Part 4 of the Romano Molenaar Interview: Entrepreneurialism, contracts & the strain on family life

So this is it. The last part of my four-part creator spotlight interview with Dutch comic artist extraordinaire Romano Molenaar! While he was working on Birds of Prey issue 23, page 16, I asked him about the business side of things and how his extremely busy work schedule impacts his family life. Let this be a lesson, from one 15 year comic industry veteran to all aspiring artists: Drawing comics is all fun and stuff, but it also asks for some mayor sacrifices if you want to do this for a living…

Art from Storm #25 (Published by Don Lawrence Collection), pencils by Romano Molenaar, colours by Jorg de Vos.

Art from Storm #25 (Published by Don Lawrence Collection), pencils by Romano Molenaar, colours by Jorg de Vos.

When you look at a lot of big name artists, they are often also smart entrepreneurs…
Yes, that’s something that sometimes seems to be missing in the Netherlands. One artist has a lot of plans, but is not there yet qualitatively, while there are also people who really do top work and who go: “Gee, I can draw, now what do I do?” And I’m always trying to see with the projects I have on standby and in the Art Kings studio, what else can I do with them and what would be interesting now. That’s part of the business side of the trade. Finding a comic to draw is great fun, but what can I do with the name that I have built during the last fifteen years? How do I improve my chances of getting my foot in the door at video game companies? If I tell them I’m currently working for DC that opens a few doors. That’s why I regularly keep myself busy with the business side of things.

Talking about the business side of things, does DC allow you royalty rights?
Yes, I think with DC, when you sell 75.000 units, you get royalties. Only Birds of Prey sells about 17.000 a month, so we’ve still got a long way to go… However, I did receive an amount of royalties from the digital sales of Birds of Prey. That arrived rather unexpectedly, but it was a nice surprise of course. It wasn’t a staggering amount of money. But it does work, DC is very well aware of the sales numbers and it’s further incentive to the creators.

Is my assumption correct that the addition of royalty rights into freelancer contracts reflects an improvement in the way creator rights are handled by the ‘big two’ compared to the nineties?
Even for my Marvel work [in the nineties] I once received a royalty. For my Top Cow work I didn’t because they weren’t big sellers. But they had a similar type of construction. I believe that nowadays every contract has some kind of construction that when you sell above a certain threshold you receive royalties.

So, were you in a position to negotiate hard about your contract with DC?
Of course you’ll make a price agreement for the page rate. And you agree or you don’t. In my case, I was like: I have a studio here, I’ve got Storm,  so I won’t let this opportunity pass. As an artist, you can choose not to go for the top rate -I can tell you, the top rate ain’t bad- but instead do it to build your name. That way you’re investing in your résumé, and the money will come later, when you can sell yourself at a better price.

Storm Molenaar de Vos

When we began talking Romano told me he works from nine in the morning till twelve at night. Only interspersed by driving the kids to and from school and dinner. I asked him how his work schedule influences his family life?
It means it’s pretty hectic and there are some things I just don’t do very often. I don’t watch movies, I don’t watch TV -or I watch the news at half past one in the morning. Now that I work from home I see more of my children than ever before, and my wife of course. So that in itself became a win-win situation. The hard part of this is that I am home but not readily available. With children that’s sometimes difficult: When they want you to play or when they ask you to come play football outside… Then it all depends on my workload and schedule, whether or not I’m able to play with them. Sometimes, it’s not possible. On the other hand: if I’d just go to work in the morning, I would definitely not be able to. That’s tricky sometimes, when they do see their father but he cannot come along.

How old are your children?
I have identical twins, 10 years of age. They are now at an age that they are very curious and want to learn a lot. Of course I’ll answer them, but then I go: “Sorry, I have to continue working.” Being kids, they don’t always understand. But I have a spacious studio, so they occasionally come and play with me or make some music –I’ve also got some instruments in my studio- and sometimes they draw or colour along with me. That’s always a good time. So, that’s nice enough, no complaints there. Only other things… [exhales] ….like, parties… …If I really want to go to a party, I must really plan ahead in my schedule to decide if I can make it. It sounds harsh, but then the party really has to be worth it, to make the time. That’s sometimes difficult for people to understand: I’m constantly under a whole lot of pressure, because of my work.

What’s your general outlook? Is the time you’re currently putting in a temporary situation?
I’ve been doing it like this for something like fifteen years… So it’s become a bit ingrained. But now that I get older –and especially having children- I look at the hours I’ve put in and sometimes wonder whether it’s worth it. How do my career and the things I’m allowed to do relate to the time I spend working and the things I’m constantly giving up? That’s something you have to think about, now and then. This thinking usually leads me to conclude that I’m still having super much fun. Also, my wife doesn’t know any better, she understands that this is my passion. So the general idea is that I can do what I want with my drawings and she’s supportive of that. That support is very important to me. When I find out she’s no longer 100% supportive, we’re going to sit down and have a good conversation. Because to me, it’s not worth turning my personal life upside down. I’ll go pretty far, but we check in now and again to see if we’re still enjoying the ride. Occasionally this leads to the consideration: “Am I going to do this or not?”

Thanks so much again to MR Molenaar for taking time out of his schedule to talk to me. If you missed part one, part two, or three  you can always listen to the whole interview (in Dutch) through the Open Your Geek Mouth podcast, or find a paper version in the Dutch comic magazine Strips2Go. That’s it for now… I’m already busy with my next interrogation victim Boykoesh, of Captain Ultimate fame!

