Comics | Artist Biographies |
Collecting How To
Museum of Comic Art | Search this Site | Web Links
About Comic-art.com | Art For Sale | Comics For Sale
Comics On CDRom | Movie Posters | Pulps For Sale
We Buy Collections | Contact Us |Home Page
|Interview with William Stout (1996)|
COMIC-ART.COM: Bill, what are your major projects for the coming year?
BILL: Major projects for the coming year? I am, I began work designing the major characters for a full length Disney animated feature which will be coming out probably around the year 2000. It's a full-length animated feature. It's all cgi, all computer generated imagery and it's, the subject matter is dinosaurs, and the dinosaurs will be done in greater detail and realism than they were in Jurassic Park.
COMIC-ART.COM: Are there any human characters?
BILL: No. No, it's all dinosaurs. It'll be like being plopped down into the Mesozoic for a couple of hours.
COMIC-ART.COM: Now, are these going to be anthropormorphic dinosaurs that speak and stuff?
BILL: That's still in the developmental stages, how anthropormorphic they'll be, and whether they'll speak or not.
COMIC-ART.COM: What would your preference be, to make them more realistic?
BILL: Yep. Make them more realistic. As I explained it to the Disney people, when I saw Jurassic Park, there was that moment at the beginning of the film where after seeing the first dinosaur, they showed you this vista and there was a lagoon with duck-billed dinosaurs and all these different dinosaurs and my first impulse was, 'oh, guys, just drop me after the next two hours. Pick me up after the chase is over and I'll be happy.' And so this will be like being dropped into the Mesozoic for a couple of hours.
COMIC-ART.COM: Sounds great. Sounds great. Now, you said it's going to be cgi, are you going to be doing any of the artwork on computer yourself?
BILL: Nope. I'm still much faster with a brush. I leave that to other people with much more patience than me.
COMIC-ART.COM: What medium do you usually work in when you're doing the film design stuff?
BILL: You know my favorite medium is actually Sharpie pens because they're permanent. I mean I've got entire films I've designed with Sharpies, and I've still got the art, and it's over fifteen years old and it's still as fresh as ever. It hasn't bled or anything. And then on top of that I put watercolor or colored inks.
COMIC-ART.COM: Well, do you lay it out first, like sketch it in in pencil?
BILL: Oh yeah. I'll lightly sketch it in in pencil. It's very similar to doing comic books but much faster and looser.
COMIC-ART.COM: Do you like working with the markers because they're fast?
BILL: Oh, I never use markers.
COMIC-ART.COM: Oh, I thought Sharpies were a kind of marker.
BILL: Oh, because they're permanent and they don't bleed, I don't think of them as markers. I think of them as pens. Yeah, you're right. They are markers, but the color I put on top, I never use markers. That's all brush work with watercolor.
COMIC-ART.COM: Okay, so you're doing this project for Disney. What else?
BILL: Immediately following my first six weeks on that, I got hired by Steven Spielberg to design a major project that is a joint project between Dreamworks, Universal, and a secret company. And it's a secret project that will suddenly appear about a year from now in every major city in the United States.
COMIC-ART.COM: And can you give us a little more info about the nature of this project? I mean is it going to be a theme park? A restaurant...?
BILL: It's closer. It's sort of like. It has elements of both. It has elements of both. And then on my personal projects, I'm doing, I was approached by Moebius's people to do an Arzach story. They want to do an Arzach comic book, and they, in going through Jean Giraud's sketchbooks, they found several Arzach stories that he had drawn in sketch form but had never done as finished pieces, and so they got the idea of approaching different artists to do finished art on these. I happily, and luckily was the first person called, and so I got my pick of the stories, and I picked the one that wasn't finished. There was one, these are all 8-page stories, but there was one where he had only done oh, three pages and one little tiny figure on the fourth page, and so I'm going to finish the story, in fact, I've already finished the layouts on it, and then I'm going to do all the finished artwork on it.
COMIC-ART.COM: That sounds great. Who is going to publish this?
