It’s about time. Greg Hildebrandt is one of pop culture’s most-revered, longest-active artists. Solo and/or with his late brother, Tim, Hildebrandt has painted for everything from Star Wars, The Lord of the Rings and Dungeons & Dragons to Heavy Metal magazine, The Sword of Shannara and Black Sabbath, spanning comic book covers, calendars, album art, books, movie posters and more. Somehow, though, he’d never created anything for Star Trek. That, fortunately, is about to change. Hildebrandt – who will turn 80 on January 23 – has created the cover for Issue #1 of IDW Publishing’s upcoming monthly comic book series, Star Trek: Year Five. Set to debut in April, it’s a sweeping space odyssey developed by writers Jackson Lanzing, Collin Kelly, and artist Stephen Thompson. StarTrek.com recently chatted with Hildebrandt about his career, upcoming projects and at long last entering the Star Trek universe…
This is your first-ever cover for a Star Trek comic book. What took so long?
What took so long is simple: No one ever asked me before. I’d never really thought about it because I am always busy.
Had you ever come close, or did you and Trek simply somehow never crossed paths until now? And how did this happen? Who at IDW approached you?
No, I never came close before, even though I have been a Star Trek fan right from the beginning. For whatever reason, I never really tried to pursue getting a Trek commission. I didn’t know anyone who was in charge of Trek and so it didn’t happen until now. My agent, Jean Scrocco, is working with IDW on a series of art books on my work. She has been working with Scott Dunbier, and Scott sent her an email to see if I would do a Trek cover. Jean said she would ask me, but she already knew I would. She walked into my studio, asked me, saw the grin on my face and told Scott yes.
How well did you know the original Star Trek series? What did/do you appreciate most about it?
So, when it first aired, I saw every episode. In those days, I knew it well. Today, I am not sure I could give you specific information on episodes, with the exception of a few. But as far as what I appreciate most about it is something I certainly can still remember. It was always so thoughtful as far as the story content was concerned. Science fiction has always been used as a tool to comment on our world. Sci-fi writers disguised our world in the fantastic to make it more interesting as a vehicle to make us look at ourselves. Right off the bat, I could see that this new space opera was going to attack social, political, religious and racial issues. Which to me was art operating on its highest plain. So, I was thrilled to see it become a cult classic and go into syndication. I knew at that point it would be around to make an impact on many generations to come.
Take us through painting your Year Five piece. Did they give you the stories to inspire your choices, or did you work from scratch just knowing the basic concept that the book would explore the fifth year of the Enterprise's mission under Kirk?
Actually, I very much want to thank Scott Dunbier and IDW for giving me absolutely no direction -- except that it was the original cast. That gave me the opportunity to come up with my own composition for the cover art, which I approached both emotionally and logically. I tried to convey the feeling of the 60’s and structured the composition logically with the cast in the proper order.
The colors in your piece are so bright and vivid. What compelled you to go bold, no pun intended, like that?
So, the colors in this painting had to be bold and vivid, no pun intended, because the show was bold and vivid. But mostly capturing the overall look of the 60’s was very important to me. It had to be nostalgic in appearance, almost as if I had painted it many years ago. Artist styles change over their lifetime depending on the subject you paint, but also on the era you are in. The 60’s was a very bold decade in this country. We were loud and we were trying to find answers to many questions, and we were trying to save the planet. All of the things that Star Trek made us think about.
The characters' faces, especially their eyes, look almost photo-realistic, while the planet, Enterprise and sky are more traditional art. Take us through those decisions.
I always start with eyes. I can’t paint a face unless I get the eyes. That is where the soul of any character is. And it is an artist’s job to capture the soul. As far as the style is concerned, I consciously decided to put more detail in the characters than in the background. This gives a greater focus on the characters for the viewer. For the background, I used the primary colors intentionally, bold, in-your-face colors that represent the planet, the sky and space. I have always loved the primary colors for use in sci-fi and comic art. Imagine seeing Superman in the secondary colors, which are orange, green and purple. There is no visual POW to that.
You're about to turn 80. First, happy birthday. Second, if you came at this piece 30 or 40 years ago, how differently do you think you might have approached it?
First, thank you for the birthday wish. Yes, I am turning 80 on the Wednesday the 23rd. I cannot believe I am 80 years old. I don’t feel 80 and I don’t act 80. And I hope to God I don’t look and act like an old guy. As far as 30 or 40 years ago, I really don’t think it would look much different. I think I paint better now than I did 40 years ago; at least I hope so. I think the triangular composition I chose would have been the same 30 or 40 years ago. It is a power composition. And Star Trek was a very powerful in-your-face show.
Very, very few people can say they've made their living as an artist. How proud are you to -- along with your brother for much of your career -- have done so, and to have complemented everything from books and magazines to albums and movies, as well as all your non-tie-in projects?
I wake up every day thankful that I have been and are still able to make a living doing art. It never ceases to amaze me that people love my art. I don’t think about pride in my art. Never really crosses my mind. If I had to try and answer your question, I would say that I believe Tim and I together and me alone did a pretty good job in most of our art. Sure, there are pieces I look at and I really like. The process of doing art is the driving force in creating art for me. The end product was, of course, important to us. We had to like it. We had to feel that we put 300% of ourselves into it. But it was critical that the client was happy and that our fans were happy. I have to say that I have never been 100% happy with any piece of art I have created. There is a nagging feeling inside me that I have not yet reached my potential. So, what always interests me is what is next!
So, what’s next? What else are you working on at the moment -- and when do you think you'll get around to painting another Star Trek piece?
Well, right now I am doing a bunch of private commissions for collectors, Black Bolt, Supergirl, Diana Goddess of the Hunt and Marylin Monroe. I love my collectors. They are all over the place, and that is great for any artist. You never get stale doing the same thing over and over and over. Then, there are my covers for Marvel, my winter tour art for the Trans-Siberian Orchestra, and my own graphic novel I am working on with my son, Gregory. Greg is a writer. We’ve been working on this for months. And, of course, the next painting I have started is for my American Beauties Pinup series. You can see a lot of it on my site, www.spiderwebart.com. As far as the next Star Trek cover, Jean asked Scott at IDW if they wanted another cover. She has yet to get an answer to that question, so I guess you need to ask Scott. I would slip that right into my schedule and start it tomorrow if they want one.
For additional details, contact your local comic book retailer or visit www.comicshoplocator.com to find a store near you. And keep an eye on StarTrek.com for additional details about the IDW's upcoming Star Trek adventures, as well as exclusive first looks at covers and preview pages.