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Interview with George Wilson from FotP Newsletter #20

[Editors note: This article was originally released in the amazing Friends of the Phantom Newsletter #20 released by the late Ed Rhoades and Pete Klaus in the USA Winter of 2000. The interview was conducted November 1999 only a month before his passing on December 7, 1999.

This article was republished with permission. Access to all Friends of the Phantom newsletters and much more can be found at our Phantom Preservation Project.]

George was an enigma, shy and outgoing, reticent and generous, open and articulate but protective of his privacy, talented and modest. He was grateful for having his work appreciated but adamant about not seeking fame for his efforts.

During our conversation, he was approached by friends who knew him from dining at the establishment. When the waitresses saw the work he was autographing for us, they were surprised by his talent. They would never learn of his fame from his modest unassuming personality. Even though his residence was in the outskirts of a large metropolitan area, one gets a feeling of close community from the people there.

The tone of our dinner was jovial and we were joking and laughing with George when we parted in the parking lot. Despite the fact that George has made no public appearances at comic shows and had no desire to do so, the fans would have certainly enjoyed his warm company. The evening Pete and I had with him certainly was a thrill for two longtime Phantom fans and it is our honor and pleasure to share it with our readers.

Initially, in a phone conversation, he told me that he thought he only did the first few then worked on novels instead, but upon closer examination he recalled doing the cover art for all but three. Some he recalled specifically others he looked for details of his style.

[Editors Note: Anyone have a clue on which covers he did not do?]

One issue where the Phantom is fighting villains on a tile roof, contains a self portrait of George as a bad guy emerging from a window. [Editors note: Below Right]

FotP: Were you interested in art as a young man?

George Wilson: Oh yeah. I knew what I wanted to be when I was 16. You know most kids don't know what they want to be when they're 21 and graduating from college. Even when I was a little kid, I used to get up on a Saturday morning and sit on the couch and draw on the back of the dust jackets the rental library gave out.

FotP: You showed the talent early?

GW: Well, I had the desire anyway.

FotP: Did you read comics and pulps?

GW: At that time when I was growing up the best ones were the Big Little Books and my favorite was Alex Raymond (who did) Flash Gordon.

FotP: Did you ever work on pen and ink?

GW: Oh yeah.

FotP: Did you do interiors of any books?

GW: As a matter of fact yes. Recently a woman called me from California. She said her husband is writing a couple of books on the Hardy Boys. She said "I understand you did some. Can you get me the names of them?" And I said I'll have to consult my workbook. I'll get back to you; I'll mail you the list. And son of a gun. I had done twenty two. I was surprised. They were all pen and ink on the inside.

FotP: What other mediums have you worked with?

GW: Acrylic or oil or a combination. Sometimes when you've got a large area you want it to be smooth. Acrylic will leave brush strokes, so you go over it with oils and rub down with your thumb.

FotP: Did you use pastels or watercolors?

GW: No pastels isn't a commercial medium. Some people use it but it's a little too messy. With watercolors, I could never really catch on to the knack of it. A friend of mine I went to art school with is a master at it now. He's selling all his stuff through galleries.

FotP: Did you follow the Phantom when you were younger?

GW: I used to read the Phantom comic strips in the paper, but I didn't buy the comic books.

FotP: Where did you grow up?

GW: Buffalo.

FotP: When is your birthday?

GW: Aug 2 1921.

FotP: Which areas of the country have you visited or lived in?

GW: I moved to Syracuse, NY in 1935 and then we moved out to Buffalo, NY.

Then I went down to Richmond, Virginia to art school for two years, then up to New York to Pratt Institute for 2 years. I then went in the army for over three years and back to Pratt again after the war. I went back to the same rooming house that I was in before the war. The room I had was where Carl Sandberg edited his Abraham Lincoln books. I slept in the same bed he slept in and worked at the same desk he worked at. The landlady was a proofreader for Harcourt Brace and she knew him quite well. He used to go up to their place in Connecticut in the summers.

FotP: What branch were you in the armed forces?

GW: Engineer. Camouflage. We went into Normandy.

FotP: Besides Alex Raymond, which artists influenced you?

