Popular genre artist, Joe Corroney, talks to blogger Kell Harker about what’s it’s like being a Star Wars illustrator for Lucasfilm and a comic book artist for IDW Publishing.
Joe is an incredibly gifted artist, and it’s lucky for us that he has chosen to share his talents with the sci-fi/fantasy/horror community.
Because whether it’s Star Wars, Star Trek, Farscape, Indiana Jones, or True Blood (just to name a few), his artistic syle: expressive characters, polished quality, and passion for his work and for the genre, has lent itself perfectly for collectors.
Recently, Joe was kind enough to treat this fangirl to an interview about his career as an illustrator:
When did you know you wanted to become a professional artist?
“ I’m not sure if I ever made a conscious decision to become a professional artist, I don’t even really remember. I know that I was very, very young; we’re talking three or four years old when I discovered my passion and desire for art and drawing. It was instinctual for me; drawing was my favorite thing to do along with playing with my Star Wars toys. I think also because I had very supportive parents, and very supportive people throughout my entire life, that helped keep me inspired, focused and passionate about being an artist all the time.
“In high school I was expected to seriously consider a future career and I knew I was going to become a professional illustrator and hopefully someday draw for Star Wars and other films. I grew up on comic books, animation and movies; they were a constant in my every day life. Those entertainment mediums helped inspire my imagination daily and kept me inspired creatively, too. So I’d say it was more of subconscious choice all along from practically day one that I'd end up on this path.”
How has it been being an artist for Lucasfilm?
“ Working for them on a project, however big or small it might be, is always a pleasure and a thrill for me. Most of the work I do for Lucasfilm is for their various licensees but occasionally over the years I’ve done work for them directly on special projects too. One of these I was really proud of was Holonet News.com , which was an in-universe Star Wars website used as a viral marketing tool of sorts to give fans back story and clues leading up to the release of Episode II: Attack Of The Clones in 2002.
“But everything I do, whether it’s been for Topps, Dark Horse Comics, Wizards Of The Coast, Star Wars Insider , and so forth, gets approved through Licensing at Lucasfilm directly before it gets published. I’ve always had very good rapport with them through my work, I believe, and my artwork usually goes through the approval process without any hitches since I know my way around the Expanded Universe really well, and I put a lot of care and effort in my work. I think it makes the process smoother for all the parties involved.”
Right now you’re busy creating amazing cover artwork for IDW’s True Blood comics. How much time and energy goes into completing each cover?
“Thanks! The process to do a cover from start to finish takes about a week usually, though it can go a lot faster if need be. I’ll usually spend half a day working on sketches and layouts for it and then if I can get approval right away I’ll dive into the pencils that night. I draw really tight, finished pencils for my cover art usually, and then it goes straight to the color stage from there.
“My colourist partner, Brian Miller, will spend at least a few days, sometimes more depending on the complexity of the piece, rendering it in full color. The artwork comes back to me and I’ll polish it off, cleaning it up and tightening up my line work too if it needs it, and then it’s sent to the publisher.
“Sometimes there are revisions or additions needed so that might add another few hours, half a day, etc, to the schedule. We knocked out covers from start to finish over the course of a weekend before, like we did for the very first True Blood cover to help IDW land the license from HBO, but it’s usually best when we can have at least a week to take our time with it.”
How big of a fan are you of True Blood?
“I’m a huge True Blood fan! I’ve been watching it since the very first episode; I was hooked from day one. I’m a big horror fan so I really enjoy seeing vampires portrayed so three dimensionally and with so much intensity and drama. The source material and world they created for the series is just so rich, so full of potential.”
Which character from the show do you have the most fun drawing?
“I love drawing the female characters the most; it’s probably a toss up between Sookie and Jessica.”
But if you had to choose between them?
“I’d have to say Jessica. Vampires always have more fun!
“I don’t get to draw too many sexy females in most of my projects for Star Wars or Star Trek. I mean, some of the time I do but it’s usually guys with lightsabers, laser pistols, aliens and spaceships, which are always fun to draw too, but I’m enjoying the opportunities True Blood is giving me working with really sexy characters and to get to play in the horror genre again.”
How much creative freedom to do have with illustrating the covers?
“My publishers and editors, especially at IDW Publishing and BOOM! Studios, have always been very good with giving me lots of freedom, but also reigning me in and giving me direction when I need it. Usually they’ll give me some ideas, some concepts, themes or characters I need to stick with for some ballpark direction, but for the most part they give me the assignment and just let me go crazy with my imagination. Sometimes it may be a specific action scene from the script I’ll need to portray on the cover, and other times the publisher might just want a character montage. That’s usually where my influence from Drew Struzan usually comes in to play or other sci-fi and fantasy artists. Sometimes it’s just a matter of getting familiar with the script, or reading a synopsis of the plot and focusing on some key elements, characters or scenes to come up with dramatic composition.”
