The Many Sides Of Daniel Davis
By John Guzzon
Modern Times Magazine
Sept. 22, 2011 — When I first met Daniel Davis earlier this year at Phoenix Comicon, he was disguised as one of his alter-egos — probably the fifth most famous monsterologist in your county — Duke Davis.
Duke is a larger than life, obsessed “scientist” that is seeking to tell the world that monsters are REAL!
As per Duke’s bio, “he’s traveled the known world seeking out beasts of all sorts, and putting them down for love of the world’s children. (But mostly it was for the monster gold.)”
The act is a thoroughly engaging and lively one that must be seen to be appreciated. Davis, as Duke, is very animated, costumed magnificently. When combined with the artistically created images and the slide-show that meters the whole event, it is entertainment at its best.
But Duke is merely the ‘celebrity spokesman’ and entertainment outlet.
As Davis and I spent a few minutes at the Con, then managed to work to find some time to sit down for an hour or so over a cup of coffee, Davis emerged as a mastermind of sorts. A talented and ‘driven by fun’ creator of cool things. His company, Steam Crow, and the arts group he founded and has nurtured, Tiny Army, are achievements on their own, but he has managed to accomplish both in just a few years.
One might assume that Davis must be a workaholic who locks himself in dark rooms and creates day and night. But he is also a family man, with a wife, Dawna who might just be as talented as her emerging husband.
For all of these reasons and many more, we were very happy that Daniel Davis found some time in his busy schedule to let us repeat the story of how he worked to perfect his skills as an artist, then businessman, and now as Dr. Duke Davis. The contents of that interview have been barely edited and presented below in a way that we humbly hope presents some of the many sides of Daniel Davis.
The Many Sides of Daniel Davis
On Growing Up A Monster Lover
I grew up in the 1970s and I liked to draw. I was an only child growing up and and my Mom worked a couple of jobs so I had to keep myself busy. There wasn’t much on TV back in the day. It wasn’t like you could just zone out on the TV back then. I loved to draw monsters and stuff and my Mom wanted me to draw animals and stuff from nature but I wasn’t really into that. Then I saw Creature Feature — a campy show that was on Saturday mornings where they would show monster movies — and that blew my mind. I was way into that. That was where I saw my first Ray Harryhausen films, “Sinbad” and all that, but also Godzilla and King Kong and I just frickin loved it. It blew my mind that someone could create monsters that were huge and could attack cities. After that I never even gave a thought to drawing animals. Centaurs? Cool. Horses? Boring.
Also, in the 1970s monster culture was everywhere. Even breakfast cereals were monster-based with stuff like Count Chocula. Even bands like Kiss were monstered out. Then I discovered Dungeons & Dragons and that blew my mind even more because now I could continue all the playing that I was doing when I was younger. It was OK to play with little metal monsters as a young adult. I really got into that and reading about mythology. When you get involved in D&D you suddenly want to go out and learn everything about a medieval castle or learn about armor types.
A Rocking Monster Lover
I kept up with that as a total nerd-loser in high school. We would be playing in the counselor’s office so we wouldn’t get beaten up by the tough kids out in the hallway who could see us and would (pounds his fist into his palm) be waiting. One day I was in this class with some older dudes and one of them had on a Dio shirt. I remember thinking, “that looks like a Dungeons & Dragons monster,” and it turned out that was the guitar player for the only local band in Deer Park, Wash. I ended up joining their band and I started coming to their band practices. They were called, “Nemesis.”
It was like 1984 and they were still playing stuff from the 1970s. They were really into Rush, Led Zeppelin and a bunch of really obscure metal bands. They really took me under their wing because I lived with my Mom and she didn’t know anything about music. They would just sit there and introduce me to album after album. I would look at the album cover, and think stuff like, “they have nice pants.”
I tried to play guitar for them, drums for them and nothing was working. Then one night, they gave me a bass and it was a revelation because all I had to do was play one string and it worked. So, instantly I am also the guy who is going to design the T-shirts and that is where I got started in commercial art. That is very much what I do now. I started to learn what makes a good logo — or what doesn’t make a good logo and that is what got me interested.
I drew through that whole time but I was also very interested in “rocking.”
Once it was time to go to college, I knew I wanted to do art or music, but I was a much better artist than a musician. I couldn't read music and I wasn’t ready to go to college and study music. I got what a quarter note was, but I couldn’t write it. So then I got really back into art at that point.
A Monster Lover Goes To College
But at the beginning I didn’t really know how or what I wanted to express. I have always just wanted to draw cartoon characters and monsters and going to art class, they would tell us to express ourselves, but I didn’t know what to express. They send kids to art school way too early. By the time you are 30 you might have “something to express” but when you are 18 its like, all you want to draw is girls, because most artists that age aren’t getting any.
I got back into bands again in my late 20s and early 30s when I went back to school again. It my mid 20s I found myself working at a bakery at night, going to school and playing in a band. I was dying because I wasn't getting any sleep. It was really awful. I heard about a graphic design job and I told my friend about it and we both applied and put a portfolio together. The job was at a T-shirt shop and I had done T-shirts before with Nemesis — not really, but I did — and I had illustration skills and I got the job. It was life changing for me because I found a way to get paid for art.
We were working at the cusp off computers taking over everything so we still had to do some things the old way. We were doing stuff like hand separations of Amber Lith in eight colors so it is like basically having to hand make every layer. Then, I parlayed that into learning about the computer. I left that first job after a few years then went to a new job that was all computer and it was “learn or die.”
I learned — badly at first — and that became this. Low pay but a lot of turnover of work got my skill set up over the years and after about 7 years I finally got out of T-Shirts and my skill set was much more competent. I was able to reproduce art in any style that was needed. Since I always had a very strong personal style, eventually when I got strong enough to draw on the computer a completely different style emerged. A lot of young graphic designers want to know what the shortcuts are and they really aren’t any. It is all about doing the work. You just have to do it and do it a lot.
People ask, “How do you develop a style,” and I say, “I don’t know. Just get to work and it will fall into place.”
A Skilled Monster Lover Finds His Muse
But even after seven years, I still had not broken over $18,000 a year. But then something called the Internet was growing — I am not sure if anyone has heard of it, but it is really interesting — and there was this thing called Flash.
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