Interview with Joe Corroney
(Original posting: May 11, 2004)

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Joe Corroney has been illustrating Star Wars artwork for Disney and Lucasfilm and Star Trek artwork for CBS Studios since 1997. Other licenses, studios and professional publishers he has illustrated for include Stranger Things for Netflix, Marvel Comics’ Avengers, Spider-Man, X-Men, DC Comics, Green Lantern, Superman, The Jim Henson Company, Dolby Cinema, Indiana Jones, The Walking Dead, X-Files, Doctor Who, The Hobbit, The Lord of the Rings, True Blood, GI Joe, Farscape, Firefly, Heroes, The Phantom, Hasbro, Xbox, Sony Pictures, MTV, Random House Publishing/Del Rey Books, Simon & Schuster/Pocket Books, Becker & Mayer! Books, Topps, Titan Publishing, Boom! Studios, Wizards of the Coast, IDG Entertainment, Upper Deck, Rittenhouse Archives, Paizo Publishing, and White Wolf Publishing. Currently, he’s developing his creator owned comic book series, Death Avenger and continues to create new Star Wars artwork for Disney and Lucasfilm. He was also the instructor for the Comic Book Illustration and Digital Illustration courses at the Columbus College of Art and Design in Columbus, Ohio for ten years and has taught the Ohio State University’s Summer Comic Book Workshop. Joe runs a full-time illustration studio and can be commissioned or contracted for work. You can contact him at joe@joecorroney.com . — Bio courtesy JoeCorroney.com  (Original posting: May 11, 2004)

What’s the first thing you remember drawing?

Honestly, the first thing I remember drawing ever was Star Wars. Copying the Howard Chaykin art from the A New Hope adaptation. But the first thing that came out great? That was a crayon drawing I did for a Halloween decoration for our house. I loved Halloween, and still do, and every year my mom would put my art up on the windows and the doors of the house. I think I was about six or seven when I did this drawing based off that old song “Monster Mash.” It had every movie monster in it and they were all partying in my artwork. I was really, really proud of that one. My mom was too.

The second one I remember liking a lot was a drawing I did from memory more or less when I got back from seeing The Empire Strikes Back at the theater. I was about eight years old. I did have the action figures for reference but for some reason I still got R2’s colors wrong. Still, I was really proud of that one too. I actually found the drawing a few years ago in a drawer of my old artwork when I went home to visit. It made me smile since it had me feeling so nostalgic.

Did you study art in school or is this just a natural talent?

I was drawing all of the time since I was really young, before I could remember, but I definitely had training. I attended lots of Saturday art classes while in school and then I graduated later from the Columbus College of Art and Design with a degree in Illustration. It’s been something I’ve been doing my whole life. I think almost every kid has the innate ability to draw well or be artistically talented in some way when they’re young. Kids can be so creative at an early age. It’s just a matter of whether they are encouraged or able to nurture it properly. I think a lot of kids grow up too fast, possibly don’t have supportive parents, or just lose sight of their abilities over time.

Do you draw every day?

I wish I could say yes but there’s definitely downtime for me where I might take a day or two off between projects. Even then I might have commissions I need to work on so I’ll at least try to draw a little bit. I always have my sketchbook with me wherever I go and when I’m traveling I tend to get more writing done too.

For an artist, it’s easy to just duplicate something. How do you draw from existing stills and yet keep things fresh and interesting?

That’s a good question. I think a lot of it has to do with balancing the look of realism with your own personal stamp of style. Illustrators like Tim Bradstreet and Drew Struzan are masters at this. They have both been big influences on me so a lot of the credit goes to them and a hundred other artists that have inspired me. Reference is always important, even when I’m doing my more cartoon-looking comic book work like in Crimson Dynamo. You just have to know when to use it to your advantage and when not to depend on it too much like a crutch. Reference is just a tool for the artist like anything else you draw with. You’re right, anybody can duplicate something, but to make it feel alive and unique you need lots of natural drawing ability, I believe. It’s a delicate balance. I actually like working from photo reference more in my Star Wars art since it makes it feel more cinematic to me. Since Star Wars movies have such a specific look and the images from the movies are embedded in everyone’s minds, I like to make my art as realistic as possible so I can visually connect it with the films. Photo-realistic art is also much more accessible to fans or the general public so it tends to appeal across the board more. I’m not saying it’s better. I still love doing my hyper-exaggerated comic book work, but it’s different. I like working back and forth between different styles and techniques when I can since it keeps me and hopefully my work fresh.