BILL: I don't recall. It'll be published in black and white first, but then I'm going to color my version and probably sell it to Heavy Metal. I'm also working on the second volume of Mickey at 60. The first book of Mickey at 60 was done the year of Mickey's, Mickey Mouse's 60th anniversary, or 60th birthday, while I was working at Walt Disney Imagineering. It started as office humor. What it was, was I kept hearing all this Mickey's 60th birthday talk around the offices, and I thought, well, if Mickey were really 60, what would he look like? And I thought, he hasn't done a picture in years. He's probably let himself go. He's living in a little bungalow on Hollywood. Minnie's probably divorced him and is living off her alimony in Miami. So, I do this little sort of gross and disgusting version of what Mickey might look like now. And it got a great reaction at work, and so I started to draw these strips and I developed this strange way of working. I would draw a whole page fu!
ll of Mickey at 60 comic strips and then pass it to my friend Jim Steinmeyer and I would leave the word balloons blank and he would fill in the word balloons. So I never knew what he was going to write, and he never knew what I was going to draw. So, it kept the strip really fresh, and before I knew it, we had enough for a whole book, so I published a book and it sold out in about two or three hours.
COMIC-ART.COM: Right, I remember seeing that in San Diego.
BILL: Yeah, yeah. I had a big box there, and a few hours later more they were gone.
COMIC-ART.COM: Any plans to collect all of it in one book?
BILL: Not yet. I mean part of the appeal I think of the book is that they are limited, signed editions. I can tell you a little bit about the new one. Mickey is going to run for president. He's going to announce his candiacy for presidency on the Oprah show.
COMIC-ART.COM: Just like Reagan. Is Mickey going to get Alzheimer's? (Laughs).
BILL: So, well he's going to have a heart attack and, but they're going to do a heart operation. It's going to be successful, but when he wakes up, he's going to find out that he's got the heart from the baboon from Lion King.
COMIC-ART.COM: Oh, God, that's great. (Mutual laughter).
BILL: He's not going to be too happy about that.
COMIC-ART.COM: Sounds like you're having fun with this stuff, Bill.
BILL: Oh man, it's great. You know, it really is not so much a satire of Mickey Mouse, as it's really, it's a satire of almost every Hollywood movie star I've ever met who's sort of living in his past and...
COMIC-ART.COM: Well, living out in California, who've you met?
BILL: Oh, man, lots, especially when I was more involved in the production design of films, I'd meet everybody who came in for casting and stuff. You know, when, when I was working on Conan, Nick Nolte came in, and Jack Palance, and Joe Don Baker, oh let's see...
COMIC-ART.COM: Did you get to meet William Smith?
BILL: Well, you know, my first day at work, on my drawing board, I put a color picture of William Smith that I had cut out from a magazine, on the drawing table, with a little notice saying, 'This man has to be in our film', and lo and behold, he got cast as the father.
COMIC-ART.COM: I thought that was perfect. That was one of the best things in the movie.
BILL: Yeah. He's a super nice guy. Super nice guy.
COMIC-ART.COM: Oh yeah. I've liked his work for years, all those bad biker movies.
BILL: Yeah. I loved that vampire movie he did.
COMIC-ART.COM: Is he still working?
BILL: Oh yeah, yeah.
COMIC-ART.COM: Last thing I saw him in I think was Red Dawn.
BILL: Yeah, another John Millius film.
COMIC-ART.COM: Right. Okay.
BILL: So, I'm also putting out volume Five of the Fifty Convention Sketches sketchbooks for the San Diego con this summer.
COMIC-ART.COM: Has that project been successful for you?
