Genre mash-ups provide very entertaining stories as seemingly disparate genres come together and artist Arthur Suydam’s art is a great example of how that can work. His Marvel Zombies and homage covers have become highly collectible Modern books, featuring the decaying forms of Marvel’s biggest heroes. Suydam recently talked to Scoop about those covers, his work on Deadpool: Merc with a Mouth, and how he became a fan of comics.
Scoop: Were you a fan of comics before you got into the industry?
Arthur Suydam (AS): When I was 5 years old, I was caught in a fire and as a consequence laid up for a year in the hospital. Having been burned over 50% of my body, no one expected me to make it and the team of four doctors in charge of my case lobbied my parents, that perhaps it might be more merciful to just let me go. My father would hear none of that, and told them that if they didn't try everything to save his son that he would kill them.
On weekends my parents would come to visit me, and they would bring me comic books to read. DC’s Star Spangled War Stories with dinosaurs, Legion of Super Heroes, World’s Finest and Superman. At that time those were my favorites. I was wrapped from head to toe in bandages, wrapped up like a mummy. When I finally was released from the hospital a year later, I had to relearn how to walk. Soon as they began to take some of the bandages off my hands I began to draw. I taught myself to hold a pencil between fingers that were less burned. At that time, I drew mostly dinosaurs with my older brother who also liked to draw, later animals, and then superheroes.
In my early teens I stumbled on the Marvel pre-hero sci-fi books from the “title cut off” comic book returns, because they were cheap and that’s what I could afford. Three in a pack for 20¢ at the little corner dime store. The ‘60s sci-fi short stories with the great [Steve] Ditko and [Jack] Kirby art really caught my attention and called to me and I became a big Marvel comics fan. I spent all my money on comics. One day, years later while trading comics with a local neighbor I discovered these incredible large size black and white horror magazine size comics with the best comic art I had ever seen. Turns out those were the Warren books featuring many of the EC comics faculty – Reed Crandall, Al Williamson, Angelo Torres, Frank Frazetta along with my own personal hero, Steve Ditko, doing the best work of his career. In fact, they were all doing the best work of their careers. That work still holds up for me as the best comic art I’ve ever seen.
I made a promise to myself that someday I would work for Warren publishing doing their horror books. Years later, when I was in my senior year of high school, I went up to visit their editor, Jim Warren in New York to show him my work. Warren hired me on the spot. However, when I mentioned that I was still in high school, he informed me that I had the job if I wanted it, but to come back after I graduated. Upon graduation, the following year, I returned to New York to begin work at Warren publishing on their Creepy and Eerie magazines and on the way, I stopped off at DC Comics to see editor Joe Orlando who was managing a series of EC/Warren style horror comics for DC. During the interview, Joe informed me that he was the art director for Warren who had brought over all the great EC artists to work at Warren. After reviewing my portfolio Joe asked me to work for DC Comics instead and to forget about working for Warren. Joe opened up a drawer and told me that there were 250 scripts in that drawer and that I could have as many of them as I wanted and he handed me my first script and the pro career began. My first story was entitled: “Carnival of Dwarfs.”
Scoop: What’s your artistic process like – do you do a lot of preliminary sketches and planning?
AS: I had an uncle who reportedly studied with Albert Dorne and Norman Rockwell and I inherited his lesson books from my aunt when I was about 8 years old. That began my formal art studies. Later on, I studied at a classical atelier recreation of the school of Raphael, Michelangelo, and Da Vinci in New York City modeled after their old study notes. These studies inform my drawing process. The Rockwell system, I’d say, is the system which most resembles my process when painting illustrations. Much the same for sepia illustrations. I do lots of pre-sketches and typically a pretty exact ink drawing for most of the covers and then an exact underpainting.
Scoop: How about the environment when you work – do you listen to music, do you like having a view, etc.?
AS: I like to either listen to a mix of classical solo instrumental performances – or to silence while working depending on which stage I’m at in the job. Silence when writing and in the planning stage – and then solo music in the grunt work stages. I need to be next to a window with lots of natural light when illustrating. When so many hours are going into the work, one needs to stretch the eyes to prevent eye strain and fatigue from setting in and hopefully keep the progress moving.
Scoop: You are well known for attention grabbing cover art. What do you find challenging about crafting covers?
AS: Typically, things run pretty smoothly. My MO is always to try to deliver my best work to publishers. It’s good for everyone. At Marvel I worked directly with the artist liaison at the time, Chris Allo, who very smartly always endeavored to place the right artist with the right job and then did follow through to make it all happen. Chris was one of the instrumental forces behind the incredible zombie explosion prompted by the Marvel Zombie project.
Scoop: Did you like zombie movies as a kid? If so, what’s your favorite?
