Throughout his career, Ken Meyer Jr. has worked on projects all over the media world such as working on projects such as Everquest, doing some art for Marvel Comics, and even working on a few military designs, such as the tail insignia for the stealth fighter. Somehow in the middle of it all he also found time to illustrate some Magic: The Gathering cards, including early on starting with the Arabian Nights expansion.
Ken was kind enough to take some time out of his busy schedule to answer some questions from Magic Untapped about his artwork and a little MTG history.
Magic Untapped: What inspirations and influences in your life drove you to becoming a professional artist? Were comics a large influence?
Ken Meyers Jr.: Comics were a HUGE influence! I learned to draw by first tracing from comics, then drawing from them, then doing my own characters and stories and such. Back in the 70s and 80s, I was trying to get into various fanzines I loved (many of which you can see in my column called Ink Stains, once a month...you can see all the installments on my site at kenmeyerjr.com). I was a huge Marvel zombie, though I also bought a fair amount of DC stuff too. Then, later, I really got into many of the independents of the time, titles like Nexus, Cerebus, Love and Rockets, etc. Included in that mix were the undergrounds of that time as well.
MU: How did you get into doing artwork for Magic: The Gathering? Did you reach out to Wizards of the Coast or did they reach out to you?
KMJ: At one San Diego Comi-Con, while I was in Artist's Alley, a super nice woman dropped by and later gave me work when she was at another gaming company. Her name is Maria Carbado. She later ended up at WOTC for awhile and forwarded me to Jesper, and that was that!
MU: You've illustrated a modest 13 cards for Magic: The Gathering beginning with a few in the game's first expansion, Arabian Nights, including (arguably) you're most famous piece of Magic artwork in the card Kird Ape. Why do you think that card's artwork still has so much appeal so many years down the road?
KMJ: I have one theory, and that is that many of us attach an outsized importance to many things because of the time we encountered them in our lives...things like music, books, etc. And I know many Magic players got into the game when they were in their teens, so these cards hold a special significance they might otherwise not have.
MU: How long do you typically spend on a piece?
KMJ: Well, depends on the piece. I do small things like altered cards (typically taking maybe an hour or so). At the moment I am actually working on a huge number of cards for Cryptozoic, one set is Middle Earth and the other is composed of TV DC superheroes. But, I do larger stuff as well, and those would of course take longer. If something has many elements or is very detailed, it is gonna take longer. But, having said that, I am pretty fast in general.
MU: You’ve done the artwork on many Magic cards. Which of your cards have been your favorites and what is it about them that makes them stand out?
KMJ: I don't honestly have a clear favorite...but Stone Throwing Devils is fun in a goofy way.
MU: The most recent card for which you've illustrated is Benalish Trapper some 20 years ago in the Invasion set. Have there been any thoughts or discussions about you creating new Magic artwork at some point in the future?
KMJ: Boy, I wish. I have tried to contact new art directors here and there, but have had no luck so far. Maybe now that they are not relying on as much digital art (and have brought a few other earlier artists back into the fold), I might catch a break.
MU: Have you ever tried a more "out of the box" approach to a card where you try a new perspective or style?
KMJ: Well, since most of what I do is on a commission basis, unless someone asks for something crazy, I am not usually gonna experiment on their commission. But, with various paintings, I play around with techniques or media I might not use as often as others. I don't always have time to play around, though. One thing that I started awhile back is a sketchbook filled with portraits of other artists, in various media. I have done a few fellow Magic artists even. I have a folder devoted to that on my Facebook page.
MU: Do you have a favorite art medium? If so, does it make fantasy artwork harder or easier to create?
KMJ: I have sort of moved from one to another for various reasons. For many years, other than pen and ink for comic work, I used watercolor. I guess because it was the cheapest medium. But later, I got into pretty much all media to some degree. Lately, I have been using acrylic inks a lot. They can be used like watercolor for the most part, but are more saturated, and my style has always been pretty color saturated. I don't think the medium makes fantasy artwork harder OR easier...it is just how well you know the media.
MU: What kinds of things are more tricky for you to create (landscapes, people creatures, etc.)?
KMJ: Well, I don't particularly like technical stuff...I gravitate towards organic forms for the most part. I have no trouble with people, flora and fauna...sometimes making up creatures might be a little harder.
MU: Over the years, you've gained quite the following for your pop culture card alters and playmats. How did it all come about and how can people who want their cards altered by you?
KMJ: Yeah, it is funny how that happened (the playmats) and then steamrolled. I think the very first one was a Will Smith/Force of Will mash up, and was sorta based on an alter or two I had done along the same lines. Then, either people gave me ideas, commissioned something, or I just decided it was time for new mate and tried to think of some crazy combination. As for alters, there was a time I had no clue what they were...a friend who owned a store (around 2005) told me that I should try this new thing.
MU: Do you have a favorite piece of pop culture MTG artwork that you've done?
KMJ: Man, I have done so much, I would be hard pressed to name a favorite. Of the mats, maybe my Force of Will Shatner...that was fun, trying to get as many of the cheesiest Trek antagonists from the original series in there. Of the alters, that is impossible to choose. When I talk to people, I tell them, "I have done everything from Homer Simpson to Hitler...and I have done Hitler twice!"