible which is a book of the whole series they are working on, so that the artist can know exactly the characters and the worlds that they are dealing with and then the art director would give the artist a very specific description of the art that they would want. So, it just varies from project to project and editor to editor what type of information I get before I start on my sketches.
M: Do you like to be given free rein in terms of these developments, or do you like to have a little bit more instruction as to which way the creators want to go?
DD: Well, certainly the more free rein that I get in producing the sketches and the final art, the happier I’ll be, because I’m not being constrained creatively by somebody else’s view of what they would like, but as a commercial artist, I certainly am aware that they are hiring me to do a piece of work, so if they want something done in a very specific way, that is their right and if I’m not happy with it, I can turn the project down, but there are challenges to taking somebody else’s ideas and making them work, both visually and trying to add a personal artistic touch to their idea. So, no, it doesn’t really matter how much or how little information that I get, I try to do the best that I can with what I have.
M: I was looking back through the Star Wars art of Dave Dorman book that I have and I noticed with a lot of the covers and the designs that you were drawing, that there seemed to be common elements. First, you have a collage where you are conveying a story through some of the characters and elements in the story. Next, you have (my favorite), a portrait whereby you take a character and conveying a message or emotion through your art. Finally, you paint grand action scenes depicting dueling or a large battlefield. That might be a very simplistic version of what you do, but in terms of those themes, what is your favorite to do?
DD: That’s a pretty hard question because I enjoy pretty much all that I do. I am very much a character painter, so the character portraits might be a little closer to my heart than the other pieces, just because I can concentrate on making that character more than just paint on a board (if that makes any sense). The action pieces and the montage pieces, they’re part of a whole. When I get a project, say, Dark Empire or Crimson Empire, that is a series project, I like to look at the whole series as a group of pieces that have some sort of visual tie that brings them together, rather than just being diverse and cover elements. One of the benefits of doing a series is being able to visually catch the readers eye immediately when that book is on the stand. And without them even having to read the title of the book, they know by the design, or the elements within the cover that it’s a Dark Empire book, or a Crimson Empire book, or whatever series. So, that’s definitely a conscious thing in my head as I progress through series covers. If I’m doing a single cover obviously, first is what the editor wants, if they want an action cover, montage cover or something different. And then I can add my input as well, saying a montage cover might not work quite as well because the readers are already familiar with the characters, maybe placing them in an action cover or even a cover that’s less action and more sedate…more character oriented might work. So, I do have my input. I would have to say that doing a character cover is probably a bit more close to my heart because I can put a bit more of myself into them.
M: I asked that question as a setup because I have some of your prints from the Star Wars Celebration conventions and it seems that you like to portray concepts that aren’t necessarily shown in the movie. In particular, the Stormtrooper attack on the Tusken Raiders ~ a battle that you never saw but was hinted during a conversation between Luke Skywalker and Obi-Wan in Episode IV. Having a sneak peek of what you plan for Celebration V, I would think that it would be fun in imagining something that no one has ever imagined before.
DD: Well, yeah, there is a good excitement in doing those pieces, I originally started in with those in Celebration for doing the literators persuasion piece which was a full blown battle scene featuring Darth Vader on a battlefield with his troops, something that was not in any of the films, actually, and I think a lot of fans and especially the 501st Members, wanted to see Darth Vader out in front of his troops leading them and giving them his troops the strong leader that Vader is. Not just somebody who sits back and directs the battle through a hologram. In doing that, and getting Lucas film’s approval, in rendering a scene that potentially could have been filmed, but wasn’t, I sort of opened a door for myself to be able to do that (to take potential things that could very well have fit into the script and fit into the filmmaking, but for one reason or another, weren’t considered or weren’t part of the script and I’ve jumped on that with the Jundland Wastes print I did for Celebration in Europe, you’re right, I took a kernel of dialogue from New Hope with Luke and Obi-Wan and fleshed that out into a full blown scene which Lucas Films hadn’t even considered. When I approached them with this particular subject and they were really excited to see me take that tact with the artwork and establish that scene as a potential scene that could have been filmed and now that they’ve approved it and it’s part of the canon of the Story of New Hope, I feel real good that I had been able to add that, just little twist, within the history of the Star Wars universe. The new piece that I am doing for Celebration V, once again, we go back to Vader and just taking a kernel of information from the Battle of Hoth, where Luke Skywalker has been shot down in his snowspeeder, he escapes the burning speeder as the Imperial Walker comes up and steps on it and then Luke uses his tether to zip up and then throw a grenade into the underbelly of the walker and have it explode. I was thinking that it would be interesting to see what would happen if Darth Vader was on that battlefield, because we do know he was there ~ he walked into the cave in Hoth as the imperials took over the rebel base. So we know he was there on the battlefield. The scene I am depicting is Darth Vader and his 501st squad coming upon the wrecked Snowspeeder and him feeling a small disturbance in the Force as he stands over the crushed snowspeeder. So, Lucasfilms really liked that and it was a very interesting scene to portray. I think it’s turning out to be a really fun piece to do and the 501st members are going to like it as well.
