The Possibilities of Fantasy are Endless
This interview was conducted via email in September of 2005 with writer Dmitry Zlotnitskiy.
It was published in the June 2006 issue of The World of Sci-Fi.

Hello. For starters – a few words about yourself, if possible.

My name is Mark Evans. I've been drawing since I was little, scribbling with crayons and coloring books.

Almost all young children do that. How did it turn out that drawing became your profession?

My father was drawing Superman fighting the Giant Robot from the just released 1975 comic book classic "Superman Vs. The Amazing Spider-man." He was a FANTASTIC artist himself and this illustration was as good as it gets. I watched in awe as he started to ink in the sketch lines with a ball-point pen. He asked "Do you want to help?"

"Uh... sure." I said nervously.

He pointed to some areas and told me to fill in the blacks. I remember CLEARLY how exiting that was. As I filled in the darks the forms began to take shape and the characters began to emerge in three dimensions from the drawing. It was magic.

My father and I drew all the time from that day forward. He taught me a lot and I ended up going to the High School of Art & Design and attending Pratt Institute to refine my craft.

How did you become a professional illustrator?

I was lucky enough to have illustrator John Van Fleet as a Professor at Pratt Institute. He gave me the name of an Editor up at Marvel Comics and told me to give him a ring. Next thing I know, I was doing work for Clive Barker’s Hellraiser. It has been a crazy ride ever since.

You probably bumped into some problems when you were just beginning…

Getting paid was probably my biggest problem. When you start out, you wade through all the publishers who promise you the moon but never deliver. I have done more work, that has been published, for which I have never seen payment, than I care to remember. Thankfully, it has gotten better.

Were you fond of fantasy before you start to work in this industry?

Absolutely.

What was your first exposure to the fantasy genre? What were your first impressions?

The books Frank Frazetta illustrated were my first introduction with the literary fantasy genre. My father LOVED Robert E. Howard’s Conan and had all the paperbacks that Frazetta illustrated in the sixties and seventies. He also collected the Ballantine "Art of Frazetta" books. As I read through the books with the Frazetta covers, I was amazed by what was within. Brutal realism, swashbuckling and unique worlds were on every page. I knew I wanted to be involved in this genre and draw covers as powerful as Frazetta.

If so which authors are you favorite?

Stan Lee, Jack Kirby and Steve Ditko come to mind immediately. I know they aren’t novelists but I think you have to include their creations at the beginning of the Marvel Age as some of the most innovative in the twentieth century. There is a raw, almost childlike conceptual freedom to their work that is awe-inspiring. In one page the character’s can not only meet a god like Galactus, but, they can be put on a chase for the only weapon that can defeat him the Ultimate Nullifier. No explanation needed! You never knew what would happen from one page to the next.

In the literary world I would choose Michael Moorcock, Tolkien, Isaac Asimov and Harlan Ellison as favorites. I could list many more but these guys are a good start.

Do you prefer science fiction or fantasy?

Science-Fiction hands down.

Why?

I think modern fantasy has suffered brutally under the shadow of Tolkien’s brilliant masterpiece The Lord of the Rings. Eighty-Five percent of all fantasy these days start out with the de-facto line up of elves, dwarves (who, of course, mine the earth), dragons, wizards, orcs, and trolls. Yawn! It’s creative suicide. Can’t these writers think of something different?

If sci-fi writers started all their stories with a cast of Jedi, Sith, Wookies and droids I wouldn't read anything. Sci-fi doesn’t do that. Science fiction writers take the opportunity to create entire original worlds, species and technology. Some of them have even thrown in a little magic to shake things up.

It’s all about imagination and I wish the fantasy genre and it’s writer’s would realize this. It doesn't have to star elves to be fantasy.

What do you think about the "A Song of Ice and Fire" series? What makes it so popular?

Martin’s "Song of Ice and Fire" series is a realistic tale about power and family pure and simple. Yes, there are fantasy elements in the story but they are almost incidental to the greater saga. In my opinion, the injection of fantasy in this realistic tale is Martin’s brilliance and what makes it a page turner. Take Catelyn Stark- Her actions are clear, believable and understandable. You care about her as a mother and empathize with her situation. Unfortunately, around the corner, there are whispers of magic, of dragons, of those who can raise the dead that adds a further unease and tension to this simple human story. How could she possibly survive AND protect her family in a world where the dead walk? That’s what makes Martin's book exciting.

Do fantasy and sci-fi films inspire you?

I think film today is undergoing a renaissance. It is now possible to do ANYTHING on screen realistically and believably. I grew up in the 70s and 80s watching movies with monsters made of clay and with stunt men in latex suits. You had to actively suspend disbelief in order to allow yourself to be frightened by the creature with the foam head and the zipper clearly visible on his chest.

Today, you can see a pixel-perfect space-battle or fantasy war on the big screen. Movies have raised the bar considerably, for me, because my audience is beginning to expect that same level of realism on the printed page. That makes me work very hard.

And what do you think about modern films of this genre?

Lets see - the Star Wars prequels, Dark City, Lord of the Rings, Minority Report, Spider-Man, etc. have all succeeded in effortlessly placing you in a seamless fantasy world. However, I don’t think there has been a director yet who has mastered this new CGI language of film making. George Lucas, Peter Jackson and Steven Spielberg have come very close but we have yet to see this generations Orson Wells or Citizen Kane.

