Creative Colleagues: Eric Belisle

Eric Belisle

Eric Belisle

Each week, I’ll pester one of my creative colleagues with five questions about his or her work. Most of these folks are friends, a few are secret enemies, and one has been blackmailing me for years.

When an editor or art director asks me for a character description for an artist, I’m always torn between hope and fear. In most cases, the result is a good illustration that doesn’t much resemble the character you saw through your mind’s eye. When I first saw the illustration of Varian Jeggare for “The Lost Pathfinder,” my first reaction was, “That’s not at all how I imagined him.” Two seconds later, I realized, “This is exactly how I should have imagined him. He’s perfect.”

Thus, I counted myself supremely fortunate that Eric agreed to illustrate the green man image that graces this website and my business cards. There are actually four illustrations, and as soon as I learn how to update the heading, I’ll rotate in the other three, each representing a different season.

1. One of the things that first caught my eye about your biography is that you moved from Montreal to Tokyo. How do you find the artistic community differs in those two cities? Do you imagine a different audience now, or is visual art truly international?

From my experience, Japanese mainstream society is still mostly interested by the manga style of art and the traditional Japanese crafts (origami, kirigami, ikebana). My wife constantly tells me that Japan is a stoic and quiet island culture, meaning that the society is mainly hermetic, protectionist and resistant to change and innovation. For almost five years, I refused to see it that way. But I have to admit she might be right. I don’t think it is a bad thing: for anybody interested in visiting Japan, it makes it a very genuine and different experience. But for an outsider like me, wanting to work as a commercial artist in Tokyo means adapting my style to what is expected, which I failed at spectacularly, explaining why my main source of revenue is still from contract work from the US and Canada. However, the fine art and underground art scene is where all the crazy (sometimes very, very crazy) stuff happens, as a reaction to the stern social normality I suppose.

Count Varian Jeggare

2. You have an interest in Japanese folktales and legends, and you’ve told me of one in particular you’d like to turn into a comic. Can you tell us a bit about Momotarō (Peach Boy) and how you’d like to bring his story to a modern setting?

Momotaro is an old tale that everybody knows here. It is the story of a minuscule boy found in peach floating in a river by an elderly couple. Later, the boy hears that an oni (demon) terrorizes the nearest village. Armed with a sewing nail and three kimidango (round-shaped rice cakes), he decides to go kick the monsters’ ass. On his way, the boy meets a dog, a pheasant and a monkey, and secure their friendship by giving them each a rice cake. They then manage to beat up the demon together. I think it is a tale about social responsibility, kindness and teamwork… and beating up demons. I imagine it could be interesting to translate this story into modern day Japan as a graphic novel. Here is the pitch : a college student, who suddenly starts to see old folk monsters roaming the streets of Tokyo, makes friends with a big stray dog, a crow, and a tech monkey, to end the reign of a demon crime lord in his neighborhood. I thought I could add some yakuza drug lords and a bunch of cyber ninjas in the mix for the fun of it. Why the boy can see monsters is still debatable : maybe he has a brain tumor that triggers his new sense, or maybe it’s the side effect of a new drug? Or maybe it’s just bad food poisoning that makes him hallucinate the whole thing.

3. While I’m biased because you’ve illustrated three of my Pathfinder Tales characters, I feel you have an astonishing knack for imbuing your illustrations with personality. I suspect you don’t always have the luxury of reading the story first, so from where do you draw that inspiration?

I rarely have time to read about the characters I am commissioned to draw, which is a shame. However, the art directors usually send me a nice description of the characters that summarizes their main characteristics, clothing, gear and general attitude. Once I have done a couple of sketches, the developers have a look at them to see if they translate their visions accurately. If adjustments are needed, the art director will let me know. But the secret to make a character truly interesting and different from what we usually see in fantasy art is to put an expression in their face. Most of what we see in fantasy/sci-fi printed media in terms of emotion is the standard blank face. Costume design, lighting, composition and rendering technique can all be amazing, but nothing captures the attention of the viewer and tells more about a character than his/her expression.

Oparal of Iomedae

4. Apart from “I know it when I see it,” I have a hard time explaining the difference between commercial and fine art. Can you help out us non-visual-artists?

Yeah, I too find it hard to differentiate commercial and fine art. I’d say that commercial art is used to help sell a product, either it be a movie, a video-game, a book, and so on. Because of today’s market, time constraints and visual trends, commercial artists tend to use digital tools to create their work. Fine art would be a work of love, using traditional medium, where the goal of the artist is to express himself, at his own pace.

5. You say you have a hard time adapting your visual style to the needs of commercial art, but surely your work has evolved since you began. Outside of the demands of art directors, what influences your style? Is it more the lure of outside influences or something internal trying to get out?

I have a hard time adapting my style to the needs of Japanese commercial art (the manga style) but I feel comfortable in the video game and RPG books market. I’d say that my main influence is all the other artists that pump out more and more amazing work all the time. Sometimes it feels like a race to awesomeness, and I constantly learn new principles and try new techniques to stay in the race.

You can peruse a gallery of Eric’s art at his website.

Also, don’t forget to enter the multi-author Crossing the Streams contest.

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