I’m sure I’m not the first writer to notice that a lot of comic art can look pretty damn similar despite being created by different artists. The medium has been around so long that there are simply established drawing quirks for comics that, while still good and fitting for the story, aren’t exactly the most unique. That fact is what makes the truly special artists, the ones taking risks with their work and ultimately putting the “art” back into “comic art” that much more special. One of these, who’s star has risen immensely fast based entirely on her immense level of talent, is Emma Rios.
We chatted with the Spain-based Rios last month about how she found her way into comics, her work on books like The Amazing Spider-Man, Strange and Cloak and Dagger and deconstructed her drawing process, particularly in regard to her upcoming first original graphic novel with Greg Pak, Dr. Strange: Season One, out later this year.
Click on down and learn more about one of most unique and spirited artists working in comics today!
Emma Rios: I’ve been very familiar with comics my whole life. I learned how to read by reading comics so it was just natural to like drawing and telling stories.
JM: Had you worked on anything prior to your Boom! Studios debut on Hexed?
ER: I think I created my first comic when I was about 14 and when I was 18 I had already started to collaborate in fanzines. The industry in Spain is not big enough to make a living through comics but I’ve been working with magazines, fanzines, small editorial stuff and self-publishing for several years while I was studying and working.
JM: Being from Spain, have you encountered any difficulty breaking into and then working in the American comic book industry?
ER: Barcelona’s Con, the biggest convention in the country, normally provides interviews with American editors but even if they like your stuff, it’s not easy to break in. Especially if you don’t have anything published in the American market. Also, there are not too many chances to meet people from the medium that can give you advice or help you somehow. Your stuff is the only thing that can speak on your behalf.
My story is that in general, besides the work I put into it, I was lucky. I remember adding Warren Ellis’ flickr account to my contacts and, incredibly, having a post about my work on his website the day after. If it wasn’t for that post I doubt I would be able to be working professionally in comics now. That was what really made my work visible outside Spain and helped me to get my first gig in the American market at Boom, thanks to daring editor Matt Gagnon who, even without knowing anything but my blog, wrote me offering the Hexed mini. After that, everybody I met and worked with were so nice and one thing led to another naturally.
JM: Many commentators have thrown a lot of assumptions around as to your immediate influences, but in your opinion, who are some of the biggest influences on your work?
ER: This question is very difficult to answer because I have too many. At this very moment all the things I’m studying are basically from the 70s, manga and American comics especially. I’m interested more than anything in atmosphere and dynamism. For this I’m seeking inspiration from Gene Colan and Goseki Kojima who, in my opinion, despite the geographic distance have tons of things in common. I’ve also always been in love with Jordi Bernet and also modern masters like Frederick Peeters, Paul Pope or Hiroaki Samura among others.
JM: Your work has evolved in a lot of interesting ways over the last few years, particularly in terms of panel and page design. When you sit down to begin laying out a page, what are some of the things that go through your head?Continued below
ER: It depends on the book, I tend to worry a lot about rhythm and about interacting with the reader. For me, right now, there are three important steps related to narrative:
First: making everything flow slowly, adding emotions through detail shots or characters’ expressions even if they are not depicted in the scripts.
Second: Trying to make things frenetic, even a bit confusing, when doing action.
Third: Adding weird compositions just when I feel they are necessary for the story. Flashbacks, magic, dreams, surreal things…
I just can’t put that kind of stuff into normal panels because I really need people to understand that they are special. In these kinds of pages I have tons of fun, but I’m not interested in the formal aspect of that, if it doesn’t enhance the narration it would only distract. All artists carry some kind of exhibitionism within but I really think it’s important to restrain it to favor the story sometimes.
ER: The first person I met from Marvel was Alejandro Arbona at Barcelona’s con. He really liked my stuff back then and gave me great advice. I did several samples for him while both were looking for a chance to work together. Eventually, several months after, when I was working on Hexed I met CB Cebulski at AvilÃ©s Comic Con also here in Spain and he was the one who really got me my first gig on Runaways, an eight page story with James Asmus. After that, I did a European album and ended up working with Mark Waid on Strange as my first real gig at Marvel. I remember being shocked when they told me and almost falling from my chair.
JM: Your primary Marvel Universe work has centered around the universes of Dr. Strange and Spider-Man. What is it about these characters that appeals to you as an artist?
