Mark R. Bernal’s experience in fantasy art includes being a lead artist and art director at Bungie Software, Microsoft Games, and Wideload Games. He attended the American Academy of Art and the Joe Kubert School of Cartoon and Graphic Art, where he had the privilege of being taught by Joe Kubert, Al Williamson, Greg Hildebrandt, Ben Ruiz, Hy Eisman, Irwin Hasen, Tex Blaisdell, and Milt Neil.
IM: When did you start drawing and what made you decide to pursue art as a profession?
MRB: I started very young, drawing red boxing gloves on Superman. Soon enough, others seemed to like my drawings and, like many other artists, I became known as the school artist in grade school and high school. I enjoyed reading comics and the variety of comic art I was experiencing from all over the world. I decided to try and make my own comics. I liked that I could transform that blank piece of paper into something I had never seen before and create my own worlds.
IM: You attended the Kubert School and followed that up with the American Academy of Art. How different were their artistic philosophies and teaching styles?
MRB: While I attended these schools, the artistic philosophies were quite different. The Kubert School’s main emphasis was on cartooning and narrative art that could branch off to animation, while the Academy’s main curriculum was geared to various types of illustration and could branch off to a fine arts track. Both institutions taught the basics.
The teaching styles at both places were pretty casual, giving the student room to define their own style while only really stepping in when the student needed some guidance toward the basics.
IM: Which school was more valuable to you as a professional?
MRB: The Kubert School was more valuable to me for various reasons. Being taught by professionals in the field that I wanted to work in— learning about their career paths and career experiences—was very important. I certainly wasn’t going to get Joe Kubert’s and Al Williamson’s professional points-of-view of the comics industry anywhere else. Even getting the opportunity to speak a little with the likes of Bill Sienkiewicz and Brent Blevins due to attending the school helped me believe, “Yeah, this could happen.” One less-well-known instructor was Ben Ruiz, the figure drawing teacher. He was a major influence on me. He taught us the construction method of drawing the human form and how to transform that into a final, classical figure. It was unfortunate that we only had his class once a week for half a day. I ended up attending the American Academy of Art to study figure drawing full time.
IM: Was creating comics your main objective during your time at Kubert’s, or were you looking to branch out into other areas?
MRB: During my time at the Kubert School, I wanted to create comic stories like I saw coming from artists in France, Italy, Spain, Heavy Metal magazine, and the independent publishers of that time.
IM: You created art for several video games when you worked for Bungie Software, Microsoft Games, and Wideload Games. How did you get into that line of work?
MRB: I was an art director and lead artist at Bungie Software, Microsoft Games, and Wideload Games. Fortunately, my father bought a Commodore 64 in the 90s and that got me very interested in computers. I was able to transition into a digital graphic design/marketing company due to the combination of my technical/computer skills and artistic ability. I saved up my money and bought a Macintosh Centris 650, Photoshop, Starta Studio Pro, Macromedia Director, and a Wacom tablet. Several months later, I was looking through the help wanted section of the Chicago Reader and saw an ad for Bungie Software that said, “Do you want to make kickass games?” I felt the word “Yes” explode out of my brain and called the phone number in the ad. The rest was history. 🙂
IM: Which games did you work on at Microsoft/ Bungie Software?
MRB: At Bungie, I worked on Marathon II: Durandul, Myth I: The Fallen Lords, Myth II: Soulblighter, and a little bit of the early Halo game. After Microsoft bought Bungie, I worked a lot on a game that never saw the light of day, codenamed Phoenix.
IM: Wideload Games was started by former Microsoft employees. What did you work on there?
MRB: The five of us were all former Bungie employees before we were sucked up into Microsoft. While at Wideload, I worked on Stubbs the Zombie, one or two casual games, marketing materials, and a game never to be named later. 🙂
IM: How helpful was this type of work when you decided to work on your comic series?
