Artist Dan Brereton
Dan Brereton is an illustrator who has worked on comics such as Punisher, Immortal Iron Fist, Thor, The Hulk and JLA. He began in 1988, illustrating such titles as The Black Terror, The Psycho, Clive Barker’s Dread, and went on to projects like Legends of the Dark Knight, Legends of the World’s Finest , and Thrillkiller. His creator-owned books consist of Nocturnals, Giantkiller and several others. He has also written such projects as Superman: Silver Banshee, several Buffy the Vampire Slayer titles, Red Sonja and Vampirella, to name but a few. Brereton’s work has also appeared on countless comic book covers and trading cards throughout the years as well as in the World of Warcraft trading card game. Dan has provided concept art for Disney, Pressman Films, the television show NUMB3RS and had a show once in development for Disney Television Animation.
Can you tell us a little about yourself and your upbringing?
I’m a native Californian, born in the East Bay Area. I’ve lived in the suburbs, the country and the mountains. My mother is an artist, she draws, paints, sews, knits, crafts, makes little houses and woodworking . My parents took us camping every year way up in the mountains of Plumas National Forest where my dad also used to hunt, and he taught us how fish and mark a trail and shoot. My mom was raised with horses, and she taught us how to ride. We didn’t go to the city much because my folks were trying to get us in the other direction over the years, and we ended up in the Sierras living twenty minutes from the Donner Party site by the time I was a junior in High School. My brother and I loved to catch reptiles and keep them in the garage when we lived in warmer climes. We played Wild Wild West a lot and King Arthur, and saw Star Wars on the day it opened at a drive-in. We were raised to think for ourselves and believe in what we wanted to. I was always into drawing and making up characters and stories as a kid, acting them out. My dad built us a two story “fort” and I used to create a new club or organization for it to be our headquarters every month, it seemed like. I drew my first comics in high school. I printed copies of one called KickBack Daze, about the friends I’d left behind in the Bay Area and the trouble we got into, and it was popular with some of the kids, when I could be bothered to draw an issue.
Did you discover your love of art at an early age? What was the first thing you remember drawing?
I was probably 2 years old but my mother swears it was earlier. I started drawing Monsters at four. Horns, tails, sharp teeth and big eyes. Lizard things lounging on cliffs, aliens and some superheroes. Not much has changed since then. Excepting the fact I didn’t draw too many people back then.
Have you always been a fan of comics? Who were your first favorite characters? Why?
I was 7 when a classmate named Eric Messineo, who was from the East Coast, showed me his comic collection. I was hooked. My parents had it in their heads, as did many back then, that comics would rot my brain. I fought tooth and nail for every comic book I owned and I was totally crazy for them. So in a way, my folks were right. I wanted to live in Manhattan, but the New York of the Marvel Universe. I guess I fell head over heels for them because they were such a fantastic way to escape stuff going on in my kid life- and connected strongly to my love of drawing. I tend to romanticize my childhood as being adventurous, because comics helped me create a world where my imagination could run free. On the playground, a fight with a bully just plain sucks. But in the comic book version of my world, I was facing down a nemesis. Mostly I just fell in love with the characters and the art. The FF and Thor and Captain America and Conan, the Silver Surfer- I mean, how do you keep em’ down on the farm after they’ve seen Galactus?
Who do you consider to be the best living comic artists of our time?
I would say Joe Kubert, one of the last Grandmasters of the form, but there are so many: Walt Simonson, Jordi Bernet, Kevin Nowlan, doesn’t begin to scratch the surface.
Why do you think comics have always had such a timeless appeal?
I think because they stir the imagination more, and tap directly into a part of the brain that movies can’t do- not even novels, because the imagery goes deeper that the words can, to a degree. When a comic is illustrated well, and the writing is good, there’s nothing like it. I fell in love with the multitude of characters and worlds, and in comics, you experience mood, action, flow and story in a personal almost intimate way.
How did your career in illustration begin?