BILL: Yeah, it's been great! It's, the way that started was, you know, I appear at a lot of different comic book conventions over the summer and one of the hottest items for sale at my table is the original drawings, because it's a way of, for a few bucks it's a way for people to own a piece of original artwork, you know, especially for people that can't afford to buy like a full oil painting or something. And as I did more and more of these sketches, a lot of them I grew really fond of and I thought, once I sell this, I'm never going to see it again, so I started making photostat copies of all the sketches that I was doing and before I knew it I thought, hey I've got enough for a book here. I wonder if it would sell. And so I put together my first book, the Volume One, and it sold like gangbusters. So, I 've made it an annual tradition. The World Science Fiction Convention is going to be in Los Angeles this year, to, so usually along with that, roughly at the same time, is t!
he Edgar Rice Burroughs Dum-Dum, which is their big annual meeting, so they've asked me to do their official Tarzan T-shirt for that.
COMIC-ART.COM: Oh, man.
BILL: So, I'm going to be working on that. And then I've also thought about, that perhaps this is the year to publish, start publishing the storyboards that I've done for motion pictures as little limited-edition books as well, beginning with Conan and First Blood.
COMIC-ART.COM: Now what's the story on those, Bill. If you're doing them for a film project, who owns the rights to that stuff?
BILL: I retain all the rights to all the stuff that I do for whatever film I work on.
COMIC-ART.COM: Are there any limitations, like you can't publish it for five years or something?
BILL: I usually write my own limitations into the contract. Obviously I'm not going to publish it before the film comes out. But, you know, I don't want to do anything to hurt the publicity for the film. I figure once a film has been out for a couple of years, it's pretty much in the public mind anyway, and it's made as much money off merchandising and everything and all as it's going to do.
COMIC-ART.COM: When did you start self-publishing, Bill?
BILL: You know, I think the--from time to time over the years I've published a poster here or there, but I really started seriously self-publishing with Mickey at 60 and that was so successful, I thought, well, I can do this! As long as it's black and white, you know, it doesn't cost very much money.
COMIC-ART.COM: You know, that leads me to another question: When did you become Bill Stout, Inc, and why did you become incorporated?
BILL: Let's see, I became William Stout, Inc. when I was working on Masters of the Universe on the advice of my attorney at accountant. They said it was, for tax reasons, it would be much more beneficial if I incorporated. And I don't know if it's helped me tax-wise or not, my accountant could tell you that, but just as far as keeping my private separate from business finances, that's been great. That's just a real relief. It just keeps things real simple that way.
COMIC-ART.COM: Do you work out of your home, or do you have a studio?
BILL: Both. I have a large studio separate from my house in another part of Pasadena and that's where we have life drawing classes every Sunday. I hire professional models from Art Center college which is nearby.
COMIC-ART.COM: Do you have students?
BILL: Uh-huh. Yeah. It's really informal, and the situation is this: if you want, you can just draw and be left alone...But if you want instruction, you have to ask for it, so there's a...Most of the people who show up just want to be left alone to draw, but there's a few people who want to learn stuff and learn about anatomy and things and so they'll ask me questions and I'll help them with their work. But most of the work I do, I end up doing at home on the dining room table because I just like being around my kids.
COMIC-ART.COM: How many kids do you have?
BILL: I've got two sons.
COMIC-ART.COM: Do they live with you?
BILL: Oh, yeah. Oh, yeah.
COMIC-ART.COM: How old are your kids? I met one boy this past summer.
BILL: Ten and twelve.
COMIC-ART.COM: Ten and twelve. Well, I assume, being your kids, are they both total dinosaur freaks?
BILL: Not as much you would think. The oldest one is like a total collectible card game freak. He hosts Magic: The Gathering touranments at our house and everything, and he began setting up the rotation of tournaments among him and his friends. They get together every Saturday and have tournaments and pizza and root beer and stuff.
COMIC-ART.COM: What does he think of your card sets?
BILL: Oh, he loves them, especially he was nuts about the fact that I finally did a lot of images for a collectible card game when I did the, I did 24 pieces for the Starquest trading cards and collectible card game.
COMIC-ART.COM: Now that leads me to another question. How did you begin working with Comic Images?
