An Interview with Brad Gorby

An extraordinary artist, Brad Gorby has done animation, sculpting, and painting but Femfans know him best as the long-time regular penciler on the Femforce title. Over the last decade he has helped define the Femforce with a mixture of humor, action, and personality which has been unparalleled. His other work in the comic book field includes a stint with MacFarlane Productions and a convergence with Beau Smith on “Parts Unknown” but it is his work with AC Comics that has been most appreciated.

As a youngster, were you into comic books and, if so, what were your favorites?

I enjoyed reading Charlton comics as a kid, drawn to them by the typically lush paintings that graced their covers. I never bought them to “follow” the storylines of a particular title though. My favorites were titles like “The M.A.R.S. Patrol,” “Captain Venture,” and “Space Family Robinson.” I’ve always enjoyed sci-fi oriented material. I didn’t actually start buying comics to follow storylines until I picked up DC’s “Weird Worlds,” an anthology based on the works of Edgar Rice Burroughs’ John Carter of Mars, Carson of Venus and Pellucidar. The start of my comic fandom was with DC titles, initiated by their artists – Joe Kubert, Neil Adams, Murphy Anderson, Nestor Redondo, Michael Kaluta , Berni Wrightson – all of whom were top notch illustrators that really made the comics exciting and fun to indulge in. The titles that were formative to my appreciation of the comic medium were “Swamp Thing,” “Tarzan,” “Green Lantern,” “Rima, the Jungle Girl,” and Marvel’s “Conan the Barbarian ” by both Barry Smith and John Buscema.

When did you decide to become an artist and what kind of training did you engage in to develop your craft?

I realized my artistic aspirations during my junior year in high school, which was then cemented after a summer school internship at the Art Institute of Pittsburgh where I roomed with Kent Williams. Kent’s enthusiasm really opened my eyes to the potential of an art career. I made several attempts at schooling in the arts, but the main development of my art training has been through constant practice and “on the job” training.

At what point did you begin doing comic-book related art?

The first comic-related art I did was in the fifth grade. I illustrated on lined notebook paper an anthology of “Universal Monster” comics… none of which I have any longer, but which definitely showed my take on the subject of comics even at so early a stage, the serious story with a humorous slant. My first professional comic work was in the mid-eighties. Prior to that most of the work I did was of an illustrative nature. I did a lot of stuff based on the works of J.R.R. Tolkien.

What made you a fan of the Femforce and how did you start working with AC Comics?

Bill Black made me a fan of Femforce. I first discovered Bill’s work via “Femzine” during my first year at the Art Institute of Pittsburgh. It was like no comic I had ever seen before. Later, during my initial stint as a freelance illustrator, one of my associates, Lee Burks, (we were both doing work for Brad Foster’s Jabberwocky Graphix) told me to submit samples to AC because he thought my work would suit what AC was doing on their new Femforce title. I sent Bill a short story featuring Lee’s “PeachFuzz” character and next thing I know I’m doing the Roy Rogers Coloring Book for Bill. I still joke with Bill and Mark concerning my work for AC over the years, due to the fact that 99.9 percent of the submissions they get end up in the “ignore” pile and mine didn’t…despite the fact that my first submission was not as well executed as some of the samples they get. I can only guess that my approach to the subject was what got me in.

You’re known as one of the best “Good Girl” artists working today. Tell us a little about “Good Girl” art and the artists who’ve most influenced your work whether they be classical artists, more modern pin-up artists, or artists best known for their work in comic books or strips.

I was lucky in the fact that my parents were enthusiasts of Alberto Vargas, best known for his glamorous portrayals of idealized “American Girls” for Playboy. I learned to draw girls from the study of his work. As I got more involved in “Girlie Art” I found Gil Elvgren and Frank Frazetta (very influencing due to his portrayal of robust and strong women). Murphy Anderson and John Buscema were also very strong influences with regard to their illustrative prowess of the female form. It’s easy to fall into the “Good Girl” genre as an artist because the female form is such a dominant factor in art, whether in illustration or advertising…it’s primal, whether you’re a Cro Magnon carving a fertility goddess or a commercial illustrator … sex sells. Alphonse Mucha built his career on drawing pretty girls as did Charles Dana Gibson. It’s an almost given application due to the nature of basic artist training in life drawing. Plus if you’re a male artist, it’s a fun application of your skills.

As the most prolific penciller in the Femforce’s long run, you’ve helped define the characters. The characterizations in both facial expression and body language give each member a distinct personality. Describe the personalities of each of the individual members of the Femforce and how you transfer that into your illustrations.

My training as an animator gave me an edge in my interpretations of the various members of Femforce. One of the first things you learn as an animator is to make your characters easily identifiable, regardless of their size or placement in a scene. This rule of thumb is even more important when you’re dealing with a group of characters, and that fact is amplified if you’re using a limited palette such as the black and white format of AC books- you can’t utilize color to emphasize character. That characterization can take many forms and even the use of props. Taken at the very basics, all my girls are exactly the same as concerns their construction…Ms. Victory is indistinguishable from She-Cat, who is indistinguishable from Tara or Synn at the primary level. I just use stylization and exaggeration to differentiate them.

