Artist, Eric Orchard may best be known for his work on children’s books such as The Terrible, Horrible Smelly Pirate and A Forest for Christmas, but his latest project is much more adult. No, he does not break form and tell a story of sex and scandal, but instead on that other adult topic, office politics. He is providing illustrations for a new web comic based on Jeff VanderMeer’s Novella The Situation which tells of a refugee turned bio-engineer and the problems that start with the fish head project, then lead him to a darker place, the HR department.
“It’s basically a science fiction story about office life, but really scary, paranoid, deadly office life,” Orchard explains. “It all takes place in a sort of post apocalyptic devastation. The only safe place to be is working for the company, which isn’t safe at all.”
Orchard’s art brings the strange world of The Situation to life, picking out the strange details in one panel and treating them as commonplace in the next. Pen and ink style shading brings the shadows to life, and not just the darkness that is the result of the lighting. There is a darkness of spirit to the story, not a meanness so much as a feeling the boss is watching over your shoulder that comes through in the art.
The darker images of The Situation have given Orchard a chance to let himself go a bit more. “After so many cute animals, leering skulls were a huge relief!” he said. He went on to explain that he worked hard to stay true to the imagery of VanderMeer’s story. “The novella is so rich with ideas and imagery that would just never occur to me that it opened up whole new worlds for me,” Orchard said.
Orchard has also been working with other cartoonists to create a publishing imprint, Springwinder, that will showcase fantasy and sci-fi digital comics. With Springwinder he hopes to bring independent comics to both computers and smart devices in the near future.
Orchard’s art at times almost has the feel of something from the last century, something reminiscent of etchings more then digitally augmented art. “I always start traditionally, either with pencils or a pen and ink drawing, and then I scan it in and transform it in Photoshop,” Orchard said. “I love to draw on paper and I love the freedom and possibilities of working digitally, so it’s perfect for me.”
It is probably no coincidence that his art has an old world feel to it. While he has a broad range of influences he is particularly drawn to the genre artists. “I’m such a huge consumer of comics and illustrated books, and I have been all my life, that narrowing it down is really, really hard. I’ve always been most drawn to genre artists. My favorite artist has long been the Victorian king of the illustrated book, Arthur Rackham,” Orchard said.
Another source for inspiration for Orchard are role-playing games. It is the place where he learned to build worlds and create characters. “I love the 1st or 2nd edition D&D dungeon crawl kind of thing. I’m also a big fan of TSR’s Traveler. I grew up playing D&D, Shadowrun, Cyberpunk and a bunch of different Palladium games. Which all totally dates me.”
The Situation is available from Tor.com.