Interview with artist Don Marquez
(originally published in Bootleg Magazine October 2008)
By Brian Tucker
Illustrator, comic artist, and painter Don Marquez weaves classic style with a love for adventure stories, science fiction, and the heyday of movie monster storytelling to create a volume of brilliant work. Marquez didn’t attend art school and says he’s been drawing for as long as he can remember.
What do you believe are things the schools don’t offer?
Anyone who wants to have a career as an artist needs to acquire an understanding of the traditional fundamental elements of art – composition, color, different drawing techniques. I’m not sure if art school is a good place to pick that sort of stuff up or not. Art school probably won’t be able to tell anyone what type of work they, specifically, should devote themselves to.
Did you have someone to support your artistic inclinations – parents, teachers?
My parents offered some encouragement, or at least they didn’t try to discourage me. My art teachers in high school and junior high school were very encouraging. But I really grew up and developed as an artist like a weed.
Looking at your work, the influences seem to be a wide spectrum.
Outside of drawing and painting, I work with papier-mâché. It’s a very versatile medium. I’ve also played in bands and created music.
What about music?
I’m not involved in any music anymore. I just don’t have time to devote to it. In the late 1970’s I formed a band called The Twinkeyz. I was the singer, songwriter rhythm guitarist. The music was influenced by, but not intended to copy, the music of the 1960s. The band was very loose sounding, loud and psychedelic. In the 80s I was in a band called The Lizards, a straight ahead punk rock band, not angry or political, more of a fun type band.
What medium do you prefer most when creating pieces?
My favorite medium is oil paint. I like everything about it. Sometimes the paint itself does a lot of the work. Oils are also very forgiving. If I make a mistake or am not happy with part of the painting, I can just rub it out and do it over. For my taste, there’s nothing that compares with look of a finished oil painting.
How much sketching or drawing is done prior to painting? “Dracula’s Brides” and “Monkey Attack” are particularly detailed.
When I’m working on an original idea, like “Monkey Attack,” I do a lot of sketches. I sometimes do a dozen or more sketches of the basic idea and individual elements. When I work from photographs, as with “Dracula’s Brides\” I do one sketch directly on the canvas. It’s a much faster process.
You’ve created a lot based on classic and 1950’s Sci-Fi and horror flicks.
I didn’t start out with the idea of being quite so retro. That’s just the way I’ve drifted. The monster portraits are really gratifying. The actors in the old movies had such interesting faces. I think King Kong is the greatest film of all time. No movie comes close to it for the sheer number of unforgettable, iconic images. The story is original and unique. I like all of the early Universal Studios horror movies. Frankenstein, The Bride of Frankenstein and Dracula are my favorite.
What do see missing in current cinema that made those older films so memorable?
Horror is a very broad genre, but “monster movies” is a narrower concept. I prefer monster movies. The monster deserves the same attention, in terms of character development, as does the hero. The monster ought to be the focal point from which the conflict flows that is the source of the drama. Too much focus on the personal problems of the hero, and you’ve got an episode of the Dr. Phil show.
What did you read a lot of as a kid?
I read a lot of pulp era stuff that was reprinted in paperback when I was a kid. Edgar Rice Burroughs, Otis Albert Kline, Robert E. Howard, H.P. Lovecraft and compilation volumes of other writers from the pulp era were popular back then.
What’s more enjoyable, illustrating a story or working on a single painting?
While I’m working on it, an individual painting is more fun because of the quickly achieve gratification. But looking back, comic books bring a larger sense of satisfaction because they are more major works.
How did you get involved with Alien Pig Farm 3000? Were you friends with Steve Niles already?
Steve bought a couple paintings from me off of eBay a couple years prior, so he was familiar with my work, and suggested me to Tom Jane for APF 3000.
In the illustrations for ALP 3000 there are a lot of details. The character details, are they born from the writer or something you add as illustrator?
Papa Dad’s look came to me instantly when I read Todd Farmer’s script. I didn’t need to do any preliminary sketches. Todd’s script was perfect for me, in that it was clear what he wanted in the way of tone, but left the details to me. I had a lot of leeway. Sometimes I worried that was putting in too much of myself, but I always tried to be true to Todd’s script first and foremost.
ALP 3000 is a wonderful nod to older horror films. Is that why you were asked to do the book?
I think so. For me, it felt like a perfect fit. I wanted about the level of cartoon-ness that Wally Wood used in the early issues of Mad, when it was a comic book. Maybe a little more realistic than that. I spent about a week or two doing fairly detailed thumbnails of each issue. After the thumbnails were complete, it took bout two days to produce a finished page. Each issue took about two months to ten weeks.
Besides ALP 3000 and The Lost World, what other books have you worked on?
Nothing after APF 3,000. Before that I did three issues of a retro horror/fantasy anthology called Fantastic Stories, and one issue of a sci-fi comic called Retro Blast published by Amryl Entertaiment. Before that, issue #4 of Tiger Woman, and another professor Challenger adaptation called The Poison Belt, and three issues of The Nostradamus Chronicles, published by Tome Press. Before that, three issues of The Tiger Woman, four issues of Cartune Land, a 3D adaptation of an old TV show called Werewolf, an issue of Jungle Comics, odds and ends.
How does the process, taking a script and giving it more than a written identity?
For me, because it takes so long to produce a finished comic book, it results in total immersion in the project. I spend so much time with the characters that they become almost like real people to me.
How close do you work with the writers/creators in fleshing out scenes or the book’s look?
I almost always work on my own scripts. Todd Farmer is one of the few writers that I’ve worked with. I was pretty much just given the script and a general idea of the feel that was looked for. My only contact was with Tom. He was great to work with. He let me do pretty much what ever I wanted to do. That said, he had very definite ideas about what he wanted and his suggestions were always right on the money. For me, too many suggestions are stifling or even paralyzing. I can’t work that way. I got the feeling that aside from an initial brainstorming session, Todd was allowed to do what he wanted on hi own.
What do comic book writers do that make things difficult for illustrators?
The failure to envision what they have in mind. If a writer can’t think visually, his writing is going to be difficult to translate into a good comic book. Since Todd is a screenwriter, his story telling is very visual.
What are recent projects you’ve been involved in?
I spend my time painting and drawing individual pieces. I recently produced two books of my artwork, Window on the Weird volume 1 and 2, available from my eBay store Cartune Land. I’m planning at least a half dozen more volumes that’ll include most of the artwork that I’ve completed over the past years. APF 3000 is the most recent comic I’ve worked on. I don’t actively look for work. I wouldn’t mind working on a new comic if the right project comes along.