July 12, 2013

DESIGNER: SHANE GLINES INTERVIEW

A new Batman cartoon premieres this weekend during the DC Nation block on Cartoon Network. And although the newest incarnation of the Caped Crusader is a CGI production, one of the main designers behind the show is steeped in the stylized lines and forms of retro illustration. Shane Glines came on the scene during the animation boom in the 1990s to work on a series of shows that drew directly from the traditions of Hanna-Barbera, Mary Blair, Max Fleischer, Looney Tunes, Pin-Ups, and others. He has done design work on The New Batman Adventures, Superman, Batman Beyond, Batman Beyond: Return of the Joker, Justice League, Beware the Batman, and The Flintsones. Glines has celebrated his love of vintage cartoons and illustrations on his site, Cartoon Retro, and in publishing projects like Lily and Flinch and Ashley Wood's artist series, Sparrow. Shane Glines, welcome to Spy Vibe!

You’ve worked on some great shows. As a designer, you've had a chance to play with many iconic characters, particularly from the DC universe. Which projects have you enjoyed the most?

I enjoyed working on all of the WB shows, but I had the most fun and input on Batman Beyond -especially the movie Return of the Joker, where I got to design most of the characters. 


To many of us, the run of cartoon series from Bruce Timm and Paul Dini were a long-awaited return to the Art Deco vibe of the Max Fleischer Superman cartoons from the 1940s. Were you a fan of Batman TAS going into your WB assignments?

I arrived as they were starting Superman in 1994. I was already a huge fan of Bruce Timm because of the Mad Love comic. I loved it even more than The Animated Series. I remember being at a comic convention in Portland before the series premiered and they were showing the teaser on a loop. I must have stood there and watched it for an hour. When the series started, I watched the first few episodes, but I remember being a little disappointed because it wasn't quite as cool as that teaser. Not as slick and stylized, and the overseas animation and drawing could be pretty rough and inconsistent- but brilliant and innovative for the time. And I loved the Fleischer and Deco influences. When I picked up Mad Love, however, I was completely blown away. Perfect. It's still one of my all-time favorite comics and Bruce Timm is still one of my biggest inspirations. I was at WB for about seven years designing for Superman, Batman, Batman Beyond, and Justice League, and it was an incredible experience. [Joker below from Batman Beyond: Return of the Joker]


What kinds of images did you guys look at for inspiration on Batman Beyond and Beware the Batman? Who are your personal heroes in the field?

For Batman Beyond we looked at a lot of retro futurism- Blade Runner of course, and images of rave kids. It's kind of ironic, because I've spent most of my career working on DC properties, but I was always a Marvel kid growing up and don't quite have the affection for Batman (aside from the Adam West series) that many have. 

My animation heroes are cartoonist like Chuck Jones, Bob Clampett, Tex Avery, and the Fleischer Popeye and Betty Boop. I was never into the action cartoons. A lot of my colleagues are really nostalgic for shows like Transformers, GI Joe, Thundercats, etc., but I hated that stuff as a kid. By the early 80s, my attention was turning more towards girls and music. And by my late teens, I was starting to get obsessed with the past, especially the 1950s.
 


For Beware the Batman we looked at all kinds of stuff. We originally wanted to go very graphic and looked at a lot of Russian statues and sculpture, some Henry Moore, things of that nature. I remember watching a lot of the 80s Japanese sci-fi puppet show, X Bomber (Star Fleet). I loved the character designs. Great shapes and big expressive eyes.

I enjoyed seeing your work on the Gotham Girls comic. Did your work on the animated series translate into other assignments on DC comics?

I did the first three covers for Gotham Girls. But then I missed the deadline for the fourth and they had Rian Hughes fill in. I inked the first issue of Harley & Ivy and part of the second. I also did a pin-up for Darwyn Cooke's Catwoman: Selina's Big Score graphic novel.


How was it working with John Kricfalusi (Ren & Stimpy) and Genndy Tartatovski (Samurai Jack)?

I started at Spumco about a year after they left Ren & Stimpy. It was kind of a small skeleton crew because many of the Ren & Stimpy team members left to work for Nickelodeon. It was a rough time for the studio. But it was perfect for my first job in animation, as I was able to get a lot of one-on-one instruction from John Kricfalusi. and the other remaining Spumco artists like Jim Smith, Vincent Waller, Mike Fontanelli, Richard Pursel and Elinor Blake. I went from being an obsessed Ren & Stimpy fan in Oregon to a few months later watching old cartoons and Film Noir at John K.'s house. Surreal.


I worked briefly on the Samurai Jack pilot, but I was suffering horrible anxiety over my work at the time and ended up quitting about a month in. It was a rough time. I really admire Genndy. He stuck his neck out for me and I let him down. I had a lot of guilt and shame over that for many years.

