Saurav Mohapatra Presents:
MUKESH SINGH: RISEN STAR
While Virgin Comics may not have set the comics industry on fire, that doesn't hold true for many of the creative talents the company introduced to readers. Chief among those talents is Mukesh Singh, the artist of GAMEKEEPER, DEVI, and JENNA JAMESON'S SHADOW HUNTER. Fellow Virgin survivor Saurav Mohapatra sat down with Singh to learn a bit more about this up and coming superstar.
SM: Tell us a bit about yourself. Who is Mukesh Singh and how the hell did he get so good?
MS: HAHA ! I wouldn't know about being good but thanks :).
I am a Fine art graduate who always wanted to draw comics, and many years later in my professional career I am finally realizing that ambition.
SM: How did you get started in comic books?
MS: Thanks to Superman. Or Hanuman. Actually both. The start of my stint in the world of comics as a professional was the direct result of an art contest in Gotham comics titled ' Draw Superman Contest' . The prize was a Superman statue designed by Alex Ross. My entry was a drawing of Superman paying homage to the original 'man' - Hanuman.
I got the coveted prize and the good people at the publishing house deemed fit to enlist me for an upcoming publishing venture (which later was to become Virgin Comics ). At that time, I was working at a Games company as a 3D artist and concept designer, and was reluctant to move base to Bangalore where Gotham comics is located because I was enjoying the gaming scene with its own unique demands. But I guess the call of comics was too strong and I found myself a couple of years later outside the gates of Gotham studios.
It was a brief visit to check out if they were serious about comics and whether I could see myself working with them to set the benchmark for Indian comics. The local industry was full of wannabe publishers with only a couple of established players who, apart from a few flashes of brilliance every now and then, were creating content that I avoided. Call me prudish but most of the content was not entertaining and featured average stories with average art. Nothing exciting.
Luckily after interacting with some of the talents already working at Gotham studios I felt confident that we could do something that would push the water mark higher.
A few months later, having wrapped up my professional affairs in Mumbai, I joined Virgin Comics full time.
SM: You've done work for gaming companies. How different / difficult or easy is comic book art compared to concept art gigs for movies and games?
MS: I wouldn't call one easier than the other. Different ? Yes, they are different, primarily in the sense that concept art is used in service for another medium, whereas comics themselves are 'the' medium. This calls for different approaches to each of the two and this is something I try to explain to people who want to break into comics, especially the ones who come into the medium hoping to create great art when creating great stories with the help of great art is a better thing to aim for.
Compared to concept art where style is not very important (unless a part of the goal in creating the concept is to define the look of the series), in comics it becomes a key tool in the artist's arsenal because I believe it is not just important to draw what is required for a given story but through the style evoke reactions in the reader in ways that only visuals can. It is such a key concept for a comic artist to grasp. It is not just about sexy babes and muscle bound men in tights. There is so much more to explore in this wonderful medium.
SM: What was it like working with big names – Andy Diggle, Christina Z, Grant Morrison?
MS: One word : Awesome!. They are such exceptional talents with unique styles, and working with them was an experience I am not going to forget. I learnt a lot along the way.
Reading the drafts of their stories I would often forget that I would be working on them. Pure fan boy enthusiasm!
SM: How do you draw? I mean given a script/concept, could you give us a glimpse inside the head of Mukesh Singh?
MS: On getting the draft , I read it through as if the writer is narrating it to me. And I go through it a couple of times, make mental notes for any clarifications required or any other aspect I may have to do research on. And then I keep it away and start doing preliminary things (like collecting references).Once done, I go back and re-read it, though this time I try to forget the earlier readings and re-approach it as if I am reading the story for the first time. It helps me get away from any presumptions I may have about the story.
I try to imagine holding an imaginary book in my hand. What does it feel like? What is the experience I will get when I see it on a bookshelf amongst various other titles? What will be the first impression when I turn over the cover and look at the pages? If what I see in my mind is exciting, I try and see if it has been done before. The idea is to get away from the typical and standard. What is the texture of the story? Who are the characters? Is there anybody in real life who I know exhibits the character's traits So many things. It’s all visceral, instinctive.
But it all comes from removing any presumptions. Presumptions are the bane of creativity. Being creative is like trying to be a child. Every experience is new and fresh and exciting.
At times some of the things can get to be repetitive and I try to maintain a sense of excitement throughout the Art process. It can get pretty labor intensive at times and as long as I feel that what I draw in the pages is going to be read by an unknown person, and that I am having a conversation through my visuals with that person, I do my best to keep the art engaging and lively (and always in service to the story) and hopefully when he puts the book down the reader will feel he got something worthwhile out of it.
SM: Okay the question that's got to be asked – Boxers or Briefs? Oops, pencil/paper or digital tablet? What do you prefer?
