Interview: Gregory Manchess

How did you first come to discover the Barsoom books by Edgar Rice Burroughs?

I was in 7th grade when I saw a friend of mine reading early hardback editions of the books. I was fascinated. But I didn’t get to reading my first one until after college.

What do you find appealing about the characters and milieu?

When I was a kid, anything that involved the Moon or Mars was completely cool. I put it on my list of things to read as I was more fascinated by the visuals than anything else. I always felt that I would like them because they already held my attention from just the promise of great pictures. I saw many older artists paint the Barsoom subject. Even Golden Age illustrator Frank Schoonover did a piece.

What sort of an influence do you think the Barsoom books have had on the development of fantasy & science fiction?

At the time of their publication, Burrough’s work took on a realism that was captivating. Any fantastic stories that suspend our disbelief through as realistic depiction as possible is attractive. The same is true for imagery. That’s why today’s digital work is so compelling for the genre. The more believably real the image, the more we’re able to project ourselves into that world.

Paintings are early forms of virtual reality. The interesting thing is that it doesn’t have to be a detailed technique. It just needs to reflect realism that is believable.

Who is your favorite character in the Barsoom canon? (And why?)

Dejah Thoris. The character suffers a bit from the times in which she was conceived by Burroughs, but because she’s such a strong visual character, I tend to give her a tougher, smarter persona in my mind.

Tell us a bit about your illustration for the anthology. What’s happening in the scene?

The story gets rolling when Carter is out in the Martian landscape, camping, when he’s set upon by a mechanical dragon-like flying vehicle. My painting depicts the overall feeling of him dealing with the machine’s strafing runs.

After reading the story, how did you decide which scene to illustrate?

Picking a moment to illustrate is not necessarily the right thing to use for a story. You want the reader to be engaged in their curiosity to learn more about the writing, not just show something that’s easily visualized. Deciding on a slice of the story’s mood is just as valid. It’s best to keep the reader wanting more, even after they’ve read it. It can lead them back to reading it again.

Was this a particularly challenging piece to create? If so, how?

Actually, this visual popped into mind as I read the story. Not an exact moment, but a general expanse of several moments, leading the viewer to fill in the necessary gaps from the manuscript. That way, both the story and the painting work together to give the reader a fuller impression of what the writer is depicting.

What artistic techniques did you employ to create this piece?

I’m so tired of the typical point of view in genre painting: from a six-foot human perspective, flattening the depth into a plain, average, expected angle. I like being taken to different arrangements, different points of view, where it stimulates my interest by showing me something that allows me to use my imagination to understand it.

Here, I pushed composition, using line-of-sight, depth, and value to create a pov we don’t normally see.

Any new work of yours just out or forthcoming you’d like to mention, or anything else you’d like to add?

I’ve just finished the cover for the latest ‘Irish Country’ series by Patrick Taylor, for Tor Books, due out in 2012. I’m working on another cover for Tor about Tarzan’s Jane, that should be out by late 2012. You can also buy the latest Forever stamp, from the US Postal Service, which is a portrait I did of Mark Twain. I’m currently working on a fully-illustrated book for a story I’ve written based on one of my paintings, entitled, Above The Timberline–a boy’s adventure story, set in the far future, when the world is covered in snow.