Saturday, July 8, 2017

Painting Myself Out of a Corner

-By Paul Bonner


Sitting up on Laeso, the little island off the North of Denmark where my wife is from. Famous for it,s salt works, which due to the amount of wood being burned as part of the salt making process, started a rather serious erosion problem. So with Laeso in serious danger of not even being a little island any more, without any tree roots to hold the sandy soil together, thousands of trees were planted - and now it is a forest paradise, keeping many little trolls and one Englishman very happy.

So, now you have the setting - on with the ramblings.For these ramblings, I am again, forbidden to reveal anything I have been working on. These kind of blood oaths are apparently - quite binding and  not to be taken lightly, so, not wishing to invoke the wrath of any unspeakable entities that might have being involved, you will have to make do with some ancient offerings harking back to the time when I first trod these shores.

After two, or was it three years at Games Workshop in England, frustrated - to put it very mildly - with not being allowed to do any colour work, I arrived in Copenhagen with a portfolio and not really any idea how I was going to pay my way. Compared to London, it's a tiny city and at that time there was only two or three publishing houses. A few phone calls and frantic poring over maps resulted in a couple of meetings with curious and friendly art directors who seemed very happy to let me loose on some book covers. A quick glance at the strange results on show here, and some glaring deficiencies might cause the more observant amongst you to recoil in shock. No forests! No trolls! No goblins pin-cushioned with arrows! No big noses! None of any of the things that I have since, worked diligently to paint myself into a corner with.

Fact is - at that time there was not any sort of corner to paint my self into. These were primordial days with no inter-web and email, no Googling anything under the sun. Contact with America did not exist, and was not even considered. We all lived in a much, much smaller world. There was certainly no market at all in Denmark for me to paint anything connected with fantasy. No video games - no super heroes ( it wasn't all bad….) - no regular assaults on the senses with multi-million block- busters. And France was the only European country to think of comics as an art form. So it was all a bit messy and subject to bouts of supposing that I could have continued and developed my black and white skills to dizzy enough heights to permanently banish any thought of ever picking up a paint brush again. Luckily, Copenhagen had plenty of other things, which when compared to the union breaking, miners strikes, three day weeks, power cuts, Margaret Thatcher and the IRA - put it well up in the running and persuaded me to give it a go.

It,s strange looking at them now, and vividly remembering painting them in my tiny bedroom, without the clutter of books, skulls, piles of cds (there were piles of records…..) and plants. There was not enough work to stress me with deadlines - but I remember being frantic, wondering sometimes how I could squeeze any enjoyment out of the subject matter. Most were very serious "rites of passage" for teenagers - something I felt I had personally dealt with admirably and finally a long while ago - so it was often difficult to summon much enthusiasm for the characters or interest in the situations they found themselves in. But dammit! I was a professional, so I spent lot,s of time wearing down the art directors defences, convincing them that the briefly mentioned dream about tigers on page 132 was the only sensible choice for the cover, or the chameleon briefly noticed in the garden on page 76 was surely the only logical choice to dominate the cover. I knew what captured my interest and so - of course - was convinced that would work for any other discerning person - even - at a stretch, troubled teenagers. Luckily they usually went with me as you can see, but some were a nightmare to do, I must confess.

They are in no chronological order - and one that I remember being really chuffed with, I can,t find anywhere - something with a tiger shark, volcano and monitor lizards. Exactly!

So, bare in mind these go back to the early nineties, and if I wanted reference I had to trudge to a library.


This was one of the first. Growing pains in South Africa. remember Apartheid…..the Berlin Wall? It's all actually painted separately; cut out with scissors and stuck together with paper glue. 5 or 6 pieces I think! I'd probably attempt to do it the same way today, until the art director caught on.




Harlem - I think. More growing pains, and some help from the "ghost" of an old blues singer. All these books were a challenge, and like every challenge, once you decide to take it up and do the best you can- you get the most out of it, even when it seems hopeless. I,d still rather have been painting goblins though.


At least this one had some animals in it. Would have preferred another chameleon, but the art director was up on his geography.


More animals! A polar bear! Native masks! Thought I was getting somewhere... and then this...


Another collection of stuck together little paintings. I remember this being really tricky. The writer, a big star in Denmark, had a huge hit with (in Denmark) with his first book - and this was his follow up. No pressure. It was for kids this time, but - and I don,t blame him - he was in close contact with the AD all the time, which meant lots of changes and getting characters right. I never bothered explaining how chameleons were a dominant and extremely rare species on that little island and would really hold the whole cover together.


Teenagers living in a troubled future. They all do actually. Plus, he was from the wrong side of the tracks. That,s why he has a leather jacket on. It was a nightmare finding reference for all theses kids I had to paint. No Image Search. I seem to remember having a stack of boring clothing catalogues, and trying to upgrade the poor little darlings that I found in them.


More bloody kids. At least there was a phoenix in this one. Lots of interior illustrations as well - with the same kids. Awful trying to vary their expressions, when they were all encouraged to smile broadly for the catalogue. So, I,m showing you these - but I,m not proud of them all by any means. They were difficult to do, but stepping - or being forced - out your comfort zone in no bad thing. It's all a learning process if you muster a little enthusiasm. Usually the simple personal need to do a good job takes over and there are usually a few share centimetres that you can put your heart into.


Like this one. That's me in the middle, before I convinced the AD that going with the tiger dream briefly mentioned on page 132 was the only way to go. 


This was fun to do. Greek kids trailing around after heroes, killing monsters I think. I never read it - just got a little synopsis in English where the Gorgon was mentioned - and that's as good as a chameleon in my books.


More kids in a troubled future - looking all the way ahead to London 1999. Actually looks like London in the '80's - when my sister lived in Brixton. 

"The year is 1999. A plague devastates London. Will Fran, Harriet and Shahid survive? The plague has killed their parents and changed the teeming city to a ghost town. The quiet and clever Fran, who always follows Harriet - Harriet who is full of fun - Shahid who is used to obeying his tyrannical father - now they only have each other."

Gripping stuff to a fellow like me. I suspect that is the "quiet and clever" Fran looking down on scenes from the afore mentioned problems London was facing back in 1999.


Another kid from a clothing catalogue - and a moody sea stolen from Russian maritime master, Ivan Aivazovsky. Actually, I think the kid is the same one as in the Kabale Mysteriet book above!


One of the last ones I did. Very boring and not that well painted. The restlessness had really set in now...


Possibly the last one I did. A young girl, called Owl, in love with her biology teacher. So she sits on a branch outside his window every night. He's married... just my kind of story - but I did get to paint an owl.

Just when enthusiasm was proving to be very elusive, and sometimes - I must confess - non existent, some clever Swedes from Stockholm tracked me down. After a few freelance years and three full time years drawing trigger happy orks blasting away at anything that dared go near them, all this stuff on angst ridden teenagers with problems at home was wearing very thin indeed, so it did not take any persuading to hop aboard The Mutant Chronicles. Back in the saddle with monsters, mutants and a few brave, foolhardy souls with big guns trying to hold back the evil hoards threatening to engulf all that we hold dear. From there it wasn,t long before more Swedes, in the form of Riotminds, got a whiff of my presence in Scandinavia, and I was off painting goblins, trolls and a few brave, foolhardy souls with big  axes trying to hold back the evil hoards threatening to engulf everything else that we held dear back then.


And I now, never have to ask permission if I want to paint a chameleon.

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