I had the privilege of interviewing James Silvani, an extremely talented artist who has taken over illustrating duties for the rest of the run of Muppet King Arthur. James has also worked on BOOM!’s Pixar comics and has done promotional drawings for the Looney Tunes, Animaniacs, and more! So kick back, relax, and join me as we get to know James Silvani!
Interview with James Silvani
Conducted by Ryan Dosier
RYAN: First and foremost, James, thank you so very much for agreeing to an interview with me. Before we get started do you have anything you’d like to say to The Muppet Mindset readers?
RYAN: How did you get started with BOOM! Studios and the Muppet comic books?
JAMES: Boom! Studios has a board set up where artists looking for work can post samples. Of course I was thinking “Yeah, right. Like they ever check that stuff.” But as a lifelong Muppet fan who thought there might be the slimmest chance to draw the objects of my obsession, I gave it a shot. I whipped up a quick strip starring Lew Zealand and posted it. So I guess in a sea of superhero claptrap, my Muppet samples (which can be seen on my blog) stood out like a sore thumb. The fabulous and quick thinking Amy Mebberson saw my post and forwarded it on to Boom! editor Aaron Sparrow and after an okay from the powers-that-be at Disney, I was offered work that week.
RYAN: Now, of course, you’ve drawn the interior artwork for “Muppet King Arthur” 2, 3, and 4. How did that job come about?
JAMES: Although my first jobs for Boom! were a couple of covers for the Pixar properties, my discussions with the editor were always about the Muppets. When Muppet King Arthur fell behind schedule I was asked to fill in on the second issue. I guess the fact that I turned the issue over in under 12 hours and completely free of charge endeared me to the editor and he kept me on to finish the series. True story! Except for the 12 hours and free part.
RYAN: What were the most challenging aspects of drawing the Muppets in the middle ages?
JAMES: Probably learning to use a quill on parchment by candle light.
RYAN: Who is your favorite Muppet character to draw?
JAMES: I think Dr. Teeth is the most fun but probably one of the hardest. There are so many aspects to him that catch you off guard. He has this huge nose, a massive jaw to hold all those teeth and those glasses/visor things that people seem to mistake as eyelids all on a small green head. But I think all those things come together nicely to make him the most expressive Muppet. I’m anxious to show readers how he shows up in issue #3
RYAN: Were any characters more difficult to draw than others?
JAMES: It’s funny, EVERYBODY was difficult to draw at first. I look at the art in the front of the book compared to the art at the end of the book and I saw that I had a pretty rocky start. It was a matter of finding my own voice for the book. What’s so great about Boom! handling the Muppets is there’s room for Amy Mebberson’s spot-on interpretations of the puppets and Roger Langridge’s alternative lunacy. I don’t think I had that clear vision when I first started. I wanted to give the characters that recognizable “puppety” look , but have them move and express themselves in a way only a comic book character could. That being said I think Fozzie and Piggy were the hardest to really nail down. Damn you Frank Oz.
RYAN: When drawing a comic, how much decision do you have in which characters appear in the background of the story and how much does the writer dictate?
JAMES: I think unless it was specified that a character had a speaking part, they were fair game for backgrounds, so I guess it was up to me. Luckily (?) most of issue 2 was crowd scenes so I got to a point where I was running out of obscure characters and whatnots to draw. Thank God for the penguins- good Muppet crowd fillers and comedy gold. I tried to put in so many characters for some of the crowd scenes that the colorist has been driving by and egging my house.
RYAN: In the case of Muppet King Arthur, there are two writers. How does that differ from working with a single writer?
JAMES: Most of the dealing I had with the script went to (editor) Aaron Sparrow. But if I did have a question about specifics I went to Paul Benjamin. He seemed to be in charge of the artistic notes on the script. We just kind of group emailed and agreed on everything
RYAN: Who are some of your favorite Muppets?
JAMES: I’ve always been a fan of the Electric Mayhem as a whole. I think I lobbied for them to play at my prom. But it was Lew Zealand that taught me about artistic integrity, persevering against adversity and fashion.
