Growing up in Detroit, there was no shortage of those of us who ended up working in comics; it was a great help that we all fostered and encouraged each other and had lots of support when we travelled to the Big Apple to try and break into the business. There was Rich Buckler, Terry Austin, Al Milgrom, Jim Starlin, Keith Pollard and Arvel Jones to name just of few of the group. One of the extremely talented artists who started out with us but took a slightly different path was Mike Kucharski.
His work impresses me because he has certainly gone beyond the confines of comic book art and developed as an illustrator. When I first met Mike his work was as strong as polished as any of the other Detroiters mentioned above. Maybe it was his art school background (few of us actually had that experience) where one of his teachers was the amazing talent Harry Borgman (Vozwords 10/12/13 ). Besides getting a great background in the fundamentals of drawing and design, Mike learned one of the basic lessons young artists should have. When I worked with Chaykin, most of the apprentices would tell us they wanted to be comic book artists. We would correct them and explain that they should work toward being a strong artist who has comic book clients. Never limit yourself to a single field in art because if things are slow there or dry up completely, you’re going to have some rough times.
One of the reasons Mike chose not to pursue a life in comic was he felt he didn't draw fast enough to earn a living. To get the quality of work he wanted he need reference (photos or live models) and that process was a much slower one. With the help of a mutual friend , Byron Preiss, Mike got an interview with Gick Giordano at DC in 1970l In 1991 Byron had Mike do an adaptation of Ray Bradbury's "Besides a Dinosaur, What Do You Want to Be When You Grow Up."
He has certainly hasn’t lacked for work as an artist. Over his career he has drawn storyboards for the auto industry, painted covers for VHS and DVD releases, provided illustrations for role playing games, and done a good bit of art for the Detroit museums. Asked about what difficulties he encountered in the working place, he mentioned the lack of logic at times when working for clients: when doing comps the art director would ask him to do three, but do one badly so that it would immediately be rejected by the client who them only had to flip a mental coin. I had heard the same advice often, only to watch clients go gaga over the “bad” drawing.
Mike still lives in Detroit and is the father of twin sons. While I started out working as a teacher. Mike’s career in teaching came later in life between 2005-2015, although he did do some work in Adult classes while in college and also some substitute teaching the the 1990's. While I loved teaching, I learned that art was a whole lot more fun. And like Mike, I’ve learned that there is more to the world of storytelling and illustration than just drawing comics.
Below a few autobiographical words from Mr. Kucharksi:
Born in Detroit, as a kid I spent nine months out of the year drawing, and the summer months running through Michigan’s northern woods; I grew up in Hazel Park where I discovered King Arthur in a two room public library, and The Batman, The Flash and Doctor Strange on a local corner drugstore rotary comic book stand. I won a regional drawing contest when I was 11 years ago, sold my first piece of fanish artwork at the 1969 Detroit Triple Fan Fair, and discovered I didn’t draw fast enough to make a living drawing comic books when I was 18. I began illustrating table top roleplaying game books and sf/fantasy magazines a decade later; a few years after that went into advertising as both a graphic designer and as an illustrator, where I worked on everything from movie posters and video box covers to TV commercial storyboards, and campaigns for birdfeed, FTD, Motorola and Volkswagon . However, I got tired of creating artwork to help sell stuff to people that they didn’t really need, and so by an odd twist of fate, I ended up in the museum industry first working as a Graphic designer and later as an Exhibit Designer. This freed me up to pursue other artistic endeavors: wildlife painting (several have won national competitions and one has become part of the permanent collection of the Springfield Art Museum), fine art printmaking (most of which via paper lithography), and Pre-Raphaelite imagery which I continue to do.