The Art of
The Veil Saga
By Steven A. Guglich
I can remember countless illustrations of scenes from fantasy and science fiction that I have seen over the years. Frazetta’s iconic Conan the Destroyer where the barbarian is holding his ax as he stands on a pile of fallen enemies. The Hildebrandt’s visual depiction of Tolkien’s Middle Earth and Struzan’s breathtaking artwork from some of my favorite movies all helped to inspire my love of fantasy and science fiction. I’d often sit and wonder what it would be like to be in the worlds these illustrations brought to life. The works of Frank Frazetta, Greg and Tim Hildebrandt, Ralph Bakshi, Drew Struzan, Wayne Douglas Barlowe, Dougal Dixon and a plethora of other remarkable artists have intrigued and left me spellbound over the years. Some of my fondest gifts from my father were illustrated works of fantasy and science fiction. I could sit for hours and and be immersed in The Brother’s Hildebrandt: Tolkien Years, or Wayne Douglas Barlowe’s Guide to Extra-Terrestrials. And I still remember the 1980 Frazetta calendar that my Dad had hanging in his workshop. My love of these illustrations as a child lead to my love of reading fantasy and science fiction.
When I was a freshman in high school, I remember walking through the school library and seeing the fantasy and science fiction section, and one book stood out. It was Piers Anthony’s A Spell for Chameleon. On the cover was this beautifully illustrated scene of a young man talking to a strange beast that I had never seen before. My curiosity was peaked, and I just had to find out what that scene was all about. That was the first fantasy novel I had ever read… and I was hooked.
When I set out on my journey as a world builder, creating the world of The Veil Saga, I knew I needed to find an artist who could create illustrations that caught the attention of people, just as Michael Whelan’s illustration on the cover of A Spell for Chameleon did for me. I wanted someone who could brilliantly depict the characters, the settings, and the creatures. I wanted more than just someone who could draw what I asked him to, but someone I could partner with to bring the world of The Veil Saga to life.
On my journey, I encountered several talented artists, but none that really “felt right.” After much prayer and consideration, I was led to a gifted artist named Erwin J. Arroza. His artwork stood out to me unlike any other. As I looked through his portfolio I was in awe of the beauty, richness, and color that his illustrations captured. There was a quality about them that despite the darkness of some of the fantasy scenes, there was a light that shined through. It was the perfect contrast to compliment one of the themes of The Veil Saga; no matter how dark or terrible things can be, there is always light to be found in the darkness. This was exactly the person I was looking for. And I am proud to introduce him as the illustrator of The Veil Saga.
Erwin was born and raised in the Philippines. His love of art came at an early age, sitting and watching his father draw sketches of Spider-Man and Aquaman. When his dad was done with the sketch, Erwin found himself trying his best to copy his father’s drawings.
“I think that has been my ultimate motivation,” Erwin said, “to be like my father.”
However, there were many other influences that inspired Erwin to become an illustrator. He grew up in the 1980s, before cell phones and home computers. To my surprise, the 80s in the Philippines was a lot like it was in the United States.
“I am an 80’s guy,” Erwin said. “Fantasy movies then were the best. Beast Master, the Conan movies, Dragon Slayer, Highlander, and a lot, lot more… those were the days. But I remember what really got me into it was when I saw an old movie when I was a young kid… Jason and the Argonauts. It was shown at an old theater and my father and I watched it. I was totally blown away with it.”
But movies were not the only thing that caught Erwin’s attention as child. Filipinos have a rich history and love for comics. The 80s saw a surge in the comic book industry, and the Philippines had its own share of famous comic book artists.
“The great Nestor Redondo, Francisco Coching, Rico Rival, Alfredo Alcala, Karl Commendador, to name a few.” These Filipino artists really inspired Erwin to pursue his love for illustrating. He also has a few favorite international artists that inspire him. “Alex Ross, Richard Piers Rayner, Jae Lee, Leinil Yu, Adam Hughes, Sergio Toppi, Drew Struzan, and Norman Rockwell. I could go on.”
