We've all got those "gentle giants" in our lives, and now Outland has its own! But Shannon Potratz isn't just a teddy bear of a guy, he's a giant in talent as well: incredible illustrator, highly skilled graphic designer, and even a succinct and consistent letterer. Shannon is helping Outland with the odds and ends of great publications; the tasks that sometimes make a huge splash but sometimes go unnoticed. His work will help keep us on track and continue to produce high-quality stuff!
We sat down with Shannon so you could get to know him better. But seriously, if you have a chance to meet this guy in person, you should take it.
So Shannon, tell us a little bit about yourself.
I grew up in Spokane, Washington. My dad was an artist; he liked drawing, model making, but it was never anything he made a career out of of. His dad never saw the value in it. He thought that stuff was a waste of time and that dad should go find a real job. So dad worked as a respiratory therapist for 40 years, and he hated it. He always encouraged my brother and me to find something we loved to do, regardless if it made us rich or not. I went into art and graphic design, my brother became an architect. And now I've been working professionally for almost 30 years.
I started my first professional illustration job with a silk screen company in 1993. I started there before I even finished school, and I've pretty much been working ever since. In 2020, right when Covid hit, I started out on my own as full-time freelance.
How did you first hear about Outland Entertainment and start working with us?
I met Outland's Creative Director Jeremy D. Mohler somewhere around 2005, I think. We were both on DeviantArt. Of course, this was before Facebook. We watched a lot of the same artists and started following each other, then we started talking about working on some projects together. Then Jeremy and I met at a convention in Chicago in 2008, and I've been working with him ever since. I started working in a world he was working on Pileaus with Scott Colby (Worlds page coming soon).
Jeremy and I had very similar interests in art—fantasy, westerns, barbarian fiction—so he and I just clicked. I found him very easy to work with him. We always seemed to communicate in the same language. It was a relationship that worked and continues to do so now. When I went to Planet Comicon last year, it was like we hadn't skipped a beat.
Which Outland publications have you worked on or are working on?
I'm illustrator for Dragonring with author Cullen Bunn. Outland is publishing The Redeemers, a comic I created with HJ Waples and Andy Owens. We launched the Kickstarter for the first issue in April and did really well with that. We're almost ready to launch the Kickstarter for Issue 2. And I'm working on artwork for Scourge of the High Seas by Dustin Dade. But I do a lot of other stuff for Outland. I cut together videos for other Kickstarters—Resound Fields, Pileaus: Symphony No. 1 Anthology, Dragonring, The Redeemers, and the upcoming Vikingverse RPG. I've done some graphic design, like for upcoming game Godfight, and I'll be doing letters for a couple projects. And then I get the opportunity through Outland's Creative Services to do illustration outside Outland's publications, like for movie posters and educational stuff.
Where do you typically find inspiration for your artwork?
I hate to say it, because everybody says it: Star Wars was a massive influence. I saw that movie at four years old, and I immediately knew there was something beyond what I was seeing on the screen. I knew there were artists and creators behind all that. I don't know how at four years old I knew all that, but I wanted to know the people who made all that stuff. That's where I found my inspiration. Artists like Ralph McQuarrie, who did all the concept art for Star Wars.
Then when you start discovering artists like that, the more you dig in, you begin to find out who their influences were. I discovered artists like Syd Mead and John Berkey, who's very impressionistic. They had amazing detail in them, but the detail was almost implied. It was very painterly. And at the time, I'd never seen anybody paint like that.
The fantasy artists of the mid to late 70s were huge influences on me. Particularly Frank Frazetta whose work was always emotion. They were two dimensional, very still images, but somehow they were always moving, and his figures were always on the verge of breaking out of the canvas. That's how I wanted to draw. Like my stuff was just wanting to break off the page. I didn't really get into comics until high school. Fantasy artists were my first love. Walt Simonson and John Byrne and later on Mike Mignola who created Hellboy, my favorite comic of all time. Those comics go back to those fantasy, folklore monster tales that grab my imagination, and are my biggest inspirations.
Jeremy's art has also always been hugely inspiring to me. Doesn't seem he gets as much time to do it as he used to. His work is always drawing me in. Friends who are artists, Andy Owens, I've been friends with him close to 20 years. He inks The Redeemers, but he did ink work for Marvel and DC. Just a fantastic inker. Especially when I see it on my work, I see my work in a very different way. The first time anyone inked my work it was with Andy, and it was such a different experience seeing my work with somebody else's touch on it. That was pretty exciting. Patrick Blaine is another friend I look up to. Manny Trembly is a guy I met through friends, he's a talented artist who created a game called Dice Throne. He's a big reason why I thought I'd see if I can build a game on my own.
What do you think is your strength as an artist?
I've developed a reputation for being reliable and versatile. As a graphic designer, you kind of have to be a jack of all trades. That's one of my greatest tools in getting work—I'm versatile beyond just drawing pictures. I've picked up local work and, between Outland and the my other clients, I've had work from all over the states. A local guy who does car wraps sends work to me because I know how to do the vector work. I can design simply enough with limited colors and make it all vector artwork, so when it blows up it still stays stacked sharp. He actually came to me today and said, "I've got this file I can't make work." I had it figured out in about five minutes.
The fun thing about being an artist for comics, particularly when you find a writer that you click with, is that once you're able to contribute something visually, it takes a different shape than maybe they envision. Like working with Cullen on Dragonring, he wanted to revive these Barry Blair books. It was his brain child in a lot of ways, but he lets me take creative liberties with his ideas and gives me an opportunity to make it my own thing, too. So now I'm invested in not just an artistic way but in the process of the actual story.
I don't really ever think of myself as a writer, but on an unconscious level that's what I'm doing.
When you're talking about Cullen and how you're becoming a co-creator with him, that's a great analogy for how Jeremy is building Outland. He does so much work and provides the direction, but as he brings talented people on, it kind of morphs the way Outland is going.
Definitely, and it's one of my most rewarding professional relationships I've ever had. That's always been the direction I've wanted to go, in fantasy and storytelling, and the great thing about Outland is that it branches out into directions I never necessarily envisioned myself heading. Like game development is not really something I had put much thought into. Not only am I working on illustrations for other peoples' games, but I'm starting on a game of my own. That's not something I ever thought I would do. Those are the possibilities that a company like Outland opens up for creators. It gives them that ability to branch out. I think that's a pretty amazing thing. And all those different creators can bring something new to Outland and make it that much more rich in creative vision.
You'll hear more from Shannon, until then, check out these blogs from some of the rest of our Core Team:
You Like Me Because I’m a Scoundrel by Editor in Chief Alana Joli Abbott
Professional Practice: Promptness, a Non-Art Skill That Will Greatly Improve Your Art Career by Creative Director Jeremy D. Mohler
Professional Practice: How to Meet Your Writing Goals by Senior Editor Scott Colby
Want to see some of Shannon's work? Check out these Outland publications: