ARTIST FOCUS: GEORGE ALEXOPOULOS
Born and raised in New Jersey, George Alexopoulos’s passion for art budded at a very young age while watching Disney’s animated movies. As the years progressed, his interest blossomed into a passion with his discovery of the works of video game artists Akihiko Yoshida, Akira Toriyama, and Tetsuya Nomura and Manga artists Masami Tsuda, Fuyumi Soryo, and Takehiko Inoue.
Today, George’s art has taken on a style of its own and while he still appreciates the work of so many others, he seeks inspiration from the world that surrounds him.
Tell us about yourself. Where are you from? Where do you live now?
I’m from northern New Jersey in the United States. I’ve lived in this area all my life.
What is your day job? What do you do there? How long have you been doing that?
I work at a place which reproduces, frames, and sells vintage art. My official job title is “printer operator”. I compare it to an animal tamer: I sometimes have to control up to five temperamental printers simultaneously, making sure they have ink and paper, and making sure the prints are coming out the way they’re supposed to.
The work ranges from incredibly dull to very stressful. I’ve been there for almost four years, but only part time now. I’ve been spending the rest of my time trying to earn income from my art and studying for ministry.
How long have you been designing/illustrating? What got you interested in art?
Well, lots of kids like to draw. I can’t point to a specific instance, but I think I received enough compliments from a young age that I kept trying to improve, in search of more praise from teachers, friends, my parents, etc.
I’ve had a lifelong love for film and animation, especially Disney during the late 80s and early 90s. By the time anime reached America, I drew just as an extension of my enjoyment of the medium. I figured, I can’t animate things without a studio, but I could certainly try to learn how to draw. I remember being pretty serious about it when I was twelve because I wanted to design video games too.
I’d draw RPG world maps and towns, design battle systems, characters, plot out stories, all that. By high school, manga started making big splashes in America and I enjoyed that medium for a long time. Comics seemed like a natural application of my interests and skills, so I shifted to that.
All of these mediums are interconnected, in my mind. I love good storytelling and good art so I tried to learn how express those passions.
Who/what influences your art? Is there a particular person’s style that has influenced you?
That’s a long list. 80s and 90s Disney, as I mentioned, was an influence. I loved Charlie Brown growing up and tried to emulate Charles Schulz’s work.
Around age 10 I began trying to copy art from video game covers (Super Metroid, Super Mario World, Sonic) and promotional art in magazines. I didn’t find out their names until later, but I copied work from artists like Akihiko Yoshida (Tactics Ogre) and Akira Toriyama (Chrono Trigger). Also, Tetsuya Nomura’s art during the Squaresoft days was highly influential to me. I remember scrutinizing his work on Final Fantasy 7 very closely.
In my late teens, manga artists were the biggest influence. Masami Tsuda, Fuyumi Soryo, but especially Takehiko Inoue.
Nowadays I’ve been exploring classical art. I’m especially passionate about ink illustrations, specifically from children’s books. Alphonse Mucha, Edmund Dulac … I’m always impressed by Gustave Dore’s etchings as well.
Though to be honest, I’m a Christian, so rather than learning too much from people, I try to learn from God’s artwork. Anything the best human artists create is just a copy or manipulation of something which God’s already made, you know? Instead of learning how to draw a figure from a human artist, I just study the Master Artist’s work. So I figure it’s best to bypass all the middlemen and learn directly from the Creator, if that makes sense.
How would you describe your style?
Oof … I’m not a fan of the word “style”. My old art teachers would admonish me when I didn’t draw correctly. I’d respond tartly, “well that’s just my style.”
For the sake of answering the question, though, I use a “cartoony” style and a “realistic” style. I adjust my illustrations to suit whatever I’m trying to express. For instance, in a comic strip like Bite-Size, it’ll be cartoony because I’m trying to convey cuteness and fun. The same will apply for figurines.
When I’m trying to challenge myself or tell a serious story, I’ll try to draw as realistically as possible. When I draw narrative comics, I’ll try to find a “style” in between, trying to balance speed and quality. I’m still trying to refine that.
In a nutshell, the “style” I strive for is to be as adaptable as possible.
What medium do you typically use when creating art?
Pencil and ink, mostly. I enjoy black and white illustrations, though I’d like to learn color someday.
How do you tackle new projects? Do you plan everything out in advance or do you just start designing and see where it takes you? What’s your process?
I want to be the type to impulsively create, but I used to do that and it would be years into a project before I’d realize the whole thing was a waste of time. Nowadays, I’m a planner. The downside to this, of course, is that I don’t execute on a plan until I believe it’s ready (which is never).
If I’m writing a story to illustrate, the script has to come first. I go through as many drafts as necessary, then I storyboard, and finally draw it. I’d like to write a novel and illustrate it like in the old days, but I’m not quite confident enough with my prose yet.
To put it another way, I like to establish the “macro” before I focus on the “micro”. Any artist can relate to this: You work really hard on an eye, then a nose, then you take like three hours to do the shading on someone’s upper lip, and finally you step back from the drawing only to realize everything is displaced. I hate redoing things! It’s so boring.
Your paper figurines are unlike anything else I’ve ever seen, where did this inspiration come from?
I’m actually surprised to hear this. I can’t say the figurines are particularly original. I’ve seen paper cutouts just like them on the backs of cereal boxes.
I made the first set of figurines because I was bored at work and wanted to make little cut-outs of Harry Potter and his friends to keep me company on my desk. I had so much fun making those (and such a positive reaction from my friends) that I kept making more and more, gradually increasing their complexity. The figurines were usually smaller than my keyboard so I could slip them underneath in case someone came into my room and looked over my shoulder.
I know you’ve gotten a lot of requests for your paper figurines based on popular franchises but you’ll only sell figurines based on original ideas, care to explain why?
