Tina Hall Interviews Thomas Bonvillain

Thomas Bonvillain attended Davidson Fine Arts in Augusta, GA while in high school. He later attended Augusta State University majoring in Fine Arts, before taking a break from college to learn more on illustration. He moved to NJ where he graduated the Joe Kubert School in 2009. Since he as worked contributing colors on several pages for comics, like Black Dawn, Blood Work, and  Hexxen Hammers. His own work has a dark style all it’s own.

When did you first take an interest in art?
Hmm, that’s hard to say exactly. I’ve loved to draw for as long as I can remember, I don’t know that I can say where it started for certain. I had my first serious art class when I was in 3rd or 4th grade I think, and I would always take classes when they were available at school. In high school, I tried out for Davidson Fine Arts Magnet School in Augusta, GA and started there my sophomore year. That was great, each year I had more and more art classes. In my senior year, I think half of my classes were art courses.

What did you like to draw most as a child?
I guess that depends on my age at the time. In elementary school, I did a lot of really weird comics that I drew on line paper. They weren’t even superhero things, though… they were just odd comics about Super Mario Bros. and other random things. In middle school I started doing more superhero type drawings and characters, but also started to do more dark drawings. Demons, monsters, stuff like that. By high school, it was a pretty even mix of superhero comic stuff, and really gruesome, gory drawings… I used to show them all proudly to my parents, and, oddly enough, they never seem put off by it.

Are you originally from Georgia? Do you ever miss the South living in Jersey?
My dad was in the army, so I was born in Germany, but spent most of my life in Georgia until moving to Jersey. There are definitely things that I miss, but it’s a bit of give and take. I miss the less frigid winters, but the summer is murder. I miss the open spaces and breathing room, but then you have to drive further to find anything worth doing. For every thing I miss, it seems something else makes up for it. I suppose the only thing I really miss are my friends and immediate family that still live in the area. I try to get back at least twice a year, but it’s a big change from seeing them almost every day.

What was it like to train at the Joe Kubert school?
Intense. I loved it. I’ve never drawn so much in my entire life as I did at that school. I feel like I improved so much just from the sheer amount of work that we had to do. It pushed me to do so many things that I might have been afraid or too lazy to try on my own. I also really enjoyed the company of the other students, and having other people into the same things as myself really helped drive me forward. It was also interesting to have Adam and Andy Kubert as teachers, since I grew up on their X-Men work from the 90s. All the teachers were great, but they were the artists that I was most familiar with as a kid.

Do you have any advice to the artists of tomorrow?
I don’t know? I’m sure there are better people for them to ask that question of than me, ha. I don’t know that I have anything particularly insightful to tell anyone. Just keep drawing and learning. Some people, myself included, benefit from going to school, but others do just fine being self taught. Do whatever works for you, but either way you just have to keep at it.

You work on independent comics, which comic characters are your favorites? What other comic artists do you look up to?
I’ve only worked on a few smaller projects so far, but I’m still a fan of a lot of Marvel stuff, and DC to a lesser extent. I guess Spiderman would have to be my favorite character. I liked that, usually at least, they don’t take things too seriously with his stories, and even the 60s stuff holds up pretty well, in my opinion. I also like Batman, but I’m more a fan of the character than the comics. I think I will always view him as he appeared in the animated series. To me, Kevin Conroy is Batman. But hey, I even like the cheesy, 60s series. Some people seem to hate it for not taking the character seriously enough… but he’s a guy who dresses up like a bat and punches people. I think if you try to take any of these characters too seriously, it ends up seeming sillier than if you acknowledge the inherent ridiculousness of the idea. Anyway, I just see that series as a different take on Batman, and I like it for what it is.

As far as artists… I’m all over the place. In comics, my two biggest influences as a kid were probably Greg Capullo and Joe Madureira, who couldn’t be more different. I would kind of fluctuate between the super detailed, bendy characters that Capullo drew, and Madureira’s cleaner, anime influenced style at the time. It was a weird balancing act, and I would tip back and forth a lot. Currently, I still like a pretty wide variety of comic artists. Berni Wrightson, John Romita Jr., Stuart Immonen, Tony Moore, Goran Parlov, Ashley Wood, Eduardo Risso, and plenty of others I’m sure to forget.

Do you enjoying working to color the independent comics? Does it remind you of coloring as a kid?
Ha, well I do enjoy it, but no, it doesn’t remind me at all of coloring as a kid. It’s a lot more technical, so it’s not as simple as sitting down and just going at it with crayons. I don’t know that I really even colored in coloring books that much as a kid. I got into colored pencils for a while, and that might have influenced me a bit, but the process doesn’t really bring back those same feelings.

As far as coloring comics, I do really enjoy it. Flatting is pretty tedious, and can take a while. You’re basically setting up the lineart with flat colors, but you have to meticulously trace and separate all the different areas of color. But once that’s out of the way, the coloring is really great. A lot of times, this doesn’t even take as long as doing the flats! I really like experimenting with different color interactions. It’s also a different process depending on the style of lineart. Sometimes you don’t do a lot of rendering with the more graphic lineart, and then there’s the really open, linear stuff that requires more from the colorist. It’s a nice break from illustration sometimes, although I’d like to do more of that as well.