Ms. Victory is the “archetypal superhero,” so I stayed relatively simple in her visual interpretation. Typically, she’s always drawn rather stoic and I tend to limit her to poses that convey strength and indomitability rather than those that look relaxed. She also tends to be a bit heavier in the torso with wider shoulders than the other members of Femforce. She-Cat on the other hand is rarely drawn in a stiff pose, like a cat her poses are almost always “slinky.” Since She-Cat is the “smart ass” of Femforce, I usually add a bit of humor or cynism to her facial expressions. Tara, being the most “un-powered” of the group is drawn with much more physicality. Her physique is more muscular since her strength is built from exercise rather than a mystical formula or some such enhancement. Her expressions also tend to be softer, drawn with much more subtle emotion to exemplify her caring nature and humanity. Also, to exaggerate her “natural” side, in later versions I thickened her eyebrows to show that she doesn’t waste a lot of time in front of a mirror indulging in vanity. I could go on, but the fans should go back to their copies of Femforce and look for themselves and see if they can define what things I’ve done to make each character distinctive, it’ll raise their level of appreciation.

Your pencils on the Femforce over the years have set the standard for what most Femfans look for in all comic book art. Your work (in concert with that of Black and Heike) just before and during the Countdown to 100 is viewed by many fans as sequential art at its best. In recent years, you seem to have shifted towards a slightly less realistic, more cartoony style with a hint of anime/manga. Has this been a conscious evolution? If not, do you agree that your comic book illustration style has become more cartoony? If so, what’s influenced the change?

The shift in my art style was definitely a conscious decision. I’ve been a big fan of Japanese Manga for years prior to its mass audience popularity and realized that it was going to become a trend shortly after my initial introduction to it. It’s also a natural evolution in sequential art to streamline and simplify the artwork in order to enhance the speed with which one kicks material out, anything to keep the deadline monster at bay. The main reasons my art has gone the route of more stylization is because it’s faster for me to draw and more acceptable to the mass audience now than in prior years. It also helps to make one’s work more distinguishable if you put more individuality into the style. John Byrne did it when he first took over X-men, McFarlane did it with Spiderman. Artists who are unable to alter their styles to fit the current trends generally go the way of the Dodo.

Your panels in the Femforce often contain references from other entertainment mediums such as television and movies. What are some of your favorite genres, shows, actors, or actresses and how have we seen them reflected in your Femforce art?

I’ve always been a “Genre” nut, whether it’s Sci-fi, fantasy, or what-have-you. Both Bill Black and I have a “thing” for the character actor Dick Miller and he has shown up a lot in Femforce, one such appearance is as the gravedigger in Femforce #84. As a James Bond fan I’ve snuck in some references such as a tag-line on a nightclub sign making fun of a classic line from Goldfinger, “No, Mr. Bond, I expect you to dance!” A cartoonified Gillian Anderson from X-Files made a guest appearance in FF#96 as Commodore Farraday’s granddaughter Riot O’Rourke and one of my first in-jokes was to stick in a juvenile “Dirty Pair” in the playground in my first Femforce job, #23. Issue #90 was based almost entirely on one of my all-time favorite movies, “Most Dangerous Game,” which starred Fay Wray, Robert Armstrong and Joel McRea . There’s probably lots of stuff that gets put in on a subconscious level, little bits of accumulated trivia that dribble out as I’m in “the zone.”

Talk a little about your Femforce Millenium website. How are plans progressing? Is the next phase of the site almost ready? When it’s open for public viewing, what can Femfans expect to find?

I wish I had more time to devote to it. The new site design is progressing at a slow pace but it’s shaping up nicely to match my vision. Currently, I’m working on a preview to give Femfans a sampling of what to expect. Due to the necessity of my career change, the work will continue to be sporadic on FF2K, but when I actually get it up and running it’s going to be really exciting. I’ve totally redesigned the site navigation and will be making it interactive. Visitors will be able to “uplink” to the Videxx GlobalExplorer and take a virtual tour of the various complexes of the Colorado Project, whether its FFHQ, the Weir Asylum, Jungle Island or the assorted other AC Universe Hero Sites, and, of course, that will be just the start of an online adventure with the AC Teams they’ve come to love.

An example would be linking to FFHQ, looking in on an adventure that the Femforce is engaged in, and then, if they want, the visitor can link to the Colorado Complex and see what the Justice Squad is up to as concerns that particular adventure…it might not even have anything to do with what the FF is involved in…but then again it might, only on a different level; it really adds a whole new dimension to what you’ve come to expect from Femforce comics. Then, of course, there are the graphics of the site that will give the fans a Femforce that has never been seen before …a full color 3D Femforce that will truly knock their socks off…more like a movie than a comic book. The first adventure is “Problem Child” and I’m starting where I left off at the end of the “RAD” miniseries in Femforce Issues 92-94. Dr. Lieber is back and he’s after the Mento Helmet! You’ll have to bite your lip and wait to learn why.

What other projects, whether for AC or other companies, are coming up in which Femfans can enjoy your art?

My art career is over aside from my personal pursuits, like the Millennium Site. I’m still doing the odd private commission but other than my FF2K work fans probably won’t be seeing my work anywhere else. From time to time, should my schedule allow, I’ll probably do stuff for AC but my art is strictly a hobby now and as such gets a small percentage of my attention.

Betty Boop or Bettie Page?

Betty Boop, without a doubt, although I have to credit Bettie Page for having the most aesthetically perfect physique from an artist’s standpoint.

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