Wondercon 2011: Kevin Tong Illustrations
Originally posted April 11, 2011 on GFBRobot.com.
The internet is a wonderful place filled with many curiosities that drive people mad, but more so, are there sundries to delight the senses. And by that, I mean a shit-load of amazing art inspired by everything under the geek-feared sun.
As a pseudo-artist, I appreciate those who have the ability to use different mediums for their work, and Kevin Tong of Kevin Tong Illustrations is no exception.
Whether it’s Star Wars, Dune, Davinci iPhones, Scott Pilgrim, band posters, and breathtaking children’s books about the machinery of the Earth—this man can do it all.
Hit the jump for my GFBR interview with Kevin Tong, poster artist nerdinaire!
Jes: Thanks for sitting down with me, Kevin. So, just how long have you been a professional artist?
Kevin: I started working professionally when I was a student at CSU Long Beach. It was towards my last year, like 2005, so about six years now.
J: What initially got you into drawing?
K: I guess it had always been a part of me, like ever since I was a kid I was always drawing. My dad says that ever since I was a kid I was drawing on furniture and stuff. I don’t think I surprised anyone by going into art.
J: (Laughs) I see. How do you usually get your inspiration for your work?
K: Someone asked me that earlier today, and I say a lot of my inspiration comes from other artists. I mean, I get inspiration from all sorts of things, but a lot of it comes from just looking at other artists.
J: Who’s your favorite?
K: Ooh, that’s a tough question.
J: What art do you own by other artists?
K: I own a lot of art by other artists. Mainly other poster artists like myself. A guy that I really like right now, that’s kind of newish, is Rich Kelly. He’s been doing some great stuff. He’s over in Chicago.
J: When you’re working on a piece, do you normally listen to music or do you do anything special to get in the mood? I know you record your drawing sessions, but they are usually sped up so there is no way to tell.
K: A lot of the time I spend on the drawing isn’t actually spent drawing. I spend a lot of time thinking about it. That’s why I like car rides, like sometimes I just drive around randomly and just think about it. The ideas come whenever I am doing the most menial task—like washing dishes or I’m at the grocery store—and so I think about it for a while until I have it really formed in my head, and the drawing is really just about execution. I have it all figured out already, and so now I’m just making it crystallized into the real world.
J: Does it change much once you actually decide what you want to draw?
K: Sometimes. Like, sometimes something works in my head but doesn’t work in real life, you know, where I can visualize it fully. So things definitely change, but not as much as compared to like other people. Another way of working is that people can make it up on the fly, which I would love to do. I over-think stuff.
J: What’s your favorite medium to work with?
K: I don’t really like painting a whole lot, I like to draw. So, pencils and pens, brushes I guess. Like pen brushes, the ink brushes. A lot of my stuff goes from the pencil sketch, and I scan that in and I use the computer a lot to color it, and add text. So mixed media, I guess would be mine.
J: Do you have a favorite piece of your artwork?
K: It’s always what I’m currently working on. I mean, the moment I finish something I’m really like “I should have done that,” or “That looks too close together”. So it’s always what I’m currently working on, I guess.
J: I notice that your work covers different interests, for example you have Scott Pilgrim, you do band posters, and you have a Tetris-inspired poster. Do you just do what comes to mind or are your approached to make these for other people?
K: All that stuff, I don’t just do it. It gets commissioned, so someone can commission something from me, and if it’s interesting and something I like, then I’ll do it. I’m a big Scott Pilgrim fan, I like Tetris, so I do it. And I do my own stuff too.
J: When you get a commission, do you usually have a lot of control over what it is you are going to do?
K: Yeah, that’s the way I like to run it. I just tell them, you know, I’ll do it if you just don’t tell me what to do. And they usually say, “That doesn’t sound good” and I tell them, “You can trust me. Just look at all this other stuff I did.” And then they are usually happy with it. I’ve had a few disagreements, but more often than not it works better for everyone involved.
J: What was your inspiration for your Tetris heart piece with the woman?
K: Well, obviously the inspiration for the Tetris Heart was Tetris, but I guess it was kind of a challenge. Everyone got to pick different video games for the video games show, and a lot of video games have characters and environments already visualized, so I wanted something that was sort of blank. Everyone was like, “How are you going to make Tetris interesting?” So I told them I was going to essentially make it erotic art.
In Tetris, you are building things that are also disappearing and so I thought that was always an interesting concept. You are working so hard to feverishly put it together, and it’s disappearing before your eyes. So I was feeling that was kind of what life is. You are working to earn money, you are working to raise children, everything is disappearing as you get older and so it’s like her heart is being assembled and then there is a game controller. It’s like she is asking the user to heal her.
J: Aww, wow!
K: People interpret it erotically, because I guess the controller is near her crotchal region, but you can go that way too, that’s fine. There are many avenues of human interaction. But that was kind of what I wanted, like you are putting her heart back together even though it won’t last, but for just that moment.
J: I have kind of an oddball question for you. What is your nerd power?
K: What is my nerd power?
J: Yeah, what are you nerdiest about?
K: I am extremely good at not realizing when the opposite gender is warming up to me.
J: (Laughs) I think that’s kind of a universal nerd power. What are you most into or what do you obsess over? Comics? Video games?
J: Physics? (Laughs) My degree’s in physics!
B: Oh, I could have gone both ways out of college. I was always really interested in physics. I wasn’t good at the math, like the calculus type of math or probabilities, but I was really good with trigonometry and geometry. So with Newtonian physics and astrophysics, I was really into it but it might not have really been my thing. Whenever something comes up, I’ll talk to people about it and I will get really into it and not realize that they just don’t care.
J: I know exactly what you mean.
K: Yeah. My personal inner nerdgasm is from physics.
J: Do you have a favorite physicist?
K: My favorite scientist, well I guess he’s a physicist, is Nikolai Tesla. I named my cat after him. Tesla. Here’s a picture of Tesla (shows a picture of Tesla the cat).
J: What a cutie!
K: I think in terms of not just a scientist, but a person, Nikolai Tesla was just amazing. He’s like a hero to me.
J: Do you have any artwork that was inspired by your love of physics?
K: There’s a lot of technical stuff, like the exploded diagrams, the exploded R2-D2 print I did. Another hero of mine is Harry Houdini, he’s worked his way into some but I don’t have any of it here.
J: Did you see that movie? The… the…
K: The Escapist?
J: No, it had Christian Bale…
K: The Prestige? That movie was awesome. I learn something new every time I watch it. Like, oh that’s how they did that…
J: Since this is more of a superhero-type convention, are there any superheroes that you are a big fan of?
K: I’ve never really been a “cape and tights” guy. I mean, as a kid, yeah. Spider-Man is cool. Batman is cool. I like more “slice of life” type comics, like Chris Ware and a lot of indie stuff.
J: Do you have any projects that you are working on now?
K: The problem with the projects I work on is that every client, especially the property people, they think their thing is like states evidence and say, “You can’t talk about it”. But I’m doing some more band posters. I’ve got posters for the Black Keys coming up, a band I really like called Mogwai, and I just put a print out for the book show for Thus Spoke Zarathustra by Friedrich Nietzsche. That will be awesome, I think. People will like that one.
J: Is there anything you want to say to the vast readership of the Internet?
K: The only thing I have ever wanted to say was that I’m really happy with what I’m doing. I had a really cushy job designing toys, but it seemed like I was working really hard to make other people rich. And now I’m working really hard to make myself poor, but that feels a lot better. So, I regret nothing. Um, screw you,“The Man”. Kevin Tong out!
Thank you, Kevin!