Recently I came into contact with an artist who produces Star Wars art for TOPPS.
KS GeekMan agreed to an interview, and this is what came of it.
Itchy: How did you become a fan of Star Wars?
KS GeekMan: I was 3 years old in 1977. Saw it in theaters several times. My parents bought me the toys and continued to take me to the films as they were released and re-released. Original trilogy era kid from the start.
Itchy: So what kind of artist are you, how did you become one professionally, and what kind of mediums do you work in? And how did you become one professionally, I mean, did you train, go to school, self taught, etc.
KS GeekMan: Art has always been a hobby for me. I grew up wanting to be a comic artist but ended up doing music instead. The professional art didn’t really start for me until the last 5 years. I have a friend who is an artist and connected me to the trading card world. I had always dreamed of drawing licensed Star Wars and Marvel comic characters. My friend opened up the world of sketch cards and trading cards and encouraged me to work on a portfolio and hone my craft. I started posting my art to Instagram and people would randomly ask how much to buy my sketches. When that started happening I decided to assemble the portfolio and submit to Topps (Star Wars) and Upper Deck Entertainment (Marvel). My first invitation was to draw sketch cards for the movie “Clerks”. Then I was invited by Topps to sketch for the Rogue One release in 2016.
Medium wise I use a lot of COPIC ink and colored pencils. Love doing classic linework comic style as well
Oh and self taught
Itchy: So what is your relationship with TOPPS? Are you a freelancer under contract? Or a regular employee?
KS GeekMan: Freelancer who signs contracts for projects that are offered and accepted.
Itchy: So you’ve been excited to draw Star Wars for Topps, up until a certain point. Can you tell me when that point was and why that is?
KS GeekMan: There were a few factors
1. Luke Skywalker. It started post TLJ. When we finally had the opportunity to see Luke Skywalker potentially pass along what he learned to the next generation only to see him be something completely different. For me it was a complete wiping away of his story arc from the OT. I tried to like TLJ, but ultimately after a few viewings, I realized it was not at all something I enjoyed in fact, hated.
2. Legacy Characters. In comics and books the impression I was getting was an attempt by the bee creators to fundamentally change characters that we have known for decades. Whether it be Han (deadbeat dad), the relationship between Han and Leia (not seeing them together in TFA was disheartening), Lando in Solo (his affection towards droids was uncharacteristic to the Lando we grew up with). These types of examples really shifted my desire to consume sequel era things.
3. Creators. When some of my fellow contributors to the SW brand began blacklisting other Star Wars creators and fans for vocalizing their dislike of the direction the ST took, it impacted me as well. No longer was Star Wars just a brand that ANY person with ANY political affiliation could enjoy, but it became a Petri dish for creators to wage culture war with while silencing long time fans from any part of the license and brand. It wasn’t about the story of Star Wars that became important, but how are creators using the brand to influence our society with politics and culture that half of its fan base doesn’t care for. When I ran across a block on social media from a creator who contributed to the brand, I decided I was done supporting the products they were helping produce.
All of these factors brought me to a place of finding no joy in contributing anything to new Star Wars content. My greater joy was producing art from the prequel era, OT era and Clone Wars. Basically George’s Star Wars pre Disney purchase.
If I’m invited to create art for a product that is sequel trilogy characters and vehicles only, I’ve turned them down.
Itchy: So you still produce art for TOPPS now? And if so, what content exactly do you produce? Do you turn down any work?
KS GeekMan: I have not produced art for them since the 2019 ROTJ Black and White set. But I still get invitations to participate on sets. Most recent invite was for The Mandalorian trading cards.
I haven’t produced anything in 2020. Passed on all the invites this year. However, should I get invites 2021, and the product allows for art from Prequel/OT eras, I would seriously consider participating again.
Itchy: Do you accept any projects that involve Disney-era Star Wars subjects?
KS GeekMan: I passed on The Rise of Skywalker sets because we were only allowed to draw Sequel era characters. I have drawn on sets that allow us to draw any era. So not when the requirement is ONLY drawing from Disney era
Itchy: How do they react when you pass on an invite?