What is it like to have your work featured at the Spiderwebart Gallery?
It’s very cool. I’ve been familiar with Greg Hildebrandt’s stuff since I was young, probably first with the Marvel cards he did with his brother Tim in the 90s. I also saw a lot of their illustrations on Magic cards, back when I was really into the game. Anyway, it’s pretty great now to have some of my work alongside theirs, as well as the other artists on the site. Hopefully, sometime soon, I can do more.

Your work has a rather dark styling. Why do you think people ingeneral tend to like the darker elements?
I’m not really sure why, even speaking just for myself. I grew up with this kind of stuff, and I’ve just always had sort of an affinity for it. As a kid, I probably took it way too seriously. Even a lot of comics at the time were trying so hard to be dark and edgy, but looking back on it, it seems so ridiculous. I think it had a big influence on me as a kid and as a teenager, along with a lot of horror movies. So, I did all this gruesome and dark stuff, and now it seems so over the top. I still like dark and sometimes even gory stuff, but I try to play up the craziness of it now. When I was younger, I took things to such an extreme in order to be dark, that it stopped being disturbing, and it started being funny. I guess I’m still trying to do the same thing, except now that I’m aware that it’s kind of stupid, and I like that, and try to play it up when I can. Also, I never really liked drawing pretty things. For some reason, it was always so much more fun to draw something, weird, crazy, and ugly. That kind of stuff just lends itself so much better to dark subject matter.

Since this a horror/sci fi/dark fiction publication, are you yourself a fan of the horror/sci fi genre? What are your favorite horror and sci fi  flicks?
Oh god, yes… More horror than scifi, but I enjoy both. Horror is, hands down, my favorite movie genre. There are so many to list, that I don’t even know how to approach this question.

So, my biggest influences are mostly 80s horror. John Carpenter’s The Thing, The Fly, The Blob, were great for their gore and makeup effects, as well as enjoyable movies. I think those three heavily influence my attraction to drawing weird, distorted monsters. Funny how all three were remakes. There were also so many movies from this time that were just gory, silly, and crazy with a sense of humor about themselves like Return of the Living Dead, ReAnimator, Evil Dead 2, Little Shop of Horrors, Gremlins, and Dead Alive/Braindead (90s, but still). Some others, from various times, that I’m a big fan of would be the original versions of Night of the Living Dead and Dawn of the Dead, George Romero’s Martin, Alien and Aliens, Nightmare on Elm Street, Pet Semetary, and Silence of the Lambs. There’s way too many horrible, B movies from that time to mention, but stuff like The Toxic Avenger, the Basket Case movies, Troll, and the prize jewel of bad movies: Troll 2.

There’s also some more current horror movies that I enjoy. I really liked Slither because it seemed like such a throwback to those 80s horror movies that I enjoyed. Shaun of the Dead, 28 Days Later, Frailty, and The Devil’s Rejects I enjoyed quite a bit. A movie not many people seemed to have seen that I really like was Leslie Vernon: Behind the Mask. About 2/3 of the movie is filmed documentary style following a typical horror movie slasher styling himself after Jason, Freddy, etc, except he’s basically just a normal, likeable guy. He shows the filmmakers exactly how he does all the unexplainable, or illogical, things that happen in slasher movies, and it’s a great satire of that subgenre of horror movies.

I also have to give Robocop it’s own mention. I keep thinking back to this movie as I answered these questions. It just exemplifies so much of what I was trying to say about taking gore or violence to an extreme, until it becomes almost funny. It walks the line so perfectly between satire and serious action/scifi. It even touches a bit on the body horror theme in a lot of the other movies I mentioned with Murphy’s transformation into a monster/machine. They took what sounds like a stupid idea on paper, and made this great movie that takes itself just seriously enough to work, but retains a sense of humor.

I am almost certain I’m forgetting other movies I love, but I should shut up now.

On your own personal projects, what do you hope to bring your fans next?
Oh, I have fans!?! To those two of you out there, I’d love to do more coloring work on some bigger projects. I have enjoyed working on everything I’ve done so far, but I’d like to reach a larger audience with my work.

I also want to move onto doing some published illustration work of my own. Right now, I’m thinking along the lines of drawings or digitally painted horror/fantasy themed work. I just have to figure out where my work would be a good fit. As far as comic art, that’s more of a wait and see thing. I enjoy superhero stuff, but I don’t know how interested I would be in drawing it myself. I’d prefer to work on something more offbeat, or horror/fantasy related. I’m kind of interested in working on my own ideas in comic form, but I don’t know how much of a writer I am.

Where would you like to see your career go?
As I mentioned, I’d like to do more coloring work. It’d be great to do work for some of the larger comic publishers. I’d like to get more into illustration, either for illustrated books, and maybe comics at some point. I’m pretty open to many different paths right now.

Anything to say before you go?
I think that about covers it. Thanks so much for taking an interest in my work.

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