Praetorian interview with Ramon Espinoza
Welcome to a very special edition of the Why I Love Comics column! This is a first for the column as I interview an artist for the first time. Well, if you want to be technical I interview Phil Hester all the time, but that's as a writer. Anyways, with the release of Praetorian by Outlaw, Jay asked me if I'd like to talk to Ramon Espinoza, the talented artist of the book. Here is that interview for your reading pleasure.
Eric: How did you get into comics?
Ramon: My first contact with comics was at the age of five with "Zor y los invensibles" (Zor and the invincibles) a great comic published here in Mexico which was created by Oscar Gonzales Guerrero and Angel Morales about two kids and a giant robot. From that moment I was hooked on the comic's world, and so I started to invent my own comics. Years passed, drawing and painting classes went by, but like many people, I didn't know one could make a living from it.
My painting teacher gave me a tip about animation in Disney, and how much one could earn working in that. So I was very excited when I learned I could live well doing what I loved: drawing. For 3 years I had the belief that my destiny was in animation, and I focused all my energy into it. But there was a problem: I was still writing stories and creating characters; and animation is about moving characters already created in a story already written. So secretly, comics were still there. It wasn't until I met a group of comic Artists called Ka-boom, that I found out how much you can expect to get paid for a pencil page, and I realize that I could also live by doing comics, but, I had to be pretty damn good to earn a good living from it. So I began to study.
This group used to teach comics techniques for free in their comic store, my surprise was that the old guy giving those techniques was Oscar Gonzales, co-creator of Zor and the invincibles. For months I went there to listen to him giving tips to others, and in occasions I showed him my own things, and I learned a lot from him. Then I heard about Humberto Ramos, and the success he was having in DC doing Impulse. Humberto, as you know, is Mexican, and that was enough for me to try and make it as well. But it was going to take more time that I planned. This was 9 years ago. In that time I studied art in college, worked in an animation studio doing advertising, went through my parents deaths, worked on several comic strips of my own creation, met my wife... It was in college where I meet my good friend Erik Valdez who, with Jason Burns, would eventually make the graphic novel "The Sleepy Truth", for which I did the colors. And you can take it from there.
Eric: This is actually your second time working with Jason right? Only this time instead of just colors your on full art duties?
Ramon: That's right. Yeah. First time doing full art.
Eric: So Ramon was this your first full length project where you were the artist for the book?
Ramon: No, my first project was "How to be a serial killer" a kind of prequel to an independent movie, the comic is being published by Viper comics, in it, I only did the pencils, after that I did a book called "Jungle Scout: A Vietnam War Story" for stone arch books. It was a kind of a mix between illustrated book and a comic.
Eric: Was there any major research you had to put in at all? With the flashbacks?
Ramon: Of course. It is a time that I find personally fascinating, I have a Project about Jesus that is several years old, so I had already done my research. The most difficult thing was deciding what kind of cross to use on the comic, the iconic one or the real one, the real one is not the cross that we all know, it's more of a "T", and people were crucified relatively close to the ground and with their feet nailed to the sides of the plank, however, the traditional cross is more ingrained in the subconscious, which is why I decided to draw that one. As for the Romans and the city of Jerusalem, I obtained some documentaries, diagrams and books where they are explained. In the case of the soldiers, what each element means and the uniform that each rank wore.
Eric: Did you have more fun drawing the action scenes or the scenes where the characters would attempt to figure out big pieces of the case?
Ramon: The actions scenes are always a headache, but also, the most enjoyable things to draw. Personally, I'm very obsessive, and hate those comics were the action makes no sense at all, were objects appear from nowhere and where the actual geography of the place is violated every panel. So I have to do a big drawing from a top angle and do a map of the place. Then draw the spots where the character is, and then, the movements. Like an animations seeing from one point of view. After that I chose the angles and then do the page.
And for the other scenes, the passive dramatic scenes... well, is a little difficult make a scene interesting, where all that is happening is people talking, you have to think how to do those scenes flow like water in a way that the reader never say, "what? More talking?" You don't want to do only talking heads. Besides, I had a terrific script, with amazing dialogues, I didn't want to screw those up.
