A candid interview with Iconograph Studios, and a VA Comicon (Oct 29-30) Exclusive Print Revealed!

The following interview was conceived, written by and edited by Ben Taylor, our co-chief of Security at the VA Comicon, as well as the Moderator of the “I Love Comics, Now What!?!” lecture panel on Saturday, Oct 29!

Thanks to Ben Taylor for the Interview…Here  it is…cool! – Brett


Hey Guys, Ben here!

So here we are, a week out from the 2-day VA Comicon, and I have a little something special for you. Let me introduce you to four VERY talented men; Stephen Burks, David Hindelang, Lew Fraga, and Mark Peasley. Collectively they are Iconograph Studios. All hailing from the hometown of VA Comicon, Richmond, VA, Iconograph will be part of our Small Press Pavillion with an absolutely STUNNING limited edition commemorative print they have put together in honor of the 25th anniversary of the VA Comicon. So I managed to grab a preview of the print for you guys here on the Web site, and also talked the guys into an interview, so they could tell us a little bit about the print and a bunch of stuff besides.

So let’s jump into the interview!!

Why don’t you guys give me a bit of history of Iconograph and a bit of a “mission statement” as it were?

Stephen: Most of us met in college and had worked together on projects before we formed Iconograph. We created the studio so we could bring our diverse talents together and focus on projects ranging from comics to movies.

David: Our mission statement is “Eyecandy for eggheads!” We want to bring the kind of entertainment that we love to other people. We are the generation that was wowed by Star Wars, and but for a few exceptions, we just don’t get that much anymore. We want to do that for people every day and with every project we work on.

David, you were the main penciller on “Our Last Gasp,” which was the studios’ Webcomic. Tell me a bit about yourself, your training, how you got into doing what you do, and what you have been doing with the studio since then.

David: I have literally been drawing since I was 2 (and my style has changed very little since then). I took art lessons growing up and was always drawing, painting, torturing small animals, etc.-typical “artist” stuff. I started drawing comics when I was about 8-stuff for just me and my friends mostly. I was pretty involved in art and design in high school and was voted “Most Talented” in my graduating class (yes, I was shocked. It was usually the guy in drama or band…never an artist). I went to VCU (Virginia Commonwealth University) in the Mass Communications program. I figured “Hey, if I want to get paid doing art and design, then be in advertising.” Turns out I was the ONLY one who could draw in the program (almost literally). Because of that I was called on by students and faculty to illustrate storyboards, posters, books, ads, and just about everything else. After graduation I did a lot of freelance for agencies and PR firms doing the same things. I have been in the advertising/direct marketing field for almost 20 years now (crap that makes me sound really old!) and have been drawing/illustrating the whole time.

At Iconograph, we have been working on a few comic book ideas. We finished issue #1 of a project Stephen and I worked on for a few years, but decided to take a different direction and started a completely new book concept earlier this year. We have been working on print ideas for the conventions, many of those ideas supplied by our fans and what they are interested in (thank you both). We completed a seven episode Web‑series called “Phenomena: Probing the Paranormal,” which was a big hit and we are constantly working on new projects.
“Conan the Barbarian” by David Hindelang.
Showcasing his unique style of comic book art.

“Conan the Barbarian” by David Hindelang. Showcasing his unique style of comic book art.

Lew, you are the studios’ 3D superstar, creating a series of rendered prints recently, and you are the cinematographer for the studios’ video projects. So, tell me a bit about you and where you got your training. Also, even though the print for the show isn’t a 3D print, working in that style is very complicated; tell the readers a bit about how you work in that medium.

Lew: I’ve taken traditional art courses since I was 9, and been drawing since I could hold a crayon, but in the last 10-ish years I’ve been drawn more and more to 3D and pretty much dropped all traditional art mediums like pen and ink and painting. In high school I actually wanted to do special effects, and in college that turned into filmmaking as a whole, and I pretty much get high by being on a set.

As far as the prints I do for the company, they pretty much FORCED me to do it at the start. I thought no one would like them as the landscape at a convention is filled with more traditional illustration, but so far people like them-and they’re a heckuva lot of fun to do!

