Greg Horn is an artist making a splash in not only in the world of comic books but now in entertainment and art of all kinds. He is a big fan of Peter Jackson's Lord of The Rings movies and has illustrated three magazine covers for gaming publications, all featuring Tolkien's characters just as the ROTK games are heading into stores with fall pre-movie releases.
Exclusive interview and images from Greg Horn
He is best know for his work at Marvel Comics illustrating characters like Elektra and the X-men. His work doing covers for the Elektra series probably was most responsible for launching his work out of the world of comics and into mainstream pop-culture. TORn was lucky enough to run into Greg at Comic-Con in San Diego last summer and so we bring you this Q&A with the artist and exclusive images of the covers, some already available on your local magazine rack.
Q: What is it that drew you to art in the first place and when did you realize this is what you would become an artist?
GH: It was my mother who first got me interested in art, but it wasn't until I picked up my first comic books at about age 9 that I knew I wanted to make pretty pictures for a living.
Later in life, I discovered fantasy art - the old Dungeons & Dragons stuff was extremely influential on me and fantasy has remained my favorite genre of art to this day. I don't get a lot of opportunities do this type of artwork, so I was ecstatic about working on the Lord of the Rings projects.
Q: Which comic books inspired you as a child and which comic artists - contemporary or historic - do you most admire?
GH: I remember falling in love with the X-men books early on. This was back when John Byrne was doing the best artwork in the industry. The stories were absolutely captivating, most memorable of which was the Dark Phoenix saga. I've heard this story-arc is rumored to be the inspiration for the 3rd X men movie. Let's just hope they do the tale justice! Then there was George Perez with his hyper-detail style on the Avengers and Teen Titans, and Frank Miller's gritty Daredevil stories - he is actually the creator of the Elektra character which I've painted 28 images of over the past few years. Anyway, these are the great artists who got me interested in comics in the first place. I'd say my favorite all-time was the late John Buscema. He was like the fine artist of comics and I learned the most about art from the books he worked on.
Q: Does your style and ability constantly increase and change or do you find that you find your "place" and work there?
GH: I think successful artists, whether they are illustrators, musicians, or poets are constantly growing and always looking for a new way to do the same old thing. Otherwise, you can stagnate creatively. I invest a lot of time looking for ways to improve my artwork...a little time in the research and development department never hurt. Of course, trying new things is a challenge and makes the jobs more difficult. But I'm a big believer that nothing good comes easy and I am always making things harder than they need to be!
Q: Explain a little more what you mean when you say you make things harder than they need to be
GH: Well, I have learned that the more difficult something is to do, the more special it will be when you are finished - the more strength and longevity it will hold. Anytime you break down and do something the "easy way" you are just killing your art! There are a lot of shortcuts you can take with illustration, and I try to avoid them at all costs (thus making things harder than they need to be). I don't want you to think I'm a glutton for punishment, but I just really thrive under the worst conditions.
To put it in Lord of the Rings terms: think about the massive effort and time it took to make the three films. What if they had taken all the shortcuts and all the easy ways out and managed to complete the film with half the effort and half the time. Do you think it would be anywhere near as great as it is? I think it is cool how everybody associated with the film was on the same page and nobody quit - they decided to suffer together instead! Looking back, I bet they wouldn't have it any other way.
Q: Greg, how did you come to this project and how has it been or what has it meant for you?
GH: Early in the year, I talked with OXM (Official Xbox Magazine) about The Lord of the Rings. I explained to them that it was my favorite movie and that if they were going to be doing a feature on EA's Return of the King game, I'd like to be considered for the cover work. To my surprise, they had already been discussing it and they actually wanted to do three illustrated covers on three different magazines for that month! So now, the October issues of OXM, PSM (Play Station Magazine), and PC Gamer will all be sporting my Lord of the Rings paintings. The best part of the whole deal was getting in contact with TheOneRing.net so I can share my passion here with other LOTR fans.
Q: What is your background with Lord of The Rings? Books? Film? Do you remember that moment of first exposure when you realized that it was something special?
GH: The movies are my first introduction into The Lord of the Rings world. There are so many special things about the LOTR films; it would be tough to single out just one. Artistically, the entire scope and vision of the movies is absolutely incredible-from the concept art to the finished film everything is awesome. The sets are beautiful. I wish I lived in the Shire or Rivendell. The characters have a depth to them which I can't quite describe. All I know is every time one of them pops on the screen, I have an immediate identification with them and the problem he or she has to overcome. I just think the love shines through on this movie more than others - the perfect marriage of art, story, acting, and music. And yet, all the awards went to Chicago. Excuse me while I puke in my shoe!
