Atomic Interview #18: Talking Art with George Sellas

Gum Belle Monthly. Art by and Copyright George Sellas. See georgesellas.com for more.

Gum Belle Monthly. Art by and Copyright George Sellas. See georgesellas.com for more.

Welcome back, everyone, for the 18th installment of my Atomic Interview series. If you’re new to the Anxiety, pull up a chair and join us for a bit. There’s plenty of good interviews with some really talented creative folks and a movie review or 900 to keep you interested. I’m excited about the latest installment as I’m joined by George Sellas, illustrator extraordinaire. George is the first artist I’ve interviewed here at the Anxiety, and I’m thrilled that he was willing to chat about his work and his craft. George has produced numerous covers for New Pulp authors, working extensively with Barry Reese, who was the subject of Atomic Interview #6, where we talked about THE ADVENTURES OF GRAVEDIGGER, VOLUME 1, for which George did the cover.

Mark Bousquet: George, thanks for joining me and agreeing to be the first artist interviewed for the Atomic Interview series. I think most of the regular readers of the Atomic Interviews are going to be familiar with your work due to your association with Barry Reese’s New Pulp work. How long have you and Barry been collaborating? How did this relationship start?

George Sellas: Thanks for interviewing me, Mark. Barry found me in 2011 through the website deviantART. I had done some very cartoony pulp style heroes and villains for another client several years earlier and Barry evidently liked my work, so he approached me with an offer to do what turned out to be all of the interior artwork for The Adventures of Lazarus Gray Volume 1. I was already of fan of the genre so how could I say no? From there it turned into an avalanche of work from Barry, from a new issuing of his Rook series, lots more Lazarus Gray, helping him visualize his newest pulp heroine, Gravedigger, and fun one-off pieces like The Family Grace cover. In fact, I’m still digging my way up through the list of pieces he’s commissioned!

It’s been great though because Barry has allowed me to experiment and grow as an illustrator. The first few Lazarus Gray images were very cartoony, but over the course of working on a bunch of books for him, I’d like to think that I’ve improved and and adapted my style to better fit his fictional world. The stuff is a little rougher around the edges now, a little more realistic and I think more engaging. I don’t know if anybody else sees it the way I do, but I’m happy with the progress and it’s nice to be able to continue to learn while I work.

MB: For your work on THE ADVENTURES OF LAZARUS GRAY, VOLUME 2: DIE GLOCKE, you received two 2013 Pulp Ark Awards: one for Best Cover Art and one for Best Interior Art. First,congratulations! Second, could you walk us through the process of creating the DIE GLOCKE artwork? What kind of prompt are you given? How much back and forth exists between you and Barry?

GS: Thanks! For all of the covers I do for Barry, not just this one in particular, I’ll get a manuscript from him and I’ll read through to pick out characters or moments that I want to illustrate. It helps to get a more complete idea of the characters through how they act, how they dress, what they say, etc. We then typically talk about the general ideas of the story before I start any artwork. Barry will often give me the kernel of an idea and I’ll run with it and expand on it. I’ll present these ideas to Barry in the form of incredibly messy rough sketches that are barely more than scribbles. They’re hideous in terms of drawing technique, but it’s just to get the general idea and layout across. For DIE GLOCKE, we went with an illustrative cover – an actual moment from the story, as opposed to the more movie-poster montage type of image that you see on the cover of LAZARUS GRAY VOLUME 3.

MB: On your DeviantArt site, you posted a 5-step process for the creation of the cover to Barry’s GRAVEDIGGER: http://georgesellas.deviantart.com/art/The-Adventures-of-Gravedigger-Cover-Steps-361933979. Is this a typical process?

GS: That’s right. The process shown there is very typical for me. This answer picks up right where my last answer left off too.

I’ll take that very messy rough that I previously mentioned and do a clean rough, which is essentially the equivalent of a comic book artist’s pencils. Here I really start to figure everything out. I’ll gather reference where needed, to make sure period clothing is at least starting from an accurate place, or just to figure out something that I don’t know offhand, like what a Revolutionary War era Hessian soldier’s uniform is supposed to look like. In the end, it’s hightly stylized fiction so I take liberties, but I like to have that base of knowledge to start from. The clean rough serves to nail down poses, anatomy, sizing and exact placement, and so on. I should say that I work digitally too, so all of this is happening in Photoshop as well as a program called Paint Tool SAI.

Once we’re satisfied with the clean rough, I start on inks using SAI. I discovered it a couple of years ago and it’s fantastic. It’s really great because the lines are smooth and fluid unlike other programs where the lines look too digital. I use a very old, small Wacom tablet and stylus for all my digital artwork.