BILL: That came about due to Olivia's husband, Joel. I've been friends for a while with both Olivia and Joel and I was at the San Diego Comic Book Convention, and Joel came by and said, 'Look, I'm going to bring somebody by, and he does trading cards. You really ought to do trading cards.' And I thought, trading cards? You know, it sounded sort of, huh? You know, it sounded kind of cheesy and stuff, and he said, 'No, no, no, they've done really well by me.' And I said, 'Well, oh really, that's right, yeah, you did Olivia trading cards didn't you?' And he said, 'Yeah.' I said, 'Well, how'd they do?' And he said, 'Well, we sold 20 million in the first month.' Send that man over here!
So, I met Hank Rose, and we sort of did a handshake deal, and then ironed everything out on paper a few weeks later, and I did my first trading card set with him. I've got my thrid one, William Stout, Saurians and Sorcerors, coming out end of February, early March.
COMIC-ART.COM: What's in the third set?
BILL: It follows the same format as the first two sets. It's an overall career retrospective, so it has comics stuff that I've done. Some of my prehistoric paintings, and my dinosaurs, my movie posters, my motion picture production art, album covers, fantasy pieces. It's, the third set is a little more heavily themed to fantasy and science fiction than the other two sets.
COMIC-ART.COM: Did you do anything specifically for the set, any new work?
BILL: I did a lot of stuff specifically for the set. That's one of the things that I like about these sets is it gives me the excuse to do some fantasy pieces that I ordinarily wouldn't have the motivation to do on my own. If I know there's, I 've got a certain amount of images to deliver for a set, it inspires me to sit down and do them.
COMIC-ART.COM: Well, you know, given a choice, what would you rather draw, fantasy or science fiction?
BILL: Oh, fantasy. (Laughter) Less rulers involved, less ellipse guides. I hate drawing with a ruler or an ellipse template. I would much rather freehand everything in there and fantasy, you just end up with a lot more organic shapes. If there's buildings, they tend to be ruins. So, it's just a lot more fun to draw.
COMIC-ART.COM: Well, Bill, looking at your career, I mean you've always been sort of around the comics industry, but you haven't done that much for mainstream comics. Why not?
BILL: The pay factor.
BILL: I love comics more than almost anything. In fact, if I were independently wealthy and did not have to depend on anything for money, I would be doing two things: I would be doing oil paintings, and comic books. So, as it is, I do a lot of the other stuff I do, the theme park design and motion picture design and stuff to make enough money so that I can oil paintings and comics. The oil paintings, I've been a lot more financially successful with them than the comics, so I tend to do more of those, but I still set aside time to do comics, for example the Moebius story that I've begun, the story I did for Harvey Kurtzman in Harvey Kurtzman's Strange Adventures, and some...
COMIC-ART.COM: Righht, yeah, I was going to bring that up, and then you've done some comic projects for Byron Preiss.
BILL: Uh-huh. And then I still do a lot of covers.
COMIC-ART.COM: Right. I remember you did a lot of things for Pacific Comics when they were still around.
BILL: Uh-huh, and then I've been doing comic-related stuff lately, too, because I've been asked to do trading cards of comic book characters. I did a Madman trading card and I just did a trading card of that character, the Maxx. So, there's more of it than meets the eye.
COMIC-ART.COM: Yeah, and I know you did I think at least three covers for the Cadillacs and Dinosaurs comic.
BILL: Yeah, I did the covers to issues One, Two and Three.
COMIC-ART.COM: That must have been a fun assignment.
BILL: Oh, that was great.
COMIC-ART.COM: Are you a fan of Mark's stuff?
BILL: Oh, a big fan of Mark's stuff.
COMIC-ART.COM: Yeah, I think he's great.
BILL: Yeah, we were, I felt really lucky last year. I went to a lot of comic book conventions and it just happened that Mark and Al Williamson were both scheduled for about three or four of the same conventions as I was scheduled at, so it was a chance for the, what we call, "the good lizard men" to get together and have fun.
COMIC-ART.COM: Yeah, Mark told me he was hanging around with Al in Dallas. I was really jealous. Were you in Dallas?
COMIC-ART.COM: So I assume that was one of the ones you were talking about.
