Today as part of our double-feature Artist August, we’re going to be talking to another rising star in the comic world. Chances are you’re unfamiliar with Ramon Villalobos name at the moment, but we’re here to help correct that. But let me tell you: by the time this interview is over, you’re probably going to want to get on Twitter to pester him and Curt Pires about how you can get a hand on LP as soon as possible. It’s just that good.
Take a look below as we talk to Ramon about his secret origin, upcoming book LP, his work on Vitruvian Underground and more.
Is there a single moment of your life you can look back on as the moment you knew you wanted to work in comics? Or was it more of a natural progression that led you here?
Ramon Villalobos: Well, growing up I loved the idea of comics but my mom couldn’t afford them. We’d drive past a comic shop in my town and I’d ask her to go in but why torture a kid by showing him a bunch of cool stuff he can’t have, I guess was her logic? She bought me one random X-Men comic once that was completely thrashed in a matter of days, so I understood at that age I just wasn’t going to be getting comic books.
It wasn’t until later in high school that I started walking to the library and checking out, like, twenty books at a time that I got really into comics. That whole time in between though I liked the idea of comics and would pick up random issues when I went with my friends to the comic stores to buy Pokemon cards. I’d pick up an issue of Nightwing or Green Lantern if I had money on me while they bought worthless trading cards.
So I guess the answer is, I had a gut feeling that’s what I would like to do my entire life but didn’t know quite what that meant until I started actually reading them and trying to understand them as more than just a cool thing that I had no access to. And even then, it wasn’t until more recently when I felt like I was good enough to draw comics that I thought I would like to work in comics. It’s an intimidating thing and I’m only now feeling okay about it, but a few years ago I used to be terrible.
In looking through your DeviantArt, it’s pretty astonishing to see your evolution from 2005 to now in terms of your work. What sort of artistic education have you had, and what do you feel has led to such an evolution in style?
RV: Yeah, it’s pretty crazy. I’ve had conversations with other younger artists like me about how we’ve grown up artistically on the internet with all of the scars of our evolution readily available for everyone to see. I’ve contemplated deleting older stuff but then I think about how cool it would be to see that progression by artists that I really like and leave it alone.
I haven’t had a whole lot of artistic education. I took your basic sort of high school art classes and a few sculpture classes in community college. Mostly I picked up what I know about comic art from comic books and my awesome friends that are way better artists than I am.
Your work is obviously fairly reminiscent of guys like Frank Quitely, Chris Burnham and even Shaky Kane, but can you talk a bit about where you see your influences coming from?
RV: Yeah, the clear line style I do now is my absolute favorite way to draw, but that’s only developed within the last year or two. For the longest time I tried drawing in a way that didn’t feel natural and I just kept hammering things out hoping it would come together more, and then on a whim I thought it might be fun to mimic Frank Quitely. I got a nice response from that kind of drawing and it felt more natural so I have been trying to find myself from there.Continued below
I don’t want to be a shameless Frank Quitely rip off so I try to add elements of other guys that I like in there. So yeah, Frank Quitely is huge but also Geof Darrow and Rafael Grampa are huge for me in terms of linework and I’m constantly looking at Will Eisner and JH Williams 3 for panel layout. Basically, I’m aiming really high so hopefully if a tiny fraction of them reflects in my work, I’ll be in good shape.
So let’s talk a bit about this magnificent book you’ve put together with Curt Pires, LP. How did the two of you come to collaborate together?
RV: Thanks very much for that. Yeah, Curt had been following me on Twitter for a little while and he was very supportive of the comic I wrote and colored that my buddy Craig Cermak and I co-created, so I figured this guy must have pretty good taste. He messaged me about working on something together and asked what I’d be interested in doing. I told him something Sci-Fi and he sent me a fully written fleshed-out script. To be honest, I couldn’t see myself drawing that so I was like, “eh, sorry Curt. I wasn’t talking about something THAT Sci-Fi,” so he sent me another script which was slightly less science fictiony and I read it and also couldn’t see myself drawing that either.
I was kind of worried about letting him down AGAIN but Curt’s so persistent that it didn’t even phase him, and he then sent me ANOTHER script. This one was LP, which I could totally see myself drawing, so I didn’t make the poor guy send me yet another script, though I’m sure he’s got them ready. The fact that he had so many fully fleshed out ideas really impressed me actually.
As seems appropriate for the book, the pace of the comic seems to thump away to it’s own beat. When translating a music-heavy concept into a non-auditory medium, what steps do you take to keep a similar essence abound in your art?
RV: Ah, thanks for saying that. We both kind of hoped that would come across, but I’m not sure how well it translated. Basically, I just did what felt right and looked cool. I also listened to a lot of music in the process of drawing it, though that isn’t very unusual. I just started listening to The Beach Boys really seriously during the creation of the book so I asked Curt if we could make Brian Wilson on the record to get a little meta-textual Grant Morrison “prayer to John Lennon” stuff going on. I must have listened to Pet Sounds a thousand times while working on pages for LP. It was awesome.
