TSJ talks to artist and illustrator, Juan Ortiz, about making posters for every single episode of the original Star Trek TV series, working for Disney, and speaking Klingon.
The Smoking Jacket: You got hooked up with Disney and DC seemingly right off the bat – fresh out of art school. Did you expect to get so lucky with an art degree? Did they recruit you? Had you been sending them work? How does that process work?
Juan Ortiz: I had heard about an available position at Disney’s consumer products department in NY, right after my third year at the School of Visual Arts. I tested for the spot with a series of Mickey drawings and was eventually hired after an in-house stint.
TSJ: Tell me about some of the comics you’ve worked on – what have you enjoyed about working on the Silver Comics (as “Johnny” Ortiz – do your friends call you “Johnny”?)? There’s a pulpy, old school sense of fun in these. What kinds of comics do you read? Your bio says “anyone who drew comics prior to 1980.” Like who? Have you worked on other comics series?
JO: I started using Johnny in the comics so that I don’t get mistaken for the Juan Ortiz that drew comics in the ’80s. Johnny is also what my family calls me. I don’t really read the new stuff. There are a lot of old ones that I still need to get to. But like the posters, I never set out to make Silver Comics old school on purpose. It’s just that those are the comics that I know and love. Comic creators like Kirby, Ditko, Colon, Buscema, Adams, Kane, just to name a few where some of my favorites.
TSJ: Did you get into drawing originally because you liked comics?
JO: That’s when I began to get serious about it but I had been drawing and even painting before that. What I liked most about comics back then is their ability to tell stories. Something that I find missing in today’s comics. When I entered college, I chose editorial illustration. It’s very challenging to tell a story or convey an emotion with just one visual.
TSJ: Your series of posters illustrating episodes of the original Star Trek have just been published in book form as “Star Trek: The Art of Juan Ortiz.” Did you originally imagine this project as a whole? As a book? Can you tell us a bit about how you started out with this?
JO: It started out as a personal project. I never intended them to be anything more than maybe postcards. I had to get permission first, which led to CBS to liking them enough to commission me for all of them. Which is great, because there really was no way I would have been able to create so many products on my own, let alone pay for printing, storing and shipping postcards.
TSJ: You said in an interview that you were interested in the illustrations of the Spanish artist Joaquin Pertierra, and after researching him I could definitely see the purposeful nods you’ve made in his direction. (Though there’s maybe something cleaner in your work?) I like that he worked so much in the same time period as the when the original Star Trek aired – there’s a nice, timely, visual parallel going on there, which is obviously something you must have thought about. You can’t help but notice the same refrigerator avocado-green tones, for instance, similar, very two-dimensional stylizations.
So, thinking of Pertierra alongside your own Star Trek work – what is the job of a book jacket or poster? What kind of work does it have to do in order to convey the story it’s representing? Because you’ve gone ahead and made your illustrations so far after the original airing of the TV show, what kind of nostalgia do you think is informing your work? Do your posters have the same purpose of summing up an episode? Are you trying to get people excited about the show again?
JO: I first had to psyche myself out and imagine that Star Trek TOS was a new thing. A poster is suppose to grab the viewer and hold them long enough to get them interested in your product. In this case a TV show. So they were really designed for the non-fan in mind. But I knew they would still appeal to most fans, especially the older ones. I kept going back and forth from the ’60s to today. Most designers will argue that they are not retro enough, but I always maintained they were inspired by that era, and not meant to fool anyone into thinking they were created back then. The distressing was done to set my work apart from other Trek posters currently out there.
TSJ: So how much of a Star Trek geek are you? Do you own Star Trek merch not made by you? Like a model Enterprise? Or any signed memorabilia?
JO: I used to have more but as you get older, you tend to need more living space. At least in my case. I narrowed things down to just a nice lights and sound Enterprise toy.
“I first had to psyche myself out and imagine that Star Trek TOS was a new thing.”
TSJ: Who’s your favorite Star Trek character? Who’s your favorite alien? (This might be the same question!)
JO: Spock would be my favorite character and alien. But I would mention James Doohan as my favorite TOS actor.
TSJ: How many times would you say you’ve watched the original series? Has it become sort of recite-able at this point? (I’m awful with Star Wars that way.)
JO: I’ve had them on video, DVDs and now even iTunes, yet I still wish they would play on a TV station where I am. I would watch every day. I’m able to recite a few lines but I don’t want to memorize too much. It takes the fun out of re-watching. I even re-watch Star Trek: The Motion Picture. I think the movie is under-rated.
TSJ: Of the newer Star Trek series, are there any episodes/characters/captains you prefer?
I grew to like Picard as the series went on. By the time First Contact came around, it was tough to tell when Patrick Stewart began and Picard ended.
TSJ: The new Star Trek films: Are they awesome? An abomination? Any space movies vs. space TV thoughts you need to get off your chest?
JO: I don’t get too riled up about what’s better or not. The original series is it’s own thing, just as the films are. It all comes down to whether or not a movie is good or not. And not be judged on what came before it. My only complaint about the reboot is that they should have been made as a new TV series. The films are too few and far apart. Whereas on TV there is more time to develop characters and grow an audience. Mistakes can be forgiven on TV, but in movies it’s there, larger than life, for all to judge. And it will be years before another can redeem the previous one.
TSJ: I love that there’s a “Klingon Products” tab on your website. Do these do well? Have you met any Klingon speakers? (I saw someone reading a Klingon dictionary on the subway once.)
JO: never really know how any of the products with my artwork does. Not even the book. I know it has received good reviews, but that may not always translate into sales. I never met a Klingon speaker but I’m certain I’ll meet one someday.
TSJ: Also – what!! – limited edition Star Trek wines?! Did you expect your illustrations to appear on Star Trek wine (I just wish it was from Picard’s vineyard… but that wouldn’t be the right chronology… except in a Generations way, maybe? Anyway.)
JO: I never saw that one coming, but now there’s a reason to own the Star Trek wine bottle opener. this is the season to celebrate Star Trek. The 50th anniversary may still be three years away, but if I’m not mistaken, Roddenberry wrote his first draft in ’63. So it’s okay to start drinking now and not stop until 2019.
TSJ: Are there any other space TV shows you liked? I confess I liked Firefly a lot, myself (sometimes I daydream about owning the Firefly model ship for my desk – but then I worry that would grow to include Smurfs or something?), and I’m a big fan of Next Generation.
JO: I’m a fan of Lost in Space. That doesn’t mean that I’ll work on any posters for the show, though. I’d like to try a non-sci-fi series for the near future.