RYAN: What about your favorite Muppet production?
JAMES: Growing up, I pretty much planned my life around The Muppet Show. You can make new Muppet movies but nothing will ever equal that little half hour of joy I experienced every week.
RYAN: Aside from the Muppets, you’ve also worked with a bunch of other classic character groups such as the Looney Tunes, Animaniacs, and the Disney family of characters. Can you talk to us a little bit about your work with these properties?
JAMES: I got my start right out of college drawing t-shirt designs for the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. From there I discovered I kind of had a knack for licensed characters. After that I went to work for Mattel’s advertising firm where I picked up the Disney characters and after I went freelance I was able to do a lot of work for Warner Bros. merchandising. I probably just should have pursued an animation career but I’m too lazy.
RYAN: When approached by BOOM! to do covers for Muppet comics that you aren’t doing interior art for (such as Muppet Snow White), how much do you get to dictate what you draw?
JAMES: I don’t even think there was a finished script at the time I did the Snow White cover. The editor just had the title (which at the time was “Snow White & the Electric Mayhem”). Otherwise the editor will usually give me the story in a roundabout way and I have pretty much free reign from there. I will usually provide a couple of sketches first to make sure I’m not giving anything away from a later part of the story. Of course when you’re dealing with a look for Snow White the only real recognizable reference place to go to is, well, Disney. Let’s hear it for synergy!
RYAN: What do you use as references when you draw the Muppets?
JAMES: As much video as I can track down. I’ve got all The Muppet Show DVDs and a few of the movies. Of course if someone would like to donate a set of those excellent Muppet action figures from Palisades toys to further the cause…
RYAN: How much leeway did you have when drawing the costumes in Muppet King Arthur?
JAMES: Actually I tried to keep to what Dave Alvarez had started as close as I could. I knew that the change in our styles would be jarring enough to the readers, so I didn’t vary from his designs too much. Otherwise I tried my best to keep to the sensibilities that have been established in the Arthur interpretations that most people know. “Excalibur”, “The Sword in the Stone” (sorry all you “First Knight” fans).
RYAN: What chance do Muppet fans have of seeing Angus McGonagle the Gargling Gargoyle in the story?
JAMES: We’ve been in contact with Mr. McGonagle’s people. At this time he’s still holding out for script approval.
RYAN: When working on the story, how much does the comic book artist decide the “camera angle,” so to speak, of the frame? Or is that mostly handled by the writer(s)?
JAMES: The writer will give the setting but it’s pretty much my discretion on how to present the view. Of course I’m so used to seeing the Muppets only from the waist up it’s hard not to get drawn in to that kind of visualizing for a scene.
RYAN: What advice can you offer to budding fan artists wanting to get involved with the Muppet comics?
JAMES: Wait until I retire.
Actually, my best advice, especially with the Muppets, is find your own style. What makes the Muppets so unique and so much fun to work on, as opposed to other licensed properties, is that there is no set style in place. Look at how Roger Langridge has totally captured the feel of the show yet retained his own artistic sensibilities.
Also when you are submitting art, really concentrate on telling a story with just your pictures. My samples told a gag from point A to point B without a single word. If you can do that, you’ll go far in this business.
RYAN: What can fans of your work expect to see from you beyond Muppet King Arthur? Do you plan to do any more work with the Muppets?
JAMES: I have a SUPER secret project that I am working on for Boom! that will be announced at the end of March. After that wraps I hope to return to the Muppets. It’s so much fun as a grown up to be drawing the things that I drew as a kid. The only thing that would be cooler is to draw the Muppets, Batman and the Star Wars characters teaming up to fight Godzilla (Come on Aaron Sparrow, make it happen!)
RYAN: Where can fans find more of your artwork?
JAMES: My portfolio site is www.silvaniart.com which has a link to my blog at silvaniart.blogspot.com. I update the blog a few times a month. Otherwise take a close look at the cereal aisle or the boys t-shirt department. I illustrate a lot of items there as well.
RYAN: James, thank you again so much for agreeing to this interview with The Muppet Mindset. Any final thoughts before we conclude?