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Help Support Features Interviews Hugh Fleming
Hugh Fleming interview
by Paul Shipper - posted on December 26, 2002

Hugh Fleming is the Australian artist that created poster artwork for Star Wars: Splinter of the Minds Eye, Star Wars: Shadows of the Empire, Indiana Jones: Thunder in the Orient, and Indiana Jones and the Spear of Destiny. He has also painted for Star Trek, Batman, Green Arrow/Green Lantern and much more.


Hugh Fleming: Did I make it on time?
Paul Shipper: indeed you are on time.
Hugh Fleming:
whew. Thought I was gonna bugger that up.
Paul Shipper: you ready?
Hugh Fleming:
Yep! I just popped my 'Raiders' Laserdisc on to inspire me as we talk. Satipo just got speared. heh he.
Paul Shipper: cool. are you looking forward to the Indy DVDs?
Hugh Fleming:
Yeah, I'm looking forward to Indy DVDs. I am a little petrified that the new 'kinder gentler' Spielberg who gave us the 'E.T.' special edition will make a few cuts and superfluous additions. But hell yeah. Let's get formal.

Can we start with finding a bit more about your background regarding your art career that led up to doing the dark horse comic book covers - amongst other things - where did it all begin?

click to enlarge
Lost Horizon cover.

Aw jeez. This is the question I get most of the time from artists eager to get into this line of work. In essence... I went to the 'San Diego Comic Conventions' in the early nineties and began to get some work (painting cover art) with smaller publishers. Then in '93 my best friend Pete Ford and I took a proposal for a four issue Indy mini-series to 'Dark Horse'. The story was tentatively titled 'Indiana Jones and the Lost Horizon'. That's how I came to first meet editors at 'Dark Horse'.
Pete and I co-wrote the story and I created some colour art for the document to sell it. We ended up getting a gig out of it. Unfortunately, the series was canned before we could begin because sales on the Indy comics were not that good at that time.

Will we ever get to see it do you think?

Naw. I don't think I could face the prospect of drawing 96 pages of comic these days.

Can you give us an idea of the story you used to create the mini comic?

The Story was set in 1926 and featured Indy and Abner Ravenwood travelling to Tibet where they eventually recover the headpiece to the Staff of Ra from a Chines Warlord's treasure trove.

Man... I'd read that if it was on the shelves!

Yeah, we thought it was pretty fun. We couldn't believe the stuff they were going to let us get away with.

What like?

click to enlarge
Indy & Abner sketch.

Well, telling how the Headpiece was found by both Indy and Abner. The fact that we 'cast' Abner very deliberately in the likeness of actor Wilfred Brimley and LFL went for it. It also would have been fun to play with the idea of Indy as sidekick and protégé to another character.
Ha. the Laserdisc has just told me that 'Abner's Dead'.
We even intended to write in an 'explanation' of sorts why Indy's attitude to the supernatural is inconsistent between 'Raiders' and 'Temple'. You know, the 'superstitious hocus pocus' stuff when a year earlier he'd seen Mola Ram ripping some dude's heart out his chest while still alive.

I see what you mean... so can you tell us a bit about your explanation?

Well, we were gonna have it that Abner taught Indy to keep a 'sceptical' point of view when in professional company. You know, 'keep this stuff under your hat, people will think you're crazy...etc'
We also had a young Belloq in the opening teaser. It was set on a skyscraper in NYC and the treasure/macguffin was a bogus Shroud of Turin.

Shame they didn't use your ideas on the project, but you still got to be a part of the deal though... with the cover art.

Yeah, that's the best thing. While that project was in development I was approached by my editor to paint the Indy cover for 'Thunder in the Orient'.

I loved those covers. had they seen your artwork and thought... hey this guys good!

Thanks man. I look back on them and I'm thrilled they hold up. Even better than many of the later things I did.
My editor Ryder Wyndham was also the editor on 'Thunder' and he was in a pinch to get these covers finished. Dave Dorman had painted the first but as he was so in demand at the time they thought it would be better for me to take over. For the sake of expediency.

You did the 'Thunder' cover and you also did a few others... 'Spear of Destiny'?

Yep. 'Indiana Jones and the Spear of Destiny'.

One that stands out in my mind was the film poster'esque cover.

Hey, this brings to an interesting subject topic. Digital tampering with of an artist work.

Those comics were a godsend for all the indy fans out there. I did notice something. Was there a pic of an exploding car with Indy running from it? was that the part that was doctored?

click to enlarge
Original vs. edited.

Yep. Indy is supposed to be running from the exploding car but on the printed cover (without notification) Indy was removed entirely from the vignette. You might have seen the un-doctored image in 'Star Wars Galaxy' magazine.

