Here’s a rough-cut trailer featuring parts of Michael Kaluta’s interview for Better Things: Life + Choices of Jeffrey Jones:
Wrightson’s fascinating unpublished layouts for his section of The Studio (Dragon’s Dream, 1979) — added 03 May 2010, because it sort of relates to the conversation in the comments section of this post.
5 thoughts on “Look There: Jeffrey Jones Documentary in the Works”
Hope you don’t mind me asking, and hope to hear your (and others’) reply:
Should The Studio – Jeff Jones, Berni Wrightson, Michael Kaluta, & Barry Windsor-Smith – have stayed together a bit longer than the year or two it existed? Would all four artists indeed have gone to ‘the next level’? What IS the next level (for former comics artists-cum-illustrators/painters)? They likened themselves to the Beatles, in a sense, in their artistic camaraderie, brimming with ideas and creativity. I think perhaps if they had made a stab at publishing their own anthology of comics/prints, with posters at the back for ordering, especially if such had (inter)national distribution, they could have pulled it off. But, unlike the Beatles, the Studio gents didn’t have a George Martin or their own Apple label behind them. Jim Warren was still publishing then—he had the publishing experience and the capital to make it happen, had they approached him, or someone like him. Or perhaps Byron Preiss (whose untimely passing a few years ago was both sad and unexpected). Where would Picasso be without Gertrude and Leo Stein? It seems artists need patrons/promoters with sufficient financial backing to really launch into new territory AND remain in the public eye.
Hi! Interesting question… but I think it’s based on a faulty analogy, because it seems to me that the relationship between Jeff, Bernie, Michael, and Barry was nothing like the relationship between John, Paul, George, and Ringo.
The Studio started out as a practical working arrangement — hey, guys, if we pooled our resources, we could sign a three-year lease on this really cool loft-studio space in Manhattan! — and blossomed into an exercise in artistic self-promotion, The Studio (Dragon’s Dream, 1979), that unveiled serious tensions between the participants that basically brought the whole experiment to a screeching halt (just as their lease fortuitously ran out), whereas the band we know as The Beatles was built around a pre-existing and enormously productive creative and competitive partnership between John Lennon and Paul McCartney, begun when John was sixteen and Paul was fifteen. Each of The Studio guys, in contrast, had at least seven years of acclaimed SOLO professional work behind him before the four of them got together, and once ensconced in their new digs, they never collaborated on anything of substance other than the book that broke the camel’s back. In fact, by all accounts, from the beginning, Jeff, Michael, Bernie, and Barry rarely worked in The Studio at the same time, and it went downhill from there, with Bernie eventually deciding to move out completely well before the lease was up. It took the Beatles ten years of working together in music, movies, etc., to get sick of one another; it took The Studio guys, who only had to share a workspace and collaborate on one book, less than three.
Would a rich commercial partron have made a difference? Maybe, although working for publishers like Preiss and Warren was no picnic. (Ask Corben.) Sure, Jones, Kaluta, Wrightson, and Windsor-Smith were big names in comics in the mid-1970s, but the fact is, at least two of the four — Jones and Windsor-Smith — were anxious to do anything but comics, so a joint anthology would have been seen, by them, as a big step backward. (Remember: after The Studio broke up, Jones and Windsor-Smith joined forces with Bob Gould and others to form the so-called “New Romantic Brotherhood,” another quixotic promotional/artistic project that didn’t last very long.)
But what about self-publishing? Well, of the four Studio guys, only Windsor-Smith got heavily into self-publishing through his own Gorblimey Press. Jones and Kaluta had no interest in self-publishing, period. Wrightson, I’m not so sure about… but it seems clear enough to me that a joint self-publishing effort was a non-starter.
Anyway… it’s not as if the Studio guys, individually, didn’t receive any outside support or attention. Underwood, for instance, published Wrightson’s A Look Back (1978) a year before The Studio. Dragon’s Dream published not only The Studio (1979) but also Idyl (1979) and Yesterday’s Lily (1980), both by Jones. Paper Tiger published Dream Makers (1978), which included a profile of Kaluta. Images Graphiques published Masters of Comic Book Art (1978), which included a section on Windsor-Smith that, visually speaking, mainly highlighted his print and poster images and thus was good publicity for Gorblimey Press. S.Q. Productions released Kaluta’s Children of the Twilight Portfolio (1979). A bit later, Bob Gould founded Cygnus Press and published lavish drawing portfolios by Windsor-Smith and Jones (as well as Alan Lee and himself). And so on.
But clearly none of those efforts to break out of comics ever took off to the extent that any of them had hoped, the proof being that all four artists — even Jones, who began drawing a regular strip (I’m Age) for Heavy Metal — returned to comics in the 1980s, although Wrightson and Kaluta, of course, had never entirely left.
