Artist George Pratt recently stopped by the Comic Book Resources chat room to talk about his Eisner-award winning work, his love of the blues, and about flying over the Catskill Mountains in a bi-plane with Herb Trimpe!
|George Pratt with his Eisner Award in 2003|
Brian Cronin: Welcome, folks, to the George Pratt chat!
Brian Cronin: Hey, George, thanks for coming out.
George Pratt: Hi. This should be fun. I’ve never done anything like this, other than just Instant Messaging.
Rallura: We do our best to be fun.
Brian Cronin: What is it that you are doing right now?
Brian Cronin: An award thing?
Brian Cronin: In Florida, I mean.
George Pratt: No, I’m down in Sarasota at Ringling School of Art and Design to promote the Illustration Academy, which I teach with each summer.
George Pratt: The Illustration Academy is like boot camp for illustrators, and I’m very proud to be a part of it.
Brian Cronin: Well, you have a chance here, promote it a bit. 🙂 What is it like?
George Pratt: Well, it’s an eight-week program that is taught by myself, John English, Gary Kelley, Chris Payne, Mark English, Anita Kunz, Sterling Hundley…
George Pratt: Barron Storey, etc. etc. etc. It’s a great time and you learn in eight weeks what would usually take you four years to learn.
Rallura: I think I had the website for that a minute ago.
George Pratt: Yes, www.illustrationacademy.com.
Brian Cronin: Sounds cool. All different types of illustration?
George Pratt: Yes. All different types, plus even gallery work. We teach solid picture making, and concept, what you do with it, where you want to go is up to you.
George Pratt: We’ve got gallery artists, comics guys, straight illustrators, you name it.
Sir Tim Drake: Are you related to Hugo Pratt?
George Pratt: I wish I was related to Hugo Pratt. I love his work.
George Pratt: “Netsuke” was my first and only Eisner win. I have been nominated several times. I was blown away to actually win one. Took me totally by surprise.
Brian Cronin: What is the Eisner ceremony like?
Sir Tim Drake: I see that you got it in 2003, when Eisner was still giving them out in person. That must have been impressive.
Brian Cronin: Wow…yeah.
ragnarok_2012: What was Eisner like in person?
George Pratt: It’s pretty fun. Since I didn’t think I’d actually win the thing I was sitting waaaay in the back of the room and not up with the nominees. But it’s pretty scary and daunting to run up in front of all your peers and receive the award from Will Eisner himself. The ceremony will not be the same without Will.
Rallura: You have a hell of a talent George. I am not surprised you won.
George Pratt: Thanks, very much, Rallura. There’s just so much great talent out there that it’s surprising that anyone could ever think they could boil it down to one winner.
Sir Tim Drake: I was at that ceremony, but I don’t recall much about it now. I was sitting in the back of the auditorium, among the faceless hordes.
George Pratt: I was probably sitting behind you, Sir Tim.
ragnarok_2012: Was “Wolverine: Netsuke” your first Marvel work?
George Pratt: “Netsuke” was my first continuity for Marvel, though I had done numerous covers and pinups for them.
George Pratt: “Netsuke” was a real enjoyable job to do. Everyone at Marvel was incredibly fun to work with.
George Pratt: It really was one of the most pleasurable working experiences I’ve ever had.
Brian Cronin: Did they pretty much give you free reign on “Netsuke?”
George Pratt: Yes. They let me go wherever I wanted to go and handle it the way I wanted.
George Pratt: I did all my own production, lettering, etc. I just sent them disks which they sent to the printer. Everything came from my studio.
Rallura: George, did you do research into WWI specifically for your projects, or was it something you always had an interest in?
George Pratt: I always had an interest in the war stuff as my father was in WWII and my grandfather in WWI. Though I never took any particular interest in WWI until I began researching “Enemy Ace.”
George Pratt: Ace was also a book on Vietnam, and that was the real reason for doing the book, initially.
Interpreter11: George, as a teacher do you have any thoughts on James Sturm’s new Cartooning School?
Sir Tim Drake: Interpreter, I was just at that school a few weeks ago. It seemed like an attractive and friendly place.
George Pratt: I actually did not know that James Sturm had started a school. Where is it?
