Recently I had the opportunity to interview artist Matt Busch, who has done everything from production design/storyboards on such films as HARD RAIN, CON AIR and THE MATRIX to becoming one of the official STAR WARS artists.
Q: How did you get in to the business that you're in now?
MATT: It's been a long winding road and it was no overnight thing that happened. When I was a kid I had a real tough time trying to figure out what I wanted to be when I grew up. I wanted to be an actor, a movie star. But I also wanted to make movies, write books, write comic books. I wanted to work for MAD Magazine, I wanted to work on STAR WARS movies, I wanted to work for PLAYBOY. I was really in to all the different genres, horror and science fiction. But there was no one job that did all of that. So I just sort of forged my own career.
I've gotten to the point now where I've been fortunate enough to turn down jobs that didn't sound that exciting. And the jobs that do sound exciting I do. If it's a job that sounds like a lot of fun but not a lot of money I might be interested. If it's doing storyboards for a Cadillac commercial where the money sounds great but I know it'll be a pain in the ass, I'll pass.
So there's no overnight success. When I was twenty I moved out to California after getting my associates degree at Macomb Community College. I got my bachelors degree at ART CENTER in Los Angeles. I really started getting work when I was still in school because. I had this fear of graduating and not having anything waiting for me. So I started working on STAR WARS books, doing storyboards for movies and stuff. It was a leap-frog kind of thing that escalated from there.
Q: Talk about COVEN 13 and ALIZARIN'S JOURNAL…
MATT: The comic book industry was the hardest to break in to. A lot of artists WANT to work in comic books and I wasn't having any luck. One day I was flipping through PREVIEWS catalog and it was saying that Rikki Rockett, who is the drummer for POISON, has this new comic book company called NO MERCY COMICS. I was a fan of POISONS--hey, I was in high school in the late 80's-and I decided to send him some of my stuff. Then his manager called me and invited me out and Rikki and I hit it off right away. We had been talking about COVEN 13, about witches who save the world. By the time the first issue came out it was the best selling comic that his company had but because failure of SISTERS OF MERCY, another book they were putting out on a regular basis, his company eventually folded. I think COVEN 13 was optioned as a movie from 20th century fox but nothing came of it. That was all Rikki's book, I just provided artwork. Leeann Tweeden was the model the main character was based on.
After that I wanted to do my own story and went to Avatar and wrote five issues of ALIZARIN'S JOURNAL-but when it came to printing they changed it to black and white, changed some things around and I wasn't happy with it. So I waited out my contract and re-did it myself, how it was supposed to be.
In the meantime, I was interested in selling it as a television show. I hired this animation company to take artwork from the comic and put together an animated trailer. It has an X-FILES meets BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER feel. I spent two summers in Los Angeles trying to sell it. I had some small nibbles.
I love the supernatural, eerie genre.
Q: Have you always used models to base the characters on?
MATT: I was using models in my work but COVEN 13 was first time using models specifically for a comic book. Mostly it was using head shots and I'd make up the bodies. The reason I do that is that I can draw people made up in my head and make them look real but it's hard to draw people look real and individual consistently. I usually take photos of models to make it real individual. I take pictures of my models separately-and then can splice them together in to a scene.
Q: I've noticed that you've put yourself in lots of cameos in the comics and artwork...
MATT: I figure why not? I'd never give myself a lead part like Quentin Tarantino but as a background character it's fun.
Q: It's like a JAY & BOB thing?
MATT: Kind of a Jay and Bob thing but even more toned down. I'm just in the background.
Q: STAR WARS was pivitol and now you're one of the official STAR WARS artists. How did that come about?
MATT: STAR WARS came out when I was four and I was an average kid. The creativity didn't come in until then. The matchbox cars I played with were soon replaced by land speeders and X-wing fighters. There was never a need to return back to cars. I was four when Star wars, seven when EMPIRE came out. When you're a kid and are playing with the action figures for some reason everything takes place at Cantina, Death Star or with the Jawas. You just can't fathom a universe outside those locations. Then EMPIRE comes out and you've got Hoth, Yoda, Dagobah and you realize there's a whole universe out there. And at seven years I was at the right age. During those years my creativity expanded and changed the way that I saw things. STAR WARS is so visual. It really influenced me as an artist.
When I was eighteen I got this tattoo of Darth Vader on my shoulder. I NEVER show this to any of the people at Lucasfilm because I don't want to scare them or anything. (LOL). So it's funny things have come full circle. It's a dream come true.
But that's actually true of everything. I was a fan of BATTLESTAR GALACTICA and I've done some of the book covers and comic books.
When I was a kid I was also in to PEANUTS. And last year I came out with a book "HOW TO DRAW PEANUTS". I was chosen from nine other artists for this book and I unbelievable got the job. It's very different from my other work. The way those characters are drawn and are designed really well. At the same time I was working on PEANUTS I was doing all the boxes for the RESERVOIR DOGS action figures. So you can imagine, I'm painting pictures of cops with their ears cut off and stuff and at the same time working on the PEANUTS book. It was odd having Charlie Brown walking up to Snoopy's doghouse carrying a bowl of dog food and then ten minutes later working on the cop tied up with his ear cut off. You can't get more drastically different than those to.
