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by Martin Popoff
When did you start all this?
"In the late '70s when I was still in high school, I played guitar with bands and stuff, and I did artwork, and I didn't know which way I was going to gravitate. I knew I loved rock 'n' roll, but I didn't know which way it was going to be. I was going to go into music or art. I remember I used to make money drawing my own comic books and selling them to the kids in the neighborhood. And record cover art... I remember buying a book by Roger Dean, Views. There were very few books on record cover art. And when I opened it up, I said, oh, that's it! That's the answer. If I do record cover art, I can do both. So I gravitated that way. So I started doing some of the local bands, nothing big to mention, bar bands. I've got a lot of funny stories. Me and George were like - who now manages me, God bless him, my kid brother - we were very determined one way or another that we would get into it. But totally innocent, and we didn't care; we just did it. And I remember meeting Judas Priest in 1980, meeting Black Sabbath. I sold one of my first paintings to Tony Iommi."
And what was your medium back then?
"I painted with acrylics and airbrush and ink and stuff. I more so thought I was going to do comic book covers and things like that. I had prepared this huge story for Heavy Metal magazine, which was pretty popular in the early '80s. We put a whole story forward; I did a whole series of paintings. This big science-fiction massive concept, we were going to turn it into a board game, the whole kit and caboodle. But what happened was, when I started doing all these bands for Brian Slagel at Metal Blade in the mid '80s, a lot of these covers were the paintings that had been done for the story. Brian would look at them and go, 'OK, this would be perfect for Warlord; this would be perfect for Liege Lord.' I think I did all the Lords (laughs). But I started to get frustrated. Because I would see how they art-directed my stuff and it would look like a complete disaster. You know, the art director at Columbia would go in and say, 'Great painting!' And then you would see the cover, and he used a section of the painting. I thought, all right, that's it. I'm going to design my own stuff from now on. So by osmosis, I learned how to art-direct."
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