Marvel cover artist Greg Horn, who’s digital mastery has graced the covers of Elektra, Black Widow, Mystique, and the will be seen on the upcoming Emma Frost series, took time out of his busy scheduled to talk with us at First Comics News about his past, present and future plans, both in an out of comics.
First Comics News: You broke into comics at age 17 with AC Comic’s Femforce, how did you get the job?
Greg Horn: I had gone the typical route of all young artists of my day, in 1989, by submitting samples to Marvel and DC through their submissions office– with no luck. One day, I read a story in a local newspaper about Bill Black’s AC Comics company. I figured since AC comics was only 200 miles away from me, maybe I’d have a chance there. I submitted some pages depicting their characters and when Bill called me with a job, I was pretty shocked.
1st: Did they offer you more work after issue 19?
Greg: Halloween has always been my favorite holiday, and I told Bill about an idea of doing a “Halloween special” with Femforce battling evil warriors from bygone eras in a Haunted House. He agreed and I actually got to draw and write a book, with some scripting help. I wasn’t really a great artist at this point and Bill suggested I finish up my art education before doing anything else, so I did.
1st: You worked on ESPERS: Undertow and ESPERS: Black Magic as well as Devastator with James Hudnall, how did you meet James and start working with him?
Greg: After art school, I worked on a lot of sporadic projects that never got printed. But I was still able to use these pages as samples of my artwork. A friend and I attended a very small con in 1993, like one of those crappy Holiday Inn deals.
1st: In 1993 I was a retailer selling at those Holiday Inn conventions, I know what they were like.
Greg: The guests were lined up on a long table, so you could meet one of them and move onto the next. By the fourth dude, nobody was showing any interest and I was nearing the end of the table! The second to last guy was Valiant comics art director at the time and he said my art was too much like “Image”! So, I dejectedly went to the last guy at the table who happened to be James Hudnall. He liked my art and said he’d give me a call later. Pretty soon I got a call from Malibu Comics and I was doing fill-ins on James’s books. Things were going really well until Malibu was sold away and suddenly I had no work again. About this time Joe Quesada gave me some great advice at a store signing. He told me to go to a big show like Comicon just for the experience. This was tough with no money, but I found a way and sure enough– there was James roaming the halls, he is very tall and hard to miss. He remembered me and asked if I’d be interested in doing a remake of one of his old titles called ESPers. I tried not to look too desperate and I said “sure!”
1st: How was this better then working for AC Comics?
Greg: This was better than working for AC simply for heightened visibility of the books. It was a step down from Malibu because we could only afford to print ESPers in black and white. We did the first volume ofESPers: Undertow, under the company name of Halloween. With our work on these books we caught the attention of Image Comics, and the next year we were working on the second series ESPers: Black Magicunder their banner. The Image run of Espers was still black and white and it was tough to keep a strong audience. By issue # 6 the sales were pretty low and we had to give up on it.
1st: After ESPers you started working on J.U.D.G.E., what made you decide to strike out on your own?
Greg: After ESPers I had no work again…the industry boom of the early 90s was dying…I was pretty much ready to give in and go get a real job at some graphics company. But I was convinced that I had not put out my best effort in comics yet. I had been toiling away on a black and white title for the past 2 and a half years, while other artists were looking like geniuses with computer colorists and professional inkers helping them. I decided I would give the comics industry one last try, but it would have to be something really innovative that no one had tried yet. And it would have to be impossibly difficult so no one would forget it once they saw it! I came up with the idea that the book would be completely painted on computer. I’d do everything myself, because I couldn’t afford any help! This was the beginnings of J.U.D.G.E.
1st: How financially challenging was it to fund the entire project by yourself?
Greg: It sucked off a Rhino. The whole 3 issue series of J.U.D.G.E. was written and illustrated on “spec” which meant I wouldn’t get paid, if at all, until the books were finished.
1st: It took over a year to complete the 3 issues, how did you survive?
Greg: Actually it took 15 months. Essentially, I survived financially by living with my Mom. My girlfriend at the time, who I am now married to, was very understanding and really believed in me. When times got really rough, I’d play Baldur’s Gate in between pages to retain my sanity—who are these guys who play too much video games and their books are always late?
1st: Prior to J.U.D.G.E. the comics with computerized art were Crashfrom First Comics, Batman: Digital Justice and Iron Man: Crash. What made you think the time was right for computerized art?
Greg: I didn’t know if it was the right time or not. I chose the computer out of necessity– “the mother of invention” right? I knew if I was going to get the attention of my peers, I’d have to do a fully painted book. It would take too damn long in my brush style, so I just started experimenting with my PC and discovered the way to do it. I’m a real natural at computers for some reason
1st: How were the sales on J.U.D.G.E.?
Greg: The sales were okay, since I didn’t have to split the profits with anyone, but not good enough to start a second series. Image suggested I get a big-name writer to help me with the second series, but it never worked out.
1st: Will we ever see Victoria Grace again?
Greg: I’d definitely like to continue with the series, but right now I’m doing so well with illustration I think it is best to pursue this type of work for the time being.
1st: After self-publishing you went to work for Marvel, how did you get started at Marvel?
