Michael Hague is an American illustrator and writer, primarily of children’s fantasy books.
He has illustrated such classics such as The Wind in the Willows, The Wizard of Oz, The Hobbit and the stories of Hans Christian Andersen. He is renowned for the intricate and realistic detail he brings to his work, and the rich colors he chooses.
Our man Jay caught up with Michael to chat about his new book, Eye of Newt
FTN: Hi there Michael, and thank you for taking the time to speak to us. Can you tell us a little bit about yourself?
MH: I was born and raised in Los Angeles and graduated from Art Center College of Design where I majored in Fine Arts. There I met and married my wife of almost 44 years, Kathleen. Upon graduation I was hired as an artist for Hallmark in Kansas City. During this time I continued to send out portfolios to publishers looking for work in children’s book illustration. My big break came with the work I did for the book, Wind in the Willows. During the following years I illustrated over 100 children’s books, several of them authored by my wife. I love to read, collect illustrated books and art, and enjoy baseball and most recently have discovered the joy of being a grandfather: They call me “cool mike”.
FTN: What was it that first got you interested in art?
MH: I do not remember ever not being interested in art. From an early age art was an important part of my life. My mother studied art in England before she came to the United States and she introduced us to illustrated books and made sure we always had an abundance of art supplies and encouragement.
FTN: You are renowned for the intricate and realistic detail you bring to your work, and the rich colours you choose. How did you first discover these elements which would become your trademark?
MH: I remember as a student wondering how one develops their style. It happens over time as you discover your interests and talents. I think because I was a fine arts major where there was an emphasis on drawing, color and composition that my illustration demonstrates these skills. But, eventually, it is something that just happens. Most people can recognize my art but it is still something I don’t dwell on. It is still something that grows as you work.
FTN: You list some of your influences as the comics series Prince Valiant and the works of Disney as well as Japanese printmakers Hiroshige and Hokusai. What would you say it is about this diverse work that appeals to you?
MH: Prince Valiant was the one comic I was allowed to read. My mother was worried that I would become a juvenile delinquent if I so much as picked up a comic book. Apparently that was a common concern at the time. Prince Valiant was acceptable to her because he was British and in the sunday newspaper. I would have enjoyed the series anyway. The stories were so beautifully illustrated and I loved the stories.
MH: I grew up on Disney cartoons and movies. When I watch those old Mickey Mouse cartoons my mouth waters at the delicious colors. The movies inspired my art as well with their style and color.
I love the work of so many of the Japanese print makers that it is difficult to pick just one. The way they can depict atmosphere with color and line will always be an influence as well as their mastery of design and composition.
FTN: Among the books you’ve illustrated are classics such as The Wind in the Willows, The Wizard of Oz, The Hobbit and the stories of Hans Christian Andersen. Are these sorts of works – fantasy and fiction – the sort that you also like to read?
MH: I dislike drawing or painting pieces of art that don’t have some elements of fantasy in them. The same interest applies to reading material. I also enjoy historical books and biographies.
FTN: ‘In the Small’ was your first foray into the world of graphic novels. Can you tell us what that was about and how you came to create that?
MH: In The Small is a story about the world after a blue wave of light spreads around the world. When the light recedes everything remains the same except that all humans have been reduced in size. The story is about their challenges of survival. Originally I had planned on having the story take place 100 years after the blue flash where the great monuments of man have crumbled and there are a few remaining pockets of people. At the suggestion of others the story was changed and dealt with the events immediately following the blue flash.
FTN: Eye of Newt, a four part mini-series from Dark Horse comics, is your new work. Can you tell us about this?
MH: The Eye of Newt is the tale of a young boy, Newt, who is an apprentice to a famous and fearful wizard. He knows nothing of his family and has been raised, isolated, in the middle of a dark forest know as the Gloom. He is called to take the Wizard Trial. In the series we follow him on his quest. His gentle and curious nature could be a problem when faced with the demands and dangers that await him in the Netherworld.
FTN: Is Eye of Newt a story that you’ve had in your mind for a while?
MH: The story developed over several years. Characters and events came and went until I finally decided on the final text. At one point Newt was a western samurai.
FTN: What brought you and Dark Horse together?
MH: A Facebook friend, David Scroggy, works for Dark Horse. He introduced me to Michael Richardson, who is the founder and president of the company. I sent him paintings and an outline of the story which at that time was 134 pages long. I was delighted that they liked the story. But, it required that I trim the story. Soon after that I was on my way to one of the most exciting adventures of my life, creating a four-part comic book, at the risk of becoming a juvenile delinquent.
FTN: Do you enjoy the writing aspect as much as the artistic one or is it, for you, a melting part of both aspects together?
MH: Creating the artwork is the favorite part. It may be because I am most comfortable as a painter. I am not a great writer but enjoy the process and hope that I continue to get better.
FTN: When Eye of Newt wraps up with issue 4 can you tell us what is next on the horizon for you?
MH: I have a sci-fi story that I have been working on for some time and think that it will make a fun graphic novel. Ive never illustrated science fiction so this promises to be another adventure in my future. It is complex and I may look for a co-writer to help with the writing.