By Jason Ahlquist
Real Detroit weekly called Matt the “Rock Star of artists.” With gallery shows that pack houses like metal concerts and clients like Lucasfilm and Marvel Comics, they may be right. Jason Ahlquist hangs out with Matt and gets the story for y’all.
EXT. HIGHWAY EXIT – DAY
Rain is coming down in sheets on this Metro Detroit highway. The reduced visibility conceals a flooded-out section of road at the end of the exit. A red car approaches.
INT. RED CAR
Jason is driving while Sandee examines a map.
Christ! That traffic made us late enough, but this rain is adding insult to injury.
We’re almost there. Just a few more —
EXT. FREEWAY EXIT
The red car hits the giant puddle just as it turns off the exit, causing it to hydroplane and spin. Miraculously the car reaches the end of the puddle with no further mishap.
INT. RED CAR
What was that about insult and injury?
(looks around at the open fields and nice houses on the other side of the exit)
This isn’t what I expected. Aren’t Detroit artists supposed to live in shitty neighborhoods?
Maybe he lives in a trailer or something around here.
EXT. MATT BUSCH’S HOUSE – LATE AFTERNOON
The red car pulls up to a large, elegant home with a new car in the driveway. Jason and Sandee exit.
So much for your trailer park theory. It looks like we’ve got a real story here – an honest to God, stereotype-busting artist.
Matt Busch works his ass off.
At the age of 30 he’s created multiple images for 23 motion pictures, 17 books, 23 television shows, 37 magazines, 19 comic book titles, 12 different trading card lines, 12 rock stars and a huge list of advertising clients. On top of all that, he’s an illustration professor at Macomb Community College, acts in independent films and develops screenplays for film and television. He even puts together large shows of his work that bear more resemblance to rock festivals than gallery events.
He is the opposite of the crazy, unreliable, self-absorbed stereotypes most folks picture when they envision artists. Yet ironically, he has found himself in the lifestyle that those who match the stereotype strive for.
Hard work and commitment to imagination have not been incompatible in Matt’s case. It’s a combination of ethics he’s had from an early age.
In kindergarten, he was a big Star Wars freak like most boys. When his school handed out one of those Scholastic book order leaflets, he noticed that one of the books available was a Star Wars pop-up book. He brought the leaflet to his Mom after school and asked her to order the book.
Since he hadn’t read any of the other books she’d bought him, she declined. Disappointed, but not defeated, Matt cloistered himself in his room, grabbed some construction paper and magic markers and made his own pop-up book. He also took a first step onto a highway with many lanes, many lessons and many destinations. When Matt’s mom discovered his creation, she was so impressed that she secretly bought him the book and surprised him with it at school.
“From that age,” Matt said, “ I learned that if you put 110% (into your dreams), mathematically it can’t not happen.”
But Matt had more than a “can-do” attitude. He also had a vivid imagination to match his enthusiasm.
“I was the kinda kid that if you gave me two legos, I could play Star Wars with them.” That kind of creativity has followed him in many incarnations throughout his life. In his grade school years, he created his own MAD magazine, Star Wars comics, and even Playboy magazine. He also designed, wrote, and illustrated a series of his own “Choose Your Own Adventure” books based on the Indiana Jones movies.
During his teen years, that imagination swerved into the music lane, where he formed the Detroit band Passion (eventually gaining some national radio airplay) and then into film where he wrote, directed and co-starred in a 25-minute action flick named Quicksand.
After his first year in college, Passion broke up and he drove back into the visual art lane by entering the Graphic and Commercial Art program at Michigan’s Macomb Community College and producing several indie comic titles.
After getting his degree there, it was time for a change of scenery. He packed up his belongings and went down the literal road to the Los Angeles Art Academy and Art Center to study illustration, film and entertainment design. Within months, he was given commissions for movie posters.
Always the explorer, Matt shifted lanes yet again to try his hand at writing. He submitted a story for West End Games Star Wars publication, sending along illustrations for it to sweeten the deal. When the response came back though, he encountered orange construction cones and the flagman of fate instructing him to shift lanes yet again.
“The editor basically said the story sucked,” Matt admitted, “but he was very impressed by the illustrations.” This immediately led into illustrating for their Star Wars Adventure Journal and evolved into dozens of Star Wars projects for West End illustrating books, trading cards, and other supplements for the Star Wars Role-playing Game. He was even flagged back into the writers’ lane, contributing to the Star Wars: Heroes and Rogues book as well as many articles and how-to books.
And then the road opened up.
