Thursday, February 25, 2010

Interview with Joe Corroney

How did you get involved in sketch cards/What was your first sketch card job?
My very first sketch card project was for the first Topps' Star Wars Clone Wars set in 2004 based on the animated micro-series for Cartoon Network. I heard about the project through Steve Sansweet at Lucasfilm who suggested I should contact Topps since they were looking for more artists to provide sketch cards for the set. My pal and fellow Star Wars sketch card artist Justin Chung and I had been doing our own personal sketch cards for fans and collectors since 2002 at comic book conventions so I was familiar with what sketch cards were already and was excited to be a part of the first very Star Wars set. They were only hiring Dark Horse Comics artists for it and at the time I hadn't yet worked for them, so I believe I was the only or one of the few non-Dark Horse artists providing sketch cards for that product.

Do you have an educational background in art?
I had early training in private art lessons since I was about eight years old. And throughout grade school and high school I took Saturday program art classes at various art institutes in Indiana where I grew up. I graduated with a Bachelor's degree in Illustration from the Columbus College of Art and Design in Ohio and a few years later actually went on to teach classes there as an instructor for about ten years. I also taught a Summer art course at the Ohio State University. Even as an instructor I was still learning from my students there and refining my own work too.

How do you feel about working on such a small surface?
I'm usually drawing on 11" x 17" surfaces for my comic book covers, pages and other illustrations but I tend to stick with portraits for my sketch cards so it's not really too much of a challenge for me. I'm used to drawing character heads at that size or even smaller in my comic book work and the sketch cards feel like comic book panels to me. I've been working on sketch cards for almost eight years now anyway so I'm really accustomed to it and enjoy the change of my pace it gives me from my usual larger illustration work.

As a comic and cover artist are there simliarities to how you approach a sketch card versus your comic work? Differences?
Since my comic art is completed in full color digitally with a computer I use more traditional techniques for my sketch cards like color pencil, markers, acrylics, watercolor and ink. Though everything I draw for any illustration project always begins with penciling, it just depends on what traditional technique I might be trying to accomplish for my cards at that time. I feel really fortunate that I had training in traditional mediums growing up as an artist and that I was also lucky to have training in digital illustration with computer programs before I graduated from art college. It's made me more more flexible as a creator and I'm able to switch gears in styles fluidly without banging my head against a wall too often.

How do you feel about the entire process?
Usually the deadlines with sketch cards are reasonable and most of the companies I worked with are professional so I feel good about the sketch card industry as a viable entertainment medium as a whole. I don't get involved with too many publishers or projects outside of Topps normally but if the content of the product isn't something I'm interested in or a fan of, or if the pay rate, benefits of the after market or professionalism of the company doesn't entice me I usually respectfully decline an offer to participate. It could be a number of factors like my own schedule, work load and current deadlines with other publishers too that prohibit me from getting involved with a particular project.

Do you prefer to work with a specific media?
In regards to sketch cards I usually always use pencil then I might possibly use inks, greyscale markers, and a white color pencil for my black and white sketches. For my full color sketch cards I use a variety of acrylics, markers, water colors and color pencils. I especially love using my Copic markers with my watercolors but I use a lot of Prismacolor markers for my base tone rendering too since they're a little more affordable.

Do you have a lot of contact with collectors regarding your cards?
There are handful of collectors who have been regularly supporting my work over the years I try to stay in touch with on a regular basis by email or phone or at conventions. Because of my work in this industry a few of them have actually become good friends of mine over the years who I just enjoy chatting with about the hobby or other things outside of sketch cards too like movies, comics, careers, family and so on.

Have you had any bad experiences with collectors?
I really haven't had any experiences too awful worth mentioning. I've had a few flakey collectors of course like everyone else but it comes with the territory as a professional comic book or sketch card artist.

Bad experiences with companies?
I've been lucky enough to avoid any turmoil in recent years with career. There's occasional road bumps for smaller sketch card publishers here and there that I've discovered or heard about though. But after getting badly burned in the entertainment publishing early on in my career I've learned to do my research first, ask questions, make phone calls, talk with other artists online, go to conventions and meet publishers and editors, etc. before I sign on with any company.

How do you feel about some collectors wanting more detailed cards versus what sketch card artists are paid to work on the cards?
I think the initial idea of "sketch" cards got corrupted along the way years back and amateur and up and coming artists used them as a platform to showcase their best work for a license and make a big splash in the industry for very little pay. But like I mentioned before, it's really no different than when I was trying to break into comic books years ago getting paid very little or nothing at all just to get published. I was never doing it for the money, I was drawing those comic books to further my career and build my portfolio and I felt incredibly lucky getting paid anything at all to do what I love for a living. That was at the very beginning of my career though and I needed to make those sacrifices to get my work out there, sharpen my skills, learn how to be a professional and get other publishers attention.

Though I still feel lucky and excited to work on some of these sketch card projects for licenses that are close to my heart the need to do them and the pressure to perform isn't quite the same as when I was starting out. I may have less to prove overall but I still need to prove myself every time I pick up the pencil nonetheless with every project otherwise there's no point in contributing.

If other artists are going to continue to raise the bar on what qualifies as a sketch card and keep upping the expectations of collectors as a whole then I'll keep working smart, but not overdo it, to keep up with those expectations. If I'm not having fun pouring my heart into my cards and if the collectors aren't enjoying them and their expectations aren't being met personally from me then there's no point in contributing and I'll move on. I can really only worry about representing myself in this industry and what works for me specifically. I can't speak for every sketch card artist on whether enough detail is enough or if collectors are out of line expecting more and more details. It's always been a matter of quality and personal taste among artists and collectors alike anyway.

But if artists are willing to meet certain collector expectations and have the time and resources to break their back making mini-masterpieces for each and every card only to be paid peanuts but reap the rewards in acclaim or selling their after markets for big bucks later then more power to everyone. This industry has really taken on a life of its own and has carved out a really interesting niche in the entertainment illustration market. It's been fun and kind of exciting to watch it grow and be involved with it from early on. There's been a lot of ups and downs as the collector's market fluctuates but I'm just doing my best to keep up producing my own best work with all the amazing art by so many incredibly talented artists out there.

Has your career as an artist benefited from doing sketch card work?
I'd have to say definitely yes. I take pride and put my best effort into every single project I take on, no matter what the pay rate might be, even something that might seem as small and as insignificant to another artist as a sketch card project. Everything I do, everything I draw that gets published or put into a collector's or a fan's own hands represents me and what I got into illustration and comic books for in the first place. By doing really solid, consistent work on sketch cards over the years I've gained extra attention and support from new fans and publishers for my other illustration work as well. I'm definitely not doing it for the immediate gratification of the paycheck. The benefits from being involved in sketch cards for me have always been a longer term or bigger goal. So it just doesn't make sense to me to get involved in a project and not put forth enough time or effort to create enjoyable work for fans and collectors. I also feel grateful for the opportunities sketch cards have allowed me to illustrate for some of my favorite films, comics and characters over the years too. Sometimes it's the content of the sketch card project that I find really exciting and inspiring that's pushed me to elevate or experiment in my work which helped me grow or keep sharp as an artist.

What was the most difficult sketch card set you have worked on to date? What made it difficult?
One of the more difficult ones I worked on recently was for the Doctor WHO Big Screen Additions Mono set last year. I enjoyed working with the characters and as an old school Hammer horror film fan I really enjoyed drawing Peter Cushing too but the glossy, poster board type surface made for rendering in my usual traditional techniques difficult. Plus, I just didn't have the time in my schedule to change up my style or experiment to make it work for the material of the card stock but I did decent enough with the project and still had fun with it.

Are there any cards that you are particularly proud of?
Some of the cards I had the most fun with were the Indiana Jones artist sketch cards for Topps. I'm a HUGE Indy fan so I put a lot of pride and hard work into my cards for those sets for myself just as much as I did for the fans. I've been illustrating Star Wars for Lucasfilm since 1996, that's always been my first love, but finally getting to illustrate for Indiana Jones was another dream come true. My favorite Star Wars set I've illustrated for was probably for Topps' Star Wars Thirtieth Anniversary set. All of the artwork was based on the first film, Episode IV, and that film is really special to me. It's what inspired me to become an artist in the first place when I was a little boy. I really wanted to do my best work possible for myself and the fans in particular for that set and I'm really proud of my full color cards for it too.

I'm also really proud of the work I did for the Star Wars: Clone Wars Season One Widevision artist sketch cards. I illustrated over 100 cards and nearly broke my back on them making sure each and every card looked as solid and consistent style and technique-wise as the next one. It was real feat given the deadline and the larger widevision format, but I'm such a big fan of the new Clone Wars cartoon that it really was a labor of love for me too. I finally felt validated when I was able to show some of my cards to supervising director and series creator Dave Filoni at Star Wars Fan Days III in Texas last October and he seemed to be really impressed with them. It made all the hard work worth it then.

Some companies provide return cards/artist proofs for working on sketch card sets. What do you do with yours?
I usually sell them privately to collectors or offer them for sale online. I never keep any of mine. I'm too mercenary, i.e. self employed, to become too attached to my original artwork. Since the pay rate up front is usually pretty low for my pack inserted cards that I send back to the publisher it's my after market sketch cards I'm allowed to keep and sell where I'm usually reimbursed for my work and effort on any particular set. It's not always an immediate reward process for my return cards, sometimes it might be weeks, months or years down the road before I sell them or make enough money back from them as a whole to justify the work I initially put into the project but sketch cards as a project are an investment to me as an artist just like they are to the collectors who spend their money on them to enjoy them.

Do you see yourself continuing with sketch card sets?
Sure, I'm always having fun with them and I like that sketch cards allow me flex my traditional illustration skills and keep those techniques sharp since I do a lot of digital work too. As long the market doesn't dry up, implode, become too completely overly saturated or a passing fad and as long as there are plenty of fun projects and licenses for me to contribute to that inspire me I'll continue with sketch cards as long as the industry and the fans embrace my work.

