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Hollywood development artist and sequential storyteller Mark Wheatley is a no-nonsense patron of all things pulp. And, there is nothing arguably more exciting from the heyday of the pulps than the myriad worlds of Tarzan the Ape-Man and the wealth of other creations dreamed up by Edgar Rice Burroughs. With that, how did Wheatley approach his newest project, the Edgar Rice Burroughs Visions of Adventures portfolio? What was his process?
Visions of Adventure:
The Mark Wheatley Interview
By Scott Braden
“It’s magic,” Wheatley said, laughing.
And, after speaking with the veteran artist, we believe it.
“I have been a huge fan of Edgar Rice Burroughs since I was a kid,” Wheatley explained. “I discovered my first Edgar Rice Burroughs book in my grandfather’s bookcase after he died. It was a pristine copy in dustjacket of Tarzan and the Jewels of Opar. I hauled that book home, fascinated by the artwork – the illustrations by J. Allen St. John were seared into my brain, and affected my taste in art from then on. But when I got home, it went on a shelf. I didn’t read it immediately.
“A couple weeks later, I came across a paperback Ace edition copy of Tarzan at the Earth’s Core with the Frank Frazetta cover. That was also a cover which really grabbed me. I wasted no time reading that one. And it was a revelation, because until then, all I knew of Tarzan was Johnny Weissmuller and Lex Barker movies that I saw on the weekends when they would constantly run these movies over and over again on the television. The book revealed the real Tarzan. To me, the movies were a pale, pale, pale version of the real thing. So after having a taste of the real thing, I was very excited and jumped right into reading the Opar book – only to soon discover that I was reading these out of order. So, I started tracking down all the books to read them in their correct order. Eventually that led me to all of Burroughs’ concepts, lands and worlds, because they are all interconnected.”
“My first professional work with Burroughs was in ’91,” according to the illustrator-extraordinaire. Shortly after Breathtaker came out, I was approached by Tom Yeates at San Diego who had been instructed to get in touch with me by his editor at the time. He wanted to know if I liked Edgar Rice Burroughs. Did I? I pulled out a painting I had just done of Tarzan fighting a giant snake. Tom was convinced. He asked my permission to give his editor my contact information. Not long after, Henning Kure, Tom’s editor, called me and pretty soon we were in business together. Insight Studios became the U.S. packager and editorial department for the Tarzan comics that were eventually published all over the world – but here in the States it was released by Malibu. Malibu published some of what we did, but there were more stories published internationally that didn’t see the light of day here. So, I did Tarzan comics, and got connected with the Burroughs Bibliophiles. I also went to the local Bibliophiles meetings of the local chapter called the National Capital Panthans. I started doing the covers of The Panthans Journal. All of us at the studio have done stuff for The Panthans Journal. A few weeks ago I painted the cover for issue #296. Almost 300 issues! I’ve been doing it for a long time because I love this stuff. The Panthans only started a little before we became a part of it. We’ve been with it almost since the beginning.
“More recently, I have illustrated a Tarzan novel Tarzan and the Dark Heart of Time, that has become canon by the late, great Philip José Farmer. I have also illustrated a new novel in The Moon Men series, Swords Against the Moon Men by Christopher Paul Carey. There were 16 illustrations I did for that book. All of that book art, Panthans Journal covers, Burroughs Bibiliophiles covers and TV development work I’ve done with Tom Simmons, is some of what I am pulling from for the Visions of Adventure portfolio.”
“I went to the fine people who are the heart and soul of Edgar Rice Burroughs, Inc. and pitched the idea for the portfolio. They approved,” Wheatley recalled, “allowing me to use the ‘Edgar Rice Burroughs’ name. And, they have been very supportive. It’s a small family organization pretty much. It’s a good team. So, I have an official license to do the Edgar Rice Burroughs Visions of Adventure portfolio. Beyond the fact that it is a Burroughs project, I’m doubly excited because this is the first time I have done a portfolio of my works. I see this as a perfect chance to present an intense selection of my favorite visions of the worlds and characters that Edgar Rice Burroughs created!”
The portfolio was conceived to have an illustrated folder and hold at least eight art prints. The Kickstarter campaign’s success has allowed the addition of quite a few extras. As of the beginning of November, with about two weeks left to the campaign, backers will be getting a portfolio with at least fifteen art prints in the illustrated folder. Also, the folder and five prints will be signed by the artist. “That wasn’t enough, though!” Wheatley was happy to say. And it is true. He added a Visions of Adventure sketchbook, with 32 pages of his Burroughs art. And then he added a 42 page book collection called the Inspirations of Adventure.
“The books are digital,” Wheatley explained, “and they are just one of the ways that create added value for those who both support and back this project. Backers are not just getting the portfolio, they are getting a large collection of art. So, the first added book which was part of the original offering, was the Visions of Adventure Digital Sketchbook. That is going to contain a lot of my additional adventure art and Burroughs material. Also, it is a chance to share some of the line artwork I start with before I start a painting. It won’t be the same cushy level as the high-end portfolio with signed signatures and such, but it still gives people a good taste of my artwork.
“The second book was something we had to add in because we were blowing through stretch goals so quickly. It was crazy. We were fully funded in the first six hours that we were live. And, by the end of the first weekend, we were beyond all of our stretch goals. So, I started adding stretch goals as fast as I could, and the easiest thing was to add an additional art plate to the portfolio. We originally planned for eight plates, and we are now up to 15. At a point, I had to start offering some different kinds of goals. I am now committed to 3,000 signatures and I don’t really want to commit to any more than that because it is quite a commitment to do just that many. I don’t want to delay the delivery of this project because I might have a broken hand from all these signings. So, that’s why I came up with the second digital book, which is Inspirations of Adventure. The contents will be very close to my heart. I have specialized in collecting old magazines, partially because they are a great repository for illustration. They also offer a great historical perspective.”
“I’ve got magazines going back to the 1880s,” Wheatley said, “and that is when American illustration started to take root. I’ve got a lot of stuff that is in public domain that has inspired everyone who has come since.”
The army of artists on view with the Edgar Rice Burroughs Visions of Adventure Kickstarter campaign that Wheatley alluded to also includes himself. And, with the tremendous love and care – and sense of adventure – Wheatley put into Visions of Adventures, it shows.
On Kickstarter https://bit.ly/ERBMW1 the campaign page offers a wealth of art work and detail on what backers can get as rewards. The campaign and your opportunity to be a part of it ends on November 13th, 2021.
VISIONS OF THE FUTURE KICKSTARTER
Mark Wheatley Cover Art for The Panthans Journal
Kickstarter Visions of Adventure
National Capital Panthans
Tarzan and the Jewels of Opar
Tarzan at the Earth’s Core
Swords Against the Moon Men
Edgar Rice Burroughs, Inc.