Star Wars Celebration Europe Artists Interviews: Matt Busch

    Welcome to the first in our series of interviews chatting with the stars of the Artists Alley at July’s Celebration Europe. First up it’s Matt Busch.

    JN: What was the inspiration behind your Celebration Europe piece?

    MB: To do something different! Next year is my 20th anniversary of illustrating official Star Wars art and I’ve been lucky enough to do a lot of it. But when given the opportunity, I often illustrate epic movie-poster style montages, and often the bad guys are the theme. So this time I wanted to do the opposite, both in style and in theme.

    I chose Yoda, the Jedi Master, and I wanted to portray him in both a positive, up-lifting way, as well as an evocative way stylistically. Yoda’s words and guidance is profound not just in the movies, but as a way of life many people can relate to. I wanted to create a piece that visually is more simplified, yet makes you think and revel in its simplicity. It sounds deeper than it is, but that’s what I was trying to pull off.

    JN: Once you’d decided on your piece and got approval, what was involved in bringing the image to life?

    MB: Because the print is exclusive to the show in Germany, I wanted to not only have all of the text written in German, but to have the colors have a retro German feel with the forest greens and subtle oranges. The print includes both the Star Wars and The Empire Strikes Back German logos, as they appeared in German Star Wars posters when they were originally released. My understanding is that all of the movies are just released in English now, so I’m hoping to get some nostalgia with fellow Deutchlanders.

    The title of the piece is “Erleuchtete Wesen Sind Wir” which translates in German as Yoda’s profound statement “Luminous Beings Are We.” The bottom of the print has an additional inspiring quote from Yoda that is also translated into German: “You will know, when you are calm, at peace. Passive. A Jedi uses his strength for knowledge and defense, never for attack.”I had some friends in the German Star Wars community help me out with the translation: Uwe Reber, Maikel Das, and Christian Quast.

    JN: Off the top of your head, can you think of a Star Wars scene that you haven’t yet tackled that you would love to bring to life?

    MB: I’ve tackled almost everything you could imagine from the movies, but lately I’ve been rekindling my love for Dark Empire, the first Star Wars comic series that Dark Horse put out in 1991. That series really fueled the fire under my but when I was just getting serious about art as a profession when I was starting college. I still think it’s the best Expanded Universe story out there. I mean, Luke turning to the Dark Side? Could the stakes be any higher?!

    So to have fun with this in recent years, I’ve illustrated a few Dark Empire scenes as trading cards for Topps’ Star Wars Galaxy 7, and I also illustrated a Dark Empire Anniversary poster that was a freebie at Celebration 6 in Orlando.

    To answer your question about what I’d like to illustrate that I haven’t tackled, I would LOVE to one day illustrate a fully painted graphic novel of Dark Empire. This is not out of disrespect to the original artists Cam Kennedy and Dave Dorman, but rather a homage to the incredible series they brought to life that was so inspirational to me. I would love to dabble in the the incredible visuals of that story.

    JN: With Episode 7 less than two years away, how excited are you to be looking forward to new ships, characters and worlds to interpret?

    MB: Beyond excited! I remember as a kid when Return of the Jedi came out, that George would eventually make the prequels and maybe do 7, 8, and 9 after that. I remember thinking that going back in time didn’t excite me very much. Knowing how everything wrapped up in Jedi, even as a kid I didn’t understand what urgency there was to elaborate on what had come before. I’m no prequel-hater, but let’s just say I’ve been waiting patiently for over 30 years to finally see the further adventures of the epic saga that is so dear to me… to all of us!

    I’m also very excited that J.J. Abrams is at the helm. I’ve been a fan of his for a long time and have had several opportunities to “geek out” with him. He’s definitely “one of us” but he’s also such an incredible visual storyteller. And his roots are classic Lucas and Spielberg. I have no doubt that he will deliver. And knowing who is writing and doing concept art… This is a very fun time time where it seems like we get a piece of fantastic news about episode 7 every day! (Pictured with J.J. Abrams.)

    JN: If you could only draw one Star Wars character for the rest of your career, which one would it be?

