In the rush to embrace digital rendering techniques the illustration industry discarded some pretty cool methods and mediums. This portrait of a Wrath of Khan/Undiscovered Country era Captain Sulu was made using Radiograph pens and Kraft-tint paper, both of which have fallen into disuse. You might find the pens but the paper hasn’t been sold or even manufactured for about ten years.
Kraft-tint was the favorite of editorial cartoonists the world over for its ability to capture subtle half-tone shades. The paper was actually printed with two sets of invisible half-tone lines and was sold with two types of developer:
- Brush on developer “A” and one set of half-tone lines would appear, giving you about a 20% shade
- Brush on developer “B” and the other set of lines would appear giving you a 40-50% half-tone shade
The only draw-back was price – which I don’t remember other than it was steep for a freelancer just starting out. Looking back I would have pawned something to lay in a supply but the adage “Hindsight is 20/20 vision” is as true with illustrators as anyone else.
…and yes, this image is not “square” to the format. The original disappeared long ago and I suspect this copy wasn’t cropped correctly.
I designed the bladeship to be Starfleet’s primary Special Operations support vessel – a concept that kicked off a short but brisk discussion that recently spread across WordPress and Facebook. Essentially an SR-71, an AC-130 and a submarine rolled into one ship, the bladeship was central to an (unfortunately) unpublished special operations supplement I wrote for FASA’s Star Trek role-playing game back in the day. The fact that at the time I was also serving as the battalion S2 (intelligence) for the 1st battalion, 19th Special Forces Group (ABN) UTARNG was most definitely a factor in the whole project
The aforementioned discussion got me thinking about all the work that went into the project and how it could be of enough interest to support a couple of posts. Unfortunately, I started the original bladeship project thirty-four years and seven houses ago, and as I learned in the army “three moves equal one fire” …so I’ve essentially been burned out twice since 1985.
I still have some “stuff” left, including this Styrene and Bondo ® model built in scale to the original AMT USS Enterprise model. As I think about this I’m pretty sure I’ve already written a post or two about the bladeship but A) it’s been awhile and B) the pertinent files have proved to be elusive.
I’m a product of the Seventies in that both my social sense and my creative vision were influenced a great deal by what was going on in the decade from 1970 to 1979. Economically speaking it was terrible with most of the decade stuck in ‘stagflation’ – a stagnant economy wracked by inflation, and the country suffered a major geopolitical black-eye in Southeast Asia. At the same time it looked like racial issues were being addressed, and the multicultural bridge crew of the Starship Enterprise more than an escapist’s dream – which made my heart warm. My parents were an anomaly for their generation in that they were color-blind when it came to race, and so the idea of everyone of all colors getting along and working well together seemed only natural.
I was excited to be studying ‘commercial art’ as well and I loved the flamboyant renderings and splashy color choices of illustrators like Bob Peake that were so popular at the time. I looked forward to working in that design world, so at times it was challenging to have my illustration career on hold for five years while I served in the Army….but when I came out of the Army things were starting to change. Individual art directors were being replaced by committees and group-think tends to shun the experimental. Race relations were starting to change as well and the future didn’t seem as positive as we thought in the previous decade.
One indication of the changes was also one of my signature bodies of work – the group of uniform designs I created in 1986 and 1987 for FASA’s foil-covered BattleTech House books. It was a marvelous opportunity and a great learning experience: if you line the books up in order of their production you can see a gradual positive change in both my figure drawing and marker technique.
Unfortunately that project is unlikely to happen again with the same results.
Why? Jordan Weismann was the sole art director for the entire project and he pretty much let me run with my ideas – in the entire series he turned back exactly one drawing. Unfortunately by the last book Jordan had left and I had to contend with three different people dictating often conflicting changes which made for a drop in concept and quality. I no longer had the freedom to excel.
There were other trends that were disturbing me… Early on in the BattleTech project I was able to keep that Enterprise bridge crew model-mix of genders and races but as the series wound up with the committee in charge, it seemed like all the figures they took exception to had darker skins or only “X” chromosomes. Those committee objections took me totally by surprise (hence the title of today’s post). I’d been tooling along with my Seventies goggles but when I stopped and took a good look around in 1988 everything was very different.
I won’t even go into how I feel about the way things are now, but rest assured that I still prefer that Seventies perspective and I still put more stock in a person’s actions than the way they look.
This laser-equipped trooper from the Eridani Light Horse happened at the very beginning of the series
Re-visualized version from earlier in this decade
Working with my Star Pupil doesn’t always entail slaving over the drawing board. This picture documents one of the many breaks we take in between drawing and sculpting, though you could refer to this as yet another study session.
