There are a ton of writers and artists working in the world of comics, and here at WCBR, we spend most of our time talking about their products. Now we’d like to introduce a new, hopefully ongoing, feature where we chat with the real thing.
Aaron Lopresti started in film, but transitioned into commercial art and later, into comics. His work was first widely seen in Malibu Comics’ Ultraverse, and since then he has done work for both Marvel and DC, including art duties on Gail Simone’s run of Wonder Woman. Most recently, his art has appeared in DC’s Weird Worlds, a sci-fi miniseries with multiple features. Lopresti not only draws the “Garbage Man” feature, he also writes it, his first high-profile writing gig.
If there were a museum dedicated to Aaron Lopresti, and an exhibit for Most Influential Comic He Read, what comic would be put in that glass case?
Wow. That’s an original question. Unfortunately I don’t have an easy answer. There have been several comics at different times in my development and growth as an artist that have had a profound influence on me.
I would say first Captain America #113. Steranko’s work in that book was mind-blowing. I became a huge Wrightson fan around 1977 and had to retroactively discover Swamp Thing. His treatment of Batman in issue #7 was incredible. Walter Simonson’s visual style and storytelling in Thor #337 was inspirational. But probably my two favorite comic stories of all time came later. The Killing Joke by Alan Moore and Brian Bolland showed me how intricate and clever writing and illustration in comics could be. Finally, Mike Ploog’s Adventures of Santa Claus inspired me to new heights shortly after my professional career began.
What’s the first thing you ever drew that you’d consider your first venture into comics art? Let’s say in your museum, this would be the first thing patrons see in the marble art gallery.
I started getting into comics around age 11. I immediately formed my own comic label with my next-door neighbor. I did a ton of covers featuring all of the characters we created but as far as I can remember I only did two partial interiors. Morty the Meatball (my Howard the Duck rip-off/also stolen from a TV commercial) and Solar Man. I can’t remember which one I did first but I think they were both around age 12.
You studied film writing and directing at USC, then worked at Tri-Star Pictures for a time. Did you learn things that influence your comics writing and illustration today? Do you see any similarities between the two fields?
Film school really helped my writing and understanding of how to put a story together (although some may ague that point). However, my art suffered because a lot of the wild stuff you might do as a comics storyteller you don’t do as a director. In film school I was trained to devise shots that did not attract attention to themselves. If you are calling attention to your “cool” shots you are pulling the viewer out of the movie. When I tried to get into comics, I had to look at a lot of Jim Lee’s work to recapture my dynamic storytelling sense that I had as a kid!
There are similarities between film and comics in that they are both venues for storytelling. But there is a whole lot more you can get away with in comics than you can in film. Crappy dialogue can be glossed over in comics, but it won’t go unnoticed in a film. Story pacing and character development can be handled quite differently as well. A successful comic creator can fall flat on his face trying to make a film (as we have seen). Likewise filmmakers can struggle just as mightily when trying to write comics.
You worked as a commercial artist at Art Farm Studios, where you say you learned the things you could’ve learned if you had gone to art school. What were some of those things?
Just about everything: how to use markers, how to use watercolors, pencil techniques, how to give something a professional finished look. I knew how to draw in the most basic sense when I started working in commercial art but that was about it. The only thing I didn’t learn was color theory and how to handle oil paints. That information I got from taking painting workshops later.
Your first break into comics was when you got hired to draw Sludge for Malibu’s new Ultraverse line. I admit I haven’t heard of it—can you describe the work and how you got the job?
I had been sporadically working at Marvel on small projects and back-up stories when Dave Olbrich and Tom Mason approached me at Dragon Con in 1992. They were looking for artists that would actually leave Marvel or DC to work at a start up company (Malibu). They wanted to start a major Super Hero line and compete with the big boys. They offered me almost double what I was getting at Marvel and considering I wasn’t doing anything of significance there and was unlikely to be anytime soon, I took their offer.
When I saw their line of characters I was immediately drawn to Sludge. Kevin Nowlan had done the original design and it took me back to my Swamp Thing roots (pardon the pun). Monsters and fantasy were my favorite subjects so I was trilled to get the opportunity to draw a monster book. Steve Gerber was writing and I remembered him from Man-Thing and Howard the Duck. It all seemed like the perfect opportunity.
For the first time in my life, I didn’t feel like I would lose my job if I made a mistake. So unlike at Marvel where I was constantly second guessing myself (and as a result doing horrible work) I was able to cut loose at Malibu and finally start producing professional looking work. As a result I got noticed and my career started moving upward. My time at Mailbu is probably still the most enjoyable experience I have had in comics.
In the last 12 years, you’ve worked for both the Big Two and for many other publishers besides. You’ve even self-published. For those who want to see more of your past work, what would you recommend, and why?
I have a few projects from my past that I am still proud of the artwork today. I am not sure why I rose to the occasion on these projects. It might have been lack of deadline pressure, the inker I was working with, the fact that I was inking myself on some of them or that I just loved the characters I was working on. But here is a quick list:
Gen 13 Bootleg #11 and #12 (I plotted and inked these as well)
Plastic Man Special (I inked as well)
Ultimate X-Men #1/2 (Wizard Exclusive)
Lord Pumpkin #0 and the 5-paged Lord Pumpkin origin story that appeared in Hero Magazine and later in Ultraverse Premiere.
My entire run of Mystic at Crossgen Comics
Wonder Woman #20-23
Outside of comics, I had a book published a couple of years ago called Fantastical Creatures Field Guide. If you like fantasy creatures and oddball humor it’s worth checking out. Plus I got to do a lot of watercolor paintings for the book, which is a very different from what most people are used to seeing from me.
Before Weird Worlds, you had a long run doing art duties on Gail Simone’s Wonder Woman. How was working with the famous Ms. Simone? She ever crack a whip over your shoulder?
Gail was absolutely terrific. She listened to what few suggestions I had, she was sensitive to my artistic leanings and was about as accommodating as any writer I have ever worked with. I have nothing but good things to say about Gail.
In drawing for a writer, what do you see are the artistic licenses you can take with their scripts? Any examples of how your artwork or artistic suggestions influenced the way the story developed?
Beyond the writer asking what I would like to draw (which has happened frequently with the answer always “dinosaurs and barbarians”) I don’t impose my opinion on the writer. Unless they are writing something that I feel is morally questionable (which has rarely occurred) I just shut up and draw. I feel my job is to clearly tell the story the writer has come up with. However, if I think an image needs to be changed to improve or clarify the story I will do that. But I will never make any changes without running it by the editor and writer first.
Living or dead, which writer would you drop everything for if they asked you to work with them?
Mike Maltese. His writing for Chuck Jones’ Warner Bothers cartoons was genius. In comics maybe somebody like Neil Gaiman. I think Alan Moore is great but he scares me.
And just for fun, would you rather be able to breathe underwater and there are mermaids, or be able to fly, but achieve a maximum height of five feet above the ground?
Even with Mermaids, the ocean is dark and full of scary things that would like to eat me. So I would take the safe route and fly 5 feet off the ground. Since I am scared of heights, that would work out great for me.
Join us tomorrow for part two of our chat with Aaron Lopresti, where we talk more about his involvement writing and drawing for Weird Worlds. Check out our reviews of Weird Worlds #1, #2, #3, and #4, where Lopresti’s “Garbage Man” is featured. Weird Worlds #5 hits the stands on Wednesday, May 4th.