Comics, Film, and a Gecko: The Many Faces of Gabriel Hardman
Artist Gabriel Hardman‘s free time is like a ketchup bottle – constantly getting squeezed until there’s nothing left.
Extremely in demand as a storyboard artist for films such as Inception and The Dark Knight Rises while drawing and co-writing comics like Star Wars Legacy, Hardman’s dance card is punched up more than a boxer’s face. Currently working on Star Wars Legacy for Dark Horse Comics and ready to debut his new comic Kinski, Hardman should be a worn out husk of an artist at this point, but he perseveres.
Hardman, who generously took time out of his schedule to do this Q&A, offers insights into his influences and an answer to where that quirky pseudonym of Gecko came from in this medium jumping interview.
I’ve seen through various tweets and examples of your work that appear to be well-studied in art. Did you connect with art at an early age or was this something that developed at a later point?
My mother is a fine artist so art has been a focus for me as long as I can remember. Going to museums and figure drawing workshops are some of my earliest memories. I’ve had some aptitude for drawing from an early age, and I worked at both life drawing and sequential storytelling since I was a kid. I don’t have a lot of formal art training though I did go to a visual and performing arts high school which was a great experience. I then attended School of Visual Arts in New York for a semester but dropped out when I got work in comics.
What were some of your early influences on your art and the way you approach making comic books or storyboarding?
Obviously I was a comics fan and my taste in comic art wasn’t much different than the average mid to late 80s reader. I liked George Perez and John Byrne. But I’ve always been interested in older stuff which led me to find back issues drawn by artists like Bruno Premiani and Joe Kubert. These are the guys that continue to influence me to this day.
The parallel to this was my 8th grade art teacher pushing me to draw from life and introducing me to the work of Jean Auguste Dominique Ingres. Particularly his pencil studies for portraits. You can find some examples here: http://chawedrosin.wordpress.com/2008/03/07/ingres-pencil-drawings/ Ingres along with Edgar Degas are my biggest drawing influences.
Storyboards are about communicating what the director plans to shoot more than the aesthetics of the drawings. I’m just bringing my other visual art influences to drawing the boards. But movies are collaborative so I’m often executing the director’s ideas.
If I remember correctly, you were attempting to get work in the comic book business in your late teens with companies like Malibu Comics under the pseudonym Gabriel Gecko. First, did you make a smooth transition into comics. Second, where did the Gecko pseudonym come from?
I was actually 14 the very first time I sent sequential samples to a company. It was Eclipse Comics in fact. I continued working on new sequential samples and sending them in through high school and eventually got my first work at 18 drawing War Machine for Marvel. I went on to draw some stuff for the Malibu Ultraverse titles before transitioning into storyboard work in the mid 90s. That transition worked well since the comic market was collapsing after the speculator boom just as I got my first storyboard jobs.
The name doesn’t have much of a story. I thought it would be memorable — that editors would remember seeing it on the samples. I was also enamored with Warhol’s Factory in high school. All of those people changed their names, it sounded like a good idea! What can I say? I was a teenager. I didn’t make good decisions.
After your early work in comics, you appear to have transitioned into storyboarding for a long period of time. What brought you back into comics when you have such a demanding schedule as a storyboard artist.
I was never happy with the comics work I did in the 90s, and I always wanted to come back and do work I could be proud of. Every year I’d go to San Diego Comic Con and get excited by the idea of doing more comics, but the movie business is demanding as you say, and it never quite happened. But doing storyboards for other directors ultimately isn’t that creatively satisfying. It’s pretty anonymous work as well. I wanted to tell stories I was interested in and put out work people would actually see. After finishing a particularly punishing film, I took the time to draw an OGN called Heathentown that I adapted from a script that my wife Corinna Bechko had written. It was published by Image Comics/Shadowline in 2009, and that led to freelance comics work.
I’ve also noticed that you’re rather prolific in your ability to turn out a large of amount of quality art in a short period of time. How do you manage to get so much work done without the quality of your work suffering?
Drawing the storyboards made me faster but I never feel like I’m getting enough comics work done. There’s always so much more to accomplish!
Your work is multi-faceted and wide ranging. However, you seem to have a classic style that positively brings out vintage and retro vibes from your subject-matter. It seems to come out in your taste in film and wardrobe too. Do you find yourself injecting these tastes into your work? One example that always comes to mind for me is your work on Agents of Atlas.
I deliberately set out to merge my vintage art sensibilities with a more modern style of sequential storytelling. The fact that I ended up drawing Agents of Atlas was a happy circumstance since it let me try out a lot of those ideas.
Does music figure into and influence your artistic choices? Your taste in music is superb and it seems like every portrait or scene you create has a musical element to it like a film score or theme song hidden in there.
I don’t know if there’s a direct connection though I do listen to a lot of music while I work. There’s also a musical element to the pacing of stories though that’s more a way to frame thinking about them than a direct musical influence.
I love the stressful high wire act that is making a film of any size. I have plans for directing more films, they just take a lot of money so financing a project isn’t easy. That was a lot of the appeal behind making comics. All I need to do to make it happen is sit down at a table and draw. Wrong Way Up is available here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iMXoAgl_3vg
In comics, do you have any desire to write and draw a story solo or do you prefer collaborations like you have with your wife?
Both Corinna and I have solo projects we’re working on. My digital first series Kinski, which I’m writing and drawing, is debuting on May 15. It’s something I’ve been working on for a while, and I’m very excited to join with Monkeybrain to get it out there. You can pre-order it here: http://www.comixology.com/Kinski-1/digital-comic/DIG003863