They just decided to omit it?

Yep. I never found out why. It's not the first time they did that either.

What other occasions did it happen?

Aaaah! I was absolutely horrified when they did that. The first time was on 'Thunder in the Orient' issue 4. I think. Indy and his companions are surrounded by a bunch of mask-wearing bad guys. It was only a small omission but they digitally removed the bullwhip hanging at Indy's side because it was apparently phallic.
I was more pissed of because, as a die-hard Indy fanboy, I didn't want anyone to think I forgot that costume detail. Willies are in the eye of the beholder I guess. No accounting for art director's respective obsessions.

I understand. I mean why couldn't they mention it to you and you could perhaps do something about it?

Well, it would take 3 days Federal Express to get it back to OZ and then three days back. I guess I should be thankful that they didn't actually maul the original painting, assign another artist to repaint it, as is their contractual right to do so.

I know there has been quite a bit of tampering by the art directors to works once completed by an artist. Not just to particular parts of the image, but to the entire image, like changing the colours through out.

Oh God. It's a nightmare. The stories Struzan had to tell about that...

What do you think about the power that art directors have to the image once the art has been passed. its got your name on the final work too!... so its like its your vision...the A.D doesn't get a little credit for the world to see does he?

click to enlarge
Thunder in the Orient
issue 4's original cover.

Exactly. especially with the digital technology that is available. Not that they're always wrong. An art director may offer a personally reasonable objective analysis of an image when your objectivity has disappeared after staring at the painting for two weeks. It's just that Art Director's are typically "un" reasonable
I was a real bloody recalcitrant sumbitch in my early days at 'Dark Horse'. Used to get up in arms over the atrocious printing.
I think if you hire and artist to do a job based on his/her abilities and reputation then you put the job in their hands and should therefore accept the work they turn in. Got into a fight or two with Ryder of tampering issues and bad repro.

What was his response to that?

Ryder's response was to tear into me. Which he was actually well within his rights to do at the time. My response was, however justified, completely out of line. That's what a hot-headed passionate young pup I was about my art. So if Ryder's reading this- sorry mate. We sorted everything out a few years back anyway. We're pals.
So anyway, the printing was still a disgrace and a cover got flipped around which shouldn't have been. You know how you're work look weird in a mirror? So you're loathe for the printer.

When you got asked to do a cover for dark horse what kind of creative freedom were you given throughout the process of creating a cover?

I got heaps. Mostly because I'd demonstrated with the Indy proposal that I knew my way around the character.

That's wonderful. Were you given long to complete a cover, and what kind of reference were you supplied if any?

The only reference supplied was interior art- photocopies of the pencil art. Then I would work with Ryder to select the most dramatic scene to illustrate for the cover. Sometimes Ryder, who is quite a good artist, would supply his pictorial suggestions. Which I resisted. Heh.
I would get something like a month from receipt of assignment to complete a cover. Get the job on the first of a month for example- turn it in first of the next month.
As far as photo reference is concerned. I was totally on my own. Fortunately I already had a respectable stash of Indy paraphernalia and Harrison Ford books.

Cool! It pays to be a big fan sometimes doesn't it?

For some reason LFL were more generous when providing 'Star Wars' reference. I would get really neat packages of colour xeroxes direct from LFL. They even took requests.

LFL stock library at your disposal. Not something you have everyday is it. I wonder why they were not so helpful for the indy projects?

Well, we've seen so many rare 'SW' pics surfacing over the years to fill fan demand. I would love to see the stills the have from the Indy flicks.

Damn right!

You're probably the same as me, but when I was younger I knew every damn still there was available and the moment I saw something different, even a familiar scene but a slightly dissimilar pose, I would freak out and pounce on it. That was where I got the Indy portrait for Spear of Destiny no 1. Some miscellaneous Last Crusade still that turned up as a pull out poster in a local tv guide. Never seen it before or since.

I think that was a part of the appeal with your work. You would take something and twist it into the way you needed it. Like a scene... wonderful!

Thanks. I took great pride in creating scenes that didn't look directly pulled from well known photo ref.

I too look for that when choosing images to work from. Can be a time consuming task.

The audience's belief that this 'a whole new story' is blown away when you see the same old image obviously nicked from one of the movies.

What is on the horizon for Hugh Fleming at the moment? Any Indy work in the pipelines?

Nope. None what so ever. No artwork on the horizon either. Although I did a 'Star Trek' Triptych quite recently though which came out pretty good. they are for sale through my website Currently I am working on a couple of film projects. Not as artist but as writer/director. we'll see how that goes.