BILL: Yep. Yeah, we were in Dallas together, we were in, let see, oh I went to the annual meeting of the Society of Vertebrate Paleontology in Pittsburgh, and Mark showed up for that, so Mark and I were hanging out together there, and let's see, in San Diego. Mark was in San Diego, and boy, I know there was at least one other convention that Mark and Al were at that I was at.
COMIC-ART.COM: Any plans to do a backu-up story for Mark or anything like that?
BILL: (Laughs) Boy, not immediately. My plate's pretty full as it is, with all the projects that I just rattled off.
COMIC-ART.COM: Yeah, it sounds like it.
BILL: I'll be happy to do more covers for him.
COMIC-ART.COM: Yeah, I know Williamson's doing a back-up story for him, kind of on a back burner.
BILL: Uh-huh, oh that's right. Mark wrote it.
COMIC-ART.COM: Yeah, and Al's illustrating it as time permits.
BILL: Yeah, it was funny. I think Al gave Mark a list of all the stuff that he likes to draw, and so Mark ended up putting everything in the story. And of course now Al's complaining that there's too much stuff in it.
COMIC-ART.COM: Mark told me that that's Al did with the Flash Gordon book they did.
BILL: Oh, that's right. That's what I was thinking of. It was the Flash Gordon, it wasn't the...
COMIC-ART.COM: Okay, yeah. He said Al basically kind of gave him a menu, you know, like one from Column A, one from Column B.
COMIC-ART.COM: About what to draw.
COMIC-ART.COM: Well, Bill, it does sound like you're really busy. What does the bulk of your day-to-day activity consist of? I mean do you have a typical day?
BILL: Yeah, a typical...Not often, but when I do, I get up early in the morning, answer mail for about an hour or two, and then draw or paint, or whatever the project is, until three o'clock, have coffee, and my kids get home about that time so I see what they'r doing, and then I get back to it, and then have dinner, and spend the evening with my kids, and then when they go to bed, spend an hour or two with my wife, and then go back work.
COMIC-ART.COM: Well, on a lot of the film work, do you have to go to the studio to work, or can you work at home?
BILL: Well, usually I go to the studio and work. With this Disney project, I have the luxury of working at home and just coming in once a week and delivering the art. That's highly unusal. Usually I have to go to the studio. And, that's one of the reasons that I do fewer films now because it's, working on a film is radically time-consuming. If I agree to do a film, it's basically agreeing not to see my kids for about a year or two. `Cause when I'm working on a film I usually have to be there at seven A.M., and I leave at seven P.M, if I'm lucky, and then get home and still have tons of work to do at home and I, you know I end up only seeing my kids when they're asleep, basically.
COMIC-ART.COM: That sounds tough.
BILL: Yeah, and if the film studio is over on, say, the west side of town. I don't know how familiar readers are with Los Angeles geography, it easily takes me over two hours to get home, driving from the west side of Los Angeles back here.
COMIC-ART.COM: Boy, that doesn't leave you a lot of time for a personal life.
BILL: It's, oh no time. That's why so many relationships break up in the motion picture business. You end up seeing far more of the people that you're working with than your own family, if you see your own family at all. I did a little bit of work on the movie Dune and there were people there who had not seen their families for six years.
COMIC-ART.COM: That's crazy.
BILL: Yeah. There was a ninety-five percent divorce rate on that picture.
COMIC-ART.COM: Well, Bill, when you're working on a film are you doing like desing work, storyboards?
