On today’s first Artist August interview, we have the artist from Jonathan Hickman’s new Image series The Red Wing. A relative newcomer, Nick Pitarra’s art blew away everyone who read that first issue and made them all excited to see what he does next.
And at San Diego Comic Con, we found out what that is: another Image book with Hickman, titled The Manhattan Projects.
Check out after the jump as we chat with Nick about his craft, working with Hickman, The Red Wing, The Manhattan Projects, and who would be who if the creative team of The Red Wing recreated Dirty Dancing. Also, look over the next couple hours as we highlight Pitarra’s art and share an art process piece for one show-stopping page from The Red Wing (and check this site if you would like to buy some of his original art).
Nick Pitarra: Yeah! My senior year in high school I was kicked out of an honors class for not typing a paper. The teacher gave me a zero and I was moved into a lower level class. There I met my best friend Isaac, who was going to the Kubert School the next fall. I was instantly blown away that the guy could draw out of his head….and so I set out to start to draw comics. So…half assing a school paper was my turning point!
Having read through The Red Wing a few times and checked out your sketch/commission art on your site, it seems like you wear some of your influences on your sleeve — like Frank Quitely. Who would you say the biggest influences are on your art, and what other mediums do you look to for inspiration?
NP: For sure. Frank Quitely, Geof Darrow, Seth Fisher, and their artistic Godfather….Moebius! Following up the last answer , I went to the shop with my new friend Isaac and as I browsed the shelves I stumbled upon the Quitely/Millar run on The Authority. It was the first time I could understand comic book art. It was gestural and subtle….super detailed. The figures had power and life to them. I was blown away. Before that I could appreciate, but never understand, the gradually separating parallel lines/fades/ and cross hatching on the majority of Americans comics work. So the moral of the story …half ass your homework and read comics….it can change your life!
In the digital age, new tools are available to artists of all types. What digital tools do you use, and how do they change your process and experience?
NP: I do 90% of my work by hand…Pencils, Inks, Rulers, and Paper…drawing out grids and finding vanishing points. Obviously my figure work is made up! Ha! But now with Photoshop when I scan stuff in I’ll tweak eyes here and there…shrink a head if its bugging me. The lines are all there on the original board….but some edits and tweaks I’ll do in Photoshop. It’s an awesome tool.
NP: Jonathan and I have worked together in two Marvel anthologies. He discovered me in an art competition called Comic Book Idol hosted by Comic Book Resources. I owe him my career. Our first work together on Mojoworld was some of Jonathan’s first work at Marvel too. Instead of picking an established pro to work with like 99.99999% of all newcomers coming in would do, he picked a guy whose work he saw online that he had never met, spoken with, exchanged an email with or anything. I can’t tell you how incredibly honored and happy I am to work with Jonathan.
That story about how he picked me out…it speaks volumes about who he is as a creator. Wanting to take chances. Wanting to do things that are new. Marching to the beat of his own drum. The industry is lucky to have the guy. Unfortunately for him….he found me! Ha!Continued below
The Red Wing deals heavily with time travel and the affect of that on a person, and it is especially well rendered in one particular death scene in the first issue (MC Note: Look for the art process on that page today at MC as well). As an artist, how difficult is it for you to conceptualize scenes like that, and do you find those sequences to be particularly difficult?
NP: Drawing is just drawing for me. I love drawing the slight turn of a neck as much as I love drawing a guy disintegrating into a skeleton through the history of time! A potted plant on a stool in the BG is just as important to me as anything else in the book. I have a very “draw everything” style…artists that work like that I feel bring an honesty to their storytelling and stories. It’s a real artist’s filter to the world around them. So I know I’m very raw as a new artist, but I take a lot of pride in that wonky rubbery stuff your having a hard time making out in those backgrounds!
This book features some really tremendous scenes that are…well, incredibly imaginative. Did you ever look at the script from Hickman and think “how the hell am I going to make this work?!”