M: You were voted the best Star Wars artist in 1998 by Star Wars Magazine, can you tell me how that came about and how you learned of that and what your feelings behind that were?
DD: The award for Best Star Wars artist was quite a surprise. I hadn’t anticipated anything like that happening. It came from Star Wars Magazine and I guess they got a pull somewhere along the way and I found myself winning that award. I do this work because I love it, I’ve done it for so many years because it’s such a pleasure to be involved in this world and these characters. It’s such a big world to play in and so I don’t think about awards or whatever, when it comes to doing the work. I sit and I take myself into a different world, into Lucasfilms World and I play there, produce art and I just love what I do. So to be honored through the award of Best Star Wars artist was a great thing to be given. I don’t consider myself the best Star Wars artist, I think there’s a lot of great artists that do it a little better than me, but the fact that the fans appreciate what I do and enjoy it as much as I enjoy producing it ~ is very satisfying and I feel very privileged they love that work so much. I keep doing it because I love it and I am very happy that I still have these fans that have stayed with me for years, and years and years just waiting to see me and see what I can produce time after time after time. I do thank them for that and they will keep seeing more.
M: You have a new book, Rolling Thunder: The Art of Dave Dorman. What led you to develop the idea for this book?
DD: Well, as an artist that has been working in the illustration field for almost thirty years, I have quite a bit of art under my belt. It’s always been in the back of my head, something that I would like to see done for the fans as well as making my mark in the industry ~ is a collection of work showing what I’ve done over this time. The work that I do is very diversified and a lot of my fans don’t realize how much I have done over the years in different areas of the business. The Star Wars people don’t know that I have done toy designs, and the comics people don’t know that I do Star Wars, there is some cross over, but some people don’t realize that and so I have been hoping that at some point I might be approached by a publisher to do a collection, and last year, that happened. Joe Pruett, from Desperado Books, approached me. He started doing art collections of various other artists in the field and asked me if I’d be interested in doing one and I said, absolutely! So that got the ball rolling and Desperado merged with IDW which is one of the bigger publishers in the comics field, which was good because that will give be a bit more exposure and bigger advertising push behind the book and such. So we got the book together in the spring, and it just came out two weeks ago, and premiered at the San Diego convention. It’s a hefty, 328 page, 5 pound book featuring my 28 years in the business and it’s a very good overview. Not only does it have art from each genre I’ve worked in and art from the 28 years, but also about me and my family, it talks about my grandparents, parents and me and things that happened…things that are hopefully interesting. My fans and followers might be interested in knowing about me, but you know mostly it’s just art, page after page of art, and I’m very satisfied with the way the book turned out and the reproductions and I think it’s a great collection. One of the funniest things about this, is we were putting it together and I was going through, and I thought, I’m not going to have enough artwork to fill this book, and as we were going through, I would say that the book may be ¼ of the art that I have done in my career. There is just so much stuff that we had to leave out of the book. I was surprised at how much I’ve done in my career. It covers comics, movie pre-productions, toy designs, paperback and hardcover books, aliens, predators, Star Wars, Indiana Jones, Batman, oh just everything. There’s a little bit of something in there for everybody!
M: And then you are donating 10% to USA Cares. Why is that organization important to you?
