Michael William Kaluta is arguably one of the great living fantasy artists still working today. His comics career began in the 1970's through work on anthologies like "House of Secrets" and "Web of Horror," during which time he created a fortune teller character for editor Joe Orlando named "Madame Xanadu." His name became synonymous with the adventures of "The Shadow" and "Carson of Venus" for DC Comics. From 1975 through '79, he was a member of "The Studio" along with Barry Windsor-Smith, Bernie Wrightson and Jeff Jones. He's an award-winning painter and illustrator who has contributed to role playing games, illustrated Danzig album covers and in 2003 was named a Spectrum Grand Master in recognition of his vast and influential body of work.
Kaluta never left comics, but recent years have seen him spending more and more of his creative time in the medium, both as a cover artist for numerous series and one-shots and working on interior's, like last year's Marvel Comics' "Chaos War: Chaos King" and five issues of Vertigo's "Madame Xanadu" series, collected under the title "Madame Xanadu: Exodus Noir."
"Starstruck," which was recently released in a deluxe hardcover edition by IDW Publishing, is both an old and a new project for Kaluta. He was involved in its original incarnation as a play written by and co-starring Elaine Lee. The two adapted it into a series of short stories for "Heavy Metal" before developing it further for Marvel's Epic line. The latest volume collects, expands and presents in full color many of those stories. The artist spoke with CBR News about the project, taking us through the process of adding to and reformatting original pages, discussing what he's working on now and revealing the dream projects he still hopes to get to.
CBR News: Obviously, we'll discuss "Starstruck" in a moment, but first I'd like to ask -- what projects are you currently working on?
Michael William Kaluta: Since January, I've been drawing an 8-page Rocketeer comic strip for the new IDW 4-issue "Rocketeer" anthology miniseries. My story was written by Kurt Buisek and takes place in NYC. We follow Betty, who is working in a show on Broadway while Cliff is in the Pacific theatre fighting in a P-38 squadron.
I am drawing the 5 covers for Marvel's "Zombie Christmas Carol," based on the Dickens story of the similar name.
I am drawing the covers for a special "Fear Itself" miniseries, "The Fearsome Four" starring Frankenstein, She-Hulk, Nighthawk and Howard the Duck -- yes, it does seem an odd combo. That's the point, I think! I'll have a bit of a hand on some interior art for that series, if the rumors are true.
I've also some other covers in the works featuring Hercules, Wolverine, Spiderman and a dedication to Captain America, but none are for the books of those names. I often don't know the name of the book the cover is for, like the recent one featuring Wolverine and Fin Fang Foom. Apparently it was a cover for "Astonishing X-Men." They are all variant covers, I believe.
I'm in the midst of illustrating Don Gates' Pulp Novel "Isle of Blood." There'll be nine black and white interior illustrations and a cover painting.
I've one cover for "Dark Horse Presents" on the board, plus several private commissions. My only problem is what to do with my vast amount of leisure time.
To go back in time, how did you first get involved in "Starstruck?" Were you involved in the play that Elaine Lee wrote before the comic was spun out of it?
Elaine and I did the comic book because the play had become sort of enmeshed in a producer's mishandling of the rights. The play, and things like movies, TV, etc., were all tied up for a year or so, but the comic book rights still belonged to Elaine. So, we did a comic book.
When "Starstruck" was originally published, much of your published work had been fantasy and horror stories, fantasy art, "The Shadow" and "Carson of Venus." "Starstruck" is noticeably different from those projects. Were there any influences or work that affected the look of "Starstruck" or how you approached the book?
Though "different," "Starstruck" incorporated all the different genres I'd ever worked in, albeit morphed by Elaine Lee's sideways take on them. Drawing "Starstruck" was a smorgasbord of artistic challenges and fun virtuoso moments. I brought everything I had to doing the "Starstruck" comic, and, based on Elaine's characters and wit, what I brought raised itself to a new level. Since it is science fiction, I used pen and ink almost exclusively, that is to say, very little gestural brush work like I'd used in "The Shadow." That refined fine line approach gave "Starstruck" its "look." Inspiration came from all corners, but the art in "Metal Hurlant," etc., opened a floodgate of style to jump off from.
Visually speaking, how the play affect how you drew the comic? Did characters look like the actors portraying them? Did you take any cues from the sets or lightings or anything like that?
All the characters looked as close to the actors as I could manage. The actors had infused Elaine's characters with living personality, so the actors became the characters. It made some of my work easier, since I could "see" what expressions each situation would engender, since I knew most of the actors as friends over the months and months of rehearsal, production and after-run partying.
Since I designed the sets, they did inform some of my approach to the comic book art, but the comic book story, all 600+ pages, happens before the play. The hardware elements of the "Starstruck" play had yet to develop, historically, so I got to draw in a prologue concept method.