Matt Haley is a creative consultant and commercial illustrator who has most recently provided onscreen artwork for seasons one and two of Stan Lee’s Who Wants to Be a Superhero TV series for the SciFi Channel. He is also currently designing a video game IP for Atari.
How did you get your start as a comic book illustrator?
Honestly, I just kept drawing and drawing and sending my art around until somebody hired me. I started really young. I got my first gig drawing Star Trek for DC Comics when I was 20, so I learned a lot on the job, blew some deadlines, and realized I had to take this stuff seriously if I wanted to keep my career going.
I know you had the privilege of illustrating the comic book adaptation of Superman Returns in 2006. What was your creative process like? Were you given much creative latitude, or did you work within a pretty structured framework?
Oh, it was very structured. You’re basically being asked to adapt a film they won’t let you see, which is why most movie adaptations look pretty different from the final film. I had very little reference supplied by Warner Bros. Studios because they were worried about images from the film getting out before the film’s release. I did hire a couple of models to pose so I could get the clothing right—one of them had actually been cast for the role of Superman!
What responsibility do you carry for Stan Lee’s Who Wants to Be a Superhero television series? How has that challenged you as an illustrator?
In addition to consulting with the producers, I create all the comic art seen in the show: when our contestants first appear, when they get their new costumes, and when we cut to commercial. It helps to reinforce the notion that this show is about people who want to be real-life superheroes. The biggest challenge for me is trying to hit that middle ground between photographic likeness and comic-book dynamism.
Describe your workflow. Do you start with paper and scan your artwork in, or do you do everything digitally?
I generally only do pencil artwork when I do comics, but ever since I got a Cintiq tablet, I’m doing all of my commercial art digitally. The Intel Mac Pro is so powerful, there’s virtually no lag time between penstrokes, so I can generate digital art very quickly.
What software applications do you work with most? If you typically work with more than one, how does that usually play out?
My commercial work (like the art done for the show) is a combination of Corel Painter, Adobe Photoshop, and Adobe Illustrator. I use Painter for basic drawing because you can move files back and forth between it and Photoshop. Although if you have any paths in your file, they’ll be lost in the transfer to Painter, so be sure to save a duplicate version.
What advice would you give to talented artists looking to break into the creative arts industry?
I think the best thing to do is work hard to develop your own style, and realize you’ll never be an overnight success—there’s no such thing. Doing this for a living is a long, hard road, but it can be very rewarding. There’s no job like it. Additionally, don’t let anybody tell you you can’t do it, that you’ll never make a living, that you’re crazy for pursuing it. The more I heard that when I was younger, the more determined I was to succeed.