Eric: Did you base any of the characters after existing people?
Ramon: I always had a problem with those comics where everyone looks alike, with superheroes comics you don't have that problem as long as they have their costume on, but with other kind of comics, it really affect the storytelling. So I always turn to see common people on the internet to do my characters, sometimes I chose an actor, but I do a combination of both, I don't want that the reader to get distracted saying: "Hey, that is Robert de Niro!" In the most part, the character written just pop in the drawing, the final product is never what I intended to be at the beginning, but just what the story needs, and that's what interest me. Every element in the book has to serve the story.
Eric: So what pulled you into the project?
Ramon: The characters, Jason always make good characters and good relationships; the time period, the fact that they are former roman soldiers, and the story, is fun, to the point, not presumptuous at all.
Eric: Did you have a say in what you got to pick?
Ramon: Well, Jason ask me if I was interested in doing a book, and despite I know he always write well, I did ask for the script first. One thing I know for sure, if the script doesn't make a click in my mind, in my heart, I chose not to do It. It have to have that something, I think I mean heart, It has to have a heart. Till now I haven't reject any project, I guess I've been lucky. And on the projects, Jason is so easy to work with, he give me the freedom to do whatever I think is good to the story. If I suggested to add a page or do a splash, he let me do it. Of course I give him always a good reason to do that.
Eric: How does it feel being the artist on the companies launch book which has gotten some strong reviews so far?
Ramon: Man, I'm happy, I put all my heart in that book, and it's amazing to see it kicking ass out there. But also it's a great responsibility, I cannot allow myself to do something inferior now, I'm talking about story and Art alike. And this is a problem right now, because, we, Jason and I, started a project just before Praetorians, and I finished the entire first part, but due to some difficulties, that book had to wait. Now, it is the next project I'm doing with Outlaw, and I had to talk to them, and ask them to let me do some adjustments, because, the art is from before praetorians and for that reason is inferior. So right now, Im working on it. After that I will finished the book, and I have to say, Is a going to be a great book.
Eric: So are you an exclusive artist with Outlaw right now?
Ramon: For the moment yes, I already have a contract with them to do another 3 books. And frankly, I'm very happy with them, they really want to do good stories and produce good quality books.
Eric: So Ramon your actually the first artist I've interview for the site, I was wondering artistically speaking: Who inspires you?
Ramon: Like someone? Like an influence? Or like things?
If we are talking of an influence, I say Katsugiro Otomo, Travis Charest, Kyle Baker, Scott McCloud. That from the comics world. I get inspired from movies also, and books. Form movies the director Jean-Pierre Jeunet always inspired me in question of colors, images, angles and storytelling. And in everyday life I get inspired with everything around me, I live near the country, so I have constant contact with nature, I use to walk and see the trees and the sky, all the colours and forms, and that inspire me. But also the city, the buildings, the people, and the stories that happen with them, or the stories I like to invent to myself that happen with them. In short, I get inspiration from everything I can.
Eric: My final question for you Ramon is how would you describe your style as an artist? It seems that in Praetorian it was a little more realistic for most of the book.
Ramon: Its a little difficult for me to describe my own style, because I don't force it to be nothing in particular. I believe it's a mistake trying to get a style, for me is like trying to be yourself. You cannot try that, you simply are, and you will not be yourself unless you stop trying to be. Otherwise you'll end up to be a phony. In comics many people are worried to be a "jim lee" a "Travis Charest" a "Humberto Ramos" But they already exists, they are there and those others are only bad copies, who may never find their true voice. So to answer your question, I can quote some reviewers, because what they say about my style makes sense. " Is a mix of Animation, caricature and realistic drawing."
I would Like to thank Ramon for his time and you can actually order Praetorian from you LCS or Outlaw's own website!
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Eric Ratcliffe is a young writer/pop culture journalist/interviewer currently working on pitching a project named the Hunter chronicles. When not reading his weekly stack Eric can be found watching dvd's, playing on his 360 (gamertag: Zack Hunter) or just surfing online trying to find a scoop or two. Brand new to the Comic Related family, Eric is a fun new voice. Eric shops at TJ's Collectibles. Visit them on the web at www.tjcollect.com!
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