Artist: Steve Smallwood
Companies: Simon & Schuster / Welsh publishing
Joe- Hi Steve, please introduce yourself and tell us a little bit about your artistic background.
Steve- Thanks, Joe, for allowing me the opportunity to share some of my experiences with you and your Real Ghostbusters fans.
My artistic abilities can be traced as far back as early childhood. In fact, upon exiting the birth canal, I literally drew my first breath. My first memories are quite sketchy but it wasn’t long before I found myself drawing attention wherever I went. But seriously, I can’t remember a time when I wasn’t involved in some sort of artistic endeavor throughout my formative years.
I created a lot of comic books with my neighborhood friends, directed and starred in a number of backyard 8mm films, hand lettered & carved signs for businesses and hand-lettered vehicles and designed my junior high school flag while at the same time entering and winning various drawing contests printed on the backs of cereal boxes from Post to General Mills.
During my high school years I was involved in woodworking, plastic molding, and metal welding and bending projects in my workshop classes, too-numerous-to-mention art class assignments as well as creating illustrations for the school newspaper.
After graduating from college with a degree in advertising art & design, I began working in a series of mom & pop – family-based advertising agencies within the New York City metropolitan area. During this time (while employed at my first ad agency) I was called to serve in the military – specifically a 3-year stint in the Navy aboard an aircraft carrier based in northern California. My artistic talents were put to good use there creating illustrations and other graphic elements for weekly officer briefings.
After successfully transitioning back to civilian life, I continued working for advertising agencies. I started out as a general multi-purpose artist-designer and gradually evolved into a fairly competent illustrator. My conversion from working in ad agencies full-time to freelancing on my own came about after a contentious confrontation with the last ad agency president who I worked with.
Looking back, my years working in all those ad agencies, engaged in a variety of tasks and a multitude of working situations, certainly prepared me quite well for the many varied assignments during my freelance illustrator years.
Joe- You’ve worked with some huge names in your time from Marvel to General Mills, any career highlights or favourites?
Steve- At Marvel and DC Comics I was privileged to meet, collaborate with and have my work appear in the same publications with many of the talented artists, writers, and editors whose work I admired during my younger years.
My stint at Mad Magazine was also a thrill along with my projects that I was involved in for Disney producing various types of games for their tween-targeted Disney Adventures publication.
Joe- Looking over your website it seems you are literally a jack of all trades kind of artist having done logo design, comic strips, magazine illustrations, product designs and even architectural drawings. Is there any particular type of work you enjoy more than any other?
Steve- I like each type of work for particular reasons. The knowledge gained from working in all these different disciplines has helped me generate and develop ideas and drawing styles that wouldn’t necessarily have come about had I intentionally limited myself to a more restrictive range of projects.
Joe- I know that you contributed illustrations to both the Real Ghostbusters Magazine (Welsh Publishing) and the Simon & Schuster “Wanderer books” series, could you explain how your work on those came about?
Steve- Around mid-1985 I was working on a recurring comic feature for Marvel Comics entitled “Wally’s Magic Show” and was also involved with several multi-page Wally the Wizard adventure features (for their Wally the Wizard comic book). Those assignments came about after having worked on two other recurring features for Marvel Comics (in 1981) – ‘Auntie Nuke’ for Crazy Magazine and ‘Bucky Bizarre’ for Bizarre Adventures.
During the eighties, Marvel Comics had a book publishing division. Many of their book projects were farmed out to local design studios in the New York metropolitan area. One such studio, located in downtown Manhattan, D’Anna Advertising & Design Associates, was looking for artists to illustrate a number of Howard The Duck (a Marvel licensed character property) sticker and coloring books that they were contracted to design, illustrate and prepare for printing. It just so happened that a freelance illustrator who I recently met at one of the Cartoonist Guild’s meeting had just gotten an assignment to illustrate a series of coloring books from Russell D’Anna but was unable to illustrate all of the books within the allotted time frame. She contacted me and asked if I was available and interested in illustrating one or more of the books.This initial book illustration work eventually led to illustrating other licensed character properties for D’Anna Advertising & Design including a Fisher-Price Little People coloring book, which was closely followed by my first Real Ghostbusters book project – The Real Ghostbusters Joke and Riddle Coloring Book (produced in conjunction with Simon & Schuster & Parachute Press).
Joe- Which of the Wanderer story books did you work on?
Steve- I illustrated 3 books that were published under the Simon & Schuster – Wanderer Book label:
- The Real Ghostbusters – Joke And Riddle Coloring Book – Written by Michael Teitelbaum -32 pages – (Just as a matter of proper credit, this book’s cover was illustrated by the very talented & ultra-versatile Ron Zalme.)
- The Real Ghostbusters – The Great Ghost Show – Written by Michael Teitelbaum – 32 pages
- The Real Ghostbusters – The Demon From Under The Earth – Written by Jean Waricha – 32 pages
The 4th book – The Real Ghostbusters – The Revenge Of The Ghostosaurs – Written by Kathryn Jensen – 48 pages – was published under the Simon & Schuster – Little Simon Book label.
Below is an image of Steve’s original artwork for the cover of “The Demon From Under The Earth”
Regarding The Real Ghostbusters Magazine and how that series of illustration projects came about, I happened to see a copy of the premiere issue in one of the local stores that I frequently shopped at. I phoned the magazine’s art director, Margaret Ottosen, set up an appointment, and showed her all of the Real Ghostbusters work that I had done for Russ D’Anna. I was immediately hired and wound up creating a lot of artwork for the bulk of magazine issues that followed.These series of Real Ghostbuster Magazine illustration assignments led me to much more work for Welsh Publishing. Welsh was a relatively young publishing company (started by former Rolling Stone associate publisher Donald Emory Welsh in 1987) producing children’s magazines featuring numerous licensed characters including Alf, Barbie, General Mills licensed characters (for The Breakfast Zone Magazine), Disney’s Mickey Mouse, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Garfield, Tom & Jerry, Superman & Batman and The Mighty Morphin Power Rangers all magazines that I eventually created illustrations for. Welsh Publishing Group was eventually sold to Marvel Comics.
Joe- How many issues of the magazine did you supply illustrations for?
Steve- I created illustrations for 5 issues that were published from 1989 – 1991.
The amount of illustrations that I created per issue was determined by the number of features written, the artists’ availability, and other projects that I was working on at the time.
Joe- Did you ever meet with either Ken Steacy or Andrew Pratt who also provided artwork for the magazine?
Steve- No, I did not have an opportunity to meet Ken or Andrew although that was typically the case wherever I worked and not exclusive to the magazine publishing field.
Joe- I love that in the magazine you gave the team your trademark human character look with the bright colors and red cheeks. It provided some contrast between the artwork and incorporated your own style at the same time. Were you allowed to do your own interpretation of them on both publications or were there any guidelines?
Steve- There were actually very specific guidelines to follow. All artists involved were provided with Columbia Pictures Television Studio produced and approved character model sheets like this one for Egon.
Typically, artists were hired due to past experience with illustrating licensed characters.
Joe- Looking back, how would you sum up your involvement with Real Ghostbusters publications?
Steve- It was a lot of fun creating all of the images for the books (and magazines). Also, this was a great opportunity to be involved with such a high-profile property and be published among a very talented group of artists.
Joe- Thanks for your time, Steve!