The book has a great visual aesthetic, playing around with with panels and visual sequences. What do you feel it is that makes a comic like this work so well that might not necessarily work in another medium, like a short film?
RV: Well, I’m not quite sure about that. I guess because we can get so crazy with colors that you just can’t manufacture with a camera. There’s sequences in the book where if you saw them on screen it might be kind of boring because the camera doesn’t move very much but in the book, we’re not used to seeing that kind of thing so it feels kind of special.
The colors of the book are fairly striking and add a whole new dynamic to the story. When putting color into the book, how did you pick which colors to use to illuminate the different sequences? To what extent is this all a Vince Gilligan-esque mind game in which the palette offers up a story of it’s own for those paying attention to the hues?
RV: Yeah, I’m a big fan of Dave Stewart’s coloring. He’s a guy that can do a lot with just his color selection so I wanted to try to do something like that. There’s no rendering in the book partially because of time and partially because it looked a little more interesting letting the lines and the bold colors speak for themselves. I wanted to create a mood in every scene and I think I did that by just being as heavy handed as humanly possible. That said, it’s exactly what I would like to see. It adds to the pop art feeling of the book Curt and I wanted to establish.Continued below
In your mind, what kind of music is held within the grooves of that record?
RV: The soul of Brian Wilson. Not necessarily his music but listen to the energy of all those early Beach Boys albums that he had and divide it by some of the lesser stuff that came out when he wasn’t involved. If you do that, then boil what you have down to a musical concentrate and mix in a few more metaphors you have what’s in the groves. It’s Brian Wilson.
You’ve also done a book entitled Vitruvian Underground, which you wrote but did not illustrate, with artist Craig Cermak. How did this project come about, and how did it feel to step away from one pen in favor of another?
RV: Oh, well I’ve known Craig for years and in that time we’ve both gotten a lot of scripts that are good but come from a very writer-driven point of view. Comics are a visual medium and when you give the artist something that he wants to draw, odds are it will come out pretty good, and Craig and I have a very similar point of view so he approached me about working on something with him actually. The idea was to create our perfect superhero comic book so it had to encapsulate everything we love about comic books in it and we felt we were pretty successful at it.
The best part is that it was totally collaborative. Every character has part of him and part of me in it to the point where each character had two designs and the final was usually a combination of the two. Just everything about it is a joint effort so it’s extremely gratifying to work on because it’s exactly the comic we would want to read with no exceptions.
The concept to me seems fairly influenced by works like Morrison’s run on Doom Patrol. What do you draw from when writing as opposed to with art, and where do the two influences intertwine?
RV: Yeah, Grant Morrison is a huge inspiration. Ironically, Doom Patrol is the only one of his books I’ve not totally read. I have it all but I’ve got it fairly recently so I need to make time to finish it up. Aside from Morrison, Jack Kirby’s solo work was a huge inspiration along with a ton of Silver Age comics. I’m not a fan of decompression in comics so that plays a huge factor in writing scripts when I am able to do that. I also try to read as many “normal” books as I can. I’m big into essayists like David Sedaris, Jeff Sharlet, Sarah Vowell and those kind of guys because they can tell complete stories in limited space and they do it very well.
Are there currently any plans for more?
RV: Yep. Craig draws Voltron: Year One for Dynamite Comics but pretty soon he’s gonna start squeezing in pages of VU when he gets the time, but I haven’t read the script. It’s a pretty messed up situation because he has to get on me about getting him pages instead of vice versa like most creative teams in comics.
As a completely independent creator at the moment, how do you feel about the current landscape of comics? Is it a good time to be coming up in the world?
RV: Gee, I dunno. It’s kind of nice because Kickstarter makes it available to print your books and getting people really interested and web-comics and that sort of thing make it very easy for people to see your stuff but breaking into the atmosphere where people know who you are is the tough thing. The thing is though that now there’s a lot of noise out there so it’s even harder to get heard.
We live in an age where there are many new tools for artists to choose from to practice there craft. What do you prefer for yourself? Do you use digital tools at all?
RV: I prefer to do everything on paper and color on the computer because I can go and draw at Subway or McDonald’s or something and then come home and work on my computer to finish everything up. I like being able to work anywhere and I don’ thave a laptop. I also don’t have very nice digital tools so right now its sort of I use what I have access too.Continued below
What would be a dream project for you?
RV: Vitruvian Underground would be cool. Like, a lot of Vitruvian Underground. If you mean like a “real” comic, like something I theoretically wouldn’t own at all, then maybe OMAC or The Demon. Those would be a lot of fun.
Who are your favorite artists working in comics today?
RV: There’s way too many to name. Plus I’m friends with some dudes that are really awesome that people may not know that really motivate me to be better. I’m talking to Craig Cermak and Garry Brown as I type this so let’s just go with them.
Aside from the release of LP, what else do you have coming up?
RV: I’m working on a cool book called Abstract 3 with a writer named Seth Jacob and I’m also writing a few things.