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Slayalive Interview Steve Morris


Exclusive Interview with Steve Morris, Buffy Season 9, Angel & Faith Cover Artist

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Covers for Angel & Faith #1 (left) and Buffy Season 9 #1 (right) by Steve Morris

Hey Steve. Thanks for agreeing to do this interview. We all know that you’re the current main cover artist for Angel & Faith and Buffy Season 9, and had previously done covers for Dollhouse and Serenity.

But let’s start from the very beginning, a very good place to start: When did you decide that art was going to be your life?

Steve: There wasn’t a time where I didn’t plan on being an artist. I always drew and by later in grammar school was using watercolors, then on to acrylics and oils from junior high and high school.

How did you start in the business? What is your artistic background like? Did you go to school for sequential or fine art?

Steve: In junior high I discovered kids would part with their money for fantasy drawings or paintings of their favorite metal band on the back of their denim jackets. By high school I started to get very focused on portraiture and that interest has continued to this day. But along the way I’ve bounced to photography, semi abstracted figurative art and everything in-between. I was a fine art major in college…which was like paying for four years of study hall, but being around a lot of other creative people caused me to experiment more with mediums and styles, so it definitely had its value. Toward the middle of college, I wanted to create art that would be mass producible, because I felt galleries weren’t really a way to reach people. And thus began my slow descent into computer art and the comic book world.

What was your first major project?

Steve: Right after college I was hired to illustrate a children’s Christmas book called Silver Berries and Christmas Magic. They needed 20 paintings completed in 3 months…I was totally out of my element both in subject and time frame. It was a grind. I was living in NYC at the time and when I went home for the Christmas holiday, I brought some of the paintings with me, so I could continue to paint… I made the deadline.

Blessed Thistle by Steve Morris
You were the winner of Dark Horse’s 2004 New Recruits contest, which led to the publication of your creator-owned original graphic novel, Blessed Thistle. How long did you work on that project?

Steve: It approached a year of time I think. I did everything on the book, including lettering.

How would you describe what the story of Blessed Thistle is about in a quick sentence or two?

Steve: It’s a suspense/horror graphic novel, containing four interlocked stories, which deal with themes of God’s relationship with man, free will, consumption and the parent-child relationship.

Covers for Serenity: The Shepherd’s Tale (left) and Dollhouse: Epitaphs (right) by Steve Morris

As mentioned above, you had also previously done covers for other Whedonverse projects (Serenity: The Shepherd’s Tale and Dollhouse: Epitaphs). Did those projects naturally transition into landing the Buffyverse gigs?

Steve: I’d imagine so, I think they were happy with my ability to render likenesses as well as the manner in which I interpret story content beyond the surface.

Covers for Angel & Faith #6 (left) and Buffy #5 (right) by Steve Morris
Since we’re on the topic of the Buffyverse, I wanted to first commend you on the beautiful covers for both books so far. Your cover for Buffy #5 and Angel & Faith #6 are my personal favorites so far. Could you explain the design concepts for both the covers?

Steve: Thanks! I can’t explain the juicier parts of A&F #6 (the Giles and spiky hand imagery) without risking a pummeling from Dark Horse. I can say that I’ve always been fascinated by nesting dolls or objects splitting in half or housing other objects… it carries into metaphors about secrets, inner worlds and/or past-present relationships. I repeat this motif from time to time; I used it to similar effect on A&F #3 with Angelus split in half around Angel.

With the Buffy #5, I had pitched a few different ideas, although the dress one was my favorite. I wanted to put Buffy in a dress that she might ogle at in a magazine, with a pronounced sigh, but never have any practical occasion to wear…considering her on-the-slay life style. Also, The dress’ Pucci-esque pattern would lend itself to morphing into disturbing and hellish imagery, which was a plus.

Are there any covers you’re really proud of coming our way? Any hints as to why it’s a personal favorite?

Steve: Buffy #3 is one of my favorites, but also A&F # 7 (which hasn’t been seen yet), mainly because both are very much like portraits and have a personal mood about them.

While Buffy #5 is your last Buffy cover (for now, at least), it sounds like you’re the permanent main cover artist on Angel & Faith. Can you confirm that?

Steve: Yes I’ll be on for all of Season 9 of A&F as well as the trades for the title.

So what’s the process like for you when designing covers? Do you pitch a few concepts, and Dark Horse picks one, and you run with it? Are there instances when there’s a very specific design requested for a cover?

Steve: I’m not often given a script, usually they’ll tell me who needs to appear on the cover and I’ll ask them questions about the general thrust of the story, motifs, locations or any tidbits that I can use to build a more interesting image. Sometimes I’ll show Dark Horse several sketches, while other times I’ll have a single strong idea and only provide one sketch.

