Yesterday I featured the first part of an interview regarding the Lee Weeks installment of TwoMorrows’ Modern Masters series. The first part was with Tom Field. This second part focuses on Eric Nolen-Weathington, the co-author of the Weeks book, as well as the designer and editor behind the entire Modern Masters’ series. It’s always a pleasure to interview Nolen-Weathington, so I was game to also discuss another book that Nolen-Weathington co-authored: Nick Cardy: Behind The Art, a work that goes beyond Cardy’s comics work and into his commercial illustration career.
Tim O’Shea: Do you think you could have been able to do the Weeks book without Tom Field’s involvement? Were you afraid that because Weeks and Field were such old and close friends it might make it harder for Field to ask tough questions in the process? Or due to the nature of these books (which intend to honor modern masters) is there ever a need to ask tough questions, per se? (feel free to tweek this question if need be).
Eric Nolen-Weathington: Yes, I do think I could have gotten Lee without Tom’s involvement, as I know several artists who are friends with Lee. And Lee was already on my list of guys I wanted to cover at some point. What Tom’ pitch really did was move Lee off the “sooner or later” list and onto the actual schedule.
Tom had already done a book for TwoMorrows on Gene Colan, Secrets in the Shadows: The Art and Life of Gene Colan, which I feel is one of the best books TwoMorrows has published. That was all I needed to know that he would do a good job with the interview. And having known Lee since childhood, I think Tom knew exactly where that line was of what he could ask and what he shouldn’t. The result is one of the most honest, open interviews of the series thus far.
O’Shea: So many artists (Colan, Miller [of course] and Mazzucchelli) have had distinguished runs on Daredevil–do you think to a certain extent because of that Weeks’ run may be underappreciated?
Nolen-Weathington: You didn’t even mention that he had to follow a long run by John Romita, Jr., which happened to be the turning point of J.R.’s career. No pressure there. So, yes, I think there is a little of that which Lee’s work has to contend with. But I think the biggest factor in why he may be underappreciated is that he was only on the book for a year and a half or so — and that remains the longest run on a book of his career. He has moved around so much from special to mini-series to fill-in, that fans can’t really associate him with a particular character. That is what really leads to his being somewhat overlooked.
O’Shea: Weeks is the third creator that indulges in magic that I can think of (Alan Moore and Jim Steranko being the others). What do you think is it about the allure of the slight of hand that attracts folks that are also good artists?
Nolen-Weathington: What are comics to a kid, if not magical? They’re really part of the same realm of fantasy and escapism. It’s the same reason so many comic book fans also play role-playing games and are TV and film enthusiasts. I remember reading a book about Houdini (twice!) when I was a kid, and I think I even checked out a book of simple magic tricks from the library. I doubt I’m alone in that. Lee just took it to that next level.
O’Shea: What surprised you most about delving into Weeks’ career?
Nolen-Weathington: I think the biggest surprise for me was in realizing just how much of his work I had in my collection. With the exception of one mini-series and a few short stories, I already had everything in my possession before even sitting down to start work on the book. It goes back to what I was saying about him jumping around from project to project, you just don’t realize how much work he’s done and how brilliant his work is until you sit down and think about it.
O’Shea: What aspects of Weeks’ work to date do you now have a new appreciation for?
Nolen-Weathington: I’d have to say his Spider-Man work, particularly the Death & Destiny mini-series. I’ve always loved his DD work and especially Batman Chronicles: The Gauntlet, but taking another look at Death & Destiny — it’s a very powerful story. And the cover to issue #2 (which I was able to run full-page) is just incredible.
O’Shea: What was the hardest aspect of doing this book?
Nolen-Weathington: I can’t really think of anything that was even remotely difficult. This book came together very easily for me. Lee sent me a ton of great art to use, which gave me a lot of freedom in the layout stage. And Lee really got involved with the book, much more so than is typical of the artists I work with. This book really was a lot of fun to do, and I think that shows in the final product.
O’Shea: How did this project land at TwoMorrows, given that the first 2001 book was published by Vanguard?
