Sunday 23 November 2008

Interview: Tony Masero

The second interview to appear here is not with an author but an artist. For those who may not be as familiar with his name as western readers in the UK, Tony Masero's work appeared on two of the longest running western series produced in the UK. His work fronted many other books too. Tony has also been kind enough to share with us a new painting of a well known western character he did for his own amusement, you'll find this at the end of the interview.

Let me begin by thanking you for agreeing to this interview Tony, and providing some scans of the original artwork to help illustrate it.

My pleasure.

How old were you when you fist decided you wanted to make painting your career?

Well, I was born the son of an artist. My father, Gino Masero was a woodcarver and he put a pencil in my hand at a very early age so I guess it was somewhat pre-determined from those childhood days.

Was painting book covers an area you wanted to break into and how did you end up working for NEL (New English Library)?

It’s a strange story really. In 1960 I started at Hornsey College of Art in London after leaving school and studied Graphic Design there. Always being better at drawing than design, about half way through I decided I preferred Illustration to Graphics and asked the headmaster if I could change my course. With all the wonderfully encouraging and farsighted attitude that one could expect from the teaching profession in the sixties I was told I’d never make an illustrator. Not a chance, old boy. Guess I spent the next few years trying to prove him wrong.

I was pretty determined and eventually after some years working as a designer I packed it in and prepared some sample illustrations and hawked them around. It took a long time but eventually cracked it with NEL who were producing a great deal of pulp fiction at the time. It was a wonderful launching pad for an illustrator as one had to turn your hand to many different subjects and styles. A good training ground.

Do you find a particular medium reproduces better than another when going through the printing process, for instance acrylics rather than oils?

In commercial illustration, in the days before computer technology took over, it was quite often a matter of speed. Either to meet tight deadlines or, more basically, to earn more money. I started off by using mainly gouache for very tight, bright artwork. Later I moved to acrylics mainly for their quick drying capacity and finally oils which I found worked particularly well for skin tones. In the end it was often a mix of all three. Gouache dries rapidly but smudges if you’re not careful. Acrylic dries quickly and is a hard wearing medium. Oils take a long time to dry unless you mix a drying medium with them but this can alter the texture of the paint.

Did you begin to use an airbrush on the backgrounds of your later western covers?

Yes, once again speed played a part. The airbrush coats an area with a perfect graduation and it thankfully took over from the days when I used a lino cutting ink roller and two shades of colour to achieve a graduated sky as I did in many of the ‘Black Slaver’ series.

How big is the original artwork for a paperback novel?

It varies. As long as the artwork is in correct proportion to the jacket size it doesn’t matter. Obviously the bigger the artwork is, on reduction, the better it looks. The early Edge and Steele were about 15” x 10” but later some were produced at 30” x 20” size.

Did you have an interest in westerns before you started painting western covers or was it a case of, ‘I’ll painted anything as I need the money’?

Oh, big fan of western movies from early days. Still am.

The main western covers you are known for are those for George G. Gilman’s books. You took over as the artist for these series after they’d been running for a while so I guess you had to keep the look of Edge and Steele as created by the previous artists?

That’s certainly the case with the Edge series. With Steele I was allowed a freer hand. How the Eastwood look came about is quite funny really. I had done some samples for another Western series called ‘Herne the Hunter’ and my artwork ideas were rejected by the publisher. When the series eventually came out I saw that the chosen illustrator had used Clint as his basis for the character - so I thought, well, if he can get away with it why not me! And that’s how Steele got his look, only changing when Terry decided to give him a beard. Which, by the way, was a swipe from Sean Connery in ‘Robin and Marion’.

How did you decide on the content of the covers? Were you sent a synopsis of the story or discuss your ideas for the covers with Terry Harknett (George G. Gilman)?

Usually I received a brief synopsis and based the artwork around that although on some particular occasions I did discuss with Terry. For instance when he produced the Civil War trilogy and the beard thing. Terry was always very flexible and could integrate my visual ideas into his novels without a problem, working with him always went very smoothly.

Did painting western covers involve a lot of research to get details correct, such as clothing and weapons?

Every Illustrator had a huge library of reference and I was no exception. In those days you could buy model weapons quite easily - then villains started adapting them as usable firearms or as fakes in robberies so they no longer became available. Movie stills were a great resource and I also used a lot of self produced photographic reference. Polaroids mainly and some on 35 mm film. Nowadays its all far simpler with digital.

