For a decade now, Israel Skelton has helped bring stories to life with the amazingly detailed comic replicas released by Skelton Crew Studio. From Joe Hill to the Hellboy universe, Chew and Shirtless Bear Fighter to name a few, Skelton and a talented team of artists have made these worlds in detail come alive! We had the great pleasure of asking Israel some questions:
How would you describe what you do? And what does your work entail?
It’s evolved over the past several years – in the beginning, it was very hands-on and every piece was physically sculpted by me. As we’ve grown, I’ve had to move over to the art director role and work with others. It’s a great thing we work with a host of super talented people.
So the work now entails making sure everyone’s on the same page and everyone’s style is captured in every piece, from Mike Mignola’s to Gabriel Rodriguez’s.
What got it started?
Our first official con exclusive was the Ghost Key at SDCC for IDW in 2009. I’d met Joe at a Maine con the year before and after we’d hit it off, he’d asked if I could sculpt the Ghost Key from his new book so he could give them to IDW staff as Christmas presents. The studio grew from there.
Did you do any schooling for this?
No, nothing formal. I did take a few goldsmithing classes in my 20s, which really opened the door to me working on small pieces.
How does a typical work day look like when you are sculpting and creating?
Ha! Not typical at all. There’s so many moving parts these days that depending on what we’re working on, it could be starting different sketches on what a piece should look like from different angles, figuring out what process we’re going to use for pre-production and production, and figuring out how much we have to up-sculpt to account for mold and metal reduction in process.
What do you do when taking a short break?
There’s no rest for the wicked.
While working, is there something on in the background? Music, podcast or TV playing? And what kind?
Music is my go-to, a lot of Mark Knopfler. Sometimes I’ll have a documentary playing in the background.
What kind of work goes into making a single key?
Every sculpt is different with different challenges, so it’s really hard to say. Every design starts by talking with Gabe about size and how they relate to other keys.
How is your relation with Joe Hill and Gabriel Rodriguez?
We’re really good friends, they’re both awesome guys.
Are they involved when you are crafting keys? Is there some back and forth before you start on a key?
Definitely. If they haven’t been named yet, I’m talking with Joe, and if it’s a new key that hasn’t appeared yet, Gabe’s really cool about sharing some early stuff.
Do you get any help during crafting or is it you alone?
It’s never me alone. There’s a lot of people involved, everyone from the amazing sculptors we work with to the crew doing the final polish and paints to our graphic artist, photographer and social media head.
Are you a Joe Hill fan? If so, any favorite books or short stories?
I am, but I’m a comic guy first, so my first love would be “Locke & Key.” It’s an amazing book.
Have you got a favorite key?
I like the Shadow Key — that was one I traditionally sculpted and that middle section was a little complex, so I really like how I pulled it off.
What are your thoughts about Locke & Key finally being picked up by Netflix?
Super happy for the guys, should be an awesome show.
Do you have to make a lot of prototypes per key? Or do you keep working on one key until it’s good?
Fortunately, we’ve very seldom had to scrap a prototype and start over.
How many projects can you have simultaneously?
What do you like about what you do? And what do you dislike?
I love the process of taking something from 2D to 3D, I’ve always seen stuff in the round.
The marketing, trying to think of your relevance all the time. I’m not built to toot my own horn, I just want to make pretty things.
Is there advice you would offer someone considering this career?
Know and understand every step of the process. Because if you don’t, you won’t be able to anticipate the pitfalls, or solve them when you run into them.
What are your goals/dreams for the future?
I’ve had a handful of ideas brewing in my brain for a long time that I’ve got to get out, so I’d love to create something of my own, too.
Can you tell us more about what to expect in 2019 for Locke & Key? Will there be more jewelry, pins or a new bust?
We may revisit some of the jewelry pieces, definitely yes on the pins – we’ll actually have some out next month — and some new keys and resculpts of older keys. Our original molds are getting kind of tired, so if we’re making new molds, it’s a great time to make any changes you wish you would have made back then. We have the Time Shift Key digitally sculpted up, hoping to see that later this year.
You can find the Skelton Crew Studio here skeltoncrewstudio.bigcartel.com
—Ben, April 2019