Is there any advice you would like to give to people wanting to break into the sketch card ‘biz’?
I think the allure for most artists trying to break into the industry is to be able to draw for a property they love or enjoy as a fan, to have that feather in their cap and that published credit under their belt which would hopefully open the door for bigger and greater artistic opportunities down the road. That should be the real goal for everyone unless as an artist you're happy with your regular job and just enjoy dabbling as a creator in the sketch card industry.

Obviously, the pay for sketch cards in general from almost every publisher is really poor but I think as an artist if you're only getting into the industry for the money and you're producing numerous poorly drawn sketches at a high volume for that larger payout from the publisher then you're missing the idea altogether and not advancing your career properly. I'm not sure if too many artists do that initially, it's sometimes more of consequence or a path for some artists after already having been published in sketch cards.

I think that every sketch represents you and you should put yourselves in the shoes of a fan or a collector. Every time you finish a sketch you might want to ask yourself would you be satisfied as a fan if you pulled one of your drawings from a pack of cards? This doesn't mean that every sketch has to be a masterpiece either but there are longer term benefits professionally and financially if you're willing to take a chance and at least do consistent, solid work across the board on all your cards for fans and collectors.

Sketch cards benefited me because I already had an established career as an illustator for years to begin with though. In most cases you have to really pay your dues as an artist in other areas of illustration too, be it comic books, magazines, film, trading cards, whatever before you can make a living drawing sketch cards. I think it would be harder as an amateur or a beginning professional artist to carve a solid career for yourself just starting out from sketch cards alone but... you also have to start somewhere too. It's really no different then when I was drawing for independent comic books years ago while I was still in college. I wasn't doing it for the money, which was very little to sometimes nothing. I was doing it get published, to cut my teeth in the industry as a professional and sharpen my artistic skills doing what I love and getting published brought attention to my work and gave me better opportunities I could keep building off of over the years to an eventually better, professional career.

As an artist you would eventually need to seek out publishers, licensees and companies that will provide you with more opportunities to create different kinds of artwork to sensibly supplement a career in sketch cards. Like I said, the initial pay rate might be poor but if you're resourceful there are other rewards to benefit from for your career and in the collector's market by contributing in this industry if you put your best professional looking work out there.

Can you tell us what future sketch card sets you'll be working on?
I just wrapped up my sketch cards for Topps' Star Wars Galaxy Five which will be released this February and I'm hoping to illustrate for more upcoming Star Wars sets that Topps has in the works for The Empire Strikes Back Thirtieth Anniversary and Galaxy Six. I also completed three new base card illustrations of Rebellion and Republic era propaganda posters with my collaborator and fellow Star Wars artist Brian Miller for Galaxy Five as part of a subset with artist Cliff Chiang who illustrated Imperial versions.

The artwork for my series were inspired by World War II and European war propaganda art of the era. These three posters (along with three other sketches) were originally concepts I created as potential poster art for Star Wars Celebration Europe a few years back to be sold in the convention store there. Unfortunately, it didn't pan out at the last minute but the art for these were resurrected and completed for Galaxy 5. I hope everyone enjoys them since they were so fun for me and Brian to work on.

We also created the artwork for the six part, etched foil card puzzle for this set like the one we previously created for Galaxy Four. That was another dream project for me since I got to follow in the footsteps of previous Star Wars artists Walter Simonson and Jan Duursema who were very big inspirations for me in my formative years as a comic book illustrator. This new etched foil artwork focuses entirely on The Empire Strikes Back to commemorate the thirtieth anniversary of the film which is unlike the previous foil art I designed for Galaxy Four which encompassed all six films of the saga in one design. Brian and I really tried to outdo ourselves for the Galaxy Five etched foil artwork though so I crammed everything I loved about Empire into this new puzzle without hampering the flow and balance of the design as much as possible. There were a few iconic elements I wish I had room to include in the design like the Imperial walkers but overall I'm really happy with it and hope the fans and collectors really enjoy it too.

What are you currently working on?
Currently, I'm providing cover art IDW Publishing's G.I. Joe: Operation HISS comic book series along with Star Trek: The Next Generation: Ghosts series which are on sale right now. I'm also the regular cover artist for BOOM! Studios ongoing Farscape comic book series. I'm really having fun with those covers since I've been a big fan of the show itself when it was on the Sci-Fi Channel. I'm working on some new print artwork concepts as well for The Empire Strikes Back that I'll hopefully be able to unveil at Celebration 5 or before the event later this year.

Where can people see more of your work?
All of my latest artwork can be viewed at my official website,, which is updated regularly. I can also be contacted there for original art and print sales along with commission requests. I also have online portfolios available for fans and friends to view at my myspace and facebook profiles, and, which are updated regularly as well.

I cannot thank you enough for participating, Joe! Thank you so much!


  1. Thank you Jess! This was a really fun interview for me :D

  2. Great interview! Joe is the best, and has always been one of my faves.

  3. Thanks so much, Randy. Glad you enjoyed the interview!

  4. Great interview! Really detailed. Looking forward to seeing what Joe brings to Celebration V, as well as more IDW Trek covers!