BILL: Every film is different. If I'm hired as Production Designer, then usually I'm hired, I'm usually the first person hired, after the producer and director, usually hired by the director. And the production designer is the person who sort of acts as the director's eyes. He's responsible for everything you see on the screen except for the performanes of the actors, and that's really the most fun part of making a motion picture, because it's all what they call, blue sky, it's all, doing all the conceptual stuff, all creative stuff, and putting down on paper what this movie's going to look like and that's when I do my most elaborate paintings and stuff, because the paintings really show to anyone who's involved with the film, the vision of the film. And as we get closer and closer to actual production, you know when we start shooting with actors and everything, the pictures start getting faster and looser, and then it's just this race to get stuff designed and built before t!
he shooting dates, so that accounts for the big, long days. And then once we start shooting, then my days are even long, because call, that's when people have to be on the set and ready to shoot, is often at seven A.M. and goes to seven P.M., so that means the art department has to be there at least by six A.M. to set everything up and so we're the first to be there and we're the last to leave, you know, after, when they call "Cut" to go home at seven o'clock P.M, the art department has to work for at least another hour after that. And that's, and I'm still designing when I'm doing that, yet it's very difficult to design when they're shooting because I'm overseeing my crews, I usually...Since I specialize in effects films I usually have a crew of about 1200 people working for me, so I get spread pretty thin going to all the different departments and making sure everything's running correctly, so I end up designing either late at night, after everybody's gone home, or on Saturd!
ays and Sundays when nobody's at the studio. I'll work all day and all night at the studio on both those days of the weekend to get design stuff done.
COMIC-ART.COM: Sounds like a tough line of work.
BILL: So, I figured out one time that if you took my salary and broke it down into hours, if I was being paid per hour, I wasn't making as much as the guy who's the standby painter on the set.
COMIC-ART.COM: You've worked on what, Bill, about thirty or forty films?
BILL: I think the Disney film was my 26th.
COMIC-ART.COM: Okay, I thought it was about thirty. What are your favorites?
BILL: Favorite.? I'm really happy with the way Masters of the Universe came out, and Return of the Living Dead I still enjoy watching that, and I thought The Hitcher came out pretty good. I take tremendous satisfaction out of the first Conan film. I liked the way the second Conan film looks. I'm not crazy about the screenplay.
COMIC-ART.COM: Well, on the subject of Masters of the Universe, it really looked to me like James Sikking's costume, it really looked like you lifted it from one of the Flash Gordon serials, the armor that Ming's henchmen wore.
BILL: Oh, that was one of thsoe things, yeah that was one of those things when they said, 'You know, we don't have a costume for this guy, and we're shooting it today.' I said, okay, here. And fifteen minutes later, poof! There was a costume.
COMIC-ART.COM: Did you do it from memory?
BILL: No, it's just, no it was just, I wasn't thinking of anything in particular other than, well, he's got to look like he doesn't come from Earth at this point, and just dashed something off and handed it to them, and it was cut and sown and on the set about an hour or two later.
COMIC-ART.COM: Yeah, well, I mean I wasn't saying like you were plagarazing or anything, Bill, but it was obviously like...
BILL: There was no time to plagarize.
COMIC-ART.COM: But it seemed like a tribute to your influences.
BILL: It certainly, on a subconscious level, could have been Flash Gordon working overtime there...I remember there was another instance, too, where I was all caught up, we were actually, the art department was ahead of schedule, and everything was going along smoothly and suddenly this monkey wrench from Heaven came down. The Mattel people came in and said, 'Well, you know, we've got our contest winner here.' And I said, "What do you mean your contest winner?' 'Oh, yeah, we had a contest, you can be in The Masters of the Universe and this is the kid that won it.' And I went, What! 'And, yeah, we flew him and his family here and you're supposed to shoot him in the movie today.' (Laughter from interviewer). I went What! And so I sat down and I made him an alien. I designed this alien makeup and an alien costume and stuff, and then I had color xeroxes of it made really quickly and gave one to the makeup department and one to costuming department, and you know, a couple of hou!
rs later, this kid was an alien in the movie. It was really, really fast work. He was a....
COMIC-ART.COM: That's funny. Well, Bill, what else do you have in store for the future, I mean, beyond '96? Any...
