An interview with: Dale Eaglesham – Comic Artist
DALE EAGLESHAM is a veteran comic book illustrator who has been working in the industry since 1986. He has worked with Marvel, DC Comics, Dark Horse and CrossGen, among others. In January 2009, he signed an exclusive contract with Marvel, where he has been illustrating books that include Spider-Man, the Fantastic Four, Steve Rogers: Super Soldier (a Captain America project), the Incredible Hulk, and Alpha Flight, the highly acclaimed return of Canada’s own team of superheroes! Mojo Junction gains an insight into this incredible artist’s creative journey in this exclusive interview.
What is your greatest memory of being immersed in the creative flow and losing track of time?
Professionally, I follow scripts that are sent to me so entering a creative flow that blurs time doesn’t happen much. Going back to my youth, when I first discovered comics, any time I drew I tapped into that flow. The reason is I would make up the story as I drew it and this could go on for ten fully rendered pages of whatever piqued my curiosity that day. Creating those ‘stories’ was more stream of consciousness in that I never actually completed any of them. It didn’t matter, it was more about flying to the moon in a Christmas-tree rocket ship or giant tarantulas attacking a small town. The stories were highly structured but they were more scenes than stories, beginning but never ending. As an adult, pure creative flow happens when I engage in the hobbies of polishing and carving dead branches, composing classical music or raking the lawn.
When you look at the blank page, do you usually plan a specific outcome?
To me, the blank page represents infinity. It’s my job to face that infinity and arrest it, block it in various ways to create a very specific outcome. If I fail, the observer will look past it, through it and not have grown because of it. I’m being abstract here but this is to explain my creative experience at its core. There is a facile way to do it, like a black dot on a page and there are more intricate ways to do it with complex drawings, ways that can tap into a large array of ideas and emotions. There are a trillion different creative degrees in any drawing and it can be as daunting as counting stars. That’s infinity and it’s a terrifying expanse. Fortunately, we have a touch of the infinite in our minds, in its capacity to explore and create, so in a way, we recognize it and don’t run screaming from infinity. We inject ‘intent’ into the infinite in many different ways. I do it by drawing stories. I do like to leave a drop of the infinite in my panels of art and this could be in the form of a dark corner, an open window or a glimpse of a deep background, just around the corner of a building say, almost out of the frame. The whole composition then has a special place in a vast, but not overwhelming context. Again, this is abstract but describing what an artist is fundamentally up against gives a better idea of the incredible creative forces marshalled to deal with it. This is what lies behind the ‘outcome’. It’s wondrous to experience.
Do symbols and sacred geometry play a part in the way you make art?
As a comic book artist, my world is the world of symbols. My goal is to communicate sometimes very subtle emotion or atmosphere and I am constantly seeking new ways to refine that. Can you take a fun, innocent scene and give it a sinister air? Of course you can, by using a dark corner in a sunny kitchen, show large shapes looming over small ones, emphasize a dark car as children run by it with balloons in the afternoon sun. These are all symbols in that they are objects that carry certain associations with them. It’s my job to search these out and exploit them to manipulate the scene and ultimately, the reader. Have you ever seen that restaurant that serves food in miniature toilet bowls and just instinctively recoil at the idea? How about drinking something cold out of a coffee cup and just frowning, cuz it’s supposed to be hot soothing stuff? Symbols can be literally items like that or they can be utterly abstract, pushing the art into certain combinations of large and small shapes, round and sharp shapes. Psychologically, similar shapes are perceived as being together and you can use that to connect specific levels of the composition or lead the eye in the compositional sequence you want. Symbols are the invisible art that run parallel to the visual and are just as potent. On the sacred side, I make use of the Leonardo’s golden ratio as much as possible. Ask people where aesthetically they would divide a stick in two, and they invariably choose the golden ratio. Take the points A-B-C on a stick and BC is to AB what AB is to AC. This ratio is found throughout all of nature and it is an incredible guide to not only composition but human anatomy as well.
What does being an artist mean to you?
It saved my life. I suffered from severe social anxiety all of my life, including most of my adult life, terrified of most social contact, even with family. As a kid, drawing stories gave me an outlet, a release from those anxieties. I literally created safe places for me to go and escape. It was an enriching experience because I expressed in stories what was so difficult for me to express in real life. Growing up, my report cards from school all said the same thing: ‘Dale must stop daydreaming in class’. I stopped that somewhat by learning to draw. Rocketing off to the moon gave me an incredible escape from real life and I felt besieged by real life. I guess I was creating worlds on paper that I could navigate safely and through that, I realized just how intently I had been observing the real world all along. I mastered the art of becoming invisible in a room and exiting moments before attention would turn to me. I did this by observing behaviours of others and innately connecting to the social ebb and flow of the room. I discovered that not only did social interaction terrify me, it fascinated me too. In a sense my phobia, which necessitated my ‘reading’ people to survive, created an enormous catalogue of behaviours, postures and mannerisms that immensely enhanced my figure drawing, the ‘acting’ of my characters. I am also borderline if not in fact, A.D.D, and drawing comics gave my frantic, overheated mind the perfect all encompassing task I need to stay sane. Without my art, I fear my mind would have just come apart at the seams.
What was your favourite project to date?
After 28 years in comics, I can’t pick just one so here are four: Conan the Barbarian (Marvel Comics), Dial “H” For HERO (DC comics), Villains United (DC comics) and Alpha Flight (Marvel Comics). The reason I wanted to be a professional artist was to draw Conan. Sword and Sorcery fantasy comics are the ultimate for me because most of the subject is made up. Swords, palaces, demons, any reference points are minimal because it’s fantasy. It’s a wide-open, organic, creative endeavour and that is ideal for me. If you are drawing New York city, or any modern city, there are plenty of drawing standards that can get in the way of the drawing enjoyment. Dial “H” for HERO is literally a device with a dial on it that is found by various people and when they dial the device, it turns them into a superhero, and never the same one. Inevitably, it gets them into trouble and they get rid of it, only to be found by someone else. It was a wonderful series with real people and a sense of humour. Villains United featured villains trying to organize into a team in order to defeat the good guys. Getting these eclectic and homicidal characters all into to one room in an attempt to work together was wicked fun and it was done with a sense of humour. It was one of the best times I ever had in comics. Alpha Fight was memorable because it is unique in the comic world: a Canadian superhero team set in Canada. Being a Canadian, it was a refreshing change from having to draw New York all the time. Again, it was a book that contained a sense of humour along with the drama and I drew eight issues straight of that. It got a lot of media attention in Canada and that was a first.
What’s next from your pencil?
I can’t say but it involves subject matter that I LOVE to draw but have never really been given a chance to do professionally. I will be traipsing over to the dark side for this project and I will not be holding back.
Such inspiring words from a great artist. Thanks for talking to us, Dale. You can see more of Dale’s work and read about his projects here: http://www.daleeaglesham.com/
Interview by Aurora Jane
Original artworks provided by Dale Eaglesham