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Stuart Immonen, while primarily known as an illustrator in the comic book field, has rolled up his sleeves in many areas of publishing and new media over the last twenty years. Sometime writer, editor, publisher, designer; everyday bon vivant, Stuart has provided product, character and concept design services for a variety of international clients including Warner Bros. Entertainment, Galafilm, Nickelodeon, The Walt Disney Company, The Upper Deck Company and Kenner Products. His illustrations have graced the covers of countless comics for Marvel, DC and others, and have been on exhibit on three continents, and his comic work has been translated into a half-dozen languages. He lives in Ontario, Canada.

When did you first decide to become a graphic designer/ illustrator? Was there a pivotal moment?

I've always drawn, and assumed that I would pursue it in some form as a career. However, I never truly realized the wealth of potential applications for an artist until I was well into adulthood. Apart from my experience with art teachers in a high school setting, I didn't know anyone who drew for a living. For the longest time, it never dawned on me that human beings created magazine illustrations, advertising or comics, and once I did, I didn't understand the mechanism for actually getting this kind of work. There was me, in a rural high school, and the commercial work I consumed in magazines and what have you, and a vast grey chasm in between.

In the 80s, there were lots of black and white comics being produced, and some by small publishers in Toronto, where I was attending university. Once I had this local, personal reference point, the pieces started to come together, but even then, I ended up doing things the hard way; self-publishing at first, and then crawling up the comics freelancing hierarchy to eventually work for DC Comics.

I knew I wanted to draw, and had found an avenue in which to make it a job, but looking back, it's a blurry continuum of simply being a warm body available for work at the right place and time. This isn't the whole story, but it is how it feels.

Who or what inspires you?

Oh, lots of things! Too innumerable to catalogue, but I have a steel file cabinet of photos and magazine clippings going back 25 years or so, as well as a few inspiration folders on my hard drive. I read Computer Arts and Print and a few other design/ illustration periodicals, and pick up comics from all over on my travels. Kunokuniya is a Japanese book store which always has something of interest. It's always a painful credit card bill after I visit. I carry a Canon Powershot G2 and grab photos of interesting (mostly urban) patterns, which either get used directly in my work, or inspire something else. Music on constant random play helps enormously during working hours.

Anything and everything... that's the short answer.

Where does your training come from? Self-taught? College/Art School?

I attended York University in the Fine Arts program, and felt so discouraged by the direction in which I felt I was being pushed, that I quit after my first year. It just wasn't a good fit, but up until then, I had no ambition other than possibly teaching. Once I started exploring comics, I've felt it necessary to keep up to date with both technology and technique. I'm frequently dissatisfied with my level of craft, and try to reinvigorate myself, well, it seems, about every six months. It's not planned, but I can tell when I feel that I've plateaued using a certain style or a certain digital tool or brush. I hate to repeat myself, but as a result, I don't feel like I have a definitive, recognizable style.

How do you keep "fresh" within your industry?

Simply, by looking outside it. I'm not trying to reinvent the business by any means, but for me, the world outside comics is so much more diverse, and therefore interesting. I like to experiment. Sometimes that means taking on different tasks, say inking and colouring as well as illustrating; at other times, it's a sea change in approach, rebuilding my drawing style from the ground up.

I also relish the opportunity to work outside comics whenever it comes up. Doing a spot illustration or some design work really blows the cobwebs out, and allows me to come back to comics with a new eye.

What are some of your current projects?

I'm drawing interiors and designing and illustrating covers for Marvel's Nextwave series, written by Warren Ellis. In 2007, I'll be writing and drawing something for the relaunched Marvel Comics Presents anthology. I'm also doing some feature animation character design, and trading card illustrations here and there.

Never As Bad As You Think, the ongoing webcomic I co-create with Kathryn Immonen, will continue into the new year as well.

Which of your projects are you the most proud of? And why?

I'm very self-critical, and it's rare that any affection I have for something on the drawing board, or recently published, lasts very long. I'm proud of certain aspects of the collection of comic strips I recently self-published, "50 Reasons To Stop Sketching At Conventions", but it falls down in other areas; I like some of the Nextwave covers I've recently done.... this is a difficult question for me. I prefer to let the art speak for itself. If other people like it, I've done my job well. It doesn't matter so much if I continue to like it. I prefer to look to the next job instead.

Are there any areas, techniques, mediums, projects in your field that you have yet to try?

Oh, I expect so. I'd like to find the time to paint, either with traditional materials or digitally, but I have very little spare time these days. What I really see myself doing in the years following my current contract with Marvel, is to pursue some personal -- that is to say, non-commercial-- comic projects. I'd like to take a year or two and get these ideas out of my system, and then return to mainstream work... or not. After nearly twenty years of superhero work, I strongly feel like a change. The film and other illustration work helps in this regard, but I still love comics, and feel like it's a medium worth my time.

Any advice to the novice designer/ illustrator?

Go to trade school-- university was a big step backwards for me, and if I'd been on the ball, I would have switched gears and enrolled in an applied art course somewhere else. As it was, I kind of fell into freelance work for smaller publishers and clients; this was my apprenticeship, but there are much easier ways.

What makes a designed piece or illustration successful?

Clarity of design and illustration, simplicity, unity. All those plastic elements they tell you about, but don't tell you how to use.

What do you do to keep yourself motivated and avoid burn-out?

I step away from work and walk the dog.

And finally, what is the best thing on prime-time TV right now?

I don't watch a lot of TV, honestly. We don't have cable, so we only get six or seven channels. I do like "House" when I catch it, but I mostly rent or buy DVDs.

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