Smooth Talking with Richard Marcej!
The Smooth One wanted to make sure that this interview went well for all your great Seibertron.com readers so I contacted the undisputed authority on G1 box artwork, Botch the Crab. He was kind enough to help and I simply can not thank him enough.
You may never have heard of him, but you have all seen his work. He worked in Hasbro's art department back when Hasbro was still a relatively small company struggling to make it in the toy industry. He is responsible for some of the most beloved pieces of artwork in the history of The Transformers. Powermaster Prime? Him. Predaking? Him. That amazng battle scene on the back of Powermaster Prime's box? That's right. Him. He is Richard Marcej, one of the people responsible for the look of the original G1 box art. He has a comic book and an art book in the works that should be of great interest to fans of Transformers or of action figures in general.
Professor Smooth: Ladies and gentlemen, Richard Marcej!
Richard Marcej: First let me say I appreciate this opportunity to reminisce a little, about my days at Hasbro. If you don't mind, I'll give you a brief history of my days there and will do my best at answering your questions.
By the way, my initial job interview at Hasbro was quite unusual and I'll be depicting it in issue #2 of Action Figure. If there is an issue #2... (I'll explain later)
I started at Hasbro as the ninth artist in the Art Department/Packaging Department, in November of 1983. It was my second job after graduating Art School. Up to that point I had just briefly worked at an animation studio, where amongst other things, worked on the movie Creepshow.
Hasbro was still fairly small then. Our cubicles and offices were housed in a former grocery store, located right across the street from the Manufacturing plant. (on Newport avenue, in Pawtucket, Rhode Island)
Within two years, thanks in part, to the huge popularity of toys like Transformers, G.I. Joe, My Little Pony and the acquisition of Playskool, our department alone grew to over 35 artists! The company was expanding by leaps and bounds.
Among my first work there was to produce the finished drawings for the Paint-By-Number and Pencil-By-Number sets. These included My Little Pony, the motion picture Gremlins, and of course Transformers.
I recall, that during my first working week, the first Japanese packaging for the original Transformers arrived in the office. A few senior designers were working on the logos and initial packaging. Even then you could see that there was something special about this toy line.
I didn't start working on Transformers until the second year of products, and only then it was mainly packaging work. Eventually my directors began having more confidence in my work and assigned me the task of drawing the poses for the package depictions.
Professor Smooth: How did you approach drawing characters like this? Was there much forethought and/or preparation? Or were you able to just wing it?
Richard Marcej: I've usually been pretty fortunate, that I can look at a static figure and envision it in an animated and dynamic pose.
I would usually receive a prototype of the Transformer from the R & D Department. I then would produce several sketches, keeping in mind where he'd be depicted on the box or blister and at the same time making him look as animated as possible. After a pose is chosen, I'd produce a very tight and detailed pencil drawing.
Professor Smooth: Did you do your own inks and colors or did someone else handle that?
Richard Marcej: To keep consistency on all the Transformer packaging, the same Illustrators were hired to paint the final piece. They would follow my pencils. So, while I would never produce a final painted piece for the front of the packaging, I'd turn around and finish the pencils in inks and that piece would be printed in Hasbro's Licensing Catalogs. These Catalogs would be sent to the numerous companies that produced Halloween costumes, bed sheets, stationary, etc...
Professor Smooth: Was keeping your artwork slavishly faithful to the toys details while infusing a dynamic quality to the character a difficult balance to maintain?
Richard Marcej: No, not really. I've been drawing since I was four years old and have always been a huge fan of comic strips and comics, so I've usually approached most my work with a dynamic feel. The Transformers especially lent themselves to this. It was always a blast drawing them.
Professor Smooth: On average, how long did each piece take you from start to finish?
Richard Marcej: You know, I really can't say, it usually varied and a lot also depended on other assignments and deadlines I had at that time. I wasn't just working on Transformers, and at times would be working on several toy lines at the same time. This all lead to just how much time I could take on a particular character.
Though the more I liked the toy (like the Dinobots for instance) the quicker it would take to complete.
Professor Smooth: Amazing battle scenes that could only be recreated by bugging our parents over and over again took up the majority of the rear side of the packaging. Did you draw any of these scenes?
Richard Marcej: You've just brought up my favorite assignment on Transformers. I don't recall the year (maybe 1987, 88?) but it had been decided to give the packaging an update, to freshen up the look. The logo was slightly tweaked and a grid look was given to the packaging. But my favorite change was an addition for a battle scene on the back of selected packaging, A comic book feel was requested and I was given that assignment!
Thanks to my knowledge and enjoyment of comic books, my Art Director would usually leave me alone on these pieces. I had near total freedom working on these scenes. I'd do all the pencils, inks and would paint the final in Dr. Martin Dyes.
I think I still have some of the original pieces, somewhere in my home studio.
(By the way, thanks in most part because of these pieces, I was given the final illustration job for the all second year packaging of the C.O.P.S N' Crooks action figures.)
Professor Smooth: Are there any individual depictions of Transformers that you are particularly proud of?
Richard Marcej: Besides the Comic Battle scenes, my favorites to draw were the Dinobots.
