Bo Hamptom says Boo!

Bo Hamptom says Boo!

It was my recent pleasure to talk to the very accomplished artist Bo Hampton about his career. Before diving headlong into discussing comics I asked him if he could share any nuggets of information about himself outside of his artistic career. He was kind enough to tell me about his sports preference.

Bo explained, "I have been an Atlanta Falcons fan in the NFL forever but a recent move to Charlotte, North Carolina and the departure of quarterback Matt Ryan is slowly moving me into Carolina Panthers territory."

Paul: What were the very first comics your recall enjoying? Where might they have been purchased from and how old might have you been?

Bo: The first comic I remember having was a Lady And The Tramp, the Dell version of the movie.

Paul: Could you describe your time at The School of Visual Arts in NYC? What did you learn there?

Bo: In 1974 I took 2 years for an associate's degree at the University of South Carolina. I tried to take classes that I knew would transfer me to the School of visual arts in New York and all but one of my classes did. I went there mainly for Will Eisner and his comics classes. I also had Jack Endewelt and Gil Stone as instructors. I remember the book illustration classes being very helpful and that was where I learned pretty much everything in terms of paint  technique other than watercolour that I learnt at school.

Paul: How did you first come to be published? For instance who was your first editor?

Bo: My first published story was in 1978 on The Secrets of the Haunted House and Witching Hour both edited by Joe Orlando at DC. I always loved the fact that he brought me into the business since he came from the EC era. That first story I got was called the Sea-Hag but the actual first work was some one pagers for Witching Hour featuring the three witches. Also, during this time I got my younger brother Scott Hampton a bit of work as a front-piece artist for Secrets of The Haunted House that featured the Spectre I believe. I think that was his first published work for a mainstream company. My one year working as Will Eisner's  assistant as well as my graduation from the School of visual arts had been done and I had moved back to my mom's house in 1978 in Columbia, South Carolina. Scott was living there as well and there were six kids and it was very hectic which is probably why we don't mind large crowds milling around at conventions while drawing.

Bo: Since I was in South Carolina and not in Manhattan it was hard to maintain relationships with editors so the comics work fizzled for me. That is why I went to work for a company called Fines which was a clothing retailer in Columbia Mall. After that it was retail at video concepts. I played a lot of Pong and Asteroids when not selling televisions with strings to line up the projector. Yeah, that was a thing. My boss knew that I wanted to be a comic book artist and did me the solid by firing me after about 6 months. That of course enabled me to really get serious about my portfolio because I could claim unemployment. Not only that but when we moved to New Jersey the unemployment transferred there and I think Scott may have done the same thing. It kept us alive while we were finishing up our portfolio in '83 and taking it into the city for work possibilities. At that point we both got back in to the business on a more regular basis and have stayed there ever since.

Paul:  Could you talk about your time working on The Ghostbusters franchise please?

Bo: Around 1999 I started working for DC licensing for comics properties in the animation style. I briefly worked on the Superman animated TV show  as a second season storyboard artist, and only completed one episode. The director didn't give me much of a chance with that stuff and it was my first real attempt at it so it was not meant to be. I then reached out to another artist though who had switched over to storyboards for the Batman show and had him look at what I had done and he gave me some invaluable tips which I put into good use when I tried out for the Extreme Ghostbusters.

Bo: They hired me and allowed me to work remotely from Atlanta Georgia. I worked on three episodes including Back in the Saddle which was a straight to video animated movie that reunited the new and original Ghostbusters characters. My friend Jeff Parker assisted me on that stuff and we had a ball. After those four outings I switched over to storyboards in Atlanta for advertising agencies and a little TV and film work here and there. I actually did some animation work for Cartoon Network when they wanted to reface their in between promos for the original animated Batman show. You may remember a 5-second bit with Batman and Two Face battling on a rooftop... they go over the edge and the cartoon network logo comes up? That was all my drawing including the background. We did another one with the Riddler or The Joker I can't remember which. Those were two instances of me actually doing animation itself which was great, but I don't think I'd want to do it long term.

Paul: I'd like to know about your experiences illustrating Batman. I am especially thinking of issues 35 and 36 of Legend of The Dark Knight. Do you like the character?

Around 1993 I did a drawing of Batman as a berserker Viking sitting in a cave with a broad axe. I turned it into a painting and showed it to Archie Goodwin who liked it enough to offer me a shot at writing and drawing a two issue story arc for Legends of the dark knight. I brought in my friend and writer Mark Kneece to write it based on my plot. We had a great time with it and of course working with Goodwin was a course in comic book writing we will both remember. I plotted it based on my need to put the Batman character in a more primitive setting that would enable me to dabble in fantasy as well as action adventure as opposed to pure crime drama.

Bo: We posited that Bruce Wayne's ancient ancestor had been the Viking Batman and of course a diary of sorts is found in the present day which connects the two. Mark came up with the idea of the current evil entity being a Norwegian chemical company with aspirations for major worldwide pollution. I had a great time with that as well as all my other Batman projects. It gets hard drawing cities, but if you have to do that then Batman at least allows for night scenes which are always fun.

Paul: Could I ask about Batman: Castle of the Bat. It was a pretty fun book. Can you say how it came about or share any memories from working on the project?
Bo: Castle of the Bat was a lot of fun to work on. That one was written by Jack C Harris for DC comics. One of the main things I remember about it is that it had not occurred to Denny O'Neal (the editor) or Jack (the writer) that we should play off of the Karloff imagery for the Frankenstein monster as Batman. Their conception of it was that he would be a lot like Adam from Mary Shelley's Frankenstein: An animated corpse stitched together into basically human form. So it was my idea to make the cowl have the Karloff forehead with stitching, the droopy eye and all that. I couldn't believe no one else had thought of it.