The Romano Molenaar interview part 3: Creative process, technology & making it as an unschooled artist

Because he just wouldn’t shut up: (actually he shut up just fine, but I kept barraging him with my nerdy questions…) the thrird part of my interview with Birds of Prey (and former X-men and the Darkness) artist Romano Molenaar! If you like this, you might be interested in parts one and two… Additionally, als je dit begrijpt, you may want to listen to the podcast version of the interview

A couple of commissions by Romano Molenaar.

A couple of commissions by Romano Molenaar.

Could you describe your process?
I receive the script, I go through it a few times. Then I work out the layouts on an A4 sheet in a very raw form. Really just squares with circles. Most of the time there aren’t even eyes or mouths. This is just to show DC how I think the pages optimally follow the script. That will either be approved or they tell me something like: “Here should be a word balloon or that should move some more to the right.” That generally moves pretty quick, so you can start working on the pages as soon as possible. To DC’s credit, they say: “You’re the artist and you’ve got the best eye for the book’s visuals. So we’re not going to watch over your shoulder constantly.” Which is a very enjoyable way of working. When the layouts are approved, I’ll start to delineate some details slightly sharper in them. Then I print these again, but only very light. Then I just go over these with a pen and define the pictures even more, like determine the shadows a bit… And I scan these in again, print them at the correct format and throw them on the light box, under the official DC paper. Then I draw all the baselines in, without shadows. That’s all in pencil. And if the line bases are done, I continue to fill out the details. And that’s fun. The basis is already there, you’ve already gone over your angles, your physique and movements, so you only have to look at lighting and shadows, contrasts, expressions and that kind of stuff…

That’s all very traditional, do you do any digital work?
For comics, not really… I do a lot of pencil work, even for Storm. For the studio I do a lot of work digital. Now, I’ve also started to try out digital inking a little, but I’m old school and prefer working on paper. But yes, you have to stay up to date. And especially with our studio we work digital and I keep informed about that. I just don’t use it for the comics and Storm.

Okay, do you use any specific software, like Mangastudio, or is it more general stuff like Photoshop and Indesign?
I have checked them out, and gave them all a try. I’ve been working with Photoshop for about eight years, and that in itself is working very well. Occasionally you receive something new, like today I got Mischief, a vector-based drawing program, that’s quite interesting. It allows you to blow up your paintings on a really big scale. That’s something I’m going to take a look at, perhaps it’s interesting for the future. But now, it’s mainly Photoshop.

When I hear people talking about working digital, they often use speed as an argument. Hearing you talk about your workload, it surprises me you haven’t switched to digital for your comics work because of that…
I’m faster with pencil and paper then with a computer. I have a Syntique lying here on my desk, but I’m always so far into production that I have no time to really master it. In the time I’d invest to work well on that thing, I can complete a full issue of Birds of Prey. I’ll have to do it someday. But to get so far that I can achieve the same with a Syntique as I can with a pen and paper, will require quite some practice. There are many comic artists who have been doing it, so you see that it works fantastically. So I’m sure it would work for me, if I’d spend enough time on it. I’m just not sure if I want to spend that much time on it…

Here’s a look into Romano’s proces, from a cover he did together with colourist Jorg de Jong, for a Conan translation by Dutch publisher Dark Dragon Books (animation courtesy of http://www.stripspeciaalzaak.be).

Has the use of Skype and modern communication technologies changed the international aspect of your work at all?
Not really, I’ve actually worked like this forever. Fifteen years ago, when the internet was just coming up, I believe around 1995/96, I already had the idea of: “Hey, if you have internet you can communicate with each other much easier.” And that was just around the time an American Studio named Lion Comics came to the Netherlands -to Breda- henceforth things went very fast.

What’s your favourite character to draw?
I’m a big fan of The Darkness and I have had the honour to have drawn Wolverine in the X-men. Unfortunately, he did not have such a big role, but that’s a character that I’d want to tackle once more. I’m not explicitly looking for work at Marvel, if that was the case I’d already have knocked on their door. But I would absolutely love to work for Marvel again. I’m not really tied to DC. Again, if DC or Marvel would not be interested, I would like to work for other studios. But there are still a number of characters that I would like to draw: Iron Man, Superman, Green Lantern… You know, all these characters are interesting to work on.

Do you have any particular objects you enjoy drawing?
I’m more in favour of the male anatomy, especially the muscle groups. But it actually turns out that my women are often eye catching. I think that women are artistically my weak point. That’s funny because the studios do not always find that, that’s how I got put on Birds of Prey. Because my women were described as very strong, yet still feminine. It’s just like [Storm creator] Don Laurence, who thought he didn’t draw women well. While actually he his women were exquisite. Interestingly enough, that’s a similarity between us. I think my women are not as good as my male forms. Anyway, perhaps that will change. I’ll always have something to improve on. The female form actually is more difficult to draw than the male form and so I’m always playing around with that.

Okay, but do you enjoy drawing a certain object specifically?
I am always in favour of cars. I actually wanted to be car designer. So I’m always a big advocate of including cars or motorcycles in the script. In Birds of Prey I get to draw Batgirl riding her motorcycle a lot, so that helps. I’m not very much into drawing buildings, but that’s something that has to grow I think. I’m trying to get my buildings on the same level of my men and women. And Gotham City is of course super interesting to give a twist of your own!

