Ulises Farinas is one of the best artists working today that you may not know of. Or, if you do, you’re not talking about his work nearly often enough.
That’s not an overstatement, mind you; if anything I’m underselling it. Farinas comes from the same school of thought of artists as Geoff Darrow and Moebius, artists with an acute and impeccable sense of design and world building so intense that negative space seems practically taboo. Looking through Farinas’ work is often like playing a game of Where’s Waldo where you don’t even know what Waldo it is you’re looking for; you’re just hunting for treasure like diamonds out of a mine, and it’s always worth the time and effort spent.
There’s been a lot of discussion in comics lately about art, in that we don’t discuss it often enough. We don’t inherently disagree here at Multiversity, even with our annual Artist August feature, but it’s nice that there are guys like Ulises Farinas around who are producing art that we very much want to talk about — art that demands attention and study and thought and reactions, art that is easy to get lost in and fear that you may never find your way out.
Because Ulises Farinas is just plain fucking awesome.
We’ll have more to show about why in the art feature going live later today, but for now read on as we chat with Ulises about art, Legos, Catalyst Comix and more. (Don’t worry — there’s art in there too.)
We start with my favorite question to annoy people with: Ulises, why comics?
Ulises Farinas: I like to tell stories, I draw better than I write, and I don’t like to work with other people that much. Drawing comics means I can mostly stay to myself without relying on someone else to tell the stories I wanna tell. That said, collaborating with a writer is something I’m most comfortable with, so I enjoy that arrangement.
What is your history with comics? Where did you first come to them as a fan?
UF: I didn’t read comics to often as a kid, I’d buy one here and there, but didn’t follow any particular character. When I was a teenager I got more into them. I was a much bigger fan of children’s books, and still am. My first comic I really enjoyed was Paul Chadwick’s “Concrete,” who I’ve recently had a chance to work with, designing a cover for an anthology series called “Amazing Forest” I’m writing with Erick Freitas, debuting this fall from MonkeyBrain Comics.
What is your background as an illustrator? What made you want to get into comics as an artist?
UF: I don’t really draw comics cause I like them any more than other types of fiction. I just prefer to draw my stories than write them out.
I went to the School of Visual Arts, but eventually dropped out. If you want to spend 4 years going to school and leave with 45 minutes of valuable learning, then art school is the way to go. Otherwise, going to college to learn comics is like going to college to learn how to make a grilled cheese. They’ll accept you and pretend the only ingredient you need for four years is white bread. You’ll discover cheese and butter once you graduate.
One thing I notice about your artwork is that it seems very detail oriented, especially in pin-ups, in regards to the architecture. How do you develop your layouts and decide how to populate them with so much madness?
UF: I usually will sketch out a floor plan of whichever building some characters are hanging out in. This makes it easy to keep track of who’s standing next to who, and what they are doing. Grid-paper helps a lot with that.
In going over your work so far, I can’t help but notice that no matter how much chaos or carnage is going on, your art always remains relatively playful in the face of it all (almost in a Saturday Morning Cartoon way, if that makes sense). Do you do this on purpose, or is it just a happy byproduct?Continued below
UF: Destruction gets boring after awhile. There’s only so much rubble I can draw before it’s all just tedious doodling. I guess all the whimsical details are how I keep myself interested. I did a drawing of a bunch of Iron Men fighting the Hulk, and I just drew puppies everywhere I had previously filled with rubble. Cause why not? Superheroes are silly, and honestly, there’s better writing in Saturday Morning Cartoon Superhero shows than in 99% of Superhero comics today. We should embrace that. Batman: The Animated Series‘ Joker is maybe one of the best Jokers there is. The Joker we get today has to rip off his face to be relevant.
The first time I ever came across your work, it was because of those amazing LEGO pieces you did. Can you talk about the inspiration for those, and how they all came together?
UF: Jay Z once said “If skills sold, truth be told, I’d prolly be, lyrically Talib Kwali.”
Money and Attention. I love Legos, but really, I only drew them to get someone to look at my work. Before that, I was drawing a comic called MOTRO (I’m still working on it, btw) and was just sort of stagnating. I could not figure out how to get anyone to read it. Then I discovered that if you take one geek niche and combine it with another geek niche in a visually appealing way, the internet will go crazy. That’s the sad truth about being a comic artist. Skills don’t pay the bills, exploiting the interests of fandoms does.