It’s obvious that you’re very passionate about what you do, and you enjoy sharing that passion with your fans – you’ve just done San Diego Comic-Con and Celebration V back-to-back…
“Yeah, doing SDCC and CV back-to-back, traveling across one end of the country to the other, was hectic and all of the preparation and other projects that I had to get done in between just added to the insanity. In the end it was all worth it though. I had such a blast at both events.”
What do you like most about being in Artist Alley?
“Probably the thing I like most about being a part of Artist Alley is getting to meet all the fans and hanging out friends I usually only get to see once or twice a year.”
Have you met any of your genre heroes thanks to your career?
“At this past Comic-Con I was sitting at my table in Artist Alley at the end of the row, and had my nose pointed down at my latest True Blood cover that I was busy penciling, trying to get it wrapped up for my deadline later that week and as I was focused on my drawing I felt someone hovering over my shoulder but I didn’t pay it any mind at first. I was thinking it was probably just another curious fan watching me do what I do. After another minute or two I found a stopping point in my shading, and I still felt this person watching me over my shoulder, so I turned around and looked up in the aisle, and it was none other than Drew Struzan! That really threw me for a loop! I wasn’t expecting to see him at all. He’s been one of my heroes since I was a kid. We hung out for a bit and we got to talk which was nice. He’s incredibly generous and humble. I actually met him very briefly three years earlier at Celebration IV in Los Angeles, but it was only in passing and I really didn’t get a chance to talk to him or share my artwork with him there. It was definitely a much more satisfying experience with him this time at this past Comic-Con.”
Not only are you a favourite exhibitor in Artist Alley, but at a few conventions you’ve also taught art workshops for kids. I’d be great to hear more about that…
“I used to teach a college-level Comic Book Illustration course for almost ten years, from 1998 to 2007, in Columbus, Ohio. During that time I also did a children’s cartooning/comic book workshop for kids at the Ohio State University. I love working with kids. The workshops are a lot of fun and I’ve done them at conventions, like just recently at Celebration V, where I worked with kids there and was teaching them how to draw Star Wars characters. That’s always fun!
“I enjoyed teaching my comic book course over the years too because it got me out of the studio for one night a week and I was constantly learning from my own students as much as they were learning from me, so there was nice symbiotic-type environment we all really seemed to thrive in there.”
What’s the strangest on-site sketching request that you’ve had from a fan?
“There’s been a few requests I’ve taken on from fans at conventions over the years that have been a little off beat; seeing their family pet as a Star Wars character, is one example. I try not to go down that road too often, though. The more off- the-wall the request, sometimes the less interested I am actually in drawing it. It would feel like pulling teeth for me instead of drawing at that point. It just depends on the subject matter and the concept, really.”
Is there something you secretly hope to be commissioned for?
“I’d love to draw Batman for DC Comics , hopefully some covers at least, someday. I’m a huge Batman fan. I have been my whole life and I love the darker, more realistic superhero characters in general. On that note, I’d love to do more superhero stuff for Marvel and DC again too. I feel like I’ve only just scratched the surface on what I could do for them in that genre, like on the previous titles I worked on: Crimson Dynamo, Salavation Run , etc”
What piece are you most proud of doing?
“It’s hard to say! There are so many pieces I’ve worked on over the years that mean a lot to me for different reasons. Just in recent memory though, it would probably have to be my cover art for True Blood #1 from IDW Publishing . I only had a weekend to turn that around for my editor. He called me on a Thursday I believe, and needed the art on the following Monday for a meeting with HBO as IDW wanted to pitch them on the idea to publish comic books based on their TV series. I was already a huge fan of the show so I jumped at this opportunity to have Brian and I knock this out of the park for them. It did end up helping IDW acquire the license so I felt really, really proud. And for a cover that was really done on the fly, it’s probably been one of my most successful pieces. I’ve gotten a lot of positive feedback and attention for it, thanks to the incredible success of the show too, of course.”
What advice can offer to struggling artists out there?
“The best advice I can give is stay focused and not give up. I find that the harder you work, the more successful you become. And if you're good to others and treat people with the same courtesy and respect you hope for, then that certainly helps too.
“Also, natural talent can only take you so far too. You also have to know how to be a good business person, utilising real people skills. I think some artists, especially starting out, may not always have the basic, necessary skills it takes to work with clients, meet with fans, know how to communicate with customers or keep disciplined and stay on top of deadlines and complete projects on schedule for publishers. Some of this stuff doesn’t come naturally for everyone. It comes with practice just like drawing. An artist just needs to be cognitive of it so they can improve on it too if need be. So I think it’s the right balance of being a smart business person along with discipline and talent. A little luck from time to time doesn't hurt either of course.
Thanks, Joe! May the Force be with you.