We here at Sugar Gamers are so lucky to have a friend in wildly successful illustrator and artist John Gallagher. The odds that you haven’t seen some of his handy work are VERY low. Just check his IMDB! John has a been a supporter of SG for a long time and we are overdue to pick his hyper creative brain! John is a great resource for anyone looking to pursue success in a creative and competitive field. I want to thank him for taking the time to chat with me!
You say you were born curious. How do you stay connected to your own curiosity?
Creativity demands it. To constantly inquire, engage, investigate, decipher, anything to do unpacking the zeitgeist of our life and times and those eras past and empires fallen. Otherwise patterns set in and repetition occurs and before you know it there’s cart tracks leading to the same tired solutions which can often lead to bad habits, lazy practices and worn out routines. To me it’s the prime mover, not only to be constantly replenishing my own resources with new and hopefully interesting raw material to pulp into workable content, but just as a marching order for a compelling life. Keep the floodgates at least partially open all the time.
“As a species one of our most wondrous and terrifying gifts is our curiosity.”
It drives my intellect, my tradecraft, my imagination. I still filter accordingly for unproductive debris, so that hopefully only generous and abundant material thrives but man, I couldn’t imagine not investigating as free of bias as cognitively possible, gathering and considering evidence, imagery, idea or data critically, and hopefully evolving my own thresholds further. It gives us key meaning and purpose in a bewildering substrate reality. Otherwise, why bother? We know what it looks like when inquiry has died, and how lack of imagination and interest ruin experience. It’s entropy encapsulated. Our human energy diminishes if we’re not investigating, and hopefully in a larger sense, learning the lessons that come with fearless pursuit of truths. I just stay open to the possibilities, happy accidents and wild ricochets as I can.
The goal being to create magic, wonder, and awe with your art, how do you manage to succeed at that regularly?
Ha! I’m not really sure I do but nonetheless I try. Some context: When I was a young boy, walking through primeval forest and swimming in depthless lakes in Northern Ontario, all I saw was the unseen. Explosions behind my eyes. Gods walking among humans. I dreamt of magic and power and majesty. I didn’t have the form language or visual vocabulary but mythic and unknowable things were my all-consuming passion. Massive, haunting, monumental. I couldn’t get enough. I’d draw all day like the devil was at my heels and fall asleep still clutching my pencil. I drew constantly and as films, books and comics became my main stock in trade for feeding my curiosity the foundation of my imagination began to establish itself. It gained a beach head as I built inventory. I discovered powerful voices creating incredible work that stay with me still. I was an active kid out in the world but my private salvation was always the place I could go in my head and use my hands to translate. I never knew if there was even a way to make that work matter or reach people back in the 1970s in small steel town in the middle of nowhere but I knew if I could I’d want to inspire and excite others the way their work did for me. Carry it forward as an honour and duty. Every day I see work that does exactly that and it knocks me out every time, like I’m seeing it with a child’s eyes all over again. I forget I illustrate professionally and I’m just a pure fan thrilled by the discovery. Fast forward and narrowing to now: I’ll specifically reference superhero imagery as my day job is largely helping provide solutions internally for productions and the hero work has earned me a certain cache which I of course enormously grateful for. Again, not certain I do but I do make a point in my process of always respecting the material and the creators who’ve come before. I actively seek out the best of breed for their take, how a legend would approach it, their creative brain space and try to create an elevated solution. I surround myself or my desktop and try to channel the parliament of creative immortals who’ve come before me and while I don’t always succeed or learn a breakthrough technique I do everything I can to keep it fresh from mixing up my process itself in order and move asynchronously to collaborations to new software, anything to keep the curiosity fully engaged.
You’ve been in this industry a LONG TIME! What have been some of your absolute favorite projects?
