An Interview with Joe Corroney
Star Wars Illustrator and Comic Book Artist
by Jay Shepard
He may not be a household name, but you've certainly seen Joe Corroney's artwork before. Whether you play the Star Wars Roleplaying games by West End Games or Wizards of the Coast, enjoy the Holonet News features on StarWars.com or in the Star Wars Insider, or even read comic books such as Marvels Crimson Dynamo you've seen the distinctive, dramatic and crisp artwork of this Indianapolis, Indiana native.
I had the pleasure of being able to sit down and ask Joe a few questions about his training, his artwork and his passion for Star Wars.
What or who do you credit with your interest in illustration?
I'd probably first and foremost credit my parents for my interest in illustration. Both of them introduced me to comics at an early age. Without them taking me to see Star Wars in 1977 I'd probably wouldn't be here talking to you about my Star Wars art right now either. They've also been extremely supportive over the years, always backing me up and allowing me to follow my dreams. I couldn't ask for better influences.
I think the biggest influence in my life in regards to my art career has actually been Star Wars though. When I was four years old, really soon after I saw Star Wars, I was introduced to comic books through the Marvel Comics adaptation of the film. The stylized artwork of the story and the characters fascinated me just like the movie did. The movie and the comic book inspired me to start drawing even more.
Other than the Marvel Star Wars comic series, were there any other comic properties that inspired you?
I was definitely influenced by certain comic book series growing up, especially the Batman comics, always my favorite character. I was really into the DC horror titles too. I read a lot of Marvel as well like X-Men, Spider-Man, Hulk, Captain America, GI Joe, Iron Man, Punisher and so on. So most of my artistic influences came from the books. Artists like John Byrne, Mike Zeck, John Romita Jr. and Bernie Wrightson.
Most of my artistic influences today are still comic book artists like Jan Duursema, her work on Star Wars is just stellar, and Tom Mandrake, one of the best storytellers and contemporary horror comic artists since Bernie Wrightson. I really enjoy Frank Miller's work, Mike Mignola, Tim Bradstreet, Ron Garney and Hiroaki Samura from Blade of the Immortal. Some of the best Manga art and storytelling out there is from that series, just phenomenal stuff.
What sort of training do you have?
I started drawing when I was really young. My folks put me in private art classes besides my regular art classes in school. That continued pretty much throughout high school until I left to attend school at the Columbus College of Art and Design. I graduated with a degree in Illustration and teach the Comic Book Illustration course there now.
I see you have done artwork for Dragon Magazine, Marvel, DC, Image and of course Star Wars Insider, how did you get involved with the comics industry?
I always wanted to draw comics for a living when I was kid. When I was in school I was always writing and drawing my own comic books too. Back in art college I showed some of my sample pages to a small publisher at a comic book convention who gave me my first break in the business. So I had an advantage over most of my classmates at the time getting published while I was still in school.
What led you to be asked to do work for LucasFilm?
By the time I got out of school I already had a decent professional portfolio of artwork so I was able to show that around to other publishers like gaming companies. I've always really wanted to draw Star Wars artwork professionally too so I sent some sample work to West End Games who were publishing the Star Wars Role-Playing Game at the time. They enjoyed what I sent them so I started illustrating a variety of projects for them over the next few years which led to me illustrating Star Wars for Wizards of the Coast and then eventually directly for Lucasfilm as well.
Your website www.JoeCorroney.com is rather unique among artist websites, with regular input and features written by you, like the informative Comics 101. I'm not sure how you manage to create all your artwork and be a webmaster.
I'm glad you enjoy my Comics 101 articles. Sometimes I'll post step by step tutorials on how I create my Star Wars art. I get lots of good feedback from fans about those too.
Most creators are under the thumb of a webmaster, whether it be conflicting schedules or lack of funds maybe, so you get very long gaps in news and art updates from them. But I'm kind of a control freak so we both knew in the beginning that I would want to run the site as much on my own as possible. Plus I just enjoy giving fans and visitors the latest info on my projects and sharing my latest work as often as humanly possible. It's nice not having to wait on someone else to do that for me. So usually, I'm updating my site at least once a week with new artwork or at least with my regular column, Comics 101, which is also posted simultaneously on World Famous Comics.com.
By the way, my webmaster is actually the real life model for my Jedi character, Kai Justiss. Justin was into building his own Star Wars props and costumes and had his own Jedi robes and custom built lightsaber so I was able to put him to work as my model. I used Kai Justiss in a variety of my Star Wars illustrations for Lucasfilm from Star Wars Gamer magazine to the Star Wars RPG and even have him appearing with Chewbacca on Kashyyyk in HoloNet News in Star Wars Insider. He also appeared in Dark Horse Comics' Jedi: Dooku drawn by my friend Jan Duursema. That was especially cool and flattering for both of us.
