Interview: Mark Wheatley on Wild Adventures of Edgar Rice Burroughs: Swords Against the Moon Men

Swords Against the Moon Men cover by Chris Peuler

Swords Against the Moon Men cover by Chris Peuler


Mark Wheatley is known for his work on comics including Frankenstein Mobster, Breathtaker, Mars, Jonny Quest, and much more. His latest project is Swords Against the Moon Men, which is part of the Wild Adventures of Edgar Rice Burroughs series. He provides illustrations for the novel by Christopher Paul Carey. Wheatley recently shared more about this project, as well as his process for creating the illustrations, with Westfield’s Roger Ash.

Westfield: You’ve been a fan of Edgar Rice Burroughs for years. What is the appeal of his work for you?

Mark Wheatley: I grew up in a corner of the Great Dismal Swamp. When I read the Burroughs books as a kid I was already acting out those adventures in the forests and swamps around my home. I built a succession of tree houses and ended up living in my final treehouse in my high school years. That treehouse was a pretty slick piece of work, with wall-to-wall carpeting, air conditioning, bunk beds, a living room and nice shelves to store my comic collection! So even though I was inspired by Tarzan, I had it a bit better than he did! Once I was hooked on Burroughs, I read anything with his name on it.

Wheatley line art for an illo in Swords Against the Moon Men

Wheatley line art for an illo in Swords Against the Moon Men


Westfield: How did you become involved with this project?

Wheatley: This past summer at the San Diego Comic Con, Jim Sulos and Cathy Wilbanks of ERB Inc. came by my booth and asked if I would be interested in painting covers for any of their new line of Wild Adventures of Edgar Rice Burroughs books. I was open to the idea. We left it that we would come up with specific projects at a later date.

Finished digital painting by Wheatley

Finished digital painting by Wheatley


Meanwhile, I had already painted the cover for Christopher Paul Carey’s book Exiles of Kho for Meteor House. So he and I knew each other and are friends on Facebook. He posted about his new ERB book project, I think on the same day I had seen the ERB Inc. gang at SDCC. Well, I was very impressed with his Kho book and knew he must be doing something amazing for ERB Inc. So, I messaged him and asked if they had assigned an artist to his book yet. So it all just worked out due to timing and connections. The only twist is I could not do the cover because it had just been assigned to Chris Peuler who delivered an excellent painting. So I don’t have any complaints!

Line art by Wheatley

Line art by Wheatley


Westfield: Do you have to know Burroughs’ work to enjoy this book?

Wheatley: Christopher’s book also does a perfect job of re-introducing all the important details. He has intentionally structured this books to be a great introduction, not only to the Moon Men series, but also to the entire Burroughs universe. Anyone could start in reading this new book with no previous exposure to the Moon Men series, or any other of Burroughs’ series, and still get the full impact of this story. And I should point out that, as Christopher has set things up in this book, the Moon Men series is clearly the nexus that holds the Edgar Rice Burroughs universe together.

Completed digital painting

Completed digital painting


Westfield: What can you tell us about the story?

Wheatley: It is a fast paced, romantic adventure. The story begins on Earth in a retro future, at a time when we have been conquered by invaders from the Moon. It is a very personal story that follows Julian the 7th as he is transformed into a hardened resistance fighter against the Moon Men. I don’t want to give too much away, because this book reads like the very best Edgar Rice Burroughs books. Christopher has perfectly captured the tone of voice and the inventiveness of Burroughs at his best. All I will add is that this book contains direct connections to the Mars series and the Pellucidar series.

Wheatley line art

Wheatley line art


Westfield: How much contact did you have with writer Christopher Paul Carey?

Wheatley: We were in contact just about every day. We really got to know each other through this process. When I painted the cover for Exiles of Kho it was an assignment from Meteor House. Christopher and I didn’t have much contact. But for Swords Against The Moon Men, we were in constant contact. I ran every rough and idea past him and he was very good with comments and feedback. Christopher is an excellent author, very much to my taste. If I had any problem illustrating this book, it was that I was limited to eighteen pages of illustrations, and Christopher easily had a hundred great scenes in his manuscript! Anyway, since he and I were in contact so much, we cooked up the idea to do a limited edition of the book, since ERB Inc. didn’t have any plans of their own for such an edition. So I painted and designed a signing plate and we each put our signatures on 100 of these.

Digital painting

Digital painting


Westfield: How did you choose which scenes to illustrate?

Wheatley: I read through the manuscript and made a note of every scene that stood out in my imagination. I was about three chapters into the book when I exceeded my limit for illustrations! So I had to pace myself and try to evenly space out placement of the illustrations throughout the book. I also eliminated any images that might give away major plot spoilers. And that was a tough one, because there are some wonderful surprises in this book!

Line art by Wheatley

Line art by Wheatley


My process was to work up a small rough digital painting for approval. This went to ERB Inc. and also to Christopher. Everything was approved, with the only changes to any of the illustrations being that Jim Sulos asked that I turn two of the illustrations into double page spreads. Next I worked out my drawing, tightening details, proportions, perspective, etc. Then I did an inked line piece, using ink on paper. This line art got scanned and was used to digitally paint up the final pieces. I did the paintings in color and then translated them to black and white for their final form to be used in the book.

Final digital painting

Final digital painting


Westfield: Any closing comments?

Wheatley: When I was asked to do this book, one problem was that, even though I am a fairly fast artist, it was at minimum a forty-five day assignment. And I only had a thirty day opening in my schedule. On one end I had several existing commitments and I was locked into the scheduled Kickstarter campaign for Doctor Cthulittle. At the other end I had a very tight deadline to illustrate a Neil Gaiman script for the Mine! anthology. But I so wanted to work with Christopher on this book that I decided that if I worked long hours and nothing went wrong, I would just be able to squeak by in thirty days. So, of course, come the first day of the thirty and everything started to go wrong. I came in to the studio on the first day of the job and fired up my computer, and my hard drive was dying! My computer was in the shop for repairs for a week! My forty-five day job that I was squeezing into thirty days was now going have to get done in twenty-three days! I managed to pull it off in twenty-five days. And I still got Neil Gaiman’s script illustrated on time. But, as nice as everything turned out, I have no interest in repeating this kind of road race. That said, if I was offered another book by Christopher Paul Carey, I would find some way to make it fit into my schedule, no matter what!

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