If you’ve been to any major comic convention, odds are you’ve seen Eric Maruscak pining away at whatever monument to patience and awesomeness he’s working on that weekend on the floor. I’ve never seen a man in socks work so diligently. As if that isn’t reason enough, we took a minute to ask:
Eric Maruscak: No. Absolutely not. I should be a mystery. An enigma. I should be a shadow in the night, a brief rustle in the darkness. I am the whisper of a rumor, an urban legend with no origin.
HELL YES you should know me. I’ve been working my ass off since 2006 to make giant murals of famous comic book images by some of the most amazing artists in the industry at conventions all over America. I’ve sweated and toiled, killed my back over and over again… and missed all of the cool stuff at some of the best conventions ever even though I was there the whole time just so I can finish art that you can enjoy! I work hard at this, so I hope people know me. And the more people that know me then the more art I can make…. it’s all a vicious cycle, really.
PoP!: So first thing’s first; how big are these massive chalk murals exactly?
EM: They can range in size depending on the proportions of the original piece I am being asked to recreate, but they average about 9 feet wide by 14 feet tall. I’ve done some as large as the Wizard World Chicago 2006 Michael Turner piece which was around 13 feet tall by 16 feet wide, or the Dave Gibbons Watchmen Mural for the New York Comic Con in 2008 which was nearly 17 feet tall. Others have been tiny by comparison. At Wizard World Chicago in 2008 I recreated 8 of the Greg Horn Marvel Skrull portraits as individual drawings on mat boards about 3 feet wide by 4 feet tall. It really depends on what I am asked to do, and of course what sort of space I end up having which always seems to run into some last minute problems that cause me to lose even more hair!
PoP!: So after spending 3 solid days at a con working on these things, where do they go? I mean, how vaulted can your ceilings be that you can actually display these beasts?
EM: This is probably the second most asked question I get, the first being “How much do you sell them for?” Of course, the ones that are on pavement go nowhere. They stay in the location and get washed away with the first rain (or the first union employee who comes along with a hose and goes to town on it.) Of course, I could rent a jack hammer, get permission from the city, rent heavy lifting cranes, remove the entire 130-140 square foot section of the pavement, pay the city and construction crews to do road repair and fix the hole, load the chunk of art on to a flatbed truck and transport it across the country back to my house where I will keep it in my front yard. I am SURE it won’t piss off the neighbors.
EM: Oh, you mean the indoor ones on paper? You have to make these questions clearer, man. The funny thing about the paper ones is that I have always considered them just an indoor way of doing the outdoor art without making a mess on the convention show floor (they wouldn’t let me do it otherwise.) I considered them temporary from the beginning, and was kind of surprised to see people get so emotional about what might happen to the art when it was done. To me, the point of doing this was not the finished art itself, but the process during the three days of the show. It is performance art really, just in very slow motion. The creation is what keeps people coming back time and time again over the course of the show to see what progress I’ve made. And all of the pictures they take and filming of the piece that happens is really what I am being paid for. It is about the event marketing, and not about having a finished product to hang up on your wall.
I guess it is kind of a backwards approach, especially at an event where art sells at a premium and collectors are concerned with getting something original, archival and protected that they can keep with the hopes of increased value over time. Then here I am, drawing for 30 hours just for the entertainment of the convention goers. I guess it is about the art for me, it is a tribute to the medium of comic art and sequential storytelling, as well as to the amazing artists in the field.
PoP!: Of the massive chalk murals, which has been your favorite?
EM: I’ve had many over time that I’ve felt really good about when they were done. The 2009 Penny Arcade Expo Bioshock 2 piece was a blast to do and came out very cool when it was completed 33 hours after I started. I have to thank 2K Games and The Promo Guys for bringing me out to that show, I love video games and hope I get to make MANY more video game themed murals at shows soon! Also, the 2009 Wizard World Chicago (I guess it was officially Chicago Comic Con by then) Ultimate Avengers drawing was one of the most accurate I’ve made in terms of spot-on recreations, and I’ve always felt proud of that accomplishment. But to this day, my favorite is still the Alex Ross painting of his redesigned Captain America that I made for the New York Comic Con in 2008. Mr. Ross’ art is amazing, and each time I try to recreate one of his pieces (I’ve done 4 or 5 of them now) I am really worried I won’t be up to the task. But when I got my final photo at the end of the show, which was taken by a union working from a crane that was rolling by, I got my first really good look at the piece from a high undistorted angle. It looks almost exactly like the original, and is still my favorite mural that I’ve made, hands down.
PoP!: What’s the weirdest convention story you can remember?
EM: It happened at Wizard World Chicago in 2007. I had been asked to make two pieces that year, one outside for the first two days of the show (advertising the first Bioshock game) and one inside for the second two days. Since these would be very rushed, I decided to make the indoor piece fairly simple and recreate one of my own drawings for once. The big story of the convention was the Dark Knight panel that year (the movie was still a year away from release at that time) so I made a Batman and Joker mural. It was the Saturday of the convention when I was making progress that I heard a female voice from behind me say “Your art is great. If I posed naked on it, would you take my picture?”
