TDE Book One
I first noticed Joe Wehrle, Jr.’s (pronounced “Wer-lee”) work when he self-published his landmark Cauliflower Catnip BLB in 1981, and I’ve been a fan ever since. Years later, Joe offered his support to The Digest Enthusiast, contributing covers and interior art, articles and his original fiction. Recently, I spoke to him about his work on the covers.
Richard Krauss: Joe, you’ve created three terrific covers for TDE to date. What was your inspiration for each?
Joe Wehrle, Jr.: In the first instance, I thought that for a new magazine, and particularly one devoted to older publications, a traditional science fiction cover might catch the eye. A lot of those old magazine covers dealt with battles between humans and alien creatures, and I’ve always been attracted by the idea of people riding sea creatures like horses. I found a likely seahorse photo in a natural history magazine, and the frog-like thing just came out of my head.
TDE Book Two
For the second cover, I wanted to do something that might have found a home with Weird Tales. And I wanted to suggest a sort of alliance between the girl and the wolf creature, standing together against the dangers of the forest. That’s why I didn’t do them close-up. Neither character is entirely photographically realistic, and I had a few misgivings about that, as I don’t normally exaggerate familiar forms unless I’m doing cartooning. But I have a project in mind that might best be realized by employing a Boris Dolgov kind of style, and that’s certainly more extreme than what I did in this case.
[For TDE3] I thought it was time to do a mystery-fiction cover. Maybe something that suggested menace. The girl is alone on the street as twilight approaches. Then she turns and sees…who? If it’s a threat, there’s no one around to see. I thought of putting a .38 in the hand, but there’s so much gun violence in the real world. I didn’t want to suggest that this girl was immediately going to be shot down in cold blood. Draw your own conclusion: a threat, a warning, or just recognition in the light of a match. No particular symbolism was intended.
TDE Book Three
RK: What about technique? The majority of your work is B&W. What adjustments or new challenges did you encounter working in color?
JW: I’m probably answering this in a roundabout way, but- whether you’re working realistically in black and white or color, you have undertaken to do an actual job, a piece of work. It may or may not be a difficult job, depending upon your own ability and the nature of the piece you’re going to do. But, in any case, you have to trot out everything you know about composition, anatomy and perspective, as well as everything you’ve learned from past experience. Color is just one more element to add to the confusion.
When I was in college, the thinking of many of the art professors seemed to be that, since we now had cameras, illustrative art was passé and we shouldn’t be attempting it, especially anything of a storytelling or sentimental nature. I believe that has somewhat turned around since then. If you’re a born master of light and shadow like Rembrandt, you shouldn’t be expected to spend your life painting like Willem de Kooning or Jackson Pollock—unless that’s what you choose to do, of course.
Having done so little color work during the past forty-five years, I’m just kind of working from the gut, following my sense of how to proceed each time, and of how the finish ought to look. If I’ve learned anything through the years, it’s how to be selective. “No, that’s not what I wanted—let’s try it this way.” There are principles you learn from your reading, of course, like working a tiny bit of the major color into everything makes the whole more homogeneous, but there’s no substitute for just doing a lot of it, and I’m starting to feel solid ground under my feet. My egotistical old watercolor professor was more inclined toward realism than some of the others (he actually studied under Grant Wood), and he used to say the first thousand watercolors were the hardest. The hope, of course, is that we never stop learning.
RK: What size are the originals and tell us about the media you used for these three works.
JW: I have been painting these covers very small, 7 x 10 or 8 x 11, for two reasons. I work rather slowly, and it would take much longer to detail a large painting. But another important consideration is that to email the art, (especially important if I’m making last-minute changes at publication time), the cover has to fit into my scanner.
All three covers have been painted with watercolor on Strathmore 500 Bristol over detailed graphite pencil drawings, and I mostly use a Winsor and Newton series 7 finest sable brush from England. I have some good quality watercolor paper, but it has a pebbly surface, making it difficult to work on small features. In the second cover, the girl’s head is only half an inch high! I try to do my most careful work on these, so that, small as they are, they don’t just look like rough color sketches.
RK: Thank you for sharing a bit of your creative process with us, Joe. All of your contributions make TDE better and your covers set a high standard for the content inside.
With my penchant for digest magazine trading cards I couldn’t resist the tug of today’s affordable printing options and produced a set of TDE trading cards. They’re available free to anyone who joins our mailing list. Sign-up at the Larque Press website.
TDE Trading Cards