Norman Rockwell? I was surprised to hear that one of America’s most famous artist known for capturing the iconic scenes of the mid 1900’s America was a favorite of someone on the other side of the world. “You like Norman Rockwell?” I just had to ask.
“Yeah, who doesn’t?” Erwin replied, smiling.
As Erwin grew older, he discovered his love for a well told story in some of the classics most fantasy fans love.
“I’ve always been a huge C.S. Lewis and Tolkien fan. Who isn’t?” Erwin said. “I love a good story. Reading them… watching them on the big screen… those are two things I love. But being able to be part of putting it on paper in a series of images fascinates me. I love being able to help flesh out a good story.”
Unlike most people, Erwin found his talent young in life, and it has served him well.
“I remember always getting in trouble with my teachers for having my notebooks riddled with doodles and sketches.” Erwin recalled. “I have a very short attention span and drawing keeps me grounded and focused.”
As Erwin began to immerse himself more and more into his drawings, he joined competitions and even won a few university scholarships for his illustrations in the school newspaper. After university, Erwin earned a living furthering his career as an illustrator, learning graphic design and animation and eventually opened his own design studio. Although the work was steady and financially rewarding, Erwin felt something was missing. Corporate logos and posters weren’t where his heart was. After three years in the corporate design world, Erwin dissolved the company and began working from his home as an illustrator.
“Being able to go back to my roots at this part of my life is something I consider a great blessing. It has been a little over a year since I decided to do this full time and never an ounce of regret. My dedication to my faith, my family, and lastly to what I do best, which is illustrating, was renewed with that decision. I am so thankful and blessed.”
The Veil Saga is not the only project Erwin is currently working on.
“I have finished a great graphic novel by J. Miles Dunn called Grinidon.” Erwin said with much enthusiasm. “Book 1 has been printed and I’m currently working on Book 2. I also did a few pages for Brian E. Lau’s Sci-fi, Staunch Ambition.”
When I looked at Erwin’s portfolio I caught a glimpse of some of the artwork he did for Grinidon, and I was very impressed. I was curious to know more so I contacted the author, J. Miles Dunn. He had a similar experience when he first saw the work of Erwin J. Arroza.
Dunn had come to a fork in the road halfway through production on Volume 1 of Grinidon. After a successful Kickstarter campaign, he and his artistic team decided to part ways.
“I suddenly found myself in a position where I really wasn’t sure what to do. After some thought, I decided to place a few very informal ads online, and to my surprise, received interest from some immensely talented artists. One person in particular stood out to me because she could very closely match the art-style of my previous illustrator, which was invaluable because we were already seventy-pages into the book – roughly at the halfway point.” Dunn said.
He was about to offer that artist the position, when he received Erwin’s submission.
“I was absolutely blown away.” Dunn said. “Not only did he have a style that better matched the feel of the story, but he loved fantasy and had experience working in that genre. He sent me some additional artwork upon request, and after we chatted awhile, I simply could not have been more impressed by him.”
Dunn was faced with a big decision. He felt that both artists were tremendously talented and he liked each on a personal level. But there was something about Erwin’s style that he could not shake. The biggest problem he faced was that Erwin’s style was vastly different from the pages of Grinidon that had already been finished.
“I knew if Erwin came onto the team, we would have to start the book completely over and that was a huge financial risk. I would also need to refund the Kickstarter money I had already received because I wouldn’t feel right delivering a book so vastly different from what had been promised to our contributors.”
Dunn presented the prospect of starting over to Erwin.
“After speaking with Erwin about this, I decided to refund the project money and we began the book over from scratch – a decision I will always be grateful for.”
Dunn and I both discovered that Erwin was an answer to prayer. For me, it is humbling to be able to work with someone of such talent and integrity as Erwin J. Arroza. So, it is without further explanation that I present Erwin’s first piece for The Veil Saga…
Erwin currently lives in the Philippines outside the city of Manila with his wife, Dei and their son River as well as several pets: a Great Dane, two mini-pinschers and several budgies. In addition to his love of his family, animals, and illustrating, Erwin’s first love is God. He and his family are devout Christians who regularly attend Victory Christian Fellowship Church.