Sir Tim Drake: White River Junction, Vermont.
Interpreter11: They were handing out pamphlets at SPX a few years ago, looks like it’s coming to fruition.
George Pratt: The blues thing came about through my love of the music. I have this whole novel with comics, photos, recordings, etc. that I’m still trying to find a publisher for. But the documentary film came about through Steven Budlong, Vice President in charge of Television Services for CitiCorp.
George Pratt: He wanted to do a documentary on “Enemy Ace,” but I was burned out on the war stuff at that point, so we changed direction and attacked the blues project.
Smoogis: Any particular style you like best?
George Pratt: Style?
Smoogis: 12 bar, 8 bar, texas, chicago?
George Pratt: Ah! Country blues, Mississippi John Hurt, Skip James, Acoustic. etc.
Sir Tim Drake: George, I see that you won an award at Angouleme. Did you go there to accept it?
George Pratt: Are you referring to the 1990s award? I was there to receive the France Info award, yes.
Brian Cronin: That must have been trippy!
George Pratt: I had the best time at Angloueme. What a beautiful town. Unbelievable.
Brian Cronin: It must have been fun to see comics treated as basically mainstream.
George Pratt: Comics receive a very different respect in Europe. A very different animal over there.
George Pratt: I was so lucky because I got to meet Alberto Breccia! One of the gods. I just got to meet his son in Spain a few months ago.
Sir Tim Drake: Oh my God… What was he like?
George Pratt: I got to sit down with Mr. Breccia and speak with him, translated by his granddaughter. What a nice guy he was. And what an amazing talent!
Sir Tim Drake: Indeed. He was a master of so many different styles.
George Pratt: Breccia was comfortable working with just about anything. And his storytelling was unbeatable.
Brian Cronin: Alex Robinson was talking about his trip to Angloueme last year, and he mentioned it was amazing, in that you would see ads up at banks and grocery stores…just a totally different vibe.
George Pratt: Yeah, the European festivals are neat because the whole town gets involved. Pretty neat.
George Pratt: There’s nothing like it over here. It’s not about selling anything, it’s just about sharing the work, a celebration of the medium and the creators.
Messchird: I paint sometimes but not for comics. Is painting fun for you?
George Pratt: I love painting. It’s what I love most about doing art.
George Pratt: It’s the one thing I really and truly have to work at, whereas pen and ink and watercolor seem to come fairly naturally for me, but painting, I have to really work at it.
Interpreter11: But in comics you always paint in service of the story not for individually pretty panels, right?
George Pratt: Exactly. Everything should be in service to the story.
larsony: What books are you reading currently?
George Pratt: Right now… I just finished reading “The Great Influenza” by John Barry, and I’ve picked up a copy of Bernard Cornwell’s “Rebel.” I’m also reading “Ava’s Man” by Rick Bragg (great book! great voice!).
Smoogis: Hey George! Are you reading any current comics?
George Pratt: “Hellboy.” “BPRD,” I’m a huge Guy Davis fan. Love his stuff. That’s really about it.
George Pratt: I’ll pick up anything Mike Mignola does, of course.
George Pratt: I’m not on any regular books. I am working on an issue of “Solo” right now.
Brian Cronin: How’s that going?
Brian Cronin: What genres are you doing in your “Solo?”
George Pratt: Good, though I’m hitting the deadline. My wife also just gave birth to our second child, Mary.
George Pratt: So it’s tough to be working right now. 🙂
George Pratt: I’ve done one story that’s a Civil War tale; a Sgt. Rock story, I have a couple of Batman tales I’d like to do that are more autobiographical, and I’m doing some personal stories as well.
George Pratt: Thanks for the congrats. We’re very happy. She’s a healthy girl.
Interpreter11: It’s a 48-page book, right?
George Pratt: Yes, 48-pages.
Interpreter11: I’ve only seen Paul Pope’s “Solo,” which was entertaining– A Greek fable, a Kirby tribute, and a little personal story.
George Pratt: I’m really jumping around with the art in the book. Some stories are done in pen and ink, others in a hand separated color style, some painted. etc.
