Eric Maruscak's Brief Bio
I am an illustrator, cartoonist, and concept artist who started getting noticed on the convention scene back in the summer of 2006 when I appeared at the Wizard World 10th Anniversary Chicago convention. There I recreated Michael Turner Wizard covers in the form of a giant chalk mural outside of the Rosemont Convention Center. Since then I have made my huge chalk murals at numerous Wizard World Shows, several New York Comic-Cons, and New York Anime Festivals, 2 appearances at the Baltimore Otakon, plus the Toy Fair, the Penny Arcade Expo, and more. You can see a lot of the work at my website: www.pepperink.com.
What inspired you to become an artist?
My first love was actually newspaper comic strips. As a child, I would sit and recreate drawings from the comic section, trying to get Garfield or Peanuts characters to look just right. I grew up during the perfect storm of Bloom County, Calvin and Hobbes, and The Far Side, when newspaper strips were a must-read every day and you didn't want to miss a moment of the story. My dream job was to make my own strip, and I put years into the study of the cartooning art form.
It helped that Johnny Hart (creator of BC and the Wizard of Id) lived in my home town, and meeting him at a number of public events kept my dream thriving. They even held the BC Open golf tournament nearby, and for several of the events, huge names in the comic industry came to the tournament, including Jim Davis (Garfield), Mike Peters (Mother Goose and Grimm), Mort Walker (Beetle Bailey/Hi and Lois), and Dik Browne (Hagar the Horrible). It really was amazing to experience this and meet these artists during my formative years.
After that, I taught cartooning classes at local museums and through school programs, and tried for years to make it as a successful cartoonist. But the sheer number of people out there fighting to make those few spots on the newspaper page was my biggest obstacle. I moved on from that initial dream to other art forms, and found inspiration in fantasy art and comic books. To this day, my cartooning background heavily influences all of my drawings, and I can't seem to get away from that heavy line work or the exaggeration of my subjects.
I find it really interesting that things have come full circle now; that almost anyone can make a strip and self-publish as a Web comic. Some of the best artists today are working in that medium.
What’s your all-time favorite comic issue or series?
When I was young, my older brother and his friends followed The Avengers, and I remember us playing as those characters in the neighborhood. I always wanted to be Vision; I thought he was just so damn cool. Then for years I didn't collect or read comics at all.
Some good friends of mine followed comics more closely than I, and they were the ones who turned me onto the Secret Wars mini-series when it came out, and that got me back into reading. It was all she wrote, and I collected something like 40 to 50 titles monthly for the next few years. I have to admit, I was mostly a Marvel guy, reading The Incredible Hulk, Fantastic Four, Avengers, X-Men. I even collected most of the original New Universe series (which, at the time, I honestly thought was great and was sorry to see it go) and some other short-run classic titles like Strikeforce Morituri.
I stopped collecting about the time of the collapse of the speculator market in the early 1990s (I could only take so many variant foil covers). Now I follow more of the smaller titles, and stick to the trades (sorry to all the purists out there) with things like Hellboy and The Walking Dead. But I've never forgotten the amazement and thrill of that original Secret Wars mini-series—the epic scale, the huge cast, the planet-shattering powers. For me, Secret Wars will always be my all-time favorite, I think.
Who are your favorite artists working today?
Alex Ross, simply one of the most talented artists out there. His attention to detail, the stunning realism, and his massive body of work put this one right at the top of the list.
Mike Mignola, for his incredible sense of design, his fearless use of black, and his unmistakable style (plus we share a love of the supernatural, so I am always drawn to his work).
Dale Keown is an amazing penciler, and one of the most underrated artists out there; his complete mastery of light sources in his cross-hatching line work is stunning.
Joe Madureira can make anything look cool. A single character pose from Joe can be more dynamic than a lot of artists’ full splash pages.
Also, since my natural drawing style is more exaggerated and stylized than a lot of the "realism" some comic artists strive to achieve, I am always pulled to artists like Gabriel Ba (The Umbrella Academy), Duncan Fegredo (Hellboy: Darkness Calls), Humberto Ramos (Runaways), Skottie Young (Wizard of Oz), and Juanjo Guarnido (with his "Disney meets Film Noir” art on Blacksad).
