(Intro by Pam Hazelton)
Talk to Ken Meyer Jr. on the telephone and you'd never know he's preparing for mid-life. He talks and acts like a 20-year-old and carries a focus on his art as the same. From his latest work for Caliber Comics, for the comic title Kilroy Is Here, to more underground magazines, gaming cards and boxes and commercial magazine illustrations, this Californian is full of pep and eagerness. It shows in his discussions online, his live discussions and most notably, in his artwork. Though his work has appeared in titles published by Marvel, Image, Eclipse, Dark Horse and other well-known and highly advertised companies, his work at Caliber is what brings his name more into the limelight of the comics industry. It's just as well. Look at Meyer's art, and you cannot imagine why this underrated illustrator is not near the top rung of the ladder
(Interview conducted by Steve Mattsson)
Steve: Let's just jump right in the deep end, Ken - what work do you feel you're best known for?
Ken: I'm probably known in a couple of places for different things... In the comic world, I guess in my limited way, I'm best known for Kilroy Is Here from Caliber, since it's my longest running work so far. Though I've had other things in comics by Marvel, Image, Eclipse, Dark Horse and others.
Steve: A lot of fans know your work from the Magic "The Gathering" cards.
Steve: I know you're a long time comics fan, are you also a gamer?
Ken: No, heck no, I hardly have time to have a good ol ' Dr. Pepper, much less learn anything new! But yes, I've been reading comics since I was a wee tyke.
Steve: Then how do you get into the heads of the game players?
Ken: Well, to be honest, I guess I don't. I sort of treat it like any assignment; read the stuff the company gives me, do research, etc. Then I do the artwork. I meet some fans at cons though, and get feedback.
Steve: So, you're able to tap into the fantasy worlds in these games without "rolling the dice?"
Ken: Yeah, I guess so. Just the massive amounts of caffeine and sugar from the Dr. Pepper, I guess.
Steve: Dr. Pepper-fueled fantasy worlds?
Ken: Oh, you'd be surprised at the multiple uses for the drink of champions.
Steve: Besides Magic, tells us about some of the other games you've done illustrations for.
Ken: First, it was Magic (though before that I did work for gaming books from companies like Mayfair and White Wolf), then Rage, later came Middle Earth "Legend of the Five Rings", Shadowfist, Mortal Kombat, Jyhad/Vtes, Ice Age. That's all I can remember for now. Must be the Dr. Pepper. Oh, did I mention I drink Dr. Pepper? (Gotta keep up the corporate sponsorship, y'know). Oh, and there was a religious game called Redemption.
Steve: Were you redeemed?
Ken: No, my wife's an atheist, she wouldn't have it!
Steve: What kind of feedback do you get from Magic fans about your cards? Do you have any extra "Guardian Beast" cards for sale?
Ken: No Guardian Beasts to be had, man. Though a really nice fan (hey, Liz!) sent me a few when she heard I had none. I get cards through the mail all the time (to sign), so I get that sort of feedback... really nice and complimentary.
Steve: What other Magic artists do you admire?
Ken: Well, actually, the Magic artists I usually admire are the artists the fans don't like so much. The ones who maybe don't do representational work, but do really nice paintings - like Doug Gregory and Drew Tucker.
Steve: Any inside dirt on the Wizards of the Coast crew?
Ken: Well, I have used several members of the company as models for characters.
Steve: Okay, names - what WotC bigwigs are on what cards?
Ken: Hey, my memory is so bad, I'm sure I'd just piss someone off by not remembering them, so I'll quit while I'm ahead.
Steve: Are you going to be doing anymore workfor WotC?
Ken: Well, that company is going through an upheaval of sorts right now. Once the company started making tons of dough, the lawyers decided the artists shouldn't get as much, so the royalty payments are stopping soon in many areas and that's causing a lot of artists to leave. I haven't decided what I'm gonna do. A great art director of mine, Sandra Garavito, just left, though I don't know if it was because of what I mentioned.
Steve: Money changes everything.
Ken: Boy Howdy.
Steve: Is any of your Magic or other gaming art for sale?
Ken: Oh, yeah, pretty much whatever I have is for sale. Call me an art prostitute! I have sold most of the Jyhad art and the early Magic stuff, though. I market a lot of this stuff through my company, "Gothik Art".
Steve: Gothik Art - where did the name come from?
Ken: Well, my work, especially the early White Wolf stuff, was of a macabre nature, and I can't remember if I had an incredible braincramp or saw something somewhere, but it just seemed to fit.
Steve: So Gothik Art is your own company that you've set up to sell your original artwork.