DD: USA Cares organization is an organization that helps families of military cope financially with things that have happened in their lives due to parents being involved in military whether or hardship or being wounded or killed oversees, or just anything. It’s being a military son myself. I’m living in a military family, I know, what it’s like and I just wanted to give back a little bit to the military for what they gave me and how proud my father was to be in the Air Force helping his country/our country over the course of his time in the military. It’s a way of giving back basically.
M: You mentioned San Diego Comic Con is when you rolled out the new book, but you also won the Inkpot Award. How did that come about and tell me about that experience?
DD: Well, the Inkpot Award is given by San Diego as sort of, two ways, outstanding contribution to the comics field and then there’s a lifetime achievement part as well, someone who has contributed a greater part of their life working and making the field better. So they give that out every year to a group of artists as sort of a “Thank You” for being in the industry. It’s a very small club and I was very surprised, but very honored this year to have been given the Inkpot Award. I had no idea this was going to happen, I just went to my panel to do a discussion and one of the organizers introduced me to the room and said that he had a little surprise for me and he pulled out the award and gave it to me…I was stunned – really. I am lucky to be involved in this business because I enjoy doing the work so much and once again, like the Star Wars award, the Inkpot was just something that says “Thank You” from the people that enjoy my work that show me what I’m doing in the solitude of my studio is meaningful to people and that to me helps me keep going day after day as I work quietly in the studio.
M: Well, I guess now the big announcement, and what’s going to be posted on The Wasted Lands Facebook page, let’s talk about The Wasted Lands. What were the origins for your creation of this new world?
DD: The origins go back probably about 15 years, I can’t remember the exact date, but Skybox Company was doing a lot of card making comics field back then, and they approached me with a computer game that involved trading cards and the game involved 5 different worlds created by 5 different comic book creators at the time. I was asked to be involved as one of those creators and basically, it was creating characters that fit within a world, little games, mazes and mysteries within the computer game that you could attach the card to and be able to move on. So there’s an odd combination of cards and computers. So my world, I created was called Projectile World. And it just involved, basically creating characters out of my head that didn’t need to necessarily fit within any storyline, but just characters that I found interesting to myself ~ visually or with a little tag line and story. I created 24 characters for this project and after the project was done, it came out and it was called Skybox: Into the Vortex, I believe that’s what the game was called. It did fairly OK for what it was, it disappeared into the vortex, is what I am saying. But, the grain of an idea was planted within those 24 characters I created. The characters, I eventually pulled out 12 of them and started working up backgrounds for those characters to tie in with this other idea I had been thinking about for a graphic model. Since the characters were already created as far as the visuals go, I set to work in writing this graphic novel tying in characters, creating more characters, and introducing elements within the storyline that I found from various other mediums. I was taking bits and pieces from Sergio Leone films, from European graphic novels, from movies that I’ve enjoyed, from books I’ve read, various matters of things that have given me enjoyment over the years. And then I put them in the mixer and we’re coming out with a storyline that I think is very interesting and has a unique twist to it with characters that readers will care about. So I came up with umbrella name of Wasted Lands because the setting of this world is a number of large cities connected by railways through the empty space between the cities (the Wasted Lands) unoccupied areas. It’s basically a post industrial world. It’s not like war or anything has destroyed the world. It’s just industry has grown so much that the fallout of the waste and pollution has basically made parts of the world basically uninhabitable. It’s not like a Mad Max type of world. It’s still civilized. It’s got its good guys and bad guys, very much Steampunk/Goth aesthetic. So I’m just taking it and running.
M: Do you have a fully realized storyline that would promote itself for graphic novels more so than episodic, or is that something you are producing now?
DD: I have produced one graphic novel called Rail, that is the first of what I have in my head as 3 or 4 more graphic novels that tell the first story of the Edge and his partner and a couple other characters that come together to fight this grand evil in the big megalopolis city of Mortal City and that sort of comes to a righteous conclusion…so yes, I do have the first arc of a story almost written as a series of graphic novels that basically tell one story. I have produced some other sideline material which produced single characters on their own adventures, but they are not part of the grand arc graphic novels.
M: So what are your future plans in terms of The Wasted Lands? You’re going finish the stories and then what are you going to do?
