ARTHUR SUYDAM ANSWERS 15 QUESTIONS WITH JULINDA MORROW
Arthur Suydam (pronounced Sā-DĂM) – also known as the Zombie King – is an artist who, with a splash of colour and a stroke of his brush, has the magic to bring Zombies to life as easily as he does Mr. Toad and the cast of The Wind and The Willows.
Arthur lives and breathes art. If he’s not painting or creating comics, he’s composing and performing music. He travels the world sharing his creativity with a warm smile and generous heart. And I have it on good authority that he’s one heck of a tennis player too.
A gallery of Arthur’s striking art follows this interview.
Julinda Morrow: What path led you to comics and sequential art?
Arthur Suydam: When I was five years old I was very badly burned and did a year in the hospital. They assigned to me four doctors, who didn’t believe I was going to survive the experience. As is customary with hospital hospice, family and friends typically bring you magazines and flowers at visiting hour. My parents brought comic books to help pass the time.
I was fascinated with the stories and art, and began to write and draw my own comics soon as my hands began to heal and I could hold a pencil.
JM: What schooling or training did you receive?
AS: I am a firm believer in formal schooling, though I had a very difficult time finding appropriate schooling following high school. I had an uncle who reportedly studied with Norman Rockwell and I inherited his work books from my aunt when I was very young, so I am mostly self-trained. I had full scholarships for universities in Jersey but could not find schools teaching the classical Italian curriculum and I wanted in order to repeat and study the theory and techniques of the Renaissance masters. Eventually I found a school a few blocks from my house, here in the East Village, called the New Academy of Figurative Art. I met with one of the professors there for his input on a study plan. He recommended that I skip drawing and focus on formal sculpture to reach my drawing goals – same as Michelangelo. I did a fair amount of anatomy work there with cadavers at the local medical university in the evenings following med classes during day studies.
JM: Who, in your opinion, are the pioneers of sequential art?
AS: I believe the medium is quite old, beginning with political cartoons in eighteenth- and nineteenth-century European newspapers, later morphing into the Looney Toon animated shorts, newspaper serials, then later on to full length films, comic pamphlets and graphic novels and trades.
JM: How do you define sequential art?
AS: I believe the phrase is self-explanatory.
JM: Do you find that sequential art provides you with near-limitless possibilities for storytelling or do you experience it as constraining? Please elaborate.
AS: All media have their pluses and minuses. Comics are flat and two-dimensional on paper and literary, and without sound. They do, however, serve as a powerful storyboard platform. The ability to tell great stories is limitless, which is why they translate to film so easily.
JM: What qualities or resources do you believe are most important for a sequential storyteller to have?
AS: I believe it is crucial to be versed in classic films, in TV and in comics. There are steps along the way that comics have climbed, where progressives have comes along and raised the bar that the rest of us strive for and hope to surpass. Now that films have become comic talkies there are many more examples of what can be achieved when done correctly.
JM: How do you approach your work process?
AS: Collecting of reference materials, rough sketches, refined overlay drawing edits, to finished pencil drawing, to brush and ink, to finished digital underpainting to finished painting to color correction and finish editing.
JM: How many hours a day do you work? Are you uniformly productive on any given day or more productive on some days than others?
AS: I mostly begin my day with roughly one-and-a-half hours of health work, a half-mile run followed by strength training, followed by Muay Thai fight drills in the park here on Avenue A, then off to breakfast and work. I work every day, roughly11:00 a.m. or noon to 2:00 a.m. – or later, if I am on a roll – seven days a week.
JM: Was it a struggle, at the start of your career, to find work and make ends meet?
AS: My work was well received and immediately began to generate waves in the industry in the early seventies. DC offered me more work than I could ever hope to handle. However, because I wrote and illustrated all my own stories only, working on other writers’ scripts slowed me down to a crawl, so I was very slow for many years. Also, my lack of formal training was slowing me down. There have always been weak spots I needed to work on in my drawing game which have taken years of work to cope with. I am still working [on] them now. Being so slow, I had to rely on multiple sources for income. I was on the road touring with bands, working as a film composer, studio vocalist and lead guitarist and teaching tennis. Paying the bills was always a struggle, up to the late nineties, when I was finally able to participate in some well-paying work.
JM: What has been your most valuable professional experience?
AS: Moving to New York, where I was able to find like artists to compete with. The plan at the time was to join the studio with Bernie [Wrightson], Jeff [Jones; a.k.a. Jeffrey Catherine Jones] and [Barry Windsor-] Smith. That one never happened. Working at Heavy Metal under John Workman and Julie Simmons was invaluable and allowed me to work on my painted comics and writing. Having access to Professor Randy Mellick at the Academy of Figurative Art was crucial as well.
JM: What inspires or informs you creatively?
AS: Great film writing and illustration and photography. I love the Walking Dead series. Along with The Sopranos [it is the] best writing in TV history for a non-comedic genre in my opinion.
JM: What is your position on digital comics? Are they a good thing or a bad thing?
AS: I believe there is a way to work them into the mix where they can be a positive rather than a destructive force, one that can help to spread the message and avoid destroying current markets. At present the majors are killing the bird in the hand for one in the bush. That is insanity. [And] releasing the digitals is destroying the comic stores and comic shows all of which rely on comic production to keep the genre alive.
I believe the digitals should be available one or two years following the release of the printed trades so as not to interfere with the sale and distribution of these markets, and at price[s] comparable to the trades so as not to compete with their own product and profits, destroying their own markets.
There is a fair amount of pretending going on with the managers of the “big two”. The bean counters have their value and are important. However they do not belong in the creative decision-making process as they tend to be void of vision. Many prefer marketing gimmicks to including and investing in the creatives with vision, which is where any arts-based company’s survival and prosperity lies.
The L.A. studios and music companies understand this critical lesson in where their interest lay, the publishers are busy playing Machiavellian shell games with their corporate bosses in an effort to preserve their jobs.
JM: If you were to make any changes to the industry or the market what changes would you make?
AS: I would reorganize management to incorporate some smart and progressive creatives with vision into the managerial process, and limit the bean counters to their area of expertise. Many in the current managerial teams at the majors are politicians first and art experts second, and can’t see the big picture. That’s the opposite of how Pixar does it.
JM: If you could apprentice under any artist at any time in history and anywhere in the world who would it be?
AS: I would stick with Randy from NYFA and maybe Norman Rockwell.
JM: What, in the future, would you like to accomplish creatively?
AS: I have a series I want to write and illustrate for DC Comics. If they sign off on it, it will break sales records for them. If there is no change the downward spiral they are on will continue.