With regard to the details of inking, I don’t plan out my black areas like a lot of other comic book artists do. (When you see a penciled comic book page with little x marks all over it, that’s where the black is going to end up when it’s inked.) Because I ink my own work instead of handing off to an inker, it’s not something I need to worry about. It allows me to play around a bit within the confines of the clean rough and see exactly what works best for each piece.

I try to strike a balance between clean, precise lines and ones that are dynamic and even a bit rough. If the inking is too clean, it can result in a somewhat sterile looking piece.

Then it’s on to color and texture where the ultimate goal is to bring everything together, but also lay down the color in such a way that it directs the viewer’s eye to the important parts of the image. I switch back to Photoshop for my colors. I don’t do a ton of color palette planning in advance, but lately, especially in the work for Barry, I’ve been trying to mute my colors somewhat to give the pieces a slightly darker, more serious tone. For a pulpy story about a resurrected woman who kills people to redeem herself, (as in Gravedigger) you don’t want super bright, saturated colors, after all.

The Adventures of Gravedigger Volume 1. Written by Barry Reese. Art by George Sellas.

MB: When one visits your website (http://www.georgesellas.com/index.html), they are greeted with a
gorgeous cover to GUM BELLE MONTHLY. Is this a one-off piece or a larger project?

GS: The Gum Belle piece was a one-off commission for another client a few years ago. I am really bad at updating my site and my deviantART with any semblance of regularity, and some of the pieces there are over ten years old! But I’m still proud of them all.

MB: In the Comics section of your website, you have posted a comic you illustrated entitled KNIFE RIVER PRODIGAL, an adaptation of a Robert Howard story and an adaptation of A MARTIAN ODYSSEY by Stanley Weinbaum (which I taught this semester in my Sci-Fi Lit class). What’s it like adapting an existing story into sequential art? Do you have a preference between creating a cover versus sequential art?

GS: Doing comics is a love/hate thing for me. I love doing them, but I hate how slow I am at them! I’ve always loved adapting my favorite stories in artwork, but when I do it for my own enjoyment, it’s always illustrations instead of sequential art. So it’s easy for me to say that I prefer doing covers or illustrations over sequentials. But Graphic Classics presented me with stories that were among my favorites, so I jumped at the chance. I mean, Robert E. Howard! He’s one of my favorite authors, so I can’t say no to doing a comic based on one of his stories!

I don’t think I’ve answered your question though. It’s a lot of time, a lot of research, and a lot of agonizing about the things you don’t have room to show on the page when you have a strict page count to adhere to. Having great source material to work with is a joy though. I should also say that I was only part of the equation in those cases. Other talented people were involved in those projects who were essential in bringing those stories out on the page. I loved working on those stories for Graphic Classics, I just wish I was faster at doing it.

MB: Do you have a preferred genre to work in? One of the aspects of your art that I really appreciate it is how you can adapt your style to different genres; does the genre effect the creative process? For instance, I like to create soundtracks for my different writing projects; is there something you do differently to help “set the mood,” as it were for a fantasy piece versus your Mark Twain piece for Graphic Classics?

GS: I definitely tend to gravitate toward stuff that has a sense of adventure or excitement to it if I have a choice, but like you said, I end up working in a ridiculously wide range of styles to fit the work to the clients’ needs. I sometimes get a little envious of artists who have an immediately recognizable style. You look at a piece, and you know it’s “that artist” without even hunting for the signature. I look at my own body of work and it looks like fifty different artists did the pieces. But in the end, I think it’s good for me because I get bored easily. So jumping from one style to the next or even being asked to mimic a new style at a client’s request is fun for me.

I like to do two things when I work — have fun with my subject matter and try to learn something with each piece I do. Apart from that, I don’t really do much to set the mood. If the piece requires reading, I’ll read the material. Reference collecting (aka Google Image search) gets my head around some of the details that I may not have been familiar with previously.

I’ll put on music while I work, but it’s never anything related to what I’m doing. It’s just the music that I like to listen to — a lot of ska, reggae, punk, and jazz. Ironically, as busy as I am, I love a band called The Slackers – a New York ska-jazz outfit that cranks out amazing records. I could just put their albums on repeat for the rest of my life and I’d be happy. But no special soundtracks to go with the specific piece being done — just music to keep me peppy.

Listening to science related podcasts is great too because they occupy my brain just enough to make me not overthink what I’m doing. Sometimes it’s better to let things flow and having that slight distraction actually helps instead of hinders.

Lazarus Gray. Created by Barry Reese. Art by George Sellas.

Lazarus Gray. Created by Barry Reese. Art by George Sellas.

MB: What projects are you working on now that you can talk about? What’s the next piece of George Sellas art to hit the stores? And do you have any plans to collect your numerous covers into a book of their own?

