“Today, in our field, there is so much talent and recognition that we are reaching a saturation point. An artist should no longer strive only for breathtaking craftsmanship; he should, instead, try to help us live better, either by dressing the wounds that are constantly being opened by society, or by offering solutions to get us out of the mess we’re in…But it’s going to be difficult and we have a lot of work to do.” - Jean 'Moebius' Giraud

Monday, March 19, 2012

'IN THE SPIRIT OF...'_update

[9 x 12" - red pencil, brush & technical pen, COPIC marker on 300lb bristol board]

[9 x 12" - red pencil, brush & technical pen, COPIC marker on 300lb bristol board]

[9 x 12" - red pencil, brush & technical pen, COPIC marker on 300lb bristol board]

[9 x 12" - red pencil, brush & technical pen, COPIC marker on 300lb bristol board]

It was probably during a delivery drive to STUART NG BOOKS in Torrance, CA earlier this year when I had the inkling of an idea that I would put into place when WONDERCON 2012 came around to Anaheim this past weekend. The story goes something like this:

AMANDA LI had opened her copy of ENCORE and when there was a safe distance between me and the car in front of me, I would sneak a peak at some of her wonderful layout and design work (most highway patrol officers would probably argue there is no safe distance between cars moving at 60+ MPH that would appropriate reading a book while one is driving..but whatever).

"What do you do after this? How do you follow up five years worth of work," she asked?

"I dunno. I would hope that I'd be around another five years to put together another book like this one, I guess?"

But even before I could put a period to that reply - a reply that had a very unsatisfying, unsure tone - I already knew I wasn't fully convinced that it was all together true. And I was wondering 'Why?' Why was I unconvinced at the idea of having another art book like Encore in me?

Perhaps I should jump back a little to add more context.

I was in LUCCA COMICS AND GAMES in November of 2011 to sign at the LATERAL STUDIO booth for my book 'FOTO'. The turn-out was great and the response to the publication was more than positive, making the venture a very successful one. I am fortunate that many people were kind enough to show their support and appreciation for my work that they bought copies - even more so that they asked me for a sketch in each of the copies that sold. Whenever prompted, I would always say, "You'd be doing me a great favor if you chose a character for me to draw."  Inevitably, they would ask for some mainstream fare and I guess that was easy enough to do. I had done that sort of image multiple times for however many years. It ought to be a cake walk.

Except this time, it wasn't easy. But neither was it 'hard', per se. It just...was.

As I drew a Poison Ivy, and a Batman, and a Deadpool, and a Thor, and a Captain America..et al, over and over again - I realized that, unlike before, I no longer had the connection to the images I was drawing. I didn't have the same voracious attitude that I used to have; to attack each character with as much creativity as possible to the point where I was practically drooling as I started them. What's worse was the fact that generous people were giving their hard earned monies to show their support of me and my work, and the best I could do for them was (at least as I felt it) NOT my 110%. That was sobering.

Jump forward to that afternoon in the car with Amanda.

The reason why I couldn't answer her with any conviction regarding what the future of my work would  be was because I hadn't fully come to terms with this reality:

In the 5+ years of images that I've put into my blog, I have done more - by way of style, design and flourish - with the characters I've wanted to draw than if I was actually directly hired by the companies who own them. I did all of that with full liberty and without censor. It's sort of like this: I grew up wanting to draw my version of Character/Team X, Y and Z. With this blog, I did exactly that. And having accomplished all of that, I believe for the time being, I have said all I can about them. Put simply, I don't know if I can draw another Mr. Freeze, or another Harley Quinn, or another Galactus that could better what I've done already.

But let me be clear: I am not saying that what I've done with those characters are the 'perfect' versions of how I will draw them. And I'm not saying, "No more mainstream superheroes. Forever." What I am saying is that for now, I think that's as good as I can draw them - without going into some unsatisfying, auto-pilot version of that character. What I'm saying is that for now, I'm going to put those guys aside.

And, so..

From here forward, until I find that I have something else to contribute to the cannon that are licensed/copyright/trademarked mainstream characters, whenever asked to do a commission of them, I will respectfully decline and say,

"If you wouldn't mind, rather than doing 'Character X', I would prefer doing an image in the spirit of that character."

And that's what I said during this past Wondercon.

Naturally, after hearing that line, the question was put to me if I was changing my policy in reaction to what had happened a few weeks back regarding a very publicized legal dispute between a creator and the company they had worked for over the title and ownership of a character.

"No. I'm happy to tell you that's not the case," I'd say. "I'd like to believe that you would want me to be drawing my ass off if you paid me good money to do it. This is simply my way of addressing that."

