Gerry Kissell is a prolific artist of diverse mediums, from illustrations for magazines to designing book covers to producing comic books from start to finish. He chats here a bit about where he’s been and where he’s going, and the pages and pages of intricacy he’s already accomplished.
Gerry, which came first for you, the burning need to be creative, or an interest in comics?
Creative. I have been drawing since I was very little. I was sort of born with a pen in my hand, as my mother and father were both artists. In fact, all six of my siblings were artistic. I am just the only one lazy enough to try and make a living at it. My interest in comics came later, when I was 7 or 8. I still own the first comic I ever bought with my own money. It was Swamp Thing #7, back in 1973. Of course it has now been signed by the amazing Bernie Wrightson and is behind glass. My interest in comics grew because my grandfather collected comics and I would read the issues he had laying around the house. Superman, Batman, Sgt Rock. I wish I had those…some of them were vintage comics.
Outside of comics, what has influenced the progression of your work the most?
Well, film has. Film and comics are very closely related and my love of film has trickled deeply into what I do as an artist. I think that is why my layouts are more simplistic and cinematic. As far as most influential films go, Blade Runner is my biggest influence.
Could you ever see yourself making the transition to telling stories by film, or are comics where your heart is?
I have actually worked in film, and in fact, still do. Right now I am doing production art and storyboards for Dale Dye’s next WWII film. So, yes, I could. Basically, I always wanted to do both, when I was growing up. I got my first movie camera when I was 14. I learned how to edit and splice film the old fashioned way. I even owned a splicing table and everything. Later I went to film school, but didn’t finish, because my art career was too demanding. It wasn’t a big deal that I left, because everything I needed to learn, I already knew how to do. I won an award a few years ago for a short film I directed and edited in a 48 Hour film challenge, which my daughter starred in, called “White Mouse.” I also scored the music. It was a heck of a challenge. Here is the video.
When IDW first hired me, it was to direct their animated trailers for their bigger comic titles. They had no idea I was even an artist, until later. Here is the trailer I created for IDW’s “Locke & Key” that I directed and scored.
And here is the trailer I did for IDW’s “Dead She Said“, by Steve Niles and Bernie Wrightson.
I will always have one foot in film and the other in comics.
Those are just awesome. Maybe they should have had you direct that proposed Locke & Key film awhile back. But you are also well know for knocking out quite a few rather striking book covers. By your experience, is dealing with book editors so different from dealing with comic editors? You mentioned working with Dale Dye, but is it extra important to you to personally touch base with the prose authors, seeing as how the cover can be the singular visual representing their ideas?
Yeah, they are completely different. Doing a comic as compared to doing a book cover are so vastly different, and yet there are similarities, as well; you have to tell a story and cause an emotional response with an image. Now, I do a few book covers a year, and I find what works for me is to get a really good idea of plot, theme and cast of characters in the story. Talk to the author, when and if possible, to get a visual idea of what was in their head. but, I am never really in charge when I do a book cover.
Now, doing a comic/graphic novel is different. When I do a comic, it is like making a film. Yeah, I want to adhere to the author’s overall vision, but, as the artist, I am more akin to a film director, in that I am telling the story with my images, based off their script.
Oh, and thanks. I would love the shot to direct a film one day, but for right now, I am happy doing things the way I do them.
Now, I understand you had dabbled in comics long ago, but then pursued military duty followed by some years of working for a number of magazines. When you did make that love connection with IDW, did it feel like coming home? And for that matter, do you think it would benefit most artists if they go out and see a bit of the world before buckling down into a position where they must effectively portray it?
I had done some small indie comic work for folks who don’t exist anymore. I did some pin-ups for Blue Comet Comics, a company from the 80s. Mostly, I did comic strips and illustration work for a magazine called Selling Power Magazine. I left my art career to serve in the army. And, when I got out, the first thing I did was two Star Trek paintings that FXM, Inc. printed as limited edition art prints, which both apparently sold out.
Then I worked for a newspaper outside Seattle, as their political cartoonist, and then for a magazine in Illinois as a staff artist. In 1997, I started doing art and design work for an internet marketing company and did that kind of work all the way to 2010, when I dropped it to return to comics. I had already been working for IDW doing the trailers. But, Tom Waltz, senior writer at IDW, is a personal friend of mine, as well as a business partner in another venture. He asked me to work on The A-Team. After I did it I was hooked again. Been staying busy ever since.
I saw a stat somewhere that said you drew over 70 pages for Code Name: Geronimo in less than three weeks. I believe most comic book artists average maybe one or two pages per day regularly. Was the pay that great, or was it that much of a passion project for you?
I averaged 3 pages a day for three weeks. Plus I also had to fix some of the colors, as well. I only slept on average abut 3-4 hours a day. The pay was great, and yes I am passionate about military stories like CW:G, but really it was the tight deadline that made me do it. Ha!
How exactly did you get assigned the Iron Sky prequel comic book? I mean, you’re obviously no stranger to cross-branding, but did the militaristic themes strike a chord with you in particular, or did the alternate history of the premise attract you?