The character of Kai Justiss was what actually drew me to your site. I didn't know where he had come from. Have you always drawn from photo reference or has there been an evolution in your style?
The project really dictates which stylistic direction I go for. I haven't always drawn from photo reference for my projects, especially when I'm drawing comic books which is when I tend to draw from my head more. Though I still think it's important to use photo reference when necessary for my comic art since I can't draw everything out of my head like buildings and cars totally accurately. Photo reference is just a tool for an artist really and I try not to let it dictate my work too much. It can sometime end up making my art look too stiff or unnatural. The key for me is to balance it with enough style and animation to keep it looking interesting and fresh.
My background as an illustrator stems from being a comic book artist so I tend to make my full color work, like my Star Wars art, really graphic, lots of dramatic light and shadows. I just like working with photo reference more in my Star Wars art since I like to make it look as cinematic and lifelike as possible. You don't have to be a comic book fan, or a fan of art in general to enjoy the Star Wars films. So utilizing the photo reference from the films can make my art as accessible to a lot more people. That's not only kind of important to me when wanting to make as many new fans as I can but it's also really fun stylistically for me too. I like merging my graphic comic book style with my more photo realistic style of rendering. And since I'm just a huge fan of the films like everyone else, making my art as cinematic looking as possible makes it feel even more closely related to the films. That's really fun and rewarding to me personally as an artist and a fan.
I see that you use a Macintosh in your coloring process. When did you begin using this process?
I started learning how to color and illustrate digitally on a Mac when I was in art college. It's actually my preference these days to paint my work digitally as opposed to traditionally by hand. It's just easier for me to experiment with styles and fix mistakes, not to mention just getting it done faster too. I really don't always have the patience to get something done in color. I've always just preferred to draw. I've never been huge into painting or coloring my own work really but I've been able to make a decent career at it as an illustrator. Star Wars has always been the exception though since I enjoy working in full color there. As I steer more into a comic book career hopefully painting my own work is something I'll have to do less of. I'll still do full color work from time to time I'm sure but if I had a preference I would just love to pencil and sometimes ink.
I read a Comics 101 article about digital inking for your comic book and illustration work. How do you approach this technique?
There's a few different approaches to the concept and each one has it's advantages and disadvantages I suppose. If you're penciling for a digital ink look you sometimes have to spend more time in your pencil work making sure it's clean and the line work is a little tighter than usual before you scan the art to color it. For a publisher, that may be an advantage since they may not have the money or the time in the schedule to pay an actual inker. But for the penciler it means they're usually still getting paid the same amount for their art and not extra cash for the extra time it takes to develop tighter pencils.
In some cases you can disregard making your pencils extra tight and depend on the colorist to enhance your pencils like inks in the coloring stage perhaps. It really depends on the look you are going for. One advantage to painting over pencils is that it keeps the work from looking too heavy and graphic and makes it look more rounded, dimensional and illustrative.
Has there been a point where you have produced something that you were really excited about, only to have it nixed by LucasFilm? If so, how did you feel about this and how was this resolved?
Honestly, not much I've ever done has ever been nixed or not approved by Lucasfilm. If for whatever reason I'm not familiar with something, I'm usually pretty thorough in my research so there's never really been a time where I've had to revise artwork either. Though I've had quite a few Star Wars projects in development for West End Games or Wizards of the Coast that never became published for different editorial or scheduling reasons. That was really disappointing of course.
With West End Games, I was so disappointed with how they handled their business in regards to how they had dealt with us as their artists and writers. I actually was illustrating the entire X-Wing: Rogue Squadron Sourcebook for them and had half of it done when they went bankrupt and pulled the plug on all of their projects, not paying anyone for their work including books that had already been published for awhile. I also had some short stories in the can that I had illustrated for their next few Star Wars Adventure Journals which were never published either unfortunately.
With Wizards it was more about certain short stories or articles that I had either pitched or co-pitched with someone that fell through due to scheduling or editor approval, not so much because the artwork was never up to par. That's never been an issue for me.
From a professional standpoint, has there ever been a time where Star Wars has been difficult on you and felt just like another job or has it always been an ideal situation for you?
It's never, ever felt just like a job to me. Even when I was drawing a thousand sketch cards for Topps' new Clone Wars Trading Card series and my hand felt like it was going to fall off. I feel really, really fortunate to be able to contribute as an artist to characters and stories that I really love especially since there are a lot of other artists out there who are just as talented, if not more so, and want to be drawing for Star Wars too. This business can be really competitive and I realize I'm just really lucky getting to draw this stuff from a fan's perspective.
Tell us a little about your involvement with the Clone Wars trading card line.
