Interview by Laz
Source: Iron Maiden FC Magazine100
I caught up with Mark at his local pub for a pint and a chat to get an insight into how he came to be the creator of the artwork for 'The Book Of Souls'. A really nice bloke and supremely talented to boot!
Mark, you and I are almost the same age and grew up in an era of fantastic album cover artwork in the late sixties / early seventies. So with your artistic background and yearning to get into the world of album cover design, it must have been a dream come true to be asked to work for Iron Maiden, Marillion, judas Priest, The Darkness and Bon Jovi to name but a few.
Yeah. Absolutely! It was everything I wanted to do when I left art college, but never thought the opportunity would arise. Punk rock was really big when I finished art college and unfortunately my style of work always seemed to be at odds with the current trends at the time. So I spent three or four years working for fantasy and horror comics and magazines. But I was always on the lookout for any chance to get involved with album covers. I think the first one I did was a heavy metal compilation called 'Hot Shower. The brief for that was a guy playing a Stratocaster in the shower while he was wearing an asbestos suit with flames coming out of everywhere! It was some record company whizz kids crazy idea. The jobs were a bit thin on the ground and as with all music industry people, you just needed a lucky break. Much the same as there are so many talented musicians and bands out there that are equally as good as the really successful bands, but just don't get that break. When the opportunity comes you have to grab it with both hands.
My lucky break came via a mate of mine in the pub in Covent Garden (London). He overheard a conversation about a company called 'Torchlight' who were looking for someone new. So I found them in the Yellow Pages and called them the next day. The guy I spoke to said "...funny you should call, we are actually looking for someone right now, and can you get over here straight away?" So I said "Of course I can". And I went to meet the art director and the job was for Marillion and I couldn't believe it! From the first single I did for them onwards people were saying 'oh this is great stuff'. But it really wasn't anything different from what I had been doing anyway! So as I say, that was my lucky break.
How did you get to work for Maiden?
Dave Shack - managing director of Phantom Management contacted me late last year to ask if I'd like to provide some sketches of Eddie, possibly to be considered for the new album. I've known Dave for a few years now, he's always been very supportive of my work and of course I jumped at the chance
What other work have you done for Maiden?
The first piece of work I did wasn't actually commissioned by them. It was commissioned by Bravado [tour merchandise company]. It was for the 1992 Donington 'Monsters of Rock' poster. They asked if I could design an Eddie based on a winged character, which I think got made into a stage dressing and then used a few years later for the live album. So that was the first Eddie I did and it was also the first time I met Rod and I can remember exactly what he said! He said "It's nice to have an artist who understands that Eddie isn't just a skull". That made a lot of difference at the time. And he said that maybe we could work together again in the future, and obviously I said I would love to! So a few years later 'The Wickerman" project came along and apparently the ideas that Derek Riggs had put forward hadn't worked out as they had hoped they would, and I was asked to come up with a few 'roughs' and visuals. There was a lot of discussion at the time about whether Eddie should be inside the Wickerman - like Edward Woodwood's character in the movie, or should he be in the head. We tried it both ways and obviously you can see which version came out on top.
"Wickerman" project came along and apparently the ideas that Derek Riggs had put forward hadn't worked out as they had hoped they would, and I was asked to come up with a few 'roughs' and visuals. There was a lot of discussion at the time about whether Eddie should be inside the Wickerman - like Edward Woodwood's character in the movie, or should he be in the head. We tried it both ways and obviously you can see which version came out on top.
The next project was 'Out Of The Silent Planet' which was very different again. And then I was asked to come up with some very special packaging for 'Eddie's Archive'. They were talking at the time about maybe producing a wooden box for it but I suggested that it should be silver really as it was for the 25th anniversary. Obviously the cost would have been too high in silver so we did it in tin. Then we had to find a suitable manufacturer, which took some time to get right.
Discounting the work you have done for the band, which is your favorite Maiden album cover and why?
My favourite is either 'Killers" or 'A Real Live Dead One'. I think both of those are absolute works of genius!
What brief were you given for The Book Of Souls?
This Eddie had to have a voodoo come Mayan feel to him. Steve had got a book on Mayan culture and I was given one or two prints from that to look at. The sort of 'jungle' feel as well. The movie 'Apocolypto' was another reference point. Going on to a sacrifice to the sun with the heart. At that particular time when I first got involved they asked me to come up with an image of Eddie literally pulling his own heart out of his chest. Quite a lot to be getting on with really.