You are not schooled in art. How did you teach yourself?
Purely by looking, seeing. Watching others. Take criticism, take it in and do something with it. It is not easy, you have to do it yourself. Nobody will draw for you. You should be open to improvement, you must be open to set a standard for yourself. Ask yourself: “Why are THESE artists where are they now?” Be critical of yourself. Just as I am critical of my women: These aren’t what they should be yet, that’s just an area where I can improve. And there are more things like that. You’ve got to make sure you keep an honest look at your own work. That’s hard because sometimes it becomes a grey area: When everyone says you’re good, you’ll be inclined to stop learning, which is obviously a dangerous pitfall. You have to remain clearheaded and keep looking at other artists to see where you can refine your own art. The urge to keep learning is imperative.

Be back next week for the last part of my talk with Romano, in which we discuss an artist’s entrepreneurialism, industry contracts and the strain on family life…

The Romano Molenaar Interview Part 2. Fruitful collaborations, designing DC characters & career goals

Aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaand here’s part two of my Romano Molenaar extravaganza. If you missed any of the earlier stuff, here’s part one and here’s the podcast of our talk.

Can you give an idea of collaborations that worked really well?
Let’s see… …I’m not really that great with names… When I worked at Top Cow, I worked with… …What was his name. I’m sorry, the name escapes me now…
Phil Hester?
Yes, exactly! Phil’s a very good writer, who can also draw particularly well, which is always an advantage. I must also say, that I… …Did I mention I’m not very good with names? [Both laugh] When you work at Top Cow, you often find out who inks your work, after the fact. And they’ve got inkers like Joe Weems who are really great. There are other names as well, but that’s a tricky subject for me as you can tell… Also, I must say that the team I’m working with now, Jonathan Glapeon and Chris Sotomayer, is a dream team. In fact, I used to do more freelance assignments, each six to seven issues and then on to the next thing… But now that I’ve had a year working for DC, those names stick in my head because I’m working with them for longer periods of time. I think that when you work together for so long, you’re going to appreciate their work better and your own work improves because of how great they are. As such, these guys are currently the names that pop up in my head when you ask about great collaborators. That makes it difficult for me to think of other less recent names.

Are there any names in the industry that you would like to work with in the future?
I’d really like to do something with Marc Silvestri and Jim Lee of course. If Jim Lee would like to draw layouts for a new Superman book for me to fill, I would not mind that at all… [laughs] Also, here’s the interesting thing: I’m now entering an area, where my contacts aren’t exclusively horizontal anymore, I may just end up working with someone higher up the chain in the comic industry! Though, overall I don’t tend to look over my shoulder too much, I’m much more interested in the future. Which is why I have to say: I’d like to work with anyone who knows what they’re doing and who can simply excite me with their story. I know, I know, that’s a very politically correct answer…. To me, the names are a little less important. But if you succeed in affecting me with you script, inks, or colours then I’d definitely like to work with you –whether it’s at Marvel, or Dark Horse, or wherever.

Art by Romano Molenaar

Art by Romano Molenaar

Did you ever receive any pro-feedback of big industry names that has been of particular value to you?
The other day I got some from Jim Lee! Jonathan [Glapion] had sent the cover ​​for issue 22 of Birds of Prey to Jim. Later Jonathan showed me Jim’s reply, along the lines of: “Very nice, it looks super good.” At that point you’re like: “Okay. We’re definitely getting closer to the fire.” You also see that a guy like Jim Lee is only human. Jim has obviously done a lot for the industry and achieved a lot. As an artist, that’s the guy you want to get feedback from, so you know you’re on the right track. And that’s something you have to do yourself, you need to strive to get the idea out of your head and onto the page as good as possible. But when a celebrity like Jim Lee says that, or Marc Silvestri ‘likes’ your art on Facebook, you think: “Okay, apparently I’m considered a good artist.” And it’s the same with big names like David Finch, sitting next to you at a convention, or Barry Kitson. When they see you drawing a Lara Croft commission and say: “Wow, that looks very good,” to hear it from their mouths is invaluable. Those are very nice experiences.

Have you done any design work for DC characters?

Yes, I designed a character named Condor for Birds of Prey. You get a description from the writer saying: “There will be a new character, that’s like this and this… …he only needs to be designed.” After that they basically tell you to go for it… Also, the cover of issue 22 shows a new team of villains I designed too. That is insanely cool to do. You get basic information, like one of them is a guy with electric powers, the other one is a big guy. Then you have to figure out how to visually fit these characters in the fictional world and make sure you’re actually designing something new… You have to give them your own twist. And that goes back to the experiences of my younger years, designing my own superheroes as a kid. You actually take some of that with you when you’re designing new characters. Like, when I was about twelve, I drew this guy… You know what; why not give this new character HIS coat? So sometimes you take a ride in the wayback machine, only this time it’s for real. That realisation is super cool.

Please, tell me more about what went into the design of Condor:
The suit was open, so to speak. I wasn’t told to do this or that. But he’s called Condor, so it should somehow have a bird motif. Designing the suit basically took a single sketch. The helmet however… I had given him a helmet that looked too much like Hawkman. Then Jim Lee made ​​a quick sketch of a Roman helmet, one of those things with an eye slit in it. After that, I finalized it in one or two sketches. I also created a number of colour variations in Photoshop and they chose the red, white and grey version.
Uh… I thought the helmet was purple and wanted to say he reminded me of Marvel villain The Wizard a bit:
Does he have a purple helmet? I think he has a red helmet. I often only see my pages back in black and white though. Let’s see… Yes, officially he should be red… It may be that the colourist put a layer of lighting on it, making it purplish… It’s supposed to be a little bit like burgundy.
Okay, never mind… What’s far more interesting, is that Condor is a visual co-creation of you and Jim Lee…
That’s right, I didn’t get to talk to him. But apparently he went around the office with the designs and received a lot of positive reactions… There was just the thing with the helmet, which makes you think: “Okay, that’s very cool. My design is going to my hero, my role model.” I’m actually creating characters that are for ever part of the DC legacy. That makes me think I’m doing something right.

