The Adventures of a Canadian Assistant Art Director

So, yeah. This post is late. It should have gone live a week ago. But I’ve been busy.

You see, I’m an illustrator, and one of my recent gigs has been providing illustrations for the new Amazing Stories Magazine.

Yes, THAT Amazing Stories – the one published by Hugo Gernsback way back in 1926 – the first magazine devoted entirely to science fiction – the magazine that invented the word for it, if not the genre itself – the one that has been published on and off for the last 94 years – the magazine that was home to stories by Isaac Asimov, Arthur C. Clarke, Ursula LeGuin, Phillip K. Dick and many others.

Amazing Stories was revived most recently by Steve Davidson and his Experimenter Publishing Company. The current iteration is edited by Ira Naymon who is a Canadian writer and editor from Toronto. The magazine has been publishing quarterly since 2018 and it is one of the few magazine that has illustrations accompanying the stories and an art director, Kermit Woodall who is from Virginia. I have been providing illustrations for each issue and I even got on the cover of the Winter 2018 issue! (Yay, Me!)

So somewhere along the way Steve, Ira and Kermit decided that in its second year Amazing Stories should do an all Canadian issue with all Canadian writers and illustrators.

That was when Kermit contacted me. “How’d you like to be assistant Art Director for the All-Canadian issue?” he asked.

“Okay,” I said. “How do I go about doing that?”

“Well, what I usually do is I try to line up some artists. You’re familiar with that, being one of the artists, right? I want a diverse group (but, all Canadian in this case) representing male/female/etc and black/white/etc. I also look at their styles to represent multiple art styles as well.”

“Okay. Then what?”

“Then I just ask M.D. Jackson to handle it all.” he said with a grin. “Expect ten or so stories. But line up some artists in the meantime.”

Then he gave me a list of the magazine’s art rates.

“Well,” I said. “I can’t be the only Canadian artist you work with. Who can I call on who has already been in Amazing Stories?”

“Didn’t we discuss this at the start? That I wanted your help in identifying Canadian artists? Because I don’t really have any others already.”

“Seriously? I’m the only Canuck artist who works on the magazine?”

Now it started to make sense. Here I was thinking Kermit had approached me because of my super sick art skills. Turns out he only approached me because I was Canadian. I’d been racially/culturally/nationally profiled!

Well, I’d agreed to it so I had to get to work. Line up artists. Find ten, maybe more, Canadian artists who want to work for money — for American money! How hard could that be?

Really hard, it turns out.

See, I do know a lot of Canadian artists. Many of them are my friends, but they are all of a… type. When we were young and in high school or university we may have been committed to the ideals of equality, but, as we were mostly male and mostly white, we didn’t exactly embody those ideals.

So, in order to have a diverse group I had to try to reach out to artists with different racial backgrounds, and of differing genders. And, I also had to reach out to artists from Quebec, Here in Canada that is very important. You can claim to be inclusive in Canada, but if you ignore the French Canadians, you have failed before you even begin.

I was also hopeful of finding at least one indigenous Canadian artist.

So I started putting out feelers. I approached artists I knew or had worked with before, contacted some old friends, contacted some artists I had known by reputation. I was surprised to find that my pool of artists was dismally small.

I needed help.

So I contacted an old friend, R. Graeme Cameron, who publishes a Science Fiction magazine in Canada called Polar Borealis. I knew he’d worked with a lot of diverse Canadian talent and I asked if he could recommend some people and help me get in contact with them.

Thankfully Graeme is a fantastic guy and he provided a list of artists he’d worked with. He’s messianic about Canadian Science Fiction writing and art and is doing amazing work showcasing new voices in his magazine. You really should check it out and download an issue. It’s free!

Long and short of it is this: I figured being given a chance to illustrate for an iconic Science Fiction magazine and getting paid real money for it would be an easy sell.

Turns out it wasn’t. Lots of artists were interested at first but a lot dropped out because the money wasn’t enough. They also dropped out because of the deadline. I contacted artists right away but had to wait as stories became available from the editor. Most artists had a month, some had a little less. For some it wasn’t enough. One artist told me they would need six months to produce one illustration (and they would need $20 per hour for their time). That most assuredly was not in the budget.

I don’t want to linger on the artists who didn’t end up working with me on this, but I do want to highlight the artists who did, because every one of them stepped up in a big way!

They are (in geographical order):

From Vancouver Island, Eric Lofgren produced an amazing image for the cover.

From Vancouver, Eric Chu (former production artist for Ronald D. Moore’s Battlestar Galactica television series). Also from Vancouver an old friend from my University of British Columbia days, Mike Jackson agreed to provide an illustration. I convinced him to come out of “retirement” for this. When he was illustrating he providing artwork for multiple fanzines, pro-zines and gaming manuals. He has long ago moved into working in the film industry. In fact I caught him just as he’d finished shooting his first independent feature film TIME HELMET.

From Alberta, I wrangled Jeff Doten an artist from Calgary. Also from Calgary is Richard Bartrop who did two illustrations. James Beveridge is from Edmonton, Alberta. and I managed to convince my oldest friend G. W. Thomas to provide an illustration. G. W. Is more well known as a writer, these days, but we’ve been friends since grade school, so I knew how to twist his arm.

From Quebec I found two artists who were fantastic. Laurine Spehner is from Longueuil, Quebec. She provided two beautiful illustrations, and Sagana Bouffard (who also goes by the name Sagana Squale) from Quebec City who also provided two. I knew neither of them before I started on this project but I am so glad I found them. Their work is exquisite and both were incredibly professional and easy to work with despite the language barrier (my French is terrible).

I had a lot of help along the way with this project and I want to mention one more name, Lynne Tayler Fahnestalk, who is an illustrator from Vancouver. She was not able to illustrate one of the stories but we did negotiate some cartoons from her and she was extremely helpful when it came to finding Canadian artists.

So that’s been my month. I have only now received the last of the story illustrations and I am still waiting on finishing touches to the cover image from Eric Lofgren.

It has been an incredible experience and I have learned a lot. Sadly my cadre of artists did not turn out to be as diverse as I’d hoped. I started out with almost equal numbers of female artists and male artists. It was only circumstances (money and time) that ended up winnowing the number down until all that remained were mostly white guys. And I never did manage to find an indigenous fantasy artist.

Nevertheless, the next issue of Amazing Stories Magazine is going to be… well… amazing! And all Canadian! It should be available from Amazon and from the Amazing Stories website either late in December 2020 or early in January 2021.

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