Keeping on the theme of guns, I believe you were the only the second artist to paint Adam Steele with a Colt Hartford, most others – including the American artist – had him wrongly using a Winchester.

This was Terry’s influence. He supplied the correct reference right at the beginning so it went from there.

Did you use real models to pose for the covers or were they all created on paper? The reason I ask is I seem to remember reading that some of your Edge covers were based on a popular English footballer of that time, George Best, and no-one can deny Steele’s resemblance to Clint Eastwood.

Real models were an expensive proposition in those days and I only used them if the commissioning company was prepared to pay, which was rarely. I inherited the Edge look from the original series illustrator, the late Dick Clifton Dey. He and Cecil Smith, the art director worked out the look together so I believe. George Best was a popular player at the time and with Dick’s own rather samed look they combined the two. When I took over I was younger, fitter and thinner in those days, so able to pose myself. Although finding so many ways to have a solo figure holding a gun on a cover was no mean feat.

Another thing I’ve noticed is that you very rarely showed the main character on a horse. Was this because it was difficult to include a horse in a vertical composition or was it simply because you didn’t like painting horses?

Mainly its the difficulty of fitting both man and beast into the format. A horse takes up a lot of room and the scale of the figures suffered as result. Witness ‘Edge meets Steele. No. 3”. I often had to resort to just a saddle or some part of the creature.

How come Edge was never shown wearing a Stetson?

He looked cooler without one. He is represented as ‘A Man Alone’ and I think hatless he somehow fitted that bill better.

There’s always been comments made about the height of Steele on the first Edge meets Adam Steele cover, I guess this is artistic licence in aid of composition?

Yep, that’ll work.

Was it your decision to use a more or less white background on early books in both series or was this something the publisher wanted? With the chance of title logo came more detailed backgrounds.

Edge was really the first Western series to use this format and, as far as I know, it was Cecil Smith, the Art Director at NEL, who designed the look. After that the formula was often copied by other publishers and I had many requests for western covers that looked ‘the same as Edge but different’.

The covers showing Edge coming through wanted posters, flags, and maps, and those with a shield or star behind him were effective. Did you have the freedom to take the covers in any direction you wanted?

Yes, once established as the main illustrator and as long as the book sales kept going up they were happy to leave me to my own devices.

You painted many superb covers for both the Edge and Steele series but do you have any personal favourites? I, and many other fans of the Gilman books, have always highly rated Steele #20: Wanted for Murder, and I really liked the portrait of Edge on #44: The Blind Side.

I enjoyed both of those covers. The Blind Side was a nice chance just to concentrate on a portrait style image and I was happy with the way Steele 20 came out too. The original reference for the background stimulated the idea of the muted tones. It was an old sepia tone photograph of a Victorian dock scene that I found in (would you believe it?) a recipe book for antique dishes.

If I have any one favourite its for a professional reason. It’s No. 30 ‘Waiting for a Train’ - mainly because I know the amount of work that went into getting the lighting just so.

The final Gilman book, Edge #61: The Rifle bares a strong resemblance to Dick Clifton-Dey’s original cover for the very first Edge book, I always thought this was a great idea, were you asked to do this or was it your decision?

This was my idea. I had always held a great respect for Dick Clifton Dey’s illustration work and that cover was a kind of tip of the hat to his passing. He did many covers outside the Western genre and in all of them he demonstrated an outstanding talent. We never actually met face to face but spoke often on the phone at the end of the era, when old style book illustration was being marginalised and superceded by inhouse computer use of photography and type.

Moving onto George G. Gilman’s third series, The Undertaker, did you come up with the idea of the photo background, the coffin illustration, combined with your painting or were you just asked to paint Barnaby Gold and the cover was then created by NEL?

The latter was the case. Not my favourite resolution either. It was a thing the design department at NEL were going through at the time and they had me doing the same idea on various other subjects as well such as romance and drama.

Did you become a fan of Edge and Steele or did you just stick to painting the covers rather than reading the books?

Well, I never got the chance as I only saw the synopsis.

Do you still have the original paintings?

Except for maybe a few I think do. Keep thinking about arranging an exhibition of them.

