DC Collectibles has recently launched a really cool project: DC Artists Alley. DC scouted out artists alleys at various conventions and found artists there to work with to design a series of PVC figures of some of DC’s most popular characters using the artists’ unique styles. Intended as a continuing line, the first wave of DC Artists Alley kicked off with work from three artists, Chris Uminga, Sho Murase, and Hainan “Hooligan” Saulique.
Back at this year’s WonderCon in Anaheim, I had the pleasure of talking with Chris Uminga about his creepy/cute design sensibility and what it was like being plucked out of artists alley to work with some of his favorite characters.
In as few words as possible, describe your style.
Chris Uminga: My style is a blend of cute and creepy, paying close attention to over-exaggerating form and simplifying the body, kind of paying attention more to shape and silhouette.
When I was looking at your work, I don’t know if you’ve heard this before, but I got kind of a Tim Burton-y vibe, maybe a little Johnen Vasquez?
Chris Uminga: Yeah, a lot of people will come up and say, “this is really Tim Burton-y,” or I get the Invader Zim thing. I think it’s very much like—angles, I look for sharp angles, and the big eyes.
The eyes, yeah.
Chris Uminga: And I can say, Tim Burton, growing up—I love everything.
He’s one of my favorite directors.
Chris Uminga: He’s such a visionary. The color palette, too.
Any other specific influences?
Chris Uminga: Growing up I was a big Universal Monsters fan. Friday the 13th, all that stuff, kind of seeped into my head. But graffiti was a big deal for me; tattoo culture; Humberto Ramos is my favorite artist in comics; and then I love a painter named Blaine Fontata, who does a lot of big mural work, and I really pay attention to how he uses line in his compositions. So I’m kind of a weird mix of everything. Like a lot of times I’ll only draw three fingers because that’s a trick that animators use to save time. And I used learning blocky form from a sculptor I met. So I’m kind of like a sponge, and I’ll take a little bit of everything from people I meet and try to put it all together.
What’s your history with DC, how long have you been reading DC comics?
Chris Uminga: Growing up, DC was my jam. My first ever thing I ever paid attention to was the old Adam West Batman show. And I remember being so excited when the Michael Keaton Batman movie was coming out, I went out a blew everything I had on posters and comics. DC has always been my favorite heroes and villains, I think they have the best villains.
You like the villains more than the heroes?
Chris Uminga: It’s tough. Joker’s my favorite character. Aesthetically, too, the design of the Penguin, Captain Cold, I think for me is top notch stuff. You know, Marvel has some good stuff, but Marvel can’t touch DC when it comes to villains.
But Batman is Batman. Batman, Superman, and Wonder Woman are the best.
How long have you been going to cons and doing artists alley?
Chris Uminga: I’ve been doing this for about nine years. My first show was a small show in Boston, and I remember getting a pretty good response from it, and just loving the atmosphere, because you’re sitting there for a weekend surrounded by other really talented artists in a room full of the fandoms and the things that you love. You go and you get your batteries recharged, and you get inspired by other work. I’ve been really lucky that I came along when I did, because the Internet’s been amazing. It’s an amazing time to be an artist because there’s so many ways to get your work out there and to have people see it, and I was lucky that the right people came down an aisle one day and saw my stuff.
Talk to me about that. You were just at a con doing your thing and someone from DC approached you?
Chris Uminga: Yeah, a couple years ago Jim Fletcher from DC Collectables came by, and he and I were talking by email a couple months later. You never think things are gonna come from that, but he was saying, “you know, Chris, I really like your stuff, let’s find something to work on together.” And it took a while for us to find the right thing to do. Part of me thought it was never gonna happen. And I remember getting that email, “hey, can I give you a call?” And then, you know, mind racing, “what’s this about? What’s this about?” And then being presented this opportunity to work with these characters, with this team, and this show, and the other two artists on Artists Alley has been a blessing, so great.
Yeah I was looking at their work too, it’s all really cool.
Chris Uminga: And it’s great because I was a fan of Nooligan’s work before all this, and I love Sho’s stuff, so it’s really awesome that we’re the first three together. It’s awesome that I get to do it with my friends. So it’s been a really great experience since they announced it, and people have been really open and supportive of what we’re doing.
What was the process like actually designing the statues, and working with DC on that?
Chris Uminga: I’m a pretty fast worker, so it’s like, “hey, can we get some thumbnails?” So I’ll send them a bunch of thumbnails. Then it’s, “can you send us four or five sketches?” It was a very fast process initially. And then they found an amazing sculptor, Joe Menna, who does a lot of great work, and he saw my work three-dimensionally in a way that I didn’t think someone could actually see, and he did just an amazing job, and I’m really lucky to have been paired with him for this.
Was it easy to settle on Batman, Superman, and Wonder Woman for the statues?
Chris Uminga: Oh yeah. It’s the Trinity. There’re no other characters you wanna play around with more. Sure, the villains would be fun someday, but I couldn’t be happier with the three I got.
What do you like more, the black and white ones or the color ones?
Chris Uminga: That’s like asking your favorite child.
I always like the black and white ones whenever the statues come out.
Chris Uminga: There’s something really special with the black and white ones—especially Batman works really well with the black and white.
The Batman one looks great in black and white, yeah.
Chris Uminga: And the Superman, too, because I love really vintage Superman. I remember one of the first things I wanted to do was make sure he looked like the old cartoons, or like George Reeves, I kind of used that palette in painting him. Paying attention to history was a really important thing for me to do with this. Like, Frank Miller’s Batman is one of my favorite designs, and I wanted to pay homage to that a little bit, like the short ears on the cowl was a really important thing for me. And then Wonder Woman is Wonder Woman, she’s the be all/end all.
Any other exciting projects you’re working on?
Chris Uminga: I have a lot of cool stuff I can’t talk about just yet. I’m always trying to keep busy and hope for the best.