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Geof Isherwood Interview
Geof Isherwood worked with Marvel and DC Comics for 18 years on Spiderman, X-Men, Silver Surfer, The Avengers, Thor and many other great titles. Mid career, looking for a new challenge, Geof transitioned into the film industry and worked as a storyboard artist and concept artists for dozens of film productions including the recent X-Men: Days of Future Past, which was filmed in Montreal.
How would you describe your current occupation?
I’m really fortunate to say that I’m still working full-time as an artist. I’ve been working 30 years as an artist and I guess I’ve been fooling them because I still have a job (laughter).
Tell us about how you started out as an artist?
I looked at the work of artists who were my favorites and I tried to figure out what they were doing right and learned to do that myself. Eventually, my own personal style started to come through.
Who are your influences?
Naturally, a lot of them come from the comic book field. There is quite a long list. However, I’d have to say, the most influential would be artists like John Buscema, Barry Windsor Smith and Gil Kane. Another one who is fantastic with anatomy is Neal Adams. He was a really big influence early on because he brought an element of realism to comic books. That wasn’t really happening in the early 1970’s. Bernie Wrightson is another artist with his Frankenstein book in the late seventies – which was amazing. Jack Kirby is someone who has to be named, he is someone I didn’t understand for a long time; but, more recently, I’ve started to work through his stuff and figure out what he’s doing right and why he was such a major influence on the comic book industry in general. That’s something in the background that I try to keep in mind. There are many other artists outside of comics entirely who have influenced me. We go back to Leonardo and Rembrandt and you can look at even artists like NC Wyeth and his son Andrew Wyeth. Norman Rockwell had a tremendous influence on art in the twentieth century in the illustration field. It was fascinating to go to the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts when they had an exhibition on him and go through his entire it to really study as much as I could. He used a lot of photographs too. Apparently he painted rather quickly and he claims that he was quite lazy but judging from his output you could never say that. Another guy is Dawn Newton was a very fine artist in comic books. He died early and most people don’t think to mention him but as soon as you mention his name people say, ‘oh yah.’ It’s tough to say that I get influence from new artists because what I do now is look for influential trends and I try to figure out what some of these artists are doing.
Was there a moment in your formative years when you decided that you wanted to be a comic book artist?
It’s a curious thing to say but it developed somewhat gradually. Having said that, I do recall that when I was ten years old I remember reading a book about Charles Schultz and seeing a photo of him sitting in a studio at home drawing Charlie Brown. It struck me that this was the lifestyle I wanted to have. I never wanted to have to go commute somewhere or work in a cubicle. So my interest in drawing was always growing. I was curious to learn as much as I could about it so what I decided was that I had to find a profession in art where I could make a living. People were encouraging me to become a gallery painter but from what I knew that was a real long shot. When I was reading comics they looked like a lot of fun. The Bull Pin pages that Stan Lee wrote every month really impacted me. The way he wrote those columns with a lot of humor and alliteration, that seemed like a lot of fun. And at the time it seemed like this was something you could get into and get a full time job and they were a fun bunch of people to work with and associate with even if you didn’t see them all the time. So I kind of set my mind on that direction and I imagined that I would just keep working at it until I got into the industry and then I would just do that for the rest of my career.
Earlier we interviewed Marc Taro Holmes and he said that it seems like comics are the hardest working field in art. He said the pressure to produce is the highest. Would you agree?
It’s funny because as it turns out I did not spend the rest of my career doing comics. I moved into film work. It’s different type of work, in the sense that the pressure cooker feel is there – and it’s usually much worse – so on that level it’s pretty much on par with the comic book industry. But for example for layout work, rigorous attention to detail is not necessary because they are sketchier types of drawings. And if it’s concept work you have to be able to produce a good finished piece but it’s more about the idea then the technique involved. Comic work you are working through about six different disciplines to produce a full page. So it requires you changing your approach to things and your way of thinking about things a number of times. Being able to break it down into steps is really the way to succeed at this. So in terms of difficulty, well it depends. It’s just like any type of job, if your mind is on and you get into it then it’s not really difficult, it can be very enjoyable. But if it’s not working and you have a scene you have to draw then it’s very difficult and it’s very frustrating because you know you can produce the finish result and you have a vague idea of what you want but it just isn’t happening. In these moments you have rely on the techniques you’ve learned and try to plug into that sensibility to get the job done. And with comics just like anything else you have to be interested in drawing anything. If you’re a gallery painter, for example, and you like painting horses all the time, all you would do is just paint horses 24 hours a day. But with comic books, like advertising you never know what you’re going to get next. If you’re writing the stories that’s one thing but if you’re given material it can be anything, so you have to have a natural curiosity about understanding the form of any object, shape or person. That kind of interest will always feed you. I think ultimately creative work is probably as difficult across the board.
Do you have any upcoming projects that you could tell us about?
I’m starting to work on the Heroes of the North webcomic and print comic series for Christian Viel, which is being produced right here in Montreal and published in New York. Now, that’s not a hundred percent yet but it looks pretty good, so I’m likely to be drawing that on a regular basis. Fleur-de-Lys is my favorite female comic book character, so that’s a pretty exciting project. To check that out you can go to the website: heroesofthenorth.com or the Facebook page.
Thanks for chatting with us Geof.
Check out the podcast with Geof Isherwood: EP. 13: GEOF ISHERWOOD – COMIC BOOK ARTIST FOR MARVEL AND DC COMICS ON SPIDER-MAN, X-MEN, SILVER SURFER, THE AVENGERS, AND MANY MORE
This interview is part of a series of exclusive Concept Art, Illustration, VFX, 3D and Comics Podcasts created by Syn Studio. If you enjoyed this podcast please share it with your friends. And please sign up below for our newsletter to keep informed about all of our great podcasts, interviews, tutorials, articles, videos and other material created for you: the artist.