Viewers saw the introduction of a “cartoon retro” look during the Ren & Stimpy era of Nicktoons. I wonder how the creative team conceived of and discussed that style. Were you looking at Mary Blair’s Disney designs and other inspiring work from the 1950s?

I give John K. complete credit for that. When I was at Spumco, John would have these "show and tell" meetings where everyone would be assigned an artist and you would have to gather examples of their work and then stand in front of "the class" and give an analysis of what you liked about it. When I first got to the studio I spent a lot of time in the legendary Spumco library, discovering so many incredible artists that I had never heard of. John noticed how much time I was spending in there and called me into his office. He said "I'm really glad you're using the library, but in exchange, I want you to write down what you're learning from this stuff". So I started making these binders of different artists and writing down what I admired about them. This "show and tell" continued at WB. In 2001 I got my first computer and brought the concept to the internet- first through my old "Cartoon & Illustration Paradise" webpage and associated Drawing Board forum, then on the now-retired subscription site Cartoonretro.com, and now through Facebook and Tumblr.

Did you expect to see a whole movement of artists like Shag, Tim Biskup, and Gary Baseman bring the retro look into fine arts and the vinyl toy boom?

All great artists and inspirations. I haven't followed the vinyl toy and Lowbrow art scene too closely, but there are certainly some great artists working in it, like Glenn Barr and Tim Biskup. My favorite artist in the world right now is Ryan Heshka. I get completely lost in the worlds he creates in his paintings. Incredible work.


I’m looking at your “Influence Map” on deviant art and see a lot of unfamiliar images. Can you talk briefly about the materials you typically mine for inspiration?

Anything good inspires me. Drawing, painting, illustration, sculpture… I tend to gravitate to the cartoonists, or artists with a degree of caricature or exaggeration. I especially like the ones with strong graphic design and a knack for drawing sexy women. Bold shapes, strong contrasts and clear, confident lines thrill me.


I absolutely love the look of the Batman Animated and Batman Beyond series. It’s all I can do to keep from sliding into a Chip Kidd-like collecting fever. What kinds of things have you collected in your life? What do you look for now?

I used to be a big collector. Old toys, comics, magazines, DVD's, books, original art, etc. About 5 years ago I got into meditation and reading about Buddhism and Taoism. One of the unexpected side effects of that was I lost that compulsive urge to collect things. When I would get down or lonely or frustrated with life, or with my drawings (which was a regular thing), I would just go buy more stuff rather than dealing with it. Packages every day from eBay and Amazon, regular trips to the comic and used bookstores, always obsessing about the next thing I just had to have. When I moved back to Los Angeles 2 years ago I had to clear out my garage, which was literally stacked floor to ceiling with mountains of junk. It was pretty depressing to go through 20 years and many thousands of dollars worth of accumulated "stuff", all of which at some point I thought I absolutely had to have. I gave carloads of it to Goodwill and filled several dumpsters and haven't for a minute missed any of it.  It's incredibly liberating not having that clutter in my home (and head), and I feel like my drawings are stronger and more focused than they've ever been. [a few cute toys featured by Glines on-line include designs based on classics like Peanuts, Dennis the Menace, and The Flintsones]


I go to the comic book shop about twice a year, rather than every Wednesday, and I still buy the occasional art book. I'm always on the lookout for new "lost" cartoonists, and there is still no bigger thrill for me than discovering an amazing artist that I never knew existed and sharing them with the world. But now it's more out of a genuine love of the art, rather than an obsessive need to possess things. I did recently pick up a record player and have been having fun buying old records, which you can still find really cheap all over Los Angeles.  One of my favorite records as a kid was Marty Robbins' Gunfighter Ballads & Trail Songs, and I found a copy yesterday for a dollar.

Wise words. Although I enjoy collecting by nature, I find that I also have better focus and results in my projects when I'm not distracted by 'stuff.' Best to keep only materials around that truly inspire current work. 

Many Spy Vibers are fans of cult-classic TV shows, books, and comics. What have been some of your all-time faves growing up?

I grew up in the 1970's and 80's, but most of my favorite entertainment comes from the 1930's through 1960's. I came pretty late to the "Spy Vibe" stuff, having seen a lot of it for the first time within the last ten years- many I'm sure because of your site. My list would probably be the same as most of your readers: Bava, Diabolik, Barbarella, Connery Bond, Classic Star Trek, UFO, The Avengers, the Flint movies, etc.


Did you get into James Bond books or films, or Spy Vibe-style shows like The Avengers, The Prisoner, Jonny Quest, Thunderbirds? By the way, I can imagine your style bringing something fun to the Honey West character.

I'm embarrassed to say that I have never seen The Prisoner, Jonny Quest, Honey West and only a few minutes of Thunderbirds

I think you’ll enjoy Jonny Quest, though it lacks cute female characters. I’m interested to hear about some of your art book projects. Can you tell me a bit about Cartoon Retro, Lily andFlinch, and your edition for Ashley Wood’s Sparrow series?

