Saturday with Illustrator Juan Ortiz
Not strictly comics this week, but comics-adjacent.
I’ve been interested in illustration and commercial art almost as long as I’ve been interested in comics. I always paid attention to the artists who did the covers on the paperback novels I was reading (when they were given a credit– which was not often) and the record albums I was listening to; sometimes I’d buy an album just because I loved the cover art. James Bama and George Gross were artists whose names and styles I knew as well as those of Jack Kirby and Neal Adams.
The glory days of the great commercial artists seem to be behind us; today it’s all photography and computer graphics and design. But every so often I get a pleasant surprise, like when the work of one Juan Ortiz suddenly started to pop up in my news feeds.
Mr. Ortiz had set himself the task of creating a separate old-style movie poster for every single episode of the original Star Trek.
His influences are not mine– he’s clearly much more about the graphics and design elements than the illustration– but I nevertheless recognized a kindred spirit, someone who’d spent even more time studying classic poster art than I have.
Recently these have all been gathered into a book, Star Trek: The Art of Juan Ortiz, a beautiful oversized hardcover from Titan Books.
As always with these Titan art books, it’s a very classy presentation. The art is reproduced at a large enough size that you can really appreciate it, and there’s a nice introduction explaining the project as well as an index in the back where Mr. Ortiz gives readers the inspiration and thought processes behind each different poster concept.
Here’s a couple of examples, with the comments from the index. For Arena–
“My vision of the Gorn is what he might have looked like if the original series had today’s budget and special-effects technology. I wanted a sword-and-sorcery style image, inspired by the paintings of the late Frank Frazetta.”
And here’s Miri.
“I was hoping to convey a sense of melancholy with this one. The tears from her left eye were originally going to be scabs from the planet’s virus. Likewise, the hair along the right creates an almost-waterfall, or river-of-tears effect. I also wanted Miri to be as special as Kirk thought she was, so I made her larger-than-life, against the Enterprise. The information of the episode being banned for twenty years made a nice addition to this piece.”
(That story is here, for those who are interested.)
Here’s his suitably psychedelic rendering of The Way To Eden.
“I still have some black-light posters from the early 70s. As a kid I used to be obsessed with them. I knew that I wanted to create a black-light-style poster for this series and naturally The Way To Eden, with its hippie theme, seemed perfect. This one was inspired by a Jimi Hendrix poster.”
I was so impressed with the project that, when my review copy came, I asked Titan to set up a chance for me to ask Juan Ortiz about it. That interview is below.
Tell our readers about this Star Trek poster project and how it came to be.
It started towards the end of 2011. I was disappointed that the year was coming to a close and I hadn’t worked on anything substantial.
I actually created a Lost in Space image and then one for Star Wars. I figured one for Star Trek would be next. After the third Star Trek image, I felt really good about completing all 80. I sent CBS the first 40. They liked my work enough to commission me for all 80 of them.
Did you find yourself seeing the old episodes with fresh eyes? If so, can you give us an example of how your thinking may have changed about this or that aspect of the original show when you sat down to design something?
In a way, I did. I fed upon my memories from that time. For example, When I was working on A Taste of Armageddon, I would refer back to when I lived in NYC as a kid and hear the air raid drill siren go off at noon.
As a kid it was just a way of knowing it’s lunchtime but looking back now, it seems like a scary prospect to have been through. I think experiences that can evoke emotion can filter into my work and reflect back upon the viewer.
What was the hardest episode to come up with something for? Did you have to struggle to come up with a strong visual hook for any of the shows?
I’ve learned from experience, that if I’m having to struggle on a piece it’s usually because I’m headed in the wrong direction. I tend to rely heavily on my gut for my decisions, than from what I’ve been taught.
What was the easiest design for you? Did any just pop into your head full-blown?
Most of the designs did just pop into my head. Those were the easiest to execute. At least it provided me with a starting point, even if I changed things during the illustrator process. Just because an idea would pop into my head, though, didn’t mean that the design would get done quickly. It was usually by trial and error after that.
Usually Paramount has been pretty guarded with the Trek license but they seem to have given you a lot of leeway, and now they’re doing the posters, the book, even shot glasses with your images.
That’s a level of support that’s almost unprecedented. What restrictions did you have to deal with? Are they loosening up or was this a special case?
If I’m not mistaken Paramount just oversees the film license. I dealt directly with CBS for any of the TV show properties. CBS had me make some changes due to not having the rights to a few of the actor’s likenesses. But for the most part, they allowed me to complete these as I saw fit, without any art direction on their part. So that was really liberating.
What other projects are you working on? Tell us about those and where readers can find them.
Right now startrek.com is in the process of releasing my Star Trek: The Animated Series prints, which I am very happy with.
In October I’ll be promoting the book by signing at Gallery Nucleus in LA. Beyond that, I’m undecided as to what project to work on next.
And there you have it. Thanks to Juan Ortiz again for his time, and to Tom Green at Titan Books for setting it up.
And me, I’ll see you next week.