Right after COVEN 13 I got another offer to do comics from Larry Flint, for Hustler comics. I had put a movie proposal together for a movie called DARIA JONTAK. I hadn't written a script but I had a treatment and artwork and it was to star Pamela Anderson. This was when everyone thought she was going to be the next Marilyn Monroe. So she was interested in the project and some big studios were interested in the project. Then BARB WIRE came out. Suddenly, no one was interested anymore. But Larry flint came across this proposal that someone had given him and his editors called me and said we should do it as a comic for his magazine. Of course, they wanted to see it with sexual scenes --and still looking like Pam Anderson. SO I did that for a long time. But it got to a point where it was getting kind of big and they were putting my name on the cover. It was like "Whoa". Because I come from a beaver cleaver type family and I knew one of my uncles or someone is going to see it. SO I started freaking out. I don't' have anything against porn or anything like that--it really wasn't what I wanted to be known for. Here I am working with STAR WARS and on PEANUTS and they don't know I was dealing with that stuff-not that there should be anything wrong with it but I just didn't want that.
Q: Why did you move from LA back to Michigan?
MATT: LA is the entertainment capitol of the world. But everyone who moves out there goes out to become an actor, a producer, a director, musician or artist. So it's hard making friends because there's always this idea when you meet people "What can you do for me". I kind of fell in to that, too. I'd go to a party and see producer of a movie at a shark barbecue and I'd see this guy smoking and I thought I'd have to talk to this guy. And I don't even smoke (!!), so I'd bum a cigarette off someone and ask him for a light and start talking to him. So I was just like everyone else.
One day my car broke down and I was forty- five minutes away from everyone I knew. But every friend I talked to was like, "You know, I'm busy right now but call around, if no one else can get you I'll come".
Q: They don't want to say "no" but want to keep their options open…
MATT: Right. So, the last person I called was Rikki Rockett. Right away he says "Sure, I'll throw the dogs in the hummer and come right out to get you. " And I was "Oh, okay". I've found that the people who are already successful, have the things they are looking for, realize that the real things…love, honor, friendship, trust--are the only things left. I found a lot of friends who already have that are more down to earth than the people bartending or whatever.
I got to a point when I first moved out there was was doing storyboards, I'd get called to the set and meet the director. After a while, when the studios got comfortable with me, they'd be faxing or emailing me the script and they'd be wanting me to email it back or fedex it back to them. They didn't even want me to come in. I found that with all the work in LA I wasn't even leaving my apartment. I was thinking, "Why am I paying all this money to live in LA?". I never had any intentions of leaving but thought that I could probably do this outside of Detroit. And teaching is something else I was interested in doing, my other love.
A lot of people went to ART CENTER not because they wanted to become anything but because mom and dad had enough money to send them there. I could see the teachers getting frustrated. When I went to Macomb I was taught to be real conservative, to do more than you're asked for, have nice presentation. And all the other students either didn't do it or tossed a wet painting on the table. There's no worth in teaching a bunch of students who don't give a shit.
I teach at a Community College and even though it's not a four year art university the students are paying for their own classes. So there's that drive. They want to do their work for themselves, not because they have to. There's a lot more commitment. And I enjoy teaching classes better there than anywhere else.
That's why I'm back. Slower pace of living. I was worried I wouldn't get some f the jobs I had while living in LA-the movie stuff did tone down, as I thought it would, but I'm still doing merchandise, working on the books and the magazines. I didn't work on the movie STAR WARS: EPISODE TWO but I did work on the design for the teaser posters, the merchandising for the books and magazines. I'm fine with that.
A lot of people ask me "IF you love star wars so much why don't you go work on the ranch, work for George Lucas?". But ultimately ten years from now I don't' want to work for George Lucas, I want to BE George Lucas.
Q: Talk a bit about CRISIS, your visual screenplay…
MATT: CRISIS is the big project, eight years of my life putting together. It was difficult, a labor of love. So now I'm going through the process of sending it to every producer, every actor and agent. I'm starting at the top---with Bruce Willis and working my way down. Who knows where it will go. We'll see. IF nothing happens it's still a story I had to tell and I enjoyed putting the book together.
Q: What's in store for the future?
MATT: I'm looking to get behind the lens next Summer. With the technology and how much more available filmmaking has become it's something I see more potential in. I always knew I'd be more involved in movies.
Seeing way things are now it's possible to reside in Michigan and do something like that. I see my career going in that direction.
Q: Anything you want to add?
My favorite quote that applies to nearly everything in life is…
There are three kinds of people in the world: Those who make things happen; those who watch things happen; and those who say "What happened?"