Exclusive email interview with Derek Riggs
By Mikhail Madnani
September 22nd 2010, Mumbai, India
Mikhail: Can you tell us a little about the book (horror) that you're writing?
Derek: Not much, it's a secret. But it's got villagers who get killed, fungus monkeys that aren't nice, a priest who saves the day and lots of other nasty things.
Mikhail: I have heard that you are quite the master chef. What kinds of cuisine do you like cooking?
Derek: Well I just kind of make stuff up. I have lots of basic principles and I just wing it. Usually it ends up being a bit Cajun. (That's southern America, around New Orleans for those unfamiliar with this term) because that's what I like. But it's usually a vegetarian version because I can't eat a lot of meat, I have become allergic to the preservatives that they put in the animal feed, it gets into the meat and stays there. Then it gets into me...not good
Mikhail: Out of all the bands that you have done artwork for, which has been your favourite to work with?
Derek: I liked working with Ethan Brosh and Chris Catena and the Conspiracy Chronicals. The rest were OK apart from one or two, but these guys were more fun.
Mikhail: And least favourite so far?
Derek: Wouldn't like to say... well I would but I will refrain.
Mikhail: What kind of music are you into? (I know you hate heavy music).
Derek: I do not hate heavy music. I used to listen to heavy music when I was much younger, and I still do sometimes. My taste just grew to encompass other things as well. People keep saying things like that "I know for a fact that you hate this and hate that." but it's rubbish. I don't hate anything, that's all misquotes by other people. I like bits of different things. I like some heavy music, but not all of it. I like some Jazz, but not all Jazz, I like some classical music but I am a long way from liking all classical music. I listen to all kinds of things. If I don't like some things it doesn't mean that I hate it, I just don't have any interest in it that's all. So I mostly ignore it.
I think if someone goes through life "loving" some things and "hating" everything else they probably should go and get some therapy because they are a bit sick in the head.
What a horrible way to live that would be, constantly swinging from one extreme to the other in some kind of mad emotional frenzy.
To give you a clue, I just bought some CD's on Amazon, This is what I bought. I had some by Kylie Minogue (Disco) some Groundhogs (heavy bluesy rock) and Bob Marley (Reggae)
And I like all of them because they all have something interesting for me to listen to. Before that I bought a bunch of CD's with instrumental Jazz on them. Before that I bought some weird electronic stuff with not tunes in it.
Mikhail: How have you been health wise? I know you have had trouble with your back.
Derek: Yeah I recently blew out a disk in my spine and I had to lie down for about three months, it's not better yet but it's getting there.
Mikhail: You shifted to California for some sunshine as opposed to the weather in England. Do you miss England at all?
Mikhail: What authors do you like reading?
Derek: Well I read all kinds of odd stuff, some horror, some sci-fi and stuff about conspiracies and UFOs and the like. I read anything that might have good ideas in it or looks like fun. Right now I have "the saga of seven suns" by Kevin J Anderson and the necroscope series by Brian Lumly and I have just started "Chindi" by Jack McDevitt.
Mikhail: Your last few pieces of art for iron maiden have all been digital. Would you consider getting back to painting for them?
Derek: Well I might do one or two but for the most part I can't do the painting thing anymore, the chemicals in the paints ended up making me ill so I had to give it up. If I hadn't just discovered digital art I would have just stopped doing it all together.
Mikhail: Do you get royalties for any Iron Maiden merchandise including CDs that have your artwork?
Derek: No, none at all. I sold the remaining rights many years ago.
Mikhail: Do you have any iron maiden related paintings with you? (Most of them are with Steve and some stolen or "lost" at the printers from what I've heard)
Derek: I do not have any at all, not even any sketches. And NO, I don't have any buried away in a cupboard anywhere. I have moved house about five times since I gave up doing the Maiden covers. Three of those times I threw everything away and just walked away with a bag of clothes - like when I moved to the USA, I arrived in the USA with just one bag of hand luggage and the Hard Drives of my artwork that I had already posted to a friend's house in the USA ahead of me.
Mikhail: Why did you decide to have your signature (The D and R back to back) hidden / hard to find in most paintings of yours? Were you going for a Where's Waldo kind of thing?
Derek: I used to paint book covers and my signature was a bit big and it was a bit distracting on the cover so they agents that I used at that time asked me if I could make it smaller so it didn't show up so much, so I made the first version (the one on the early albums) and to make sure that it got onto the cover and didn't get cropped off at the printers I hid it in the picture instead of putting it at the edge where it shows up more and is likely to be cropped.
Most of these little things that people think are deliberate attempts to do this or that thing is actually me being pragmatic and finding solutions to the strange habits of art editors and requests of clients.
Mikhail: You still are considered THE artist for metal and are responsible for creating one of the most iconic characters in heavy metal. Would you still consider doing album covers for other bands of the same genre?
Derek: Yes, if someone asked me, and they had something I could work with and were willing to listen to what I had to say and pay me for doing it. But people don't ask, they don't listen and they don't want to pay me very much, or they think I am a free ideas factory. Frankly with the attitudes I have come across these days I just can't be bothered. I will have to find another way of selling my artwork. The metal covers are not doing it any more.
Mikhail: I've read in your book that many of the paintings that you did for iron maiden, never came out well on the CD/LP cover because the printers couldn't photograph them correctly. Do you think this affected the overall effect you were going for with the art?
