There are many talented people who work on our favourite TV shows and movies, but usually they only get a half-second credit at the end of the film or episode. Those who get all the spotlight are the directors, actors and producers.
I am starting a series of interviews that highlight the behind-the-scenes workers who never get interviewed. First on the list is storyboard artist Mike Borkowski who has boarded for many superhero cartoons such as Wolverine and the X-Men, The Batman and Superman: Brainiac Attacks. Most recently he illustrated Deep Freeze, a children's book based on Iron Man: Armored Adventures. Check out his blog for more of his excellent artwork!
Let's learn a little about your history. How did you get into storyboarding?
I got into it sort of by accident. Since I was a kid I had always wanted to be a comic book artist. I was working as an apprentice at a small studio under some professional comic book artists. I wasn't finding work as a penciller anywhere so I began to do some color work for the studio. I wasn't very happy with that so I started to look at other avenues to try and find work where I could draw. At the time (the mid to late 90's) animation studios were hiring by the boat load. I was lucky enough to send samples of my work to Sony Animation and get hired as a storyboard clean up artist on the Jumanji animated series. I learned under some great people about how to tell a story in animation. From there I worked my way up to storyboard artist. I actually prefer storyboarding now to comic book work, but I'd love to draw a comic someday.
Who would you say are some of your biggest influences, in the world of comics and otherwise?
I have a bunch but the main ones are John Romita Sr., John Buscema, and Alex Toth. Those guys are legends for a reason. I like a lot of current artists, too, like Frank Cho, Ed McGuinness, Steve McNiven, Jason Pearson, Jose Luis Garcia-Lopez, Stuart Immonen, Gabriel Ba, Sean Galloway, etc. Really too many to name. I'd have to say, though, that those influences don't really come across in animation. I have to stick to the model sheets and style of whatever show I am working on so I can't really emulate anything those guys do. The main thing I get from them is staging a shot or how they use the silhouettes of their characters. It's more of a situation where I look at their work and just get jazzed to draw.
I've also worked with a ton of unbelievably talented artists in the animation business. There are so many amazing artists in this industry that no one knows about because their names are on the screen for less than a second. Working with them always made me step up my game to try to keep up with them.
One place where your own style can shine is in your own side projects. Would you care to tell us a little about On the Fly or Fed Up?
Those are projects I came up with years ago but haven't really had a chance to do anything with them. I have done more work on Fed Up than On The Fly. I have a lot of character designs and even wrote some scripts but haven't done anything with them yet. Hopefully some day. I also have another concept I have developed with a friend for (hopefully) a comic book but that is in the very early stages. It's just very hard to find enough time to give these things the care you want to give them.
You've worked on large number of action shows. TMNT, Godzilla, The Batman, Venture Brothers, Wolverine and the X-Men. What draws you to these types of productions?
I've basically just been lucky. I usually don't have the luxury of choosing which shows I can work on. I've just been lucky to have been offered some great action shows. I think over the years I have become known for being able to do action pretty well so that is what I usually get offered. I've also worked on some shows for very young kids like Dragon Tales, Baby Looney Tunes and Maya & Miguel but I do prefer the action shows. I think it just goes back to me wanting to originally be a comic book artist and being a fan of those types of movies and cartoons. I love seeing a great action sequence in a film or cartoon and the chance to create one of my own is very exciting.
I'm sure that not all of those jobs were easy. What have been some of the more difficult or more ambitious projects that you've worked on?
Most of the difficulty of any show comes from the schedule. Most of the time I am working on a really tight deadline. On Baby Looney Tunes I didn't have much time and I was doing something like 150 drawings a day just to finish. It was brutal. TMNT could be tough because it seemed like every episode I did the Turtles were fighting an army of ninjas. You try to cheat it any way you can but at some point you just have to draw that army. That seems to happen a lot with me on The Venture Bros., too.
What have been some highlights working on Wolverine and the X-Men?
Just working on it, period. It's a dream show for me. I've always wanted to work with those characters. On top of the that, I love the designs and the scripts I worked on were fantastic. Specifically, though, I worked on an episode (#13 I believe) where the X-Men band together to stop a giant monster in the middle of the city. It doesn't really get much more fun than that!
That episode was one of my favourites (We've seen the whole season up here in Canada). Rogue really got a chance to shine. Do you ever go back to the source material for reference or ideas? I'm sure Frank Quietly's work would be great for inspiration.
For that episode in particular we had reference from Astonishing X-Men because that monster was in one of the earlier issues. I don't really take anything from the comics unless I'm directed to by the Director or Producers. Like I said, we are kind of slaves to the model pack. I'm sure I've tried to get some kind of visual reference from the comics into a show before but I can't think of any examples right now. I'm a fan first, so I try to put things in when I can that I know fans will get a kick out of. Specifically, I try to make sure the characters move and act in a way I think is true to their character.
One of the best thing about Wolverine and the X-Men is that the show portrays the mutants' powers in a way unlike you would see in the comics. I credit a lot of this work to the storyboard artists who have to make them look cool. Are there any particular characters that you enjoy boarding?
I had fun with Nightcrawler. I did an episode where he fights Mellencamp and Pyro and there were some pretty cool things going on where Nightcrawler was using his teleportation to get out of sticky situations. I also did a scene that I thought was pretty cool where he "Bamfed" across the ocean from Genosha all the way back home. Kitty was fun, too, although I didn't have many scenes with her.
You are going to share with us some of your storyboards from Wolverine and the X-Men Care to comment on this sequence?
I chose this scene because I mentioned in the interview how I liked working with Nightcrawler. This is from episode 10 which I think is titled Greetings From Genosha.
A big "Thank You" to Mike for taking part in this interview! Don't forget to check out his website, blog, and pre-order his new book, Deep Freeze!