Art history – because we are analyzing a classic television program…
I definitely I learned a lot from this session – as in discovering the degree to which my hair has gone thin and white…
Despite their common use of visual communication comic books and television shows are not always a good mix. While it is true comic adaptations can work well enough, the product of mixed genres can quickly become as corny and contrived as the classic 70’s SNL skit What If : “What if the pioneers crossing the plains had to fight dinosaurs but the Man from U.N.C.L.E. went back through time to help them out”?
Luckily the DC/IDW Star Trek /Legion of Super-Heroes cross-over book avoids that trap. Jeffrey and Philip Moy have succeeded admirably in blending the intense color and dramatic styling of a superhero book with the late 1960’s visual splash of the original Star Trek series. More importantly Chris Roberson’s plotting and dialog fits neatly into either books’ universe and he includes just enough fan-favorite Easter Eggs from both properties to treat the reader without being patronizing.
…and I will die a happy man after seeing Brainiac 5 and Mr. Spock quibble.
All in all it was a very readable book. I’d planned on stretching it by reading just once chapter at a time, but I had so much fun I got through it all in one night and was left wishing there were at least four more volumes in a series after this one.
The Star Trek/LSH book makes a pretty nifty addition to any graphic novel library and I highly recommend it. If pressed to make a complaint it would be that I didn’t get to work on the project myself (I painted the dealer-incentive covers for IDW’s Wrath of Khan adaptation) As both a Trek and Legion fan I would have settled for $67 and an old hockey trophy for a chance at working on some as cool as this book.
I thought I had made my peace with modern technology …but just as I let my guard down…..
This is my latest drawing, a commission by Left-Coast financial guru Eric Nelson. As I have been finishing it up and prepping the original for shipment two things have come to mind:
- I somehow started working in a passing resemblance to Kim Cattral’s treacherous LT Valkris in Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country.
- Why do technical people keep making changes we don’t want or need? I had a perfectly good camera and was able to get image to computer with little problem but since I moved to “improved” equipment….
WordPress did the same thing. Their editing software interface has changed. I was quite happy with the way things were – shoot, there were a lot of aspects of the old set-up that I had yet to learn – and now I have to start over from square one.
My son Conrad sent this link to me the other day. It’s beautiful on so many levels for me
- It’s light jazz/fusion nudging up into New Age
- It’s from Star Trek 4: The Voyage Home and we all know that an even-numbered Trek film = great flick.
Mostly it conjures up memories of our family and I crossing back and forth over a BIG chunk of the United States and Canada in the late Eighties. It was before all our byzantine seat-belt laws were enacted so we were able to take the middle seat out of our 76 VW Combi giving us basically a toy room on wheels.
If you are in search of Nirvana, and I mean the state of mind rather than the musical group try this:
- Driving in a light Alberta drizzle in May, the engine and drive train humming over miles and miles of superb pavement
- The propane heater doing its best imitation of a fireplace
- Sean’s of Battle Beasts defending the sink from a flank attack by Conner’s mini-Thundercats
- …and the soundtrack to “The Voyage Home” playing softly in the background.
Shortly after we moved to Clarksville I was contacted by IDW Comics to do a trio of covers for their ‘Wrath of Khan” adaptation. I was elated to get the project, sure that I had finally cracked the comics market in a big way…until I found out that I was basically a nostalgia act. The decision had been made based on my covers for the Star Trek role-playing game from the 1980’s rather than on anything recent I had had published.
Then they told me that my covers would grace the “dealer incentive copies” of the print run – dealers would have to order twenty-five of the regular issues before they could order one with my art. Again, it seemed like a good deal, my work being the Holy Grail and all until I determined that IDW Trek books were not exactly flying off comic shop shelves, which meant very few of my covers would be sold.
I fussed about it for about three minutes, then figured that if Steven Stills, Joe Walsh and Blood, Sweat & Tears could do the nostalgia circuit then so could I.
I designed the covers to work together in a triptych of sorts, which given the degree to which some fans venerate the Trek world is more accurate term than you’d think. I’ve had complaints from readers that all the graphic devices and lines don’t match up precisely; all I can say is there are always trade-offs with printed work as it goes through preparation for the press.
Since my recent post of the Spock cover included the masthead I’ve left them off this image. This Kirk differs from the actual printed version; shortly after submitting the JPEG I got a call from the editor wanted a more aggressive expression which I dutifully painted and resubmitted. Somehow the original image made it to press instead of this one.