Ken: Well, to sell T-shirts and prints mainly, since most people can't afford, or don't want to spend what it takes, to get the originals. But, if the original is available, and someone asks, I will sell it.
Steve: And the artwork you use for these prints and such was originally generated for your gaming and comics clients?
Ken: For the most part, though there are a lot of unrelated images in there too, such as commissions, sports and music personalities, etc.
Steve: It's nice that you can get your originals returned and retain reproduction rights after your client's initial use - it didn't used to be that way.
Ken: Yeah, don't I know it.
Steve: You used to be quite a comics letter hack in the '70s. What was it like being a comics fan then, especially compared to now?
Ken: Oh man, those were the days. Maybe I feel that way because of the waves of nostalgia floating through my brain, but I had a lot of fun back in the mid-70's with 'zines like TBG, Nosex, Venture, CPL, The Collector, Fantastic Fanzine (need 'em!), and working with people like Don Chin, Matt Bucher, Steve Streeter, David Heath Jr., etc. Fun days. That's when I had my first published work, a Bruce Lee drawing, inked by Brent Anderson [see interview 1], who I was corresponding with at the time (he was just on the cusp of prodom at that point)
Steve: Back then you didn't have a well-lit comics specialty shop in every town - where did you get your fanzines and back issues?
Ken: When I was in about the 9th grade, back in Savannah, Georgia, a librarian actually gave me a copy of The Buyer's Guide #8,1 think, and that started me in on fandom. I can remember, also, buying comics when I musta been 9 or 10 and tracing them with carbon paper, which is how I learned to draw. I can also remember stealing them in a winter coat I had torn the lining on. Sorry, ma. That Buyer's Guide, from about '71 was published by Alan Light. I wrote to him and he sent me a bunch of fanzines FREE! Now, would that happen today?
Steve: Nope. Can you tell us what's your favorite all time comic book series? Nostalgia-tainted opinions are acceptable...
Ken: That's impossible! But some of my favorites include Wrightson's Swamp Thing, Smith's Conan, Adam's Avengers, Nexus, American Flagg, Cerebus, and any comics work by Mazzuchelli. Oh, and Steranko's S.H.I.E.L.D. & X-Men and Adams' X-Men.
Steve: When I was in the 9th grade I woulda jumped for joy if I knew that some day there would be comics with high production values, comics shops all over the place, and the Marvel and DC characters crossing over with each other- so the question is are you jumping for joy over the current condition of comics?
Ken: Well, I don't know if l would've known from high production values, but I'd say no. The big distribution deals are freezing out the little guys, from what I hear, and the comics I enjoy most are gonna be the ones to go under from this crap.
Steve: So, what current comics are you enjoying?
Ken: Well, it's probably because I'm a doddering old 39, but the ones I enjoy most are the self-published comics like THB, Stray Bullets, almost anything from Fantagraphics, and smaller company books like Replacement God (go, Zander!), Hairbat, Strangers in Paradise, all the usual suspects (great film!). Also Vertigo books like Preacher, Hellblazer and anything Dave McKean sneezes on. Oh, can't forget a few Caliber books - usually anything by Bendis, Mack, Gaydos...Oh, can't forget those amazing Los Brothers Hernandez!
Steve: The first thing of yours I ever saw was Clint "The Hamster Triumphant." Tell us a little about that project...
Ken: Oh, THAT book. Well, that was probably the most fun I had doing a comic. Don (Chin) would give me a script or plot and I could mess with the script as much as I liked, making it as funny as possible, with as many in jokes, silly jokes and just plain stupid jokes as possible. Mike Dringenberg inked that book too, and he usually says the same thing.
Steve: Whatever happened to Mike Dringenberg?
Ken: Ahhh, the disappearing Mike... He went on to near obscurity as the guy who helped to invent "Death," never achieved the incredible heights of popularity that I have. Poor guy.
Steve: Well, after co-creating Death - what do you do for an encore?
Ken: Well, I hear he has been working on something big for awhile now, and I did just see something of his in Shock The Monkey, short story somewhere else as well. The guy is really an amazing artist, I wish I'd see more of his stuff.
Steve: Tell us a little about your professional journey from Clint to Kilroy.
Ken: Clint was my first big pro job, and I fought with deadline problems due to a new full-time job I got at the time (a funny side note: you can see in the margins of that comic, notes from Cat Yronwode referring to our lateness, notes that were meant to be whited out!). Later came bits and pieces here and there. I did two pages of an American story for Dark Horse, some stuff for Megaton (that which spawned Liefeld, Angel Medina, and Larsen's Savage Dragon), Cry For Dawn, something with Kurt Busiek for Marvel's Open Space, some work for a British Publisher called Apocalypse (Aquarius) that never was completely published, then not too long ago, Midnight Sons Unlimited for Marvel. Even did some trading card art for Image. Can't forget all those Revolutionary Comics covers, either.
