Interview with Bob Eggleton, March 1998
Interviewer: Jeremy Bloom
Jeremy Bloom.: If Godzilla fought Marilyn Manson, who would win? (and, of course, the inevitable “why”?)
Bob Eggleton: Now there’s an image. Well, both are male and female at the same time. Godzilla has a son/Godzilla Jr. from an egg that came from no one knows where. In the New Godzilla movie, he/it lays a bunch of eggs. Marilyn Manson supposedly has better legs than Godzilla... the breath though, that’s Godzilla’s advantage. Sure both are loud... but Godzilla could fry Manson in a second.
J.B.: What’s all this ‘Zilla stuff, man? Why the fascination with the big bad lizard? Why not Gamera? Or Elvis?
Eggleton: Godzilla was my main hero. When I was young, I was picked on by a lot of older kids, bullies, etc... so Godzilla in a sense, told me how to defend myself. I once drop kicked this kid, right in the cohonies, and then I pounced on him and did a Godzilla roar. He thought (as did school administrators) I was psychotic. He didn’t bother me again. But I credit Godzilla with my early interest in SF and Fantasy. He was just a Stranger in a Strange Land. Trapped in a world he never made. So here I am, 33 years later, painting Godzilla paperback covers, children’s books and even, are you ready... a coloring book! So much for “How will you ever make a living from this monster thing??”
J.B.: It is a well known fact that, just as one cannot make a living as a writer (as everyone always told me), it is impossible to make a living as an artist. What made you decide to brush aside all the warnings and dire predictions and go ahead and make a living as an artist anyway?
Eggleton: I had a lot of people tell me that. They wanted me to... conform, be normal, be a “team player” (don’t you just love that?), we are Borg, all designed to sap your imagination. So the more people said it, the more my reaction built up and I said, “to Hell with you!” I was determined to be a successful artist no matter what it took. People close to me, a few (I stress few) teachers were encouraging and my Mom and Dad were really encouraging, but cautious as parents are. One of my faults is that I don’t listen well (I’m working on it!) and back then I just did not listen to those saying “Don’t waste your time on art... it’s not a real job”. To all the people who get “downsized” by these insidious megacorporations... tell me what a “real job” is. They get let go, after putting their soul into a company and they end up in debt, worried and just feeling out of control of their lives. I tried that once. Once.
J.B.: How did you end up in Rhode Island? Do you think that shaped the artist you became, the career you have had? Would Bob Eggleton have ended up differently if he had gone to some other school?
Eggleton: Rhode Island. I was born in Massachusetts actually, from a somewhat historic family originally known as Fairbanks/Fayerbanks (before they invented the “i” letter). My thirteenth generation grandfather constructed the first “A” frame house in America in Dedham, Mass. It’s still there to this day as an historic site. But my Dad moved us (I was an only child) down to Rhode Island for job reasons. Here he invented the patent for the Teflon Non-Stick pan (the process by which teflon is bonded to metal) for a company which said out of the textbook “it could not be done.” So then, we moved to California during the height of Flower Power, etc... and after about a year there, he had a job offer in Pennsylvania (Lancaster) so we lived there for awhile and then, moved back to R.I. Schools. College proved to me, like my father’s ingenuity, one did not need a college degree to be good at art. One needed desire, talent... and luck. But you make your own luck in the long run. So I left college (my year and a half only cost me $1800... I talk to grads that can’t get jobs who owe houses to banks. My mother instilled in me the idea of never getting in too much debt.) Bob Eggleton who’d gone to some other school would’ve come to the same conclusion. I briefly (and I mean for 15 minutes) considered the Air Force at one point, ‘cause I love planes... but I was told one did not just join and jump right into an F-15. That was that. So Art it had to be.
J.B.: Airbrushing. I understand you had to back off from that technique for health reasons. Was it really that bad? How did losing that option change you, and your artwork? Do you miss it?
Eggleton: Airbrushing. When I started, I thought this thing was the cat’s ass. It was just perfect. But, really I never did that much airbrushing at all. Most artists don’t. Michael Whelan uses it sparingly and many people view his work as “airbrushed” when he’s just this great painter with a regular brush. I started getting a cough, “chronic bronchitis” as my doctor put it, so I was susceptible to all kinds of colds and flu, etc... it was like a “smoker’s cough”. I realized the misted paint (airbrushes aerosolize paint particles) was into everything - my clothes, hair, books, food, etc... and I just started feeling the work done with airbrushing was just... fake looking. I looked at Jim Gurney’s rich impastoed textures and I longed for a less mechanical means. I do not miss fiddling with the needle and parts to make it work... but my paintings now have a certain something I like a lot. I like more of what I turn out than before, so something changed for the good. The best moments occur when someone will walk right in front of my new stuff and say “Hey Bob, where’s your stuff?” Some, a few clients have complained the newer work is “too sketchy and loose”. There is a tendency of late in cover work to do over-rendered pieces. A lot of companies like it. But then, a lot of other companies like my new stuff. They are just paintings with more life in them. Danny Flynn, an Irish SF artist who’s a hell of a nice guy, looked at my stuff at the World Fantasy Con and said “Makes me wanta throw out me airbrush!”. There’s a vote of confidence.