ER: When I work I try to approach the characters more like an actress than an artist. I mean, Peter and Stephen are completely different but both have strong personalities and behavior that are easily translated to their body language. That’s what I really dig when working with them. Stephen is a gentleman, he can be seductive, trustworthy, but also arrogant and so powerful that it could inspire fear. I try to make the most of all that with the way he looks, the way he walks, through his clothes or even through how he handles a glass when he drinks. Spidey is younger, energetic and somehow happier. He moves fast and jumps all the time and is completely unable to just stand in the floor. In my last book, I think I even ended up finding what I think is a cool way for showing his feelings through the mask. That was really difficult for me at the beginning. Besides, more than anything, I’m a Ditko fan. So, both characters are special to me and I try to honor their basis as much as I can.
JM: Be it Hexed or your Dr. Strange work, it’s clear that you feel comfortable illustrating magic-focused stories. Do you approach stories in that genre differently than stories in other genres?
ER: I always approach all the stories through character development and atmosphere, trying to make them interact and influence each other. Magic, noir, sci-fi, super heroes… just need to be believable. Regarding horror and magic, the more natural they seem the more horrifying they get. In general, I try to put all my efforts on creating small worlds, even inside the genre, where the different layers play the same game.
JM: One of your most beloved works in minds of many fans happens to be the recently completed Spider-Island: Cloak and Dagger mini-series with Nick Spencer. How has the seemingly universal positivity surrounding the series made you feel as a creator?Continued below
ER: Once, Steve sent us a really huge letter a fan wrote to the office analyzing the book. We had already had great feedback but in that moment I was so impressed. I remember thinking that being able with your hands and brain to make people happy enough to spend all that time trying to understand your work could make this job the best. I love making comics, and normally don’t worry about the reception during the process because it’s something quite intimate that I just enjoy. You can’t make everybody like your stuff, I just try to have fun and show part of myself through my drawings. But being able to reach people like that, as it seems happened with our C&D mini is overwhelming. Makes everything worth it.
JM: Had you been a fan of Cloak & Dagger prior to working on the book, or did you need to do some hefty research in order to prepare for it?
ER: I was already a fan and so was Nick. We had a meeting with Steve at the beginning of the book and I remember started absolutely geeky babbling about the old stuff with them that was hilarious. I still have the old comic books that I bought when I was starting High School.
JM: Obviously sales didn’t warrant it this time around, but if given the opportunity would you want to do more work with the characters?
ER: Of course, all the team would love it, I think. Steve, Alejandro, Javi, Nick and me were really carried away by the characters and loved the book so much.
JM: This summer, you’ll be teaming up with Greg Pak to release a retelling of the origin of Dr. Strange in Dr. Strange: Season One. Have you ever worked on a project that large before?
ER: Yep, the length does not frighten me. It’s like doing a miniseries.
JM: In what ways have you had to adapt the approach you take to single issues for the graphic novel format?
ER: The premise is I’m having regular deadlines so there’s not so much adaptation needed. But, I hope this format could allow me more freedom in a way of making corrections or visually tying things up during the process. No mistakes and not rushed solutions, for once.
JM: How is working on this particular Dr. Strange story different than the Strange mini-series you did with Mark Waid a few years back?
ER: When Mark and I worked on the Strange mini, Stephen Strange was cool and relaxed. He was a teacher, somebody you could rely on. Here, he will be totally the opposite. He is a successful and arrogant neurosurgeon that sees his life shattered. He is morally immature. He acts childish because of the despair provoked by circumstances like losing his hands or finding magic as a skeptical scientist. He is a bit unlikeable, and we will follow him on his way to redemption till gradually falling in love with him.
JM: Are there any elements of Dr. Strange’s vibrant history that have been difficult for you to bring to the page?
ER: Not for now, I’m very comfortable. Greg is creating a character driven story: dramatic, fun and touching, and that’s what I think I’m best at. Besides, I have a lot of elements like magic or atmospheres where I can just go nuts, everything feels perfect to me.
JM: Following Season One, where can fans expect to see your work pop up next?
ER: Strange SO is going to be released in September, there is still a long way for the book, I’m just going to drop in here that I’m preparing something with a dear old friend (that) you’ll love.