U Decide: Condor's helmet: Purple or Burgundy??? Art by Romano Molenaar, from Birds of Prey #13 (DC comics).

U Decide: Condor’s helmet: Purple or Burgundy? Art by Romano Molenaar, from Birds of Prey #13 (DC comics).

Would you consider working for the Big Two to be your ultimate career goal in comics?
I’ve always been a big fan of Marc Silvestri and Image comics, so that’s where I initially leaned more to. But I’ve never thought: “Now it’s time for me to work for Marvel or DC.” I did say it’d be cool to work for them some time. But I think more along the line of: If it’s a cool character, or a cool story I don’t really care for which company I work. And now that I’m working for DC, I notice that –for me- there is no difference compared to working for Top Cow or Chaos Comics. To me, it’s all the same… Of course, with DC and Batman you have a slightly larger audience, which admittedly is an advantage. But if I stopped working for DC and started working for a smaller studio, I would do it with the same passion. I have to admit though: Working for DC doesn’t hurt your résumé.

And how does this relate to your European comic work?
You know, Storm is also something we have inherited from Don Lawrence. That will never be mine or Jorg’s. So I relate to Storm in the same way as my DC work. Fortunately, the fans are responding very well. We’re positively accepted as the new team at Storm. But it will never be our own thing. That’s the same with Birds of Prey. With Condor for example, it feels like that is actually my character, but it is –and always will be- the publishers’. So I can never say that Storm is closer to me than the comics, because in principle they exist at the same distance from me.

Besides working on Birds of Prey and Storm, Molenaar also runs the Art King studio, where he works on video game designs and other forms of audio-visual entertainment. I asked him if working for the Art King studio gave him more sense of fulfilment:
Yes, there are some projects in there that are our own initiative. When we design our own videogame characters we’re credited as the designers. That’s a big difference. The copyrights of those characters are also ours. Look, I will never get any rights on Condor. I can only say that I’m responsible for his visual design. And that’s okay, it’s good to know that I’ve contributed with my design. That’s more for myself, I won’t say: “Look, that is my character!” To me it’s just a milestone, and I take pride in it.

So, am I correct in assuming you have some creator owned ambitions in the comic field then?
Yes, I have. But because of my workload over the last 10-15 years, I haven’t had time to do a lot with that. But there are certainly a dozen ideas on the computer that I occasionally pick up again. These projects advance slowly, gradually, step by step… And if there’s ever time or an opportunity, these projects will certainly proceed. It’s just that my workload right now… …If I’d currently continue work on these projects I’d get in some serious deadline trouble. Because making your own production -creating and publishing it- that takes a lot of time and energy. But I’m always working with people, just throwing out lines. That’s also a precautionary strategy, for if DC calls it quits. I want to have some things standing by. In that respect, I’m always thinking ahead.

Come back soon for more Romano as we discuss his creative process, technological aids & making it as an unschooled artist

The Romano Molenaar Interview part 1: Current work, reflections on style & the differences between Euro comics and US comics

I was recently asked to write some interviews for the new Dutch comic & manga magazine Strips2Go. For this purpose I sat down with the guys of the Geekstijl Insider podcast as well as current Birds of Prey artist Romano Molenaar. The second one is published in the first edition of Strips2Go, which is currently sold in comic stores throughout the Netherlands. The magazine consists of two thirds of original comic & manga content, the rest being editorial content (columns, interviews and such) and having gone through the whole thing this weekend I must tell you it’s an excellent value purchase (only 1.95 for 71 pages!). The interview with Mr Molenaar was roughly one and a half hour of pure geekery (mostly from my side) and unique insights from a professional comic artist. Because of the length of the interview and the space I’m allowed in the magazine, I had lots of interesting material left which I will be presenting on my blog as a four part interview translated in English. Also, for those who don’t want to read and understand Dutch I edited my recording of our talk into the first instalment of my very own podcast: Open your geek mouth! (In which I open my geek mouth and other people talk back with their geek mouth… …Romano was a pro through and through, though. Little to no geek mouth on him…)

Romano Molenaar at Work

The Netherlands’ biggest export product -at least in the field of comics…

How would you describe your style?
I’m not really very conscious of my style, of course I grew up in the Image era… So there’s a lot of THAT in my style, but I try to add to this with my own sensibilities. Shading, cross hatching, that kind of stuff. At the base of my work is the art of Marc Silvestri. I’m a big fan of his work, there are definitely more than a couple of layers of him in my art. Then there’s also guys like Todd McFarlane, anyone can tell that I’m affected by his stuff. But as you progress, you’ll go and add things of yourself, leaving other stuff, defining camera angles… In doing so, you create a certain style of your own that is going to be recognized by the fans.