Here’s Jeffrey Jones on (the myth of) The Studio:
Thanks for the insights, RC! It seems the Studio’s dream/goal, though the Beatles were cited in the book, was more like a late 20th century take on the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood that was short-lived. As a solo artist, it seems that the path of Frank Frazetta, hero to at least three out of four of The Studio artists, was the blueprint for the type of hoped-for success and financial independence: honing his talents for several decades in comic books and strips, then on to paperback book cover paintings and Hollywood film posters in the ’60s, followed by the Betty Ballantine FANTASTIC ART OF FRANK FRAZETTA books of the mid- to late-1970s which were a vital precursor to the success of Ellie Frazetta’s poster business. By that point Frank was able to call the shots on every aspect of his career. Unfortunately, working with oils and turpentine in a poorly-ventilated studio brought on serious health problems which limited his output in the 1980s and subsequently. Still, his original art sells for unprecedented prices for anyone involved in contemporary comics or fantasy art (one of the Conan paintings fetched a million dollars U.S.).
I do believe that Jones could have gone that same route, and even did the poster art for the motion picture “Dragonslayer” in 1981, but whether he did more in that vein, I don’t know.
Truth be told, I think the only person in “The Studio” who might have had ideas about creating “a late 20th century take on the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood” was Barry Windsor-Smith, who, as you are undoubtedly aware, was a devoted fan of the Pre-Raphaelites and (my theory is) he even got the idea to add “Windsor” to his extremely common surname from one of his Pre-Raphaelite heroes, Edward Burne-Jones, who had arbitrarily added “Burne” to his extremely common surname. (Windsor-Smith’s favourite, though, was the leader of the Pre-Raphaelites, the poet-painter Dante Gabriel Rossetti.) But Windsor-Smith would have been alone in the dream of emulating the “Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood,” because, as Jones said in the quotation I posted earlier, “The Studio” was “a studio that was never planned,” never collaborative, never united by a single aesthetic vision, which is not to say 1) that Jeff, Michael, Bernie, and Barry didn’t had have some good times together, 2) that they didn’t draw inspiration from one another’s best work and/or work ethic, or 3) that some individuals — Wrightson has remarked on this — were not spurred by a sense of friendly competition to produce new work at a level that might actually impress the other three.
Another group, however, the “New Romantic Brotherhood” (or “The New Romantics”), which included both Jones and Windsor-Smith, as well as Robert Gould and Eric Kimball, did explicitly hearken back to the Pre-Raphaelites. According to an online biographical sketch of Robert Gould, posted on Gould’s company Web site, the New Romantic Brotherhood “promoted and published works based on an art philosophy they called New Romanticism: a blending of their common devotion to medieval and late nineteenth century Pre-Raphaelite and symbolist Art and philosophy expressed in their distinctly modern sensibilities.” It’s also interesting to note that the group exhibited together as early as 1978, a year before The Studio was published. The trouble with that planned attempt to found an artistic movement, according to at least one report, was that one of the participants wanted to lead, ideologically speaking, but nobody else wanted to follow…
You’re right, though, about the influence of Frazetta’s art and career path. Frazetta, at the time of “The Studio,” had had the sort of career in (fantasy) illustration that many other (fantasy) illustrators coveted (just like Woody Allen has had the kind of career ambitious comedians covet, Steve Martin being a perfect case in point, because the fact is, you don’t have to look very closely to see that pretty much everything Martin has done in his career, Allen did first). But times have changed, and talented artists like Kent Williams (a major hardcover retrospective of whose work has already been published by a high-profile art gallery), Dave McKean, Marc Bell, Dave Cooper, and James Jean are able to move from comics to fine art (and in the case of McKean and Cooper, to children’s books) and back again with comparative ease — the writer, Neil Gaiman, is in a similar position, moving, like few if any writers before, smoothly back and forth, hither and yon, from comics to films to novels to children’s books, etc., etc. — and I think that, arguably, it was Jones more than anyone who showed how an artist who started out in comics could, with a modicum of courage and good taste, a willingness to look outside of comics (and fantasy art) for inspiration, and a lot of hard work, branch out into illustration and fine art, and yet not buy into the hierarchical thinking that says that one art form or creative outlet is inherently greater than any other, but instead simply follow one’s bliss. In the past, when guys like Everett Raymond Kinstler got out of comics, or Burton Silverman got out of illustration, and into portraiture/fine art, they never went back. The boundaries, in all directions, are more permeable now.
“Dave Cooper said to me once, think of yourself as an artist who happens to do comics.” — Marc Bell
“Taste is what separates the men from the boys.” — Frank Frazetta, interview with The Comics Journal