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…
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…
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…