What’s your process?

It really depends on the specific piece. For most of my Holonet News illustrations for Star Wars Insider or a lot of my work for Star Wars Gamer or the Star Wars RPG, I would always start designing with rough sketches. Sometimes I’ll base my compositions of characters off of a specific photo reference, sometimes I’ll draw things completely out of my head and other times I’ll design the scene and then look for the appropriate photo reference that will help take me on the steps to the final art. I’ll tighten up my rough sketch into a pencil drawing. Sometimes I’ll ink it or sometimes go straight to coloring it digitally from there. It depends on the look I’m going for or my mood at the time or perhaps my deadline schedule. Once it’s inked or penciled tight enough I start blocking in the colors in Photoshop and then open the artwork up in the Painter program. I’ll do a lot of rendering back and forth between both programs until I end with a final that I like. On my website, I have a tutorial section called “Comics 101” that usually covers the step by step process of my comic book and Star Wars artwork for fans and other artists alike. I’ve always liked the idea of sharing what I’ve learned and what I know with other people if it helps them in their own work. I owe a huge debt to all of the great artists who helped or inspired me to get where I am today.

How did you get involved with Starwars.com and the Insider‘s Holonet News column?

I’m pretty sure that was Pablo Hidalgo’s initial concept. Holonet News.com was created as an Episode II lead-in project taking place in the Expanded Universe. Paul Ens from StarWars.com was involved in the creation process too, and the three of us worked closely together on that when it was online before it was in the Insider. They pitched it to me in the summer of 2001 and asked me to be the artist. Drawing that project was definitely a dream job. I would have never have thought when I was just a little kid drawing this stuff on cheap notebook paper that Lucasfilm would be paying me to draw things officially someday.

How long did it take you to perfect things like likenesses and human body representations?

I don’t think I’ve perfected anything at all yet. I’m always learning, but I guess maybe a few years ago I hit a good stride in my style, at least with my Star Wars art. I was still experimenting a lot in different styles and techniques over the past six or seven years that I’ve been drawing Star Wars officially. In my later work for Star Wars Gamer and the Role-Playing Game and then for the Insider, I really started to get a handle on what I liked and what I could do consistently.

When did the concept of shading click for you?

Great question! This is one I don’t get to go into that often with folks who interview me. It really was a matter of one day a light switch in my brain clicked on. Jan Duursema was the one who flicked the switch for me actually. I was working on some comic book samples and over-rendering them to death. My work was graphic but had no real sense of direct lighting. I was doing a lot of full color work at the time too, even traditional hand painted work for gaming companies, so I was putting shading on everything in my comic art. But it was taking me forever to finish a page and my work had way too much energy. It was overly-busy.

Jan simply told me to stop approaching my penciled pages like a painting and focus my light sources. It was really a matter of me needing to mentally switch gears when working back and forth between full color artwork and graphic comic book work. In some ways, working in all of these different styles and techniques was working against me even though I was honing my other skills. Since then I’ve been more aware and more competent at switching gears in my work. For the past few years, I’ve actually been able to merge my graphic comic book style with my full color work and techniques successfully. I think it started to mesh a few years back when I started creating Star Wars art for the Insider magazine.

Sometimes less is more – how do you decide on things like depth and detail in a piece?

Less is always more actually. The real trick is not making it look so simplistic that it looks boring or lifeless. I love detail though. The Star Wars universe is full of great and unique detail and I try to play that up whenever I can but I also have learned when to let the viewer’s eye rest in an illustration. That’s why I tend to keep my most graphic lighting and detail in my foreground characters and let my backgrounds go without any heavy darks or intense lighting sometimes. Separating the darks and keeping them primarily in one field, either the foreground or background, tends to give the art more of a feeling of depth.