Brian Cronin: That’s great. “Solo” is such a great concept
George Pratt: I enjoyed Paul Pope’s issue, too.
Interpreter11: Yeah his art has that raw primal power
George Pratt: Pope’s work is very direct, lots of energy.
George Pratt: Mark Chiarello is the one who came up with “Solo.” It is a fun idea.
Brian Cronin: He’s made some great picks, so far.
Brian Cronin: How did you break into the comics field?
Brian Cronin: I mean, which company gave you your first big break?
George Pratt: My first work in comics came sort of round about through Marshall Rogers, whom I apprenticed with for awhile. He gave me credit for all the work I did and showed me what it really took to work in this field.
Brian Cronin: That’s great. So many apprentices go unnoted.
George Pratt: Marshall was great.
George Pratt: But my first solo work in comics came from John Workman at “Heavy Metal” during the early ’80s.
Brian Cronin: You had schooling in art, right?
George Pratt: Yes, I studied three years at Pratt Institute, no relation.
George Pratt: But I had been drawing all my life. It was the one thing I really and truly wanted to do.
Bloopinator: Your name is George Pratt and you went to Pratt institute….you sure there’s no relation?
George Pratt: The teachers handled me with care, worried that I was related. 🙂
Brian Cronin: Haha
George Pratt: Yeah that would be something…Uncle Hugo. He was someone I wanted to meet. Almost happened, but I missed.
George Pratt: I did a festival in Sierre, Switzerland and he was supposed to be there. He lived in a town near there, but I think he was sick and couldn’t make it. Close as I ever got.
Brian Cronin: Who would you rank as your biggest comic art influences?
Brian Cronin: Wrightson, I’m sure.
Brian Cronin: And Kaluta has to be in there, somewhere.
George Pratt: I was a huge Wrighston fan, Jeff Jones, Mike Kaluta, Barry Windsor-Smith (though back then he was just Barry Smith), Craig Russell, Neal Adams, Jack Kirby, Hal Foster, Joe Kubert, Russ Heath, Alex Raymond, on and on and on.
George Pratt: There’s just too many great names to put them all in.
Brian Cronin: I bet, George. 🙂 That’s why I only asked comics, as I bet the outside comic influences must measure in the hundreds!
George Pratt: Absolutely, the list covers artists from all over and in different genres, mediums, etc.
George Pratt: There are so many wonderful European artists as well.
Brian Cronin: That is great. So other artists have been open with the help over the years?
Brian Cronin: Were you a fan of “Enemy Ace” before you did “War Idyll?”
George Pratt: I was an “Enemy Ace” fan from day one, when the first issue hit the stands.
Interpreter11: Robert Kanigher was a no-nonsense writer in the ’70s.
George Pratt: DC, in my opinion, had the best war comics bar none. The only thing that was as good were the Warren “Blazing Combat” books.
George Pratt: I loved Kanigher’s work.
Interpreter11: And Joe Kubert, of course!
George Pratt: Kubert’s one of the gods.
Brian Cronin: I know it sounds corny, but I always feel kinda blessed to still have Kubert working in comics in 2006.
Brian Cronin: Man, that really does sound corny.
Rallura: That’s not corny at all, Brian.
Interpreter11: Not corny, I greatly prefer Joe Kubert’s art to that of his sons.
George Pratt: Kubert is still one of the best storytellers going. He’s like fine wine now. Love his work.
Brian Cronin: Have you managed to do a lot of traveling in Europe due to your work? That has got to be quite a treat.
George Pratt: The traveling has been one of the best perks ever. It amazes me that anyone would ever want me to come over. Wild!
Brian Cronin: Okay, while the artistic influences are numerous, how about the writing influences? Do you have any specific?
George Pratt: Writers! John Gardner, Ray Bradbury, Charles Beaumont, Steinbeck, John D. MacDonald, Irving Stone, John Irving, John Toland, Ken Follet, John LeCarre, Jim Thompson, etc. etc. etc.
George Pratt: I also really enjoy history books, biographies, etc.
Brian Cronin: How much time researching do you spend on a given project?
George Pratt: Researching a project is one of the most enjoyable and exciting aspects of telling stories for me.
