Written by: Christa Gould, Roswell Firelabs, Communications Team
Rod Whigham is a commercial and comic book artist. His illustrations include work on 'G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero' 'Psi-Force', 'Kickers Inc', 'Conan', ‘Men in Black’ and ‘The Punisher’ for Marvel Comics.
Then for DC Comics he continued with illustration for 'Doc Savage', ‘Star Trek', 'The Shadow', 'Justice League International' and 'The Flash'.
Whigham has lived in Roswell with his wife Laura for 4 years. He has lived for the last 44 years in Georgia. His father was in the Air Force, so as a boy Rod also lived in New Mexico, Germany, Italy, Kansas.
How did you develop an interest in drawing?
Rod remembers the exact moment when the spark was ignited. In the 2nd grade, while in Clovis, New Mexico, there was a 30-minute syndicated TV show called “Learn How to Draw with Jon Gnagy”. He avidly watched the program weekly, following along as Gnagy drew in heavy pencil and explained the process as he worked.
Whigham’s most vivid memory is of a drawing showing two boys walking in the snow pulling a sled with a rope. There was a house in the distance, and Gnagy’s explained how to add light, shadow, and contrast to create the illusion of a hill with depth using simple lines in footprints and sled tracks.
Whigham was hooked!
In high school, Rod’s art teacher noticed the interest that several students had in comic book illustration. He pulled them together with the printing classes to produce a comic for the school. It was a mutual learning experience for both sets of students and went on to be produced for three years. It helped Rod understand a greater scope of the process – like what happened to line weight and detail when the image was reduced in size.
This solidified Whigham’s goals - He knew that producing comics was what he wanted to pursue as a career. Rod was considered an art “rock star” at his high school. “The problem is, when you get into the real world, you’re in the mix with ALL the art “rock stars” from across the country. It’s very competitive in what is a very limited job market.”
How did you get started as a graphic novel artist?
Whigham’s talent was noticed by Marvel Comics, then later DC Comics in the 1980’s.
In comic books’ best of times, the production schedule was on a monthly cycle: The team was to produce 22 pages. Writers produced a script, (like a TV show) with dialog that made it easier for the artists to visualize the story and produce the graphics, the dialog was turned over and Whigham and team would produce the panels.
Marvel introduced an alternate production style -- developed by the famous Stan Lee. The Marvel approach was to write a synopsis (e.g., SpiderMan is in high school. He gets sick and loses his job. Then the bad guy shows up.) This reversed approach was popular with artists because they could visualize the story and break it down into panels. Then the dialog came afterward, based on the graphics.
The production of comic books today has evolved, especially regarding the coloring process and printing quality. But the team-work nature of mainstream comics remains mostly the same.
Facing growing competition from video games, internal struggles and over expansion, the comic book industry experienced a collapse in the 1990’s. To continue working as an artist, Whigham produced commercial art, comps and layouts for advertising. He has always been a film fan and worked towards producing storyboards and concept art for movies and has story boarded several films. He currently he produces the art for a nationally distributed comic strip, Tribune Media’s ‘Gil Thorp’.
Where do you get inspiration for your works?
“It’s the telling of the story and, of course, the artists I loved reading comics as a kid. Artists like Gil Kane, Russ Heath and Jim Steranko. In the early years, characters like DC’s BlackHawks were favorites. Science fiction and historical books also had a strong appeal.”
He loves the stories about real people, characters who are not all-powerful or indestructible. “I think real heroes are people who get knocked down and get back up to fight against the odds. Flying super-beings lost their interest to me early on.”
During the days of “full production”, Whigham was producing 370 pages of art annually. That’s over 4000 pages to date!
What is your favorite subject matter?
“I never try to imitate the popular trend. I draw what I like.”
A recent creation is a series of paintings called “Zombie Romance”. The works were featured at the Rabbit Hole Gallery in Atlanta.
Rod’s style is considered “silver age” or realistic.
What advice do you have for someone who wants to begin their artistic journey?
“Get serious training - do whatever it takes to get formal instruction. I’m self-taught and have accomplished much, but I could have gone further in a shorter time if I had done an apprenticeship. You can improve your craft with diligence, but you limit yourself. You need someone to work with who will push you beyond your limits.”
“Also, a young artist’s connections in the graphic novel industry and self motivation are very important.” One bright moment for Whigham was that he taught in a “Young Audiences” program in elementary and middle schools. He showed kids a formula for how to draw a human face. Specifically, he taught them to draw Wolverine!