I had done small jobs here and there starting in high school- a logo for a roofing company, a cookie bakery, I designed character sheets for D & D and had them printed up. Kids would commission me to draw their characters in color. In middle school I made my own trading cards, wrappers and all and sold them; Monster Cards, Cretin Cards. I tried college right out of high school, and that lasted a couple of months. Two years later I was in art school. That fit for four years and its where I got my first paying comics gig; Mike Mignola hired me to design a group of sorcerer characters for a Doctor Doom/Doctor Strange graphic novel he was drawing for Marvel. I did some illustrations for RPG modules by Chaosium. Two years into art school (California College of Arts in Oakland) I got work from showing samples to an editor at Eclipse Comics. They hired me to pencil a mercenary story written by another unknown named Kurt Busiek. After that job they were “mildly unimpressed” with my work. I transferred to The Academy of Art College in San Francisco, and the following December showed samples of painted comics art to the same editor. They were impressed this time and with the support of Beau Smith, hired me to do my first painted comic, The Black Terror. Beau and Chuck Dixon wrote it, and I painted all 126 pages of it, for which I won the Russ Manning Promising Newcomer Award of 1990.
What advice would you offer the aspiring artists of tomorrow?
I advise them to draw from life as much as possible, to keep a clean and impressive portfolio of only the work they are most proud of, and show as much variety as possible in it. Art directors and editors want to see work they could use for publication right then and there. They want professional work, not students with great potential. The more you resemble a real pro, the better odds you have of actually becoming one!
What project did you develop for Disney Television?
I initially showed them several ideas they liked, one of which was Nocturnals. But as I couldn’t stand to see it completely transformed into something else, I chose to pitch this other thing, mostly fleshed-out, called The Strangelings. I had a bible already, and sketches of the characters. It was about the children of evil galactic overlords who are sent to their Aunt on Earth to learn the family trade. Instead, they fall in love with the idea of being superheroes, but have no clue how to go about it. I wrote the pilot script with my friend Henry Gilroy. I still intend to set it up somewhere. At Disney it was up against eight other shows in development, one of them being a Speed Racer retool. I figured they would go for that one, but instead they went for Yin Yang Yo, which couldn’t be further from what I had created. I was also told Strangelings seemed better suited to being a feature, but there was some kind of regime change and the property reverted back to me.
How does that line of work differ most from your work in illustration?
Way more hands in the dough, more restraints to be aware of, you are working in a much more narrow field; which, once you get used to it, isn’t so bad, you just have to be aware that you have guidelines you didn’t have in comics. I actually really enjoyed it. We would have a phone conference once a week- two gals from Burbank, and another fella in London and they would give me notes and I would try to keep in mind Henry’s advice, which was, as a writer you gotta fight for your ideas, which is to say defend them, not argue about them, if you feel strongly they are right for the project. Its very easy to lose your intial thread when three other people who don’t understand the project as well as you are asking you to make changes based on mistaken assumptions. So the best thing you can do is be a master communicator. I don’t communicate best by phone at 8 am, so it was a learning experience.
What do you like to do when you aren’t working?
Recharging the batteries is important. You can get caught up in a project for weeks, and burn out, because you are your own boss and you can eschew sleep and things like that until the deadline is met. Afterward, you crash, and I like to watch lots of movies, take trips to the ocean or the mountains, do comic book shows and connect with my peers and with readers, patrons, fans. Because I work out of the house I get to see my family every day, which is great. I am addicted to story, pretty much, so I read a ton, and I plot stories and scribble out characters constantly. I have a core of TV shows I follow that changes here and there. It’s hard to absorb other people’s stories in any form; part of my brain sits back and plays critic. Depending on how good -or not- the movie or book is, sometimes the critic is panning the story, other times the critic is panning me.
Are there any little known facts about yourself that your fans might be surprised to learn?
I used to sing in public – from age 5 to my teen years- recitals and choruses and choirs, and in High School there were a couple of musicals and plays. I had a pretty good soprano range until 13 or so. At 12 I wanted to be a herpetologist, but it somehow morphed into a desire to be a cartoonist and draw reptile comic strip characters instead. Around that time my brother and I had a reputation in the neighborhood for being snake-hunters. If someone had a big snake in their yard they’d come and find us. Maybe not that surprising. I ran track in high school. That might surprise some folks.
