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    Draw at Aaron Lopresti’s Caliber

    Aaron Lopresti wasn’t always a good artist. In fact, there was a five-year period when he didn’t draw at all, but a lot has changed since. First he went exclusive at Marvel and now he’s got the artistic reins of Excalibur and is set to help kickoff a House of M prelude. Aaron talked to CF about crossover: both Marvel’s and his as an artist.

    How did going to film school at the University of Southern California help or hurt your comic career?
    It mostly hurt it. I literally did not seriously draw from the day I got out of high school until I got out of film school five years later. I seriously retarded my drawing skills by not practicing during that time. I always joke I am about five years behind artistically where I should be for my age.

    Also, when you storyboard for a movie, you don’t use a lot of the whacky shots and page layouts you might use in a comic. I think my visual storytelling may be clearer now than it was, but my dynamics weren’t as good when I got out of film school. I had to sort of re-learn all of that stuff by overdosing on Jim Lee comics for a while.

    Going to film school really helped me as a creative writer, however. Since I like to write my own stuff, that part of my film education has come in real handy.


    When you are bad, you think your art is great. When you get good, you realize how far you still have to go as an artist.


    You’re a self-taught artist. How did that work? How did you know when your stuff was good and when it was bad?
    When you are bad, you think your art is great. When you get good, you realize how far you still have to go as an artist. When you are a young struggling artist, you want to be good so badly that you oftentimes don’t look at your stuff realistically. If you are not working in comics, there is usually a reason. No one has it out for you. They either like your work or they don’t. If they don’t, you need to discover why and change what you are doing.

    Discovering why is the trick. Most successful comic artists are not necessarily great draftsmen. They are usually artists with a strong sense of visual appeal. You can also call this style. I spent the first half of my career trying to improve my drawing skills. I have spent the last half trying to come up with a style that has visceral impact and strong appeal. I’ll let you know when I succeed!

    John Buscema was a far better draftsman than Jim Steranko, but Steranko had such a unique style to his art and storytelling that he stood out. Style will always stand out over content. Neal Adams was the exception because he had both.

    And, of course, there are guys today that have both: Adam Hughes, Travis Charest, Kevin Nowlan, to name a few.

    I’ve read you say: “I don’t know that there is any one source, other than my own imagination, that I draw from. I do think the older you get the more you have to say and the more stories you have to tell.” If that’s true, how do younger people looking to break in tell successful stories?
    What I meant by that is simply, the more life you experience the more important and lasting things you will have to say. But also keep in mind: A successful story isn’t necessarily a deep one. A well-done formula can be entertaining.

    It is painfully obvious when someone is trying to write something “important” or “meaningful.” Be true to yourself and what you know and you will have a lot more success and the story will feel more natural and real.

    With a book like Excalibur, how do you draw so many different characters?
    It is difficult not to repeat yourself. I just try and find out as much as I can about “the character” of the character and try and incorporate those elements into the design. But unless you are swiping photos or using photo reference, it is difficult to keep all of the characters (especially the faces) from looking similar. It always helps if you have time to do character sheets before you start a project. Unfortunately, I did not have that luxury with Excalibur.

    How does your painting vision tie in with your technique for sequential art?
    I don’t know that it does. I prefer to do single illustrations rather than panel art. With a painting or an illustration you are attempting to tell a story with one picture. On a comic page you have several panels to do the job. I don’t know that I have the patience to ever do a painted comic. I admire Alex Ross — who doesn’t? — (Simon) Bisley and Dan Brereton for being able to do that consistently.

    You’ve done a bit of self-publishing in the past. What advice would you give those on the verge of making the plunge?
    Understand that the likelihood of you making any money is slim. I self-publish because I love it. But let’s face it, unless you have a great deal of exposure in mainstream comics, your chances of being financially successful — even on a small scale — are slim. Of course, that hasn’t stopped me. I was young and impressionable back in the ’70s when (Bernie) Wrightson, Barry Smith, (Frank) Frazetta, and others were publishing portfolios and prints and doing their own thing. That desire has really stuck with me.

    Also, find out as much as you can about the process before you start. Learning on the run can be expensive and detrimental to your chances of success. If you are publishing a comic, find a printer first. Find out what they need from you. Find out how Diamond works. Find out about solicitations. Do your homework.

    As a storyteller, how do you feel about the big, sweeping tie-in stories that are going across Marvel and DC right now — such as DC Countdown and House of M — that affect so many books?
    It can be frustrating because you are waiting on so many people to make decisions. However, it is very satisfying to be able work on something we all hope is going to be memorable.

    How is drawing a superhero book different than other genres?
    For me, I get a sense of youthful exuberance when working on superheroes. Especially the iconic ones. This is the stuff I grew up reading and now I am creating it. It is also difficult because you have to be mindful of everything that was done before you.

    Other genres, such as fantasy, make me feel more like an illustrator than a comic-book artist. They both have their merits.

    How did you create new costumes for the Excalibur characters?
    I try to figure out what the character is all about and what they do. I then try and incorporate those ideas into the design. I always try and come up with something that I think looks “cool.” Unfortunately, I am not always successful. I think the law of averages catches up with you when you are designing the volume of characters I am.

    Never be satisfied. Once you become complacent you get passed by. I try to draw like I am constantly fighting to keep my job, which I am.

    What/who do you use as a sounding board?
    For serious art questions and opinions: Terry Dodson.

    I have regular conversations with all of my CrossGen buddies, Andy Smith, Ron Marz, Bart Sears and Tony Bedard.

    For everyday art opinion: my wife and son. I just changed a splash in issue #14 of Excalibur because my 11-year-old son didn’t think it looked good.

    For general inspiration, I look to Frazetta, among others.

    How do you decide on a style? Has there been an evolution?
    My stylistic changes have been numerous. One change is I continue to get better because I actively try and get better. So I guess that would be a natural growth. Style changes are more of an intellectual change. I am very rarely happy with what I am doing. Sometimes that is me, sometimes it is the inking, sometimes it is the coloring. I feel it is my job to create such a strong sense of style that the art looks appealing no matter who is inking or coloring the job.

    I am still trying. Until the day comes when everybody talks about my art in the same glowing terms as Adam Hughes, I will continue to change and try and find the perfect style.

    Do you have any rules or guidelines that you’ve set up for yourself over the years?
    Never be satisfied. Once you become complacent you get passed by. I try to draw like I am constantly fighting to keep my job, which I am.

    With Professor X looking more like Patrick Stewart, what do you think about Hollywood’s ties with the comic industry, Marvel in particular?
    Personally I would like to keep the two separate. I understand from a marketing standpoint why the comics need to look like the movies, but I think they are two separate animals. Let the movies do what they want or need to do to be successful and let us do likewise.

    What’s the hardest part of your job?
    Making yourself work on a regular schedule and making every page look good. It is nearly impossible.

    What are the disadvantages of going exclusive with a comic publisher?
    Nothing. I get guaranteed work. I can’t self-publish my own comic, but that probably keeps me from losing money

    You don’t always get to work on what you’d like, but that is often true even when you are not under contract. I really have no complaints. It has been really a good break for me.

    Marvel’s upcoming House of M preludes in Excalibur #13, due out May 11.

    —Interview by Tim Leong

    Posted by Tim Leong on April 27th, 2005 filed in Story Archive |

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