Looking forward, what would be your “dream project”?
Since most of my work is known through conventions and chalk murals, some of my dream work would be cover art for the more major (or even off-beat) titles. I have delved a lot into digital painting and concept art in the last decade, and would love to get the chance to illustrate some full-color cover work and create some digital paintings. I also follow Manga and anime quite a bit, and wouldn't mind getting more into those markets with some off-beat stories and illustration work.
But by far, my dream (like so many artists) is to create my own long-form graphic novel, handling all of the work from cover to cover. My work as a graphic designer over the years has given me a strong understanding of printing and design, so I would love to write, illustrate, color/paint, and design my own graphic novel for publication. I have so many characters, ideas, and stories I would love to tell, and I really don't think there is any part of the process I couldn't tackle. So I would enjoy the challenge of creating a full-blown piece of artistic work that could be discovered and enjoyed by people for years to come.
What would you be doing if you were not in comics?
I think I would be a concept artist for the video game and film industry. I am a huge fan of work from people like Andrew Jones, Daniel Dociu, Jon Foster, Marko Djurdjevic, and others who have mastered not only traditional media, but digital painting and art creation as well.
I would love the chance to work at creating environments, characters, and machinery from scratch; world building from the ground up to be explored and experienced through interactive media. It is an art where you have to think much more about form and function, the culture and history of what you are illustrating, on top of light sources and color palettes.
One of my earliest favorite painters was Ralph McQuarrie. The iconic images he created were as much of what brought Star Wars to life as was George Lucas's imagination. The best in the business ground their work with a sense of understated realism, and I could see myself gravitating towards that very easily if I didn't have the wonderful over-the-top fantasy of comic books to explore.
What advice would you have for aspiring artists looking to break into the business?
Never stop, of course. Never give up. It is daunting and overwhelming, and it can beat down your confidence at times to see how much great, amazing work is out there, how many talented artists fight for exposure, and what you have to overcome to get noticed.
That being said, there is a place for your style. Don't work at being the next “so-and-so;” work at being a distinctive YOU! Find your voice, and do everything you can to get it to appear as clearly and undistorted as possible in your work. Somewhere out there is someone who has a need for that voice, and they will find you if you keep putting yourself out where you can be seen.
And finally, be nice to EVERYONE! Treat everyone with the same respect and honor that you would want shown towards you. I like telling about my transformative convention experience. I was at Wizard World Philadelphia pounding the aisles in "Artist Alley," having a typical weekend hearing a lot of "that's ok" and "you really need to work on this" directed at my portfolio. It was tough, but I kept showing it around. Near the very end of the last day, I was showing my work to a great artist named Franchesco, (you'll see why I totally owe him this shameless plug, so please check out his website), and he came across one of my superhero chalk murals from an arts festival. Without hesitation, he spun my portfolio around, showed it to the guy who had been standing next to me for a little while, and said, "He should make these at conventions."
Turns out that the man next to me was the director of Wizard World Tours at the time, and he dropped a business card in my hand saying it was a cool idea and to get in touch. It took two months of phone calls and e-mails to arrange it, but that was how I got my first gig making a mural at a show. I had no idea who this guy was when I was standing in the aisle at the show, but Franchesco was nice enough to give me a plug, and it led to eventual appearances all over the country!
Be nice to everyone. Networking is so important, and, really, everyone deserves to see the best you, and not an "egotistical artist" version who thinks they have nothing to learn and are ready to be famous.
Anything else that you would like to share?
I think it is a crime that some of the best illustrators in the world today are working in the medium of comic books; that it is still seen as immature kids stuff by a large portion of the population, and is therefore discredited. Even with blockbuster movies, story lines in popular video games, and entire sections devoted to the trade in bookstores, the comic medium still has limited crossover appeal.
Let people know how good some of this stuff is—how well-written, incredibly drawn, and superbly crafted comic work can be. Spread the word, people, spread the word!
And finally, I'll be doing a huge chalk drawing of the Alex Ross poser featuring Iron Man, Thor and Hulk at C2E2 in Chicago the weekend of April 10, 2010. (editor's note: now that C2E2 has come and gone, Eric has posted the full time lapse video on his website, it is a MUST SEE!)
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