Can you tell us a bit about these?

My interests are, and have always been, in film. Safe to say the first couple of 'Star Wars' and Indy films inspired me as a teenager to want to make films. It's just taken a hell of a long time to get my act together to pursue that goal. It's been way to easy to get side-tracked by illustration when you're getting to paint 'Star Wars', Indy, etc.
I won't say too much about the projects themselves. One is a low-budget feature comedy, another is a short that I'm writing now that I'd like to shoot next year.
I'm also aiding my friend Pete Ford (the guy I did the Indy proposal with) with his film and tv projects. One of which is a sci-fi action adventure TV show. I'd be co-writing on that and maybe even doing a little acting. If he can talk the investors into keeping me.

Sounds very exciting. When can we expect to see your first project out and about? How do you intend it to be released? will it be touring the indy film circuit? Indy as in 'Independent' film!

The feature I should hope would be released theatrically but I'd settle for a straight to DVD. Yes, it will be an extremely INDYpendant operation. I have no idea how long it will take to get any of this stuff off the ground. These things typically take years to evolve. ASAP, I hope.

I wish you all the luck Hugh and I am sure you will have the support of all fans of your previous works behind you.

Oh man. The truck chase has started!!

Do you have a favourite Indiana Jones moment?

It's probably coming up right now. You know the bit where Indy gets back on the truck grabs the big Nazi and is just bashing him around the inside of the cab. hahahahaha. It's happening right now!!

Fantastic. I wish I could watch it right now too... but there's no video in this office!

Other fave Indy moments... 'Raiders': the Flying Wing fight. 'Temple': the Spike Chamber and Rock Crusher scenes. The way Spielberg constructed those action scenes. They're awesome. Very rarely do writers and directors pay that much attention to telling a story with an set piece.

The craft shown in the Indy movies is certainly amazing and somehow timeless. It still thrills me when I watch them now.

Of course. It's good storytelling. Man, I'm watching this movie in between the sentences and it just freaking rocks... Captain Katanga rocks too.

I got a couple a questions here from visitors:
"Explain a day in the studio with Hugh Fleming.", "What, if any, art school did you attend?", and "What's your personal definition of art?"

Er, well, I ain't doing any painting at the mo'. So a day in my studio is pretty lonely to the casual observer. I'm busy at the computer writing. Maybe I'll write you a 'Memoir of a Day in the Studio'.
The only art school I attended was a commercial art course for five months back in 85. That was just after leaving high school. I'm basically self taught as an Illustrator.
As for what is art... Every film, every book, every painting, every movie. They're all Art. Commercial Art is art. Though commercial art is by definition created mostly for profit. The more art is created for the purposes of pure expression and not to satisfy ones ego or bank balance- well, that's the good art.

I agree. Art in my mind is a greater communication. It makes us think and feel and can influence us all in many ways. Art is for the good of people. Animals cant appreciate it only man.

You got it. but some people say that 'Raiders' isn't art. It's "pure escapism" and serves no loftier agenda than to keep people mindlessly diverted for two hours. 'Raiders' is a spectacularly well crafted film, a brilliant entertainment and an inspiration to people to perhaps behave more heroically in the course of their lives.
I would say that 'Raiders' doesn't deal with huge existential dilemma's. Sure, it's a simple tale. But it's still damn good art.
Indy is a character who does inspire. when I was a teenager I wanted to be Indy Jones. I'm sure most of the guys reading this will identify with that sentiment

Absolutely. I even have a fedora of my own!!

Who doesn't? I'll show you mine someday.

Bullwhip? indy's was made down under.

Oh, yeah. bullwhips. I bought a bullwhip once. Used to practice in the back yard. Put a few dirty great welts on my neck with it. Have you seen those Indy whips yo can get? Like identical? 800 Aussie bucks. Was Soooooo tempted... 'Raiders' just finished.

Aawww. Do you keep a record of all the work you create?

click to enlarge
Thunder in the Orient
issue 3's original cover

Yes. Transparencies. I still own most of the originals I have a 'Raiders' poster which you would have seen in the 'Star Wars Galaxy' interview. It's full one sheet size.
George Lucas purchases original art related to 'Star Wars' and he's bought a few of my works. Which I expect are hanging up in 'Skywalker Ranch' somewhere.
A Pretty big honour!
'Skywalker Ranch' Is a total spinout if you are a 'SW' fan and an illustrator. I saw things on the walls that I'd been studying in miniature for years.
The original John Berky novel cover, Struzans 'Lucas the Creative Impulse' cover, the freaking Tommy Jung Original one sheet art. Gaaahhh. It's amazing to me to imagine my work hanging near them. So 'Indy 4' that's a "go"?