AS: Actually, I’ve always had a hard time watching them, mostly because they were low quality – and then the good ones actually gave me nightmares for decades. That said, my favorite Z-list goes something like this: Return of the Living Dead – great in large part because the creative team was comprised of talented comic book talent like Dan Obandon and Bill Stout. Night of the Living Dead, Shaun of the Dead, had a nice first half and then fell flat once the comedy fell out in the second act. Marvel Zombies is what prompted the big recent zombie craze and was instrumented in establishing the signing of The Walking Dead AMC TV series. I thought the series was incredible and I like it better than the movies.
Scoop: Are there any Marvel characters that you wanted to turn into zombies but didn’t get the opportunity?
AS: In the opinion of many fans, there is an untapped gold mine for Marvel in the Marvel Zombies universe, both in publishing and more so on the big screen. The Marvel Zombies movie is the film all the fans have been calling for for years. I have IP designs for a comprehensive collection of cutting edge progressive new Marvel Zombies scripts and series titles here in the office on ice. Maybe we can all get something to happen there someday. I’d like to write and do covers for a DC “Batman Zombie” series. I’ve been pretty busy lately with the KISS Zombies series.
Scoop: For Deadpool: Merc with a Mouth you created a series of homage covers for movie posters and other covers. Which was your favorite and why?
AS: Yea, the whole mash-up homage cover thing I do began with Marvel Zombies and the Dynamite series, Raise the Dead, and Army of Darkness vs Marvel Zombies. I was told that fans were collecting the books for the covers, purchasing five copies of the same book just to get the new covers. Because these series were big hits, editors kept calling me to work on their other series. I recall one particular meeting when one editor, who had been soliciting me for a year to work on his line of books, blew up because I couldn’t work on his books because all my time was already contracted with the Marvel Zombie series, which kept selling out every couple of days mandating new covers for the second, third, and fourth printings and so on. There were a lot of months where I had very little sleep during those days. Finally, one day he called me when there was an opening and I was able to say yes to the Deadpool Merc with a Mouth series, where I continued the homage to the classics direction.
Regarding favorites, I don’t think I have any favorites. I try to do my best work on whatever series I’m working on at the time. I believe some of the fans favorite from that series might be the Nirvana water baby homage I did for issue 12. That one was based on a cover I did for the Dynamite, Raise the Dead series. I told Marvel’s editor that I didn’t want to repeat anything I had already done on another series, however the editor insisted, so here we are.
Scoop: What do you like about working on horror and sci-fi titles like House of Secrets and Heavy Metal?
AS: I grew up on horror movies, TV and novels and came into the business doing horror and have been doing horror my entire life. I guess over the decades one is informed by what one eats. What I like are writing and illustration opportunities to do some good work – unrestricted – uncensored. That’s the opportunity Heavy Metal provided. They told me I could write and draw anything I wanted and that’s what we all did. That magazine revolutionized the comics industry.
Scoop: You’ve worked on many big name characters from Black Panther to Wolverine to Ghost Rider and several others. Do you have a favorite character or title that you like working on and if so, why that one?
AS: My favorite gigs are the ones that provide opportunity to try out new things and that give me a challenge. I like inserting little ironies into the storytelling of a cover illustration and find that it can help prevent a theme from going flat.
Scoop: In addition to comics, you’ve provided art for the game Touch the Dead, for the novel Dead Street, and worked with the Misfits a few times. How do those projects differ from working in comics?
AS: There’s no difference really. Perhaps a bit more of input in the planning stage from the client working on band album covers, depending on the group. Bands tend to come to you with an idea of what they want – comic publishers tend to want me to provide the full concept from start to finish for a piece.
Scoop: Are you a collector? If so, what do you collect?
AS: These days I collect sculpture and original art. I like to have a piece by some of the artists whose work I’ve admired growing up. I have a few in mind from the Warren days I’d love to get ahold of someday – maybe some splash pages. When traveling I look for little pieces of art that speaks to me to add to my collection. Could be any genre by anyone. I like to support other artists.
Scoop: What are you working on now and how can fans support your work?
AS: Well I just finished working on the big Kiss Zombies series for Dynamite and currently I’m working on the Mars Attacks vs Red Sonja series – the final cover for that series took so long. I had a friend pose for the main character and spent days painting scores of tiny Martians running around, driving little space cars and the like. I am just starting another new series, and as always, teaching Muay Thai.
Fans can come by to see me at any show when shows start up again. I’d be happy to meet you all. My agents contact is also included in this article for those who are interested in convention bookings. A big thank you to all of those who have supported my work over the years.
For more information on booking Arthur Suydam or inquiring about artwork, contact his agent at Eva Ink Artist Group: email@example.com.