Updated: Jun 11
Originally published on Nerdlocker in 2014.
As seems to always be the case, I discovered Tom Whalen while seeking out new Star Wars art. That’s when I came upon his Return of the Jedi print produced by Mondo. Unfortunately I had missed the initial sale, so I went looking for more of his work. Lucky for me, I discovered an incredibly talented and prolific artist. He has a rare ability to capture childlike fantasy and adult themes in his work. Walt Disney himself would be hard pressed to find a better artist to tackle many of the cartoon themed prints he has created, Dumbo and Toy Story being two of my personal favorites. So, without further ado, Mr. Tom Whalen!
Jimmy Palmquist (JP): Tell us about yourself. Tom Whalen (TW): Let me outline some of the more important non-artistic points since we’ll be covering that ground in the succeeding questions:
• is 5’11” • has blue eyes • has 2 children • runs 4-6 miles weekly • is a piss-poor swimmer • swears by the combo of beer and twizzlers • has 4 color combos of one style of sneakers • suffers from a paralyzing fear of public speaking • has never owned a leather-elbowed tweed jacket
JP: We read somewhere that you found your original inspiration for reading comics at your grandmother’s candy store. What was your favorite candy back then and which books were you reading? TW: My favorite candy was (and still is) Swedish Fish. I’d spend hours firing them into my face while sitting on the stepladder next to her spinner rack of comics. She’d set aside copies of G.I. Joe, Transformers, and the crucible of my comics knowledge, The Official Handbook of the Marvel Universe.
JP: When did you get your professional start in the art world? TW: I was fortunate enough to land a graphic design position right out of college, where I had the opportunity to do illustration work as part of my daily duties. After almost 5 years there, I found an in-house editorial illustration position where I was employed full-time for 9 years. Over the past 2 years, I’ve transitioned to freelance status there and fill the rest of my days with as much poster work as my schedule allows.
JP: How did you establish your niche in nerd art? TW: My buddy and I were publishing a small comic ‘zine back in 2004 called Comicdal Presents. We’d spend countless hours creating strips, writing stories, eating Quizno’s subs, getting friends to do pinups etc. When we had cobbled a few issues together, we decided to spring for a table at the local Wizard World Philly convention. In my spare time, I had created 4 or 5 “minibusts” of famous superhero characters, and, in order to fill out our table, i decided to make small, postcard-sized prints of them to sell alongside the ‘zine. I put them in small glass clip frames and priced them at $5 each. They sold like hotcakes. I knew I was onto something, so from there, I began to tackle every niche of pop culture in my style.
JP: Where do you find inspiration and what are some of your influences? TW: Believe it or not, my style is (at least partially) influenced by the theology textbooks I was assigned as a grade schooler. I remember being struck by the graphic, non-realistic forms that that particular line of books employed. For whatever reason, I believe that look, mixed with my love of comics and graphic design all contributed to what my look has evolved into.
JP: Who are some of your favorite artists? TW: Mike Mignola. Art Adams. Chris Warner. Chris Samnee. Aaron Horkey. Martin Ansin. John Romita, Jr., Kevin Tong, DKNG, Little Friends of Printmaking.
JP: What posters/art do you have on display in your house? TW: I have a selection of Kevin Tong prints hanging as well as posters from Aaron Horkey, Martin Ansin, DKNG, James White and Anthony Petrie.
JP: Star Wars of Star Trek and why? TW:Star Wars. As many times as I tried to watch Star Trek as a kid, I always found myself comparing it to Star Wars. At the time, it was clearly over my head (I’ve since come to love The Original Series), and the fact that it was light on monsters/aliens kept me from really digging it.
JP: Which medium do you prefer to work in, comic books or posters? TW: Posters. I like the larger format. And the stack of artist proofs that I can sell to fans.
JP: What do you do in your free time? TW: Work.
JP: Give us a Nerdy secret that most people don’t know about you. TW: I don’t dig Blade Runner. I understand the themes. I get where it’s coming from. It looks beautiful. It just. Bores. Me. To. Tears.
JP: What is your favorite movie? TW: Predator. For me, the blend of 80’s action, humor and sci-fi is intoxicating. I love the cast and the monster design is one of the best ever. To top it off, I have fond memories of my dad taking me to see it the weekend it premiered.
JP: What is your favorite video game? TW: War of the Monsters for PS2. A great cast of playable characters and totally interactive/destroyable environments. SO many hours wasted.
So there you have it folks, Mr. Tom Whalen! Thank you very much Tom for taking the time to answer our in depth questions.
For more information on Tom’s latest work, please visit his website – http://strongstuff.net/ and join his mailing list. As always, please visit his shop and support a great artist – http://strongstuffshop.bigcartel.com/
As a parting gift, enjoy some of my favorite art (because he hadn't created most of them when I originally wrote the article) done by the fabulous Tom Whalen!