George Pratt: I hated history as a kid because the schools made it too dry… just names and dates. They lost the actual power of the past. I didn’t appreciate history until I had to dive in for myself. Now I’m hooked.
Interpreter11: In terms of research you actually got a little help from hallowed Herb Trimpe for “Enemy Ace,” correct?
George Pratt: That’s right. Herb heard that I was doing “Ace” and offered to take me up in his biplane. What a treat that was!
Rallura: Oh, lucky!
Brian Cronin: That’s awesome!
George Pratt: Flying over the Catskill Mountains in upstate New York in an open cockpit two-seater biplane. What an experience.
George Pratt: He wanted me to have a true feeling for what it was like to be in one of the old kites.
George Pratt: It was an invaluable lesson.
Brian Cronin: I bet. Man…artists really have been good to you! 🙂
George Pratt: Let me tell you. Most artists I’ve met have taken so much of their own time to help me along, to learn the ropes. There’s no way to repay them, but they insist that it is just passed along. I try to do that as often as I can. Hence the work with the Illustration Academy.
Interpreter11: George Evans was terrific w/ the old dogfight, aerial war stuff, too.
George Pratt: George Evans took out loads of time to talk about WWI flying with me. What a grand old gentleman he was. A real sweetheart. And what a great storyteller he was as well!
George Pratt: He was a real historian of that war.
George Pratt: He wrote for many of the magazines that were devoted to the study of the aerial warfare.
Interpreter11: I think artists help other artist in whom they see great potential.
George Pratt: I guess. Though when I look at my old student work I’d be hard pressed to see what others might have seen. Maybe it was just the zeal I approached it with? I don’t know. But I’m thankful that they saw something. 🙂
Interpreter11: Evans had a great story about Harvey Kurtzman being such a stickler for detail that he couldn’t tolerate any deviation from his layouts.
George Pratt: Yeah, I heard that one, too. Except that George actually corrected him on a few things.
George Pratt: George Evans had a lot of wonderful tales of the old comic days. Fiction House, etc.
Brian Cronin: Did you ever meet Kanigher?
George Pratt: No, I never met Kanigher. I was actually warned off of talking with him. He hated my “Enemy Ace,” though he never read it.
Interpreter11: That’s interesting. Kanigher is notoriously ornery in interviews.
George Pratt: Yeah. He made a lot of enemies it seems. I loved his work though. It would have been neat to have met him.
George Pratt: I have a studio that is an outbuilding from my home.
Brian Cronin: What does it look like during project time? Reference material all over the place?
George Pratt: During project time my place looks like a bomb went off inside. Stuff is scattered all over the place. A real mess.
Brian Cronin: Have you ever considered doing a comic project about the blues?
George Pratt: I have a whole text novel that also has about 50 to 100 pages of comics in it as well. Finding a publisher is the hard thing.
Brian Cronin: I know the novel as conceived has some comic aspects to it, but I mean, any chance of a strictly comic project?
George Pratt: Um, not a whole comic, no. So much of what I want to impart and share about the blues has to do with the reader making their own images out of the written word.
Brian Cronin: Gotcha
George Pratt: I think playing off the two would be more powerful in the end as it lets the reader be more of a participant.
Brian Cronin: Hey, what was it like working on a mini-series after doing just OGNs at first?
George Pratt: Doing the mini-series was fun because I got to see it come out while I was working on it. That was neat. Usually you work and work and work toward this light at the end of a tunnel and get a big book in the end. But seeing the work come out gave me an extra boost near the end of the run. A lot of fun.
Interpreter11: Do you have a literary agent for your Blues/multimedia project?
George Pratt: No I don’t have a literary agent.
George Pratt: That would probably help a lot. 🙂
Brian Cronin: Haha
George Pratt: Dark Horse has expressed some interest in it. We’ll see if anything comes of that.
Interpreter11: Maybe look into FirstSecond, a new graphic novel division of Henry Holt.
George Pratt: I used to do a lot of covers for Henry Holt. The tough thing with regular publishers is that they don’t pay enough to compensate for the amount of work that a comic takes.
Brian Cronin: For “Wolverine: Netsuke,” did you read a bunch of Wolverine comics, or was the research mainly into the Japanese aspects of the work?
