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Prentis Rollins Discusses How to Draw Sci-Fi Utopias and Dystopias

Image from Prentis Rollins How to Draw Sci Fi Utopias and Dystopias

Prentis Rollins, author of How to Draw Sci-Fi Utopias and Dystopias, sits down for a Q&A interview.

Prentis Rollins is a workhorse of the comic book world and has been a professional illustrator for more than two decades. He has inked for Marvel (including New X-Men) and DC (working on such top-selling projects as Green Lantern: Rebirth, Flash: Iron Heights, DC: One Million, Justice League of America, Green Lantern Corps and more)—in fact, he’s worked on practically every major DC character. But he’s also an accomplished artist outside of the world of superheroes. His credits include work for Disney, MTV, Geffen Records, among others. His work appeared on Broadway as the interstitial animation for Avenue Q. And he has published a number of books, the most recent of which being How to Draw Sci-Fi Utopias and Dystopias.

The full title of the book is actually How to Draw Sci-Fi Utopias and Dystopias: Create the Futuristic Humans, Aliens, Robots, Vehicles and Cities of Your Dreams and Nightmares, and this begins to give you an idea of the scope of this project. Originally conceived as a series of publications, the book is a large-format paperback of over 200 pages of guidance on how to draw science fiction for the aspiring artist.

how to drawOver the course of 365 days, Greg O’Regan watched a movie every. single. day. and the drew a sketch (and occasionally a much more complete drawing) to represent each of the movies he watched. He didn’t limit himself to a specific genre, though after digging through his drawings we found 111 that we feel qualify as science fiction or genre blends of science fiction. Which is almost a third of the total. So the next time someone tries to mock you for liking science fiction, there’s a lot of it out there… [read more]

With the launch party recently completed for How to Draw Sci-Fi Utopias and Dystopias, Rollins was available for a short Q&A session regarding the book, and one of our newest writers, Raymond Rugg was able to attend:

This isn’t your first ‘how to draw sci-fi‘ book—in 2006, you published The Making of a Graphic Novel: The Resonator. What spurred this specific subject at this time?

I chose this particular subject just because it’s what I do best and what I am most passionate about. I’ve been drawing spaceships and aliens since I was about six. For me, this was basically an excuse to spend about nine months drawing the stuff I love to draw. There are a number of books dealing with the same topic out there, so to make this one stand apart I organized it around the whole Utopia/Dystopia schism that runs through so much of sci-fi. Depending on our temperaments, we tend to view the future as either very good (think Star Trek) or pretty awful (think Mad Max). I’ve always been fascinated by this dichotomy and its psychological origins, and I feel right at home creating both utopian and dystopian imagery. Hence the basic structure of the book.

prentis rollins

The cover of Prentis Rollins’ How-To book for The Resonator.

How would you compare How to Draw Sci-Fi Utopias and Dystopias to Making of a Graphic Novel? How are they similar or different from each other?

This is a totally different animal from the previous book. The basic idea of The Making of was to generate a complete graphic novel (The Resonator, a 100-page sci-fi piece), and then have the second half of the book deal with all the steps involved in pulling that off. So that book was very specifically tailored to people who wanted to know about generating a stand-alone, complete graphic novel (which is, by the way, a ridiculously involved process—I’d liken it to writing, producing, designing, casting, directing, and acting in your own movie).

How to Draw Science Fiction is much more general in nature, not at all about comics per se. It’s for people who love to draw and love sci-fi, and who want to know how to get inspired, how to begin a drawing, and how to carry it through to completion. It’s for people who want to draw sci-fi for pleasure, or for young people (12 and up) who are interested in drawing sci-fi for a living—for comics, film design, animation, or the ever-growing gaming business.

So let’s take a look at the book itself. Can you sort of mentally walk us through How to Draw Sci-Fi Utopias and Dystopias?

The book is divided into six chapters. There is an opening chapter on some rudiments of drawing (a quick overview of anatomy and perspective, and such—I didn’t want to assume that my readers just knew this stuff), and then chapters on humans, aliens and robots, land vehicles, flying vehicles, and finally cityscapes. Each chapter includes five to eight finished pieces or case studies, each of which more or less epitomizes some recurring motif in sci-fi, along the Utopian/Dystopian spectrum.

Image from Prentis Rollins How to Draw Sci-Fi Utopias and DystopiasAnd each piece is accompanied by a block of narration giving its rationale/backstory—a theme that I harp on is the necessity of thought in generating sci-fi imagery. In horror it’s enough to know that the monster is attacking; in sci-fi we need to know why it’s attacking and what it is (Alien is horror, Prometheus is sci-fi).

The motivation for putting in all these polished final pieces was twofold. First, it just makes sense to follow the production of a piece from initial rough to finishing touches. And second, it just makes for a more beautiful and entertaining book. I wanted this book to be instructive, but I also wanted it to be something you could leave out on your coffee table and just flip through.

What’s your favorite part of putting together a ‘how to draw science fiction‘ book like this?

Doing the art. When you get a big, meaty project like this, it’s just paradise being in that creative bubble for however many months you’re in there. There’s nowhere I’d rather be. A lot of thought had to go into organizing the book, and then I basically made an inventory of the 30 or so final images I wanted to produce (‘Utopian starship’, ‘Dystopian war vehicle’, etc.). Having done that, I just had to draw it all, being careful to store images of all the pieces in-progress. It was a blast.

Rollins is currently working on publishing The Furnace, a recently-completed science fiction graphic novel weighing in at 190 pages, and beginning the script for yet another graphic novel. You can check out his website here!

Featured Images: Prentis Rollins / Monacelli Studio

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