Looking back at the launch of the new 52 and the house style that harkens back to the nineties, you seem like a natural fit. Could you have guessed that this new editorial course from DC would lead to a steady stream of work for you?
I must admit that up to the point that I got in touch with Tony Daniel [writer of Molenaar’s first published DC work Detective Comics annual 2012], I didn’t read any comics anymore. I was actually more involved in game development. At that time I was just coming back at Top Cow, where I’ve done issues 95 to 100 of The Darkness. Top Cow’s is also my style, you know: The dynamic, flashy, sharp look. That really appeals to me with them. At that time, I had the intention of quietly trying to set myself up in the comic world again. That went a little further than I expected… And indeed looking at the New 52, that 90s era Image style was really what DC was looking for.

Art by Romano Molenaar, From Detective Comics Annual 2011

Art by Romano Molenaar, from Detective Comics Annual 2011

Looking at the different titles you have worked on in the past, it seems your visual style seems to change slightly on a project-to-project basis. How much of this is the result of working with different inkers and how much of this is you deliberately changing things up?
If I work for Top Cow, or for another studio, I look at the work of the studio and then I –apparently- take something of that style with me in my own work. And I often hear people go: “Hey, your work at Top Cow is much sharper!” Perhaps this is because Top Cow has those inkers, whose line work is very sharp. If you know that, you’re going to accentuate such a style in your pencils. My DC-work, in comparison, has much more of a narrative-driven focus. Also, the current house style of DC uses slightly quieter, rounder lines, with more shadows, more mass in the characters and backgrounds… Knowing myself, I probably picked up something from that. And I think that’s what people notice sometimes. But I don’t go like “let’s throw some DC into my art today”, or something… It goes quite unnoticed.

Can you elaborate on your different experiences with inkers?
Yeah, inkers are an important part of the team, as are colourists. They say the artist is the number one name on the book -although that is actually the author. Comics are foremost a graphic story, and I think that without a good inker and colourist –I’ve been there- the graphic part can go horribly wrong. In principle you work in a team of three and occasionally you have to hope that you are paired with people that you have a good click with, both artistically and personally. When you are tuned-in to each other, you can reinforce each other and learn to read each other’s work. When that happens, it strengthens the whole visual side of a book. This really raises the appreciation for your collaborators. That’s the point we have now reached with the creative team of Birds of Prey. We [Molenaar, inker Jonathan Glapion & colourist Chris Sotomayor] form a cluster of three with which we hope to raise the bar for Birds of Prey. I hope fans too will take notion of this, so we can get this title up and running again.
Yeah, reading the last couple of issues of Birds of Prey, I got the idea that this was a creative team that was perfectly in sync.
Yes, we’ve hit the point where we’re in the flow of delivering the next book, and then the next book, and happily continuing that cycle.

Is the collaboration for DC comics at all different from that on your Dutch title Storm?
I have pretty much a similar working relationship with Jorg [de Vos, colourist] and Dick [Matena, writer]. For Storm I also deliver pencilled pages. The only difference is that Jorg paints over my pencils. So I only have to deal with one person, that’s actually an advantage. Jorg is an extraordinary painter and also a very good penciller in his own right… Because of that, you can hand off something and know that it’ll work out fine. Look, if I ever miss a beat, you can see it through the painting, although I’m sure it will be picked up and handled adequately by Jorg. If you have a good wingman, you can start making speed. That knowledge is very soothing to me. To know that things will work out and look good, that’s the type of cooperation we’ve also got going currently with the Birds of Prey-team. …Just knowing that there are some really good people behind you, who know how to get things done…

Art by Romano Molenaar, from Storm #25 - Het rode spoor

Art by Romano Molenaar, from Storm #25 – Het rode spoor


Seeing as the two products look very different, is it true to assume there’s a big difference in production time?
The difference between the European and American comics is that in the US a book is required to come out on a monthly basis. Of course US comics are a lot thinner, averaging 20 pages. Add to that the fact that you’ve got a bigger creative team, which means that you can make more speed. But at the end of the month, the fact remains that you are expected to deliver 20 pages. Comics usually work with five panels per page, interspersed with splash pages and double splash pages. In European comics acting plays a much bigger role, as well as storytelling. You often see pages with the same face repeated five times to show a monologue in which something is explained. That something you don’t see in mainstream US comics very often. Because it’s a monthly medium, the US comic makes a lot of jumps in the storytelling which makes it sometimes go too quick in my opinion. When you have a European comic album creators really build up a balanced narrative. You get the album once a year and inside is the whole story. This is a longer process, especially for Storm, because Jorg spends at least a week working on a single page. That’s all done by hand, compared to the US comic which is digitally coloured. Nothing wrong with that, but you can still throw in a couple of changes faster than when it’s painted over. In that respect there’s a bit of real craftsmanship going into a Storm album, and that takes more time…

Do you take more time to produce pages for Storm?
Per page I take a bit longer, working on a typical page of Storm. That has to do with the fact that filling out a Euro-comic page works differently than filling a US comic page. In American comics you can play around with silhouettes and large blackened shadow areas, which is not possible on a Storm page. Because all of the backgrounds are fully painted, I also have to render them completely in pencils. So, there’s something of a difference.

