A Weird House Press Exclusive: An interview with the fantastic illustrator M. Wayne Miller
WHP: When did your artistic proclivities first manifest? What were those crucial first influences on your art? At what point did you realize this was what you wanted to do as a career?
MWM: As far back as I can recall (not quite prehistory for modern folks, mind you) I loved marking on paper with a pencil. One would not call those early random marks drawing, but in my mind it was an open door to my imagination, and a way to project what I saw into reality. My Dad had a deep artistic streak. He never did much with it, but some of my earliest memories of drawing are copying his quick doodles. The early fuel for my imagination was through reading old science fiction novels and watching movies. I loved to depict what I read and saw, twisting and combining what I depicted to make something entirely my own. The pivotal year of my childhood was 1977, when Star Wars was released. I remember looking at the concept paintings of Ralph McQuarrie and thinking, “I want to do this!” One way or another, I WANT to do art for a living!
WHP: Can you briefly describe how you initially broke into publishing? How did you get your first big break?
MWM: I spent quite a few years during and after college making amateurish attempts to ‘do art for a living’. Results were as expected, but I never quit producing work and contacting any publisher I could for possible opportunities. My first success was with Deathrealm magazine, and after that the race was on.
WHP: What do you find most satisfying about your work? What aspects, if any, do you wish to improve?
MWM: Any completed commission where I have met and exceeded my client’s expectation is satisfying, and is what makes being an illustrator my career of choice. I have been at this long enough to know, and accept, that an artistic career is not a goal, but a journey with no ultimate end. There is always something new to learn, more skills to polish, more hours to put in, and new ways of using what one has learned to build upon and reach yet another level of beginning the process again with more knowledge and experience. My expectation is to never quit learning and growing as an artistic being for as long as I am breathing and able.
WHP: What motivates or inspires you as an artist? What drives you when you are working? What keeps you going when deadlines are looming and creative juices are low? What do you do to rejuvenate and recharge your creativity?
MWM: As a commercial artist, the immediate and pervasive motivation is to make a living. It is as compelling as it is aggravating to know one’s loved past time and hobby has become a job. Its base fact, so one gets up and does the work. Alongside that imperative lies the secret joy that one is doing art for a living! You are proving the doubters wrong, and getting paid for what you would do in your spare time anyway. Along with commercial motivations comes honing one’s craft while on the job, and when possible, bringing in newly learned processes to add dimension to one’s existing skill set. Continuing education, study of other artists’ work, and in my specific case, getting a night out with friends for drink n draw every week, helps to refill the creative well, and blow off some steam by drawing for fun and following one’s own vision for a few hours.
WHP: Briefly describe your working methodology, with regards to a work from conception to delivery. Do you enjoy color or black and white artwork more? Any specific media you love and wish to share your experiences using? Any media you would like to use if given free time to experiment?
MWM: For commercial work, I paint digitally. Early on I painted traditionally in oils and acrylics, but working under tight deadlines meant I fought the medium as much as time constraints. I made the transition to digital in 2009 in order to remain viable in the industry, and over the years I feel I have achieved a respectable mastery of the medium. I still use pencil and paper for all sketching and concepting, and more often than not, for completing refined drawings from which I paint. After completion and acceptance of a painting, digital workflow really shines, because output of print ready files is SO much easier than it was when I was having to shoot transparencies of paintings to pen and ink line work. I am pretty much even in my enjoyment of painting in color of monochrome. The latter is a bit simpler, in that it is all a matter of value and contrast. I am still a true student of color theory and it is always more challenging, and fulfilling when I achieve success. All this being said, I have no doubt I will return to traditional painting one day. I still have my oils stored and ready for that proverbial day.
WHP: Where do you hope/think you’ll see yourself in ten years? Do you have artistic directions you wish to try? Is there a “golden client” or dream project that hovers on your horizon?