DD: The grand plan is to finish the stories and then I am talking with a publisher about repackaging the first rail of graphic novels. It’s been about 10 years. Unfortunately, I had some legal situations I had to straighten out before I could get back to the project and then life sort of sidelined me a little bit, but now I’m back to it. We’re going to repackage the first graphic novel with a lot of background material, subsequent artwork that was done and then continue with the other 3 or 4 graphic novels as I write them, I’ll decide how far I need to go (3 or 4) and I’m hoping to do those at one a year for the next 3 – 4 years and then complete the series. We are talking with some higher up people about the potential about doing this as a film, or a limited TV series and we have some other things coming up as far as figure names and doo-dads and novelties, merchandise as we get this train rolling. Hopefully we’ll pick up a lot of fans as we move along. I’d say try to be the next Star Wars, but that’s not going to happen! As long as fans are happy with what I’m producing…I’m going to keep doing it. I do it for myself first and I hope the love that I’m putting into it, the fans will enjoy what I’m doing too!
M: As a lover of pop culture, have you been inspired by the successes of the independent comic book titles coming out to Hollywood?
DD: Sure that certainly is something very exciting to see – the past couple of years. The independent publishers being looked at for source material rather than just the main Marvel and DC Superhero books. So, yes, it would be nice. Like I said, we do have some people looking into the project right now, to move it into live action TV or movies and I think it is the right time and we’ll keep our fingers crossed.
M: Seems to me that some of the more popular titles/comic book stories we grew up with as kids, are hit or miss when it comes to Hollywood in terms of the storyline. Every single comic movie we see begins with origin stories which quite frankly seem repackaged. Do you perceive The Wasted Lands starting with an origin story or being in the same line as an independent movie such as Kick Ass or 300?
DD: You know, it’s just hard to tell. It just depends on who the production company is, the director, the writer, film making is a collaborative effort, not only creatively, but also in promotion, advertising and getting the product out. So, if it gets to that point where we make a film sale or TV sale when it gets into production….I only hope that people understand what I want to do with the project and take that to heart as well and have the same passion for the material. It’s not, certainly not, an established character, like Batman or Spiderman where they have to do an origin story, basically, I’m not dealing with that….I’m dealing with a story that starts right from the start introducing characters that you don’t know and you become familiar with the characters and take them in and either love them or hate them have the story told around them. So I don’t have that baggage that the regular comic book characters transferred to the screen have. So I’m hoping it will be a little easier to make that sale than to have that extra luggage attached to it.
M: Well, I also read somewhere that you had some pretty famous fans who followed The Wasted Lands, such as Dave Gilmour of Pink Floyd and Harry Knowles of Aintitcoolnews. How did you learn that these people were interested in your work?
DD: Well, I knew Harry Knowles is a fan of mine because I‘ve been in contact with him a number of times throughout the years, so that was not that much of a surprise and he’s a good guy and having him connect on Facebook, is a good sign that he’s a supporter of the project, but that Dave Gilmour thing was quite a surprise out of the blue! So I really don’t know what to say about that…it sure feels good to have someone of that stature onboard. There are also a couple of people, not on Facebook that are fans of the project as well, hopefully, we’ll get them tied into the website at some point.
M: Finally, just a couple of quick questions, these are some things I like to ask people when you’re sitting at a bar having a couple brews. If you’re on a deserted island and someone says you get one book, one movie, one TV show, one CD and one comic…what would they be?
DD: If you’d consider Stephen Kings series, The Dark Tower (one book) which I didn’t even know there were seven volumes, that’s probably what I would take. Movie would definitely be Once Upon a Time in the West ~ Sergio Leone’s classic western. Any number of mini-series running lately, the John Adams mini-series. They’re wonderfully produced, any one of those HBO series, they’re just so well done, the imagery, the costuming, the sets – beautiful. A lot of talent goes into those…something along those lines instead of standard network TV. For a CD, probably something by Patty Griffin, one of her early albums, or Jonathan Buck. One of the two, I’m partial to female singer/songwriters…so it would be one from those catalogues probably. And finally, Rail would be my favorite comic!
M: Thank you for your time, Dave! Good luck with The Wasted Lands!