Monthly Archives: September 2013

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

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…