They were the best of both worlds, IMO, Dinosaurs and Robots! It doesn't get much better than that.
Professor Smooth: If you had to narrow it down to three; what would be the strangest products your artwork has appeared on?
Richard Marcej: Hmmm.. can't think of anything really strange, though I do recall giving out candy at Halloween one year and having a Trick-or-Treater come to my door wearing an Optimus Prime costume, that featured my drawings. That was pretty cool.
Professor Smooth: I am almost embarrassed to ask this, but for the sake of the fans, I will. Rumors have been making their way that your original version of Shockwave was a bit different than the one that was used for the box art. Can you tell us if this is true and how the original was different from the final version?
Richard Marcej: Ah yes, the original Shockwave! I'll never forget the day that a shipment of first run Shockwaves made their way around the offices. As you know, Shockwave would transform from a robot into a large, hand held gun, that would light up and make noises when the trigger was pulled. It was pretty neat, but you see, there's this thing about the trigger...
When ol' Shockwave became his robot self, the trigger ended up... between his legs, and looked like....well,.... it became obvious from that day forward that Shockwave was a male Transformer! (and a pretty happy one at that.)
Needless to say, he was redesigned.
Ah, but I kept one of those early Shockwaves, and still have it to this day!
Professor Smooth: The fans would never forgive me if I didn't ask this: Do you still have the original pieces youâ€™ve done for The Transformers? Have you or do you sell them?
Richard Marcej: I have some, though I may have more, who knows? As a pakrat, I tend to store so many things away in my studio and old portfolios it's hard to really say what all I still retain. So one of these days if I ever get the time to go through all my stuff...
I have sold some things though. I especially had many Inhumanoids products and artwork, since I worked a lot on that toy. I even had prototypes for creatures of a second Inhumanoids series that was never made.
I say had, because I was fortunate enough to find an Inhumanoids collector and sold him most of what I had. The same goes for many of the Army Ants prototypes I had. Those went to a collector.
I particularly like to see a lot of these neat pieces go to devoted fans/collectors.
Professor Smooth: In addition to Action Figure, you have a book coming up that collects the work youâ€™ve done. Can you tell us what pieces of your art will be included in that?
Richard Marcej: I've begun going through those old portfolios I mentioned earlier and will be reproducing many of my drawings and illustrations I did in those five years.
Included within will be Transformers, Battle Beasts, Army Ants, C.O.P.S N' Crook, Inhumanoids, G.I. Joe, Wuzzles, Air Raiders and any other pieces that I think people would enjoy seeing.
This will be a simple book, probably in B&W with a color cover
Professor Smooth: Action Figure: From the Journals of Richard Marzelak will be hitting shelves in the near future. Obviously, there must be some interesting stories that have come out of your time in the business to justify a quarterly comic book. What kind of stories can we expect from this comic? Drama? Comedy? Aliens running Hasbro? Give us a little teaser.
Richard Marcej: ction Figure is an idea I've had kicking around for several years. In the past, while a young artist, I'd kept written journals of the days I worked for Hasbro and Hallmark Cards. As you might imagine working as an artist at two large creative companies, I've had the privilege to work with and meet some strange characters.
A lot occurred during those years. Funny, odd, tragic. All these memories that I felt were to good to stay sealed in some old, musty composition notebooks. I wanted to relate these events, in an entertaining way, in one of the most creative formats I could think of, Comic Books.
But alas...there has been a snag in my comic Action Figure.
I'm not sure how closely you follow the comic book industry, but the life and health of a comic depends on the many comic/specialty stores scattered throughout the country. The future of any title hinges on the orders placed by these shop owners.
Unfortunately, getting many of these retailers to try new titles, especially those from small independent publishers (like myself) that don't feature spandex wearing super heros or large breasted warrior women is a difficult task.
To further cloud the situation, the sole comics distributer, Diamond Comics, have created a minimum number for all orders. This already has forced several small publishers out of business.
Despite a good track record with books I've completed years earlier, the initial
order for Action Figure didn't meet Diamond's new requirements.
This, as you may imagine, was a huge setback for me and I'm now just coming to grips with it.
BUT I feel so strongly about this book and I know would entertain comic readers and toy collectors a like, I just couldn't let it die like this.
So, in the next month, I plan on printing a short run of issue #1. I'm going to mail a free promo copy to not only the hundreds of comic shops but to online and print comic critics. It's my feeling that if people get a chance to see the uniqueness of this comic, and get the word out, that it may give it life.
This won't be a cheap course of action though, since all of this will be out of pocket with no money coming in initially. But once word of mouth gets out, hopefully many will order their own copy on my web site ( http://www.baboonbooks.com/merchandise/merchandise.html ). And if sales of issue #1 warrant there maybe future for Action Figure .
I hope I answered all your questions and gave you a little bit of info in the early days of Transformers.
If you have any other questions or would like some further information that I could help with, please feel free to drop me a line.
Professor Smooth: Thank you, Mr. Marcej for taking the time to talk with us. Fans, be sure to ask your local comic book store to carry Action Figure: From the Journals of Richard Marzelack!
Thanks again to Botch the Crab.
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