GW: Oh gosh, there are so many of them. Noel Sickles was one [editors note: Noel Sickles was an illustrator and cartoonist, best known for the comic strip Scorchy Smith.]

FotP: Did you like fine art too?

GW: Oh yeah. I was strictly a realist. Never went in for avant garde stuff.

FotP: Did you work on other comics besides Gold Key for Western Publishing?

GW: When I first started with Western, the comic books were being done for Dell and then after awhile I think Dell wanted to do their own or something like that, so Western Publishing struck out on their own.

FotP: What titles did you work on?

GW: Turok, Boris Karoff, Twilight Zone and Outer limits.

FotP: Did you do other commercial art besides comics?

GW: From 1983 to 1992, I was doing paperback romances for Harlequin. Funny thing, I thought I'd get tired of doing them as it's just one clinch after another but would you believe I never did. It paid pretty well.

FotP: Did you work for an agency?

GW: No, I freelanced my whole career except for one period of 2 weeks, I worked for a studio and literally had to punch a time clock. We were doing work for the government - catalogs and that work kind of played out.

FotP: Did you use models for your paintings?

GW: Oh yeah. For the paperbacks yes. For the Gold Keys, I usually tried to resort to photographs I had already taken for other things, twist an arm around here, use another photograph for the arm back here - get them all mixed up.

FotP: Do you have a big morgue?

GW: I have files, loaded with photographs back there now that I was taking mostly for paperbacks.

FotP: You took your own photos?

GW: No. We would go to a photographer. Some illustrator was able to talk the client into paying for the model and for the photographic shoot and that was a big step. Before we were very stingy in the shots we'd take, but with them paying for it, we were clicking away like mad.

FotP: Would you describe your materials?

GW: As far as watercolor brushes, I only use Winsor Newton, because they're the only ones you can depend on to always come to a point. But I use other sable brushes and bristle brushes, anything that will work. Different brushes give you different effects.

FotP: How would you describe your style or technique?

GW: Realistic.

FotP: Did you keep any of the studies?

GW: No. I got rid of that process stuff, that stuff will pile up on you. I live in a three room apartment. My books are driving me out into the hallway.

FotP: Did you read the books to get ideas?

GW: It's so long ago that I forget how I did those things. I must have been given a synopsis. Generally the way it works, is I would make a couple of rough pencil sketches and sent them in and they'd okay one or the other.

FotP: Why did you only sign some of your novels?

GW: I probably just forgot. A lot of times I signed it but it was kind of hidden.

FotP: Are you still doing commercial art?

GW: I do work for a WW2 magazine and one called Wild West put out by Cole's Multimedia. They put out one called Military History, one called Civil War, WW2, and one called Wild Wild West.

FotP: What are you currently working on?

GW: I just finished up a thing for WW2. Scenes of the Last Battle for Berlin.

FotP: How did you get your ideas for it?

GW: They seem to accept a lot of just battle scenes and I wanted to get more than that so I did one of an SS trooper. In the scene I used three men are coming up in the background and I thought it was pretty effective. And I did one of the Battle of the Bulge with a couple of Americans moving up through the woods trying to sneak up on the Germans. I tried to hook on something particular to make it more interesting than an ordinary battle scene.

FotP: Do you do any painting for yourself or is it all commercial?

GW: Mostly commercial. Gotta get the food on the table and get the rent paid.

FotP: You probably don't meet a lot of your fans?

GW: No, as a matter of fact, I never know whether the stuff is appreciated or not. I did get a hunting knife from a fan. I got a letter back from this guy with this complimentary knife, a scabbard and all.

[Editors note: This article was originally released in the amazing Friends of the Phantom Newsletter #20 released by the late Ed Rhoades and Pete Klaus in the USA Winter of 2000. The interview was conducted November 1999 only a month before his passing on December 7, 1999.

This article was republished with permission. Access to all Friends of the Phantom newsletters and much more can be found at our Phantom Preservation Project.]

If you love George Wilson's artwork and or want to learn more about him, you may be interested in The Hermes Press "The Art of George Wilson" by Anthony Taylor. You can pre order / purchase at the Hermes Press website plus other sources like Amazon etc.


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