George Pratt: I read “Wolverine” when I was in high school, and when I was in college I read the Frank Miller, Chris Claremont series. Loved it. So I wanted to sort of pick up with the lost romance part of it all.
George Pratt: Also, the Japanese aspects were very important. I’m a huge fan of Japanese prints and so this dovetailed nicely into that.
Brian Cronin: “Netsuke” really was a beautiful work
George Pratt: Some. I enjoy reading “Lone Wolf,” and the Otomo work. I also like Miyazaki (sp?).
George Pratt: I’m a massive Yoshitoshi fan!
George Pratt: Wow. Great stuff!
Interpreter11: Did you see “Howl’s Moving Castle” yet? Quite beautiful
George Pratt: Haven’t seen that yet. Looking forward to it.
Brian Cronin: You can use your kids as an excuse to rent it. 😉
Brian Cronin: “It’s for them!”
George Pratt: That’s what I have to do! 🙂 We have some of the Miyazaki films and my son loves them. Makes it easier for me to pick them up. 🙂
Interpreter11: You don’t need kids as an excuse to watch Miyazaki. 😉
George Pratt: That’s the truth. I’ve even got my wife loving them.
George Pratt: I’ve never seen “Nausicaa!” I know, I’m lame. But I do have the comics. Love’em.
Interpreter11: Miyazaki has environmental and Shinto spiritualism running through all of his manga and films.
George Pratt: That’s the great thing about his work, too…. the story is so engaging.
Sir Tim Drake: In your novel, what kind of relationship is there between the text and the comics? Are they just interspersed together?
George Pratt: In the blues novel, text runs into comics, the comics picking up where the text interviews leave off. So suddenly we are there, the time and place that the people are talking about in the interview. Then, back out again into the text. Like coming out of a dream, or something.
Brian Cronin: Would you ever consider a project like Gaiman and Yoshitaka Amano’s “Dream Hunters?”
George Pratt: Certainly.
George Pratt: That would be fun to do.
Interpreter11: Did you think “Dream Hunters” was great storytelling, Brian, or just a really pretty book?
Brian Cronin: I think it was one of the rare books to pull out the former.
Interpreter11: Charles Vess does that sort of thing well.
George Pratt: Yes, he does.
Brian Cronin: Often, those type of books turn out to be the latter.
Brian Cronin: A really pretty book, but not working as cohesive storytelling.
George Pratt: Well, the illustrations are meant to supplement the text, not carry the story.
George Pratt: They are picture books, really.
Brian Cronin: In fact, I think Amano’s “Elektra” story with Rucka failed in that regard.
George Pratt: That one I didn’t see.
Interpreter11: I think the illustrations in Dream Hunters supersede the story…they also don’t seem terribly connected.
Interpreter11: George you sort of worked with Gaiman during your stint as inker on “Sandman,” right?
George Pratt: Yes. Neil’s mentioned a few times maybe doing something sometime. I used to see him every once in awhile in Brooklyn, over at Chris Claremont’s home.
George Pratt: He’s always liked some of the convention sketches I’ve done of Sandman and thought it might be fun to do something. Nothing’s ever come of it though.
Brian Cronin: That when the unfortunate Doran incident happened, right?
Brian Cronin: Which I will not bring up anymore. 🙂
George Pratt: Ugh.
Interpreter11: Interesting that Gaiman hangs out with Claremont. Unlikely pair except that they are both Brit ex-pats after all.
George Pratt: I didn’t know Chris was British.
George Pratt: First I’ve ever heard that.
Brian Cronin: I didn’t know Claremont was from England either. I know Byrne was, but didn’t know about Claremont.
Interpreter11: All the best writers are, didn’t ya’ know?
George Pratt: Chris was instrumental in my getting the “Netsuke” job.
Brian Cronin: Who was the editor on “Netsuke?”
George Pratt: Well, originally it was going to be Chris Claremont, then it was passed to someone else, who later got fired, then it went to Mike Marts. He was great. I was sad not to get to really work with Chris, though.
Brian Cronin: Oh, it was not meant to be written by you?