Paul: You worked on the Marvel character Moon Knight briefly. Was it a project you enjoyed?

Bo: I was actually offered Luke Cage Hero For Hire first by Denny O'Neil before taking on the Moon Knight assignment. I don't know how I had the hubris to turn down an offer with my career still in its the embryonic stage, but I just felt Luke Cage wasn't right for me and Moon Knight really was. I loved Moon Knight but the bi-monthly schedule was more than I could handle. I had to pull in a bunch of people (including Rick Bryant) as inkers and background artists. They all did a great job but I wish I could have done it all. Like Swamp Thing I was the last artist on a book before it died to be reborn. In both instances I was less than thrilled with the story and art direction.

Paul: Could you describe please your most rewarding or enjoyable experience working with a writer?

Bo: My most enjoyable experience with a writer was on a project called Riven which I co-wrote with Robert Tinnell. He was a former screenwriter and has gone on to produce a number of movies recently but his sense of a story for film aided and abetted my storytelling and comics. His affinity for character development influenced me tremendously. He was always looking for a nugget of personality or a character flaw to exploit and it paid dividends for my writing big time. 

Paul: As a comic artist do you have an extensive reference library of art books and comics?

Bo: Yes I have a large collection of art books but not so much comic books. Although I still have my box of keepers all dogeared from constant perusal. I have books that inspire and influence me still. Like a lot of Al Williamson reference books and anything I can find on Frazetta and Angelo Torres and in animation Ronnie del Carmen to name a few. Oh yeah any of Wrightson's collected stuff and his art books. I never was that drawn to his Frankenstein work. One of the main things I love about any artists work is the ability to create readability and focus. I feel like some of the extraordinarily baroque pieces takes the eye away from immediate focus and just generally seems like a lot of work to look at.
Paul: Would you describe yourself as a fast artist? Have you ever had problems with deadlines?
Bo: I have gotten a lot faster over the years but when I first started in comics back in 82 or 83 I was falling badly behind on deadlines. My early efforts on Swamp Thing and Moon Knight showed the extent to which I needed to hire assistants and inkers to help me. The stuff would always start off great and the first three pages or so would be everything I wanted out of it but as it progressed and even as the bi-monthly deadline loomed my stuff got more and more uneven as Len Wein put it. I was very young and still developing my prefrontal lobe for planning. And I guess I wasn't fully aware or concerned with consequences.
Paul: I ask comic artists this a lot and I am always intrigued by the variety answers I receive. Over your career how much has the development of computers and digital art tools altered your approach to your art?
Bo: In terms of digital equipment what I use is the scanner and Adobe Photoshop 5 because I prefer the old version and I used to use a little bit of illustrator but that was only for lettering comics. Now I find I can do that in Photoshop CS5 pretty much the same way. So I do my work all on paper including the inks and then I scan it. I do corrections digitally on my comics pages. I despise the Manga inking program that takes the jitters out of the imperfect line. That makes all inking look the same. I also avoid any photo or model reference for figures and if there's a digital program that draws figures for me in any capacity I would avoid that like the plague. I think the imagination of the artist should be used to the fullest possible extent not merely as a starting point.
Paul: As a follow up to the previous question, assuming you read many comics, do you prefer to read comics (or even books) with a paper copy in you hands or do you prefer reading via a tablet or laptop?
Bo: I don't read anything digitally except stuff on my phone. I think books should be paper. I think the way we'll know it's over for books is if young mothers ever start reading to their toddlers from an e-book. But so far so good since everybody still seems to prefer the tactile sensation of turning the page for young readers. There is hope.

Paul: As you mentioned I believe I am correct in saying that outside of the world of comic you have some considerable experience working in the world of advertising. Are you allowed to say what adverts you may have worked upon? I gather you may have been involved with the "Smash means Mash" for the UK. Is that true?

Bo: I worked for about 8 years doing storyboards for TV advertising agencies and film makers and animation studios. The advertising stuff was for clients like Papa John's Pizza, Firestone, Shark Week for The Discovery Channel and the list just goes on and on. Don't believe anything that was written near the end of my Wikipedia page. The Smash thing for the UK was added by somebody somewhere and isn't true.
Paul: I rather suspected the Smash reference online was a touch dubious. Wikipedia is hardly 100% percent reliable. There is a fun question I like to ask of any artist the has worked on superhero comics. If you could have the powers or abilities of any superhero which character's powers would you pick and why?
Bo: I guess if I had to pick a superhero character and their powers to have it would probably need to be Superman just because he can do it all.
Paul: Are there any comic characters you would still like to work upon as an artist?
Bo: I would really like to have a go at doing Fritz-Lieber's characters that were portrayed in Sword Of Sorcery in DC comics. I think that Fafred and the Gray Mouser are two of the great adventure characters in comics and in fiction in general. Also I've always felt that the artistic adaptations done for Elric we're off the mark. They were great design by the artists who tried their hands but their portrayals always lacked drama and excitement. I also wanted to take a stab at Fantastic Four. And Adam Strange.
Paul: What are you currently working on? Is there anything you have worked on recently that you would like to shamelessly promote?
Bo: I recently had an art book that came out called Bo Hampton's Fantastic Adventure through Kickstarter. It collected my unpublished illustration work in the fantasy and adventure veins and all of it was unpublished and done during the pandemic years. The project that I have coming up now that I'm very excited about is a return to my old 3 Devils series which IDW put out 10 years ago. I will be enlarging the art in general and doing it as a European size book and the first four issues will be collected as a trade and I will be starting again with issue number five which will be a regular 48 page comic. I'll be offering both on Kickstarter starting October 25th 2023. It's a supernatural western and has all the stuff I like to do up front. Great visuals and a compelling story. Definitely my best work to date.

Paul: I look forward to all you future projects. Bo, thank you for your time.
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