    MB: That’s a good question, because it’s usually “Who is your favorite?” but “Who is your favorite to draw?” is completely different! Honestly, my answer varies from time to time, but right now it would have to be a Probe Droid (Also known as a Probot). Ever since I saw The Empire Strikes Back, the first character you see is this crazy-creepy spidery looking droid. Love it!

    I’ve had a few opportunities over the years to draw or paint Probe Droids. One was with the Dark Empire themed cards I did for Star Wars Galaxy 7. In the Dark Empire comic series, I remember losing my mind that there were these gigantic probe droids called HK (Hunter Killer) Droids. I just had to do a fully painted image of when Salla Zend and Shug Ninx get the Millennium Falcon caught in the tractor beam of one of these things.

    JN: You’ll be in the artists alley with your fellow artists. That always has an amazing vibe, friendly and vibrant – totally NOT a wretched hive of scum and villainy. How muchdo you look forward to these kind of events, especially the Celebrations?

    MB: Yeah, the niche of Star Wars artists is pretty cool, and unlike other clicks of illustrators and comic book artists. We’re like a family. We usually only get to see each other at shows, but a lot of us keep in touch and talk all the time, especially when we are working on projects together. We’re all kind of like the second or third generation of licensed Star Wars artists, so we all share the same story. We all grew up loving and drawing Star Wars, and we kind of never stopped. Now we’re all lucky enough to get paid for it!

    As a comparison, there are some small cliques of comic book artists that have a similar camaraderie, but there’s also a lot of jealousy, backstabbing, and segregation amongst comic book professionals. It can be negative, and a lot of us Star Wars artists stay out of it. We all know that there is plenty of work for everyone, and we all share in each other’s excitement.

    It’s funny, I remember meeting artist Jeff Carlisle before he was doing official Star Wars art. I had been doing it for a while and he was looking to break in. His stuff was always fantastic and I knew he wouldn’t have a hard time getting work. Anyway, flash forward about 15 years- I just emailed him the other day and told him how jealous I was of a bunch of killer Star Wars projects he was on that I would have loved to do! Of course, it’s a healthy jealousy, as I slammed busy as it is, and like I said, there’s plenty of work for everyone. So We all are excited for each other’s success.

    Anyway- so I think that’s why the vibe in Artist Alley at Celebrations is the way it is. We are a family, and it’s not a competition. We are fans as much as everyone else, so when you come to hang out with us, you’re in good company and vice versa. (Pictured with Star Wars Artist Randy Martinez.)

    JN: Imagine you could go back and draw the very first Star Wars poster, to hype the release of the film back in 1977. What would it look like?

    MB: Oh boy… I don’t know if I’d want to alter an already perfect history in my fan boy memory… Because my friends and I were so blown away by the visuals of all the bad guys, I’d have to go with my villain-style 30th Anniversary poster for A New Hope, which was a limited edition print for Star Wars Celebration IV in Los Angeles.

    There was just such a unique look to the armor, architecture and technology of the empire. Plus the impending doom of just grouping all of these evil threats together… I think this image would have blown me away as a kid, so I’ll go with that.

    JN: Which of the six films, 2 TV movies, 3 animated series, LEGO specials and one holiday special means the most to you?

    Easy. Empire. Part of it might have been that I was 7 years old at the time. The perfect age where, having seen and fallen in love with Star Wars at 4, Empire was just this over-the-top sequel that just blew my growing mind. I was in creative heaven playing with the toys and drawing my own Star Wars adventures.

    Even today, The Empire Strikes Back is still my favorite as an adult. The storytelling is masterful, and there is a lot of deep themes intertwined. High action, compelling philosophy, sexual tension, honor versus betrayal… Everything is shrouded in mystery and the stakes are high. Plus, the ultimate cliff-hanger ending!

    J.J., are you taking notes? 😉

    You can visit Matt at Matt Busch.com.

    Matt Busch Interview Copyright 2013 Jedi News. No part of this interview can be reproduced without prior written consent from Jedi News.

    Mark Newbold
    Former Daily Content Manager and Program Director for Jedi News and the podcast network. Co-host RADIO 1138 and Take Cover on the Jedi News Network.