That’t it for this part. Come back shortly for part two in which we discuss Romano’s collaborations, designing DC characters & his career goals…

Open Your Geek Mouth! Aflevering 1 – Romano Molenaar

geek mouth 500px

Voor wie op het Kamper Stripspektakel of in het nieuwe blad Strips2Go nog geen genoeg van Romano Molenaar kan krijgen, bied ik nu ook de optie om Romano in je oren te stoppen:

Of download de MP3

Gedeeltelijke Shownotes:

40:00 over het ontwerp van Condor in Birds of Prey
41:00 Paars of Bordeaux rood, wie is er kleuren blind? Gerard, Romano of de inkleurder?!?!
43:09 Werken voor the Big Two, het summum?
44:36 Ligt Storm dichter bij je?
47:00: Creator Owned plannen?
48:16: Verdient het Amerikaanse werk ook beter?
49:29: “Je kunt het zelf zo lucratief maken als je wilt”
51:07: Ontvang je ook royalties op basis van de verkoop van Birds of Prey?
53:14: Hard onderhandeld over het contract met DC?
55:15: Hoe ziet jouw werkproces eruit?
57:44: Werk je ook op digitale media?
60:00: Herken je de ontevredenheid van Paul Jenkins naar DC editorial toe?
62:02: Welk personage teken je het allerliefst?
65:00: Over de voorkeur voor de mannelijke anatomie en het stoeien met de vrouwelijke…
76:10: Favoriete voorwerp om te tekenen
77:00: Gotham City en spannende camera hoeken
1:08:54: Wat teken je liever niet?
1:09:28: Paarden tekenen
1:10:02: Tip voor aspirant tekenaars
1:10:31: Hoe heb je het jezelf allemaal eigen gemaakt?
1:12:22: En hoe heb je jezelf de sequential story telling eigen gemaakt?
1:14:24: Effect van jouw werkdruk op je gezinsleven?
1:18:47: Zijn er ook schrijfambities?
1:19:58: Wat doe je nog naast de comics?

Everything looks better in the dark: Amoras #1

Last Tuesday I was at my local supermarket, standing in line and glancing at the magazine rack when suddenly my heart skipped a beat. Was that actually a comic book down there in full frontal view? An actual, adult oriented comic (ironically vertically positioned at a child’s height)? Then, the image on the cover and the name above the title suddenly clicked with something I’d recently heard about on the radio.  Regardless of my enjoyment of the comic I bought, that Tuesday I felt instantly happier because for the first time since I was twelve, I’d actually bought a ‘serious’ comic in a store that was not specialized in comics. 

Amoras #1 (Standaard Uitgeverij)
amoras cover

The title of the comic I bought is ‘Amoras’ and above the title the cover displays the name Willy Vandersteen. Vandersteen is the creator of one of Belgium and the Netherlands biggest comic series Suske en Wiske (or in translated editions, according to Wikipedia Spike and Suzy, Luke and Lucy, Willy and Wanda or Bob and Bobette), and these are the main characters in Amoras. Suske en Wiske, first published in 1945 was (and still is) a very kid-friendly, all ages book, suske en wiskecombining elements of science fiction and fantasy covered in a thick layer of action and humour. In honour of the centennial birthday of Vandersteen, the publisher has started this spin-off title, in which the familiar characters, events and settings take a dramatic u-turn from what the reader is used to with Suske en Wiske.

I have never been a fan of Suske en Wiske. As far as I can recall (the last time I spent any amount of attention to reading an album must have been over a decade ago) the storytelling was very stiff, the humor as sharp as a spoon and the ligne-clair art-style did not appeal to the teenager that was gorging himself on 90’s superheroes. So, before I delve into the actual reviewing here, I have put a disclaimer that I know next to nothing about these characters and I’m looking at this Euro-comic through a lens that was sharpened on American comics.

This is the first issue (actually a 54 page album) in an on-going series; the next instalment is planned for next fall. Basically what happens is Suske and Wiske (suddenly nearing the end of their teenage years) accidentally end-up in the year 2047. What we see of the world has been turned into a mysterious dystopian wasteland, where Wiske is kidnapped by Dr. Krimson who runs a high tech fascist police state. Of course, Suske attempts to rescue her and gets help from a new female character called Jérusalem. Back in the current time, regular cast members Lambiek, Jerom (estranged from each other) and Sidonia find out that Suske and Wiske are missing. While a third plot thread deals with their friend professor Barabas being abducted by the clumsily time-hopping Dr. Krimsom to improve his 3d-copied version of BarabasTele Time Machine.

Jérusalem's got the hots for Wiske (art by Charel Combré from Amors #1.)

Jérusalem’s got the hots for Wiske (art by Charel Combré from Amors #1.)

To me this whole project reminded me a lot of the recent ‘reboot’ at DC comics over in the States. When they stopped their whole line of comics to restart them all with new number ones, the line-wide trend throughout most of the 52 new titles seemed to be going back to the 90’s as far as art was concerned as well as focussing on darker, edgier stories. They even had a TV ad backed by a dark, heavy metal-grunge soundtrack. And the whole Amoras package seems just a little too much ‘look how dark and gritty Suske and Wiske have become’. I find the idea behind it interesting, but to me as an outsider it feels like a desperate measure to try and bring in new readers… (…and I’m not seeing anybody jumping back to the original title because of this ‘edgy’ spin-off.)

Story-wise, this first instalment lacks originality. Sure it’s cool and fun to see Wiske physically fully developed running around in a sexy outfit, or Jérusalem attempting a trip to sexy town with Suske. It’s also kind of refreshing to see the titular characters curse like actual people do, as well as actually physically hurting their adversaries. But these novelties do not outweigh the fact that the story regurgitates all the beats of any standard time travel story. Also, I got really irked by story/continuity inconsistencies (in one panel Suske is wearing a gun over his shoulder while in all the surrounding panels he remains unarmed, in another panel Jérusalem -who it’s established is deaf and can only understand people through reading their lips- is talking with Suske while turned with her back to him, see image above). However, I’m not ready to write-off writer Marc Legendre. I had not read any of his earlier stuff, but it turns out he’s pretty accomplished and I’ve just ordered his graphic novel ‘Verder’(apparently the only comic to have ever made the short list of the prestigious Dutch Libris Price for Literature). Hopefully my next experience with his work will click more with me.