KS GeekMan: They don’t. It’s really pretty uneventful. They email and I either don’t answer or just say “pass”. Topps doesn’t seem to really care. They have a pool of artists they choose from and there are so many people out there who are chomping at the bit to be invited they don’t have problems getting people. They just struggle getting quality artists who can also meet deadlines.
The way it works is Topps has the license for Star Wars. They contract artists. We submit our scans that have to be approved by Lucasfilm. So we as Topps artists aren’t working directly with Lucasfilm. We are contracted by Topps for the project.
The Topps Art Director interacts with Lucasfilm. And the Art Director selects artists and sends out the invites with contracts.
Itchy: So I want to go back to your reasons for no longer being excited to work on Star Wars. With regards to #1, the treatment of Luke Skywalker, Disney insider WDW Pro who now writes for Clownfish TV’s Pirates and Princesses blog once wrote in August of 2019, that “certain lead individuals at Lucasfilm have had a palpable disdain for Luke.”
Has this been your experience as well in dealing with your colleagues?
KS GeekMan: I can’t say that I’ve seen palpable disdain for Luke from fellow artists. I have however experienced fellow artists blocking me on social media when I expressed my opinion about Luke in TLJ. They wouldn’t tell me why other than “you’re just too negative”. It’s like politics. TLJ broke fandom relationships and the creator relationships. This was the Instagram post I did that caused some of my fellow artists to block me on the socials
View this post on Instagram
Itchy: So you mention that many Star Wars creators have been blacklisted. Do you know how many have been blacklisted? Do they know they’ve been blacklisted? And is this problem exclusive to TOPPS, or systemic throughout Lucasfilm, or other areas like Del Rey or Marvel?
KS GeekMan: I do not know. I go to the Rebel Force Radio podcast war of summer 2018. Seeing the intentional campaign driven by Bryan Young to drive RFR from the podcast stage at that years Celebration and having them booted from the StarWars website podcast page was the greatest example. Also the campaign to get their sponsors to remove themselves from RFR using the ForceOutHate hashtag. That’s really the example I think of.
Itchy: You mentioned that this blacklisting impacted you. How exactly did it impact you? In what way?
KS GeekMan: Seeing people intentionally hurt the livelihood of others contributed greatly to my lack of enjoyment for new Star Wars.
Itchy: So why do you think this started with The Last Jedi, and not right at the beginning when Lucasfilm was first sold to Disney?
KS GeekMan: When you say “why do you think this started” are you asking why do I think my dislike for Disney Star Wars personally started then vs at the start?
Itchy: No, you mentioned in #1 for your reasons, that all of this started with post The Last Jedi. Or did that pertain just to the treatment of Luke Skywalker and not the blacklisting?
KS GeekMan: Ah, yeah that was pertaining to the treatment of Luke. I’ve not seen or experienced on a professional level personally any “blacklisting” with regard to Topps projects. My reference to “blacklisting” was with regard to specifically situations like what Jason and Jimmy from Rebel Force Radio dealt with back in 2018. I can’t speak on record confirming anything like that from Topps at all.
So yeah I was speaking specifically to my personal distaste for Disney sequel trilogy coming post TLJ with its treatment of Luke
My main three reasons for not desiring to draw sequel trilogy art:
1. The way they made Luke
2. The way they treat and change legacy characters.
3. The way creators have treated fans and co-creators.
To put simply
It’s not very spicy! Just a lifelong disenfranchised fan who happens to have been working on the Star Wars license when it took a giant nose dive in 2017. (Some would say 2015…and I wouldn’t disagree with them sitting here five years after TFA).
Itchy: Okay. So Did you follow any of the recent comments from Star Wars author J. W. Rinzler about his dissatisfaction with Lucasfilm after Disney took over? If so, what are your thoughts on that?
KS GeekMan: I did hear a couple of interviews. His story is intriguing and I wish he could say more. I don’t think we’ll ever get true “making of” material from any of the modern Star Wars like we did under George Lucas. I’m grateful for J.W Rinzler’s archive work for the original trilogy.
