John: You've experienced a rich and long career - what would you consider to be missed opportunities? What regrets do you have creatively?
Michael: As years go by, the missed opportunities are many: the most disappointment came when projects I'd set my mind toward in anticipation of having a fun, challenging and lucrative experience evaporated, generally with little or no explanation and certainly no recompense for time and trouble. I'm citing the "large" projects that would have been career-shaping. For example: being asked to pre-package an entire catalog of occult books: new covers and ad art, possibly interior work for some books. Dozens of titles, all to have my brand of design, drawing and color · Poof! Other examples: designing a theme park · Poof! Designing a miniature golf course with a high fantasy theme · Poof! Then there were the various film and game jobs that months of work went into for no visible result. Of course, every artist has their own set of such disappointments. It's the "world that could have been and never will" that I regret.
J: Do you photo-reference when doing your work?
MW: Not as a general rule, but "research elements" nearly always play a big part, especially if the job has anything to do with "the real world". Those elements can be photos, art, written word descriptions, film/TV or even sketching on the street. But as for using a photo as the subject of a picture, copied directly to the art, no, not really.
J: What size canvas or board do you use when producing your cover work?
MW: My comic book cover work is generally done on 11" x 17" paper. Sometimes the image is boxed, say 10 x 15 (close to the comic book cover dimension) and sometimes the entire page is used, right to the edges. If oil paint is involved (rare for me these days), the canvas is generally 16" x 20" or larger. To this date the largest picture I've done in the India ink and watercolor approach is 40" x 60". It was a bear· nearly broke my back leaning over the board. (one of the Very Good Reasons for working at about 12 x 17 inches is the ease of scanning the original· a larger piece would need to be photographed or scanned at a Service Bureau).
J: Have you considered exploring digital coloring for your work?
MW: I use the computer to tweak my art, so far. If I could work with someone who colors or paints digitally, I know I'd pick up some helpful stuff. My high energy levels are focused on coming up with Ideas and doing the pictures; I've not been able to budget energy toward learning the digital craft.
J: How does it feel to be an influence on other artists in the same way Roy Krenkel was to you?
MW: Well, it is quite a kick - a real satisfaction when I'm told by others how much my work has inspired them. At such times I see myself talking to Roy, Al Williamson or Frank Frazetta when they helped point the way forward for me. Being reminded that my work has more effect than just gracing the page is like extra payment, certainly, and it humbles me.
J: Why do you think pulp heroes like the Shadow and the Spider fascinate us to this day?
MW: I think it might be the enhanced individualism in the characters, married to the sense that whatever ones does is accepted, and is in fact a boon to the public good, that keeps the Pulp Characters so "alive" in print. When someone gets it "right" in the movies, there'll be a resurgence of that style of story across the entertainment spectrum.
J: Can you name any films that you believe nail the pulp figure?
MW: Hmmmm... If we were thinking about the NOIR-type character, there are many and sundry: "Out of the Past" being a perfect film in this Genre (and "The Dark Corner" being equally apt, though nowhere near as downbeat)... but for the specific Pulp-Action-Hero I'd have to say "The Rocketeer" is the best ever in that category, and one has to love "Sky Captain and the World Of Tomorrow" for its In Your Face delightfulness. I've gone on record noting that Richard Bohringer, as Gorodish in the film "Diva", acts a LOT like The Shadow... if you've not seen the film, it is very much worth a gander: quite a tight, literate, entertaining set-to that is constantly surprising. In his stories, The Shadow nearly always gave his "enemies", unless they were petty henchmen, the opportunity of Doing What Was Right, and if they didn't, they, themselves were the cause of their own destruction. In "Diva" the character I note is very much in command of the situation, setting up the sort of dead-fall traps The Shadow was known for, to the consternation of the bad guys.
J: Editor Tim Gallagher supplied a great deal of Shadow material to Alec Baldwin and was disappointed that it was largely ignored (nor returned). He is planning an article describing his experience with what was wrong with the Shadow film for this very issue. To provide a counter, what do you think that they got right for the film?
