Greg Smallwood has quitely become one of the industry's most in-demand cover artists, while delivering consistency and style with monthly work on titles like Moon Knight, Amazing Spider-Man, and Guardians of the Galaxy. Earlier today, the Kansas-based artist was announced as co-writing/drawing Archie Comics' Vampironica... but that's just one of his upcoming projects.
So what else is coming for Greg Smallwood? Newsarama asked, but Greg wasn't able to give any spoilers or violate any non-disclosure agreements - he did however, open up about his 11-year comic book career, how it took seven years to be a Russ Manning Promising Newcomer nominee, how he works, and what he wants for his future.
Newsarama: Greg, what's literally on your drawing board now? Be as specific as you want, down to art supplies if you like.
Greg Smallwood: I've got some sketches for the next cover of The Archies right next to me but that's about it. Everything else I've been tackling is on my "virtual drawing board." I use a Wacom Intuos tablet and Photoshop CS6 to do most of my work these days so no art supplies needed!
Nrama: I’d argue that Wacom is an art supply, but I’ll defer to you.
We're talking to you today as you finished your run on Moon Knight, have done an issue of Amazing Spider-Man, and are working on a new unannounced project I haven't been able to pry out of you yet. You've come a long way since 2013's Dream Thief - how do you feel right now in terms of your career?
Smallwood: I couldn't be happier! The consistent demand for my work has given me the freedom to only work on projects that I feel 100% passionate about. That's a fortunate position to be in and one that I certainly don't take for granted. Dream Thief opened a lot of doors for me and each successive project has a been a step up towards a larger and larger audience. I'm a pretty ambitious artist but I definitely feel a certain level of contentment when it comes to my career right now.
Nrama: Amazing Spider-Man #32 was a lovely surprise, and Dan Slott's script seemed tailor-made for you. How'd that opportunity come about?
Smallwood: Nick Lowe was my first editor at Marvel and he contacted me about the issue a couple of months after Moon Knight wrapped. As I understand it, Nick and Dan did in fact have me in mind when developing the script so that might explain why it was right up my alley. The impact of drawing an issue of Amazing Spider-Man didn't quite hit me until I saw the issue in print and that familiar logo up on top of the cover. Up until that point, I was so heavily invested in the story of Norman Osborn that the whole thing didn't quite process right away.
Nrama: Would you like to do more Spider-Man down the road, particularly?
Smallwood: Absolutely! Spidey only appeared in a handful of panels but he was an absolute blast to draw. I've never considered myself a huge Spider-Man fan but he's such a big part of comics that drawing him felt like meeting up with an old friend.
Nrama: If you’re not a “huge Spider-Man fan,” whom are you a huge fan of?
Smallwood: For Marvel and DC, it's a lot of the darker characters - Ghost Rider, Batman, Punisher, etc. Those characters tend to attract deeper discussions of good vs evil and that's what I love most about superhero comics. Outside of superhero comics, my taste skews towards lighter fare like Bone or Xenozoic Tales.
Nrama: For many, Moon Knight is your signature work to date. What do you feel you learned over the course of that series?
Smallwood: Something bigger than the comic itself. Moon Knight has a devoted fan base and I got to know some of the character's biggest fans over the course of my run. These are the fans that have kept the character alive for decades, buying and supporting anything that featured Marc Spector and his various alter egos. It was on Moon Knight that I realized the enormous responsibility that we creators have when we're handed the reigns to a long-established character. We're essentially guardians and caretakers for these superheroes and I think a certain amount of reverence and respect is required from us when it comes to telling stories with them.
Nrama: Although you have no announced new projects yet, you are doing a slew of covers - good work if you can get it. What's it like becoming an in-demand cover artist - not just for Marvel, but Dynamite and elsewhere?
Smallwood: I'm incredibly happy that my covers have resonated with so many publishers, editors, and readers. I'd always wanted to make cover work a big part of my career so it's been a fantastic experience. I only wish I could take every cover gig offered to me!
Nrama: What have you learned in terms of the distinction between cover art and sequential art?
Smallwood: Interior sequential work has to be consistent in order to tell a story successfully. The beauty of cover work is that I can explore different styles and inking techniques with each cover I do. In fact, mixing it up and playing around with style helps to keep covers interesting, especially if I'm doing a whole run.
