Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Interview With Steve White

Recently, we here at LITC did a tag team review of the recent Dinosaur Art, a ponderous tome of paleontological renderings and antediluvian art pieces. Despite some issues with the book, we agreed that it was a gorgeous bit of work and a very nice accomplishment. Still, we had some questions. And who better to answer them then the book's mastermind himself? 

Steve White has been a comics writer and editor for a long time, working on Marvel UK's comics line and writing for 2000 AD and other British comics magazines. He's also an excellent, dynamic artist in his own right, with interests that range from pulp to paleoart. He blogs at Thunderlizard, currently edits the licensed comics The Simpsons and Transformers, and has an inordinate fondness for Triceratops. Steve was kind enough to take some time to answer a few questions about the book, where he sees paleoart going, and his own artistic sensibilities. 

Steve, how has your work in the comics industry affected your taste in paleoart?

I think it's tended to make me a little over-zealous when it comes to dynamism in my own artwork – I guess that was how Dan Varner came to call me the 'John Milius of paleoart' when he was describing a marine feeding frenzy I did a few years back – I'm hoping he meant in the Conan sense and not in the Red Dawn sense. I always had this theory that I should have as few feet on the ground as possible and have my subjects at crazy angles like they were taking corners at high speed. Also lots of dust and debris being kicked up. Two of my favourite artists are Frank Frazetta and Berni Wrightson, both of whom included dinosaurs as a matter of course in their work. I'm also a huge fan of Mark Schultz (Cadillacs & Dinosaurs) - another dinosaur aficionado whose work, especially his Centrosaurus pieces, are wonderful. I guess I look for a similar sense of dynamic action in paleoart. I still think Charles Knight's leaping Laelaps are incredible, even now, a century on, and it's what drew me to Greg Paul and Bob Bakker's work in the '70s - they had great motion in their work. I suspect this is all driven by my love of comics.

 © Steve White

Dinosaur Art contains a wide and interesting variety of artists. How did you decide whom to pick, and why did you chose the specific ones you did? 

Hmm. This was always going to be difficult. From the moment the book was conceived I had a rough list of artists I wanted to include. I asked everyone on it assuming there would be a percentage that would decline, and that did indeed turn out to be the case. As such, there have been a number of comments on the book saying so-and-so was was left off or not included. Well, pretty much everyone mentioned was asked and declined for whatever reason; to have got the book I truly wanted would have cost a lot more money and been twice as large! But no one was deliberately missed off. And of course you're never going to please all the people all the time. Luis Rey has a style not to everyone's taste yet so many people have said me he is their favorite.

If this sounds a little defensive, it probably is. I think we performed a minor miracle in getting this book out at all and everyone involved went way about and beyond what was needed. And on a personal note, I took great satisfaction when some people said "You'll never get Greg Paul," when ironically he was one of the first to come back and say, "Yep, that's doable." To me he was the most important artist to get in the book simply because his influence has been so prevalent in paleoart. I can't believe anyone would think otherwise.

So how was the art for each artist chosen? 

That was actually the greatest part of the book for me. We had so much art that went unused and in some cases there were some very tough choices to make. A few of my personal favourites didn't make it in. But generally, the artists would send in their personal selection and then I would make a folder called 'priority' – it was like battlefield triage, picking the ones I thought should make the final cut! The choices were usually based on things like rarity – wherever possible, I didn't really want images that were pretty well known (of course, we did succumb to that on a few occasions); I also tried to select of mix of common animals that would be well known to the general public, and newer or less well known types in an attempt to try and offer something to everyone.

 Once the choices had been made and the pages laid out, I would send a PDF of the section to each individual artist for comments. In a few cases we made changes, including a very late substitution when Unescoceratops and Gryphoceratops were unveiled using a lovely piece of Julius Csotonyi's art. I really wanted that included and it was dropped in on the day before the book went to press!

 © Steve White

Dinosaur Art seems to split the middle ground between un-annotated finished art and process sketches.  Could you go a little bit into the process behind how the book was edited and put together?

 From the start, there was some discussion over whether this was an art book about dinosaurs or a dinosaur book that happened to include a lot of art. The former won out because that was the editorial tack I was going to take; from the the start I had wanted to include the Q&As, but to give it a certain intellectual weight, we included the animal spotlight sections. I also figured there'd be a certain amount of academic discussion within the Q&As as a matter of course, the point being that paleoart is art and science more or less hand-in-hand. I also made it clear that this wasn't going to be just dino-centric, hence the inclusion of Mauricio Anton and the focus on pterosaurs in John Conway's section (again, this seems to have ruffled a few feathers, so to speak, with regard to the book's title, but again, we had to include 'dinosaur' in the title; you have to be realistic and go with what sells - this was after all a generalist, populist book). 

So, with the notion that it was going to be an art book, it seemed to only natural that the art should reflect the text – I was keen to discuss style and method with the artists so showing the stages of their work made a lot of sense. What was interesting was the different approaches to this amongst the artists. Some, such as  John Sibbick, Doug Henderson and Todd Marshall, had masses of extraneous material – sketches, roughs, spot illustrations, everything – that enabled us to show stage-by-stage development of their artwork. That was definitely an area we could have expanded on. Some, however, had no developmental work or were not interested in showing it; to them, the end result was all that mattered. 