What tools do you normally use when sketching and drawing your final piece?

There are no specific tools I’m fond of when it comes to drawing or inking; just whatever works for the piece. I’m usually using a lot of different pencils and inking tools—everything from regular number two pencils to mechanical pencils and dip pens, brushes, tech pens, and markers.

Who’s the easiest/hardest character to draw? 

Boba Fett and Jango Fett are pretty easy for me actually. The helmet is such a simplistic yet effective design. I’ve drawn them a lot for fans since they’re a favorite so I’ve had lots of practice. Darth Vader can be easy or very hard. It depends on how on I am that day. His look is so iconic so it’s pretty much ingrained in my memory along with everyone else’s I’m sure, but he’s also so streamlined and symmetrical. It’s the same with C-3PO. He can be really tough for the same reasons. If you don’t get the eyes just right it all falls apart. I love drawing Yoda though. There’s so much character and so many lines in his face that you can get away with a lot and it still will end up looking like him. Those head ridges can be a little tricky though.

What’s your all-time favorite piece of Star Wars art?

That’s a tough one. It’s probably something by Ralph McQuarrie, perhaps the Bounty Hunters on Bespin. I also love poster for The Empire Strikes Back, the one with the Han and Leia Gone with the Wind moment. That’s such a great painting. It’s a simple collage but really encapsulates the mood of the movie. That might be my favorite piece of Star Wars art since it’s hanging up next to my drawing table in my studio.

Are you a fan of the Expanded Universe? Do you read the books and other materials? 

I try to read as much of the EU as I can but unfortunately my attention is divided among other projects too. I’m not immersed in all aspects of the EU, but there are definitely specific areas I’m really familiar with. I’ve been so busy these past few years though that I missed out reading a lot of the New Jedi Order stuff. There are a lot of novels out there I still need to read but I have almost all of the resource materials so I’m usually catching up on what’s happening in material like the Essential Guides, RPG sourcebooks, video games, or even the comic books.

Have you any favorite Star Wars artists? Contemporary artists?

That’s an easy question. My friend Jan Duursema is probably my favorite and the most directly responsible for helping me get my work on the right path over the past few years. Before her I really looked up to Star Wars artists like Al Williamson, Ralph McQuarrie, Dave Dorman, Drew Struzan, the Hildebrandts, and Cam Kennedy. Most contemporary artists I look to are ones in the comic book field. Folks like Tom Mandrake, Tim Bradstreet, Mike Mignola, Frank Miller, Alan Davis, Ron Garney and so on.

Are you liking the convention circuit?

Absolutely. I love to travel so I always look forward to the conventions in the summer. I just did Empire Fan Fest in New Jersey with my friend Jan Duursema (and of course you were there promoting your silent film!) so that was fun. I’m also doing Pittsburgh ComiCon, Motor City Comic Con in Detroit, San Diego Comic Con, and Wizard World in Chicago. There are also a few smaller shows in there for the summer and there’s always Mid-Ohio-Con in late November for me too. It’s a local show for me but it’s always a great time and is usually a great turn out for Star Wars fans too.

I enjoyed meeting you and Pablo at the Celebration II. How close are you guys and how close do you work?

It was cool meeting you too! I had actually seen your picture online and had been reading your fan site at the time so I felt like I already knew you. Thanks for introducing me to Nalini Krishan and Mary Oyaya by the way. Talking with Mary that afternoon I found out I actually shared the same birthday with her so that was fun. Pablo and I do most of our correspondence over e-mail since he’s at Lucasfilm on the West Coast and I’m out here in the Midwest. Occasionally, I’ll get him on the phone and we’ll discuss the stories or I might pitch a few ideas his way. Sometimes the idea for the art comes right away to me but it’s usually a collaborative process. He always sends along great art notes in the text to give me direction. He’s a really talented and accomplished artist himself.

How many cards did you sketch for Topps for the Clone Wars Animated series?

