2019’s Joker was a dark, twisted journey into the origins of one of pop culture’s greatest villains, brought to life through an Oscar-winning Joaquin Phoenix performance. The film inspired many unique and wonderful pieces of artwork, and it was one such piece which grabbed our attention here at Film Forums.
Glen Stone, illustrator and a self-confessed Batman super-fan, produced a fantastic piece which drew such acclaim Warner Bros. used it on the Italian collector’s edition Blu-Ray. After coming across Glen’s work on social media, Film Forums creator Richard Williams simply had to cheekily ask for an interview. Thankfully Glen, already a huge film fan, met the invitation with a thumbs up and a smile as big as the Joker’s.
To learn more about Glen Stone and his work as an illustrator, Pete Straley accompanied Richard to co-host this fascinating interview with Glen about his work, his love of films and comic books and how his Joker artwork became Warner Bros. approved.
FF [Richard]: Welcome to Film Forums, thank you so much for joining us today. My name is Richard Williams, and I have with me, Pete Straley, who’s co-hosting for the first time with me, which is awesome. So Glen, can you introduce yourself to us? I believe you’re based in Cambridgeshire, which is actually just around the corner from me!
GS: I’m sorry about that – so close to me, that’s terrible isn’t it! I’m a graphic designer and illustrator. I’ve had quite an exciting last couple of years, with a lot of published artworks, and the one I’m probably most well known for is the Joker (2019) piece. I’ve been doing well. I just enjoy scribbling; I enjoy anything to do with movie culture or sci-fi and anything retro really.
You never are fully satisfied with your artwork. You’re never entirely happy with a finished piece; you’re always going to be your own worst critic.
FF [Richard]: When did you realise that you were a really good artist and when did you first get to grips with digital art, specifically?
GS: I think I’ve always had art as an interest. It’s always been something that I’ve just taken to, especially being a massive comic book fan as well. It just kind of goes hand in hand, but I think the transition to digital wasn’t too difficult at all really. It seems like a natural progression these days and, a lot of illustrator friends I have in the industry, do tend to initially work in traditional line work or pencils and then scanning; obviously in Photoshop or whatever program they use to add detail and colour. I think it just makes it a lot easier, especially now we’re in the age of the internet and you can work on your tablet – you see a trailer, you’re influenced automatically, and before you know it you’ve got a complete piece of artwork.
FF [Richard]: That segues quite nicely into my next question really. Do you find digital art easier than traditional mediums because it’s so easy to change, manipulate, go back into it, do whatever you like with it?
GS: Yeah, I think it certainly makes it a lot easier. And also, you never are fully satisfied with your artwork. You’re never entirely happy with a finished piece; you’re always going to be your own worst critic. So, for me, someone who’s constantly altering pieces I’ve done two or three years back, or just scanning a scribble I did at work on my lunch break or whatever, it’s good to have that ease to do it.
FF [Richard]: The difference between me and you is absolutely night and day – I wouldn’t compare myself in any way shape or form. But, I do graphic design for Film Forums and one of the banner artworks I literally got to 17 versions, and I was finally happy with it.
GS: It’s the bane of designers or any illustrator: “revision 2.4”, or “I haven’t finished this one yet”, or “PSD number 67”. You go insane and you’ve got this stockpile of files.
FF [Richard]: What’s your record? Do you know what your record is for naming files? Because I’ve got up to the 20s or 30s (though, I’m not an artist). Once I’ve done it, it’s done.
GS: I think definitely in the double figures. I think my whole life is a constant revision.
FF [Pete]: As someone who has no background, or any sort of knowledge of graphic design, that just blows my mind those kind of numbers. I think it’s great to be a perfectionist, but, God, that must drive you mad!
GS: The thing is, I work reasonably quick as well. I’m always trying to be as economic with my time as possible, but as focused. So, if it gets to the stage where I’m really happy with it and I send it, and then, four months down the line, I’m still working on the left hand or a fingernail or something, I’m really close to death!