Essentially I hooked up with Topps to illustrate for their exclusive sketch cards that were to be packed with the regular trading cards based on the Clone Wars cartoon. They asked me to do a thousand sketch cards for the set and gave me a list of twenty approved characters to draw for. That was an intense project since I had to draw so many cards and I wanted them all to look as equally good as possible. I set high standards for myself on that project since there were so many other great artists attached to draw sketch cards for them too. And I was the only artist involved who wasn't a Dark Horse artist actually besides Genndy Tartakovsky and Paul Rudish. So I wanted to make sure that if anyone saw these cards, especially the editors at Dark Horse and Lucasfilm Licensing, that they would like what they would see.
Any plans for collaboration with Dark Horse on any of their titles? (we'd love to see you in the Jedi Journals section here at Rebelscum.com)
I can only dream. It's been awhile since I sent them samples, like my work from my last comic book project for Marvel, Crimson Dynamo. But I'm pretty sure Randy Stradley and Jeremy Barlow know that I'd love to illustrate a Star Wars story for them, even if it was just something for Tales.
It may be that my work on Crimson Dynamo though never really turned them on since it was more cartoony and animated than my usual Star Wars work that they've seen and are familiar with. With that comic book I was taking over from a previous artist who had to leave the series. I was asked to match his style to make the transition for readers as seamless as possible. I enjoyed doing that too, pushing more of a cartoon, Manga influence in my style and approach to the storytelling. It wasn't an ideal situation but it was fun and interesting for me.
I'm pretty confident I can draw an enjoyable, quality Star Wars story for them though if they just gave me a chance. My plan is to send them some more samples soon and hopefully keep knocking on their door so I can eventually draw something really, really cool for them and their Star Wars fans.
Recently the official Star Wars site put up a poll for the return of an Online HoloNet News (56% of the people said Yes! Bring it back!). Is that something that we can expect your continued involvement in?
There's a chance that HoloNet News could return online in time for Episode III. It's really up to the crew at Star Wars.com and their budget and schedule by the end of this year I believe. I've been told that if it does come back that I will be the artist for it again which is really good to know. I think Pablo Hidalgo and I really enjoyed collaborating with each other on HoloNet News over the past few years as it moved from online into Star Wars Insider magazine. I also enjoyed working with Paul Ens on the HNN website too so hopefully that will be a project I'll get to revisit with them really soon.
What's next for you? Do you have any Creator owned properties that you are working on, or are you continuing to work on other licensed properties?
I'll be illustrating new sketch cards for Topps upcoming 'Star Wars: Heritage Trading Card Series'. I'm looking forward to starting that project soon.
I'm working with comic book artist Tom Mandrake on a detective comic book for Moonstone Books called Pat Novak written by Steven Grant. I'll also be illustrating a new comic for Moonstone written by Mike Baron which will be a modernized take on The Creature from the Black Lagoon. That should be a lot of fun since he's my favorite of the Universal Monsters.
My next project after that should be my creator owned series, Death Avenger, which I'll probably publish online through my website and at World Famous Comics.com. Then after that I plan to collect it and hopefully self-publish it as a three issue series.
Any plans to be at Celebration III?
I'll definitely be at Celebration III. I should be set up in the Art Show again like I was for C2. So many friends and fans I've made over the years through my work on Star Wars will be there so I wouldn't miss this for the world. I'm really hoping to create some special artwork for the next Celebration too if Lucasfilm lets me. Not only will this maybe be the last and biggest Star Wars gathering ever, but Indianapolis is also where I was born and raised and all of my family still lives there. A lot of them will probably be coming to the show to see me so it would be nice to illustrate something really special for this event and also get back and see my mom and dad for the weekend.
Is there anything else that you'd like our readers to know about you and your work? Any advice?
Well, I'd love to draw Star Wars for as long as possible, possibly even well beyond Episode III. I really love illustrating it that much so I'm hoping Lucasfilm and their publishers give me even more chances to do so in the near future. Even though I've been drawing Star Wars officially for about seven years now pretty regularly, I'm still as passionate about it as when I started, even more so today I think. Just working with iconic characters from the films or being allowed to contribute new facets to the saga like my own characters, creatures, vehicles, planets, etc. through different projects over the years has been a dream come true for me. Star Wars has always been a driving passion for me. It's pushed me to be a better artist in my other projects too.
So, I guess if I had any advice from an artist's perspective it would be to find what it is that drives you, what inspires you and what you're passionate about and pursue it any cost. For me it's Star Wars. Because it inspired me at such an early age it's allowed me to be successful in a career as an artist. I'm really grateful for that.
You can find out more about Joe and see more of his Star Wars illustration and comic book art at his web site www.JoeCorroney.com. And be sure to stop by and see him in Artist Alley at the San Diego Comic Con this year. He will hosting a Panel called "Kids! Learn to Draw Star Wars with Artist Joe Corroney", at 12:30 PM on Sunday, July 25.