Is Amoras the creative explosion that will draw in new readers to the Suske en Wiske franchise? Only time will tell, (Art bij Charel Cambré, from Amoras #1).

Is Amoras the creative explosion that will draw in new readers to the Suske en Wiske franchise? Only time will tell (Art bij Charel Cambré, from Amoras #1).

The art of the series is delivered by Charel Combré. Being an American comic fan, the first thing I thought when I saw his art is ‘this guy needs a strong inker’. In no way is this guy a bad artist, but the line-work is a little too inconsistent for my taste. Some panels are scratchy, sometimes thick and thin lines don’t really blend in a way that makes sense to me. Other panels are quite gorgeous and clean however. I also looked at the press kit for this Amoras and saw some of Combré’s pencils, which in my opinion look better than the final product. Also, I did a Google image search on this guy and found out he did the artwork for a title called Mega Mindy, in which he used straight edged, bold lines giving his art a much more clear, clean and confident look. Throughout most of the book the colouring (also by Cambré) is superb, but the last couple of pages seem rather crude in comparison. To end things on a positive note, there are flashes of brilliance in the widescreen action scenes at the beginning of the book and throughout the book the dynamism is excellent.

The art is really dynamic, and the action is explosive (art by Charel Cambré, from Amoras #1).

The art is really dynamic, and the action is explosive (art by Charel Cambré, from Amoras #1).

Ultimately, I think the idea behind Amoras is interesting and a very worthwhile endeavour. However, I have my doubt about the execution and I seriously question how many readers will jump from this series to the regular Suske en Wiske. Regardless of my critiques, I DO admit I found it hard to give this book a fair chance. Unconsciously, I was hoping the book would not deliver and confirm my preconceived notions about Suske en Wiske. Because of this, I will revisit Amoras in November for the second album and try to give it a fair shake to win me over.

Art 6.5  Writing               5 (+1 for the idea behind this series)
Overall
6.3

Bad fanboy. Worse blogger.

Well, that didn’t work out as I had envisioned.

Reading over twenty books a week, staying current and writing something (from a certain point ANYTHING!) about every book turned out to be quite time consuming. Hell, it may have even lead to a minor bout of being burned out on comics. At this point I’m back in the wagon again, though perhaps at a somewhat healthier level. My pull list (fully digital, mind you) has shrunk down to seven monthly books, plus an odd number one issue here and there. Quite frankly, I can’t arse myself into reviewing these any more. Also, expressing my love for Saga, Locke & Key and The Walking Dead each month would grow old rather fast.

So that’s it then. It’s been fun. Is this blog dead? Practically, it absolutely is. Officially? Not quite yet…

 

(Though honestly it takes a lot of me not feel utterly pessimistic about even that vague notion. So don’t hold your breath. I sure won’t hold mine…)

Book of the week 28: Walking Dead #100

1. Walking Dead #100 (Image comics)
With a hit television series; a great video game; a table top game; action figures; statues; t-shirts; novelizations; and the news that this anniversary issue has become the best selling single issue of 2012, the Walking Dead really doesn’t need any more hype. Still, it’s one hell of an achievement that Robert Kirkman and Charlie Adlard (and Tony Moore) have come this far with their little zombie book. The remarkable feat of reaching one hundred issues isn’t what’s most noticeable about the latest issue though: It’s the strong character driven plot and the emotions it evokes in readers.

This anniversary issue is a real stomach turner. I won’t spoil anything specifically, so rest assured and read on. In the last couple of issues Rick Grimes and his little community of survivors have reached out to a larger community not far from them. When they learn that this Hilltop community is being extorted by a man called Nagin and his gang of enforcers, Rick offers to deal with them. At first it seemed to work, twice Rick and his people encountered Nagin’s followers, and twice they killed most of them, sending the survivors back to tell Nagin that the Hilltop is now under their protection. In this issue, we get an idea of the size of Nagin´s gang as they retaliate and randomly choose one of the main characters to make an example of.

Again, labeling this book as merely a zombie book is doing it a huge disservice. Sure there´s some zombies getting their heads chopped off. And, sure the story is set in a world gone to hell because of the dead rising with a bad apatite. But really, this is a story about survival and the strains that such extreme situations put on relationships and society as a whole. It´s because of Robert Kirkman´s choice to focus on character interaction, instead of mindless zombie whacking, that the gruesome horrors that fictional characters inflict on each other drive straight home with a sickening emotional sucker punch. Case in point is the death in this issue. Here we see a character that was introduced in the first couple of issues having his or her head brutally bashed in, right in front of his or her loved ones. A character that, time and time again has proven him or herself as crucial to the survival of Rick and his people. A character that had just found some happiness in this post apocalyptic wreck of a world. The character that just a couple of pages before his or her death utters the phrase: ‘I can’t stop thinking about tomorrow. I never used to do that.’ A character that was built up so strong that readers will miss him or her like a real person. Heck, I couldn’t stop thinking about that scene the rest of the day. My mind kept going back to all the good memories about the character and the five pages that show the horrific last moments in shocking detail.

On that last note, this issue isn’t just an issue filled with horror for horror’s sake. It sets up Nagin as a villain that makes The Governor (remember him?) look like Mary Poppins and changes the status quo of the series: Just as everything seemed to be looking up for Rick and his people, they now find themselves in a new bleak situation, which I can’t imagine they can easily get out off. Still, I can’t wait till Rick gets his hand on Nagin.

