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My fondness for Burroughs all started because of the Tarzan movies I watched as a child. They made a big impression on me, something really clicked when I saw them. So much so that I was climbing trees and giving Tarzan yells with the best of them. My mother must have been a fan of the movies also, because she encouraged me to watch them, and would buy me Tarzan comics whenever my parents would go shopping. A few years later I discovered the Tarzan books. I remember being in the fifth grade when I read Tarzan of the Apes for the first time. Later in high school, the Ace editions with the Frazetta covers appeared on the stands and my life was changed forever. Iíve certainly been inspired by a great many artists, from Hal Foster to Al Williamson to Neal Adams, but Frazetta was probably the biggest influence in my becoming an artist, and it certainly was a dream come true when years later I worked with him.
I studied art at the Art Institute of Pittsburgh. After graduating my first job was at an engineering firm as a paste up artist working on a government map project. After doing this for a year I was ready to blow my brains out. I decided it was time for a change and took advantage of an invitation to sunny California. In the summer of 1977 my brother and I headed off to California in my Volkswagon Bug, and my life was never the same.
The first place I headed for was ERB inc., I had to see this wonderful place called Tarzana, the homeland of my favorite author. After finding Tarzana, I headed to the nearest payphone, dialed the number for ERB inc., and had my first conversation with Danton Burroughs. He invited me to come right over and see the place with all itís wonders, which didnít take me long because I was at a phone across the street. Iíll never forget that first visit. I walk into the now familiar reception area with itís paintings and wall hangings, met Danton, and then had a brief tour of the offices. And I said the tour was brief, it was cut short because I showed up just as they were about to have a meeting of sorts, chairmen of the board and people of that ilk. As I was saying my goodbyes and thanks to Danton, who should come walking in but big Jim Pierce. He must have read the amazement on my face, because he immediately introduced himself, and as my mouth was agape signed me an autograph.
Those first couple of weeks in California were days filled with exciting new discoveries and opportunities. Within two weeks I had a job at Filmation Studios working on the Tarzan animated show, Iíd been to the nude beach and gotten sunburned in places only my wife has seen, and even got to see some Hollywood stars. The job at Filmation even surprised me. A year before going to California, as I sat watching the first episode of the animated Tarzan on television, I would never have dreamed that I would later be working on that very show. I remember calling Danton about a week after Iíd gotten the job to tell him I was actually working on Tarzan, I think I really surprised him. I'm sure I looked very much like the rabid fan to him (which I was), it was sort of a ďloco boy makes goodĒ story.
The next couple years were filled with work on many different productions, jumping around from one animation studio to another. I worked on everything from He-Man, She-Ra Princess of Power, Flash Gordon and The Lone Ranger for Filmation to the Smurfs, Super Friends and Dukes of Hazard for Hanna Barbera. It was while I was working on the Lone Ranger for Filmation that the opportunity came to work on the feature film ďFire and IceĒ for Ralph Bakshi, and my first meeting with Frazetta took place.
It was my first day on the job, they sat me in a room and instructed me to draw the main female character, Tigra. So I sat down and did about six drawings, all from one particular scene, and then was informed that Frazetta was going to come in and assess what Iíd done. Well I can tell you that the prospects of meeting the great one, and having him critique my work was almost too much for one boy from Pennsyvania to bear. But all my worries were soon put to rest. Frazetta came in, sat me down and was soon giving me lessons on how to draw a woman the Frazetta way. I found him to be just a regular guy, helpful, instructive, totally professional, and not condescending in any way. This was in total contrast to Ralph Bakshi, who was really an asshole in every sense of the word. This was to be one of several meetings I would have with Frank, to this day still someone I hold with the deepest regard. To me Iíll always be just a boy from Pa., and he will always be the great one.
In 1985 I left California to seek my fortunes as a comic book artist. I returned to Pennsylvania, and from there would take occasional trips into New York, bringing home bits and pieces of work, not nearly enough to live on. Lucky for me I met my wife to be, although neither one of us knew it at the time. She helped me make it through an extremely rough time. During this time I chanced upon Neal Adamsí Continuity Studio. Neal had recently started publishing comics of his own, a writer friend of mine who had accompanied me to New York that day suggested we stop by Nealís studio and try our luck. I suddenly found myself hired, much to my surprise, and was drawing the likes of Ms. Mystic, Megalith, and Samaree. This really helped launch my comic book career, and I went on from there to work for DC Comics, Marvel Comics, and a slew of other smaller companies.
To this day I consider Neal to be sort of a mentor. He taught me how to be a real professional, a way to approach work, methods I still use to this day. Besides Frazettaís influence on my work Neal is the one other artist whoís work I am most affected by.
After almost twenty years as a professional artist I sat back, assessed my own work, and realized Iíd only worked on the Tarzan character twice. Once in animation, and then again almost twenty years later on a freelance project for Grolier books. Not without trying, mind you. Iíd tried several times to get work on the Tarzan comic but been rejected, had at one time been given the Tarzan Sunday strip but had it taken away, all without my knowledge. Iíd done occasional drawings and sketches all for myself, but nothing for fanzines or anyone else. Raising and trying to feed a family had taken all my time and energy, and I realized that the one character I enjoyed most was sadly missing from my portfolio. Now throw in unexpected major heart surgery, and mortality staring me in the face.
I decided it was time, enough was enough. My first work while recovering from the surgery was the piece where Tarzan is on Tantorís back. The next was the girl with the sabertooth, and the rest soon followed. I start off with a quick sketch, usually in blue pencil, done much smaller than the final art. I enlarge that sketch with the help of a copier, then develop it into a finished pencil drawing on a light table, a method Iíve used ever since my animation days. I color everything with colored pencil. My intent is to achieve a pastel effect with the coloring, certainly there are all kinds of slick coloring methods one can use these days, but I like a hand colored look. All of the art in gallery two was done using these techniques.
About the art
Click for full-screen image
Gallery three contains mostly black and white art. Some are commission pieces, others just personal projects, and others are from an upcoming sketchbook Iím currently working on. The black and white piece with Tarzan, Jane, and La is a personal piece and is one of my favorites. There are several scenes from Tarzan books that have been floating around in my head for several years now. This is one of them. The rest I hope to complete sometime in the near future.
Gallery four contains art that was done as submission work to get other jobs. The first six pieces I sent as a submission to Dark Horse Comics in an attempt to work on the Tarzan comic. The three Sunday page samples I sent as a submission to United Features Syndicate hoping to work on the Tarzan strip. As I mentioned earlier I had a near miss with the Tarzan strip years ago. Danton Burroughs called me one day to tell me that there was an opening on the strip, if I wanted to make a try for it I should do some samples and get them to him. I did that very thing just as fast as my drawing hand could go, took them to Danton, and then sat on pins and needles waiting to hear back. As days went by I soon lost hope that I had any chance of getting the job, and then kind of put it out of my mind. One evening as I sat pondering nothing much in particular the phone rang, and it was Danton. He was apologizing for UFS taking the strip away from me in such an unprofessional way and starts to tell me just what artist they had chosen. I interrupted him to tell him that I didnít know what he was talking about, that no one had informed me if I had or had not gotten the job. Then Danton interrupts me to say, ďYou mean they never called to tell you that you had gotten the job, but that they had now changed their mind and decided to give it to Mike Grell. Thus ends the saga of my brush with the Tarzan strip.
Hope everyone enjoys the art as much as I like doing it. Look for my sketch book to come out sometime in the fall of 2000. Published by SQP publications it will contain much of what you see here in these galleries plus a lot of new material as well.
Keep dreaming the dream, ERB forever!!
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