George Pratt: No, no. It was always going to be written by me. But I was looking forward to having Chris as an editor.
George Pratt: Chris did go over the story with me and he made some suggestions early on. After he left Marvel, he made sure the book was handed to Joe Quesada, who made sure it happened.
Brian Cronin: Mike Marts is a nice fall back 🙂
George Pratt: Mike was a wonderful editor. One of the best I’ve ever worked with.
Brian Cronin: For DC heroes?
George Pratt: Yes. With Death and Deadman, etc.
Brian Cronin: Coolness.
Brian Cronin: Someone was wondering the other day if that was, in fact, Death.
George Pratt: I remember Neil wondering why I gave Death wings. I just did it to do it, because I knew next to nothing about the character, but the sketch was approved. I think Neil liked it, though I can’t remember for sure.
George Pratt: I think she has the ankh symbol on her necklace.
Brian Cronin: Yeah, that’s why people weren’t sure. It has the ankh, so it was probably Death, but I figure, hey, you’re here, might as well clarify
Sir Tim Drake: Speaking of which, how was the experience of illustrating “Magic: The Gathering” cards?
George Pratt: That was a fun bunch of pieces to do. The art director for those was fun to work with. She didn’t last long there, though. I’m sorry I don’t remember her name.
Brian Cronin: Did you draw any ban-worthy cards?
Brian Cronin: Anything that would help teach children Satanism?
George Pratt: Not that I know of. All mine made it to press.
George Pratt: I’ve never actually played the game, though my son will probably show me when he gets into it at some future time.
George Pratt: Or my daughter. 🙂
George Pratt: The closest I’ve come to ban-worthy was DC changing my cover to “Batman: Harvest Breed.” The building he was crouched before originally had a crucifix at its peak. They took that off.
George Pratt: All of a sudden it’s not a church anymore, just some pointy building. Thanks.
Brian Cronin: Haha
George Pratt: I had to have a long discussion with Paul Levitz about the paperback and them letting me use a cross. They finally agreed.
Interpreter11: That was your worst experience w/ editorial, right?
George Pratt: Well, any time something is changed without your consent, or without you getting to make the change, is difficult to accept. I would rather have made that change myself and known about it before it went to press, and not find out about it when I get my comp copies.
Brian Cronin: Well, you’ve been lucky not to do the ongoings. They’re where the really hardass stuff comes into play.
George Pratt: It’s Batman, after all, I know they can change whatever they want. I just would like to have been part of the process.
George Pratt: They were more up front on the paperback. So it wasn’t something that was repeated.
George Pratt: DC is very good about that kind of thing, usually.
Brian Cronin: Cool
Brian Cronin: Yeah, Allred was talking recently about when they made the change with his “Solo,” they told him about it very early on.
Brian Cronin: He was still irked to lose his original cover, but at least he had notice.
George Pratt: What change?
George Pratt: What was wrong with the cover?
Brian Cronin: He did a post-modernist Batman story in there, about the TV era Batman.
Brian Cronin: So on the cover; he had a drawing of the TV Batman doing the Bat-tusi
Brian Cronin: And DC just didn’t feel comfortable enough with it, so they asked him to pick another cover.
Brian Cronin: So he went with what was going to be his back cover, “Wonder Girl” doing the Bat-tusi.
George Pratt: There’s all kinds of issues with the old Batman television show. That might have been something that DC’s lawyers had a say in.
Brian Cronin: Yeah, it was probably legal.
Brian Cronin: Or perhaps a thing with “we don’t want to have to GET legal into it.”
George Pratt: Hey, I hope you guys don’t mind, but I need to go help the other guys wrap up the Illustration Academy presentation. This has been a lot of fun!
Brian Cronin: No problema.
George Pratt: It would be neat to do another one sometime.
Brian Cronin: We can do one when your “solo” comes out
George Pratt: Sounds great!
George Pratt: I’d like to hear what everyone thinks of the book.
Brian Cronin: Thanks for coming!
George Pratt: Thank you! It’s been a pleasure.
Rallura: Thank you so much George!
Interpreter11: Great discussion George. Thanks for talking.
George Pratt: Take care, everyone. I look forward to doing it again sometime.