Yes Keisha it’s true I’m legitimately ancient! But I do have a lot of fun and the work is endlessly interesting so I haven’t really noticed any weight of time dragging along. It really began with Bioware and all the opportunities that emerged directly from that experience both on the projects within the studio and the passport it provided at other companies to work on dream projects at a making a meaningful contribution to its life level. When I first started there as Director of Concept Design I went from DMing a Dungeons and Dragons campaign to the next week drawing the initial concept sketches for Iron Throne, later to become Baldur’s Gate. It was a dream come true! Everything I’d ever wanted: working on uber-cool geek gold projects with kickass people and getting paid for it! And so you know, I’ve been exceedingly fortunate my entire career to be able to work on things I love regardless of if I’d ever had a creative stake in their futures. One after another. So it began with the BG series making a seismic impact then on to Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic and the stunning gift and privilege of being able to visualize new undiscovered worlds and characters for the universe directly responsible for blowing my head apart when I was ten years old. Those two stand out consecutively because of how critical D&D and Star Wars were for enriching my own creative firmament and their imperial place in my memory palace. Once I transitioned into film it’s been quite a string of wild rides, all rewarding and challenging in their ways. Being able to be a part of Flash – then Supergirl and Legends of Tomorrow and many others – made it so much richer given my love of all things superhero. It felt like I had come full circle in my Jedi training and it was on work regularly played before a worldwide audience with passionate and devoted followings. I felt like I was giving back to the inspirations of the past. Extraordinary to recall so vividly being a young boy scribbling superheroes with abandon never knowing what it would ever amount to or even if it needed to just that it mattered and I loved it.
What do you long to work in next?
I’m not so much yearning or longing these days as simply making it happen entirely for myself. As I mentioned it’s been one gift after another. The shows are an absolute blast and likely always will be but I’m loathe to let one industry dictate my future prospects. I’m too creatively restless and driven to explore. I’m moving some of my attention and resources over to an artisanal retail boutique offering a broad canvas of pop-cult merchandise from apparel to statues with my daughter – I just posted one of our prototypes on Facebook – and setting up a niche toy company with some gifted and experienced friends. Again, a small agile responsive studio offering remarkable pieces of remarkable characters. The two endeavors will share a crossover ecosystem. And I’ll be producing my first feature film later this year – a Bigfoot feature called No Man’s Ridge – which is a culmination of years of persistent pressure gently applied finally rolling in hot late summer. The team is fantastic so it’s blessed from its inception. And the rubber meets the road this year for my art book. So between that and more comic covers and anything that really interests me, it’s likely bucket list distractions from here on out. Film will always be my first love and focus but there are many charismatic and demanding suitors clamoring for my attention.
How have you adapted to changing technology when it comes to working an promoting?
The everyday tacit reality of the human experience has been profoundly altered and impacted by accelerated online culture and all its high strangeness, sub-cultural tribes and bizarre dynamics. That can’t possibly be overstated. With these exponential leaps and bounds comes a certain uncertainty, all built on vacuum tubes and seventies infrastructure to sustain it. I became an adolescent in the time vintage Internet when it was still dial up modems on house phones to university mainframes and cassette drives running home computers. No immersive, augmented or virtual replications or enhancements all unreliable analog devices grinding out the experience. My analog creative devices were pencil and paper, ink, markers, paint and glue. I drew, painted, built scale models by the dozen, built dioramas and slavishly devoted myself to crafting like it was a divine mission. I hadn’t ever considered it anything other than an obsessive interest until I saw Star Wars and told myself that I was gonna do that! (pointing at the movie screen) I didn’t know how but I would. So fast forward many years to Bioware, which was my first real introduction to state of the art tool kits. Interestingly, I still had to stick with analog for the most part as I was most valuable to the projects grinding concept assets out at a blistering pace and handing them off to digital artists. Interestingly the very thing that kept me valued and gainfully employed was not digital artwork at a video game development studio. But I learned and as I did it became clear early that my ambitions could only truly be realized digitally, as astonishing and beautiful as analog work can be. And yes I can draw like a motherfucker I just do it rarely with traditional media anymore. I find my way back often enough to know I haven’t lost a step. In film the illustrators job is to ensure that everyone has a very good idea what it’s going to look like on camera so that forces an evolutionary leap in your aesthetic so I embraced it entirely and my house style began to gain traction. It just so happens that I make marks a certain way but the spectrum of illustration is a splendidly huge and varied one and there is space for everyone. With the last decade pervasive reach of social media artists have a multitude of venues to promote and showcase their work. But the vocational challenges remain the same as they always have: identity, brand advantage, positioning, persona, availability, output, skill level and at its most basic: signal boosting. Just getting eyes on the work. Rising above the din and background noise is the main challenge and truth is for me it happened organically over time. That and avoiding gravity well art sites all full of art school grads playing elitist grabass with each other and lying about their resumes, speed and abilities. I did something I love that being superheroes, at a decent enough level of execution to gain some attention, and hopefully noticeably improved and challenged myself, and with respect and care to the characters and mythologies themselves that diehards and geek sites noticed the attention to detail and tradecraft and were suitably impressed to share and evangelize and the final coup de grace was working on very high profile shows like The Flash that dovetailed with my keen interest in superhero imagery.
