Stanley "Artgerm" Lau: From Zombies to Bikini BabesA comics interview article by: Jason Sacks
eavy Metal is a name with a long and august history in comics. The home in its heyday of such classic cartoonists as Moebius, Richard Corben, Jacques Tardi and many other great cartoonists. One of the great things about comics is that the medium is always refreshing itself and a new group of cartoonists is always just waiting to become famous. In that world comes Stanley Lau and his special issue of Heavy Metal. As you'll read in this interview, Lau and his team have a real love of what has come before them on HM as well as a passion for what will come next.
Jason Sacks: What made you decide to do a special Comic-con issue of Heavy Metal?
Stanley "Artgerm" Lau: Heavy Metal has been around for many decades. It is a very well-regarded and well-respected publication internationally and we are big fans of it. When we met Kevin Eastman many years ago at SDCC, he expressed great interest in our work and proposed the idea of having my studio run a special issue of Heavy Metal.
We were completely flattered by his offer but we didn't really go ahead with it at that time, as we were still a very young studio back then. We respectHeavy Metal and Kevin a lot so we wanted to do it right and do the magazine proud.
So we held on to that offer till this year, when my studio partner Dave Elliott, who is also the editor-in-chief for the special issue, reinitiated the project with Kevin. We decided to launch it at this year's SDCC to celebrate this prestigious collaboration. We even had the honor of making a special wraparound magazine cover sponsored by DeviantArt, available only at San Diego Comic-Con.
Sacks: What should readers expect from your special issue of Heavy Metal?
Lau: High quality and diverse artwork, which is always the core strength of Imaginary Friends Studios. We are fortunate to be located in a country that is a melting pot of different cultures, with influences from East and West and that makes our works really unique. In this special issue you can witness firsthand the effort and passion we put into our work. From Sci-Fi to Fantasy, from fully painted comics to black and white manga, from zombies to bikini babes — you can find them all here.
Sacks: Your website promises "dynamic exploration of new ideas and possibilities in the digital art realm." What are some of the new ideas and possibilities that you've enjoyed exploring?
Lau: As a studio located in a country like Singapore, where the cultures of the east and the west collide, it is natural for us to fuse them into our ideation process and create something that really crosses geographical boundaries.
We are able to offer a unique perspective to existing ideas and make them fresh, and show our audience new concepts and visual approaches that people around the world can relate to. In fact this has always been the positioning of our studio.
Sacks: I was really struck by the really wide variety of artists presented in this magazine. How did the artists decide what to create, and how was the magazine assembled in a way that highlighted everyone's work?
Lau: As a creative director of the studio, I gave my artists the total freedom to produce their content for the magazine. I know how important it is to value my artists' individual strengths and to give them the opportunity to shine. In the daily running of the studio we are often working on projects with pre-decided scripts and art direction so we all need to work with each other cohesively, putting our personal styles and preferences in the back seat.
Therefore a project like Heavy Metal really provides my team a great platform to be who they are artistically and creatively. When I consolidate the pages from them, I tried my best to sort them accordingly to the subject matter as well as the art style with illustrations inserted between stories to act as breathing space and dividers.
Sacks: Are there any stories or art in the issue that the staff on the project all especially liked? (I gotta admit I liked the story with the warrior cats the best.)
Lau: I guess each of us will have our own favorite part of the magazine and it is hard to provide a diplomatic answer. I am just grateful that the quality of my team has grown to a stage that they are no longer being evaluated on who has better art than the other, but have fans who are drawn to their styles. I think it is quite an achievement! And yes, I do like the warrior cats a lot personally. :)
Sacks: How much of the work on this issue was done digitally?
Lau: I would say almost everything were done digitally. Although some of my artists like Sami Basri and Garrie Gastonny still prefer to do sketches with pencil and paper, the coloring is definitely digital. For the illustrations, they are all 100% digital. We are trying our very best to save some trees here. :)
Sacks: Heavy Metal is kind of an iconic name for a certain era of fans. What does the name mean to you?
Lau: Personally I am not as familiar with Heavy Metal as some of my guys. However as a studio we always regard Heavy Metal as the magazine that collaborates with some of the biggest names in the art industry such as Simon Bisley, HR Giger and Esteban Maroto. It is a magazine of fantastic artwork, mature fantasy content with a European slant. It does look a little old school compared to other art magazines in the market now, but it is certainly an institution.
Yet Heavy Metal chose to fill this issue with content that is different from their usual style, and Kevin was bold enough to have a studio like ours handle an entire issue of the magazine. This shows that Heavy Metal is evolving with the times, which is extremely exciting to us.
Sacks: Much of your studio's work has been in stuff like concert art or video game art; why do you love working in comics?
Lau: Well it is not entirely true actually. Our Singapore studio, which is headed by Kendrick, Kai and myself, does provide concept art and illustrations for games as our primary focus. Our Jakarta studio, which is led by Sunny Gho, has been providing some of the best comic content for publishing giants like DC, Marvel and Top Cow for the past 6 years. Basically we have equal love for both games and comics.
Sacks: Your website makes a point of mentioning that you are international artists. What kind of unique perspective do you feel your international focus mean to you?
Lau: As I mentioned earlier, we all grew up with entertainment content from both East and West. We read manga and we read superhero comics as well. We love Snoopy as much as we love Doraemon. This unique exposure to various cultures has impacted our lives immensely and is now showing in our work. As a result, we are able to provide our clients with artwork that can appeal to their audience internationally.
I think this is very valuable positioning for our studio. We do not pigeonhole ourselves with a "studio style" but we are able provide our clients with a variety of solutions that are tailor-made for them. That is our international focus.
Sacks: How does your large roster of artists share the art chores on your projects?
Lau: Based on the requirements of the projects, we always distribute the work to the artists that best match the client's needs. Some of our projects require a huge quantity of artwork to be done in a unified art style, like the trading card game for Star Wars. In such cases, the art directors will offer close supervision to the appointed team to ensure consistency and accuracy for the art direction. Fortunately, all of our artists are flexible enough to match each other's style when the need arises.
Sacks: What are some common influences that many of you share?
Lau: Well we are all geeks at heart. We love manga, comics, anime, cartoons, games, movies and they play a very important role in our lives and define us. Generally we are a bunch of simple people who love creating art and telling stories that others will enjoy.