I regret that I did sell a handful, before I really thought the implications through. At this point, it’s a matter of ethics. I can’t sell figurines based on characters owned by other people. I’ve thought about it for a long time, and have good reason to believe the Bible would define it as stealing, so I won’t do it anymore. After all, Jesus said “Do to others as you’d have them do to you.” I wouldn’t want someone to make a profit off something I created.
Besides, custom-made figurines are actually quite charming. Right now I’m working on a five piece set for an engaged couple based on their favorite activities. I’ve made cake toppers for wedding cakes, imaginary sock-stealing gnomes, people sitting at their typewriters … I’d say those are just as good and meaningful as characters from our favorite games. I understand the nostalgic value, but I encourage people to consider the value of having something personal made for them.
Have you ever considered changing your view on selling these figurines considering that many people sell art based on (or inspired by) intellectual properties on Etsy, deviantART, etc.?
I’ve been to comics conventions where people sell fan art of characters. I even did it myself, selling two or three dollar sketches of Naruto or Sephiroth or whoever. It was on those grounds that I originally thought selling figurines of video game characters was okay, but after thinking about it for a long time, I can’t bring myself to do it now. I love God more than money.
Has video game art, concept art, or fan art influenced you at all?
Video game art and concept art, absolutely. Not so much fan art. I realize the irony of this statement in light of the attention my figurines have been getting, but I value originality more than emulation.
I adore concept art; it inspires me so much. I was flipping through the art book for Mass Effect recently and was in awe of the imagination it must require to design environments like the citadel, or how (I suspect) Turian facial structures are based off lions. I can’t often afford them, but I love books with concept art. I wish they published more of them in the U.S. (so at least I could flip through them, drooling.)
Come to think of it, a few months ago I found a book of Yoshitaka Amano’s art on Final Fantasy 1-6. I wish they’d published his work up to 10. It was also expensive, too, like $40. I hear over half the world’s population lives on $2 per day. I can’t bring myself to waste money like that anyhow. (Maybe my local Libraries will start stocking these books someday!)
Tell us about your current projects. What are you working on? Any upcoming art shows?
I have a webcomic called Bite-Size which I try to update as often as possible. My schedule has been a mess this year, so unfortunately I can’t post new strips as often as I’d like.
I’ve been pecking away at different scripts for graphic novels, but I don’t know if I’ll ever find the time to draw another one. The bubble kinda popped for comics in the States a few years ago, so there isn’t any money in it. At this point, I’d be content to simply earn a living!
As for art shows, none that I can think of. I tried applying to New York Comic Con, but it’s next to impossible to get a table at those big shows. Unfortunately, that’s the only show I can afford to attend since it’s local. I also tried Small Press Expo and MoCCA, but no tables were available. It’s hard to break into comics.
The sad thing is, most art shows have to be planned like a year in advance. I did exhibit my ink drawings at my county’s art show two years ago, but most people walked by them, uninterested. It was frustrating. I made a strip about it.
Are you an avid gamer? If so, what are you currently playing?
I grew up playing video games and I’ll always love the medium, but I’m not as “avid” as I used to be, I suppose. I’m picky. As I’ve grown older, I just can’t justify sitting in front of a TV for as many hours as I used to. Nonetheless, I’m still attracted to well-designed games. Also, the stories only rarely rise above nonsense or garbage.
Companies will go to great lengths to hire the best programmers, composers or artists, but they seem to delegate writing to some dude from accounting, or the CEO’s nephew or something. This isn’t to sound boastful because I don’t consider myself a particularly good writer, but I could write better stories than the majority of what’s on the market right now. One of my friends and I still argue about Final Fantasy 13. I say they developed the story by using Mad Libs.
I absolutely adore Demon’s/Dark Souls. I put a lot of hours into both. The pair of them might constitute the best games of this generation for me.
Disgaea is in my DS right now.
I’m also currently pecking away at Virtua Fighter 5: FS, but too often I feel the game goes out of its way to prevent me from enjoying it. (Maybe it’s just the jerks on Xbox Live.)
I’m greatly looking forward to Tekken X Street Fighter, assuming they don’t insult me like Capcom did with SFxT. (Though I know Harada has vowed not to do something like that and has threatened to quit if his hand was forced, I know most big video game company CEO’s will choose money over quality.)
I enjoy the Street Fighter series quite a bit and played a fair amount of Third Strike Online and 4. (I just hope the next one has more originality than 4.)
I’m looking forward to “The Last Story” quite a lot.
Though I don’t play as much as I used to, I still follow gaming news fairly regularly.
If you could be any video game character who would it be? Why?
I wanted to be Squall Leonhart during High School and my first year at college. It was a lonely time.
What do you do for fun?
I didn’t realize it until I read this question, but I don’t really have much time for fun these days. I feel like I always have some work to do. What a bummer!
When I do less demanding work, I enjoy listening to sermons. Francis Chan, Ravi Zacharias, and Mark Driscoll are my favorite speakers right now.
Once in a while, I like to read some short comics, books on theology, etc. I enjoy “Black Jack” by Osamu Tezuka, and I’m currently trying to get through “I Don’t Have Enough Faith To Be An Atheist” by Norman Geisler and Frank Turek. Fascinating book.
Up until this year, I liked to haunt my local bookstores: buy a coffee, browse, get a stack of books and read for hours. Unfortunately, it seems so many customers did the same thing that most stores closed down during the recession. I’m partially at fault. I also don’t go to bookstores so much these days because their stock lately is disappointing.
The comics sections are packed with 50-volume throwaway comics, but very few works of quality. The art sections are filled with overpriced nonsense.
If there’s one thing that you want people to know about you, what would that be?
That I love Jesus.
Want to know what know what George is working on next? Follow him at his website.