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EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW: Mats Minnhagen on The Fathomless Abyss

Mats Minnhagen is a Swedish illustrator and concept artist. He has worked for EA Dice, Wizards of the Coast and many others. Currently he is working freelance with a variety of book-, game- and popular science illustrations.

SF Signal had the opportunity to talk with him about shared worlds and The Fathomless Abyss, a shared world anthology for which he illustrated the cover and featuring stories from Mike Resnick, Jay Lake, Cat Rambo, Mel Odom, J.M. McDermott, Brad Torgersen and Philip Athans. In The Fathomless Abyss, a bottomless pit opens who-knows-when onto who-knows-where, just long enough for new people from a thousand different worlds and a million different times to fall in and join the fight for survival in a place where the slightest misstep means an everlasting fall into eternity. In this world, the laws of physics work against you, there’s no way out, and time means nothing…

CHARLES TAN: Hi Mats, thanks for agreeing to do the interview. First off, how did you get involved with The Fathomless Abyss series?

MATS MINNHAGEN: Hi Charles, thanks for having me here on SF Signal. I got involved with the project when Philip contacted me one day about it. He and a bunch of other great authors were working on this bottomless hole world where people and creatures from all times and places fall down and make a living together. Vertical cities, flying monsters, pre-historic and modern technologies mixed – it sounded like a lot of fun!

CT: What is the collaboration process like, working with Philip Athans?

MM: Pretty straightforward. He and the other authors send me ideas for the covers, I sketch, they scratch their beards and feedback, I paint the finished piece. The Fathomless Abyss certainly has some challenges from an illustrator’s point of view, its a very unfamiliar environment which is hard to make sense of visually. But that’s also part of what I like.

CT: What’s your process like when it comes to designing covers? What mediums do you use?

MM: I’m one of those cheating artists who do everything digitally in Photoshop. I even sketch digitally, it allows for an iterative process where I can switch easily between values and lines.

Usually I do a couple of thumbnails first to experiment with angles before I commit to a composition. Then I do a proper sketch with lineart and values. If everybody’s happy with it, I go on and add colours. Then I turn off the lineart layer and start painting, using all kinds of weird textured brushes.

When painting a cover illustration I usually aim for a dynamic composition with as much force as possible. It helps to have a face as a focal point, since that will automatically draw the viewer’s eye.

CT: What’s the appeal of the fantasy genre for you?

MM: Fantasy for me is about viewing the world through a mirror. Much as when you’re painting and mirror your image to see it with fresh eyes, looking at the world in a slightly unfamiliar way can enable you to see things you were blind to before. In realistic genres the familiar setting can sometimes get in the way of the bigger picture, the timeless themes. In fantasy, because the setting is distorted, the timeless themes stand out with greater clarity.

CT: For Devils of the Endless Deep, how did you settle on the final image/scene?

MM: Since the book wasn’t finished when I started out, Philip described the scene to me: a beautiful dark-haired heroine in post-apocalyptic clothing with a long spear, fighting a gigantic insect monster in a vertical forest at the edge of a bottomless abyss (nice!) The flying centipede design was my idea. Philip wanted a top-down angle, like in the first cover (“Tales from the Fathomless Abyss”), to accentuate the depth of the pit. We ended up not showing so much of the pit in this one, but I think the angle is interesting anyway.

Charles Tan is the editor of Lauriat: A Filipino-Chinese Speculative Fiction Anthology.

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