When it comes to The Hobbit, David T. Wenzel is a purist.
Long before famed filmmaker Peter Jackson embarked on his journey to turn J.R.R. Tolkien's classic novel into his latest trilogy, the illustrator conquered his own quest of bringing Tolkien's characters to life.
"It sort of changed my career," said Wenzel of his critically acclaimed illustrated adaptation of “The Hobbit," which was first published as a three part comic book in 1989.
"[The Hobbit] was the first book I'd really read that I wanted to create drawings for, and of course I didn't see any drawings for it. And in doing so, I sort of found myself in a new artistic position of thinking of creating other worlds, which I hadn't thought of before [college]," Wenzel said.
Now 62 and living in Durham, Wenzel was a senior in college when he devoted his final year of undergraduate studies at Hartford Art School to drawing Tolkien's fantastical characters and creatures, including the likes of Bilbo Baggins, Gandalf and Gollum.
"When I first started drawing The Hobbit in college, there were no other drawings that I had seen," said Wenzel. "My first drawings were very crude."
Following graduation, Wenzel found success as a comic illustrator — he worked for Marvel and DC comics — and as a children's book illustrator. Eventually, on the recommendation of a college friend, he began working on The Hobbit: An Illustrated Edition of the Fantasy Classic.
The graphic novel, released as a one-volume edition in 1990, not only allowed the illustrator to show off his refined interpretation of Tolkien's characters but, unlike the movie, provides readers with a purer adaptation of the author's classic.
"This is almost a complete visualization of The Hobbit as it was written. The movie is not," he said.
Still, Wenzel speaks admiringly of Jackson and film art designers Alan Lee and John Howe, who together found success with The Lord of the Rings trilogy adapted from Tolkien's sequel to The Hobbit.
"I'm excited that they're making a movie out of it, and of course excited when you have a book that goes along with it," said Wenzel. "The book has had a wonderful shelf life."
A self-proclaimed (and deservedly so) Tolkien aficionado, Wenzel said he plans to see the movie at the theaters.
And while he's never been consulted for Jackson's films, it's hard to imagine that those involved with bringing Tolkien's epic fantasies to the big screen have not seen Wenzel's work.
"I can always pretend," he said.
Visit the illustrator's website at www.davidwenzel.com