MWM: Firstly, I hope to still be carrying on as a self-employed illustrator, and with luck and even more hard work, to be on to high end projects for big name clients in publishing and gaming. Perhaps its personal bias, but I do feel I have paid a fair amount of dues establishing myself, so maybe the gods of artistic fulfillment will look on me with favor for a bit? I would love to be successful enough to allow for some personal exploration of my art. I do almost no artwork for myself these days , drink n draw Wednesdays notwithstanding, but being able to be profitable and have some evenings and weekends to explore new ideas and media would be wonderful! As for that golden client? I know exactly who and what that would be, and it hasn’t changed for nearly thirty years. I would LOVE to paint a Stephen King cover illustration, and with luck, as et of interior illustrations as well. That would be an amazing opportunity! Extra points if it is Dark Tower related 🙂
Sherlock Holmes specific:
WHP: Will you please give us an introduction into a couple of your favorite Sherlock Holmes illustrations from the past.
MWM: There are quite a few that really stand out to me. Mostly, I remember them by project, rather than individual illustrations. The work I did for The Lost Husband and The Dreaming Man (both collections by William Meikle) are among my favorites, and I feel really sing as illustrations. I am also very proud of the cover and interiors completed for The Lord of Damnation by Simon Clark. Not only was the work I did for the book among my best, but the novel itself was spectacular, and fueled my imagination for such work. Lastly, I will put in a word for an illustration that is hands down my fan favorite Sherlock Holmes piece: Revenant, again by William Meikle. It has sold innumerable prints over the years!
WHP: What kind of difficulties do you find in creating black and white illustrations from a Sherlock Holmes story?
MWM: Most of the difficulties are self-imposed for Holmes work, because I have been a long time fan of the original books, and I always strive to depict the characters and environments as authentically as possible from the perspective of those novels. Even though most Holmes work I have done involves the supernatural and horrific aspects, I want my depictions of Holmes and Watson to be as if they stepped out of Doyle’s original books. There is nothing of the hip or modern in my depictions, a la the Guy Richie movies or Sherlock TV series. While fun to watch, and quite good in the case of the latter, I don’t see my Holmes and Watson fitting in those settings at all. In H. P. Lovecraft’s Providence, however, they would be right at home!
WHP: How many Sherlock Holmes books have you illustrated, and which is your favorite, and why? (again, it can be from any publisher)
MWM: Now you put me on the spot! I believe it would have to be The Lord of Damnation, because it is the total package (cover and interiors) and as a set they are all quite strong and distinctive. I believe the novel itself is why those illustrations are so good, because it was so well crafted and offered a feast of visual information for me to draw from.
WHP: In particular, why do you think art enhances a Sherlock Holmes book?
MWM: The original Sherlock Holmes editions had fine illustrations (the ones I read at least), and it just feels right that that it is a tradition that should never be broken, and especially where the supernatural plays such a vital part. Sure, one can read about the undead, monsters, eerie dark streets and primeval forests, but seeing such things depicted well is always better than endless text. Ideally, I would love a Holmes collection where there is an illustration on every other page! What a dream job!
WHP: How do you like working with Editor/Publisher Joe Morey at Weird House Press when working on a Sherlock Holmes book together? Do you find it rewarding?
MWM: My first project with Joe Morey was The Other Gods by Mark Rainey in 2008. We have worked together consistently for most years since, and I count him among my closest clients and friends in the industry. No, I am not simply buttering up for more money *wink*, but he is my longest running client, and the first editor to hire me for a color cover. Since then I believe we have worked together on well over a hundred publications, and I am still doing so even as I write this. Working on a Sherlock Holmes project for Joe Morey, for quite a while there, meant working with William Miekle as well, which was always a treat. Willie is a pleasure to work with directly, and I count him as another of my true friends in the industry.
WHP: Last question: Why do you think Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson are one of the most endearing characters in literature?
MWM: I would attribute this, in much the same way as Lovecraft’s Mythos, to the rich and seemingly endless possibilities the original tales offer. The characters are iconic, of course, but they are also completely adaptable, provided one is fully respectable to the source material, to anything an author’s imagination can invent. They are timeless, and could be theoretically written about until the proverbial end of all things. Folks sneer at the idea of something becoming pastiche, but if its done well and with full respect to the original material, I welcome all pastiche, and would love to be hired to illustrate any and all. Bring it on!