I usually start out in a program called Cinema 4D, modeling most everything you see in 3D, move my camera around until I like the angle, set up my lights and texture, everything you see in the shot. Invariably something, or many things, goes through another program called Mudbox where it’s more like traditional sculpting, but in a 3D workspace on the computer (BTW-this part is so much fun it shouldn’t be legal). Then it’s a matter of tweaking the lighting to my taste (which involves more cussing than you’d think), and “rendering” out the image.

Once I have a final render, I bring it into Photoshop for an extensive paint-over, additional texturing, painting some new elements, adding decals, etc. Many of these things COULD be done in 3D before hitting render, but it’s just faster for me this way since it’s never going to be animated–it’s just going to end up a 2D image.

My goals are different per image–realism, stylized, etc., but this process from the technical to the creative is the same from image to image.

“The Sheild” By Lew Fraga An amazing 3D rendering of one of the most iconic weapons in all of comicdom.

“The Sheild” By Lew Fraga
An amazing 3D rendering of one of the most iconic weapons in all of comicdom.

Mark, from what I have seen, you are Iconograph’s color guru. I’ve seen plenty of art that has amazing lines, but the color just seems unnatural or out of place. Can you explain your process a bit? Does it vary from project to project for example? Also tell us a bit about the Copper Captain!

Mark: Each of us has our own style and tastes, so that’s made my job pretty interesting. When we started out, our prints were more traditional comic style, so naturally I worked toward achieving that look, but my natural style is a bit more “painterly,” which made working on some of the more recent prints a lot more interesting and challenging. For example, with the “Captain America War Bonds” print I tried to capture the brush style and color of the original WWII print that Stephen was paying homage to with his pencil work, while adding my own flavor to it, and I think it turned out pretty well.

But I’m not the only colorist at the studio anymore, now that everyone has begun to hone their own styles, each artist has taken up the coloring to fit the style they’re working in. That being said, I am really looking forward to playing around with a more minimalistic color style for an upcoming project we’re working on now. But I can’t talk about that yet.

As for the Copper Captain, it was a great little “comic within the comic” experiment for “Our Last Gasp” that turned out to be pretty challenging. The first story arc I did with traditional pencil and ink, which mostly turned out not so good in my opinion, so the second I did all digital, which I much preferred. Stephen was looking for a particular look for that, and I don’t know if I totally captured it, but being a daily strip there was a lot of compromise to meet the deadlines, not just for CC but for OLG in general. We’ve chatted about revisiting the character at some point down the road maybe.

Stephen: The whole Copper Captain story was great fun because we were playing with golden age comic strips. How they were drawn and written. It’s one of my favorite parts of the Webcomic.

Stephen, of all the artists that make up the studio, personally I feel you have the most unique style since you work in a very Art Deco sort of design orientated way a lot of the time. What is it about that style that really pulls you in?

Stephen: We are all visual storytellers, but our styles and mediums are different. I’m a big fan of poster art, which has so many different styles from Art Noveau to plakatstil. I’ve always been drawn to those iconic images that grab your attention. One of my favorite parts of comics is a good cover. It’s supposed to capture your eye on a rack and then sell the story. That’s what poster art is doing too.

While I drew as a kid and took college art courses while I was in high school, I ultimately ended up focusing on writing, and my degree is in that, not visual art. It’s only in more recent years after I started lettering our comics that I was working on art more often. I think of myself more as a writer who draws than an artist who writes.

“War Bonds” by Stephen Burks Another showcase of an amazingly unique talent within this studio

You also did the writing for the Webcomic if I’m not mistaken?

Stephen: I did. We ran “Our Last Gasp” for about 16 months and it published 5 days a week. That was a hefty schedule for a couple of working parents even though the workload was split. I love Webcomics and the immediacy of them; that you can respond and comment on the world so quickly. But we were working on so many projects at once something had to take a break. Unfortunately, I felt “Our Last Gasp” was suffering in quality because of the time constraints.