You also painted the covers for John Delaney’s James Gunn series. It’s often commented on how much Gunn looks like a blond Edge, was this done as a marketing ploy?

No, this series was before Edge in my very early days at NEL. To be honest I can’t really recall how his look came about although I did know a guy some years before who looked a lot like Gunn, so maybe that was the subliminal influence.

I have a Star version of one of Pinnacle’s western series, Six-Gun Samurai by Patrick Lee, it’s for the fourth book Kamikaze Justice that looks to be your work. Is it, and if so how many covers did you paint for this series as the other Star books I have from this series use the American cover art?

There was only the one unfortunately - Being an old martial arts man I quite wanted to do that series - I don’t think they took off in the UK though and if memory serves they only published the one book.

I also have Jay Charles’ Tupelo Gold that features your cover art, are there any other westerns that fans of your work in this genre should be on the look out for?

I did a few for various serials in Woman magazine that had a Western background - but I doubt if your readers will generally be interested in those. ‘Track’ was a short lived series for Star Books. Other than that mainly one-offs. I did do quite a few for W H Allen alongside their Target range of Dr. Who books which eventually led on to Dr. Who covers for Virgin Books.

And finally, are you still painting today and if so is it for business or pleasure…perhaps both?

Yes, still at it. And doing both. An interesting sideline is that through your website, Steve, I contacted Black Horse Western and sent them some samples and they are now keen to use me for some covers. So, thanks to you, it looks like I might be back in the saddle again. And thanks also to all the people out there who have been kind enough to make such favourable comments about my work over the years. Bless you all.


Ray said...

Brilliant interview - and, like loads of others Steele 20 is my favourite cover.
And it's good to know that he's going to do covers for BHW - I wonder if I can put a request in once the new book is finished.

Steve M said...

No harm in asking Ray. Glad you liked it.

Tony left a comment on my review of Steele 20, which led the way to this interview.

Anonymous said...

Great interview, Steve. I hope to see his work on BHWs soon. (And I'd love to see it on one of my efforts!)

Matt M.

AndyDecker said...

Great interview, Steve!

Mister Roy said...

Fantastic interview and simply unbelievable to see a new Edge picture by TM.

madshadows said...

Fascinating and interesting interview, thanks to you and Tony, love the new EDGE painting, Tony still has it :)

Hope he gets plenty of work from BHW.

I have quite a few of TM's other series covers, Track etc.

Nice one Steve, You should ask Terry H for an interview.

All the best John :)

Unknown said...

Excellent interview. Even better . . . excellent news re BHWs!


Anonymous said...

Steve, great idea to interview an artist. Can't wait to see who you pick next. Nice work!


Anonymous said...

Steve, That was a fun read, great to see and hear Tony is still going strong.I am always greatful to Tony cos I wrote to him years ago,and he was kind enough to send me some of his early Steele and Edge covers and always took time to answer my questions. Thanks again Tony,and well done Steve.

Steve M said...

Really glad everyone found this to be an entertaining read.


Gary Dobbs/Jack Martin said...

An excellent interview and what timing - I was trying to discover who did the edge artwork and then you posted this. A great interview. Thank you very much for this.

benbridges said...

Superb interview - absolutely fascinating. I remember meeting Tony one time in the New English Library art department, where he told me that he was rapidly running out of new poses for Edge to assume. Being young and sassy at the time, I suggested having him flat on his belly, rifle in hand, looking up as an arrow hits the ground beside him. A few months later I received a copy of the cover for EDGE 33: THE HATED, with the inscription "Dave - A promise kept! - Tony" Great days!

Steve M said...

Wonderful memory David and it must have been a terrific feeling to realise one of your ideas was used.

John Walde said...

Dear Tony

I am currently working on a dictionary on the artists who lived in Hampstead, North London and I believe that your father lived there. Could you please confirm this.

If so, I would like as much biographical information as possible including the exact address in Hampstead and how long he lived there.

I will explain more in an email, when I hear from you.

Greetings from Down Under


Anonymous said...

Aloha from Hawaii:

Years ago I bought a wood craving by
Tony's dad Gino. It is of the Buddist "Three Sleepers". I may be interested in selling it. My email is I also can down load the carving.

Jo Walpole said...

I was checking out Tony Masero as I have a fresh interest in his work and was very glad to find this. As always, Steve, your blog is the place to be. :) Thanks.