It may come as a surprise to some ComicAttack.net readers that Ken Meyer Jr., the writer of our monthly column Ink Stains, has been working professionally as an artist in geek culture for decades. From painting cards for the inaugural Magic the Gathering collectible card game set, to providing interiors on Don Chin’s Clint: The Hamster Triumphant, Ken has run the gamut of geek-everything.
Now, his latest work sees him reviving a project he did almost a decade ago with acclaimed sci-fi writer, Warren Ellis, in a book called Atmospherics. He has undergone the task of creating 1000 original drawings to be placed within the first 1000 copies of the book ordered through Diamond, and the new edition will be released in January 2012.
Read on for a gallery of images and an interview with Ken about this grand undertaking!
Ken Meyer Jr.: Sure. Back in the late 90’s, I did an installment series with Warren Ellis for Caliber called “Atmospherics.” It appeared in an anthology for that company and was later collected. It was collected again sometime around, oh, 2003 or so. Now, the current publisher, Avatar is collecting it again, with new interior coloring by me, plus two new covers. Additionally, 1000 copies will include a free sketch by me. Most are pencil, but about 350 of them are painted.
CA: Can you tell us the story surrounding the project?
KMJ: Well, I knew it was going to be a daunting project, and it was. I started a little slower than I should have, thinking I could get it done in a shorter amount of time than it actually took. I had a couple large blocks of time working on it, say, a week or so at a time. My goal at the busiest points was to get about 40 done a day (trying to take 15 minutes or less on each one).
I had the photo references from doing the actual book and thought the sketches should pertain to the book, rather than just be random, so I used those as reference for the sketches. I had about 50 photographs (the panels in the book itself are somewhat static, being that most of the book is the main character being interrogated in a room), and made the best of them.
As I went along, I would try different things to keep in interesting. I might do a series of very close closeups, or I might do minimal line work, or I might combine several elements, various changes to keep it from getting boring. After doing 650 pencil drawings, I thought I would do the last batch in color. That part was the most fun. Within that bunch, I used some of the same motifs of the pencil drawings (close ups, etc), but then added different treatments on top of that. I would do things like work only in black ink, or work in watercolor, work in a combination of the two, add acrylic into the mix, and try different effects with the paint as well. That kept it interesting, but still… I was glad when I was done.
KMJ: Well, both Warren Ellis and I created it, of course. In the story, we see a woman being interrogated by a policeman about her involvement in a couple of deaths. There are flashbacks as the interrogation continues to show how she got here, which involve alien abductions and murders via coring. The policeman doesn’t believe it of course, thinking the woman was involved. In the course of the story, we find out just how much the woman is involved.
CA: What’s it like coming back to a project you had thought completed years later?
KMJ: Well, I had gone back to it a couple times before, to do little additions, such as some drawings for an earlier hardback edition, but nothing like this. This project was just too darn huge!
CA: Can you go into detail about how you utilized your medium in the most time effective way?
KMJ: Well, initially, the most effective and fast way seemed to be pencil. But, as I was deep into it, boredom was going to become an issue, so that is why I went to color, as I said earlier. Then, when I was into the color pieces, I wanted to keep that process as interesting as possible.
So, I experimented with various media and different combinations of those media. For example, I would do an ink drawing (straight to ink, no pencil drawing beforehand), and then add some watercolor to that. Or, I would do a watercolor layer and then add acrylic to that. On some pieces, I used a method with acrylic where I would squirt some various colors onto a non porous surface (in this case, a slick palette pad), then press another non porous surface onto that (like a piece of cling wrap or acetate), watching the colors intertwine, then press THAT surface onto the actual drawing. I would get these interesting combinations and accidents. Pressing that same surface onto new paint and then onto the drawing would combine slick new paint with granulated half dried paint, giving yet another look.
I also tried this transfer technique with colored FW inks, which gave a somewhat similar look but the colors would run together in a different manner. I might also do something like scrape into the still wet paint with a sharp object or I might press a transfer object like a sheet of corrugated cardboard (with one surface scraped off, so those ridges of cardboard would be more evident) into paint, and then press that onto the surface. There are a plethora of techniques in acrylic that I used.
KMJ: Hmmm… well, probably some of the earlier pencil drawings, when I showed a whole head and shoulder shot. She had some long curly hair, which could take a long time to draw (though, as I said, I tried to keep each one under 15 minutes or so).
CA: Is there a particular sequence that you feel best represents the project you and Warren Ellis created?
KMJ: Well, they all represent it in that they are all of the main character or a peripheral character (such as an alien, an old man who was abducted and probed, or the policeman). However, there are a few that incorporate the main character and the aliens that probably represent it best. Another pairing that works is a combination of the aliens and the abducted old man. A little bloody though!
CA: Do any of your personal feelings on the subject matter seep into the art?
KMJ: Well, the first thing that popped into my head about that question is this: I am an ardent non smoker… the smell, taste and even the sight of it almost turns my stomach. So, it was pretty ironic that I did hundreds of drawings/paintings of this one central character, who is smoking in many of the pictures. I guess it isn’t as hard as I thought it would be to only focus on the aesthetics of the visuals and, despite my feelings on the various issues contained in smoking, painting smoke is actually fun and the images are attractive. I know, though, it’s not the fact that it is smoke coming from a cigarette that makes it attractive to me, but just the actual interesting blends and changes that are inherent in a vaporous substance like that.
As for me believing in alien abduction or not? I don’t ever really think about it… though I did like the movie, “The Fourth Kind!” Maybe that was because Milla Jovovich was in it, who knows.
CA: What was it like working with Warren Ellis?
KMJ: To be honest, I don’t recall having that much interaction with Warren. It was such a “by the numbers” script (the “two people in a room” aspect, for example), that much interaction wasn’t really needed. I wish I had a bunch of Warren Ellis stories, getting drunk in bars in foreign countries and such… but I don’t!
KMJ: You know, Joe Pruett [former managing editor at Caliber] says it best, “I had asked Warren Ellis to do a serial for the new Calibrations title (Caliber’s 16-page 99 cent series). The idea was to do a short spotlight story on an upcoming new series and have a serial by a “name” writer as the second feature in each issue in an attempt to bring readers back. I got Ken to work on it with Warren. The second serial, which was never done as the series was canceled, would have been written by Terry Moore.”
CA: Where can people go to check out more of these drawings and the project in general?
KMJ: Well, funny you should ask that. I just put all of them up on my site. They are broken up into two folders, so you would need to go to www.kenmeyerjr.com/atmos1/0001.jpg to start (with the first group going up to number 500), and then www.kenmeyerjr.com/atmos2/0501.jpg then just change that “0001” to any number up to 0500, and in the second group, any number from 0502 up to 1002. The release date for the direct market is January 2012, with bookstores having it February 7th.
CA: Any closing thoughts?
KMJ: Only that I hope projects like this are few and far between! But, I’m glad I did it. I noticed a slight rise in drawing ease and an increase in drawing speed after this.
Be sure to check out Ken’s Ink Stains column (celebrating the fanzines of the 60s-80s) on the 1st of every month, right here at ComicAttack.net!