Interview: Joe Sutphin

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

My first glimpse of Barsoom came through the art of Frank Frazetta. Frank gave an iconic, timelessness to everything he worked on. His Barsoom art was nothing short of that.

What do you find appealing about the characters and milieu?

ERB just put so much thought into the science of his characters, creatures and the land. I love the science behind the Tharks having a thicker bone structure but not requiring as much muscle mass due to the lesser effect of gravity on Barsoom. This all sets up John as being a super human without ever physically changing.

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

In my opinion these books helped to blur the lines between the two genres by pushing Sci-fi closer to Fantasy where everyone, even the antagonists have a long, rich back story.

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

I really admire the character of John Carter. He just embodies the best of the human spirit to me. I love his selflessness and unchanging love for Dejah Thoris and the inner sense of justice that causes him to rise to action.

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

My illustration depicts the moment in which John Carter decided he needed to part ways with his friend Woola. He is putting his arms around him and telling him to take care of himself.

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

After reading Woola’s Song I felt that there were two key themes being played out. One was the desire to fit in and to find your own kind, and the other was in that sense that you already belong with those who love you. I debated between two very different concepts but one of them did not involve John and in the end I felt would give too much of the story away if it were shown as a frontis to the story. I then considered the heartbroken Woola wondering if he will ever see his friend John again. I shared my sketches with my friend and mentor, Tony DiTerlizzi, and he really encouraged me to explore scenes involving John and Woola together. I put some thought into that theme of the two of them parting and designed my illustration around it.

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

The real challenge for me came when I thought I was finished. I shared it with Tony to get some more feedback and he encouraged me once again to take a closer look at how it told a story of it’s own and he pushed me to dig deeper into the illustration than I had first thought. I am a thousand times more pleased with the end product now and I can’t thank Tony enough.

What artistic techniques did you employ to create this piece?

I am a huge fan of black and white pen and ink art. A large portion of my portfolio is built on it so when I was given this opportunity, I was completely pumped. I used my typical dip pens with various nibs, along with black FW acrylic ink. I just like the smooth nature that you get with FW that you don’t get with other inks. I used a plate bristol board because there is no tooth to the surface and the ink doesn’t bleed into the fibers. Others papers can tend to get shaggy and clog the pen nib.

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

You can visit me online at joesutphin.com.