Steve: Clint-Dringinberg, Megaton-Liefeld/Larsen, Open Space-Busiek - I know the problem with your career! Your eye is good, but your timing is off-you hook up with tbe great ones too soon!
Ken: Yup, and then send those respective companies/titles down the tubes!
Steve: Up until recently Kilroy has been the most consistent place to find yourartwork. Tell us a little about that project.
Ken: I got involved with Joe (Pruett, the writer), when I saw Negative Burn on the stands and thought I could do a better cover for him, so I wrote him. He wrote back, I sent samples, then did some covers, and the first "Kilroy" story back in Negative Burn #5, 6 or 7... I'm just doing the covers now, though.
Steve: Let's hear some more details about the character of Kilroy. What where you and Joe trying to accomplish? Why should the fans seek out current issues or the back-issues with your work?
Ken: Well, Kilroy is one ofthose comics that doesn't pander to the superhero mythos, although it does have a mystical edge to it. Joe tries to illuminate bits of history as well, and has had stories based on real stories before the national news caught on... such as a black town that was wiped out of existence back in the thirties, that was reported months later on the national news. The book is getting better all the time, especially now with Paul (Hellblazer) Jenkins editing. Mike Perkins is also coming along quickly as an artist and Joe has some great artists, like Phil Hester, lined up for guest spots. I'd love to see readers support this book, because it's very close to going under, and this type of work needs to be supported. You can always see great artists doing pin-ups in the gallery each issue as well. We've had great people like Steve Rude and Bernie Mireault.
Steve: Any chance we'll see more Kilroy interior art from you anytime soon?
Ken: Possibly, most probably it will be a short story, though.
Steve: What kind of projects do you have lined up?
Ken: I have a few things on the back burner, one being a Vampire period piece with Malcolm Bourne based on a painting of mine (Gustav Vampyre) for NBM's ComicsLit. I am working on a serial with Warren Ellis for Caliber's .99 comic, Calibrations, called "Atmospherics." Calibrations will have one continuing story and different short stories in each issue, and the lineup is great, including artists of the caliber (pun intended) of Jill Thompson. "Atmospherics" is a weird, X-files sort of thing, and it's pretty interesting already, and I've only done the first six pages of 5 installments. This series comes out in June, I think, and it's a black and white painted story. It looks much like the Negative Burn story by Mark Verheiden I did called "Favorite Song." But even more eerie and weird, which is an Ellis trademark, believe me. I do have my continuing "Project High" coming out sporadically, plus dream stories in Negative Burn and Rick Vietch's Rarebit Fiends.
Steve: What's it like working with Warren "Syph" Ellis?
Ken: Warren is great, and I've only started. Great, sick sense of humor, and alot of good tips on the storytelling. I loved his Ruins for Marvel, which is why I was so happy to do this series.
Steve: You seem to be a "multi-media kinda guy." What sort of tools and techniques to you use to achieve the various effects found in your work?
Ken: Most of the painting work is watercolor or watercolor-based. I do some collage work, some acrylic and pastel, pen and ink, etc. Lately I've been doing more digital work as well. So far, I've done two Kilroy covers this way, as well as one gaming card, an ad in Axcess, my catalog, the covers to this magazine, and a few other things. I'm still pretty new at it. Though most of the day jobs I've had in the last 8 years or so have had me doing computer graphics of some sort, it's only recently I feel I'm actually creating art on the computer, not just graphics.
Steve: Do you think that someday the computer will replace traditional media or will it always be a supplement to it?
Ken: No, I don't and I hope to God I'm right. I still like traditional media better, but there are some things you can do faster on a computer, and some things that are only possible there (unless you're Miran Kim or Dave McKean). I am liking it better as I become more proficient, though.
Steve: You've bounced around and done work for lots of publishers in comics and related fields, but does that keep you busy full time? You mentioned some day jobs.
Ken: No way, no way. I've had a full-time job, off and on (mostly on) since I started in comics. Getting ready to go part-time again since my lovely wife Mona is going full-time. My problem is that I don't like (and am not too good at) doing superhero comics anymore, they just don't thrill me. My knowledge of anatomy has suffered lately, especially since I'm no longer able to be in a studio and learn from other artists day in and out. For about a two year period, I shared a studio with artists Scott Benefiel, Ben Herrera, Mike Christian, Mike Miller, Saleem Crawford, Ellis Goodson and others. Most of these guys have gone on to work for Image, Marvel and others.