Well, as Mikko Rautalahti, the writer of the Iron Sky graphic novel as well as the Alan Wake game and graphic novel I did, said of me; I kind of inserted myself into the situation.
Before there was an Iron Sky film, there was the internet teaser trailer for a proposed film. I had happened upon it by accident one day, when I had been looking at the Dorkman lightsaber duel videos on YouTube, and then followed link suggestions to some other cool short films with martial arts, as I have an extensive background as both a nerd and as a martial artist. Somehow I saw a link to StarWreck on one of the pages, and just below it was a link to the first Iron Sky teaser trailer, and then I saw there was a second one, too, that was even better. After I watched it, I was hooked. Even more so, I was pissed that I hadn’t come up with the idea; Nazis fleeing to the moon on saucers, to return one day to conquer the Earth. I said to myself, “This is going to make an awesome film!” and then I said, “This would make an even more awesome comic!” But, who on earth should draw it? I was stumped. Okay, I was NOT stumped. Right up front I knew I wanted it, and in fact, I initially even wanted to write it. So, being me, a guy not afraid to open his mouth, I contacted the Blind Spot Pictures folks and pitched the idea to them, saying, “Guys, I love Iron Sky. I can hardly wait to see it as a film. You should make a comic to promote it! The only thing cheaper and better than a comic to promote a film, is word of mouth. I sent samples of my art and, POOF! I was in a relationship with the folks at Blind Spot Pictures.
And you turned out some damn fine product. As a sequel film is in the works, will your relation to the property continue as well, beyond the prequel stories?
Thanks, man. I am very proud of Amin’s and my work on it, hell, everyone involved. And, without Mikko, the book would have sucked. Yes, we do plan more books. I have talked to Timo and Mikko about doing more books and they agree it is a great idea. As the manager of the comic property for Blind Spot Pictures, I plan to follow their plan and crowd fund the book. We will either do an annual Iron Sky book or a quarterly. It all depends on the fans, I think. Because I love doing the books, and as long as they are willing to help us get them done, we will keep making them.
Your Kissell Studio team has just launched its own crowd-sourcing campaign as well. What can you tell us about Vindicated, Inc.?
Vindicated is the story of a disabled soldier superhero. Though I dislike the use of the word disabled, as he is far from it, in my personal opinion. And when I call him a superhero, it is in the same vein that the Punisher and Batman are; he has no superpower of any kind, save for the will and drive to go out and make a difference by fighting crime. What makes Vindicated different from any other vigilante in comics is that part of his secret isn’t just his identity, but the fact that he lost both his legs below the knee in an IED ambush, and does all his running, jumping and fighting on prosthetic legs. Modern prosthetic has come a long way. We see soldiers equipped with prosthetics still serving in combat. The concept of disabled has been turned on its head. In fact, within the story the main character even addresses this issue when he says, “I’m not disabled, I’m enabled.”
I had wanted to do a story for awhile about the subject of wounded soldiers and vets, of course without being overly didactic, but I couldn’t seem to come up with an idea. Then, one day, I was dropping off rent to the apartment manager, and in an instant the idea came to me. I immediately called my buddy Jeff Searcy, a Marine who worked for Wounded Warrior Project, and told him the idea and he was floored at how cool the concept was, and how I could use the story for better awareness of catastrophic wounds suffered in combat and of PTSD. Because at the heart of this story is a guy, a soldier, trying to get better and recover from injuries he suffered both physically and psychologically. I am grateful that I got my buddy, SSG Ernesto Haibi (army retired) to help me write the first draft of the script, as he suffers from PTSD, from a traumatic brain injury suffered in combat. He gets it, literally first hand, and I wanted that conveyed in the story. Robert Scott McCall, another vet, also helped in the first draft. Then, for the final draft, I brought in fellow military vet and retired police detective as well as best selling author, Shane Moore, the guy who created the hit book Apocalypse of Enoch.
Overseeing the project are Dale Dye and Julia Dye, of Warriors Inc. They are the military technical supervisors behind such films as Platoon, Saving Private Ryan, Band of Brothers, The Pacific, and Starship Troopers. They have worked on more award winning war films than any other military adviser. They are of course our technical advisers on Vindicated. Not to mention, Dale plans to direct the planned live action version, when we get it going. We even have Kurt Yaeger, the handsome and talented actor with a prosthetic leg who plays Peg on Sons of Anarchy, for the lead roll as Vindicated. But, before we do that, I want to get the first graphic novel done.
I think people will like it, because it is a warrior’s journey kind of story, with lots of drama as well as action.
That sounds incredibly cool, actually. Are your studio-mates as passionate about this sort of subject matter, or is it a manner of opposites attracting?
I surround myself with a lot of like minded folks; people with realistic goals, creative minded, and pro-solider. Oh, sure, we have differing views on some things, but, as vets, we tend to get a long very well.
Gerry, it is an honor to share words with you, and we all look forward to the many strong projects you have in the pipeline.
Thanks, Richard. It was my pleasure.
For more Gerry, check out his own website, his studio website, his DeviantART, facebook and twitter, as well as the in progress crowd-funding campaign.
Tags: Gerry Kissell, interviews