Star Wars ties
There’s something infectious about Dave’s enthusiasm. Even after 30 years painting within some of the world’s most popular storyscapes – Star Wars, Aliens, Batman and Captain America, to name just a handful – he’s never become jaded. He loves all the characters and stories just as much now as he did when he first encountered them in the movies and comic books of his youth.
Just one testament to his skills is the fact that George Lucas buys Dave’s Star Wars art for the Skywalker Ranch. “It’s so gratifying to have the creator of that universe himself interested and enjoying my work enough that he asks to purchase certain pieces for his collection. It’s quite the honour for this still-young-at-heart fanboy,” says Dave.Lucasfilm relationship
Working on Star Wars imagery for Dark Horse Comics has undoubtedly been one of the highlights of Dave’s distinguished career. He puts it down to being in the right place at the right time, as he was on the Dark Horse doorstep when it first won the right to produce Star Wars and Indiana Jones comic books under licence from Lucasfilm. “I was fortunate enough to produce the groundbreaking covers for their first series of Indiana Jones and the Fate of Atlantis and also Star Wars: Dark Empire,” he explains.
That began a relationship with Lucasfilm that he continues to cherish, and he still strives to capture the intensity of the films in his paintings. “It’s hard to pick a single image and say it’s my favourite,” he says. “I do love the Star Wars universe and look upon each one I do as a challenge for me to match the excitement Lucasfilm has given us in the films. But if I had to name a few, they’d be The Sandtrooper piece I did for the Rolling Thunder limited print, Dark Luke for Dark Empire number two, and recently the battle scene done for Star Wars Celebration 4.” Alien talents
The Aliens movies have also had a big impact, both on Dave’s career and on his artistic life. As he explains, HR Giger’s visceral style shocked him when he first encountered it, and the art and films have had a profound influence on his career ever since. Among his fans, one of Dave’s best-loved works is the illustrated novel Aliens: Tribes. His images in the book won him the Eisner Award for Best Painter in 1993.
He’d always loved the books created by NC Wyeth in the 20s and 30s, and when Dark Horse decided to look for non-comic projects, Dave put his own idea forward. “To my amazement, it was taken up and they let us (Steve Bissette wrote the short novel) run with it. I knew I was doing something very unusual for this market and I wanted it to be coming from inside me, much like the chest-burster from the film,” he laughs. “It was a grand experience and the book turned out beautifully.”Personal projects
When he’s not working on the big name franchises in science fiction and fantasy, Dave tries to find the time for his own project: Wasted Lands. The first of five graphic novels in the series, entitled Rail, has already been published, and he hopes to have another book out by summer next year. Dave characterises Wasted Lands as a motorcycle western, citing influences as varied as Sergio Leone, Mad Max, Cthulhu, freemasonry and Arthurian legend. There’s a smattering of fascism and some zombies just for extra flavour too.
He explains, “After so many years of working on licensed art, I really felt it was time to break loose of working on other people’s characters and worlds and create my own. I’d had a number of characters floating around in my head and on paper for a while, but never really had a place to put them. When I made the decision to form this universe, I decided that if I was going to do it, I wanted to make it fun and I wanted it to have all the things I enjoy – from movies to books to games to music to pop culture. Gee… not a very broad base to start!”Big break
If you ask Dave to think of what his first big break was, he goes all the way back to a work he sold to that tome of top-rung fantasy art in the 80s, Heavy Metal Magazine. In the autumn of 1981 he went to New York to show his portfolio to the magazine’s art department. At the time it was headed by John Workman, who really liked a piece of Dave’s work.
“He took me to the editor, who then walked me to the publisher Matty Simmons, who in the corner office, with two walls of window overlooking Manhattan, personally approved the purchase of that piece of art for the cover of Heavy Metal Magazine, July 1982,” he says. “It featured a character study of a warrior and his buxom, armoured beauty. To this day it’s one of my favourite pieces, rendered in a style more realistic than I paint now, but still showing signs of my own developing technique.”Dynamic realism
Today he describes his style as dynamic realism. He tries to paint his pictures in a realistic way, despite the subject matter, but to push them to be more dramatic and dynamic. Dave wants to pull the viewer into the painting by enabling them to recognise everything in the image well enough, but without being so literal that things are photo-realistic.
His painting process begins with making roughs, which break down the ideas into communicable images that can be shown to an art director. This could be anything from a full-size sketch to a felt-tip thumbnail, depending on who he’s working for. Once approved, he moves on to image research. “I pull together the references I need, whether it be licensed photos for Star Wars elements, or photographing my friends as they pose for a particular character. The internet is great for reference, but the library of books I’ve collected over the years is just as handy,” he explains.
“Once the reference has been found, I move on to the drawing stage, rendering a full-size pencil drawing of the painting image first, working out the details and composition. Once finished, I transfer that drawing to my gessoed board via graphite pencil and spray-fix the image so the pencil doesn’t come up when I lay on the paint. Then I throw paint on the board and see what sticks!”
In the coming months you’ll be able to enjoy several works that Dave has in progress. First of all there’s the next Wasted Lands graphic novel, which should be out by the time you read this. Then there’s a project that aims to honour US forces overseas, which carries the working title 52 (nothing to do with the DC Comics project of the same name). Alongside the actress Hilarie Burton and her partners at SoGoPro, Dave is overseeing the creation of a horror/suspense graphic novel. Finally, there’s a book on its way from Desperado Publishing entitled Rolling Thunder, which is an overview of Dave’s entire career. Due out next year, it’s one worth waiting for.