CGI characters, like Yoda or Gollum are giving performances and holding their own with real actors. Do you think CGI will someday fully replace live actors?

It’s just a matter of time before you have more CG actors accompanying live action ones. I predict in the next ten years technology will have advanced to the point where you can have a CG digital actor of the late Humphrey Bogart star with a CG digital actor of Indiana Jones era Harrison Ford in a brand new movie. Gollum proved that you could hold the audiences attention and get genuine emotion from a CGI character. A realistic human is only being held back by limitations in modeling. As soon as a modeler figures out how to break that barrier, it’s going to happen.

You have illustrated a lot of collectable card games, do you play and like them yourself or is it just work?

It’s just work. I played D&D back in the 80’s for a few months but I’ve never played a card game. I’m more of a video game player.

Which fantasy or fantastic race is your favorite to draw?

The one that has not been created yet.

What was the hardest character you have drawn in your career?

I would say the Space Marines in Warhammer 40k were the hardest for me to draw. It was impossible for me to conceptualize the mechanisms that control the huge shoulder pads. The shoulder pads are so big it looks like they would crush their little heads if they raised their arms. Then the video game came out and it made sense. Sigh...

And who were most interesting?

The illustrations I’ve done for A Game of Thrones have been the most interesting. It’s a world with characters I enjoy visiting.

Do you do historical research, when drawing fantasy pictures, since many fantasy worlds are partly based (and the world of Martin, for example is mainly based) on Medieval Earth history?

I’ve got plenty of books on armor, castles and ancient clothing. I think you need to reference history when doing any illustration. Many different solutions of construction and design have been solved by artisans over the thousands of years of recorded history and it would be stupid not to use them.

In "A Game of Thrones" Martin calls for very specific historical elements in his armor and architecture. I try to incorporate the historical forms while adding a little to make it unique.

What are the advantages and disadvantages that you experienced from using computer and Internet?

The computer has been an immense time and cost saver for me. If I just take into account the cost of shipping the final product to the client, a painting might cost $20.00 - $60.00 to overnight. That money adds up fast over the course of a year!

With a cable connection I can send the painting through e-mail. No cost. Add the money I save on art supplies like pencils, paper, etc. by working digitally, the VAST library of images and information available at the click of a button on the internet, and the many friends I’ve met through the web and my computer has become indispensable.

The major disadvantage is strangely enough that the computer HAS become indispensable. Earlier this year my power supply died in my computer. I couldn’t do anything. I didn’t have access to my client list or the digital sketches for the project that was due that week. I had to buy a new machine during the two weeks it took for my old one to be repaired. I didn’t lose any data but, I learned you have to have a strategy in case the computer ITSELF fails to work.

What is your typical work day like?

I receive a brief from the client describing the who, what, where, when and how much of the assignment. From there I do sketches and a color rough. After they are approved I go on to the finish. The finish is delivered either through FTP or the excellent .Mac OS X Idisc application.

How much freedom do you receive when creating an illustration for book or picture for card?

That’s up to the A.D. Sometimes I get the name of the card or a manuscript and I’m left to create my own image. Other times I get a few pages of concept art and text describing exactly what needs to be drawn.

Do your plans for the illustration always match with final results?

Oh goodness no. Never! When I do a painting I have a vision in my minds eye of the scene I’m trying to create. Unfortunately, because of time, lack of skill and let's be honest - laziness I can never quite render the scene in my minds eye the way I want. I’ve come close but have yet to do that “perfect” picture.

What picture is your favorite?

I like different things about different pictures. I like the texture on Painful Upgrade and the poses and lighting in Kingsguard for instance but I don’t have a preference to any particular painting.

If I’m not mistaken, in your illustrations for "A Song of Ice an Fire" the degree of realism and even photographic clarity is higher than in you pictures for other card games, why so?

Over the course of the assignments for the "A Song of Ice an Fire" games I have begun to work digitally. This method of painting has enabled me to compress what would be two and a half days work painting traditionally into six hours. That means the client gets a better picture.

I have also, I hope, become a better artist over time and since most of my other card art is three or four years old, it shows.

What's the biggest challenge for you now, as an artist?

To keep up. A few years ago I would have told you I NEVER wanted to paint on a computer. But times change. In order to be marketable you have to keep up with the new technology. Photoshop, Painter, Flash, Maya these are all programs that can help you get a good paying job.

Great! Thanks for the interesting conversation. For goodbye, can you give a few pieces of advice to beginner artists?

Learn everything. Get a handle on the software available for artists today. You don’t need to master it but you should be familiar with it. Research the history of art and discover how art grows and changes over time. It will help you in discovering your own style and method.
Most importantly remember, being a freelance illustrator is a business and you should treat it as such. NEVER allow yourself to be treated as anything but a skilled professional. As a new hungry artist potential clients will tempt you with the phrases "do a couple of illustrations for me and if they are good I'll hire you for the job" or "this will be great exposure."

Would a carpenter build a house without payment? Would an electrician wire a home for "the exposure?" No, of course not. As an artist neither should you.