Nolen-Weathington: I first met Nick in 2000 at Heroes Con, when I bought a copy of the Art of Nick Cardy book from him. The book was originally self-published in 1999 by the author, John Coates, with a print run of 1,000 copies (they were also signed and numbered — I have #742). It’s a great book, and I highly recommend it, by the way. I’ve always been a huge fan of his work, going back to when I was just starting to read comics in the early ’70s, so at every following convention I made a point of going by and talking with Nick for a few minutes before the doors opened. Over time we got to be pretty good friends, and would occassionally talk on the phone in between cons.
One day he mentioned to me that he had several paintings that he would like to get in print someday. Many of them were shown in the Art of Nick Cardy book, but some ran in black-&-white, and some of them were shot from poor reproductions. Well, that got me thinking, but at the time I wasn’t sure how to go about getting them in print. I didn’t want to do another “Art of…” book, as that had already been done and done rather well. The paintings wouldn’t really fit any of our magazines, either.
A couple of years passed and Nick mentioned the paintings again. But this time he also mentioned that he had tons of preliminary sketches and such he had drawn in the process of making the paintings. That was the spark that led to Nick Cardy: Behind the Art, where we focus not on his career, per se, but his working process. I talked it over with Nick, and he loved the idea. So I pitched the idea to John Morrow. Again, the key was that this book is not repetitive, but rather complementary to the previous book. Yes, there are several images in Behind the Art that were also in the previous book, but thanks to technological advances and a different focus, I was able to run more accurate, and larger, reproductions of the artwork. And where the previous book was black-&-white with a 16-page color section, Behind the Art is entirely full-color. The previous book has a great interview with Nick covering his career, while Behind the Art has Nick’s commentary on his favorite pieces of art — sometimes it’s technical information on how he approached the piece, sometimes it’s a funny anecdote. As I said, I think the books are very complementary, and if you’re a fan of Nick Cardy, you’ll want them both.
O’Shea: To say Cardy is an industry legend is an understatement, what was the most enjoyable aspect about discussing his craft with him?
Nolen-Weathington: Just talking with Nick is a pleasure. He’s a very upbeat guy, and a great storyteller. And does he has stories to tell! But he really is a fine artist at heart. He has as much, if not more, technical knowledge of the various forms of art as anyone else I’ve known. He can discuss the Classical artists — and enjoys doing so — just as easily as comic book artists. And he keeps up to date with current trends, too. He’s a fan of Miyazaki‘s work, for example.
O’Shea: This book is a departure for TwoMorrows to a certain extent, because so much of Cardy’s 1970s work was for film and other commercial illustration. What new challenges did you encounter working in this new area of coverage–or have you had other TwoMorrows projects that have delved that heavily into commercial (non-comics) art?
Nolen-Weathington: The only real challenge was in making the book accessible enough to the general comic-buying public. They are the ones who are going to be buying this book. Nick just didn’t spend enough time in those other fields to become a really big name. Now if he had gotten into doing movie poster illustration in the ’60s rather than the ’70s, perhaps he could have become another Bob Peak, who knows? So I had to make sure the book contained an equal measure of superhero artwork. But really, I just focused on making an art book that Nick could be proud of.
O’Shea: What pieces were the biggest “finds” to include?
Nolen-Weathington: All the preliminary art. Just tons and tons of sketches on tissue vellum. The art process has always intrigued me.
O’Shea: Typically TwoMorrows opts for the soft cover editions of books, but this book is a hardback. What made you opt for this format?
Nolen-Weathington: Given the nature of the book, I felt it was the only way to go. Luckily John agreed with me. At this point we are not even considering doing a softcover version, and I doubt that will change.
O’Shea: How much fun was it to be able to work in full color (given that your Modern Masters books are black and white books)?
Nolen-Weathington: Oh, you have no idea. There was a definite temptation to just go crazy with the color, but it would have hurt the book, I think. I wanted this to be a refined looking book to fit the subject matter, and I think I achieved that. It comes down to suiting the needs of the book. But I can hardly wait to do another full-color book.