I self-published the big S-Curves book in 2005, which covered my work from approximately 1998 through 2005, and I'm still proud of a lot of the work in it.  I was drawing fast and hard and absorbing styles like a sponge. Not much great drawing in there, but a lot of fun and energy. I published a couple more books around 2009 with Brand Studio Press, and while they are beautifully produced books, I have a really hard time looking at the drawings inside. I was going through a difficult time personally and through some kind of transitional period with my artwork. My anxiety over my drawings had reached ridiculous levels and I was of tired of feeling like I couldn't control what I was drawing, and instead, relying on happy accidents. I learned early on how to make my drawings look slick and appealing, which helped disguise the lack of real drawing and structure underneath, and I finally got fed up and decided to really focus on solid drawing. The next couple of years was like learning to walk all over again and I produced a lot of very stiff, lifeless drawings. 

I just picked up the Beware The Batman preview comic- looks awesome! What are you working on now? [Beware the Batman designs below]
I spent two years designing for Glen Murakami on Beware the Batman and am very proud of the show. I worked on Bruce Wayne, Commissioner Gordon, Katana, Magpie, Mr. Toad, Lady Shiva, and others. It seems many people are resistant to CGI, but we made the show the best we possibly could within the limits of TV animation. I hope people dig it.

I'm currently designing a Flintstones movie -about as different from Batman as you could get, but I'm having a blast. The first season of the original 60's series has some of my favorite cartoons of all time, with beautiful backgrounds, fun animation, and designs by my favorite animation designer, Ed Benedict


Batman was hard work because it's so realistic and detail-specific. I like the early stage of designing best, when I can just go crazy and draw weird shapes. But then it has to be brought back down to earth and everything worked out so it can be sent to India and built in 3D. We pretty quickly learned that my graphic, exaggerated drawings weren't translating well to 3D. Things that might look really cool and pushed from one angle look completely ridiculous from another. There are all these things that you don't consider- like if you want to give a character large eyes, you have to make sure that the entire balls of both eyes fits within the relatively small space of the head.

This was my first experience designing for 3D and it was a pretty steep learning curve. Rather than drawing, most of your time is spent diagraming and revising. This can get to be a bit of a drag, but I know it improved my drawings having to think more logically about things and focus more on solid construction. With The Flintstones, it's much closer to my own natural style: Big fun shapes, cartoony eyes, and it's 2D, so it's not as important that everything be worked out so literally.


What are some dream projects you’d like to take on in the future?

I have a few ideas, but the day job is keeping me busy and paying the bills for now. I have about 300 pages ready to go for a new book, but haven't had the time to figure out the best way to publish it. I could put it out digitally next week, but there is still something special about holding a physical copy in your hands.

I know what you mean. I've decided to pursue a traditional publisher for my novel, MIKI ZERO, before going the digital route myself. 

Thanks again to Shane Glines for sharing some of his experiences and images here on Spy Vibe. I hope the debut of Beware the Batman goes well. Spy Vibers should also look at Robert Valley's Wonder Woman short film this weekend, as well (see last post). You can see more on his Cartoon Retro Facebook page here. Spy Vibe's ultimate retro Batman image archive on Pinterest here. Readers may also enjoy our interview with cartoonist and maestro of the macabre mystery, Richard Sala, about his career and love of classics like The Avengers, The Prisoner, Judex, and Dick Tracy.

Spy Vibe is having a giant Summer Sale with new items listed every few days! Items include First Editions of Fleming, Gardner, Deighton, Rare Large-Print 007 editions, Raymond Benson, Gulyashki, Man From UNCLE, Beatles, Corgi, music items and CDs, and More! Save with combined shipping. Head over to eBay for details here. Happy collecting, fellow Spy Vibers!


Get ready to meet MIKI ZERO, a Japanese fashion model and spy from 1965! That's right, I've written a novel inspired by Spy Vibe. 
More info at my website here.

Check Spy Vibe for recent posts about Batman '66 and Warhol, our fiendish villains archiveCold War Comics, Sam Mendes back for Bond, Spy Vibe heroes and Wild Things, book design dopplegangersChristopher LeeBettie PageDashiell HammettMiles Davis, WWII spy Krystyna Skarbek, recycled James Bond covers, interview with Fu Manchu author William Maynard,  Man From UNCLE mangaOrson Welles the Shadow, rare Piero Umiliani Kriminal soundtrack, new Beatles Yellow Submarine game, James Bond audio book re-issues, Mid-Century Modern in Peanuts, my review of SKYFALL and more. Spy Vibe is now on Pinterest! Check out our image archives and follow us here. For Your Shelf Only collecting series links
Jon GilbertRaymond BensonJeremy DunsPeter LorenzDavid FosterRob MallowsRoger Langley, Craig Arthur, Fleming ShortMatt Sherman. 

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