Both Steve and Rod are understandably very "hands on" when a new Eddie is reincarnated. How did you find working with them on such an important project?
You're right. Very 'hands on'! Rod was with me every step of the way. It would be like I would come up with an image that would be accepted but with a few tweaks to be added. In the end I wasn't too constrained by either voodoo or Mayan culture to be honest. What was more important was to create a really unusual Eddie. A very malevolent, very dark evil character. And obviously something that would have a lot of impact. So in my mind I wanted to put my own stamp on Eddie but I wasn't sure how to do that because this was the first time I'd been asked to do a proper full figured Eddie. So I had to create something a bit different if possible which was pretty nerve racking!
Eddie is probably the most iconic 'non-human person in the music business. His form and persona changes with every album. How difficult was it to come up with a totally new Eddie while keeping his identity as Maiden's 7th member?
Yeah it was very difficult. I'm very well aware of the 'iconography' of Eddie and the history and Derek Riggs looms large in my thinking. All I could do was to put that to one side and treat it as if, I dunno, Freddie for Nightmare On Elm Street or Judge Dredd. I've illustrated Judge Dredd in the past, and there have been hundreds of artists after the original one [Carlos Ezquerra] who have put their own-stamp on that character in some way, so that was What I was hoping for. Whether I achieved it or not, you will have to be the judge of that! LOL!
What medium did you use to create Eddie - paint, air-brush or computer?
Normally I would begin with just rough sketches and then scan them in to the computer. I used to do everything with an air-brush in the old days but it's obviously moved on to more computer driven methods now. You can achieve the same effect so much quicker. It's easier and quicker to alter things by computer, whereas in the past with paint it could take a day. So the sketches would come first and then the colouring up. I think the first visual I submitted was a black & white sketch and somebody from the Maiden office said to me that they really liked it and have I by any chance done a colour version? I said "yes" lying through my teeth! And set about colouring it up very quickly! LOL! And I think that's the one that actually got me the job. It looked very different to how it ended up because the original drawings that I did, Eddie had hair. I tried to imagine him as a witch doctor with typical 'Eddie' hair but making it even more crazy!
Rod really liked the Eddie but said to get rid of the hair and the face markings that I put on him. I think Rod maybe thought they were a bit too 'Maori'. He wanted a more 'voodoo' look, so it was a constantly evolving process. The main thing was to get that 'Eddie' look with all the sinews showing on the arms and nail the gore factor. So I set the scale to gore factor eleven and went from there LOL!
There are some great images in the rest of the album artwork. You must have done loads of research to come up with what you've created. How satisfied are you with the finished article? Or is there always that thing with creative work that you think 'oh, I could have done this or that a bit better'. I certainly felt like that when I was doing videos for the band.
I think the day you become satisfied is the day when you become complacent. I've said this in the past in, interviews- I think it was Picasso that said 'You never finish a painting, you just walk away from it'. You are always dissatisfied. Whenever I see the 'finished' object in whatever medium, the first thing I look for is 'have they got the colour right?' Because printers can very often not get it right, be it for t-shirts or for four colour printing. With a four colour process you never get the rich reds that you want as an artist. So that's the first thing I looked at with the album artwork and when I went to the album playback at Maiden HQ, the images were on screen as the songs were playing I thought oh I didn't get that quite right in my opinion' but you just have to walk away and let it go because it's not your property any more. But you will always see something. It doesn't matter how many times people compliment you and say that you really cracked it - to the artist it's never perfect.
'The Book Of Souls' Eddie and accompanying artwork is certainly my favourite for quite some time. So in my opinion, you have set the bar extremely high for the next one!
Blimey! How do I answer that? If there is another one Rod will always choose the right person for the job - hopefully that will be me and I would be really honoured to do it.
Eddie is not only very important to the band but also to the fans. Maiden fans and in particular our Fan Club members are unique in that they all have very strong opinions about the music and about Eddie. For some, it is their whole life or religion.
How does it feel to have a part in affecting so many people in such a positive way?
Well, going back to the legacy of Eddie, which I said to you I was very well aware of, it was a very daunting prospect. But all I could think about was the analogy with Judge Dredd. As I said, I had done a few pieces of artwork for that character over the years, and there has been some incredible artwork by many artists, all you can do is somehow put your own stamp on it. And that was more important to me rather than try to copy Derek Riggs or Melvyn Grant. I did it my way and I hope that the fans appreciate that what I tried to do is honor Eddie and to please them and also to please myself, because otherwise what is the point?