Mysticon 3

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Mysticon 3 2013

27 Februrary 2013 | Written by Maxxum

West on 81, towards Roanoke, Virginia was Mysticon, a still new, but growing convention catering to several different genres of nerd.

The view on 81 driving to Roanoke, VA.

This year's guests included Peter Davison, the 5th "Doctor Who", Orson Scott Card, author of "Ender's Game", and Larry Elmore, an artist mostly known for his work on TSR's "Dungeon's and Dragons". I was familiar with Larry's work, not just in D&D, but also in "Heavy Metal" magazine. I was resolved to make the four hour trip from DC, and was able to arrange an interview. I knew I was in for something interesting when Larry's handler introduced himself as an employee at MIT's Lincoln Labs. Any nerd can watch geeky TV shows, but only the smartest nerds get into the Lincoln Labs. We briefly chatted about the propagation of radio waves, and assembly language programming, until Larry was available to speak with me.

You're known for Heavy Metal, Thundercats, D&D.... did you discover them, or did they discover you?

Uh, some of them discovered me after I started getting published - but, the first ones... the first publications I did, I was waiting till I was good enough. I wanted to do this kind of work, and book covers ... but, I didn't think I was good enough. I was painting at home, working as an illustrator during the day time - Civil Service Ft. Knox, at home I was painting, painting... I lived in a different timezone. Kentucky is split by a timezone so that means when I go to bed at midnight, I lost an hour, 'cause Ft. Knox is on Eastern time, I lived in Central Time ... I had to get up at four in the morning to catch my ride to get to Ft. Knox. So, I would work till midnight, and stop and go to bed, and sleep four hours, get up and go to work, come back and work till midnight. I did that for four years.

Well, I was doin' that when TSR hired me, but during that process, [a friend] of mine said, you should be published. The guy at that time, he was in the military, but he was doing gags for a cartoonist ... he was also a writer for 'National Lampoon Magazine', he lived up in Ohio. And, so when my military friend got out ... he rented a place, and he worked with this writer, and he kept tellin' him about me - and, the guy said "have him send some samples I'll send them to National Lampoon", and National Lampoon also owned 'Heavy Metal', the same corporation. So, I sent him some flat art, he sent that to National Lampoon, National Lampoon called me up and gave me a job. And, I started doing some illustrations for them, so then I talked to them and they told me who to send to for 'Heavy Metal', so I sent some stuff to 'Heavy Metal' and got published in 'Heavy Metal', and I was like, "Wow, I must be ready sorta, or something because it's starting to happen."

I was about 30, 29... and so I got published with them for the next couple of years and a friend of mine sent my samples to TSR, D&D. And, they called me up and wanted me to do a freelance job, I did that for them they called me up and wanted to hire me. And, the president of the company flew into Louisville, and I took him to my house and he sat at my table and he said "What are you making right now?" I was a GS-9, civil service and this is in '81... I was making about $19,000 a year, which was good money, for just an artist especially. I just bought a new house, my wife worked for the city, and she was making about $6,000 a year... that's pretty good money for a rural town and together we made $25,000 a year. He said, "I'll double your salary, I'll give you $40,000 a year" ... in '81, God bless. I said, what about my wife, he said "I'll double hers". We're at $52,000 right now! And, I said, "Well, I just bought this new house" ... he said, "we'll buy your house and sell it for you". I looked at my wife, she's looking at me, I said "I guess you bought an artist!"

What was the first art you did for TSR?

The first thing I did was a freelance, was a 1981 calendar cover. And, uh, which I was amazed, I thought I was just doing a month thing, but they ended up using it for the calendar. And, the funny thing, it was $300, that was the payment - they were supposed to pay it in 30 days, but it had been like three months and they hadn't paid me. So, I illustrated a letter, it was like a comic strip, and the last panel of the comic strip was a black and white drawing of the painting I sent them ... but, it was a comedy thing. The whole story behind this painting was this guy was trying to get paid, and they paid me next week, they called me up and paid me - they thought I'd already been paid. Later on, in the fall of '81 I went to work for them, and the guy come to me running 'Dragon' magazine, Kim Mohan, he said that letter you sent us last year, I want to publish it, and I said I don't care. So, he published it and one of the little characters (Snarf) was the forerunner for the "SnarfQuest" comic-strip.

A lot of the stuff I see as examples of your art on other websites primarily focus on your fantasy work, what other art-forms do you like that you wish you could do more of?

Sci-fi. I mean, I loved it. I was designing more sci-fi when they hired me, half my portfolio was sci-fi, because I was working at Ft. Know and I had a SECRET clearance and they'd give me fuzzy photos at that time of T-62's, Soviet equipment, and I'd have to look at these fuzzy spy photos and try to draw it, and they were using that for recognition, for training ... they had good pictures of 54's because it had been around a long time, but T-62's and basically T-64's, they were just spy shots ... so, I had to take them and put them in combat-look situations. ... and, then I thought, this was pretty easy, so I started designing futuristic spacecraft, and of course "Star Wars" came out which blew me away, and I really got into designing futuristic spacecraft, military tanks, armor, and I started doing some science fictions paintings and I loved it.

In the panel you mentioned that you had mentioned the stroke and the heart-attacks, what do you do now to relax?

Well, it's crazy, I ride motorcycles. I've been riding motorcycles since I got out of the Army. Right now I've got my Harley, and a Big Dog custom bike, and I've also had street rods. Right now, I'm gonna sell one of the bikes, keep the Harley I guess, and I'm having another street rod built right now. ... Adrenaline rushes relax me, does that make sense? When I want to relax, I'm all stressed, I get on the motorcycle, or get in that hot rod, and just drive it like I stole it. And, then I come back to the studio and just, it's like I can breathe free.

Do you have a dream commission, or a dream form you'd like to create through art?

I'd like to paint looser, I'd like to play and experiment more. I never had time as an illustrator because they expect a certain look, and every time I'd venture away from that look they'd want me to go back. So, it's hard to advance, it's hard to learn more, they sort of wanted me to stay looking like "Larry Elmore". Now, I do my own work... first of all, I've gotta get so much out of my system ... but, I want to paint at 100% of the style I'm working at, but I'd like to experiment more, get a little looser.

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Photos by Maxxum