MW: I'm not really the guy to ask what was right with that Shadow film. As my friend and collaborator Joel Goss pointed out, "There's not much good to be said about a film where the most memorable scene iswhen the mail is delivered." In his defense, Alec Baldwin, not being a guy who grew up with the Shadow pulps, saw the production as a "camp" style story, as opposed to the very strong pulp noir it could have been. If you watch "The Getaway" you'll see him doing many more Shadow-like moves, especially covering his lower face with his hand before blowing a hole in a bad guy he was hovering over. Sweet move. One cannot forgive the producers: they'd been told from all sides just how much more Real Shadow Content the film needed to be strong. Had they listened to Mike Richardson, Jim Steranko or even me, they'd have had a franchise on their hands and we'd be lining up for The Shadow VI. Having said the above (and that in no way covers all my disappointments with the movie), if you turn off the sound and just watch the film, it is pretty good-looking. The Art Department followed much more of the material I, and others, sent in, and the film shows it. But the total effect of the film, in my opinion, is a misfire. Too bad.
J: I have to say that The Shadow pretty much ends at the bridge for me, but what did you think of the Doc Savage film done by Michael Anderson in 1975?
MW: Is that the one with Ron Ely? I have to admit I never think about it. The closest to a sort of Pulp-inspired story on film that I've seen is the 1931 Ronald Coleman film "The Unholy Garden"... it looks like a SPIRIT story right out of Will Eisner's pen... but it's not pulpy like a Shadow or Doc Savage story. Buckaroo Banzai was a fine attempt: had there been more, I think they would have become much more what we'd be looking for.
J: Do you prefer more modern work like the Shadow, or medieval fantasy such as Elric and Conan?
MW: My heart feels most at home with the Edgar Rice Burroughs-type story: all worlds, pre-historic to future, done in what we call a "retro" style, the future or past as seen from the 1930's: that's my most sought-for viewpoint.
J: Who are the writers that you have not worked with yet and would love a chance to illustrate their words?
MW: One first-rate author is Gustave Flaubert, in his book Salammbo. Hundreds of pages of very ripe illustration fodder. The writer list could be endless: Carolyn Keene, Susannah Clarke, JK Rowling - and though it would be a heck of a lot of work, as it takes place in Regency England, Georgette Heyer's novel, The Masqueraders.
J: I've noticed more than a passing resemblance to Tim Hunter with the Harry Potter series. Has there been any discussion concerning any infringement based upon the series and appearance of young Tim?
MW: Certainly: Neil Gaiman has gone on record (years ago) that he believed there was not the slightest chance that JK Rowling caged anything for Harry Potter from his Tim Hunter comics. (see january magazine) It's true that both Tim and Harry, at the beginning, are 11 to 13 year old English School Boys with round glasses and a scar on their foreheads. Tim's scar isn't always visible, and is an "H" for "Hero", scratched there by his Owl. This is my rendition of Tim Hunter with his scar and his owl, in the background as a wooden board. Books of Magic 63 and 64 are the Tim Hunter images I think are closest to Harry's look. I'll admit to drawing about 8 personal Tim and Harry, Best Of Friends hommage drawings. While Harry has his broomstick, Tim has his Skateboard: just a skateboard, not a magical implement. Let me go on record as being the absolute happiest of men that there's both JK Rowling's magnificent Harry Potter and Neil Gaiman's equally complex and entertaining Tim Hunter in my world.
J: Would you name a few artists you think are doing intriguing and influential work today?
MW: Certainly, though this list is far from exhaustive: Jon Foster, Justin Sweet, Tom Kidd, James Jean, Josh Middleton, Charles Vess, Gary Gianni and oh so many more: for a longer but still incomplete listing (with linked web sites) please visit the LINKS page on my Web Site and scroll to "artists I like".
J: Have you experienced ageism when seeking assignments and being passed over for younger artists?
MW: Not that I've noticed. I seem to have an expertise in a style not many younger folk are trying for so, as long as an editor has been made aware of my "take", I seem to get the calls.
J: What is the project you would do if you were allowed only one more masterwork?
MW: I suppose if I had only one more book to illustrate, it might be that Flaubert's Salammbo I cited earlier. But, if it meant I had to stick my spoon in the wall when I was done, I'd pick something more along the lines of "all the books that ever needed to be illustrated."
All art copyright Michael Wm. Kaluta and the respective owners.
Michael Wm. Kaluta CHECKLIST
Michael W. Kaluta: An Interview with the Comic Book Artist by John Donald Carlucci