Nrama: I mentioned 2013's Dream Thief, but I want to go deeper into the back issue bins - I have a copy of Day of the Dead: The Rising of Bub #1 from back in 2006. Is this you? Tell us about it.
Smallwood: That is indeed me. I was on-board to work on interiors but I couldn't quit my day job and the editors on the book wanted to speed up production. So, I just did the cover instead.
Nrama: Fascinating. Would this be your first professional comic book work then?
Smallwood: That is my first officially credited pro comics work.
Nrama: So what was your art training coming into comics?
Smallwood: Reading lots of comics and drawing as much as possible! I tell aspiring artists this all the time - if you want to learn how to draw comics, sit down and draw some comics. There's a wealth of information on the craft online so the only thing left to do is put in the work. Experience is definitely the best teacher.
Nrama: Did you have any teachers or mentors when it comes to drawing comics? If not, what books or things would you say are your formative influences?
Smallwood: My teachers and mentors were the artists whose work I poured over. Books like The Rocketeer, Cinder & Ashe, and Xenozoic Tales became my textbooks. You really can learn almost everything you need to know about comic book art just by looking at it and studying it.
Nrama: What did you do between 2006's Day of the Dead and 2013's Dream Thief?
Smallwood: I goofed off a lot. I had it my head for a long time that I wanted to get paid good money to draw comics and that prevented me from doing much work. I also had a long way to go when it came to forming the discipline required for drawing monthly comics.
Nrama: I've noticed (and covered) you pitching on social media to do a Midnight Sons book. Can you describe your interest in the project, and any movement on Marvel's side?
Smallwood: There are a lot of folks at Marvel who are interested in the project but it's a logistical nightmare for editors. A variety of issues at play - continuity, character availability, scheduling, marketability - make movement on the project difficult. But the folks at Marvel have been hugely supportive of the concept and I know they're doing what they can to make it happen.
My interest in Midnight Sons came from my work on Moon Knight. I really dug the idea of Moon Knight on a team and the Midnight Sons seemed like the most obvious choice. I've always loved the darker characters at Marvel but a lot of them have receded into the background since their heyday in the 90s. With a lot of 90s nostalgia coming back in a big way, I thought now would be a perfect time to bring these heroes back together but in a contemporary style. Johnny Blaze is essentially the heart and soul of the story I developed but each of the characters is given their moment to shine.
Nrama: Re-reading your work here, I see you particularly excel at facial expressions - unique without being overdone, and particularly great at an emotive and realistic smile. How do you do this strange magic, Greg?
Smallwood: Thank you! I always keep a mirror handy and I fiddle around with faces until they're just right. That's a luxury only digital can afford so I have to credit a lot of the magic to the forgivable nature of Photoshop. If at first I don't succeed, I hit CTRL+7 and try again.
Nrama: Are there particular artists you look at for conveying emotions? I get a C.C. Beck vibe out of your emotion work.
Smallwood: I never thought about C.C. Beck being an influence but I was a big Captain Marvel fan as a kid so he might be in there somewhere. My more conscious influences when it comes to facial expressions would be Jose Luis Garcia Lopez, Chris Brunner, and Adam Hughes.
Nrama: Gotta ask - I don't want to disclose your e-mail address without your permission, but I think I can say it has a Watchmen theme to it. There's a lot of Watchmen talk over at DC right now - any talk or interest in taking a meeting at Burbank for a project with DC?
Smallwood: I’m under contract with Marvel right now but there's no harm in talking, right?
Nrama: Can you elaborate on that at all?Are you under an exclusive with Marvel? If so for how long?
Smallwood: I signed an exclusive with Marvel for three years and I'm in my final year right now.
Nrama: Have you talked with anyone about DC about a Watchmen-related project?
Smallwood: No, but I would definitely be interested if DC approached me with something Watchmen-related!
Nrama: Just imagine if DC’s Bobbi Chase is reading this…
Anyway, I've asked you alot of questions, so we'll wrap up with this - what are your big, overall goals for yourself moving forward?
Smallwood: I'm making a big push to have more work out there that I've written or co-written but beyond that, my big, overall goal has always been to reach a larger and larger audience. I love guys like Daniel Clowes and Adrian Tomine but I also have one foot planted firmly in the superhero world so I'm always straddling a line between esoteric and commercial. I think that combination resonates with a broader audience and that's always been my goal. I want to tell personal stories against epic backdrops and whatever opportunities I'm given to do that, I'll take.