NP: Yeah! I quickly shoot him an email or pick up the phone “Hey madman, send me a rough!” Hickman is a great artist on his own. And he’s very good at these powerful visually striking images. Where I come from a place that is based in clarity…storytelling stuff. So when I get to work over one of his layouts ….it’s always a great team up. You get something fully realized with crevices, teeth, hair, and bones…but at the same time…you can step back and be wowed by its imagery outside of the details. That image you referenced about the pilot falling apart – that was a scene where we teamed up! Not something I’d ever do on my own, but his little thumbnail made all the difference in my artistic direction on it. He’s helped me a lot in that regard.
Your art is incredibly detailed — that may actually be an understatement. How long did that first issue take for you to put together, and how much fun does that make drawing space battles through time?
NP: Yeah I’d say I’m working about at a one issue per one and a half month pace right now. This is my first full comic work, so I think I’ll get faster. Plus, I just now transitioned into working full time on comic work and I’m penciling and inking. I can crank it up closer to deadline though…I have a get it done sense of urgency in me…it only ignites last minute though. Lots of sleepless nights and laughing at things that no one in their right mind find funny goes down in the wee hours of the night.
Regarding the detail, I just always draw what is there…and in all honesty don’t see it as detailed at all. Its just what is there. It wouldn’t look right…and doesn’t look right if I start removing stuff. Feels naked to me. I’m always blown away about how people like the detail…I take way more pride in the clarity of things …the line control and little bits of storytelling, the detail is just the world its happening in. I love art where you can be immersed in environments and things are happening in realized locations. It really grounds things…makes the insanity of the story seem believable.
You recently had a SHIELD story at Marvel with Hickman as well as The Red Wing at Image with him. How does the experience of working on a creator-owned book compare to the one of working on a Big Two book?
NP: For me it’s the same…drawing is drawing. The money is different! The fear when I’m working is different. I find it hard to be myself on Big Two work. I’ve been rejected for so many gigs that I honestly don’t believe they know what to do with my work….sans Jonathan. So working on things that are mainstream….it’s like I’m Baby Doll in the first half of Dirty Dancing, before Patrick Swayze lays pipe to me and tells me to have some fun with what I’m doing. Too afraid to mess up. When I finally get to meet Jonathan I imagine him jumping into my outstretched arms on the Heroes Con floor….sweating…smiling…we gaze into each others eyes….and I nod my head….eyes dead locked…..confident “And I owe it all to yoouuuu!” as I twirl him in the air. So yeah, The Red Wing is me having some fun, and Patrick Swayze…errr…..Jonathan Hickman guiding my raw talent. You’ll think twice before you ever ask to interview me again! (MC Note: We enjoy Dirty Dancing references, especially ones in which Jonathan Hickman is Patrick Swayze)Continued below
At San Diego Comic Con, a new collaboration between you and Jonathan Hickman was announced in the Image Comics title “The Manhattan Projects.” Hickman described it as “the Thunderbolts of science,” which sounds pretty much amazing. What can you tell us about this upcoming book, and how did you and Hickman decide to work together again?
NP: This book is going to be really fun. There’s a rich history behind the whole Manhattan Project program, from the manhunt of minds around the globe, to the hearsay studies/experiments that this collective group of geniuses were studying….sprinkle in a little Hickman revisionist history, two parts of my wonky anatomy, and a dash of insanely detailed art…and you got one long winded teaser sentence!
This concept and us agreeing to work together actually came about before The Red Wing. But Red Wing being a smaller story in terms of length, we decided to tackle it first and iron out our working relationship, figure out my speed, and just build momentum and gel before starting The Manhattan Projects. True story, when Jonathan originally pitched this to me about 7 or 8 months ago we got it green lit very early on, but I was finishing college (studying to become an art teacher). Hickman actually urged me to drop out of school to jump on this project with him! “Anyone can be a teacher, not everyone gets to draw comics!” Ha! Luckily, things dragged a hair, I was able to finish my degree, and I killed a little time with a short SHIELD Infinity story with Jonathan and Rachelle somewhere in between.
