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Portrait of an artist: Greg Staples

Loved in the world of comics and revered by fantasy art collectors, Greg’s artwork is in everything from Magic: The Gathering cards to Scissor Sisters videos...

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Age: 37
Favourite artists:
Frank Frazetta, Howard Pyle, NC Wyeth, Simon Bisley, Bill Sienkiewicz, Mike McMahon
Software used: Painter IX, Photoshop CS2
Average time taken per image: One day (digital), two to three days (traditional)

 Web: www.gregstaples.co.uk

With one foot firmly planted in the world of fantasy art, and the other rooted assuredly in that of comic books, Greg Staples has an approach to his work that’s versatile, observant and extremely creative. He has 10 years with 2000 AD under his belt, has done more than 170 illustrations for the Magic: The Gathering card game, and has created concept artwork for award-winning music videos, computer games and movies.

With experience like that, you’d think it would be difficult for him to select a personal favourite from his work. But when asked, he knows it straight away, and it’s a piece that reveals much about his own philosophies. The work depicts a confrontation between Judge Dredd and Judge Death, a painting that’s been turned into posters, and even a statue.

“It looks like it has energy, and it also has my two of my favourite characters. And it wasn’t overly complicated either,” Greg says. “I don’t like this artwork where there’s tons and tons of detail – there’s no point to it. It should always be about what it is that you are trying to say to the viewer. Too much detail says to me, ‘I’m trying to tell you what’s happening’.”

Meeting Simon Bisley

Staples was discovered by fellow comic artist Simon Bisley and introduced to the team at 2000 AD in 1990. Thanks to his talent and style he was quickly taken into the fold to work on the Judge Dredd strip. Just 19, he’d already achieved his goal in life. He stuck with it and became known for his atmospheric yet direct painting style. However, in 1998, a friend passed his number to Wizards of the Coast, the company behind Magic: The Gathering. They commissioned him for a few cards, and he found that his style transferred rather well.

“What it did, which was a surprise to a lot of people, was it brought a certain energy to fantasy art that I don’t think they’d seen very much before,” Greg says. “Comic art is done so quickly, you have to keep things moving; there’s a lot of things sort of jumping off the page, whereas I think there’s quite a lot of fantasy art that feels a little stiff because of the use of models and things. I never use models so it kind of flows very quickly and it gave it a different spin that they’d perhaps not seen before, and I think went down quite well.”

There is a light

Throughout his career, Greg has enjoyed taking on different kinds of work. In 1995 he was a concept artist for the computer game Loaded by Gremlin Interactive. Not only did he contribute the look of the characters, but helped come up with a pioneering lighting technique, which gave the game a lot of atmosphere. His work in the computer games world continues via the art he’s done for World of Warcraft.
“I like a lot of variety in my work,” he says. “Obviously book covers and album covers come along regularly, but I decided to get more into doing design work for films and television, and so I started up a visual effects company dealing with digital artwork and effects for films.”

The company was called Ark VFX and was set up by Greg and three fellow artists. One of their early jobs was a music video for Muse’s Sing for Absolution. The team at Ark did everything from the concept design to the visual effects. “It was all based on our favourite sci-fi films – there’s references to everything in there from Star Wars to Planet of the Apes. It was basically spot the reference, but it won quite a few awards and ended up being Kerrang’s Video of the Year in 2004,” says Greg.

This led to further offers from Fatboy Slim, The Prodigy and other bands but the company was steering towards front-end graphics for video games, so in 2005 Greg sold his shares and left. He wanted to concentrate more on fantasy art, including private commissions, film and television.

Here be dragons

“I think that mainly I started doing more fantasy work because I was getting a lot of letters from people saying that they really liked my dragons and things like this. I knew that I could paint these things really quickly, so I was making quite good money,” he says.
On the concept art and production design side, Greg has recently worked on the Scissor Sisters video for I Don’t Feel Like Dancing, as well as a film called Doomsday with director Neil Marshall (Dog Soldiers, The Descent).

At the moment, he’s busy working on tackling the illustrations for a book of short stories by Robert E Howard. It’s a large project that includes 12 paintings, 10 black and white drawings, 45 spot illustrations and the all-important cover. Another link with this writer is Greg’s concept work for the upcoming film Solomon Kane, one of the main heroes in another of Howard’s popular stories.

Dickens dream

What would Greg like to work on in the future? Well, one project is War of the Worlds and another would be Dickens’s
A Christmas Carol. “It’s a classic tale that everybody picks up. I think that visually it’s amazing. You’ve got this old London town, you’ve got these smells, all this atmosphere, great characters and caricatures that you can make of people,” he says.

Looking back across his portfolio and discussing it with him, there’s an energy that’s not just in the art but in Greg’s outlook. “I do a piece and move on from it, it’s like doing a big comic panel. That’s kind of how I look at it,” he concludes.

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