J.B.: What was your first experience of Science Fiction? Who were your favorite authors/books growing up?
Eggleton: I loved the space program... I grew up in the heady days of Gemini and Apollo, it grabbed me. Then, I found Star Trek. And 2001: A Space Odyssey, which, as a 9 year old, floored me. I was a complete geek then. Reading: Classic stuff. H.G. Wells, Verne (Captain Nemo was a hero of mine), Clarke... watching Ray Harryhausen and Godzilla films. And drawing all those images. And I was a child of Forry’s Famous Monsters of Filmland (thanks Forry, if I never said so).
J.B.: What was your first experience of cons/fandom?
Eggleton: Well, I never knew SF had cons until about1978. I went to a couple of Star Trek cons and Boskone in Boston. At Boskone, I learned about a Worldcon - Noreascon II, in fact, and I said, “I am going to go to this and find other people like me” That was 1980. So I figured I would enter some drawings in the art show. I actually sold them and made a fortune (back then $200 was a lot of money) and won Best Amateur Monochrome Artist. It was a gas.
J.B.: How did your SF experience warp your artistic career? Had you thought about other career tracks than the one you have followed?
Eggleton: It made me realize I could have my cake and eat it with ice cream too... I said to myself “WOW! I can have fun... and I can make a living... having fun”. And people liked me. In high school most people respected my ability, but they thought I sucked in general (particularly girls), cause I wasn’t a jock or something.
J.B.: Worldcon, 1994: Winnipeg. Hugo nominee Bob Eggleton decides “I’m not even bloody going.” Why not?
Eggleton: Well, okay, let me get this straight. Once and for all. As we all knew that was a strange year. It was for me... I was having gall bladder attacks (pain.Pain.PAIN!) and I had done a summer of being “GoHonered” going to all corners of American. Then, like halfway through the summer I was like “OH [blank]! I never made my plans for Winnipeg”. I had been to Keycon, a great convention in Winnipeg, and jeezus... did Canadian Customs give me the going over. All my artwork had “display” on letters and paperwork and all, but the Goods and Services Tax was just something he wouldn’t let me around. He told me “Paperwork is meaningless... you could sell it anyway, so you have to pay something.” He let $10,000 worth of art come through for $117.00 which I threw on the Now Famous Credit Card (interestingly, the same one I used to pay for the flight to the Worldcon) and Keycon paid me back, fortunately. Another time, the RCMP pulled me into a Little White Room, hot lights, etc because I matched a “profile”. They were nice about it, Canadians usually are, which is why it was always a weird experience. So, then I hear “hotels and flights are full... so is the program” and then the idea of shipping my art to Fargo N.D. to be brokered in... everything stacked against me. That’s mainly the reason - organization or, on my part, lack thereof.
J.B.: Is winning a Hugo really such a big deal? How about winning two Hugos? Three?
Eggleton: Well, yep. It’s a lot of fun. There will always be That First One... and seeing Jim Burns win it the following year, I could not have been happier for him, because he deserved it profusely. But when I flew up to Winnipeg to get it... it was hysterical. Kevin Standlee said “We’ll send it UPS”. Okay. I pictured this broken rocket arriving. I said “No, screw that, I’m coming up to get it. Now.” It was two things: I just was dying to hold it, for real, and second, I wanted to somehow THANK everyone. And, when I get there, John Mansfield shows me the award then says “We’re taking it back! And giving it to you at the Masquerade”. And there I am, with George Barr and Barry Longyear and the stage manager for the masquerade was saying “Can you kill 10 minutes!?” So we did. In L.A., I had this gut feeling... then I saw Mike Glyer grinning at me and several people who produced the newsletter who could not look straight at me. I figured I should be there. And in Texas... it was when Mitch Bentley said “WAIT! This is the Best Hair award...” I was in hysterics and had to recover time so I ran.
J.B.: Another Godzilla question: Are some people the Godzillas of the Hugo awards? Do you think that fogies who have won scads of ‘em should drop off the ballot for a few years and let the young turks have a chance? Or will the young turks get theirs anyway, once they’ve paid the dues?