BILL: Well, beyond '96, is my big project I've been working on since late 1989. It's a book that will be the first visual history of life in Antarctica. It will be, it will depict life in Antarctica from earliest prehistoric times to the present day, and it'll have one hundred oil paintings and fifty drawings. I've got sixty of the oil paintings done so far. The first 45 of those are touring around the world as a show, as a one-man show called Dinosaurs, Penguins and Whales, the Wildlife of Antarctica. And some of the others are in a show right now called Images of Vanishing Nature, and endangered species show that's been travelling around the country, and so I am continuing to do that. I may go back for another trip down there to do a little more work on the contemporary animals. But that's my big overall, looming project that I try to work on every chance I get.
COMIC-ART.COM: Now when you're going on trips like that do you take a lot of photographs, or sketch, or...
BILL: I do tons of both. I brought back over a hundred and twenty paintings from my last trip and about six thousand slides.
COMIC-ART.COM: So, does working in Antarctica present any kind of logistical problems. Like, do your paints freeze?
BILL: Well , that's one reason I don't take oils down there is I know, you know I worked outside here, when I do my oil paintings I paint them on the porch here. I set up my easel on the porch and paint outside so then I can watch the neighborhood, and then the neighbors can see what I'm painting and stuff and I can get their comments and criticism, and when it gets cold, the oil paints get real gummy. So I didn't want to take them, plus there's all that stuff that you have to schlepp down there with oil paints, turpentine and paint thinners and mediums and stuff, and so it's just too much stuff to take. But I love to paint in watercolor and I was real concerned about that, just before my trip, there was a show here in Pasadena, at the Pacific Aisian museum of an artist's pictures of the Himalayas. And I thought, 'Wow.' You know, I went to see the show and I thought, if this guy will know anything. If anybody will know anything about cold weather painting, it's this guy. And !
so I looked him up, his name is Peter Adams, and we became really great friends, and he gave me this great little tip, that is when go to the airport, you buy one of those little tiny airport bottles of vodka. And you take that with you, you mix a little bit of the vodka in with your water. That keeps the water from freezing. And you take a little drink of the vodka yourself, and that keeps you from freezing, and you're free to paint away. So, when I work in the field in Antarctica, I will either work in watercolors or pastels. Peter turned me on to paste chalks. Most of my landscapes I do down there are pastels. And I also bring a ton of Sharpies down there and use the Sharpies to sketch the penguins and things.
COMIC-ART.COM: And the cold doesn't make the pastels crumbly?
BILL: No. No. They seem to be just fine so far.
COMIC-ART.COM: That's interesting. Do you have a publisher for the Antarctica book?
BILL: No, not yet. When I hit painting number seventy-five, I'm going to go out and solicit a publisher.
COMIC-ART.COM: Let's just backtrack a minute Bill and talk a little bit about working with Harvey Kurtzman.
COMIC-ART.COM: I know you worked with him on the book he did for Byron, the, I'm spacing on the title right now.
BILL: Harvey Kurtzman's Strange Adventures.
COMIC-ART.COM: Harvey Kurtzman's Strange Adventures, right, but you had worked for Harvey on Annie Fannie, too, didn't you?
BILL: Yeah. In 1972 I was doing stories, comic book stories for a magazine called Cycle Toons published here in Los Angeles. It was cartoon stories that had to do with motorcycles, and I had just been turned on to the orignal Mad comics and Panic comics and, boy they just totally short-circuited my brain. I was really excited about this stuff. And I was just like a sort of art sponge back then. I would just assume influences like crazy and just soak up everything I was seeing. And so I did a story that was a tribute to Harvey Kurtzman and Willy Elder and Wally Wood, called "Motor Psycho", and when it was published I sent a copy to Kurtzman. And about two weeks later I get a letter back asking me if I'd like to come back east and work on Little Annie Fannie, but I was like totally blown away. I had never been to New York in my life and you know, I agreed to do it in what they call a New York minute, and was flown back and worked with Kurtzman and Elder and it also happened!
to be at the same time as the very first E.C. convention. So that's when I first met Roy Krenkel and Al Williamson and all the E.C. gang.
COMIC-ART.COM: Oh, so you were back for that con in '72?
BILL: Yeah, yeah, that's when I was working on Annie.
COMIC-ART.COM: Okay, and were you working on the finished color pages with Elder?