You had a very funny short story recently in Dark Horse Presents called GAMMA, with Erick Freitas, which is the dark/real-world version of Pokemon yet also impossibly funny. When creating this, how much of the story was you taking a familiar story to the extremes and how much of it was just a story you wanted to tell in a familiar setting?
UF: Its hard to say. It’s both. A lot of my stories begin as jumping off points of existing stories I already enjoy. But it’s more of just a broad strokes kinda thing. I read stories and wonder how far they can go, or look at the holes within their world building and try to fill them. Something like Gamma is looking at all the stories that flooded kid’s shows in the 90’s and loving how ridiculous they are.
But the story has to stand on its own, it has to feel complete, and not just a parody. There’s gotta be enough meat in the story, so its not just an extended bad joke.
Is there any hopes for more Gamma? The ending was dark, but it seemed open for some more.
UF: I definitely hope so. I’ve got some Gamma work bubbling under the surface right now and I’m hoping after I’m done with a few projects that there’ll be interest in following Dusty and his morbid monster adventures. But no matter what, I’ll find a way to tell more Gamma stories.
One of your other big releases this year is Dark Horse’s Catalyst Comix relaunch helmed by Joe Casey. How did you get involved with Catalyst Comix?
UF: I got an email from Joe Casey asking me if I’d be interested. And I was. I love superheroes and this series isn’t afraid to fully embrace the weirdness, craziness and surreal world they exist in.
Did you have any previous experience with the Agents of Change before joining the book, or were they new to you?
UF: I was totally unfamiliar with them, but I liked that. I didn’t have any preconceptions about who or what these characters were about, except for what Joe wanted to do with them.
Obviously Catalyst Comix is a BIG OVERHAUL of all the old Catalyst Comics, but can you talk a bit about what kind of conscious efforts you made in redesigning/re-imagining the team and their part of the book?
UF: I think the weirdest design I came up with was for Ruby. I had drawn her as having a head that was a big head-sized polished gemstone and the rest of her was … invisible. Just a cloak and a Ruby with eyes. Bizarre stuff, haha. That probably would’ve been really hard to draw interacting with anyone though, so it’s a good thing we didn’t go with it.Continued below
As far as the rest, I tried to amplify what worked about the designs and get rid of what was just ridiculous. Rebel’s open chest suit is just… weird. It’s the equivalent of dudes that wore mesh shirts in the 90’s.
Your story in the issue seems perfectly suited for your talents, as do each of the stories. How does the collaboration with Joe Casey go on a series like this? What is the back and forth like?
UF: I guess a lot of times when drawing a comic from a script I’ll change things as I go, that just seem to make more sense to me as an artist. It’s impossible to fully understand a writer’s intention and it’s impossible for a writer to understand an artist’s solution.
Usually no one notices what I changed, or I don’t change anything and it’s all good. I think a good collaboration is one that leaves room for flexibility.
Looking at your art, I get an immediate Geoff Darrow/”Hard Boiled” vibe from the work, especially in Catalyst. Can you talk a bit about some of your influences?
UF: Moebius is the Emperor, Geof Darrow is Darth Vader, Seth Fisher is Luke Skywalker.
I’d like to be Han Solo, but I’ll probably end up like Chewbacca. Yelling in a corner, getting no awards.
Peering into the future, you have a Judge Dredd mini with Douglas Wolk from IDW. Can you talk about your time in Mega City One and how you got there?
UF: Douglas and I are going to MEGA CITY TWO. Ain’t nobody really been there before, so we’re really gonna get a chance to show a whole new side of the cursed earth. It is gonna be huge, overwhelming, disgusting and amazing. West Coast is the Death Coast – it’s gonna be gnarly.
Last but not least, if you were given one super power to save the world from imminent disaster, what would the super power be?
UF: Size Changing Powers with Laser Eyes. Those are two powers, but I’m cheating ’cause this is the end of the world and I ain’t got time for no kobayashi maru. I’d be able to change size so quickly, that by growing taller while simultaneously growing shorter behind me I’d move through the sky as if I was flying. And blast people with my laser eyes.
And when the dust settled, they’d say, “He ruined everything.”