Frank Wu is a science fiction and fantasy artist living near Boston with his wife and fellow artist Brianna Spacekat Wu and their insane but adorable bichon Crash. Over the years he’s painted fire-breathing dragons, giant laser tanks, zombie Lincoln on the Moon, and dinosaurs playing guitar. He has won the Illustrators of the Future grand prize and four Hugo Awards for Best Fan Artist. His website is frankwu.com and his blog is frankwu.livejournal.com.
How did you get your start as an artist?
I’ve heard that the golden age of science fiction is whatever you were reading and watching when you were 12. For me that was Childhood’s End and Star Wars. I’ll never forget the electric thrill I got when I read about the future evolution of mankind, or the first time I saw Darth Vader’s TIE Fighter. I’ve spent my entire life trying to re-capture and re-create the thrill of those moments in pixel and paint. The trick, though, is turning that passion into career. I just saw The Social Network, the fictionalized re-telling of Mark Zuckerberg founding Facebook. It’s full of backstabbing and drugs and sex and screaming and very clever dialog. It didn’t actually happen that way. The reality is that Mark and his pals created Facebook by sitting around eating pizza and writing code all night every night. This would not have made a good movie. My life wouldn’t, either. There were no sexcapades like Picasso’s life or drunken car crashes like Jackson Pollack’s. Mainly just what Lawrence M. Schoen called ‘‘ass in chair’’ time, spent drawing robots, aliens and spaceships. While not putting in huge amounts of time doing art, I’d hang out with other creative types online and at conventions. Online, I frequented the lamented Speculations Rumormill, orchestrated by Kent Brewster. This was a message board for writers (and some artists), long before Facebook or Twitter. Most of us were wannabes, but we encouraged each other, talked about the mechanics of our crafts, and posted daily word counts. Over the last ten years, a surprising number of Rumormillers have gone on to be nominated for or win Hugos and Nebulas, or get big book contracts. The Rumormillers were my contacts at conventions, and I endlessly plugged their works – when I wasn’t plugging my own. I threw my all into every piece, even an interior piece that would be buried in the middle of a magazine. Because that interior was a full-page ad for my art -– that the publisher was paying me to publish! Every piece I did would be re-used, on prints sold at convention art shows, on T-shirts, on hand-cut business cards, and on temporary tattoos carefully applied to pretty girls (this was when I was single). Some people find shameless self-promotion distasteful, but I’ve always had fun at it. Maybe I’m overcompensating because I was never popular in high school. I was always drawing weird things and talking about weird nerdy stuff no one cared about. But now… I get invited to be Artist Guest of Honor at conventions for exactly the same behavior!
You’ve won a Hugo as Best Fan Artist. What’s the difference between a fan artist and a pro artist?
Money. Fan artists are paid nothing or twice nothing (which is still nothing). Pro artists get big buckets of cash in gold-plated buckets and live in 27-story houses. That’s obviously an exaggeration, but pro artists are generally paid enough on a job so they can dedicate themselves to doing nothing but working on a cover for a couple weeks or a month. Fan artists don’t usually have that luxury, carving out time after their day job, at nights and weekends for their art. This doesn’t mean that fan art is inferior. Some ‘‘pro’’ art shows a lack of understanding of anatomy (it should be clear who’s a human and who’s not), and there’s excellent ‘‘fan art’’ coming from the likes of Alan F. Beck and Taral Wayne and Brad Foster and of course my wife and soul-mate Brianna Spacekat Wu. Art is hard. Being a ‘‘fan artist’’ basically means ‘‘being seriously underpaid.’’
What’s more important – inspiration or perspiration?
Perspiration, no contest. Bob Dylan sang, ‘‘I’ve got a head full of ideas, and it’s driving me insane.’’ Ideas are easy to generate. Theodore Sturgeon once wrote, ‘‘The sky was full of ships.’’ Probably took him one and a half seconds to type that (though a bit longer to write the story). But to actually draw a sky full of ships… You would need to think through the mechanics and propulsion systems of the ships, the composition, the lighting, and making the buildings and ships look like they belong in the same universe… It would take weeks to illustrate a line it took Sturgeon seconds to write!
Is there one work you’d particularly like our readers to see?
I’d really love the readers of Locus to see my graphic novel, Guidolon the Giant Space Chicken, because that means I will have finished it. If I’m lucky I’ll be done by the Chicago Worldcon in 2012, and it’ll be available as an iPhone app. It’s the story of a giant space chicken making a film about a giant space chicken. It’s very deep. The phrase ‘‘giant space chicken’’ represents what we hope to be (giant) and what we fear we are (chicken) and the amorphous existential place in which we float, struggling for a handhold (space). The screenplay was published and I made a disjointed little short animated film of this you can see at www.youtube.com/watch?v=MteAVvr_wrU. I hope everyone likes the graphic novel as much as I’m enjoying work on it!