Bound to the Jade Giant

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An unfamiliar name to the newest generation of comic book readers, Jeff Purves recently blipped back on the radar screen when Marvel released the third volume of its Hulk Visionaries: Peter David series. This newest collection binds together several issues from the controversial grey Hulk period of the Eighties, when the character went by the name of Joe Fixit. As you’ve guessed, one of the artists to bring the grey hulk to life was Jeff Purves.

BF caught up with Purves to look back at the old days and find out what the artist is up to at the moment.

BROKEN FRONTIER: Marvel recently released the Hulk Visionaries: Peter David Vol. 3 trade paperback, collecting a few issues of your artistic run on the book.  It must be exiting to see you work back on the shelves in a new collected edition, isn't it?

JEFF PURVES: Absolutely!  It's like opening up a personal time capsule. A wave of memories hit me like a ton of bricks.  One favorite memory comes to mind… I remember getting the phone call from Marvel a week after completing the test they had offered me.  I was asked if I'd like to draw The Incredible Hulk.  I was stunned.  It was as if time stood still. My reaction, of course, was "HELL YES!"  Now seeing the work re-released is like seeing an old friend after twenty years.  I couldn't be more elated.

Click to enlargeBF: This collected edition probably wouldn't have appeared if not for the rejuvenation of Peter David's Marvel career.  How do you look back on working with Peter David?

JP: Peter was fantastic to work with, because his style of writing is very visual.  Without exception, one page of type equalled one page of art, which made my job quite a bit easier.  It was left up to me to determine how many panels per page to do. This along with the wonderful support from Bobbie Chase and Bob Harras seemed to work well, so corrections or changes were VERY rare.  For this artist, Peter and the editorial staff were a dream to work with... no complaints whatsoever.

BF: Are you picking up any of Peter's current work?

JP: I wish there were more hours in a day to catch up with what Peter has been up to, but fatherhood, the film industry, freelance illustration and daydreaming have my time booked solid.  I'm sure Peter’s future is as bright as it has always been.  I wish him nothing but the best.

BF: At the time you worked on Hulk, the jade giant wasn't green but grey and called Mr. Fixit.  Do you recall any of the fan reaction to the Hulk's sudden change of color?  I know I went all "What the Heck?!", and I'm sure there must have been many others who felt the same way.

JP: Definitely!  Fans have a very unmistakable way of expressing their dislike—they stop buying the product.  At the time, I believe sales dipped a bit but picked up again very shortly.  I can only chalk this up to the loyalty of the fan base to the book.  On a similar note, I remember (and am eternally thankful to Bobbie Chase) being informed that when my first issue, Incredible Hulk #347, came out, fans would react to a new artist by refusing to buy the comic.... and THAT they did.  I freaked a little but apparently the loyalty of the fans persevered and sales resumed.  If you're reading this Bobby: thank you for that little warning; it saved me from looking for another job. 

Regarding the actual drawing of The Hulk as Mr. Fixit, believe it or not his hat was the most difficult thing to draw of the entire job.  A fedora is a deceptively complex shape. It's very easy to screw it up and make it look like a small cowboy hat or to the other extreme and make it a derby.  One would think The Hulk was the toughest thing to draw—sorry folks, it was his hat that used up most of my erasers.

BF: What was your favorite single issue of your run on The Incredible Hulk?

JP: Ouch!  That's like asking a father who his favorite child is.  I am very proud of them all, but if I had to choose, it would have to be issue #352. The setting and topic was just my cup of tea.  I grew up influenced by Foster, Bob Peak, Rockwell, Charles Gibson and other artists of a more illustrative approach to illustration.  As such, my style is more illustrative than graphic. That's not to say that this style is better or worse-suited for drawing a comic book; it's just my style. It is what it is and I think this was best reflected in Incredible Hulk #352.

I've always loved drawing castles, forests, and the period clothing of the Middle Ages, so the issues located in Jarella's world really appealed to me. Of course, having the great Terry Austin ink those issues helped.  He is a wizard with a brush and pen and really amped up my work.

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BF: You're someone who picked up a pencil at a young age and who credits his father for helping prosper his artistic skills.  How much of a lasting influence did your childhood and your upbringing have on you as an artist?

JP: My childhood was magical.  I grew up with five sisters and one older brother from two incredible parents, who are still married.  The Purves family is an eclectic bunch.  We are spread out over the globe from Idaho to Wyoming to South Korea to Tajikistan to Africa and finally to me in L.A.  We were all nourished by our parents in our respective fields of interest.  My folks never pushed us into one thing or the other, but always made sure we were exposed to what we needed in order to further these talents, even if it was just a book or a violin lesson.