What was it like to do a cover for Rob Zombie’s Hillbilly Deluxe?
Well, I did the inside CD bookcover, not the front cover- that was the great Basil Gogos. It was fun. I like Rob a lot, he’s very talented and creative and possesses a dry wit. I was also tapped by Rob to paint a group of large portraits of characters from a script he had in development at the time, called THE CROW 2037: A New World of Gods and Monsters. Rob’s the most creative person I’ve ever worked with outside of comics. We used to talk a lot and scheme projects. We are both 1965 kids, both Marvel Comics fans, but whereas he fed himself a steady diet of horror and blood and evil from childhood, I was afraid of the dark and horror movies gave me nightmares. It’s interesting to work with someone with whom you have much in common, but is, unlike you, a world-famous rock star. Id see him on MTV or listen to him on Howard Stern in the morning and then hear about it from him on the phone the next evening and learn all the stuff that didn’t happen on the air… it was fascinating. I felt like I was sort of interviewing him a lot because I had so many questions about his life. He was pretty patient with that for a while, but it has to get old eventually.
When it comes to music who are some of your favorite acts?
The Beatles, Led Zeppelin, Black Sabbath. Everything branches and flows from those. I also enjoy classical and blues. I grew up listening to stuff like Jim Croce and Blue Oyster Cult.
Why do you think music and art compliment each other so well?
Mostly because they convey emotion and imagery and work on different areas of our senses together, they seem to mimic a limited form of reality…know what I mean? A dream seems real because the brain tricks you into thinking your senses are working together to take you someplace you totally accept as reality. With Music and pictures and/or words, we have a similar recipe, which transports us.
What was it like to have your work featured in Dan Brereton: The Goddess & The Monster? What is it like to see your work compiled in such a way?
It is very pleasing to have a monograph out there , a book strictly about the art. I wanted the art to stand on its own, so there isn’t really much text, just my introduction and testimonials from peers, family and friends. You mostly experience the images as they are, for yourself. I carried Frazetta’s art books around for years since high school and I learned so much from them and was so inspired by them. To have a book like that of my work out there makes me happy, and it also makes me want to fill more volumes. I found that I had a hard time sifting through what would stay in and what wouldn’t fit. I’m working on a new book now to remedy that, but there are new illustrations I’ve done since then. Having new unseen work in a book is the most exciting part of it- knowing people will be experiencing them for the first time.
Are there any projects that stand out most in your mind? Why or why not?
The projects I’ve yet to do most occupy my thoughts. But for those I’ve done, Nocturnals always stands out in my mind because it was the first time I was wholly responsible for the work and I was set free to do as I wished. It was wonderful and also a little scary, too. I still wish I could go back and re-write parts of it. And of course I have many more stories to tell. Thrillkiller stands out because it worked out so well with Howard, the story was so cool and so much like I wanted it to be when I approached him and Archie with the idea- lets do Batgirl and Robin as crime-fighting lovers who get a kick out of being heroes, but find there is a dark side, too. Bruce Wayne as a hard-boiled cop. A female Joker, etc. It was a perfect Elseworlds story and it ended too soon. Our editor was Archie Goodwin, and after he passed away no other editor would touch Thrillkiller, though Howard had plotted out a third installment. We only grazed the surface of that noir-ish alternate reality and now DC is done with them. A big mistake. Plenty of fantastic ideas surfaced in the Elseworlds model.
What projects are you currently working on?
I’m about to illustrate a Lovecraft pastiche for Bongo’s Bart Simpson’s Treehouse of Horror. I’ve been wanting to do one for years. I have a very horror- oriented barbarian story in mind and a fantasy series as well… set in the same world but very different. I want to do a crime/super-hero thing I’ve written. I want to do Frankenstein and Dracula stories. I’m working on the Art of Nocturnals, as well, for release either next year or in 2014, the 20-year anniversary of Nocturnals.
When your time comes how do you hope to be remembered?
I hope a lot of good stories get told.