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Friday, February 13, 2015

"Fulfilling my artistic dream": cover artist Mike Corley talks about his work for Apocalypse Weird

Cover art by MS Corley

On Tuesday I finally revealed the cover for my forthcoming book Immunity, part of the Apocalypse Weird story arc and published by Wonderment Media. The artist who's been hard at work making all these beautiful covers is M.S. Corley, and so I'm thrilled that Mike is here today to tell us about his art and work. Welcome, Mike!

EEG: Tell us a bit a bout your artistic background.

MSC: I've been an artist for my whole life, but not until high school did I decide that is what I wanted to do for a living, I didn't know how it would work but I knew thats all I could do to be happy in the end. I graduated from HS and took a year off and then decided to go to the Art Institute of Seattle to get a degree in animation, as I love animated films I figure this was where I wanted to end up. The industry at the time was moving heavily over to 3D animation instead of 2D so a bulk of my classes were on 3D modeling and animation, which after 4 years and more debt than anyone should rightly have, I found out that I was absolutely terrible at 3D and animation in general.

I did learn in school that I prefer illustration, single images that you can put a lot of work into, plus realizing I had a skill set in both illustration and traditional graphic design (though neither were my majors, nor was I properly trained in it). I got a job right after school at a merchandising agency and worked there for a few years designing products, which was easy but not full-filling.

Dark Horse Comics reached out to me while working at the agency to see if I was interested in doing a 8page comic with them, I said of course, as that was another dream that I figured I'd never get to do, draw a comic for a comic company (let alone DH, which is the only comic company I regularly buy from). I finished that comic, while still working 40hours a week at the agency, which stretched me pretty thin, but it was fantastic and I found something I really loved doing. It didn't feel like work exactly, it was still hard work, but felt great during the process.

After that I thought, you know I'm not super happy at this agency, maybe I should try to be a freelance artist and see if I could get more comic work and just do that for a living. I'm young and foolish enough to try it out, and if it didn't work then no sweat I'd just get a 'real job' again at the same or another agency. So back in 2009 I quit working there and went full time freelance. And whaddya know it worked out. I'm on my 6th year and each year is better than the last.

Since going freelance I've gotten to fulfill basically all my artistic dreams, working on more comic books, working on book covers, video games. etc. Really great choice and anyone out there that ever has considered taking a risk like that, switching their work situation because they've always been curious if they could make it doing something else, I'd say do it. Cause you never know how happy you could be. I've been incredibly lucky with the jobs I've worked on and where my career has taken me, if it weren't for God I'd probably be back at some office job doing some awful mind numbing thing, but instead here I am working in my house in a robe all day every day.

Cover art by MS Corley

EEG: When did you start making book covers? Was it something you've always wanted to do or did it happen "by accident" so to speak?

MSC: I started back in 2008 making covers for myself for fun. I'm an avid reader and as just personal projects to keep myself creating I decided I would pick a few series' that I like and felt I could do covers for and just go. So I started with making some Harry Potter redesigns, based off of some old 1960s styling. It was really fun and full-filling and when I put them online they went everywhere, very very quickly. I thought, wow okay maybe I am doing something right.

So I kept going with creating covers for myself thinking that maybe one day I'd have a portfolio big enough to show to publishers and perhaps get a job doing a cover, if I'm really really lucky. I thought if I could do just one cover before I die I'd be happy. And then a year later I got commissioned to do a cover for The Aether Age: Helios, which was for a guy who saw my work online, really liked it reached out to me and said lets do this, I think you'd be great. Having a stranger place faith in my ability to create a book cover, before I had a portfolio show was a really great thing. I made that, and from then on covers started trickling in slowly. I'd say I did maybe 3 covers my first year, then a few more the following year with a slight increase each year, and this past year I probably worked on 50 or more, at a certain point I stopped keeping track but I know I filled an entire bookshelf last year with just covers I have done myself.

EEG: How did you get involved with the AW project and what has been the most fun part so far?

