Over the past year, Image’s “Near Death” has regularly been recommended by Multiversity. It’s eleventh issue is out this month, to be followed by a second trade in September and an indefinate hiatus. Series artist Simone Guglielmini was kind enough to answer some questions for us, so I’ll let him convince you to check this book out.
Simone Gugleilmini: I live in Italy, precisely in Florence, a beautiful city in the North Center of Italy. Italian is my first language, but I use English for most of my work (comic and non-comic related). I’m able to understand a bit of Spanish, but not able to speak it.
What other comic work have you done?
SG: I started my professional path not exactly with comics, but drawing car illustrations for an Italian cars magazine.
I had my first pro gig with some Italy comic titles back in the 2004 for an Italian publisher (Eura Editoriale): a short story for an anthology and a 94 black and white pages crime book. Then I drew a book for France published by Carabas (Welcome to Paradise). After these experiences I got in touch with an American writer Anthony Schiavino, he talked to me about his character (Seargent Zero). I liked the idea and agreed to create main character designs and draw the first issue of the series. We self published it. After this very good experience, where I learned a lot about the US way of working in comics, I’ve been contacted by Jay and I started working on “Near Death” and I stayed on “Near Death” so far.
Were you a fan of Jay’s earlier work before collaborating with him?
SG:To be honest no I wasn’t. I heard about Noble Causes and Dynamo 5, but I’m not a Super hero reader, I’m more a “100 Bullets”, “Scalped”, “Criminal” kind of guy. I didn’t know about the “Dodge Bullets” work he did at that time, but now I can’t wait to read his “Point of Impact”. The preview is amazing and I’m a fan of Koray Kuranel’s work too.
How did you get involved with “Near Death”?
SG:I received an email from Jay. He saw my work on Deviant Art and proposed the “Near Death” project with Image. I’ve been captured by the story and characters since the first description Jay gave me.
Just a clarification that makes the “Near Death” experience really unique for me: I always shared comic work with my main work (not comic related), so this is the reason why I don’t have a huge production of titles under my belt. “Near Death” has been the only title I could focus full time, because I got a sabbatical period off from work for doing it.
Was the story fully formed when you signed on, or did you help craft it?
SG:The story was already there, in Jay’s head. I created all the character designs though, Jay gave me 100% freedom about graphic creation. I proposed some ideas during the path about the story too and I’m proud about a proposal Jay accepted about one of the main characters, because this choice is driving some important lines of the story in the main plot.
Has there been any trouble with the language barrier?
SG:I don’t think so. A couple of times I misunderstood something, but these are things that happen with Italian writers too. Jay always wrote stuff in a very clear way, probably he’s aware I’m not English spoken and he avoids to use complicated language stuff with me. We email each other every time it’s needed. Never spoke with Jay via phone or skype. I hope to meet him in person one day…who knows.
In an early issue, Jay said you requested some photos of Seattle for reference. Besides the skyline, what do you pull from the photos?
SG:I use photo references very often, because it’s my style and way of working. I like giving my work that “realistic and gritty” touch and using a photo ref is better for me. Plus I’m an out of US guy that is drawing stories taking place in very important US cities like Seattle and LA. We see very well known streets, buildings etc, so I want people reading the book to recognize the places and feel the story is credible, the same feeling you can have watching a TV series.Continued below
Did you need new ones when the story moved to LA?
SG: Indeed. I googled a lot! Jay used to live in Seattle, and now he’s living in LA so he often asks about a very specific street/building. Sometimes he’s able to a shoot ref by himself. For instance, Markham’s house in LA is a Jay idea. We discussed a lot about the new house…we even thought about Markham living on a boat or on a house on the water! Than Jay had the final idea and took the photo by himself of it in LA.
Jay mentions influences for the story in the back of every issue of “Near Death.” What influenced you?
SG:I’ve always been influenced by strong black and white contrast art. I grew up reading guys like Gene Colan, All Williamson, Gulacy, Bernet, Milazzo, Zaffino etc…Nowadays I follow artists like Sean Phillips, Michael Lark, Guera, Jock, Risso, Steve Epting, Laurence Campbell, etc…
As a whole project concept, I was thinking something like “Criminal” meets “GCPD”, however one thing which really influenced our project shaping is the passion Jay and I share for TV series. Both of us love stuff like Rockford files, Magnum pi, etc… it created a good feeling between the two of us, since from the beginning we were on the same page.
What were your hopes for “Near Death” when you started? Has the book met them?
SG: Financially/selling speaking my hope when we started was set higher, but it’s also my first pro experience in the US market and my expectation was probably not realistic.
From a pure artist side I’m very satisfied by the good response “Near Death” received from critics and people. Really thank all of them, all the readers and the sites that supported us. My deeper and real my hope was to do very good work: professional, solid and full of passion.
I’m really proud of “Near Death” it’s my best work so far and there is a lot of me in it.
Is there any scene from the series you’re especially proud of?
What has been the hardest part of drawing the book? Is there any scene you wish you could re-draw?
SG: I always want to redraw something once an issue is over, but I think it’s a feeling all the drawers have, so I learned to live with it.
The worst things I drew…I thing I’m not so good in drawing action, dynamic scenes, re watching some pages I see them too static and I’d like to redraw them adding more dynamism.
Probably one of the most challenging thing has been drawing issue 7th. The whole issue is full of black American characters and I never drew black Americans so often as white people. I did a big work about it and it turned out as one of the issue I’m prouder.
“Near Death” is going on hiatus after issue 11 this month. Do you know when it will be back, and what are you doing until then?
SG: I don’t know if it will be back and when. I really hope so, but it’s not a sure thing. No precise plan about what’s next yet. I’m speaking with Jay about a possible project, but just brainstorming conversation.
Are there any genres outside of crime you would like to draw? Any writers you want to work with?
SG: I’d like to try horror, you know Zombies or more classic Horror stuff as Dracula, Wolfman or stuff like this.
I’d like also to try super heros, but I’d like dark characters as Batman, DD, Night Moon or the punisher, I think they would fit my style better.Continued below
About writers if we exclude Jay…I’d like to work with Azzarello, Brubacker , Rucka, Aaron, Diggle, Hurwitz Gregg…all of them wrote things I really liked
Is there anything I didn’t ask, but you’d like to share?
SG: I’d like to spotlight the work Ron Riley and Charles Pritchett did on the book. I know Jay and I are the creators, but I can’t think “Near Death” without the incredible work they did. Ron’s colors are so original and tailored for the book. He made a challenging choice choosing for an unconventional coloring style and it turned out really great. About Charles, every page can be read without confusion, the reading flow is so smooth, I always drew the pages without worrying too much about lettering because I knew Charles was a so gifted professional.
Image comics is a great publisher to work with, such nice persons in there, professional and kind. You breath freedom and you can really feel they support and believe in your project.