Derek: Yes, definitely. When you shift the colour balance of an artwork it always changes it completely. It can completely destroy the impact of an artwork. Luckily with digital artwork it is not so much of a problem these days. You would not believe some of the things that were being published because the people in the record companies didn't think it was important or just didn't care.
Try it yourself, get some picture editing software, get a painting and try shifting the colours about a bit and you will see that even a small shift makes a huge difference to a picture.
Mikhail: If an unknown band that was just starting out and had just gotten a record deal wanted you to do some work for them, how much would you typically charge for an album cover?
Derek: I will work for anyone who will pay me, I am a professional illustrator, and it's what I do for a living. It takes me three to four weeks to do a picture these days and I charge between two thousand to six thousand US dollars, sometimes I can do one for less, depending on what it is. I am not going to do one for five hundred dollars, would you do three weeks work for five hundred dollars? That won't even cover the mortgage and pay for the electricity bill.
Part of the trouble with young bands, and the reason that they mostly fail, is that they have no idea about doing business. They think it's all for free and they get rich, but in business you have to pay for what you get.
Mikhail: One of the things everyone loved about Eddie was that there was a continuous change taking place and he had remnants from past forms. The Seventh son Eddie had the lobotomy scar, the artificial robotic eye. What were you going for with the No prayer for the dying artwork. Did iron maiden decide to not continue said saga if you may?
Derek: Yes, one day they came up with the "great idea" of going back to the beginning again. Which just kind of ballsed everything up nicely and I lost interest
Mikhail: How would you say your drawing/painting style has changed since the late 70s?
Derek: Actually I think it changes from album to album, not always for the better. I never really managed to create a fixed style of painting. It seems to change from full on horror to an almost comic style. I am not really in control of when it does it either. It just seems to change all on its own. Maybe I have a split personality and only one of us can paint...
Mikhail: What software do you use to do your art today?
Artmatic and artmatic voyager
And just about anything else I can find that will do something interesting.
Mikhail: I know Hawkwind has been a favourite of yours. Have you seen them perform live?
Derek: Twice, the first time they were Awesome, the second time good but not great. Almost saw them at Stonehenge in the late 1970's but I missed them by a couple of days (I was on a walking holiday at the time and I got to Salisbury just too late)
That's an interesting question isn't it?
In an earlier question you said that you "know" I Hate heavy music, yet in this question you say that you "know" I like Hawkwind (one of the first and original heavy bands)
Just think what you'll "know" tomorrow
That line is a quote from the movie "men in black"
Mikhail: You are an inspiration for tons of artists today. Which artists inspired and still inspire you?
Derek: I like all kinds of things, I like (not in any order) John Martin, Jack Kirby, Salvadore Dali, Max Earnst, Roger Dean, Pactrick Woodroffe, Bruce Pennington but these people have not really influenced what I paint or the way I paint it, they are just artists whose work I like. I have always just plodded on in my own direction, not always successfully. Sometimes I made money and sometimes I didn't.
(All together now)
I did it my way....
Mikhail: Do you have a pyramid fetish? Pyramids have appeared in countless art pieces by you.
Derek: No, not at all. After Powerslave people just keep asking me to paint pyramids for them. Also I work in fantasy and it can look cool to have bits of ruined civilizations in some picture, and pyramids are good "shorthand" for a bit of mystery. Its other people who have the fetishes, I am too lazy for fetishes. They take up too much effort.
Mikhail: What are your favourite TV shows (Sci fi) ?
Derek: Babylon 5, Stargate, Farscape, Warehouse 13, I also watch a lot of documentaries. You can get some good ideas from documentaries.
Mikhail: How much did the Hanna Barbera cartoons like bugs bunny, yogi bear, etc inspire you?
Derek: I love bugs bunny and that funny little guy with the ray gun and the big hat, I like Betty Boop, and I like the early black and white cartoons. And anything that's a bit crazy and funny
Eddie is funny, some people don't get it, or maybe don't want to get it, but Eddie is really funny, he's not all that serious. There's a lot of really silly shit in there as well as the horror. Unless, that is, someone else paints the ideas that Maiden come out with, then it all gets really up itself at a frightening speed.
Get a pic of Eddie smiling; you can overlay a pic of Mickey Mouse smiling right on top of it. Eddie is modelled after Mickey Mouse; he's the Mickey Mouse of rock and roll.
Interestingly Disney now own rock and roll...
What goes around comes around I guess...
Mikhail: Rapid fire time: pick one. Star Trek or Star Wars?
Derek: Naaa, all too soft. Star wars I guess...
Mikhail: Painting or drawing?
Derek: Painting, I can't get enough stuff into just a drawing
Mikhail: Hawkwind or Pink Floyd?
Derek: Hawkwind Definitely. All huge metal rhythms, lyrics about possible futures. Floyd whinge and complain about their childhood too much, music for unhappy school children.
Mikhail: Battlestar galactica or Farscape?
Derek: Farscape is cool, Glactica is shit. I liked the Cylons when they were mean motherfuckin' death machines. Not now they have "evolved" into a bunch of pouty tarts in tights with a sulky attitude. The camera work sucks too. Also it's too slow, it takes them five episodes just to have a conversation.
Mikhail: Family guy or The Simpsons?
Derek: Both shit
Mikhail: Where and how can people order your book?
Derek: The only place outside the USA is from my website http://www.derekriggs.com
Inside the USA they can find it on Amazon.com as well.
Check out the Derek Riggs online portfolio.