And speaking of Rachelle Rosenberg, I’d be a fool not to mention what an absolute delight and pleasure it is to work with a colorist of her talents. Without spotting blacks and frequently burying pages in detail my lines can be a real challenge to fill. With her wonderful color choices and soft palette Rachelle really brings my artwork to life. The way she separates plains, pulls in a focus to my work, and makes The Red Wing shine is just incredible.
|A “Manhattan Projects” Teaser|
On your site you say that The Manhattan Projects is a “long term Image project.” How long are you and Hickman looking to run this bad boy? Is there a set length on it from the start?
NP: Well when Jonathan and I first started kicking this around (and this was early on conversations so things are subject to change) he talked about building a little indie empire under The Manhattan Projects label. With each experiment being a focus of a story arc (trade paperback). Not unlike how Ed Brubaker has Criminal and imprints that run under that umbrella like Incognito.
Jonathan really sold it to me because of the infinite concepts we could explore with each experiment. I’m still a very young artist and trying to find my voice, under this structure I can explore my style between story arcs. And if we get bored with one experiment…it’s only 4 or 5 issues before we go into another room and we get to play with a whole new genre/idea. The unlimited possibilities, rich history, being at Image, creative control/ownership, and collaborating with Jonathan again makes this a dream project for me personally.
As far as length we are committed to doing 3 trades as of now. Right around 15 issues. I’m going to take a few months after Red Wing is wrapped and get a few issues in the can and then we’ll be off and running. And again, this is just early creative banter on how the concept came about, no doubt it will change once we get rolling. But that’s The Manhattan Projects origin story at least!
We’ve talked to a lot of writers about their craft, and universally they find themselves personally invested in their stories. As the artist of a book like The Red Wing, do you find yourself personally invested in the story?Continued below
NP: Yeah, it’s impossible not to be. Just from an art perspective…I feel protective of it already. Me and Jonathan are working somewhere in between Marvel style and regular script style. I asked him to leave out the dialogue and just describe the scene…..so I don’t get bogged down in illustrating words…rather than scenes and moments. I can over think things and have the potential to talk down to readers with my art. Sometimes being spoon fed is needed….but every now and then a food fight is in order too. So I never get the full comic until I read over the PDF proofs. It’s like watching my baby speak for the first time. Only his first sentence “Fuuuuck this hurts!” As he ages into time travel dust. Poor thing.
In the average comic book criticism or review, artists are typically given a lot less hype than writers are, even though this is a visual medium. Why do you think that is?
NP: Well it’s a writer driven market place right now. That can be good and that can be bad. Smart writers know how to collaborate and not fill talking heads with cool bits of dialogue they’ve had tucked away in their notebooks for 10 years. Its all story first, characters are the vehicles, the ideas happen around them. Those are the stories I love. There are guys like Hickman/Ellis who can really do both in a single story. Like Jonathan’s FF stuff now. Amazing. Then you can get some pure Grant Morrison idea stuff that will blow your mind, and simultaneously leave you scratching your head. Then you got guys who are all character driven like Kirkman (who is a personal fave of mine)…where the concept isn’t the most inventive (zombies/Spider-Man meets Superman/and a dinosaur…only super), but the characterization and character moments are so god damned good that you fall in love and believe and care about everything you see on the page.
To get back to your question though, I think the industry has just evolved. Artists are better, the fan base has matured and likes a lot more guys who tell a better story more so than than draw a prettier picture. The writing is so much better. I think the medium is just maturing and the quality is so high that a great storyteller can be interchangeable in the sense that there are many guys who have the professional storytelling chops to pull off a single story, while there still is only one Grant Morrison to blow your hair back. One Jonathan Hickman to tango with. And one Kirkman who can make Zombies seem like the coolest most original concept you’ve ever heard about through masterful characterization. I can think of a number of illustrators who have killed it with those guys, but I still think of the writers as individuals. So…for now…they are the stars!
But for the record ART > WORDS in any comic. For every Morrison/Hickman/Kirkman…there’s an Art Adams/Mike Allred/Frank Quitely. Like telling a joke…a bad storyteller can take ace material and make it stink. A good story teller can take shit words and make them gold. Bad writing still can’t save bad art.