Then I crossed my fingers, I told them the story about driving while reading, about my experience at Lucca, and hoped they'd understand.

I worried that I would lose some business, and admittedly I did. My commissions list was not as busy as it normally would be. But to be honest, considering how much money is involved in getting a quality, original piece of art these days, I'd rather you leave from my table knowing to myself that I had put my best effort forward into this thing that you bought from me, instead of just 'mailing it in' because I wanted to fill slots on my sign up sheet.

And for as many who declined (and by the way, I respect and understand their decision to walk away - it is after all, their money and they can spend it as they want), there were just as many people who were gracious enough to trust me to draw for them - even though they didn't have a point of reference of what the end result would look like. The images above are what I delivered and based on my conversations with them when they collected their drawings, I think that they were happy with the results. It gave me faith that changing the culture and expectations of what I'll do for my commissions list had started off on the progressive foot.

There are still things I need to work out, but I'm thinking and designing and drooling again. While they're not the recognizable standards that most may expect from me, my intention is to give you the best that I can for the money you will spend. And if you can find it within yourself to trust me during this early period of change, I'd like to draw for you... something different.

I hope to see you at a convention very soon. Thanks.


Daniel Puch said...

This is more than awesome, I really would like to see more of that worlds that artist have to give, instead of having to draw once more time spiderman, superman, batman, etc... I think the industry and the artists will grow into a much richer world and will attract much more readers!
I'm so happy of reading your post Eric!!! Looking forward to see more of your great art!!

James said...

I've never been to a comic convention or commissioned a sketch, but I'd be ecstatic at the idea of an artist being so invested in the work as to suggest something like this - let alone one I'm such a big fan of. Hope to take you up on it someday!

KinCross said...

That's awesome, and I can completely respect your desire to be uncompromising in your art. Thanks for taking a stand for something when it's so easy to just "mail it in," as you said.

As someone who loves seeing interpretations of the familiar, I'm now very curious to see what you'd do "in the spirit of" other characters.

Jam-Wah said...

If only more creative types were as individual. I agree with this move wholeheartedly. If you ever come to the UK, I'll request something inspiring.

jasonhart said...

Echoing some of the sentiments above, this is really great, Eric – and I hope it proves well for both the business & the creative aspects of your art.

Having not really thought about this possibility before, it actually seems really refreshing & exciting (& more of something I would personally spend money on) – the idea of getting a unique piece of an artist's own creativity, over their interpretation of a more rigid existing character.

Your style is incredible; it'll be cool to see more of your imagination coming through too.

Barry Goldstein said...


gombuk100 said...

Eric I met you at the Anaheim Wondercon, and while I did not commission a sketch from you, I found myself wondering just what character or whatever I would want...and then I just read this post. Well, I can totally see your point. So, thinking about that, I think a scene from the great movie One Million B.C. (Raquel Welch version) would be awesome and would fit your style. So maybe at the next 'Con eh?

Stiven Yentzch said...

Great work i like your draws
Stiv - juegos de vestir

Phil Back said...

Hi Eric - honestly, after seeing how some artists were reacting about the hot topic of drawing trademarked characters for commissions, I wondered what your stance would be. I've got a small collection of your work and you continue to be my favorite artist to commission for sketches at shows. As a fan I really appreciate this post and I can't wait to see what your next drawing will be. Looking forward to commissioning something "in the spirit of", at SDCC. Thanks!

Astrid Phillips said...

Like everyone else here, I'm excited to see what direction your art takes going forward. If I had the funds, I'd ask you to draw a whole series for me where you open a dictionary or thesaurus at random (or click on "Random article" on Wikipedia) and illustrate the first several interesting words/phrases/concepts you see! So glad to hear you're holding on to the fun and magic, and keeping things fresh and imaginative.

James said...

Hope it's not counter to what you're doing to try and guess who these are in the spirit of! Aside from Iron Man, I think I see a Wonder Woman and a Storm, but I don't to say which is which in case I'm horribly off-track...

ArcherMonster said...

go for it, i work for a mega lic company and I often feel the same way. where is the new vision for the future.

be bold pull a Mignola and follow your instinct.

ArcherMonster said...

I think your on to something big, I often wonder where the new visions, styles, and creations will come from. I am dead tired of creative artist forced to draw retro costumes, characters and the like. Awesome POV.

Sturstein said...

I think I've always preferred the pieces on which you just let your own creativity run rampant. For a long time now yours has been my favorite blog, and now I'm even more excited to see what new wonders Mr Canete will offer.