I did a thousand sketch cards for them which was kind of mind-numbing towards the end but still a lot of fun for me. I really love drawing Star Wars that much so it was still an incredible experience to be involved in that project.

How closely are you following the internet rumors about Episode III and what are your thoughts about how the film is shaping itself through rumor on the net?

I know a thing or two about Episode III. Having friends and contacts in Star Wars allows me certain perks I suppose which is great since I’m a Star Wars fan just like everyone else. I eat this stuff up like a regular spoiler hound. After the first two prequels I’ve learned that no matter how much of the movies I know beforehand, seeing them unfold on the screen for the very first time is still an amazing and unique experience. I love reading the spoilers along with the rumors too. It’s really fun to take in the speculation with everyone, even when I happen to know if it’s on the money or way off the mark. I’d say about less than half of what you read on the internet is usually true, and even then you still have to take it all with a grain of salt.

Did you get to visit the EPISODE III set?

Unfortunately, I didn’t get that chance. If I had been invited I probably would have bought my own ticket just for that experience. I just had to live vicariously through Pablo’s set diary reports every week. I’m still hoping to make it to the Ranch to visit someday if I can ever afford the time.

Give me your #1 Star Wars experience related to you and your art.

Well, I’ve always been a big fan of Jan Duursema’s Star Wars work since I first saw it in the Darth Maul mini-series. Her work was a huge inspiration on my own comic book work. A few years later, I was setting up my at my table at Wizard World Chicago when she came by and started setting up next to me in artist alley. I didn’t know it was her until she put her work down and I started thumbing it through it and recognized it instantly. So I was able to put two and two together and had to keep from fanboy gushing. The funny thing is she recognized my work from Star Wars Gamer and enjoyed some of the pieces I had done so we instantly started talking shop and became great friends. Some of my other great Star Wars experiences involve Jan, actually. When we did a show together in New Jersey a few years ago with David Prowse, we convinced him to come back to Jan’s place so we could have a cookout. Dave shared all of these great stories with us about his work on Star Wars, his work on the Hammer horror films, and his career and life in general. That was a pretty intimate and memorable Star Wars experience for me.

What are you working on right now?

There are a few Star Wars projects that I hope work out for me, but nothing I can talk about yet. I’m still hoping to do more comic book work for Marvel again, or maybe a Star Wars story for Dark Horse Comics, if they let me. There are actually three comic book projects I’m working on right now in various stages of production. I’m doing layouts for my pal Tom Mandrake. He’s the artist currently on Marvel’s Weapon X and used to draw the Spectre for DC. We’re working on a book together called Pat Novak for Moonstone Books. I’m also developing concepts and character sketches for two sci-fi fantasy comic book series that I’ll end up penciling and will hopefully be published. There’s also a book cover to a fantasy novel I’m illustrating currently. I’ve got a new sketch card project coming up tied into a film to be released this summer. Also, I’m in the throes of ironing out the kinks in my writing for my creator-owned series Death Avenger. I’m on my third draft now but I feel it’s finally coming together and I can start writing it. I may publish it online and see how the response is before I go through a comic book publisher.

What do you do for fun?

Actually, drawing Star Wars and comic books for a living is really fun for me since I love them both so much. It’s really great to be able to make a living at something you love but it’s always a struggle too. Drawing tends to take up a lot of my time so it becomes fun for me by necessity. If I’m not working on my projects though, I’m usually spending downtime playing video games. I’m big on the Star Wars video games too, so those can take up a lot of my time. I try to make it to the movies whenever I can. If I’m too busy to leave my studio I usually have music or my DVDs to keep me sane.

Do you have any long term goals for your artwork?

I just hope I’m able to keep entertaining fans with my art, meet lots of new fans and make friends along the way with my work, and still be able to make a living doing this years from now. I hope to keep working in comic books and making Star Wars art for as long as possible.


Many thanks to Joe Corroney for taking time out to answer these questions. If you’d like more information about Joe and his artwork, please visit his site at JoeCorroney.com.

(Original posting: May 11, 2004)

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