Okay, before we get to talking about the special print itself, is there anything that you guys want to add? Maybe having heard the responses from the other guys? Or talking about the other members of the studio and their style?

Stephen: Mark needs to draw more often.

Mark: Stephen needs to shut his face. Even though he’s right.

Lew: Mark needs to do more painting–you ain’t seen nuthin’ yet!

David: Is it a Phenomena or a Phenoma-NOT!?…and Mark needs to draw more.

Lets turn back to the print that you guys have created in honor of the 25th anniversary of the VA Comicon. First of all, you guys are local to Richmond, so is this a case of showing respect to your local show, or is this something you would consider doing for other shows when they reach milestones? Or was there something else completely different behind your reasoning for the print?

Stephen: It’s all about money right? We do comics to get rich, don’t we? Seriously, we’re Richmond-based and we’re excited that Brett has been able to grow this show, and we’d like to see it keep growing. So we wanted to help celebrate the milestone.

And we’d love to work with other shows, milestones or not.

Now that we’ve talked about the “why,” tell me a little bit about the “what.” What IS the print? What choices were made in the design process?

Stephen: Well, this was influenced by Art Deco posters. I was thinking of world’s fairs and expos, and big grand events like that when considering the design. We pitched around characters and decided it needed to be one of the really big guys like Spider-Man, Batman, or Superman. Of course after that we had some debate over which costume to use.

Lew: There was a LOT of debate as to how much “detail” there should be. More had originally been thrown in, then taken away, thrown more back in but in a different way than before, then most taken out, rinse-repeat. How this should be balanced, where does the eye fall, or does it move around–how can we control that better? It went through many changes to get to what you see in the final, trying to keep its simplicity, but still have the impact.

My personal favorite thing about the print is the fact you have all the artist/creators names listed on it. I know that I plan on picking one up and taking it around the various tables and get the artist to sign by their names. Was that something that was intentional, or were you aiming to just get everyone at this anniversary show commemorated?

Stephen: Both, absolutely both. We’ve been working shows for a few years now and we’ve met a lot of creators in artist’s alley. Some of these folks are names we know, but a lot of them we don’t. They work full-time jobs outside comics, have families, and I really like to see them get some love too. And the idea that it has all of the artists from the show kind of makes it a cool way to add to the special anniversary.

Lew: We went back and forth on how much room would be needed for the artists to sign their names before it became too loose, or too jumbled and close together. This was very much on purpose from the start, so look for me at the tables too–I’m going to be totally jazzed if I can manage to get everybody’s signature!

Alright so, we’ve talked about the studio, about each of you guys, and I’ve asked you all of my questions about the print. Is there anything you guys want to add about the print? We have time for some final thoughts, thanks that you guys want to put out, shout-outs, or whatever.

Stephen: Thanks to all the fine folks at VA Comicon for putting on a great show, and I’m looking forward to the next 25!

David: Thanks to all the folks who have stopped by, looked at our work, given us ideas, praise and feed-back, and purchased a print or commission. The fans are why we do this. It’s great to see the same people visiting us at every convention or show we do, just to see what we’ve done new or get another drawing.

Exclusive Print for the 25th Anniversary VA Comicon, available ONLY at the Iconograph Booth in the Small Press room!

And WHERE can we find you guys? Do you have a Website, Facebook, or something else?

Stephen: On the Web at www.iconographstudios.com and on Twitter at iconograph_inc. And if you’re interested in getting a commission to pick up at the show, stop by our Web site and let us know.

David: I will also be performing nightly at Baldies Strip Club and Fried Chicken, but that’s just a side thong…I meant “thing”…

Okay so with the questions wrapped up, I say without rurther ado…let’s get down to business, and reveal the print!


And there we have it folks, isn’t that print STELLAR? (I was going to say super but I’m not that cliché).

That wraps this article up. Please come out to the 2-day show, October 29th-30th, swing by the Small Press Pavillion, and see the guys from Icongraph. I promise you that you will not be sorry (unless you have to talk to David-no, only joking, it’s good for Morale!).

See you guys at the show!


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