Here we are at Zona Negativa, bringing an interview with Simone Bianchi, italian comic book illustrator currently working on Astonishing X-Men with writer Warren Ellis. Before beginning, we would want to underline his enormous kindness and professionalism, which express his absolutely concern about all his works as an autor. And now… enjoy!
Zona Negativa: From the beginnings of your career, you have showed that you are a versatile artist, working for diaries (Il Tirreno), music labels (covers for groups such as Vision Divine, Labyrinth or Sigma) and production companies (Direct to brain). In which of those media do you feel more comfortable? Were those steps to achieve your ultimate goal of becoming a comic book artist, or is this only one more stage of your career?
Simone Bianchi: Well, I definitely feel more comfortable drawing comics, of course. It is what I basically have always wanted to do. At the same time, I hope it is just one more stage of my career.. I mean, I don’t know, maybe in 15 years I will paint again, leaving comics behind but I guess I can’t tell right now, it’s all very unpredictable. All I know is at the moment I fully enjoy what I’m doing.
ZN: What was the role of Claudio Castellini in your formation and later introduction in the world of Italian comic? Who were your referents in this world?
SB: He was important from an artistic point of view, he represented a motivation, he gave me the will to start this career and therefore I have a moral debt towards him that I totally recognize. I didn’t have any particular referent in this world; the first person I met, who really helped me a lot, from any point of view, was my first DC Editor, Mr Peter Tomasi, another person I owe a lot.
ZN: In the Academy of Arts of Carrara you had the chance to work as an assistant to Ivo Milazzo. What did it mean for you to have this unique opportunity?
SB: It has meant a lot, staying at his side I could understand better the storytelling mechanism and the interaction between writing and the art.
ZN: Your experience in this field is not limited to the School of Arts of Carrara, as you have worked as a Teacher of “Anatomy applied to the comic” in the International School of Comic in Florencia. What does teaching bring to you? Which authors do you use as examples to follow, or unquestionable models of commanding anatomy?
SB: Well, teaching means having a direct contact with the guys, that is definitely important not to lose sight of new trends, new tastes, basically to stay in touch with new generation and teir new demands.It’s something i feel the urge to do not only as an artist, but as a person too.
With the guys I use Claudio Castellini, John Buscema, Travis Charest, Alex Ross as main references.
ZN: In fact, in Spanish Schools of Arts knowledge of anatomy is essential, to the point that after doctors, art students are the ones that know this subject better. This knowledge is easy to find in your drawings: movement, proportion, gestures…all of these seems coherent, and the anatomical studies shown in your site are impressive. In your opinion, inside a medium like the superhero comics, where there is a tendency to forget proportion, what do you think are the most common mistakes in modern comic book artists? Do you think this anatomic knowledge can be supplied just with self learning experience?
SB: If I have to think about one common mistake, many artists tend sometimes to lose control of it and they transform anatomy in an anatomy’s caricature.. and, yes, I think practising, self learning can even supply anatomic knowledge.
ZN: From the very beginning you have tried to collect samples of your work in books, like “Echi”, “The Art of Simoni Bianchi” and “Onirika”. Do you use these books as portfolio to show to editors? What is the usual reaction of editors and agents when they see them?
SB: You are perfectly right, this is just the reason why I did them and used them.. and thank God the reaction up now has always been positive. For sure that was my goal and purpose with the first two books, when Onirika came out I was hooked up with DC already.
But Echi and “the art of Simone Bianchi” of surely helped me out a lot, to provide editors, art dealer and art directors with my stuff without beeing enforced to do endless amount of photocopies or print and gather them all just to hang around and loooking for gigs!!!!!
The Art of Simone Bianchi
ZN: From 2005 DC Comics and Marvel Comics have offered you a series of works, but it is really remarkable that your first project for the American market was Seven Soldiers: Shining Knight, written by Grant Morrison himself. How was your landing in the American market? Was it intimidating for you to begin with such a famous writer?
SB: It was a great satisfaction and a dream I had had for ages, since I was a very young reader. It is the opportunity you always wait for but no, no intimidation, it was just a big pride and a motivation to really work hard and do the best I could, as I know it would be my first introduction to the American public and from that would depend a lot for my career.
ZN: After Seven Soldiers: Shining Knight you worked in the covers and the interiors of Green Lantern. How was it the experience of working with Geoff Johns?
SB: He is a fantastic writer, and has an amazing amounts of affectionate fans. I worked with him for a too short time though to give a credible critical judgement. In any case, I noticed that his attitude towards writing is completely different from Morrison’s.
