Thursday, April 22, 2010

Sci-Fi Authors and Photographing Sergio Aragones for "The Artist Within"

It's hard to believe it's been almost a year since our last blog. Time is just flying by. Sorry it has taken me so long to get back to it. It's been on my mind for what seems like forever, so here goes...

This last Friday I had the chance to have lunch with my old friend Dan McElhattan, designer extraordinaire, and at some point during a really nice lunch at BJs Brewery here in Vegas, we ended up talking about my book, "The Artist Within". Somewhere in the conversation Dan mentioned that he had always thought it would be cool if I'd write down some of my memories and thoughts. Maybe a bit of background about some of the shoots -how they came about, show some out-takes and just relate my experience of actually being in the different studios. So, I guess I'll give it a try, I'm not sure how this is going to go - so please bare with me. I'd love to hear what you think.

As most of you probably know, the genesis of my project,"The Artist Within" actually came from a conversation that I had with my friend, Cartoonist Scott Shaw! Back then I had been working on a personal quest photographing portraits of science fiction and fantasy authors at book signings. I would travel from my home in Vegas down to L.A. to do some portraits, (better book signings in L.A.), and would stay with Scott and his wife, Judy. It was on one of these trips that I showed Scott my portfolio of these Author's photo's. Up till that point I had photographed maybe 30 authors including:

William Gibson (Neuromancer)

Clive Barker,( Weave World, The Thief of always)

Victor Koman (The Jehovah Contract),

James Ellroy,(Black Dahlia, L.A. Confidential)

Stephen R.Donaldson, ( The Chronicles of Thomas Covenant the Unbeliever)

Robert Bloch (Psycho),

Chelsea Quinn Yarbro,(Hotel Transylvania)

Neil Gaimen (American Gods)

Brian Lumley, (The Necroscope Saga)

and quite a few more. Anyway to keep a long story short, Scott, after really liking the shots, suggested that I should think about doing a project photographing Comic Book Artists and Cartoonists in their studios. So we discussed it back and forth for a couple of months, and finally got started on it. Scott knew a lot of Artists in the business and actually drove me out to the first several studios that I photographed. That first weekend I did three portraits: Rick Detorie, Sergio Aragones and Jack Kirby.

Thoughts on the shoot with Sergio Aragones:

I remember driving with Scott out to Ojai, California where Sergio lived. Ojai is a picturesque town in the hills about an hour north of Los Angeles, with beautiful little shops, restaurants and boutiques. I remember being really excited to be photographing one of the best and most well known cartoonists in the world. Of course,I had met Sergio before at several conventions, but for me being able to visit him in his studio was huge! We arrived at his place about 10 am.The studio itself was in a little 2 story shopping mall, with shops on the first floor and offices on the second floor. I know that he has moved since then but I remember it was right above the Radio Shack, which seemed funny at the time. We went up stairs, and were greeted by the man himself. Upon entering, I was just amazed at how much stuff was everywhere. Just piles and piles of collectibles, comics, toys, art pages, 3 ft. high stacks wherever you looked; a collectors dream room, really. There were little aisles through the stacks to get from room to room. I was blown away at how cool it was to be there. The hard part I remember was trying to pick a shot that would encompass the feeling of the studio. It seemed like there were about three or four rooms just chock full of amazing stuff. After lugging my gear up and in, I went from room to room trying to frame a shot, finally settling on the last area. I think that was his actual work room. When shooting like this , what I like to think of as the 20 minute portrait, I usually try to frame one great shot and then shoot maybe 24-36 shots. The goal being not to be too much of a bother, get out quick before I'm thrown out.

It seemed like we shot for about a hour actually, trying different props and a few different angles. I felt like I had the shot almost instantly, but kept trying a few different things anyway. Sergio was a great subject.

I really love the shot that I settled on, It is one of my favorites. Some of the cool things to note in the shot:

On the left side of the frame, as you look at it is a giant gray ball made from used gum erasers. At the time Sergio mentioned that over the years he had made several of these, and I think I remember he said that when they got too heavy to move that he would start another one. I also remember him saying that he even auctioned one off for charity. Next to that, the little sculpture of Groo's dog was a one of a kind, a handmade gift from a fan. The little figure of Bart Simpson was in there because as Sergio put it, "I just love this character, is it O.K. if I put it in the shot?" What could I say?. Behind Sergio on the shelf is one of the best Donald Duck collections I think I've ever seen. One other memory that just makes me smile is how many fans just knocked on the door to get autographs from Sergio during our shoot. Each time Sergio would answer the door with a kind smile, talk for a few minutes, sign several autographs and shake hands before coming back to our shoot. I think what sticks in my head more than anything, though, was that this is a guy with an absolute joyful spirit, has a wicked sense of humor, and is one of the best conversationalists I've ever encountered. The cherry on the cake was walking to a great little Mexican cafe after the shoot, and even getting to know this guy even better. This day was so cool, that it became the true jumping off point for me. I was officially hooked.

So, comic book fans, let me know what you think, and if you like, I can write more.

Greg Preston- April 2010

The Book "The Artist Within" published by Dark Horse has 101 photographs of your favorite artists from comics and animation and is great for collecting sketches and autographs at conventions. It is available through Amazon, for cheap, and makes a great gift.


  1. I've always loved that photo you took of me and I remember the day well. It captured me at my best and it's only been downhill from there!

    --Victor Koman

  2. Great story, Greg. You've told me a couple of others, but seeing this in writing - keep going!

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