Dark Horse doesn’t normally make specific requests; they’re very generous with allowing me an open playing field to develop ideas. There are occasions, like on Buffy #2 or A&F #2, that I was asked to draw combat scenes, and in those cases I didn’t meander from the request… I did however try to make it more interesting by using weird angles and more extreme or cartoony poses than I’d normally use.

So far, all your covers for both books have had a very painterly quality to them. Will you be experimenting with different styles at any point, or will you be sticking with that style for all the covers?

Steve: I do want some covers to be less heavily rendered, A&F #8 is much softer, more stylized and maybe a little more cartoony than other covers, and I’ll do more like that when it feels right for the image.

You’re currently pretty busy with Dark Horse projects, doing covers for The Strain, House of Night, The Occultist, and Falling Skies as well as the covers for Buffy Season 9 and Angel & Faith. Which book are you having the most fun with? Any challenging aspects to any of the covers?

Steve: The Occultist was a fun project. Being that it wasn’t a licensed property, I could get wackier with style, and also draw wider angle compositions, since I didn’t need to keep actors’ likenesses front and center… Which leads to your next question about challenges…

Although I’ve done a lot of portrait painting, creating likenesses for Buffy and A&F is a totally different animal. With portrait painting, I’ll paint a single portrait over a period of time, using a single photo (I took) as the basis for the pose, with closeup photos for detail, and then some live sessions to finish. When I draw a likeness for a comic, it’s an amalgamation of several photos and stills and a bit of guesswork. Sometimes my guess work is better than others…and taking into account my rapid pace on the covers, I often couldn’t see problems until after I had turned the cover in. To remedy that situation, I’ve started working slower and taking more breaks to get a fresh and objective perspective.

So, other than sequential art and cover work, you have an Etsy store that sells small prints and you have some larger formats for sale on your site.
Can you tell us more about the collection of prints you have on there? What was the inspiration for these?

Steve: I gravitate towards complicated art styles. My “Butterbroda” series of prints was an attempt to stay simple and have some fun, rather than get bogged down with heavy rendering and details. The tone of the series came from my love of Krampus postcards. Krampus , being Northern Europe’s iron-fisted counterpart to St Nick. The first few pieces were funny images of kids getting chased/threatened by monsters to which I attached purposely overwritten titles…mostly because they make me laugh. Over time I’ve expanded the subject matter to encompass myths, legends, or even simple animal portraits, but all sticking within an “Old World” time frame.

Giclee print designs by Steve Morris available on Etsy

Your “Butterbroda” series “juxtaposes beauty with decay and innocence with danger, creating a narrative which allows the viewer to create their own story.” Is there a particular narrative you had in mind when you designed those pieces?

Steve: No, I don’t think too deeply into the action of the picture and I haven’t planned to connect the pictures into a single “universe” or umbrella story. I prefer to leave them open-ended.

I noticed that some of the prints were also described as having subject matter that is based partially on a graphic novel that you are working on, although some images only follow the spirit of the graphic novel and not the direct story. Can you share with us some details about this project? What will it be about? Where are you in the creative process with that book right now?

Steve: Hmm, I really need to do some updating to that text lol. There was a time when I was attempting to use this style in a sequential form… I was determined. I took months of fiddling to finally admit that a book of bright red sequentials wasn’t one of my better plans. Since then, I’ve slowly been altering the first couple of pages (which are all that exist) into a completely different style, at least in terms of coloring…the underlying drawing is still very similar. The final appearance has a Russian/Japanese/Golden Age-ish feel. The book is fully written, I just need to find the time to continue with it.

One of your designs was picked for a Topshop extremely limited run project. How did you get selected?

Steve: A Senior Buyer from Topshop contacted me through Etsy, out of the blue. It was a really great opportunity, and the timing was perfect, as I had started looking into ways of expanding “Butterbroda” into mediums beyond paper.

Alrighty, last question, and this one’s pretty easy. How can we best keep up with your work? And let’s pimp some of your wares: for those interested in particular pieces of art from you, what is the best way to obtain them?

The best way to keep up with me is through my blog (http://blog.stevemorrisart.com/ ). Prints from my “Butterbroda” series can be bought at my Etsy shop (http://www.etsy.com/shop/morrisetsy), while larger versions of some of those prints are available through my own site (http://stevemorrisartprints.bigcartel.com/).

Thanks for doing this, Steve. We look forward to seeing more stuff from you.

Original Interview at Slayalive

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