Well, come on… I had to stop working and see what this was about. And I am proud to say that I didn’t miss a beat when I responded without hesitation “Yes, absolutely.” Behind me was a cute woman probably in her early 20′s who was clearly surprised by my response. “Really, you would?” She asked. I assured her that I would and she told me she would be back later to pose with the artwork. Honestly, I figured the girl was just trying to get a rise out of me and I smiled to myself that I handled that situation rather well. I fully expected not to see her again the rest of the show.
However at the end of the day there was that voice behind me again. “Were you serious that I could pose naked on it?” Well, I admit that I couldn’t go any farther with this, not with a crowd of people (and kids) still around. So I politely informed her that if I did, we would probably BOTH be kicked out. She seemed relieved that I had provided an out and actually disappointed, too. I admit I don’t know what she was actually thinking at this point. She then snatched a business card from my hand and looking at it said “You live in NY. I am going to fly there and come pose naked on your artwork.” A simple OK was all I had time to say before she vanished into the crowd. I never saw or heard from her again.
I’ve probably caught girls flirting with at shows a time or two, and once had both a girl and a guy (who were holding hands) tell me they BOTH thought I was cute (I pretended not to hear that one because quite honestly they were kinda scary) but I am so involved in the work I am clueless as to most things going on around me. However, offer to pose naked on my artwork and you certainly stand out from the crowd. (I repeat, do NOT do this or we will both be kicked out!)
PoP!: We run around with HD cameras for three days and we get nothing. Chalk artists get all the chicks, I tell ya.
So, aside from the big chalk pieces, you’re also an illustrator/cartoonist. You employ an extremely wide range of mediums and styles. How important is it to you that you keep all those artistic muscles flexed?
EM: Very important. Chalk art is hard on the back and beats you up physically every time. I don’t think a life-long career is going to happen for me as ONLY a chalk artist. I started off as a cartoonist first and foremost. I was a huge fan of comic strips like Bloom County, the Far Side and Calvin and Hobbes. Those stories and characters had me off and running, creating my own strips from a very early age. As I grew a little older I drifted into more adult themes and comic books became a stronger interest. As illustration became my solid career path I knew that imaginative images and fantastic art were where my heart was really at, and now I take every chance I can to make images in multiple mediums and multiple styles. I think it is all merging though, as my illustration is adopting more cartooning influences and my cartooning has taken on more mature themes. I think in the end it will all eventually meld into what shall become my final signature style in the sequential art medium. I don’t see myself as an Alex Ross or even Jim Lee when it comes to my art style, but more of a Gabriel Ba or Mike Mignola approach. I really have grown to like the work of people pushing the boundaries with different styles, and flexing my cartooning and illustration muscles is definitely leading me in that direction.
EM: Jeez, I didn’t know people were looking for it yet! Keep your pants on. (No please, seriously…. keep your pants on!) I’ve got a number of ideas for different stories, and can probably distill that down to at least 4 or 5 fairly complete concepts that I could begin work on. My event appearances and other projects have kept me very busy over the past year, but I am trying to plan out a more open schedule to get to my own stories and original ideas. I hope that my web comics (or even published work) begin to come together in the latter part of this year, but I can’t make any promises yet. For now, find me at conventions, say hi, enjoy the murals and know that more is coming down the pipeline in the hopefully near future.
PoP!: What’s next on the calendar? Where can people go to see you in action as the con season comes to an end?
EM: I’ll be appearing at Star Wars Celebration V on August 12th – 15th which has me very excited as it is my first officially sanctioned piece for LucasFilm. Then New York Comic Con is also a lock October 8th – 10th. I’ve been speaking with a number of other conventions and companies including ventures into both video game and horror events, so a LOT of pokers are in the fire, but none of them hot enough yet to announce.
PoP!: Where can folks find you online?
EM: You can always find information about my appearances, see photos, watch videos (the mural time lapses are especially cool) and connect with me through my blog site at www.pepperink.com. Of course I am on twitter @pepperink, where I make snarky, usually untrue remarks on a semi-daily basis, and I have a facebook fan page under “Pepper Ink Home of Artist Eric Maruscak” (be sure it is the Pepper Ink page as I am keeping my personal account friend list pretty small). Other than that, I am around. Google my name to see cool photos from shows, you can find stuff on flickr and any number of blogs and such, and of course, youtube as well.
Thanks for the chance to find out why you should know me. Now that you do your life will never be the same. Well, unless you forget me. Then it will basically go back to being the same as it was before you knew me, except you’ll be a little older.
If you’re in the Florida area, make sure to hit up Star Wars Celebration this weekend. Eric will be the guy blowing your mind.