MS: Both. The purist in me insists pencil and paper. The hurried professional says Digital. Through digital I have yet to get the emotional response I get when I see a traditionally done art on paper or canvas with the brush strokes caught in time never to be replicated anywhere else. Best thing about pencil paper is, you can say it is an original.
Digital, though, is here to stay and has lots of advantages, especially in the commercial art business because of its forgiving nature. Perhaps that is why you see a glut of sub-standard art all over the net. Maybe it gives a false sense of security to the novice that he can go back and undo his errors. That tends to make him sloppy.
SM: Obviously you've oodles of talent, but what do you consider your strongest point in terms of the craft?
MS: Umm, somebody else should answer that. I may be biased towards my own work. But since you have asked I will try to answer it. My goal is to create a sense of experience that is hopefully engaging to the viewer.
Somebody (and I am not comparing myself to those individuals, they are just too big) like Frazetta or Moebius or Bisley or Rockwell or Howard Pyle or Gustav Klimt or Leyendecker whose works are just too big to be described as a result of a strong point or two. Their work is an experience. Not just a painting but an experience.
SM: And if you could change one thing about the work you've published?
MS: Everything and nothing. It’s done, flaws and all, and is now just water under the bridge as far as I am concerned. If I want to make changes then I should ensure that with the next one I shouldn’t feel so.
That may sound tough, but as an individual advances in life and in experience, things that would excite him may no longer do so at a later stage. What once looked fresh and new and exciting may become redundant in light of a different state of mind.
SM: You were nominated for a Russ Manning award in 2008. How did it feel?
MS: Great ! It came out of the blue and I am happy the judges felt my art was worth considering for the award. Some of my favorite artists have been past winners and I consider myself lucky that I was nominated.
SM: Some of your best work is colored by yourself (GAMEKEEPER, SHADOW HUNTER). Any insight into the process?
MS: Gamekeeper's color gig came out of the blue and yet I knew I didn't want to approach it as a typical coloring job. I like to experiment. The story suggests something when you are reading it. My attempt was to capture Andy's scripts and give it a starkness that would seem to jut out as we move through the different scenes, and a dominant color would serve as the calling card for those scenes. In a way I was trying to attempt what the Sound designers do in the movie where they create a sense of familiarity and recall value in the audience if a theme keeps appearing throughout a movie. Although I greatly exaggerated the effect via the colors.
Brock the protagonist was a silent, cold killer as described in the first two issues and I wanted to show him in a chilly atmosphere with cerulean colors when the reader sees him kill for the first time. Ruthless and efficient. Cold and unforgiving.
Or the depressing yellow light of the room in which the crippled old man is killed.
Things like that.
SM: Do you thumbnail in color?
MS: For Shadow Hunter I did the thumbnails in color, but it was primarily because my workflow was fluid and I would jump back and forth between pages, sometimes skipping entire sets of pages and coming back and finishing them at a later stage. It was non-linear, and a hands-off approach by my editor Mariah ensured that the sense of freedom was maintained all the way through to the final stages when I could go back and make changes and improvements at the last minute.
SM: Do you feel antsy when someone else is coloring your work?
MS: Not if the Colorist respects the intent of the Writer and the Artist and helps bring something more to the table. If a comic is going to be produced in color then it should not be implemented as an afterthought and the color itself should act as an important part of the storytelling process. The master colorists know that. So no, not if the colorist knows what he is doing.
SM: What was it like drawing a book based on Jenna Jameson's likeness? What did you use for reference / research? *wink*
MS: GAWD ! I get asked about that a lot! A lot of people offered me their 'collection' for references and I had to politely decline. It's funny how the altruistic nature of people comes out when they know it's for a 'good' cause. :)
The only references I took were some real locations like the Grand Central station and the Chrysler building. That's about it :)
SM: What are you working on now-a-days?
MS: I am working on an awesome project called MBX spearheaded by the one and only Grant Morison. It's a retelling of one of the oldest epics in the world and even if you have seen or heard it before, we are putting our own spin on it such that the end result hopefully does justice to THE story of all ages.
SM: Who would you love to work with in the near future?
MS: I don't keep a list of people I like to work with, but it would be awesome If I could cook something with a writer who would challenge me to produce something I have never attempted before.
Right now though I am blessed to be kept occupied by an industry giant called Grant Morrison. That's all the adrenaline rush I can handle for now :)
SM: Speaking of the future, what does the future hold for Mukesh Singh?
MS: I wish I had a crystal ball I could peer into and tell you, but the future seems full of promise and I like to keep things unpredictable. Keeps me on my toes.
SM: Any advice for the next Mukesh Singh?
MS: Be the first ---------- (fill in your name here).
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