Hi Tom – give us a brief introduction to who you are, where you’re from & what you do please….
My name is Tom Whalen, I’m an illustrator from outside of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania who specialises in creating limited-edition, collectible, screen printed posters with the occasional comic book cover, editorial illustration or album cover sprinkled in.
How did you develop your style? Who were your artistic inspirations?
My brightly-colored, faceted-plane graphic style can be traced back to a youth spent binging on comic books, animation and Doritos. I’m a child of the ‘80s, and the cartoons of that era (Transformers, G.I. Joe, Voltron, He-Man) really connected with me. At the same time, I was developing a comic book dependency (that I still suffer from) so Spider-Man, Batman and The Avengers were close allies.
A lot of your artwork is based on comic books but what kind of work would make you feel out of your comfort zone?
Assignments that require renderings of realistic human faces are a particular challenge. I’ll usually spend a good 25%-30% more time on a job to make sure faces are on-likeness. Additionally, when there’s not a big iconic visual to latch on to, I get a bit fidgety. So, no romantic comedies, please.
Has the success of Marvel (and other comic book adaptions) on both TV & film over recent years helped you gain a lot of work and commissions?
Yes, definitely. Comic books have gone from nerd-food to main course over the past decade and now everybody knows these characters. Familiarity goes a long way when people are connecting to a piece of art. Fortunately for me, my career has seen a sort of chain reaction where each job leads to increased visibility, which in turn leads to more eyeballs seeing my work and potentially offering me work. The comic properties that I have worked on (Guardians of the Galaxy, Daredevil, Spider-Man) have most assuredly been the tide that have raised awareness of my work.
What would you say to young artists who are looking to make a career from their art? Tips?
Keep working. Sounds trite, but you need to be in an almost-constant state of creation. If you’re not happy with your current workload (whether they be school assignments or work responsibilities), generate some personal projects that scratch your creative itch. The less you work, the rustier you get and the longer it takes to get the creative engine back up to speed when that great opportunity comes along.
It’s an obvious question but any hints on your creative process for designing a poster?
Successfully distilling the essence of a film into a single image is the goal of any poster project, but the ultimate litmus test of a poster should be “will people want to hang this in their homes?”
Merchandise wise – you have an online store… what kind of things to do you sell in there and do you think merch is important for artists?
I sell personal copies of the posters and pins that I design there. For me, it’s vitally important because it allows my collectors to buy directly from me. I have a lot of folks who prefer to deal directly with me because they are assured of getting a signed poster directly from me instead of waiting to see me at a convention or gallery opening to get it signed. The online shop and social media outlets are important avenues that allow me to connect with people who enjoy my work.
We saw on your blog that you made some wooden sculptures of Wolverine – is there any other creative mediums you’d like to work with?
I’d love to design some vinyl toys. Actually, the wooden sculptures are a direct descendant of vinyl toys. Ten years ago, my wife and I took a trip to California. In our travels, we hit a few galleries and toy stores that had large selections of vinyl toys. I was so inspired by the shape and design of the toys, that I immediately began sketching my own little creatures in my sketchbook. With no knowledge of how to produce vinyl casts of the designs, I turned to the woodworking equipment in my dad’s basement to bring them to life. For me, it’s a joy to use the tools my dad has amassed for construction / furniture creation and use them to achieve a completely different end result. Alas, as much as I enjoy switching gears to create these sculptures, they are too time consuming to fit alongside my current workload. Trying a few of them in vinyl might afford me more time on the design end. Plus, it would allow the whole process to come full circle, which would be pretty nifty.
Three favourite superheroes (or villains!) and why?
Daredevil : Blind Catholic lawyer who jumps off of buildings at night in a devil costume. I cannot understand why that description wouldn’t make this everyone’s favorite book.
Spider-Man : The colorful costume (the best in comics, IMO) drew me; the story of a teenager who struggles socially but finds his mojo when fighting super villains hooked me.
Batman : Who doesn’t love a tortured billionaire who lays his life on the line nightly to keep his city safe?
Obvs you work under the ‘Strongstuff’ monicker but would your superpower be strength or would you go for something else?
I’d take the ability to multiply myself over strength any day. Just one or two clones would allow me to take on all of the projects and family activities that I try to juggle right now.
Your clients list is ridiculous – everyone from Marvel to Lucasfilm to Disney and The Beatles.. what did you do for The Beatles?!
I designed two separate sets of limited edition screen printed posters based on Yellow Submarine. It was kind of surreal working on them knowing that all four estates would have to look over and approve them. Refreshingly, there were zero changes to my designs from any parties. Huzzah!
Is there someone you’re dying to work for but you haven’t yet?
DC Comics. I’d love to do some cover work for them.
If you could go back in time (not a superpower) and give younger you 3 bits of advice, what would they be?
1.) There will be setbacks, don’t get discouraged.
2.) Stay on target.
3.) You can sleep when you’re dead.