FF [Richard]: I know that feeling so well, again, not in your league at all, but I get it as a process. I understand exactly where you’re coming from. It’s frustrating. But, if you’ve got that professional perfectionist streak, then you can really take your art to the next level – or whatever you’re working on, frankly. So, I think that’s great. As long as you can find the balance and obviously get stuff done within the deadline, then that’s great.
FF [Pete]: How did you find out your artwork was going to be used for the Joker (2019) Collector’s Edition Blu-ray cover? And, what was your initial reaction to that news?
GS: That was quite a surprise, actually. I don’t know if you’ve heard of it – there’s a creative artwork network called Talenthouse who produce creative briefs for movies or packaging, or just anything in general really. They tend to do quite a few big motion pictures, and Joker (2019) was one of them. I entered it and I was one of the selected finalists. My piece was used across social media when the film was released, along with some incredible artwork. It was just completely a surprise to me that mine was one of them that was used really. I think there were about 10 entries for that competition that I put in, just because I was so enthusiastic. It was such a surprise!
It was about a month ago now [speaking in December 2020] that I got an email and it went straight into my junk folder, and it was from the creative assistant to Todd Phillips, the director of Joker (2019). They wanted to ask for my Instagram handle @glenstoneillustration so that he could obviously release the promotional video for the Italian Collector’s Edition, and I was blown away. I was like, ‘Wow, they are actually using it again and it’s gonna be there’. I couldn’t explain it – still do not believe it. I’m still waiting for my copy, but it’s amazing. Completely mind blowing.
It’s astounding to see how far it’s come and it just gives you so much hope for the lesser known comic books that are not appreciated; that could be just absolutely amazing series, or films even.
FF [Richard]: Do you not get a free copy at the very least then?
GS: I blagged it, I totally blagged it. I said, ‘Look, can I please get one?’, and luckily I did that. I was really cheeky and asked. The pre-orders sold out, so obviously they’re now on their second run, I believe. And, I know it’s solely the Italian Collector’s Edition, but still, I’m very, very honoured and humbled that a lot of my friends have actually gone online and purchased it and so forth, and a lot of people took to Twitter to share images of it and that’s wonderful.
FF [Richard]: Have you been approached by any other major film studios for commissions since Warner Bros. picked your artwork for the Joker (2019) Collector’s Edition Blu-ray?
GS: Not currently, unfortunately. So, I’ve done quite a few books for Printed In Blood, who are based in America, and unfortunately due to the state of the world at the moment, the next release that I contributed to was for Firefly (2002), the sci-fi series, that was due to be released in November of this year. But, unfortunately it’s been pushed back to March 2021. They did announce the other day, the forthcoming Aliens (1986) artbook, which for me is the biggest deal ever. I’m a massive Aliens fan – the entire world/universe if you will – Alien (1979), Aliens (1986), Alien 3 (1992), Predator (1987) etc. It’s just, to me, amazing, and to be asked to be in the book and contribute is incredible.
But, hopefully, yeah – my artwork’s out there now. Unfortunately, because Warner Bros. do own the Joker (2019) artwork, the majority of requests I get are for prints or limited edition prints of the piece itself, but they own it. And obviously, you know, I’ve missed out on ‘millions’ there but never mind!
FF [Pete]: As a comic book fan, are there any specific artists whose work you admire most and any who have influenced your work at all?
GS: There’s so many. Adi Granov, obviously, the creator of Iron Man. Frank Quitely, I think, is just incredible and the most intricate and most detailed artist since Moebius. Sean Gordon Murphy, Ben Oliver – I have a lot of his original artwork – and also Mack Chater, he’s fantastic as well. But, I’ve so many comics and graphic novels, and it just takes a nicely put together page or comic panel just to grab my attention. I’m very much into Frank Miller as well.
