A Week of Tony Harris: Day 1: High School Beginnings, BLADE?
A Week of Tony Harris Day 1: High School
When you listen to Tony Harris talk about his career, it almost reads a map cutting through a wide swath of the industry's finest. Passing by names like Brian Stelfreeze and James Robinson and Brian K. Vaughan and Cully Hamner, it's clear that over his 20 year career, Tony Harris has covered a lot of ground. And to commemorate Harris's milestone, IDW and Desperado will be releasing a retrospective on his work called Tony Harris: Art & Skulduggery, due out in March. Newsarama caught up with the two-time Eisner-winning Harris in a five-part coversation that truly painted an in-depth portrait of the artist -- whether it's working on Ex Machina or Starman, Obergeist or Lazarus 5, Harris spoke frankly and candidly over his roots, his failures, his successes and his thoughts on the industry.
Tony Harris: To high school.
Harris: (Laughs) Yeah, it's an absolutely 100% complete retrospective. We go back all the way to 1988, which was pre- my professional career. And there's some stuff in there from high school, there's a lot of text with me working with the school newspaper as the editorial cartoonist, and stuff like that. We began the book with my first published work, which was self-published back in '89, a book called Blade. And it just goes all the way through everything, my independent days, working for everybody from Innovation to Malibu to Millenium, Epic at Marvel, my days at Innovation doing Nightmare on Elm Street, my first work as an inker over Jason Pearson at the Big Two. And Starman will have a major presence in the book. Obviously, that's a no-brainer, 'cause that put me on the map professionally, and not putting Starman in the retrospective would have been a bullet to the brain (laughs) to do the book without Jack Knight in it.
And of course it does everything beyond that, Obergeist, Lazurus 5, and the two JSA books I did with Dan Jolley, Doctor Strange, tons of unpublished stuff, things that I was commisioned to do that, y'know, didn't see the light of day for whatever reason. There's a lot of personal work in the book that no one's ever seen before. And Ex Machina's in the book -- it's totally inclusive. Star Wars, Indiana Jones, everything.
Nrama: That's interesting that you say this book goes as far back as high school for you. Did you always know you wanted to be a comic artist? What made you decide that this was the career path you wanted to take?
Harris: No, I didn't. I knew I always wanted to do something with art professionally, but me being involved with the school newspapers, [being] the editorial cartoonist, was a fluke. I could draw, and I was always one of those kids in high school that everybody thought, that was sort of my identifying thing -- "Oh, Harris can draw." So they asked me to be involved, and I did that, but I never really read comics in earnest and collected until I was 19, and I was out of high school.
And I graduated high school, and split, and went to find my way -- and it didn't work out. So I was in Athens, Ga., in '89, after I graduated, and I spent a year there. I just kind of did whatever came my way, and that's where I sort of discovered comics, with the comic shops there. So I kind of fell into it there and really just fell in love with the medium instantly, sort of rediscovered it, if you will. I had heard about a couple of conventions in Atlanta, so I made a few trips up there to the now late Atlanta Fantasy Fare and a few other things, and that's where I started meeting other working professionals, who would later become my studio partners at Gaijin. And I decided then and there, "this is for me, this is what I want to do." And I called my father and said, "Hey, I figured out what I want to do! I want to be a comic book artist!"
Nrama: (Laughs) What'd he have to say to that?
Harris: "...Oookay. What does that mean?" (Laughs) So I explained it to him, and I said, "Well, see, there are guys out there, Dad, these things don't just appear. There are people out there who actually draw this -- and they get paid. And this is what I want to do. And can I move back home?" (Laughs) He said, "yeah, you can come home," and he gave me a year to make it. And I think I got my first paying assignment inside of six months.
Nrama: Was that first paid assignment Blade #1?
And we did two issues of that, before we got a cease-and-desist letter from Marvel.
Nrama: Whooooooa. (Laughs) Oh, wow!
Check in tomorrow for Part 2, with Harris’s move to Nightmare on Elm Street, Cully Hamner, and much more.