ZN: In your work as a cover artist for X-Men Unlimited, Green Lantern or Detective Comics, Do you pay attention to advices or indication from your editors, or do you have total freedom? In the case of Detective Comics, it was the chance to work with one of your favourite characters. How did it feel? Would you like, one day, to work in the series as a complete author?
SB: It changes from time to time: Peter Tomasi, who is a great writer, always gave me good advises. At Marvel they luckily give me almost total freedom, which is great for an artist’s work because you really can do what you feel is most suitable to the script and better suits to your style, so you work free.
Working at DC was a very positive experience for me and I definitely hope to draw Batman or Detective Comics again some day in the future; like Wolverine, the character really is in my veins. Just for this reason in 2005 I wrote a script that was even approved and it lays in my drawer. One day, we’ll see..
Green Lantern #6 p.2-3
ZN: In July, 2006, it happened something very remarkable in your career: you sign an exclusive contract with Marvel Comics. As you have said in other interviews, it was an offer impossible to reject. Who made this offer to you? What do you feel when you think that the main people from the “House of ideas” do completely rely on you?
SB: Well, I actually signed the contract in February. The offer was made to me by Dave Bogart. Today, I feel extremely good. Being trusted is a sensation that helps me working, trying to do my best, and also in more relaxed way, without pressures. It is a privilege I am proud of and that in a way, without any false modesty, I think to have deserved “in battle”.
ZN: One of your first assignments after exclusivity with marvel was a six issue arc in Wolverine with Jeph Loeb. How was the experience of working with a favourite character this time? How was your relationship with Loeb?
SB: It was just spectacular. I had been waiting for this opportunity for long and despite it being a very hard work, it is such a joy to plunge my creative claws in such a beloved character from many fans! My relationship to Jeph has been great since the very beginning: we have talked to each other before starting working and he asked me how I wanted to do it. And so now, every year I look forward to fly to San Diego to hug him again: he is not just an amazing writer, he is also a fantastic person to deal with.
Wolverine #52 p.4
ZN:And then came the bomb: the announcement that you would take the pencils in the new Astonishing X-Men, written by Warren Ellis. Is it intimidatory for you, knowing the success of the series and the high level of popularity of the work done by Whedon and Cassaday?
SB: Well, in a way, yes because it sold more than anything else but I guess it is the dream all people doing my job have, so joy is definitely bigger than any possible fear.
ZN: What was the influence of Axel Alonso, former editor in Wolverine and now mutant editor, in your landing to the mutant titles?
SB: It was enormous because the day I discovered on Newsarama that he had just become Group Editor, I picked up the phone and asked him to let me do the book; he answered they were actually already thinking about me. So.. my interest and their original idea made everything go very smoothly.
ZN:To the visual level, are you going to make significant changes in this group?
SB: I am sorry but I am not authorized to speak about this yet.
Astonishing X-Men (Promotional Piece)
ZN: Have you already read the first script? How do you value your relationship with Ellis?
SB: Yes, I have read it and it seems a real masterpiece to me. This is just the introduction to our run but the characters are really portrayed as they have to be. My relationship to him is good but we are still at the beginning.
ZN: In your career not everything has been assigned works, as you have written and illustrated your own sci-fi saga, “Ego Sum”. What can you tell us about such a personal project? Is there any chance that we can see it soon in Spain?
SB: Well, I look forward to finish it, altough my commitment at Marvel does not allow me to do it right now. Once the trilogy is finished, I’m sure it will reach the few European countries where it has not been published yet, like Spain.
EGO SUM, created by S. Bianchi
ZN: Sometimes it is said about artists like Alex Ross, Esad Ribic, Bryan Hitch, your mate gabrielle Dell’ Otto or even you, that the extreme attention to the detail and the search for realism results in a loss of movement and a lack in the storytelling. What do you think about it? What do you think is the key to find the balance between attention to the detail and a fluid storytelling?
SB: To be frank, I think this is a common place that is only useful to those who are lacking in graphical skills and want to shelter under the storytelling (and sometimes draw like a dog).
You do not know where the balance is until you do not read the story as a whole. You have to keep in mind the flow of script. Not all cartoons must be over detailed: I normally chose some that I consider expendable to storytelling, and they necessarily must have less details. In this sense, black or other colours silhouette help a lot to lighten the page.
ZN: Considering that if you know the technique, it is easier to communicate through your art…Would you say that only those who know the different techniques are able to express what they really feel when they face a blank page?
