Urban Vinyl Daily: Would you mind telling us a little background about yourself (i.e. where your general base of operation is, when you started designing, and how you first started out), and some of the designs that you came up with when you were first starting out and how designs have progressed over the years?
Tom Whalen: Hello, folks. I work (and live) out of my studio in southeastern Pennsylvania. I studied graphic design and illustration at Kutztown University here in PA. I’ve been a comic book fan since as long as I can remember, so I’ve always had parts of that aesthetic in my work. I think over the years, I’ve learned to more efficiently boil characters down to their core essence while applying my visual beats to them.
UVD: What are some things that influence you and your work? Is there any artist’s work that inspired you and your style early on in your career?
TW: I was struck at an early age by Al Hirschfeld’s grotesque, yet beautiful simplifications of celebrities. I’ve always marveled at how he could convey so much with line and simple texture. Same goes for Mike Mignola. They do so much with minimal marks.
UVD: If you were asked to put your finger on it, what event would you say caused you to “catch your break” that has lead you to be tapped for projects from Mondo and other large clientele?
TW: One break that was absolutely huge for me was being invited to Gallery 1988’s Crazy 4 Cult in 2010. Jensen Karp (G1988 owner) had seen my art online and contacted me to see if I would be interested in creating a piece for their annual event show. It was a major springboard for me.
UVD: Speaking of Mondo, how did that relationship first come about and how has it grown over the years? How does it feel to have some of your Mondo prints still to this day be highly sought after and command a pretty nice price?
TW: It’s funny because early in 2010, I had written my goals down for the year, and reaching out to Mondo was one of them. I was seeing their stuff everywhere and loved what they were up to. Then, before I got to act on that, Rob Jones (Mondo art director) called me and asked if I’d like to be part of their Star Wars series of prints. I was literally over the moon about it. I feel very fortunate to have had a chance to work on so many of the cool properties that they have.
UVD: Even magazines such as Wired and Scientific American have relied on your graphical services. For you, is/was there a leap in confidence or comfort that you had to make in knowing that millions of people would be seeing your illustration as compared to hundreds/thousands with a print release?
TW: I never thought of it like that. Which, I guess is a good thing. I hope I don’t get stagefright next time Wired drops me a line.
UVD: With several of your works dealing with culturally recognizable characters from Disney or Charlie Brown, what is it that makes these characters leave such an indelible impression across generations of people or kids?
TW: Nostalgia for the properties you grew up with is mighty strong. Star Wars, GI Joe, Transformers, Disney films and Godzilla were the touchstones of my childhood. My ears (and the ears of millions just like me) perk up when new material is released. In the case of posters, I think folks really enjoy seeing a fresh take on the properties that they loved when they were young, but may have fallen out of touch with over the years.
UVD: When constructing the overall image for the final design which incorporate known tv, print, or movie characters, what is your overall process for incorporating an already established character in to your design flair to create the final image we see as the final product?
TW: For me, the real soul of a piece is the composition. If I can come up with a solid layout that speaks to the property and has some energy, the rest flows from there. Actually, adapting existing properties into my style is one of the last things I do when developing a piece.
UVD: With companies such as Mondo, Dark Hall Mansion, and other players in the poster game having reasonable success with this venture, what do you feel is the key to longevity in this genre of collectible media? By the same token, what do you foresee as a cause for the bubble to “pop”?
TW: To me, the longevity stems from a few things; obtaining quality licenses, matching up artists with the right properties, and setting print runs at the right size so as to supply need, but also create a bit of demand. I wish I had a crystal ball to be able to see what could cause all of this to pop, but alas…
UVD: If given a “re-do” button or a time machine, are there pieces in your portfolio that you might do differently or spend more time in retrospect, or have all past projects helped shape where you are today?
TW: I believe that every job is a point along your creative journey. What you learn at each point is part of where you are today. That said, I can’t help but critique myself every time I look at and old piece and think about how I’d finish it differently.
UVD: With the Disney show at Mondo coming up this week, what was the subject matter that you chose that was Disney in nature? Was it a tough decision as to what Disney movie or scene to choose?
TW: I was given my assignment for the Disney show by Mondo. Without giving away too much, I got to do the poster that I HAD to do before I died.
UVD: Are there any future projects (other than the Mondo Disney show) that you wish to discuss for the reader to keep their eyes open for in the upcoming future?
TW: There’s a lot on the horizon, most of which I have to keep under wraps, but keep your eyes peeled. You never know where stuff will turn up… galleries, online sales, magazine stands, the gift card rack at Target…
UVD: What would your encouragements/suggestions be for artists/designers that are either just starting out or who are trying to get themselves noticed?
TW: If you find yourself not doing what you want to be doing creatively, make up projects for yourself that inspire you. Whatever it takes to keep progressing and evolving.
I’m a firm believer in the 10,000 hours principle.