The actual nuts of bolts of the editing process involved myself, my in-house editor, Jo Boylett, and the book's designer, Barry Spiers (I am actual senior comics editor at Titan so this was something I did freelance for the company). Both underwent a crash course in paleontology during the editing, which actually was completed in about three months – January to March 2012. Prior to that I had subbed and proofed and formated the Q&As, and sorted the initial selection of art. Once the format was decided upon we were given the nod and away we went. I was terrified we'd never make it yet somehow the whole thing seemed to go relatively smoothly. Considering some of the work I've done – where you close to going postal by the end – it was a joy to behold and Jo and Barry performed miracles to produce what I think is a thing of beauty. The icing on the cake was the advance copies arrived on my birthday! I discovered how it feels to be a father!

Was there anything you wish you could have done with the book that you couldn't? What would you like to see in a followup?

Well, as I mentioned before, there are several artists I wished had decided to get involved. On reflection, I also really should have included female artists and at least one sculptor – I hope to rectify that if and when we do a second volume. Which segues quite nicely into the book's title which is rather definitive, but sure I can work around it!
I was talking to Dave Hone recently after he had reviewed the book and he made an interesting suggestion – one that I had touched on but hadn't really followed through with. He thought it would have been fascinating to include reconstructions of the same animal by different artists, on the same spread. It would give you a more immediate look at how different artists approach the same problem of illustrating the same extinct organism. I had Gigantoraptor in mind when I was thinking about it – illustrated by both Luis Rey and Raul Martin. But that would definitely be an interesting concept. Looking back I think I'd want to include more stage-by-stage developmental work as well. Something else would be the inclusion of new technology such as augmented reality - an app where you wave your smartphone over an icon on the page and it downloads extra material to your phone. You could include actual tutorials with the artists or interviews, that sort of thing.

 © Steve White

Building off that, there seemed to be a heavy emphasis on digital art in many sections. Was this a conscious decision? 

No, not as such. Some of the artists had begun to produce digital art as a matter of course – Julius, Raul, Luis, Bob Nicholls, Mauricio, John Conway. In some cases, it was the bulk of their work so I was naturally inclined to use more of it; in other cases, such as Bob and Luis, I used a more balanced mix. In Bob's section I think I was about a 50/50 split, although the largest images printed were his traditional work. But again, I wanted to use a lot of digital stuff to emphasis the various approaches to using software as an art tool. 

Where do you, personally, see Paleoart headed in the future? 

I guess the book proves that digital seems to be the way forward. I like to think that some of the Old Guard will continue using traditional methods (I know I will...), but already several have made the switch, while the new generation have more or less put aside basic traditional tools and are using graphics pads and Photoshop as their starting points. I think this is a good thing because it will spare us from some of the truly dreadful digital art that blighted popular dinosaur art in the fallout from Walking With Dinosaurs. We'll have new paleoartists completely proficient in the digital medium as opposed to computer artists trying to draw dinosaurs. It's also been interesting to see the likes of John Conway moving into animation. With that sort of technology and software becoming freely available, I would assume it's only a matter of time before paleoartists are not only producing digital art but digital animations. 

Finally, what up-and-coming young paleoartists do you have your eye on? 

Well, I recently joined DeviantArt and that has been a total eye-opener. In the course of my explorations, I've come across some amazing artists. I'm a big fan of Andrey Atuchin, Julio Lacerda and Michele The-Sea in particular, but there's so many I could choose from. I suspect Dinosaur Art: The Next Generation beckons...

 © Steve White

And there you have it, folks. Many thanks to Steve White for agreeing to this interview. His various art and musings can be seen in their majestic native habitat over at Thunderlizard


  1. I second Dave Hone in that I'd love to see a side-by-side comparison of the different processes various paleoartists use to approach a reconstruction. Going a step further, a paleoartist roundtable would be the ultimate geek-out for me, with maybe Hallett and Bob and Tess included as well. And film it!

  2. Fantastic interview. Thank you so much. I did imagine as much with regard to the selection of artists and fully appreciate the reasons (even if I did have something to say about it myself!). I would love to see the inclusion of women artists and sculptors in the second book (I already take the thing as read ;)). In fact, Marc and I had even spoken about the comparative scarcity of female artists in the palaeo art world.

  3. It's great to hear that he's considering the idea of a second volume at some point in time. I would love to see an inclusion of female artists and sculptors as well.

    1. Before I'd even heard of Greg Paul, I had Ely Kish posters all over my room (carefully cut from a wall calendar). And Donna Braginetz and Karen Carr were early faves of mine. And I love Stephanie Abramowicz at the LA County Nat. Hist Museum. But it seems like there aren't enough high-profile female paleoartists. We need to get you in the next book Emily!

    2. 'We need to get you in the next book Emily!'

      I concur.

    3. A very enthusiastic thirdsies from me! Great examples, Paul.

    4. And a very late fourth agreement from me.

  4. "From the start, there was some discussion over whether this was an art book about dinosaurs or a dinosaur book that happened to include a lot of art. The former won out because that was the editorial tack I was going to take;"

    I guess that settles it once & for all: "Dinosaur Art" is NOT about dino lives/evolution to some extent. That's unfortunate b/c I was looking forward to seeing the art in person. I'll just have to wait 'til 1 of my local libraries/bookstores gets a copy.


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