The Big Idea: John Picacio

I’ve been a huge fan of artist John Picacio’s work for years now, and it was my immense pleasure to be on stage this year to hand him his Hugo Award for Best Professional Artist. Now I’m happy to give him a some space to talk about his latest project: A 2013 calendar filled with some of his most iconic work in the science fiction and fantasy field, which he is doing as a Kickstarter project. An unusual topic for a Big Idea here, but then, big ideas don’t always come in standard forms. Here’s John to explain about the calendar, and what it represents beyond its own timely existence.


Can calendars contain Big Ideas? I believe they can, and I think this one does. For some of you, it may even possibly contain at least a dozen. We’ll get to the art goodies soon enough.

But first — there’s one particular Big Idea that I want to share with you, and it surrounds the frame of all of these pictures. It’s one that affects you, me, and the worlds we live in — especially if your world heard recent news of a Random House/Penguin merger, or a Disney/Lucasfilm alliance.

This Big Idea is that all of us are facing a crossroads in cultural choice right now, whether we realize it or not. On a personal level — this calendar is a response to my own creative crossroads. We all experience these in our lives, with some generated by failure; some by success; and some just because life doesn’t favor straight lines.

As some of you may know, two months ago, I won the Hugo Award for Best Professional Artist. It was a moment of success created by an accumulation of work along a path that led through my art for the 2012 George R. R. Martin / A Song of Ice and Fire Calendar.

The safest call after experiencing success like that is to continue marching in lockstep along the way that gained that acclaim – which in this case, would be creating artwork that sells books for major publishing companies, such as Random House, HarperCollins, Tor, Simon & Schuster, Pyr, Baen, and many more. For more than a decade, this work has been what has almost exclusively sustained me, fed my family, and paid the bills. It’s a good, hard-working life. It’s a full-time career in our increasingly uncertain world, and I eat, sleep, and breathe it.

Maintaining that same life is the safest call, it would seem, but it’s not the right call, in my opinion; playing it safe is not what artists do, if they’re doing their job. We’re supposed to explore the frontiers, find the paths, mark the trails, and yeah, I’m gonna say it – boldly go. It’s what we do when we’re at our best.

However, as far back as 2009, I could see sweeping changes coming — and wow, they sure did. At that point, we were headed down the path we now take for granted every day – a co-existence of printed and digital publishing, full of untapped possibility and wonder, that if shaped properly, could transform the way we experience stories, art, relationships and life. Back then, I was concerned that we, as consumers, were becoming too addicted to convenience at the expense of content. I suspected we would be too easily seduced by the mob rule of demanding other people’s work for free, rather than remembering that lasting value always bears a cost in the making. I was concerned that companies would consolidate and cannibalize each other, becoming lesser, rather than greater. I was concerned that budgets for copyediting, professional art, professional design, proper proofing, and general attention to the midlist, would contract, and in some cases, disappear entirely.

We’re a little more than eight weeks from 2013, and I think much of that paragraph now looks sadly familiar and all too real. I often wonder if we’ve fallen in love with our advances so deeply that we’ve forgotten the power they have to unlock better choices, rather than create cozier cages.

So here we are – all of us – at the crossroads. I believe that the future of success in publishing lies in those that embrace the “both/and”, rather than settle for the “either/or”. That’s what I’m doing here — this calendar is my first effort toward building my own “both/and”.

I don’t believe the future of fulltime creatives’ success in publishing is a choice between traditional publishing gateways and independent publishing. I think the most favorable choice for many is to work in both, and use them effectively and often simultaneously.

Lone Boy is my brand new company. It’s a publishing imprint for sharing my artwork and visions with a growing audience. I fully intend to continue working with my wonderful clients in the traditional publishing world, while I build my own company, but the days of me working exclusively via that traditional publishing world are behind me. Sadly, I wonder if they’re over for good for almost all artists who wish to pursue a meaningful, fulfilling full-time freelance career, exclusively within traditional publishing gateways. Time will tell.

This calendar is my first independent creative venture via Lone Boy. It collects twelve of my favorite book cover works (well, actually – eleven, plus one Chesley Award-winning magazine cover) from my science fiction, fantasy, and horror career thus far. It contains artworks I’ve created for books by Michael Moorcock, Dan Simmons, Mark Chadbourn, Brenda Cooper, Jeffrey Ford, Frederik Pohl, and many more. You’ll find it available exclusively via Kickstarter. It won’t be distributed via Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Walmart, or any other venue. I invite you to visit the Kickstarter page, see for yourself, and grab yours. Feel free to ask me any question you might have about it. Here are all twelve artworks featured in the calendar.

Here’s one that I asked myself — is a calendar that’s essentially a ‘greatest hits’ collection truly finding a new path, or exploring a new frontier? I think it could be argued that it’s not, if the item were considered on its own. However, as Lone Boy and 2013 unfold, I think you’ll find that this calendar is the springboard toward a path where I get to do just that. Here’s a hint of where I’m headed, and I can’t wait to do this.

For now, a big thanks to all who have already jumped aboard my calendar’s Kickstarter bandwagon. There’s room for plenty more.

In the big picture – we’re living in amazing times. We’re each shaping the future of how science fiction, fantasy, horror, and pop culture will be consumed. I think the future of successful creatives lies in the ‘both/and’, and I think all of us as consumers will reap the benefits the more that we see this more pro artists, authors, and creatives. We see a number of authors forging successful existences in both the traditional and independent publishing worlds, and I think the most prosperous artists are each finding their own models for doing the same.

Good luck to you in the face of your own crossroads. Let’s make a world where we don’t lose quality for convenience, and a world where we expect more art, culture, possibility and diversity than the one we had yesterday.

10 Comments on “The Big Idea: John Picacio”

  1. Here’s a question, John. For those who don’t back the kickstarter (fools, they, but I am biased), they would not be able to get the calendar after the kickstarter campaign at all? Or just directly from you, after the campaign is done and the calendar (hopefully) funded? Have you looked at other creatives kickstarting and then selling the works directly after a self-imposed embargo period (e.g. Tobias Buckell, Laura Anne Gilman)?

  2. FYI: The link near the bottom of the piece is broken.
    It’s the one that says, “You’ll find it available exclusively via Kickstarter.”

  3. John is awesome and amazing and a really cool guy, and I’m happy to be able to support the Kickstarter and boost the signal. Plus, I get a gorgeous calendar out of the deal — win/win!

  4. Paul — Good question. We’re looking to get the calendar in our backers’ hands by Xmas if we can. But once January 1st rolls around, the calendars become more obsolete by the day, and therefore I don’t know if time is on our side for selling them beyond the Kickstarter. My plan is to focus on Loteria once January 1st rolls around. I’ll keep your thought in mind though. Thanks!

    Rick, Gleon, Andrew — thanks very much. ‘Appreciated! :)

  5. Looks great, John, with some images I’ve been admiring for several years. Sign me up for some of that, and I’m spreading the word around.

  6. As someone who hopes to get published in the scifi/fantasy genre someday, and someone who tends to, too often, judge a book by its cover, I have to know–how much does an artist of this quality charge for cover art like this? Beautiful! I have to get the calander.

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