Interview: Jeff Carlisle

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

I discovered the Barsoom books when I discovered the Pellucidar books–a book sale at a local library when I was twelve or thirteen–and these glorious ACE paperbacks with Krenkle and Frazetta covers just calling to me to spend a quarter or fifty cents and take them home. A short bike ride later, I was transported as John Carter and David Innes were to a whole new world of my imagination…

What do you find appealing about the characters and milieu?

There is a visceral purity in the characters–they are the progenitors of all the epic fantasy and science fiction of the twentieth and now twenty-first centuries, and they still hold up. John Carter is a great character–a man conflicted and tired, who is so tired and lost in his own world that it takes a whole other Planet to make him into the person he was always meant to be. Deja is written as a woman of Burroughs time–but there is nothing weak about her, she drives the story forward, is both a compliment to Carter as well as being, let’s face it The Prize–she was for many young men and women a fantasy feminine ideal–and then there are my glorious Tharks, my Green Men of Mars. Who didn’t want to have a friend like Tars Tarkas?

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

Barsoom, along with Frankenstein and Jules Verne are Ground Zero for all fantasy and science fiction that have come after them–You can see it in Star Wars, in Avatar, in the heroic fantasies of Robert E. Howard, Even in elements and reactions to it in Tolkien and all the derivative fiction that he inspired. How many pulp stories and comic books have lifted elements from Burroughs’ epic adventures? Even in the Martian stories of Ray Bradbury, the bones of Barsoom exist, only in a more pensive way.

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

The young man who fell in love with Deja Thoris would love to say her–but in the end, it’s probably Tars Tarkas–far more than a “noble savage”, his story is equal to Carter’s. His love of Gozava changed him in a way that other Green Men of Mars didn’t know and it’s a Revolution to experience deep emotional connections to other people. And let’s face it, he is pretty handy with a weapon…

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

Well, in this story, Carter’s great grandson Prince Jalvar Pan is charged with an insurmountable challenge:
To try to reconnect with Earth and to travel there–but in order to get to that goal, he will have to go on many mind-bending adventures just to be able to begin his journey. Partnered with Tars Sojat, grandson of Tark Tarkas, they enter into a shadowy underworld…that if I tell you about, I will spoil the story…

This scene I illustrated is set when the airship that Jalvar and Tars are on is attacked by Malagor Riders and they have to man defenses to fight back. I took a little license to pose them together–but that is what artists are allowed to do, right? I also wanted to the style of the piece to be clean and graphic, like a comic book page…I hope it works.

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

Well, I was originally going to do base the illustration on a scene in a bar, when they are surrounded by warriors–but I wanted to take that pose and open it up—show a bit of that thin Martian sky…and give Tars a Very Big Gun!

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

Settling on a design was tricky–and trying to find designs that blend the various ideas of what Green Martians and Red Martians look like, their cultures their weapons–the research always takes a bit of time. And this project happened to hit when I was working on three other projects at the same time, so trying to weave those projects and still give this the time it richly deserved was tricky to say the least. I hope that everyone has as much fun seeing the piece as I did making it.

What artistic techniques did you employ to create this piece?

The rough layouts were in pencil, then I revised them digitally and inked it in Photoshop.

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

Well, I am very pleased to be one of the six artists chosen to illustrate a section of Lucasfilm’s Book of Sith:Secrets of the Dark Side, which is a follow-up to becker & mayer!’s fantastic book The Jedi Path and will be released on Amazon.com in an exclusive Vault edition in February 2012.

I also have fully illustrated a Star Wars paper airplane book called Star Wars: Folded Flyers for KLUTZ. I did all the final painted artwork over the amazing plane designs Klutz provided, which was almost like getting to paint models only in paper form–Seven ship designs and 30 planes–and it is supposed to come out in January or February 2012. After that are some other projects I can’t quite talk about yet–but keep your eyes open throughout 2012!