MRB: Very helpful! Making comics is hard work and so is game development. My game development experience taught me project development, technical and design iteration, how to manage stress, and how to survive sleep deprivation.
When spending months creating a book, it helps to have the experience of several long video game development cycles in your history.
I was also very fortunate that all the guys I joined up with in the early days of Bungie were all really smart and highly skilled at what they did. This in turn allowed us all to become even better at what we did.
One small thing that turned out to be a big thing: before each game went into development, we would come up with a list of “Shit that Rocks!” and “Shit that Sucks,” pertaining to what we were going to create and what we did not want to have in our game. I have one for my comic series Parallaxium and update it regularly.
IM: You’ve recently completed a successful Kickstarter campaign for your self-published series Parallaxium. Can you give us an overview of the series?
MRB: On a character level, the story is a look at the merging of parallel universes and the consequences on both worlds. The broad view is about the struggle between the physical and the spiritual realms of existence.
IM: Who are your influences and inspirations for the art and story?
MRB: I had worked on several art projects that weren’t really a true reflection of my abilities and creative interests. I felt frustrated and decided to create something more in tune with the quality I expected from myself. The first book started as a series of art prints that eventually developed into a story. I have a deep interest in multiple universe theory, surreal narrative, and the possibilities of a spiritual dimension. I decided to incorporate those interests, as well as others, into a more genuine representation of my art.
At this point in my development as an artist, I have a multitude of influences and inspirations. A list would be too large and would still be incomplete.
As I’m drawing, I will notice that an image may remind me of an influence, like Kirby, Manara, Frazetta, or Crumb. When that happens, I will purposely try to avoid looking at that artist’s work, especially if the drawing reminds me of a particular illustration by that artist. There are also several movie directors that I look to for cinematic inspiration, such as Kubrick, Bergman, Tarkovsky, Kurosawa, Fellini, and Lynch to name a few.
IM: What’s the plan with Parallaxium? Do you want to continue the series indefinitely or as a six-to-twelve-issue mini-series?
MRB: Parallaxium started out as a one-shot poetic art story (issue#0). As I was making issue #0, a larger story started to take shape once I began to wonderer about the main characters’ backgrounds. From that point on, I decided to make Parallaxium into a miniseries that explores what would happen if characters from two universes crossed over into each other’s universe. The series should be about eight issues long.
IM: With your experience in game design have you thought about turning the series into an interactive game or app?
MRB: I have made demos of Parallaxium as an interactive app. Most of the new elements would be a lot of “making of” content. It might see the light of day sometime, but there is a lot more content that would have to be made before it could be completed.
IM: What other kind of work have you done besides game development and comics? What are you doing now?
MRB: Mostly, just game development and comics. While making games, the majority of the art I created were 3D characters, scenery, and level art. I was a jack-of-all-trades at the time, designing, modeling, texturing, rigging, and animating 3D models. I am now mainly interested in illustration and programming/scripting.
IM: What would you tell someone who wants to get into art as a career (comics, games or otherwise)? What are the pros and cons you can share or wish someone shared with you when you started out?
MRB: I would say, develop a strong fundamental understanding of digital production and a solid foundation of drawing. I would also encourage learning basic animation skills and programming. I believe that most forms of art and illustration will be animated and interactive in the future.
IM: Do you promote your work at conventions or other live venues?
MRB: I do plan on promoting and selling my books and artwork at several conventions during the 2016 season. The last time I was an exhibitor was at C2E2 2010.
IM: What’s the one thing you would have liked to see get more attention at the art schools (e.g. business of art, taxes, life as a freelancer vs. corporate, etc.)?
MRB: All the above! 🙂 I imagine that computers are a lot more integrated into the curriculum nowadays. When I attended the Kubert School, the only computer I saw was in Milt Neil’s animation class for second and third year students. I’m sure it would be no more than a very large paper weight today!
IM: Where can we find your stuff?
MRB: Website: www.bernalmedia.com
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