SB: It is not necessary a fixed rule.. history of art is full of great artists with just a few knowledge and made gorgeous works, full of tension, emotions and vivid creativity. Evidently knowledge helps but it is not mandatory, strigtly necessary.
ZN: Going back to the lack of proportion we talked about before, and adding that the exaggeration of the shapes, volumes, the movement and the communication of feelings are usually described as the main features of the Baroque. In your opinion, could we say that this aesthetic paradigm has a kind of rebirth in the art inside a superheroes comic book?
SB: No, I wouldn’t talk about Baroque. I think we would risk to generalize too much: the way every artist tells his story is too different from one to another. And it is a mix of many different styles coming from the past too.
ZN: As an expert in Arts, Do you feel the necessity of applying different aesthetic paradigms in comics? Maybe in another media? Something groundbreaking, more contemporary…
SB: No, in my view comics must remain comics, there is space for experimentations but within certain bounds: I see other ambits, like painting or installations, to experiment, but I think comics must be loyal to themselves.
ZN: One of the aspects you play more with in your work (specially the covers) is symmetry. Especially outstanding in the cover for Wolverine #50. Is it only because you like to do it that way or do you really believe that a symmetrical composition combined with certain perspectives result in a better final work? If so, why?
SB: Both. As an impact, central perspective catches more efficiently the observer’s eye.. just consider a reader’s eye entering a bookshop: it is dazed from billions of different proposals and your cover must catch his attention, if you want him to look at your work.
And to chatch his attention central pespactive, or even just central compostion of the character or characters shaping up the image is , to me, the best way to go.
ZN: Another powerful element in your works is the inks. Although they are always anatomically correct, sometimes its used is linked to the manipulation of the feelings you want to communicate. Do you use these inks in order to improve the drama and the tension in your compositions?
SB: To be honest, I am not able to give you an answer on this. If I do, it happens at an instinctive level, it is not premeditate; in any case, a certain trend towards darkness, to photography’s darkness in our ink, preferring dark on light helps the dramatic effect a lot.
ZN: When you take a look at your works, it calls your attention the use of the ink wash and a finish that simulates watercolour halftone. The result of this is a uniform colour, which at the same time works well in the progressive degradations and the chiaroscuro. What is your goal using such a refined technique? What feelings do you want to provoke in your audience?
SB: The goal is the search for three-dimensionality, that we would never achieve with a simple outside ink. The main feeling I want to evoke is the sense of marvel, that is the base of all American comics, and of Marvel comics in particular; plus, I want to diversify continuously the emotional charge included in what I draw, and this obviously also depends on it being a cover or an internal page.
ZN: We know that it is absolutely essential for you to listen to music while you are drawing. There are some researches that establish that the kind of music you listen when you create stimulates the different kind of lines you use. What kind of music do you listen to? Do you think it really affects the way you draw or is it just a companion?
SB: I listen to really any kind of music, no difference. About its role in my work, I wouldn’t say it is just a companion, it’s more than that. I feel the need of music as a soundtrack and at the same time it helps me to relax while I’m working.
Simone’ Studio, with the light box
ZN: When we look at your studio, it really calls your attention to see a light box. When do you use and how do you apply it to your work?
SB: I use it to transfer the thumbnails, that are originally smaller than the definite pages: they are Xeroxed and transferred on the final pages and to do so I help myself with the light box.
ZN: Now, just one more, Could you talk to us about the drawing techniques you use? How is the process from the moment you receive a script to the moment when you send the finished pages?
SB: After reading the script, I make the pages thumbnails and take some photo references; then I make a bigger Xerox of the thumbnails and start working on the pencil until it’s finished; at this stage and Andrea (Silvestri), my Assistant, inks them first; I then give the second ink with the final, additional touches.
Of course there would be tons and tons of different , little stapes or tricks or inside jokes inside evry book we worked so far ( you shopuld , for istance take a good look at me with feew kilos more wearing one of those freaking batman rubber realistic masks in my underwear , loooking like an actor of a homemade B porno movies ) but that would take a long long time and I am pretty sure I got your redear tired already and enough with all my chat.
ZN: Kind regards and a thousand thanks for your time and collaboration.
SB: A million thanks for all your interst in my work, the aswell intresting question and for this deep inside look intomy work!!!!!!! And of coures, see you in those beautiful books!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
For more information about Bianchi’s artwork, visit his official web site (http://www.simonebianchi.com). Here’s a banner!!