We love following you on social media! Besides seeing your incredible art, you use Facebook to post inspirational videos and funny memes! What’s even more fun about following you is the way you respond to trolls! Where do you find the energy and why do you bother holding people accountable with scathing wit?
Ha! Well I rarely engage trolls anymore because I really can’t be bothered. They just double down and dig in and no one’s mind is being changed. Cognitive dissonance brings the fearful comfort and change is hhhhaaaaarrrrrdddd Keisha lol. Kidding of course but for many they can express three maybe four cut and pasted opinions from alt-right ‘outrage’ echo chambers tops, press the laugh button to ‘comment’ and the rest of their cortex is fast food, porn, being broke af, sleep and self-loathing. It’s largely a fool’s errand given that the democratization of the social space allows for the fool and the genius to have the same number of tonally equal keystrokes. These days I deliberately avoid politics and religion because asking for reasoned discussion and balanced accounting is another fool’s errand. I’d rather post cool and interesting things to me and hopefully people dig it. If they don’t it doesn’t diminish my interest in the slightest. Validation for my relentless curiosity and myriad interests isn’t something I actively seek. But it is rewarding in its way if I can turn someone on to something that hadn’t crossed their screen before. It’s all about the share.
There is something very rebellious and punk rock about you. Its seems to show up in everything you do. What inspires this part of you?
Aw thanks I appreciate the kudos Keisha. And it’s true. All of it. I was born with a huge chip on my shoulder, a headful of hate and was deeply suspicious of institutional authority. Being raised by a single Mom who gave her best and still struggled back then in a small-minded steel town at a time when there was only one word neighbourhood gossips used to describe you, however wrong or inaccurate it was, can lead to either self-destruction or self-construction and some clenched fists because kids are cruel and their adults can be vile. I got in a lot of fights and mixed it up often but I was also a great student so what the hell do you do with this kid? There was also likely concern for my mental health considering all I drew were monsters, gore and mayhem. I knew even then I’d have to be better, smarter, stronger and bigger a personality to shine or for that matter even get noticed. No accident of birth or social station to ensure a smooth sail. It was going to be strictly a do it yourself achievement with a lucky break in there. I didn’t know if art was going to be the express train I’d be catching but it sure as fuck wasn’t going to be working at some joe job dreaming a little dream and hoping someone would happen upon my oh so staggering genius. So as my adolescence rapidly approached and my interests expanded to include tribal affiliations outside of sports and academics, punk dropped a nuke in the centre of my perceptions. I dug the music, the attitude, the clothes, the manifesto and especially the girls and I was off to do my own thing. It’s DIY ethos and energy has never left me and while my anger sublimated and processed to be (mostly) constructive and positive, that same Irish snarl has been the propellant for my engine ever since. It’s not blatant hostility and black Mohawks anymore so much as simply the gasoline to fuel this mainstreamed well groomed flesh machine I live in. But like gasoline, every so often it can leak out and cause explosions.
You say you are an inclusive, free thinking, global citizen. What does that mean to you? Is it hard to maintain the energy to be this kind of citizen?
It means keeping your eyes, heart and mind open to the possibilities, to growth, evolution and progress for all of us, however it looks, however it can happen. It means remaining vigilant with rigour, and hope and dreaming and realizing a better world and a better life by your example.
Act locally think globally and ensure the only thing that’s contagious from you is an open-minded fluid narrative free to expand and change, talk, engage, discuss and empathize.
I think the most radical act a human can do in troubled times is listen and be kind. I respect differences and challenges but our beautiful rare and mysterious humanity can and does connect us to finding better solutions, wiser choices, a kinder way globally and surrender the absurd preoccupation of being outraged and distracted all the fucking time. Universal truths persist regardless of wherever you find yourself and in whatever meat puppet you’re trapped inside. Make that our common ground not the basis of dispute and conflict. Our humanity. Free inquiry requires a certainty of purpose and fortitude as you explore cultural, ideological and socio-political world views – some gorgeous, some despicable -that while they may not be for you, require examination and deconstruction so it’s possible to have an informed exchange of mutual benefit as opposed to simply duelling callouts that accomplish nothing. In other words not a facebook comment thread which just reminds me of bathroom graffiti. Staying deliberately ignorant, silent and inactive, and unfortunately often hopeless, requires an enormous amount of anti-effort and if we could trigger the learning impulse as opposed to the offended gene in that segment of the world population we’d be much better off short and certainly long term. It’s an ongoing battle and one I’m happy to brandish arms for and put my considerable energies toward. I want that kind of world and I’ll put the labour and the force of will in on the ground.