Comics, even with increasing acceptance amongst the mainstream, are still a niche medium. With that in mind, have your friends and family always been supportive of your pursuit of a career in this field?
NP: Yeah, my parents are the best. Many of times I’ve moved back into the back bedroom of their house (my art studio) to try and break in. It wrecks havoc on relationships. I can’t tell you how guilty I feel when a girlfriend asks me to come to bed and I say I can’t, or I give in and say OK….only to ninja roll and go draw once she’s asleep. You sacrifice a lot of sweet little life moments to do this stuff. I think that’s why I have a lot of pride in my work. It’s not the best. But I’ve given up a bit to get here.
Does feedback (both positive and negative) with fans and critics via social media push you as an artist?
NP: Anything positive gets my juices flowing. Having a pro write me and say they even know of me freaks me out! John Arcudi and I have become pen pals! He worked with Seth Fisher on a Doom Patrol arc. What an incredibly generous guy and a great writer. That stuff makes me feel like I climbed Mount Everest. And honestly anything negative does so as well…it inspires me. But again, it’s not from a mean or spiteful place.Continued below
I remember one guy online really busted my chops for drawing close to Seth Fisher’s style. I just feel the guy didn’t have perspective. I loved and drew like Seth Fisher way before he died. Collected his original art. Was truly inspired and in awe of the guy. I think we all are artists in our own stages of development. The nature of art and influences tends to be derivative with everyone. And if you look back in the history of comics and art in general….the very best are remembered by and through the art of those they have influenced. I honestly couldn’t be more happy or proud to draw like Seth Fisher. Yes, I’m a hack. Go pick up his art and find the source of the genius! Remember him, love him, draw like him! Then go pick up Moebius and find Seth’s Inspiration. Then Herge to find Moebius’. Then Windsor McCay!
Actually don’t look at McCay….you’ll probably go into a seizure when you realize he was doing work far past anything seen in modern comics…only in print over 100 years ago, without computers, or sketchup, or Photoshop. You look at his work and you quickly realize that you could start drawing now until the day you die….and you still wouldn’t be able to polish that guys boots!
So yeah…I’m an artist and I’m developing. I might suck to some, I might be the cats meow to some….but I’m learning and absorbing life’s experiences and influences plopping them down onto the page. And I feel good about the path I’m on.
What would be a dream project for you? Any particular writers you’re dying to work with or titles you’d like to take a stab at? Perhaps a personal project you just want to see come to fruition?
NP: In all honestly I only want to work with Jonathan right now. Our creative relationship, his guidance has meant everything to me. I’m loyal by nature…and will stick with him as long as he’s willing to put up with me. I do have my own creator owned ideas, but in reality it’s all my takes on other’s work. It’s way more important to me for Jonathan and I to work on our takes of our things. Not…my version of The Tick meets The Authority! I got a pitch in that concept that will quickly get me black balled form the industry! Eventually I do want to parlay this into an exclusive contract for a few years somewhere down the line, but the gig would have to be special…and again…I’m with Hickman.
What are three things that you absolutely cannot work without?
NP: Paper, Pencil, Ruler. (And coffee).
Desert Island question: one book, one album, one film and one comic. What do you take with you?
NP: Probably an Elliott Smith album or Jim Croce’s greatest hits…I’ve been jamming Croce since I was a kid. Great storytelling in Jim’s work and just pure honesty in Elliott’s. The Absolute Authority Volume two Hardback or Planetary Absolutes would be amongst the handful.Shit the Moebius’ Incal collection too. Yeah I’d be trading matches and drinking water in exchange for a few more comics…I really couldn’t decide.
Also, I’d like to plug Ten Ton Studios, its where I can be found online. A comic message board for pros and up and comers. We give crits, do a weekly sketch challenge and comic jam. Popular pros on the board include Batman Inc. artist Chris Burnham, Spider-Man Artist Reilly Brown, X-Men mainstay Khoi Pham, and our bit of indie cred….Stuff of Legend Artist Charles Paul Wilson. Come check us out over there. It’s a blast!