BILL: Yep. Yeah. The way he would he would work is Kurtman would do very, very tight pencils. I would take the pencils and transfer them to illustration board, and then, using a color guide that Harvey had done, I would start to build up transparent color washes, and you know, build the painting up. When the pages would be about half finished then I would pass them off to Willie Elder and he would put all the finishing touches on them.
COMIC-ART.COM: All the surface texture and the highlights and stuff?
BILL: Yeah. Yep, and then I think, then they had two different letterers, sometimes Ben Oda would letter it and another times, another guy would.
COMIC-ART.COM: Yeah, I think Phil Felix took it over eventually.
BILL: Yeah, I think that's who I delivered the pages to one time.
COMIC-ART.COM: Yeah, because he was Harvey's assistant for a while, I believe.
BILL: It was, I just remember it was some old guy, you know, like a classic New York apartment that had about six ir seven locks on it. And he would sit there and watch B-westerns all day long while he lettered. He was a big B-western fan. And I know that wasn't Ben Oda, that was the other guy.
COMIC-ART.COM: Yeah. Ben Oda was Harvey's letterer back in the E.C. days. I think he lettered Two Fisted Tales. And how long did you work for Harvey?
BILL: Oh, just for a couple of stories. But it was a phenomenal learning experience and Harvey and I became friends and we were friends ever since. Every time he came to L.A., he'd come by and visit and he'd take us to the mansion and stuff. It was a great experience. And in fact it was Harvey who put me together with Terry Gilliam the last time I was in New York. He invited Terry Gilliam over for dinner. Terry had just finished directing The Fisher King and Terry and I had a lot in common. We both grew up in the San Fernando Valley here in L.A. and we'd both more or less apprenticed with Kurtzman, and we were both working in the motion picture business.
COMIC-ART.COM: You know, I see Harvey as kind of a Johnny Appleseed for younger artists.
BILL: Yeah, he was amazing that way.
COMIC-ART.COM: He was so great to so many people.
BILL: Oh, he was.
COMIC-ART.COM: I have never met a single person who had anything bad to say about Harvey.
COMIC-ART.COM: Speaking of Gilliam, have you ever worked with him?
BILL: No. I'd love to except that my fear is that it would be sort of redundent. I mean he is so strong visually himself I wrack my brains, what could I possibly add to his already brilliant vision other than just executing it.
COMIC-ART.COM: Well, are there any directors you would particularly like to work wiht?
BILL: Yeah, I would like to work with Jonathan Demme. And...I know there's someone else. I just made list of who I wanted to work with for, it's, the new trading card set, they list my twelve favorite directors and the two I'd like to work with the most. Jonathan Demme was one of them, and I can't recall the other one...It might have been Terry, actually. I'd love to work with Terry just to learn from him because I know he is a real master at doing phenomenal within a very tight budget.
COMIC-ART.COM: Yeah, Brazil was amazing.
BILL: Oh, God. That was an incredible film.
COMIC-ART.COM: Have you seen his new one?
BILL: Oh, Tim Burton. I'd love to work with him. I just missed working with Tim. He was going to have me design Beetlejuice and then the Masters of the Universe schedule ran over, and it overlapped into Beetlejuice and so I wasn't available.
COMIC-ART.COM: Well, that's too bad.
BILL: Yeah, he was preparing Beetlejuice on the same lot that we were shooting Masters.
COMIC-ART.COM: Did you see Ed Wood?
BILL: Yeah. I loved Ed Wood.
COMIC-ART.COM: Yeah. Great movie.
BILL: "It's Perfect!"
COMIC-ART.COM: I loved Landau's Lugosi's
BILL: Oh yeah.
COMIC-ART.COM: That was amazing. All right, Bill, I think I've got enough stuff. Is there any upcoming project or anything that you'd like to talk about that we didn't touch on yet?
BILL: No. I think we covered them all. But if anything, or if anything springs to mind, don't hesitate to give me a call.
We thank interviewer Steve Ringenberg for this transcript