Interview with Comic Book Artist/Author Sandy Plunkett
Originally from New York City, Sandy Plunkett is a wizard with a pencil. A long-time resident of Athens, Ohio, Sandy is an icon in southeastern Ohio. Beginning his career drawing for DC and Marvel Comics, he creates scenarios and characters that engage and amaze; fantastical creatures, superheroes and heroines, magical beasts, and so much more.
GM: How in the world did you land in Athens, Ohio from New York City?
SP: Yeah, I've gotten asked that a lot since landing in Athens. The simple part of the answer is that I was in a relationship with a woman in NYC who had friends here. She'd visit every spring for an annual dance party hosted by John Thorndike. One year she convinced me to tag along (I'm not wild about dance parties in really) we stayed the weekend, mostly at a community near Amesville called, at the time, The Helpless Far. I was taken with what I saw and the people I met, the kind of lives they'd carved out for themselves. Eventually I started coming to Athens on my own, visiting folks I'd me, exploring the area.
At the same time, I found myself dealing with bouts of depression back in New York. I think there might have been a number of reasons for this, but a big factor were the changes the city was going through in the 80s. It was rapidly becoming gentrified, its PR machine having convinced half the world that Manhattan was the coolest place on the planet to live. This meant wonderfully grizzled old ethnic neighborhoods disappearing overnight and rents going through the roof. The tone on the streets changed- everyone seemed to be on display, 24/7. The working class was just forced out and with it, a lot of the city's true character. So, around 1990 I decided I'd had had enough and flew the coop.
GM: What do you find most likeable about the Athens culture and environment? Where in Athens is your favorite place for creative inspiration?
SP: I've been in Athens over 30 years now and, as you would suspect, the town has changed a lot in that time. And a lot of what first attracted me has disappeared. It's hard to put a word to the quality the town had back then. It felt very much like the small, Appalachian college town it was but the influence of a somewhat anarchistic, back-to-the-land community added a sense of possibility and unity I hadn't experienced elsewhere. There seemed to be endless invention in how people were shaping their lives. I'm still impressed by how positive many Athenians are about constructing a better world, for themselves and others, but OU has grown so dominant, the real estate market has grown so prohibitive, that it's made Athens seem like a more serious, money-orient environment, stifling that sense of freedom.
My favorite place for creative inspiration? Well, that to has changed over the years, but once the students have cleared the bricks for the summer, I love to take a sketch book uptown and sit outside the Donkey Café, watching the light fade in the evening, just absorbing the atmosphere.
GM: Your creative portfolio is extensive; Spider-Man, Batman, Daredevil, Dc Comics, Marvel Comics, etc. Who is your favorite character to create?
SP: Well, when I have worked on a copyrighted character like the ones you mentioned, I'm not actually “creating” a character- I'm just trying to add something to a preexisting “property” while still sticking to the core of what makes that hero work. It's an interesting and enjoyable challenge- seeking out possibilities no other writer or artist might have found yet. Alan Moore did this brilliantly with DC's Swamp Thing. When working at Marvel regularly, I'd seek out their lesser known characters to work on, mostly because they weren't quite so closely scrutinized by the marketing people who were always very concerned about writers going “off message”. You'd have a little more latitude, creatively, doing the more low profile heroes. I enjoyed working on Ant Man and the Black Panther for that reason. Hardly obscure figures now, but back in the 80's, they were definitely considered second-stringers. Also, they had simple costumes- easier to draw than, say, Galactus.
GM: How did your childhood play a role in developing your artistic abilities? Are you a natural? Formal training? Are/were your parents supportive?
SP: My childhood shaped my artistic development tremendously, but not necessarily the way your question implies. I actually avoided most art classes in school because the assigned projects always seemed boring. My memories of drawing start at around age 5, when I was plunked down in front of a TV for the first time. I immediately fell in love with the old Tarzan movies, Flash Gordon serials and the Superman TV show, all of which being endlessly replayed on local stations. All this stuff, including Marvel Comics (which I discovered a couple years later) helped spark a desire to create my own fantasy worlds on paper. But I stopped drawing at the beginning of junior high because I kept being told I'd reached an age where I'd outgrown those sort of childish things and that it was time to start reading the newspaper and follow events in Israel or Viet Nam. Without the inspiration of comics and jungle movies and heroic spaceman, the world seemed like a much duller place and the inspiration to draw- and create comics of my own- withered. Fortunately, I managed to come back to my senses sometime near the end of tenth grade and started buying comics again. It was something of a watershed event. Buying comics was definitely not considered cool back then and so this was something of an existential decision for me. And once I was back in the fold, I began drawing again.
GM: What are you currently creating?
SP: By the time anyone reads this, I'm pretty sure I'll already have moved on to other commissions. But right now, I'm doing a t-shirt design for the Southeast Ohio History Center, finishing up a large Justice Society of America drawing for a private collector and starting work on a poster for Rural Action.
GM: Who is your favorite all-time artist?
SP: Well, there's no way I could ever isolate one artists from the dozens (hundreds?) of artists whose work I love. And even a list of top ten given right now would probably change if you asked again in a year. As far as the fine artists go I'd put Rembrandt at the top. And as for comic book artists and illustrators, I'd say Frank Frazetta, Carlos Nine, J C Coll, Herge, Jeffrey Catherine Jones and many, many others.
GM: Describe your studio and where you work... do you have a muse, listen to music, special lighting, or something else to spur creativity when you work?
SP: How would I describe my work space? Rustic, bordering on primitive. (See drawing at end).
Not inspired by music so much anymore. I get excited (and inspired) when I discover artists that are new to me, whether they be architects or photographers or print makers. Even better, when a faded interest in some art movement or genre is rekindled. Recently I picked up a beautiful book of early movie posters, many of them lithograph prints, that made me swoon. Both consciously and I'm sure unconsciously, I start to incorporated design elements or approaches to composition or color schemes from those artists into my own work.
GM: What is your best advice for young artists finding their way in the comic book industry?
SP: Learn to live frugally.
GM: List some things that your fans may not know about you...
SP: What fans don't know about me would probably best remain unknown. But, listing a few of the less embarrassing ones. I’m a hopeless romantic, a believer in magical thinking, always fantasized about being a night janitor.
GM: What's for lunch?
SP: Whatever I can scrounge from the fridge. If not, a peanut butter and jam sandwich- always a great fallback.
|Sandy's studio (c) Illustration by Sandy Plunkett
WOUB Interview (November 2023)
Meet the Artist Sandy Plunkett (WOUB/PBS)
was December 2023 when I first met Sandy Plunkett. As the sponsor of a first-time
book fair at The Dairy Barn, my planning was off and I overbooked authors.
Sandy, who had called prior to let me know, was running late to the book
fair. In a room full of round tables (not configured for author book signings),
zealous authors, and stacks of books, everyone scrambled for space. In the
frenzy, I forgot to hold a table for Sandy (the most prolific artist/author in southeastern
Ohio). When Sandy arrived, I was humbled by his kindness. My offering was a
small desk in the middle of the room. Sandy was fine with the space and the
event went well. My son was thrilled to receive an autographed copy of Sandy's book. We will be sponsoring the book fair at The Dairy Barn in 2024 with rectangle
tables. Sandy, I hope you will headline the event!