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…)
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.
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…
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…