As Roy Lichtenstein brought comic book art into the fine art world, Arlen has brought it into the commercial art world via his unique comic book-style art, for advertising, editorial and promotional usage.

Arlen’s background in graphic design (RISD), art direction and copywriting in New York City advertising agencies, combined with his expertise and enthusiasm for the comic book medium and its rich history, produces captivating award-winning imagery recognized worldwide. He has been a long-standing member of the Society of Illustrators.

As a published author and pop culture historian, Arlen has been equally recognized; his book The Silver Age of Comic Book Art, won the Independent Book Publishers Award for Best Popular Culture Book, ABC’s 20/20 named him “one of the countryʼs preeminent authorities on comics and culture,” the BBC said his works on The Twilight Zone were “a cut above the rest, full of passion and erudition”. Comic Book Artistmagazine called him “one of the more articulate and enthusiastic advocates of comic book art in America.”  His other books are Visions from The Twilight Zone and The Neal Adams Sketchbook.


BOLD JOURNEY online magazine profile

We were lucky to catch up with Arlen Schumer recently and have shared our conversation below.

Hi Arlen, really happy you were able to join us today and we’re looking forward to sharing your story and insights with our readers. Let’s start with the heart of it all – purpose. How did you find your purpose?
My “big break” after graduating from Rhode Island School of Design with a degree in Graphic Design was getting to work for one of my childhood idols, the legendary comic book artist Neal Adams (1941-2022) at his New York City agency/studio. If you had told me when I was a kid artist idolizing him (like a whole number of my generation), that I would one day be working for him as a pencil artist (with him inking me!), I would have had an adolescent heart attack!

At the time, Adams was doing mostly advertising production art (comps, storyboards, animatics), which was preventing him from taking on all the finished-illustration comic book-styled ads that were coming in; I reasoned one guy could make a pretty good living just on the work he was turning away, and that that was what I set out to do full-time upon leaving Neal to go out on my own.

Adams had previously done, I thought, the best comic advertising to date; I could never compete with him on a pure drawing level (who could?), but I thought I could differentiate my work by emphasizing overall graphic design (from my RISD education) and good hand-lettering (influenced by that other God of Comic Art, Adams’ contemporary Jim Steranko).

I had no desire to do comic book art for the mainstream comic book companies, as I could never churn out the volume of art needed to make their monthly deadlines, and didn’t really have the burning desire to tell stories anyway–I had more of a single-illustration/poster design mentality.

So I combined my expertise in graphic design with my illustration skills (improved 400% while working for Adams–like going to graduate school and getting paid for it!) and knowledge of, and love for, comic book art and its history, to create advertising and editorial illustrations that I’d like to think stand out from the crowd of more conventional illustration and photography.

One of my goals was to bring comic book-style art into the commercial art world with the same impact Roy Lichtenstein had brought it into the fine art world; that’s how I felt I could do my part to uplift the long-denigrated and dismissed comic book art medium in the eyes of the mainstream American, cultural, societal, and academic worlds. Though I have many more mountains to climb, I think a retrospective of my illustrations would be a good gauge as to how far I’ve come–and have yet to go–to accomplishing that goal.

Thanks for sharing that. So, before we get any further into our conversation, can you tell our readers a bit about yourself and what you’re working on?
Concurrent with my comic book-style illustration career, I’ve been working to get comic book art appreciated and treated seriously in those very same cultural and academic worlds as an indigenous American art form with a rich history, via my many live comic book art history “VisuaLectures” (so dubbed because “lectures” is such a pejorative, and mine are as visual as they are verbal), ZOOM-style webinars (especially since the pandemic shutdown), and verbal/visual comic book art history print essays in various trade books and magazines (which form the basis of my book about comic book art in the 1960s, The Silver Age of Comic Book Art, which won the Independent Book Publishers Award for Best Popular Culture Book of 2004).

Both my YouTube and Vimeo channels are filled with videos of my recent webinars and pre-pandemic live lectures (though they’re slowly coming back) on comic book art history as well as a wide variety of other pop culture arenas like television, films, and animation, which are easily accessed by the “Lectures/Webinars” page of my website.

On the writing side of my career, I’m thrilled to announce that two of my books will be published by the pop culture publisher Bear Manor Media this year, The Five Themes of The Twilight Zone (essays on the legendary television series’ greatest episodes) and Brilliant Disguise: Bruce Springsteen’s Greatest Hits You’ve Never Heard (liner notes to his greatest studio outtakes and unreleased live performances). In conjunction with both books’ releases (probably the Springsteen book in the Spring, Twilight Zone in the Fall), I plan on coordinating as many book signings and public presentations, as well as webinars, to tie-in with each book.

If you had to pick three qualities that are most important to develop, which three would you say matter most?
The three qualities, skills, or areas of knowledge that were most impactful in my artistic career journey were, in no particular order:

HARD WORK: Laymen love to call artists of all types “talented”–but I don’t really know what that means, because all I’ve ever known, and practiced, was that art is a lot of hard work and time put in (a la Malcom Gladwell’s “!0,000” hours principle needed to put in to master anything). Bruce Springsteen’s uncompromising and unparalleled performance and work ethic have been an inspiration to me since I first heard the song “Born to Run” over a tinny AM car radio when I was 17 years old. Especially when I present a lecture or webinar, I employ what I call the “Springsteen Performing Style,” which is to give your 110% ALL to your audience, whether it’s only 10 people–or 10,000 people.

STICK-TO-IT-TIVENESS: or just plain “perseverance.” It took me 10 years to get my first book, Visions from The Twilight Zone, published; 24 years to get my comic book art history book published; 25 years for my upcoming book on Bruce Springsteen; and 32 years for my upcoming new book of essays on The Twilight Zone. And I have other projects waiting to become “real” that are taking similar amounts of time. So the moral of the story is, stick with it, kids! Don’t give up! Believe in yourself and your work, because sometimes that’s all you’ll have to keep your creative and productive fires aflame.

LOVE: Yeah, I know it sounds Pollyanna, but The Beatles were RIGHT: all you DO need is LOVE. Meaning love for everything you do, everything you create, every way you interact with others, every way you comport yourself and the things you cherish. As St. Paul said, ““…faith, hope, and love remain; but the greatest of these is love.”

My advice for folks early in their journeys similar to mine:

The building blocks of any great “realistic” art can be boiled down to mastering two distinct drawing categories: anatomy of the human figure and perspective. If you can draw the human figure in any and all positions, and set those figures in realistic settings via perspective, you can truly draw anything. Combine that with your own, individual imagination and way of seeing things, both literally and figuratively, and you’ll have your style.

Don’t rely on the computer to dictate your “style”; develop a style of hand-made mark-making that is uniquely yours, and then bend the computer’s software and graphic capabilities to your will. Combine that with your own life experiences and worldview, gained by intensive, ongoing introspection, and you will have a body of work that will stand out from the crowded visual reality we live in, both real and virtual.

How can folks who want to work with you connect?
On the illustration side of my career, I would love to create and oversee an entire national/international advertising campaign with a major consumer client in my own comic book style, that would (possibly) involve creating custom-designed superheroes, and incorporate all of my skills as a writer, copywriter, art director, illustrator and graphic designer, and work across all platforms: print, television, film, and online.

On the pop culture history side, I would love to lecture live more at colleges, universities, cultural, and artistic institutions, as well as do more webinars on the same subjects for the academic worlds, or as online courses. Since I’ve recently received my MFA, I would love to find a regular or part-time teaching gig, live or remote, lecturing on comic book art history and all my pop culture subjects.

And I’m always looking for an agent, a manager, and more editors and publishers for my book projects!

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