GS: Well, I’ve just finished or am currently working on a bunch of stuff for Barry Reese, so you can expect GRAVEDIGGER VOLUME 2 and more of the reissued ROOK series this year. GRAVEDIGGER 2 will have my cover art and THE ROOK will have a cover and some interior art as well. LAZARUS GRAY VOLUME 4 came out recently and that was another fun cover to do because it was a bit of a departure from the other covers, both in style and in the overall presentation.

I spent a good chunk of the end of 2013 working in a video game studio under contract, so unfortunately I can’t give a lot of details there. I worked on a kids’ game called Marvel Super Hero Squad and I think I can also safely say that if you are into Star Wars games, you may stumble across my work without knowing it.

I have thought about an art book and some fans have also mentioned to Barry that they’d like to see a collection of the art from his books. I’m sure some kind of art book will happen some day but it’s not on my immediate to-do list.

MB: Who are your artistic influences?

GS: There are too many to possibly list them all because I end up working in so many different styles to fit a client’s needs. I’m constantly looking at artists who are masters in all different techniques and styles, and I try to absorb bits and pieces depending on what I’m working on at the moment.

So if I’m working on lots of inked pieces like the stuff I do for Barry, I’ll go and study the best inkers to see if I can figure out how they’re doing it. If I’m doing something more painterly, I’ll study artists that are great with color and form and so on. I tend to gravitate towards painters that have very bold, colorful, somewhat exaggerated or cartoony styles with lots of visible brushstrokes and inkers that lay down really energetic and dynamic lines. More recently, I’ve really been getting into artists that do stylized 3D modeling or sculpting too.

If I’m not careful, I can easily spend way too much time browsing art on the internet because there are so many great artists out there now. So the short answer is: Anybody that’s really good at what they do, regardless of the specific style.

MB: Do you do every aspect of an image: drawing, inking, coloring? Or do you collaborate with other artists?

GS: 99% of the time, I work solo. For “Knife River Prodigal”, which you brought up earlier, I worked with two very talented gentlemen, Scott Lincoln and Rich Doak. Scott inked over my digital pencils and Rich was the color flatter (the person that lays in all the flat base colors) so that I only had to finish up with the shading and final effects. It was a great experience working with them, and it certainly saved me a lot of time compared to “A Martian Odyssey” which I did all on my own.

I’ve also worked with the lovely and talented Misha Hyde on concept artwork for the video games “Forge” and “Marvel Super Hero Squad.” In both cases, the art was for production purposes, so it’s unlikely that anyone outside the production team will ever see it.

MB: What’s the best way for a writer to find/approach an artist in commissioning artwork? There’s a real “wild west” vibe right now with the print on demand marketplace with writers and artists traversing the internet; how important is it for you to have a presence on your own website versus something like DeviantArt?

GS: I am by no means an expert here, but for writers and artists, having some kind of web presence is essential. I don’t think it matters whether it’s your own site or a blog, or a more public site like deviantART. I also use a site called Elance which I’ve had good success with over the years. Basically, just make sure you’re out there and it’s easy for people to reach out to you. Oh, and definitely have business cards on you at all times for those rare occasions when you’re not doing business over the internet.

MB: What’s your dream project?

GS: I MIGHT be working on it right now……but I can’t say anything about it yet since it’s too early in the process. Certain things need to be worked out first before any announcements can be made. Sorry to be so cryptic!

Besides that, I would love to do a video game featuring Barry Reese’s pulp heroes. I think the ’30s pulp setting would be perfect for an action-adventure game. But that would be a large team effort. I’m just an artist. There’s no way I could do that by myself. If anybody’s interested …

MB: Who is George Sellas?

GS: Haha, this is the toughest question yet, because I don’t know how to answer it without it seeming odd or pretentious. So I’ll just say — a guy who really loves his job!

MB: Where can people go to learn more about you and/or your work?

GS: www.georgesellas.com or http://georgesellas.deviantart.com/ I’m open for business, so please stop by!

And that’s it for this time out. I’d like to thank George for chatting with me about his work. Please stop by his site and give his work a look. He’s a fantastically talented artist.

____________

When I’m not talking to others about their work, I’m creating my own. Please give my latest work, GUNFIGHTER GOTHIC: UNDER ZEPPELIN SKIES a look, and visit my Author page and personal website for a complete list of my available titles. Thanks for stopping by and reading, all!

Gunfighter Gothic: Under Zeppelin Skies, from Mark Bousquet and Atomic Anxiety Press.

Gunfighter Gothic: Under Zeppelin Skies, from Mark Bousquet and Atomic Anxiety Press.

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