Comics: Tommy Castillo Reveals The Art of The Darkside of Oz

Take a walk on the Darkside...

By , Columnist

Since entering the field nearly 25 ago, Tommy Castillo has carved out a niche in the comics and entertainment industries that perfectly suits his sensibilities. While he’s perhaps best known as an ace illustrator of the macabre, the truth of the matter is that he’s an incredibly gifted and versatile artist capable of working in a wide range of genres and styles. As such, he’s contributed to a dizzying array of publishers—including DC Comics and Image, Rolling Stone, and Wizards of the Coast—and created storyboards and designs for various films.

More recently, he began focusing on developing his own creations. The result is the creator-owned project, The Darkside of Oz. And if the images and ideas he’s slowly begun to reveal are any indication, we’re about to see Dorothy, the Scarecrow, the cowardly Lion and the Tin Man in a whole new twilight.

Darkside of Oz scarecrow faceprint 11x17 by Tommy Castillo.jpg

How would you describe this new book?

It’s a tale of man and beast and weapons unleashed. A wild ride down a path where brave men dare not go; an epic journey with familiar faces, but a story unheard of. It’s my Forgotten Playground and I am offering you all a pass into the park.

Welcome to The Art of the Darkside of Oz.

I’ve gotten the distinct impression that this collection is a bit different from your previous art books in a couple of significant ways—both in its length and the story it tells. Is all that true? And if so, why did this book cry out for that approach?

True, this art book is not just a collection of random sketches. This is a first look into a world I have been developing for years. You will not only see the players in this most auspicious tale, but also learn of secrets and truth you might not be ready to hear. You will see the truth about the Wonderful Wizard of Oz and you won’t like it.

And that was the cry out, as you say—the truth. I want to share the truth with you all. Take the blinders off and see what we have been lied to about for so many years.

The True Side of OZ B&W by Tommy Castillo.jpg

Well, where did The Darkside of Oz come from? How did it become what it is today, and what particular challenges does it present to you?

The book comes from the journeys the great Frank Baum once took me on. When I was a child, I held fast to the novels and sat so many times in wonder at the film, I wanted to be part of that great journey. But, like so many, I saw with a child’s eyes and looked on in wonder. But as a man I see, I see and have learned that we as children are often lied to, in order to shield us from dark truths.

As a point of fact, let me ask you this: Why did Glenda, the so-called “Good Witch,” send a poor helpless little girl down a road filled with danger and death? Maybe she knew a something about that little girl we don’t. Maybe she wanted Dorothy to not make it. Maybe she wanted the slippers that for some reason jumped to Dorothy and not to Glenda…

Dark Side of Oz Circle by Tommy Castillo.jpg

This thought process and my love of Oz got me on my own journey. I first came up with the idea in a book about me that came out in 2000 called Dragons, Myths and Mayhem, where I asked the question: What if everything we knew about our beloved Oz was a lie? What if courage was nothing more than rage? What if a heart was black and corrupt? And what would happen if you gained so much knowledge it sent you into madness?

What challenges this all presents is this: How do you tell an epic tale of woe and love, desire and greed, wars and betrayals? How do you tell of revenge and have all of it wrapped up in the idea of redemption? And how can you do this all with the highest amount of respect for the creator of Oz, Frank Baum?

You see, I am not giving you some scantily clad teen with giant boobs. I’m not twisting this into something unworthy of the great work it is based on. I am giving you ten years of my life devoted to a tale I believe is worthy to stand alongside its predecessor. I have left no stone unturned, no loose plot points, nothing. I repeat; nothing was left undone.

I feel as if I alone know the tale of The Lord of the Rings, and I’m about to share it all with you. I can only hope you all agree when it is your hands.

I know that you’ve included a lot of your preliminary sketches and designs in this volume. How important is that kind of preparation to your work, generally, and in what ways does that process help you to discover the perfect look for each character and their settings?

For the story to work, you must know it as if you are the god of that world; for in a sense you are. If I forget to put something in, my world that I am asking you to come with me to, no matter how small, becomes lost and full of holes. Sketches and designs allow me to show you what I see when I am in that world. This is the great gift and burden of creation.

It’s hard to explain, but let me try. I don’t create the people and things in the world, I just allow them to become, on the paper or canvas. They tell me what they are, who they are. I just write it down. To me, they are real. They laugh and cry. They feel. For if I don’t believe in them, how can I ask you to?

Tin is Pure by Tommy Castillo.jpg

It sounds like the development process took quite a bit longer than usual for this particular project, leading me to wonder how long it typically takes you to do your design a project?

When I design a project, I am often asked to do it for this or that company. And to tell the truth, it’s a job. It’s a great job, but it’s a job. So you just do it in the time you are allotted. But when it’s yours and you own it, then you have a vested interest in it. So you take your time. You put that extra effort to make it more.

When I did my Coloring Book of the Dead, that was my first self-published book, in a career of 24 years. I labored over the art. I loved it and made it fun, worth the hard-earned money my fans dished out to have it.