Greg: Lets see—I was attending Comicon 2000…I had just got married the previous weekend, I had no job and the only thing that could continue my comics career was to find a writer to do the secondJ.U.D.G.E. series…. oh yeah, and I had just lost my wedding ring. Things were not going too well when Brian Bendis and David Mack, both of whom I knew previously, invited me to dinner. At the dinner was Joe Quesada. I didn’t realize he was the new Editor-in-Chief at Marvel when he promised to have someone call me. Sure enough, an editor called me the following week and we started the Backpack book covers. I’ve been going strong ever since.
1st: How much creative control do you have over your work at Marvel?
Greg: Marvel gives artists a lot of freedom. Of course you still have to submit designs and ideas to get approved, but major fixes are pretty rare. I think it is this atmosphere that has really helped me excel.
1st: Was it hard to adjust to working for a corporation, instead of working for yourself?
Greg: Not at all. As long and hard as the journey was to get to Marvel, I could never complain.
1st: You did some interior art for Marvel Double Shot #3; do you plan on doing more storytelling?
Greg: Story-telling is my first love and I definitely plan on more interiors for the future, but presently I am swamped and it is extremely difficult to start such a time-consuming project.
1st: I assume covers are less difficult than storytelling, are they as satisfying?
Greg: They are both difficult and satisfying in their own ways. Storytelling is much more personal though. While covers are more exciting. There are more opportunities to experiment on cover art, while interior art seems to be more expressive to me.
1st: With cover art, isn’t there more pressure, because in many case your art may sell the comic?
Greg: This is true, but I’ve come to accept that pressure as part of my job description. After getting through J.U.D.G.E., these jobs don’t seem so difficult anyway!
1st: You have started working for Beyond Time with Black Tiger: Legacy of Fury, how did this come about?
Greg: John Hervey contacted me through my website and told me about his book Black Tiger. I thought the story was great and the subject matter would be a great change of pace for me So, I agreed to do the cover work for the book. He also said that Jonathan D. Smith, Fathom colorist, would be involved in the project. I think Jon’s awesome, so that was another selling point.
1st: You have been getting a lot of work outside comics lately. Are the magazine and video game covers considered a step up in your career or are they just other work?
Greg: Most would say the gaming work is a step up, and in many ways it is, but I see a symbiotic thing going on that keeps them level in my eyes. The comic book work has brought me to the attention of the gaming industry and I think my comic fans are a great benefit to these companies. At the same time, I get a lot of emails from hardcore gamers who tell me my work has brought them back to comics. So, I try not to favor one over the other.
1st: Do they pay better?
Greg: Most game related jobs pay pretty good, but they are way, way more stressful. I had one game poster that has stretched out for 7 months!
1st: 7 months, what made the job stretch out for 7 months on one poster?
Greg: This particular poster is related to a major motion picture and every step has to be approved by three different departments–sometimes the feedback is very slow! On top of this, the folks I was working with were in the middle of moving, so it was hard to get communication flowing at all times. Then there is the issue of timing the process so that the game releases at the same time as the movie itself.
1st: Working for Ringling Brothers must have been a real thrill, how did they find you?
Greg: They had seen my work on Elektra and found me on my website. They were looking for another comic artist before me, so I was actually their second choice.
1st: If you don’t mind me asking who was their first choice?
Greg: I wouldn’t feel comfortable about dropping the name of another artist here, but I can tell you that he is one of my all-time favorites– second place to this guy is perfectly acceptable!
1st: After Ringling Brothers tours with your artwork worldwide for the next two years are you expecting more commercial art contracts?
Greg: This is probably unlikely. An agent is usually most helpful for ad work.
1st: You have recently had your art featured as props in two different television series, Is this something you are pursuing or are the chasing after you?
Greg: These are situations were I am contacted for permission.
1st: I understand that you are extremely busy, what do you have coming up in the future?
Greg: Currently, I’m the cover artist for Emma Frost, which is going to be a great series. I have a few covers lined up with XBOX, PSM, andWizard. I’m also working on 4 gaming posters, but every last one of them is top secret—I can’t even tell you what they are yet. There is also an illustration for Bacardi and a very cool Spider-man illustration for US playing cards.
1st: Bacardi Rum? More advertising work, how did you get this without an agent.
Greg: A friend of mine is a web designer and he subcontracted the job out to me. I’m going to post this image on my website soon along with a link to the Bacardi site.
1st: With both Ringling Brothers and Bacardi Rum under your belt are you considering getting an agent for advertising work?
Greg: I am really swamped with work right now, so I don’t see the point of having an agent who will bring me more workload and then take his cut! But, I am working with one guy on a possible game poster– he is extremely fair with his percentage so I don’t mind as much.
1st: What would you like to do, that you haven’t got to do yet?
Greg: I don’t know…I haven’t stopped to think about that… how about a movie poster? Make some calls.
1st: I also wanted to touch on your nomination for Wizard’s Favorite Painter of the Year. Congratulations!
Greg: Thanks Rik, the Wizard nominations are determined by fan voting, so it was a great honor to be recognized.
1st: Lastly, could you explain the process you use to create those photorealistic images?
Greg: The images are drawn in pencil from photo reference. Then the colors are painted in using an image program. He painting techniques are the same as painting in real life except there are no originals left when you are done, except for the pencil drawing.
1st: Greg, thank you for your time!
To visit Greg Horn on the web go to http://www.greghornjudge.com
To visit Marvel Comics on the web go to http://www.marvel.com
To visit Image Comics on the web go to http://www.imagecomics.com
To visit Beyond Time Comics on the web go to http://www.beyondtimecomics.com