So far, yeh. I am optimistic. any thoughts on what story line you might like to see? They have said it will be set around Harrison's true age which brings them into the late 1950's early 60's?

Mmmm, He can't get away with playing younger than 55 or so. So it's gotta be set in the fifties. It can't in any way be set in the 60's for my money. I mean, the 50's was the last time fedora's were in fashion. the last time there were serials. Stylistically, it has to be the 50's to remain somewhat consistent with the spirit and tone of the other movies. A period when there were still dark, undiscovered mysterious places to jet to in the world. I mean, jeez, what would Indy do in the 60's? Go to vegas and rub shoulders with the Rat Pack?
As for an actual story... I don't much care for them revisiting other characters. As much as I'd love to see Marion or even a grown up Short Round... I dunno.
Marcus and Sallah suffered horribly in 'Last Crusade'. Became totally undignified buffoons
Look, every Indy fan loves 'Raiders'. It's the first, the best. etc. then you've got the fans who dig both sequels. Then you've got the two camps of fans split between loving or hating either 'Temple' or 'Crusade'. Despite Temple's abrasiveness, poor plot, delirious pacing and all that, it's still a balls to wall adventure movie. Technically an equal to 'Raiders'. Stylistically as tight, I think, as anything Spielberg ever shot. when I first saw 'Crusade' I felt it was terribly flat. As flawed in different ways, as 'Temple', but unfortunately kind of mechanical and weak. Anyway... I'm not going out of way to piss off 'Crusade' buffs. I'm just a 'Temple' kind of guy. We can all get along I'm sure. So long as we agree that 'Raiders' is King.

Everyone is entitled to an opinion. Fear not, we are ultimately all on the same side.

Amen. Bring on 4! You know, something else just occurred to me. It's a strange quirk of Indy fans to want Indy clothes... I'm not talking about the same urge that grips costumers for 'Star Wars' and other film franchises either, Not saying it's weird... cause I was gripped by it also. Just wandering what the deal is. You know, there's that website with links to every damn place on earth you can get exact replica Indy shit. He just looks so cool. His outfit is as rugged as his character.

I mean, I spend years obsessing over finding 'the right hat' What is up with that? I found it by the way. I've gone through about five of them.

I've had three. I think we are all of the mindset that if we wear the same/similar clothes as Indy we will have the adventures we dream about?

When I was 20 I took a design for a leather jacket to a woman that made custom bike leathers. This was in the 80's when you couldn't get ANYTHING like Indy's jacket. I got excited when I found one of those gas mask bags 2 years ago on sydney. I should be over this by now HA HA.

Maybe we are a little wierd but its just natural... or at least it feels like a natural 'want'.

So I think I've cemented my Indy nerd credentials with those revelations, eh?

One reader wondered if you had any advice for a beginning illustrator?

click to enlarge
Thunder in the Orient
issue 2's original cover.

Tough question. Illustration is a very difficult area to get into these days. In the 'olden days' they'd use Illustrators for everything. Any advertisement was painted. Now it's all 'Photoshop'. Illustration is I hope heading for a renaissance. But budding Illustrators need to cast their net's wider. Wider into areas other than poster and comic illustration, maybe.
I recently used the example of Jamie Hewlett. He's the co-creator and artist of 'Tank Girl'. Wicked comic. Shit house movie. Anyway, Hewlett is friends with Damon Albarn and through this association he came to be the designer of 'Gorillaz'. I would say, without a doubt, that his "brilliant" design sense is being appreciated by more people now though 'Gorillaz' than from his exposure with the relatively underground phenomenon of 'Tank Girl'.

The possibilities are endless. It's just a matter of what opportunities you make for yourself that enables more work to come in.

So, yeah. get into animation. flash or whatever. Hang with musicians and draw their gig posters or CD covers. Go where the cool is at. Because old skool Illustrators like Struzan are not adaptable to where media is taking illustration. I think anyway.

Keep in with technology too. Computer illustration is in prime-time at the moment.

Drew's work is thoroughly classical. But, you know, times are changing.

PI believe we haven't seen the last of traditional work, so keep your hand in. Do what makes you feel good. That has always been my aim.

Absolutely. Follow your Bliss.

I try to recreate feelings that I had when seeing art I love, music I love... an urge to make others feel the way I felt

If you work hard and are the at the top of your field there will always be a market for you. Do or do not. there is no spoon. Yadda yadda yadda. All good advice

Many thanks for all your time Hugh. As always it has been a pleasure chatting to you.


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