|Written by Kevin Johns|
|Thursday, 07 May 2009 19:00|
More than two years ago, (Cult)ure’s founding members were in search of a cover artist for the first issue of their new magazine. They met with Ottawa-based writer, artist, and designer Dominic Bercier in a crowded bar and explained that they were looking for something along the lines of what Dave McKean had created for Neal Gaiman’s Sandman comic book series. Dominic - who studied at the
In the years since that fateful meeting, Dominic has created over twenty covers for the magazine. He’s now moving on from the project to concentrate on his own graphic novel work. In a conversation held in honour of Symbols - the final cover in his initial run - the artist reflects on his work and paints a picture of where he is headed next.
(Cult)ure: You’ve been with (Cult)ure since the very beginning.
Dominic Bercier: Yes.
How would you describe your role in the magazine’s growth and change over that time?
Culture is what you put into it, literally. When the content providers are on their game, you get a good mag. My role was to provide the best covers imaginable. When the new layout came out, the importance of the cover gave way to a better distributed table of contents, which I think will help the mag in the long run, but the impact of the first giant cover illustrations is gone: it’s more so in the design, so I’m officially announcing that SYMBOLS will be my last cover. I can’t help but feel like one of the golden age illustrators in the time of photography’s rise. It’s just time to move on as design has taken to welcome people instead of illustration. I am taking my bow so to speak.
So you see a strict separation between design and art? That's surprising to hear coming from a comic book illustrator.
Yes, there is a difference between design and illustration as art, though now, of course, the two can overlap so much that you don’t really see the spectral shift. Is a potayto always a potahto? Sometimes. For me at least, when I illustrate, I think of it as content. When I design, I think of it as container, context, the presentation, how the content reaches your eyes. I think the new site will do fine without a splash page, but the splash is what felt like a comics cover to me, so I’m keeping my focus on actually doing comics. When the time is right, I hope to return for guest covers, if the opportunity is there.
Some of your covers were paint on canvas, some were ink, and some were digital collages. Do you have a single medium that you are most comfortable working in?
I used to be a black and white pen and ink guy in high school. Black and White is my special move. I wanted to be a penciller in comics, but I’ve learned to be versatile and adaptable. I met Dave McKean in
So you were one of those guys doing all Pat Lee’s art for him?
Yeah, sort of. It went like this… Blank sheet of paper with panel outlines in rough blue pencil, squiggles really. I would be asked to flesh out the borders, put a tree here, a building going off in this perspective there, and show me a skyline here, here, and here, etc. Then I would draw it and leave room for a character to be drawn in afterwards by the penciller. Pretty straightforward, really. It’s helped my education a lot, and added much to my college experience.
Speaking of college, how important do you view organized academia in the role of a developing artist?
One has to have a place to grow and make mistakes, whether its hallowed halls, or informal apprenticeships. It’s what you put into it that you take away with you afterwards. Your teachers really have very little to do with it. You don’t wait for a license to learn, you take learning as a god given right, or even a personal responsibility, and you work your ass off… then you’ll have your education. I would add that having a mentor you can trust is extremely helpful, someone with experience who knows what you’re going through.
As a writer/illustrator, you generally have the luxury of developing the language that accompanies your images. What was it like having to work from (Cult)ure’s editorially mandated monthly themes?
My first theme based work was as a kid when I drew a Christmas card in grade one that won the school contest. Themes are fun to play with. Commissions or personal themed work are all art to me. One has to bring his or her own kung fu to it. The trick is to make the work your own. Sometimes the theme will feel all wrong for a little while, but when you ask yourself, well, what does that mean to me, personally? You usually get something intelligent as a result of that kind of introspection. You have to be like a compass getting its bearings. Once you know where north is, you start to walk, but when the needle is still spinning, you just sit your ass down and let things settle, or you’ll end up where you started. If I think I’ll still like the work in five, ten, three hundred years, I’ll go for it. Anything less is just not worth putting the effort into. Life, like art, is too precious.
Your last cover is the Symbols issue. If you had to illustrate an image symbolizing yourself at this moment in your life and your career, what would it be?
The current cover of a hand discovering a Chinese coin in the earth is a good symbol, I’d say. This type of coin traditionally represents the Earth as a square in the middle of a circle which represents Heaven, and each human has all these elements within them, but… hidden in the earth, it means it has yet to be discovered and put to its most valuable use. I think I’m taking things into my own hands, so to speak, and I’m going to the comics market with my Heaven and Earth.
With print media like newspapers rapidly dying out and illegal downloading of comic book digital scans on the rise, where do you see comics heading and where does your work fit into that future?