Being a father now myself, I believe in the approach of "letting" and not "forcing" a child into interests will garner a far greater reward and love of that chosen vocation.  My father retired from the Strategic Air Command as an officer in the Air Force when I was in Junior high.  Prior to retirement, he began to teach himself how to be an architectural illustrator... and then excelled and is now doing quite well as a fine artist. His studio was in the basement next to my room.  I remember sneaking in there and checking out all his paintings and drawings and learning what he was learning at the time.  That was invaluable.  That little sanctuary of a studio and his guidance taught me lessons and foundations of art that still pay off to this day.  I still look back on my sketchbooks of those times with wonder—they're like graphic diaries.  I keep that mystical frame of mind I had back then close to my heart to this day.  I'll never grow up; there's no future in it. 

BF: At this stage in your life, you don't have any comic books out on the shelves, though you've been working hard on the Hellboy animated series as a layout artist.  How did you become involved with the people working on the show?

JP: It’s a thrill to work on that project. The two animated features are still in various stages of production, so please understand that, in the film industry, discussing films in detail prior to their release is to cut ones own throat professionally.  That being said, I can say that the films will ROCK! 

I got onto the project by showing my portfolio to Tad Stones, the supervising director.  I had just finished up a project of direct-to-video features called Stan Lee Presents at the same studio, IDT Entertainment. In the animation industry, you usually get work by the caliber of the work represented in your portfolio.  On occasion, you are lured onto films by a phone call from a director you've worked with before, but usually it's your artwork that lands you the job. From the pencil tests of rough animation I've seen so far, the Hellboy films look great. I can't wait to see them. 

BF: What drove you away from the comics industry for several years, really? Was it that you loved animation more, the malaise of the late nineties, or something else?

Click to enlargeJP: I had been in animation for a few years prior to drawing the Incredible Hulk. Of course, when I received the offer to join the Marvel Universe, I dropped everything and jumped at the chance—who wouldn't?  After nineteen issues in as many months, I found I missed the film-making process very much.  Drawing a full 26 to 28 page comic book every month was all-consuming to me. One gets to be a hermit.  I remember getting to the point of waking up at the crack of noon and working till 4 am all the time for seven days a week. Don't get me wrong though, I loved every step of the way.

Working for Marvel was fantastic and they were very good to me, but it was just time to turn the page and move on. Regarding the "exodus" of artists from the comic industry in the nineties: I was working on the west coast at the time and the vast majority of artists were on the east coast so I never really had the opportunity to hob-nob with other artists.  Even if I did, I was too busy drawing to talk.  I understand their choices at the time, but again, my leaving had nothing to do with anything but getting back into film making. 

BF: Some people who’re reading this interview may recognize your name from some of the work you did for other entertainment companies, most notably Walt Disney, Hanna Barbara and Warner Brothers.  What were some of the most high-profile projects you worked on for these three industry forces?

JP: Of all the animated films I've worked on, I would have to say my favorites where
Mulan, Emperor’s New Groove, Fantasia 2000 (all by Disney) and The Swan Princess
 (by Rich Animation).  They were all consistent in style, which is important to me, because I can't stand watching or viewing a film or piece of art that dips in quality half way through. Admittedly, some productions are more organized than others and it always shows in the finished product. 

One other non-animation related project I worked on was the development and design of NASA's Space Center Houston. I worked as a concept design artist for this project. It was fascinating and the structure is one amazing piece of architecture to visit.

BF: What I said earlier about not having any comics out at the moment isn't totally correct, because you're collaborating with Miquel Cima on The Binder, a story centred on a vampire hunter.  How does the book differ from other ones of the same genre?

Click to enlargeJP: Yes, I am currently working with Miguel on The Binder at the same time still working in the film industry....kind of busy these days.  I wouldn't be doing it if Miquel’s quality of writing and storytelling caught my eye. He is a strong talent. The Binder is not a vampire hunter story specifically, more of a monster hunter-type.  The Binder's got a magic bag and works with a 350 year old witch and an aristocratic magic weapons collector. 

It's an extensive universe that Miguel has created.  A storyline that is researched well is such a solid foundation for me to sink my teeth into. To me, The Binder differs from other genre-related stories because of Miguel's extensive knowledge of these topics as well as his story structure abilities and; of course, his energy.  He is truly a mad man and fastly becoming a good friend.

BF: The Binder was originally going to be published by the now-defunct Speakeasy Comics.  Has the book found a new publisher yet? 

JP: Miguel is in talks with many publishers at this moment—Speakeasy's demise will not deter him, or me. This will get done.  My focus is the art.  I don't mean to brush your question aside but for me to bring all my talents to the table, I have to have blinders on to concentrate at what I do best: drawing. 

BF: Do you plan on doing more comic book work once you're finished with The Binder, or is it back to animation from here? 

JP: Absolutely!  I would love to do a few short seven pagers.  When I say "do", I mean pencil, ink and color them.  Pencilling is a blast, but I would love to sink my teeth into a "total" effort.  Time will tell.  I think the team Miguel and I have formed is a good one, with good things to come…

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