FF [Pete]: Yeah, I love Frank Miller’s stuff. I feel like there’s an under-appreciation of comic book art. I think, these days, it’s probably grown a bit more and has come a bit more into the mainstream, but you’ll still find people thinking, ‘Oh, they’re just comic books, they’re for kids’. And it’s totally not like that, is it?
GS: Yeah, I know, it’s insane. Considering how much you’re seeing the comic book evolution and seeing Netflix series, complete universes on film, the highest grossing movies, and I think when you go to the cinema (when we used to be able to go to the cinema back in the 1950s!), to be sat there and watching a 3 hour epic, like Endgame (2019), and to see that final battle – the only thing you could do back then was read the comics and imagine it playing out. It’s astounding to see how far it’s come and it just gives you so much hope for the lesser-known comic books that are not appreciated, that could be just absolutely amazing series, or films, even.
FF [Pete]: Is there a particular comic book character you love to draw more than others? I know you’ve said you’re a big Batman fan.
GS: Batman, Batman, Batman! I still haven’t got it right, but it’s Batman. I draw him with a nostril up here, an ear there. I think Batman, definitely. Anything in the Batman universe and obviously Joker, it just seems like everything’s kind of come together in that way. For me, it’s been a massive honour.
FF [Richard]: I guess there’s an increasing appreciation for Heath Ledger sketches for obvious reasons since his passing, some years ago now. Further immortalising that talent is going to be popular.
GS: Yeah, definitely. I still think, despite the fact that I absolutely love Todd Phillips’ Joker (2019), and I love Joaquin Phoenix’s performance, for something that was meant to be his kind of own take on the Joker, if you will, an origin story is never something the hardcore comic fans are gonna agree with. But, I still think Heath Ledger’s performance is timeless.
This new technology at hand makes it easier when you’re just out and about and you know, you can plonk yourself down in a coffee shop or wherever and just draw. And that’s amazing, that’s the best thing.
FF [Richard]: Full disclosure here, I’m not actually a massive comic book fan at all. I came across your work initially on LinkedIn, so it’s a big compliment from somebody who isn’t actually into comic books. I don’t dislike them; I do watch the films and I love Heath Ledger’s Joker; he was fantastic in The Dark Knight (2008). That transcends the comic book sphere, really. The fact that anyone can appreciate your work, whether they’re into comic books or not, is the point really. It’s just an appreciation of art and digital design particularly as well.
GS: Yeah, thank you, I appreciate that. Although, I do pester people on LinkedIn a lot with my posts, so you had no choice! I think that’s one of the things I try to capture. I remember back with Drew Struzan’s extremely detailed, painted posters for the likes of Indiana Jones (1981-2008), or the Phantom Menace (1999) – even Harry Potter (2001-2011) – he’s done so many. But, it seems like that’s kind of been lost over the years – that kind of art of a classic movie poster. And, Photoshop is a wonderful tool, don’t get me wrong, but it’s just made it so easy just to whack a picture of Jason Statham in the corner.
FF [Pete]: That brings me on nicely to the next question, do you have a favourite movie poster?
GS: I think it would probably have to be the original The Thing (1982), movie poster.
FF [Richard]: Very iconic.
FF [Pete]: A lot of people say that one. It’s so good, isn’t it?
GS: Love it, absolutely love it. And that was a bit of a rush job as well. I watched a documentary on how Drew Struzan put that together, and it was kind of an overnight thing – insane, absolutely insane. Some people are show offs. That’s not right, don’t do that. Don’t do a poster that iconic in like one night!
FF [Richard]: That actually brings me nicely to one of my final questions really… How long does it take you typically to come up with something like that? [points to Joker (2019) artwork in background]
GS: I think for some of them it depends, because a lot of us illustrators, we love movies and we love trailers. I think that’s one of the things that gets you extremely hyper and excited about a forthcoming movie. You see a trailer, or you see imagery of leaked characters or whatever, and you just automatically want to start drawing them.