Itchy: Back in 2018, the legendary sound effects man Ben Burtt was interviewed to publicize The Force Of Sound documentary. Ben Burtt said the following:
“Burtt, who grew up in Jamesville and graduated from Nottingham High School in 1966, worked on the sound for every “Star Wars” movie, from the 1977 original (“Episode IV – A New Hope”) to J.J. Abrams’ 2015 film ‘The Force Awakens.’”
“Yet he wasn’t involved in 2016’s ‘Rogue One’ or Rian Johnson’s ‘The Last Jedi,’ released in December — and still doesn’t know why.”
“I don’t know if there’s bad blood,” he told Vanity Fair magazine recently. “I was just never consulted or hired to do any of them. No one’s ever told me why. No, I was told–on the new regime, I was just told, ‘Just stay in your room and make sounds and just send stuff to us. We’ll decide what to do.’”
Burtt also worked as an editor and second-unit director in addition to the sound department for George Lucas’ prequels, so the “new regime” — which began with “The Force Awakens” — was a demotion. He also said being forced to go through more people to discuss ideas would “doom the whole process.”
Does this surprise you at all?
KS GeekMan: It’s pretty shocking to know you have THE creator of the sounds of Star Wars willing and available to contribute to your films only to have him sit on the sidelines. I can understand a desire to invest in the future of the IP that you purchased, but if I were making decisions, I would want to transition well capitalizing on the wealth of knowledge and leadership available. To me it would’ve made more sense to use the first five years of filmmaking as that bridge from the past to the future. It makes me sad to think of these legends not being able to create while they’re still available.
Itchy: Recently I interviewed Dennis Pellegrom, who was the former personal assistant to Anthony Daniels. He has also conducted numerous interviews with minor Lucasfilm notables including authors, artists, bit players, crew members, etc. He mentions that Lucasfilm became very difficult to work and communicate with after Disney took over. Even just getting people to answer his inquiries became a monumental task. Do you have any similar experiences with this?
KS GeekMan: No. I don’t work directly with Lucasfilm at all. Just a contracted artist for Topps whenever I’m working on a Star Wars project.
Itchy: Have you followed the recent dust up over Alan Dean Foster, Charles Lippincott, and potentially J. W. Rinzler, not getting royalties due to them from Disney, which spawned the hashtag #DisneyMustPay? If so, what are your thoughts on that situation? Is anyone else having difficulty getting paid that you know of?
KS GeekMan: I am aware of these situations but not educated enough on the legalities of them. Legalities aside, it’s pretty bad in my opinion that they choose not to continue to honor whatever agreements were made prior to the Disney purchase. These artists have no way of fighting for their rights against a behemoth like Disney. All around, It seems like the transition could have done better to legacy of story, it’s creators and it’s business principles.
I’m not aware of any others not getting paid.
Itchy: So I wanted to ask you about Jordan Maison. He’s the Official Star Wars Artist for TOPPS, and has a notorious presence on Twitter where he routinely makes the kinds of divisive political comments you’re talking about here. Have you had any direct interaction with him, or have any comment about him or his online behavior?
KS GeekMan: Looking at his profile, my assumption is he’s just like me. He gets contracted by Topps to do projects. So he probably does sketch cards for them when he’s invited.
I’ve never interacted with Jordan at all. My philosophy is this, people can have their personal opinions about politics and culture. But when creators take to social media shouting about how people who have differing viewpoints are every “icst” or “phobe” known to man, you are hurting the brand you represent. Expressing a belief is fine, if you’re willing to deal with the potential consequences. If anything, the last four years has revealed an incredible inability for creators on the “left” to be able to “human” with others who don’t think like they do. They forget half the country they push their products to don’t believe the same.
Itchy: I understand that you do commissions, how can fans contact you to purchase your art or commission a new piece of art from you?
Itchy: One last question: How do you think people will react to this interview?
KS GeekMan: Hah! That’s a good question! I think anyone who has followed me on social media or taken time to ask my thoughts wouldn’t be surprised by my answers. I have no doubt someone will not like that I actually answered your call. Everyone knows Itchy Bacca!
Itchy: lol Thanks for your time.
Originally published here