ILLUMINATI Artist Shares His Own Secrets In New Art Book

Shawn Crystal
Credit: Shawn Crystal
Credit: Shawn Crystal

Marvel’s Illuminati artist Shawn Crystal wants to unveil some of his secrets to fans, and is doing it with Kickstarter.

Inkpulp Re-Present: The Art of Shawn Crystal is a sketchbook Crystal is publishing with his art dealer Essential Sequential, and they’ve already surpassed their initial Kickstarter goal. The fundraising drive is currently at just over $8,000 with nine days remaining, with a stretch goal to make the book a hardcover at $9,500.

Crystal, who up until last year taught comics at the Savannah College of Art & Design, is currently illustrating Illuminati while balancing being Art Director and Designer for a new Adult Swim series by Paul Scheer and Nick Giovannetti. Newsarama talked to the Atlanta-based artist about his busy last couple of weeks, balancing comics and cartoons, and what made him believe fans wanted an art book from him.

Credit: Shawn Crystal

Newsarama: Shawn, you’ve had a busy couple of weeks – launching a Kickstarter for an art book, having it funded in less than two hours, and you’re working on a top-secret animated series for Bento Box. Shawn, how are you feeling?

Shawn Crystal: I’m completely numb. I’ve been chasing a dream for decades and I’m standing on a razors edge. On one side is a Lovecraftian beast waiting to feast on my failures. On the other side is a long road of hope. I think at this point, I’m happy to fall where I may. [laughs]

Nrama: As I said, the Inkpulp Re-Present: The Art of Shawn Crystal garnered $6,000 in 90 minutes, and now you’re aiming to break $9,500 to make it a hardcover. How do you feel about the response?

Crystal: I was blown away. I am constantly feeling like no one knows my work, so who would want to drop any money on a book of my raw stuff, let alone my finished work. Then BOOM! Kickstarter goes nuts, and a little light bulb goes on behind my eyes. I am doing what I’m supposed to be doing. There is an audience for my work.

Credit: Shawn Crystal

Nrama: What’s the planned print run for the art book, at this stage?

Crystal: At this stage we are printing 500 copies, maybe 750 depending on the Kickstarter. We have a tier on there for retailers, where they can buy 10 books for $12.50 each. So if those start to go, we’ll aim for the higher print run.

Nrama: What was the initial impetus for you to collect your recent art together for this book?

Crystal: I love art books. I love to see the artists thought process, an honest look at who to artist is. No polish, no finish, no tricks, just raw brainpower and handwork. I learn so much from looking at them. I always thought I’d reach a point in my career that would warrant me doing one. I wasn’t sure if I was there yet, but I had five years-worth of sketches, concept art, thumbnails, commissions, ink studies and warm ups. Kickstarter seemed like a good option.

Credit: Shawn Crystal

Nrama: Where are these 90 pages of sketches coming from for Inkpulp Re-Present?

Crystal: Mainly, my sketchbook. I always keep a sketchbook. I buy an 11 X 14 hardcover sketchbook and get busy. It’s my work out, my art vitamins. Also, there’s a bunch of thumbnails in there. For me, thumbnails are the real art form in comics. It’s pure, raw, unfiltered storytelling. No fancy drawings. I find the thumbnail language, the artist’s shorthand, to be some of the most charming work out there. I wish more artists would collect their thumbnails in the collected editions of work. In the back of the Arkham Manor trade, you’ll see a bunch of my thumbnails in there. I love seeing that stuff, and hope people like seeing mine.

Nrama: For this you’re working with your art dealer, Essential Sequential. They’ve helped Sean Murphy and others out with Kickstarters – how are they helping you here?

Crystal: I was asked to join Essential Sequential about a year ago. That was an amazing day. Sitting amongst that roster of talent at a comic show is unreal. They are the most inspiring crew of artists out there. I learn so much from them, all of them. Being the weakest link on that chain is a great thing. I am always pushed to be my best. Jason Schachter, who runs the group, is great. He runs an incredible business and drives sales for all of us. Honestly, this Kickstarter wouldn't have happened without him. A lot of the quick success is due to him and his knowledge. 

Credit: Shawn Crystal

Nrama: Moving over to comic book work, you’re currently in the midst of drawing Illuminati. I noticed you’re solicited through #5, but another artist is listed for April’s #6. How long are you on the books exactly?

Crystal: I’ll be back on Illuminati #7. I’m working on the cover right now, with Chris Brunner. 

Nrama: Your other big new project is animation; you just signed on to be an art director and designer for an animated series at Bento Box. Can you say anything about what it is exactly?

Crystal: I can’t say much. I’m Art Directing / designing Paul Scheer and Nick Giovannetti’s Adult Swim show Bad Guys. I worked with Paul and Nick on an issue of Guardians Team-Up, which Matt Wilson colored…. and Wow! Did he color the eff outta that book!

We all worked very well together, and seemed to understand each other on an unspoken level. They asked me to do some concept sketches for the show. That turned into designing the main characters, which turned into me designing the cast, which turned into me being the Art Director. I had to clear my schedule from comics for a few weeks so i could go down and work directly with Bento Box. Hence my absence from a few issues of Illuminati

Credit: Shawn Crystal

Nrama: I don’t recall you having done work in animation before. Am I wrong?

Crystal: No, I haven't really worked in animation before. I am in a very fortunate position with this project. 

Nrama: This comes a little over a year after you left a staff job at the Savannah College of Art & Design. What’s it like to do this after freelancing full-time for a while?

Crystal: Back to the razor’s edge. If I hadn’t left SCAD, I never would have received Arkham Manor, and I never would have been offered to work on this cartoon. I wouldn't be a part of Essential Sequential. So many of the amazing art things that have happened to me, never would have happened, if I never returned to being a freelancer. Then again, if I had stayed at SCAD, I’d probably be able to pay my mortgage this month. So, here I am, maintaining my balance on the razor’s edge. Good thing I practice yoga.

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