During his time in Los Angeles, Matt found many chances to burn creative rubber explore. He worked with Poison’s Rikky Rockett and supermodel LeeAnn Tweeden on the Coven 13 comic book, drew dirty comics for Hustler, worked with L.L. Cool J to design the opening credits for the television sitcom In the House, did posters for the movies Con Air, The Devil’s Own and Hard Rain. He worked on production and character designs for Sorcerer and The Matrix as well as design work for Disneyland and K-Swiss.
And of course there was Star Wars.
Matt’s original work with West End Games eventually led to do more work in the Lucas universe. He designed early production paintings for Star Wars: Episode I toys for Mattel before they lost the license to Hasbro. Then he did the cover of Star Wars: Tales from the Empire for Bantam Doubleday Dell and won regular gigs illustrating for Star Wars Insider and Star Wars Kids magazines. He was eventually dubbed an “Official Star Wars artist.”
But it wasn’t all downhill driving and daisies for Matt. When he first started out, he didn’t have a car. Whenever he’d have to go to a studio or client office he’s have to rent a car. It began to get expensive. Finally he found a rather novel solution.
“I noticed that there was a U-Haul rental place just down the road from where I lived. They were a lot cheaper than car rental, so I started driving U-Haul trucks to clients.”
This included driving the trucks onto studio lots during the filming of The Devil’s Own and Con-Air movies.
“Every time I’d leave the lot, they’d have to inspect the truck to make sure I wasn’t stealing any props or anything.”
Eventually Matt began to tire of Los Angeles and moved back to Michigan. Having established a list of regular clients, he found it possible to conduct business with them all over the map via email and express shipping.
Back in his hometown, Matt began tinkering under the hood of his career. While continuing to take commissions from various clients, he set to work on the Alizarin’s Journal <check spelling, you’ve got it as Alizarin in the next paragraph graphic novel. The full color work about a paranormal investigator’s private journal was eventually serialized in black and white by Avatar Press, earning high praise from Comic Buyer’s Guide.
On top of that, the comic began to develop interest from various places for the basis of a television series. Matt began to pursue this, developing animated “treatments” of Alizarin’s Journal. You can watch them on his site.
In the meantime Matt continues to grow his illustration following, creating promotional art for Ang Lee’s Hulk movie, an open edition Brandon Lee Crow wall scroll and covers for various comics.
So where has all this road-tripping and lane-switching led Matt?
After all the pavement is eaten up and the lane dividers are conquered, what does he get?
He gets to look back and be a rock star.
For two years running, The Emerald Theater in Mount Clemens, Michigan, has hosted The Fantastic Visions of Matt Busch. Sponsored by Jim Beam and 101 FM WRIF Radio, this is no ordinary gallery event. Featuring four galleries of Matt’s work, live rock bands, the sexy Jim Beam girls and extravagant multimedia displays, Fantastic Visions rocks to a packed house.
But what about the road ahead?
Of course, there will be more illustration in the future. Matt has also accepted a position as an illustration professor at his old alma mater, Macomb Community College. But for the real road ahead, Matt has been working on something special — something big.
Crisis is a 200-plus page, illustrated screenplay of Matt’s creation. Designed as the ultimate pitch tool, the screenplay is available as a paperback book from Matt’s site. Matt hopes to use the book to attract studio production.
“I’ve sent over a thousand copies of Crisis to various actors, directors and agents.”
Many have written back expressing interest in the production.
Crisis tells the story of law enforcement officer Bruce Lombardo, tragically loses his legs at the hands of a serial killer who turns out to be the Zodiac killer returned from retirement. Lombardo must then rely on deductive reasoning to capture the killer and go on with his life.
“I chose the Zodiac as the villain for a number of reasons,” said Matt. “Initially, I was inspired by Robert Graysmith, who wrote Zodiac and was involved heavily with the case.”
Graysmith was a cartoonist for the San Francisco Chronicle at the times of the murders and was influential in solving many of the riddles Zodiac sent the paper during his murder spree. Being an illustrator and cartoonist himself, Matt identified with his experience.
“I also think that Zodiac was the ultimate villain, a worthy opponent for the big, cinematic hero.”
With the screenplay finished, illustrated and printed, the search for a buyer or backer can now begin in earnest. It’s a bold move for Matt, but certainly not out of character. After all, he’s spent a lifetime speeding down different roads, eating up the pavement of experience, painting it all into one windshield. What else is there to do when you’ve a full tank of ideas, but crank up the stereo and drive somewhere new?
If you would like to learn more about Matt Busch and his many projects, you can go to www.mattbusch.com.