Steve: I want to hear about your "Top Secret" day job any unclassified details you can give us?
Ken: Well... I'll tell ya... I had one job, in '85 or so, where I worked right across from what was, supposedly, Area 51. This was a job on a government contract for the Air Force, working on the Stealth Fighter when it was still classified. We took a 45-minute jet ride to a place in the middle of the Nevada desert, live in trailers until Thursday night, then fly home. Lasted about a year. Good pay, but it wore on me.
Steve: I understand that you created artwork used in training the first wave of Stealth Fighter pilots.
Ken: Yeah, and one funny thing... about 2 or 3 years ago, at a local Airshow, they had a Stealth Fighter parked on the field, and my logo was on the side of the plane! The exact linework and everything (the squadron was called "The Ghost Riders"!).
Steve: What do you get the most satisfaction out of, illustrations for the gaming industry or storytelling for comics?
Ken: Probably neither. I'd most like to do more commercial illustration, you know, paintings of people for Sports Illustrated, Time, some editorial work, that kind of stuff. But I do love comics. I just can't get into drawing the type of stuff I loved as a kid. I like the gaming industry as well, though the coming months may bring changes that will make it a little less enjoyable.
Steve: You've done work for Time and Sl?
Ken: NO! I'd LIKE to. I put an ad in American Showcase recently, a big trade industry book that is sent out to thousands of art directors, so maybe that'll help [I got one job out of this...for Penthouse Forum! Go figure.]. I don't know what my biggest work, exposure-wise has been to date, probably my ad! Oh, but... I do have a painting coming up in Tori Amos' upcoming Tour program book, that might do some good.
Steve: Are you trying to say anything with your work? Is there anything that ties all your work in disparate fields together - something that makes it all KMJr. work?
Ken: Hey, I want to talk about music!
Steve: Who's doing this interview??
Steve: Okay talk about music...
Ken: Interesting side note here, the Tori Amos portrait I did for Axcess Magazine (music, fashion, cyber, etc), I found on a bootleg CD, pressed right on the thing!
Steve: That'll be a tough item for KMJr. completists to get a hold of.
Ken: The CD? Yeah, it's a live double CD called "Dreaming", if you're interested. The tour book won't be that hard to get. Just go to the damn show! Anyway, I took the original art to a Tori show here in San Diego and gave it to her. She was nice and friendly, and later a friend of mine, who happened to be the guy who designs her tour books, saw the Axcess art and asked me to do the art for the new tour book!
Steve: Wait! I thought we were gonna talk about music - not a rampant fanboy stalker armed with artwork!
Ken: I'm wild. You can't stop me - just try to stop me! Anyway, about what I'm trying to say...with my art...
Steve: So, are you trying to say anything with your work? Anything that ties it all together?
Ken: Not really. Wish I could say there was some grand scheme, some deep meaning to my work. I admire people that do have some thread running through everything (and sometimes I find them pretentious at the same time), but I'm afraid all I try is to do good work, work I think is a little better than the last thing I did. , But I don't always succeed, either, I know that all too well.
Steve: Anything else you want to say before we wrap it up - here's your big chance!
Ken: Drink Dr. Pepper, the joy... Uhhh, wait... I guess not, it's late, my wife is waiting for me, your wife is most likely waiting for you, we have livesdamn you! LIVES !!!! Yeah, it's getting late.
Steve: A life is a good thing to have.
Ken: Yeah, I lucked out. I have a great, patient wife in Mona, a wonderful baby girl named Riley, two other wonderful kids also (Rowan and Rahne), and a life better than many others. Life has been beddy beddy good to me.
Steve Mattsson is the colorist for Untold Tales of Spider-Man and the co-creator/co-writer of the upcoming Superboy and the Ravers series. He still owes Ken a sandwich from the '87 San Diego Comic Con where they frst met.
Steve Mattsson, a good buddy since '87. Colorist, Writer, Paramedic, nutcase.
This is one of my few superhero characters, Feral. I did a few comics with Don Chin and others with him.
Y'know, I can't remember what I did this for!
This is a Kilroy piece I did for an ad to help the book. It didn't.
Sorry this is so big, but I like the darn thing! It was a try out for a spin off from the short lived but damn funny Malibu series, The Trouble With Girls. The main character here is singing a Mojo Nixon song, Ain't Gonna Piss in No Jar. High class? You bet.