Eggleton: You realize this is a tough question. And often asked... The award is an award by the fans. It is just about the only major award in the field (except for Comic’s Eisner Awards) that is still left up to a popular vote. Other awards, such as The WFC Award, are juried. No one should live for them, but they are a way of making you feel you’ve made a mark. I do not view Science Fiction as a business (more on that later!) but as a field as a whole - something you give to and get something out of. And I make a living within that context, in one way or another. I believe the “young turks” get in there - I was a young turk - because everything evolves and changes: Science fiction cons and fans are evolving and changing. Writers and artists evolve and change... and you take your glories as they come, or as they go by, but you move on. And always believe the “next one” is the best one. While I look at my Three Rockets every day, each one with their own special memory the fans helped make, I look forward to all the great pictures still to paint.
J.B.: What’s happening with ‘Zilla now? How is the forthcoming movie (“Size Does Matter”) affecting you career?
Eggleton: Okay. I have to be careful here. I am privy to things I can’t discuss. Classic Godzilla - the one we know and love since the 1954 movie - is dead. He died in 1995 battling the monster Destroyer, and his inner nuclear furnace melted down. His son, Godzilla Jr. absorbed most of the radiation... but he’s another story waiting to be told. The New Godzilla, from director Roland Emmerich and Dean Devlin (of ID4), is a different creature... He’s part lizard, part dinosaur... and can change his skin color to match his surroundings. He’s 22 stories high and is very fast on his feet. No more thunder thighs. He’s also realized via CGI and some model work. The Classic Godzilla was a “man in a suit”. This New Godzilla takes getting used to - people will say “That’s Godzilla?” But... he grows on you, like he did me. So I am doing a lot of merchandising work. The best of both worlds - classic Godzilla books, etc and New Godzilla coloring books (don’t laugh, the money is actually good).
J.B.: Fandom. Many writers and artists seem to have a love/hate relationship with the community. But everybody I know seems to think you’re just this great, bouncy, funfunfunfunfun Tigger of a guy. How do you do it?
Eggleton: Okay, hee, hee... this goes to what I said about SF not being a business as much as something I’m “in” and “part of”. Whatever I do: painting pictures or doing panels or judging masquerades... I’m part of this mind set. A whole bunch of Strangers In Stranger Lands... I am very careful not to let my life get infiltrated by negative people, or negative experiences. I walk around in a dream... but I turn it into a living. Dave Kyle came up to me at Lonestarcon II and, I’ll never forget this, he put his arm around me, shook my hand and said something like “You’re doing what it’s all about. I can say thanks from First Fandom”. It was something like that anyway... I was really misty eyed. At MagiCon, they did a slideshow at the Hugos with the Dr. Who theme and it had photos of all the program book covers, the Hugo designs and photos of the Best Novel award from 1953 onward... I knew this was really something I was part of that was pretty special and would always go on. Sometimes though, I see “politics” both on fan and pro levels. That pisses me off... for instance I had the “wonderful” experience of being lectured by a couple of people, at the last Worldcon, in regard to me being “Too young for all this success... especially a Worldcon GoH invite”. These people need major lessons in thinking of others’ feelings. Success is an abstract thing, not linear. It can take time or it comes all at once. And you have to enjoy it and thank the stars you are healthy enough to enjoy it... We’ve all been affected by death and tragedy of late, so it’s like Shakespeare said “Seize the Day... now will never come again... make now the most precious moment”. I live that. And still others (some pros) accuse me of “not having a life”. Well, if having a life is not having any FU N... I feel sorry for them. I always donate little sketches and give some of me back to the SF community because it’s fun to do. Some won’t because they’ll be “seen as giving themselves away in front of paying publishers”. I just don’t worry about it, and hope the sketch brings joy to someone. That’s money enough.
J.B.: The hair. What are you, some kinda goddam hippy or what?
Eggleton: I am actually a very conservative guy. I am a “logical contradiction in terms.” It’s very hard to figure me out. That is why, generally, I stopped. But then I read Heinlein was also a walking contradiction... and if I get compared to the Master... what the Hell? My half brother, who died at 41 (I’m 37 - like I said, Seize the Day) had hair much like mine, in fact my Aunt has a hard time seeing me because at first glance... and she knew him best I think. The hair suits my character right now. I’m related to Douglas Fairbanks Jr., too; it looks good when I swing from chandeliers. Really, I’m pretty down to Earth most of the time. No artificial flavors... or substances. No drugs, intensely opposed in fact. Science Fiction colors my dreams far more than chemicals would or could.