Art finds a way. Besides, more computers means more printing, not less. I think that digital scans can only spread the word. I think the real revolution will come when people have giant monitors for the web where the resolution of the artwork can rival what print can do. We’re almost there, but there is a frightening ephemeral quality to the download, and I also know this… that when the book is worth it, people will want it on home library shelves for reference, or under a bedside table lamp. I think that this challenge is fair. Average work will go one way or another, but great work will always find its home. It’s my job to do the best I can, and push it even farther from there. Breaking into comics is pretty much impossible, actually, especially if you want to be a creator off the beaten path; as is being published in print in our digital world. One impossible thing at a time…
What is it that draws you to comic books specifically?
I always knew that art was my thing. From age three I wanted to be Picasso because drawing for a living sounded like a dream come true. And I always liked comics, and printed works vs. museum pieces. Skip ahead a few years and I discover Jim Lee on X-Men, and I knew that solid drawing could be found in comics, so I had to do comics and bring art to it myself. Then Dave McKean came along and showed us all how art could be in the mainstream. I’m trying to offer something different that hasn’t been said before. I don’t love all comics, only those in which you can tell the creators put all of their effort and love into it, and it’s pretty obvious which ones stand out. I want to put love into my comics for everyone out there to feel what I feel about the medium’s ‘sky is the limit’ potential.
Some comics are the work of an ‘auteur’ writer/illustrator, others are collaborative efforts with various writers, artists, inkers and colourists involved…
Do you prefer working independently or collaboratively?
I like both. Working on pages with established pros was awesome for me when I was younger, since I realized for sure that I could do this thing. I illustrate and design completely on my own many of my current comics projects, and I usually do the writing as well. Often though, the stories were inspired from discussions and developments with other writer friends. Even my 24-hour comic book, which I produced in a single day, was actually inspired from a story I had wanted to adapt with a writer-filmmaker friend of mine (and he just let me run with it) which was originally a legend in which many storytellers offered their own versions for centuries. We are mice standing on the shoulders of men standing on the shoulders of giants on the shoulders of titans.
Do you feel an affinity for the
I would consider myself a global citizen that proudly lives and works in
Do you feel it is important for artists to remain independent of corporate influence?
My aim is to create work that is both true to me as an artist first and foremost, but also true to the people as a responsible artist. Art happens whether grants or partnerships are available. Support is there to encourage artists, because people need art to live and to dream, which is to truly live. I will always welcome all collaborations in the spirit of creating the best art possible. People say there is no art without money. I say there is no money without art. If it’s a big cheque from a major comics company, great. If it’s a hug from my mom, great. Encouragement for the arts happens everywhere. The pyramids were commissioned by Pharaoh. Classical art was commissioned by the Church and Royalty. Money and art have a long history together, and it will continue to evolve with the pursuit of science right in there. Any sense of artistic independence is brand new, and some artists are high on this detachment.
So you see science/technology and art as being closely related?
Since Gutenberg’s printing press in the West, there have been the technologies to democratize artwork for access by the masses. Big budget films, paperbacks, they’ve enthralled the masses because of the development of print on paper and celluloid. I think that this is a great thing, as is the advent of video tapes and the digital mediums for that matter. The Vatican gets to say that the Sistine Chapel is theirs, but it is the people who get to enjoy it now more than ever in films, books and online. I’ve never seen the Sistine Chapel in person, but I know Michelangelo's work through photography, another great advancement in democracy for the arts. I know that the pyramids will last a few more years, as will all sorts of works if only in archival form. I love democracy in the arts, I’m all about it.
What have you learned from your experience as (Cult)ure’s cover artist, and where is your career heading from here?
I’ve appreciated the opportunity to create a series of works that come together as a whole. For that, I thank you dear (Cult)ure editors and readers. It was always playing off of what I was doing in the studio at the time and vice-versa. Learning is a daily activity as an artist, and if you’re not learning, then you’re not really an artist. I certainly confirmed for myself that it’s mine to be creating comics all the time, however. It’s only a matter of time. I have dreamed a dream, and it is still with me.
Comics by Dominic Bercier will be highlighted in the new edition of www.dominicbercier.com this fall... stay tuned!
One impossible thing at a timeâ€¦
One impossible thing at a time? Yes, this is what a real artist "does". And few of those many who talk the talk can actually walk the walk. Dominic is as real as it gets. He works at his craft and he works hard. He never wastes time spouting off that he is an artist. He's too busy "doing" artwork worthy of the title "Art" to navel-gaze.
My favourite Artist in the World !
Bravo Dominic !!!
Support for the arts is evidently everywhere, from where you're going to where you came from.
Couldn't be happier for you Dom. One of your responses shot through my brain like a razor blade. I'm sure you can guess which one. I've been told that having regrets about past decisions is pointless but they're harder to shake than people make them out to be. It's always interesting to think how things could have been if a different choice had been made. It's even more interesting to wonder what the answer would be if that opportunity were to present itself again.