I think, in the Joker (2019) piece, I was deliberately slow at putting that together. I worked on just the inks first, the line work, and the black ink speckles. I then added the colour and I was actually really thankful that I made the background yellow, because I was drawn to using a really bright colour. Then, ironically, when I saw Joker (2019), the opening scene when he’s attacked in the alley, the full text is ‘Joker’ in yellow. It all seemed to come together for some strange reason. Typically, I’ll stop and start pieces, so if I’m not sure where it’s going or I’m not really feeling that I’m getting it quite right, then I’ll take a break, rest my eyes and go and draw someone else for a while.
FF [Richard]: What advice would you give to somebody who is starting out? When I ask that question to filmmakers, they usually say ‘Just give it a go; just start somewhere and build up a repertoire or a portfolio’ which is absolutely true. Is there anything specific that you could give to somebody who’s just starting out and thinking of embarking on a career as an artist/graphic designer?
GS: I think a lot has changed since I was young. I mean, that was a long time ago, but I think now, because there’s so many ways you can work: Desktop, iPad. The Joker piece was drawn in Procreate for the iPad with the iPencil, so, quite literally, just the screen and lots of zooming in. This new technology at hand makes it easier when you’re just out and about and, you know, you can plonk yourself down in a coffee shop or wherever and just draw. That’s amazing. That’s the best thing. I’m really precious about my traditional drawings and sketches that I do in my sketchbooks, because they’re there and they can’t be altered drastically once you’ve committed ink or anything, whereas you can be a bit more playful and creative and that’s good.
FF [Richard]: So, do you like the pressure of traditional mediums because of the permanency of it? Yes, you can erase stuff and you can change things a little bit maybe when you’re starting out the image, but once you layer that up and you’ve got it in there… Do you revel in that kind of kind of pressure?
GS: You’re still given the ability to, obviously, do very faint lines or blue lines and then draw over in inks or darker pencils. In that respect, it does make you take your time more when it comes to figuring out where you want to go with the pieces you put together. Facebook is a wonderful thing as well. Instagram, I’ll add artists daily, just because their artwork is incredible.
FF [Pete]: What projects are you working on at the moment [as of December 2020]? And what can we see next from you?
GS: The one I’ve really got to decide what I’m doing is the Aliens (1986) book piece, because I need that to be completely stonking and just the most detailed and amazing piece I can do, but I’m still a little bit in the woods with that one. I don’t know whether to go mega intricate and even have the Alien Queen’s toenails sticking out the corner, or – I don’t know – a bunch of silhouettes. It’s a tough one, it’s a tough one.
That’s the wonderful thing about Printed In Blood. When they give you a creative brief as an artist, they give you some guidelines to work to, but they give you free rein. So, you can either redesign the poster in essence, or draw particular characters or from different characters perspectives, and that’s wonderful. I really would like to break into comic books next year if possible, just because it’s something I’ve been wanting to do for so long. Whether it’s just cover art or panel work as well, definitely something I want to pursue.
But currently, anything that’s based within the arena of movies as well, that’s definitely something I’m gonna try and push more this year. I’ve had great responses to the Joker (2019) pieces and Stranger Things (2016-) pieces and the Ghostbusters (1984) pieces I’ve done, so hopefully there’s a lot more to come.
FF [Richard]: Yeah, absolutely. I do have one final question. What’s your favourite non-comic book film?
FF [Richard]: Great choice, great choice. I haven’t met a single person who hasn’t liked that.
GS: And yours Richard , what’s yours? You’ve got to tell me now.
FF [Richard]: I would say Jurassic Park (1993) is my favourite film, I love that. And also 12 Angry Men (1957), classic black and white film. And, as it’s Christmas time at the time of this recording, I absolutely love It’s a Wonderful Life (1946) as well.
Artwork supplied courtesy of Glen Stone Illustration
Introduction & Interviewers: Pete Straley and Richard Williams
Transcript: Pete Straley
Second Editors: Kristen Brookman and Richard Williams
Film Studies graduate. Aspiring screenwriter.