The LOTR movies are also special to me on a personal level. I've been trying to get my wife to watch action/ adventure movies for the past 8 years. But she prefers romantic comedy and horror films (I should have her committed, huh?) Anyway, I watched the original Star Wars with her and she hated it! Worse yet, she couldn't even sit through Blade Runner-have you ever heard such blasphemy?! Anyway, I had all but given up when Lord of the Rings first came out and she agreed to go see it with me. When we walked out of the theater, I said, "You know what? That is my favorite movie." And she replied, "Yeah. Me too." After the paramedics revived me, I was happy to know that my wife and I finally had the same favorite movie. Maybe Lord of the Rings is really a romantic comedy/ horror film in disguise?
Q: How did you approach the Lord of The Rings characters? In what ways, if any, were they different from other pieces/characters you have worked on?
GH: The Lord of the Rings project was a tough one, as are all magazine illustrations related to games that are in turn related to movies - because there is a multi-faceted approval process. First, I have to make sure all 3 designs conform to each magazine's logo and text placement. Otherwise, we may end up with Aragorn's head under the Xbox logo. After all three pieces of artwork are approved by my magazine editors, the illustrations are sent off to EA games for further review by their staff. Once EA's changes are made, the artwork is finally passed on to New Line (and in some cases the actors) for their approval!
Needless to say, these types of jobs are pretty stressful, especially when you consider Gandalf himself may be scrutinizing your artwork! Luckily, I am extremely familiar with the characters and was able to run the gauntlet nearly unscathed.
Q: Is it more or less difficult to tackle a character that is already well known to the audience?
GH: It is certainly more difficult as the art must look like people that everyone knows. If I draw a picture of Legolas and it doesn't look like Orlando Bloom, I'm sunk. There is no margin for error when drawing likenesses. The difficulties are compounded by the fact that it is next to impossible to get good photo references of an upcoming movie.
I've illustrated a lot of characters from Marvel's movies like X-men, Daredevil, (MrCere's favorite character!) etc. and I consider myself lucky if I get more than one good shot of the person I'm trying to draw! It's a huge handicap, but I always manage to get a good likeness somehow. The toughest LOTR image was Aragorn because of the new look and armor he wears in Return of the King.
Q: When you start a project, such as these covers, do you usually have specific ideas of what the finished product will look like or does it develop as you go? How close is your initial vision to your finished product?
GH: That's an interesting question. Sometimes, I have a good idea of what the finished piece is going to look like. I knew we wanted Aragorn's background to be yellow/orange and over-exposed before I even started. With the Legolas image, I was concentrating more on getting his pose to look right and also fitting the constraints of PSM's "live-cover" area. His background with Sauron's fiery eye was added in after the fact ( and it was omitted from the actual cover for clarity).
I knew exactly what Gandalf would look like from the start, but wanted to try a few different techniques for showing his supernatural power. He doesn't have any visible magic effects in the movie, so I wanted to do something fairly subdued and still get the idea across that he's a dangerous dude. I painted him with Glamdring [sword] at first, but later we all agreed he'd look more wizard-ish with the staff. The sword was pretty cool though!
Q: Describe how you came up with poses and ideas for these Lord of The Rings characters?
GH: Originally, I had planned to do these images in the style of movie posters-you know, real elaborate montage-type thingies. But, I got caught up in some rough deadlines elsewhere and by the time I was able to start painting the 3 magazine covers, I only had a week's time to finish them all. I had been looking forward to doing these paintings for 6 freakin' months and it was a real bummer to know I'd have to rush them, but somehow I got them all completed in that week and I never really felt rushed. The whole thing was just flat out fun. Thankfully, the guys had already figured out their general concepts, so I just had to grab the ball and run with it.
Q: So have you or do you plan to read the Lord of The Rings books?
GH: I've already bought the books and plan to read them once I have seen the final LOTR movie. I want to see one man's vision before I start on the next. I think it will be interesting to see how the two versions differ.
Q: Is there anything else fans should know about these works?
GH: Yes, there are two things, both of which are cheap attempts to get people to visit my website and see all the crap I've been working on the last couple of years. First, for fun I took the three LOTR paintings and combined them into one big piece of art - it makes for a nice wallpaper If anyone is interested. It's available on my website for free. Just click on the Sauron eye to get there. The second item of note: There is a fourth LOTR painting! Last year, I painted an image of Aragorn for OXM's article on the Two towers game (also by EA games) and this can also be found on my website. Thanks MrCere, this was a lot of fun!
Horn's web site showcases his artwork and has more information about the man himself. http://www.greghornjudge.com/