We wanna be like you, give us your life force! Or at least some advice and tips on being a successful creative!
There are no secrets. I’ll share any technique or tip with anyone. I’m not precious or guarded in the slightest. We all use the same tools, the same software and paper and pencils and tutorials and guidebooks. There is no forbidden lore, no hidden treasury with the answers arranged to only those deserving of insider knowledge. It’s deliberate practice. No shortcuts or easy way out. It’s ten thousand hours before you’re half-assed decent and most of the crappy drawings are behind you and the not bad ones in front of you. Good is still on the horizon. Kill it every day, hard work, effort, fail gloriously, miserably, learn from those mistakes, don’t keep crashing in the same car, invite critique, listen to it, jettison your ego or you’ll amount to nothing. You are in service of skill and if you misunderstand that relationship it will remind you. Combined with a hunger and drive to be outstanding and cross-training all the time like any top-flight achiever it’s the basis for gaining excellent results. Love being evergreen and take making great money seriously. Treat it and respect it as a going concern business. Another not so much a secret is support each other! I’ll offer that there are far more benefits to being a supportive advocate for other artists, setting a good example as a role-model, fighting the good fight, keeping them positive, focused and motivated than being a crybaby emo douche with an axe to grind and thinking only hacks do well and why doesn’t the world pay me a million dollars a year for being aaawwwweeesssoooommmmmeeeeee Keisha? Haters gonna hate and that’s just part of the territory. And the higher you get the further away they can see you. Fuck ’em who cares the basements they crawl out of to dead lives is existential punishment enough. And I usually just wipe away the crocodile tears with hundred dollar bills. No one is under any obligation or sworn oath to respond, like, hate or acknowledge your work and conduct yourself according to that edict. And it’s important to separate your sense of self from the work otherwise the vanity waters can get murky so stay modest and grounded. I think of myself as a pipefitter who happens to use Photoshop so I don’t get too high on my own supply. Be a lifetime learner and student of the game and never assume mastery. We are responsible to encourage and mentor our replacements and have them make us obsolete and you won’t do it by being a doubling down resentful prick yelling at kids to get off your lawn. I tell my daughter that all the time: you already are and will be way better than me and that’s pretty damn great. THAT I’m very excited by!
You’ve worked at video game companies, but would you consider yourself a hard core gamer? If so, what are you favorite types of games to play?
No not at all not anymore. No time to properly dedicate. If anything I’m a hardcore passenger. Most AAA console games are wonderful to watch being played and I like watching my daughter Rynn play. She’s on her second playthrough of Red Dead Redemption 2 and its eminently watchable. I also watch playthroughs on Youtube if I’m interested in the game itself. I do buy quite a number of ART OF game books and that gives me all I really need in terms of interest and excitement. The game ship sailed for me once I was working in film with the long hours and my devotion to the gaming cause all but fell on the sword. I have Playstation VR and enjoy rolling it now and then. In the indie and casual gaming spaces there’s the occasional weekend time burner but nothing lasting.
What game would you love to see get a reboot?
Having been raised on steady diet of classic arcade button mashers and the first wave of Atari 2600 games, I’d love to see a VR/AR rethink on some of the first-gen console time wasters, from obscure to legendary: Missile Command, Demon Attack, Dig Dug, Burger Time, Joust, Zaxxon, many more all given a ground up fresh coat of paint and immersive retooling. The elegant simplicity of those games addiction hooks would work well in the new VR console environment with limited run times and no learning curves.
We saw your Witcher cosplay and it was awesome! Are we going to see more cosplay from you?
I’m hopeful that I’ll have a full Geralt fabricated at some point as I can actually grow a silver beard and don’t have to struggle with a pubic hair hatchet job. My daughter wants me to go as Johnny Cage from MK because I can do a deadly douchebag impression. So we’ll see but at this point it’s still to be determined. Stay tuned though!
You can find me mostly at: https://www.uncannyknack.comhttps://www.deviantart.com/uncannyknack
and my art store:https://www.johngallagherart.com
Once again, a big thank you to John for talking with me and sharing so much with our readers! I’m sure we’ll see each other soon and I can’t wait!