As for a typical time, well, I can’t say. I have done Batman designs in the elevator leaving the DC office. But I have spent three days drawing a zombie-filled movie theater with pigs running after the evil zombie clown. I guess it’s all relative.

But I will say this: A week designing something that is yours and you love is better than any time spent working for some big company as a spoke in a grinding wheel.

Dark side of art Lion army by Tommy Castillo.jpg

Are you ever surprised by what appears during that design stage? And do certain characters sometimes seem to dictate their look to you, or is it more a self-directed process of simply playing with the visual forms until they feel right?

The characters do speak to me. They tell me how they look and say whatever it is they are going to say. As I am writing, as well as illustrating this book, I find I am more pulled to the writing. Not to say I don’t love the art, but I breathe art and have been painting for so long I can’t remember. But the writing is wonderful to see come alive. One of my best friends keeps asking me what’s going to happen next to this or that character, and I keep answering, “I have no idea…” [Laughs]

Does the fact that something is meant to be presented as a fully-painted piece—rather than the more traditional pen, ink and colors artwork—lead you to alter your approach to design, or is it all pretty much the same thing for you?

In truth, it’s the same for me. I think of everything in full color. It must first work in black and white, and then I just color it from there. So, I guess they are one and the same.

The real trick is to make sure the design works small as well as large. You don’t want a design that becomes a blob of whatever if it’s small…or big for that matter.

Darkside of Oz cover sketch by Tommy Castillo.jpg

How important is storytelling to your work, in general? Is that something that has to be there for it to work for you, whether it’s a poster, cover or interior page, or is that of a lesser concern when it comes to covers and other static images?

Storytelling is everything! I don’t care how cool something looks or how beautiful something is. Nothing is more important than storytelling. That’s all that I have ever hoped to be, a great storyteller.

Sequential pages are the easy part of storytelling. Telling a story in a single image, that is the real kicker. The single image must have a story to it or it holds no water. You must have a past, a present and a future. What is an image, if it has no impending doom or that chance of possible triumph? But great stories are told in a backward glance or when we see the hero comes out of the fire carrying a fallen man. One of the parts, in some of my favorite movies, is when the hero stands alone against insurmountable odds and then… his best friend shows up!

What does making art do for you? Is this something that you feel driven to do, something that is an essential part of who you are, or is it simply what you do for a living?

What does art do for me? That’s like asking, “What does air do for you?” [Laughs] I am a maker of things. I buy the tools to build something way before I’ll buy the thing already finished. I make all things mine. I make everything art, whether it is my motorcycle or a painting. It’s what I am to my core. I both love and hate it as it comes with me everywhere I go. My wife-to-be, Sammy, has to suffer through every idea that pops up, no matter where we are.

I am always working, but working towards what I love. So, it’s not really working at all. My art has allowed me the greatest privilege: I get to do what I love. The fans have allowed me to share each dream with them. I will always be grateful to that [inner creative urge], and to them.

The Lost Knight by Tommy Castillo.jpg

Well, speaking of your fans, what do you hope that they get from your work, whether it’s one of your art books or a comic you’ve created? Is it primarily about providing entertainment for you, or might there be a hope that they find something a little more meaningful in there?

What I hope the fans get from any of my work is a great memory. I can think of so many times I have walked out of the theater and couldn’t remember what we just saw, or I read a comic and it leaves nothing with me.

I want this book to make people argue over what characters they would be in the book. I want to give them the joy of playing this scene or saying that phrase over and over again. We all, still, talk about who we would be in Star Wars. We wish we could walk in Hobbiton. “What house are you in?” Great stories leave great memories. I hope, and have worked for years in the hope that my story is added to your list of great memories.

So when’s this new book coming out, and how do we get a copy?

The Art of the Darkside of Oz is in pre-order right now! It should be out for San Diego Comic-Con 2012, if all goes well! You can order the book by contacting Sammy directly via email.

How about The Darkside of Oz project proper? Do you have any date, even a tentative one, set for its release at this point, or is it still too early to tell?

The Darkside of Oz tale begins with the coming of the New Year. It will be a larger 8.5”x11” book and will be the first installment of our quest into my world of Oz.

Anything else to add before I let you get back to work? Icarus Fallen B&W by Tommy Castillo.jpg

Yes, when I began to draw and paint, I never dreamt it might lead me to where I am today. I have worked for years for this. My grandmother Mary once told me this when I was a child. She said, “Reach for the Moon. Even if you don’t make it, at least your hands will be in the stars.”

Whatever your dream is, reach for the moon, my friends.

Amen, my friend. I don’t think it could be better said than that.

To learn more about Tommy Castillo and his work, hit his website or stop by his Facebook page.

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A veteran journalist who has covered the comics medium since 1998, Bill Baker is also the author of Icons: The DC Comics and WildStorm Art of Jim Lee and seven previous books featuring his extended interviews with Alan Moore, Neil Gaiman and other notable creators. You can learn more about Bill’s work…

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