MSC: I was approached by Michael Bunker last fall, if my memory serves me. He talked about this grand project of having all these different artists write for the same universe and asked if I would be interested in designing covers for it. I didn't have a ton of details on the world or anything, other than it was apocalyptic (and who isn't interested in the apocalypse?) but the entire project sounded like something very unique and new and I wanted to be a part of it. So I signed on, and then a few months later I created the AW logo and then Nick Cole's first book which set the style for the entire series. The most fun has been reading each authors descriptions for the books and coming up with a fun way to incorporate that into the cover. Staying with a limited color pallet and in this pulpy comic art style is both fun and challenging on how to make each cover unique to where it can stand up on its own, and look like part of a family of books. I'm getting to draw giant snakes and hurricanes with eyes and atomic bombs. What's there to complain about? EEG: LOL. And I do love that giant snake you drew on my cover! ;-) What other graphic projects do you do?

MSC: Beyond my day to day work I always have personal projects going on when I have the time for them. I'm working on a children's book for my daughter that I hope to have done this spring, which I planned out a few sequels for, given I find the time. But at the very least I'll finish one for her this year. And I've been working on my own personal comic project, a series based off of my adaptation of William Hope Hodgson's character Thomas Carnacki. I haven't posted updates on it lately but its something I'm always working on writing scripts for or world building.

I also do a weekly web comic with a buddy of mine called Double XP. We write them together and then swap art duties each week. Its about video games and the industry and things we find amusing enough to make goofy jokes about.

EEG: Do you listen to music while working and if so, what kind of music?

MSC: I don't listen to a lot of music while I work, most of the time its podcast of different sermons or apologetic teachings. And often I'll watch/listen to tv shows or movies on netflix while I work. I watch/listen to a lot of cartoons, or old kaiju monster movies. If I do listen to music I tend to prefer more folky type stuff or worship music. I'm a big fan of Andrew Bird.

EEG: What was the most fun project you've worked on over the past year and what was the weirdest? 

MSC: Wow that's a hard question... Most fun probably isn't any particular job, but just the work I've done on so many book covers this past year has been great fun. Because they don't take too long I'm able to finish before it ever feels like 'work' and I can move onto a new one, and because I work in so many different art styles the jobs I get request for varies so much. So just seeing the variety has been a lot of fun. I think one of the more enjoyable continuous work I do would be the covers I've done for Valancourt Books, they give me pretty much full artistic freedom and trust what I do, so they are the best hands down for letting me just do my thing.

Weirdest jobs would be character requests I get to draw for people's Dungeons & Dragons campaigns. It's always amusing and kinda weird reading how detailed people are when they describe these made up characters.

EEG: Any new projects you would like to (or are planning to) embrace in the near future?

MSC: Most of my year will be spent on book covers, I always get random requests for unique types of jobs that are new. It seems like each year I get something different, be that a comic book,  an album cover or video game concept art. So I will be interested to see what my 'special project' ends up being this year. 

EEG: That certainly makes your job all the more fun. Congratulations for fulfilling your dreams and doing what you love most in life! 

To see more of Mike's work, checkout his portfolio.

Intrigued by Apocalypse Weird? Then read the first book, The Red King, by Nick Cole, which is completely free and sets the world of Apocalypse Weird. You can also sign up for our mailing list to make sure you don't miss the big launch on February 23rd. There will be an awesome launch party with prizes and giveaways on Facebook <- click to join the event!!!

Michael Bunker also has a great post about Apocalypse Weird on his blog.

 Author Hank Garner is also doing a series of podcasts on Apocalypse Weird: last week he interviewed Nick Cole, and this week Hank just posted a new podcast in which Michael Bunker talks about his AW book, Digger, the first in his Texocalypse world.

 And if you are a writer and you would like to take part in the Apocalypse Weird project, Nick has a wonderful post where he explains how to apply.

Apocalypse Weird Authors: Ellen Campbell (editor) Stefan Bolz Christopher Boore Michael Bunker Nick Cole Jennifer Ellis Hank Garner E.E. Giorgi Tim Grahl Weston Ochse David Parish-Whittaker Lyndon Perry Chris Pourteau Steven Savile Daniel Smith Lesley Smith Kevin Summers Eric Tozzi Kim Wells Forbes West

Cover art by MS Corley


  1. Beautiful covers and great interview. Very exciting things happening. Wishing You both much success.


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