I’m not sure what to say about the art. It was as fantastic and dire looking as can be expected from Charlie Adlard. Although I have to wonder what his reaction was when he first read Robert Kirkman’s script. I can’t imagine how hard it must have been to render some of the stuff in here.
Art: 9              Writing: 10     Overall: 9.5

Runners up, week 28: Literary cock thunder, mutant gay mariage and AVX…

2. League of Extraordinary Gentlemen. Century 2009 (Top Shelf Productions) 
The art by Kevin O´Neill looked better than last issue. Actually, both the writing and art in this were very strong, however I’m just not feeling it. Perhaps I’m oblivious to 90 percent of all the metatextual subliminal messages and symbolism. But there’s also the point that I didn’t particularly like the original two volumes of League of Extraordinary Gentlemen; didn’t read the Black Dossier; and besides the League haven’t got the slightest idea about characters like Allan Quatermain or Orlando.  Good ending, to a good book, but I’m just not giddy about this. Also worth noting: Harry Potter shoots lightning from his cock.
Art: 8              Writing: 8       Overall: 8

3. Astonishing X-men #51 (Marvel comics)
I have a nostalgic soft spot for the X-men, and have fond memories of the wedding of Scott and Jean. So, despite all the hubbub surrounding Marvel’s mutant same sex marriage, I dove head first into Astonishing X-men, a series I haven’t read since Joss Whedon left. That being said I had no problem picking up the plot. This is a pretty good jumping on point, so congratulations on that go to Marvel and especially writer Margery Liu. If you’re a fan of weddings then this is for you, otherwise it’s just wrapping up the last story arc. It shows some hectic snippets of the wedding preparations, and of course the wedding of Canadian speedster North Star and lastly a cliffhanger that falls back on the last issue. Overall, I found this issue pretty mediocre: nothing good; nothing bad. Liu has the character voices down perfectly, but writing wise that’s all that stands out. I had high expectations of Mike Perkins on art, but this did not look like his work on Steven King’s The Stand adaptations. Frankly it looked a bit rushed (some of the faces look somewhat… …disfigured). But even rushed Perkins looks pretty good. Ending on a good note, I really liked the soft crayon-like colors.
Art:
7              Writing: 7.5    Overall: 7,3

4. Avengers VS X-men #6-7 (Marvel comics)
I was pretty much down with Marvel’s big summer block buster event… …until Matt Fraction got his hands on it. I’m loving the art by Olivier Coipel. It’s not his best work, but even on an off day, this guy is brilliant. Now Fraction though, that’s a whole other story. He seems to be ticking off all the same boxes he used on Fear Itself (remember Marvel’s last cluster fuck of an event?), alternative magical suits, bad characterizations, disjointed (and  too many) subplots… I can’t wait till the next writer takes over.
Art: 8.5           Writing: 6       Overall: 7.25

Extended quick shots for week 28: Nick Fury and ACE another Dutch comic

A dynamic panel from Nick Fury.Agent of Shield, by Jim Steranko

A dynamic panel from Nick Fury.Agent of Shield, by Jim Steranko

5. Strange Tales #156-163 (Marvel comics, 1967)                                                     7
I keep on plowing through the trade paperback of Nick Fury. Agent of SHIELD. The stories in here are being told in 12 page installments, because the original issues were split between Nick Fury stories and Dr. Strange stories. Issue 156 finally wraps up the first big arc, in which Fury is after Baron Wolfgang von Strucker or the Head Hydra as he was mostly known around then. I was glad to see this long winded rat race come to an end, and welcomed some shorter stories. But sadly writing wasn’t Jim Steranko’s strong suit. Regrettably, the art also took a bit of a dip, when Steranko stopped inking himself. I know that Bill Everett is no slouch either, but it just doesn’t look the same. As far as I have read now, without his own inks Steranko sadly devolves into a Kirby clone (was it the times, or just Marvel’s house style?)
6. ACE #2 (DROP comics)                                                                                                       6.9
And now for a little Dutch flavor. ACE stands for Action Committee Extraordinary, a pan European security agency with national branches. This series shows the adventures of the ACE team designated to the Netherlands. After a zero issue and the number one issue, writer Gert-Jan van Oosten is still setting up the team and the characters, but in this issue we get a gleam of the overall plot direction of this series. In this issue, we follow new recruit John Rock, who can copy knowledge and skills of the people he’s close to. We see Rock get recruited and initiated in the agency. But his welcome turns violent as he gets to fight ACE’s local martial arts expert and gets off on the wrong foot with another new recruit, who seems to be having a secret agenda of his own. Reading this issue, it felt like Van Oosten’s love letter to the classic Chris Claremont X-men. We have a bit of a danger room analogue, a quite physical welcoming ordeal, a team consisting of members with exotic powers as well as exotic ethnicities, fun banter between the characters and of course there is a Madrox the Multiple Man analogue. I love how subtle he manages to get these references in there, without it standing in the way of telling his story. The series’ artist is Ranjit Dommisse, a guy clearly channeling J. Scott Cambell (though a bit more cartoony), I love the way he portrays his women and the visual style he manages to set forth throughout this series. However, I have some issues with his linework and the lack of details (both in faces and backgrounds). Still, this issue’s got a beautiful two page spread introducing all the characters and a wonderfully choreographed fight scene.