Excited to read a comic convention was happening in Athens, I set aside my weekend to attend and share primarily with The Boys—my offspring—whom I had raised on a steady diet of Super Heroes and Villains from about age 3, a report of this conference. After my exhausting escapade of trying to find the location that Friday, and my eventual attendance, later that afternoon, I hadn’t thought of writing anything until Saturday afternoon, when I sat in rapt attention in a standing room-only auditorium at Hellenic American Union in fashionable Kolonaki, and listened to one of the featured guests, John Romita Jr, and progeny of legendary artist, John Romita Sr, in whose footsteps he followed, and assumed the monumental task of preserving and energizing one of America’s most beloved superheroes, Spider-Man!
As it had not still occurred to me to write an article about this cultural phenomenon, which has gained momentum and respectability as a serious art form here, through the efforts of dedicated organizers, whose goal, as they so unabashedly put it, in their comic-inspired (naturally) published record of this event…
“Today, five years after the first Comicdom Con Athens, we stand before you, the visitors of the event, before the whole Greek comics community, but mostly before our adolescent dreams, and say it, without a trace of conceit. With only the utmost satisfaction that we made it!” (Brochure, Comicdom Con Athens 2010)
I had not yet pulled my notebook and pen from my pocket, so therefore, sorry to say, I have few actual quotes from the John Romita Jr Q&A session, and completely missed Liverpool-born writer Mike Carey, who jumped from British fanzine FANTASY ADVERTISER to DC/Vertigo where he authored LUCIFER: THE MORNINGSTAR OPTION, and earned an Eisner Award nomination for this mini-series. Also missed, sad to say, the panel of Greek creators discussion of comics.
Thus, I mostly paraphrase what I remember from the John Romita Jr Q&A session.
By Sunday afternoon, however, I knew I had to write about this event, and so, in striking contrast to the day before, and in a thinly-populated auditorium, I sat and scribbled the thoughts of British artist, Matt Brooker, more commonly known by his pen name, D’Israeli, and American artist, Kyle Hotz, into my ecologically-conscious, mini-notebook. And even though this Q&A session was not as popular as that of John Romita Jr, I was mesmerized as these 2 artists expressed the life experiences of a comic artist. Not that what John Romita Jr had said the previous was less valuable, but sometimes an intimate setting generates intimate thoughts, as well as the time and space needed to express them.
John Romita Jr
The first thing I noticed about John Romita Jr is how buff this dude is!
Indeed, John Romita Jr puts his alter ego, Spider-Man, to shame. And all I could think was… Wow, those superheroes endow their creators with some awesome biceps. But after listening to Romita speak, and getting the full gist of his life as an artist in one fell swoop, it all came together. He was clear that being an artist for perhaps the most esteemed House, Marvel, is no piece of cake, and requires endless dedication and commitment and good ‘ole plain physical labor. It was not until he met his wife, he said, who warned him that after 5 years of honing the point on his pencil, it was time to take a vacation, and so he did.
Questions & Answers
Those in the audience asked him provocative questions that touched on the influence Disney may have on the future of a House like Marvel, for example, now that it had been acquired by them. John Romita Jr felt confident and assured by the Disney position on the acquisition, which, he said, stated that they bought Marvel because of what it did—produce exceptional comics—and had no intention of steering its creative evolution. And so, hopefully, Disney will stand on its words, and allow Marvel to carve its own destiny and go where it needs to go, to do so.
Nor were the aficionados of comics exactly gentle in their probing questions, which dispensed, in addition to admiration for the work of Romita Jr, criticism as well. Not a shy a bunch at all. I paraphrase here, again, and my references to time are, well, a bit sloppy, and general… Your work during this period is somewhat shoddy, not what we would expect of an artist of your caliber. Your response, please. Romita Jr never once flinched from criticism and his approach was straightforward and humble. It was, in fact, such criticism that kept him focused as an artist, and encouraged him to improve and acknowledge that some periods were more inspired than others.
However, he vigorously defended the emergence of new artists, drafted to ensure to immortality of superheroes, and advocated tolerance on the part of readers, while these neophytes developed.
His most poignant statement though was when he referenced the advice of his father. His father said he must always remember there is always someone out there who is bigger and better and stronger than you. How true! Nothing liking shaking up the ego a bit.
Women and Comics
When asked about the curious absence of women in the Industry—not only in terms of characterizations but as artists, as well—Romita Jr was at a loss to explain this phenomenon, and quoted his wife…
“It’s a Boy’s Club.” (John Romita Jr, quoting his wife, Comicdom Con Athens 2010)
But added that there are plenty of women working in Editorial Departments. So there is hope, I imagine, for all those women who dream of becoming comic artists. Surely there is some woman out there who has the seed of a superhero growing inside of her.
It was clear Romita Jr associated Marvel as an operation with a family-oriented sensibility, and therefore, he felt not only secure there, but deeply appreciative of an environment that allowed him to develop as an artist. And even though he had been approached by its rival, DC, to jump ship, Romita Jr said he sensed DC mostly wanted him because of the prestige he would bring through his connection with Romita Sr, an industry icon, rather than in his contribution to the genre, and therefore declined the offer. It appeared highly probable that Romita Jr will always be the steward of heroes like Spider-Man and Uncanny X-Men (my favorite!) throughout the duration of his career, although one can never tell…
Perhaps one day a new superhero will spring forth from the tip of his pencil—
Or perhaps one already has!
KICK-ASS. My kind of superhero— Scrawny, self-conscious, clever, a bit disheveled, somewhat reluctant, and full of mishaps. And now, not only in print, but in theaters as well!
Give him time, I say.
But overall the creation of superheroes is not any easy business, as evidenced by the paltry appearance of new figures over the past 5 decades.
Matt Brooker a.k.a D’Israeli
While not anywhere as buff as John Romita Jr, Matt Brooker is a talent of broad scope and sensibility, and commands respect through his direct and empathic and thoroughly sweet manner of engagement with others. Soft-spoken, and equipped with an indispensable dose of British humor, some convention-goers found him a bit chatty, but I enjoyed every minute of him, as he built detailed scenes from his early life and influences and thoughts about the industry.
Plucked from what had the potential of being a privileged upbringing in South Africa, the family headed back to the Island, following the death of his father, under the tutelage of his newly-minted, single-mother, and where clouds hovered above him. There, he said…
“I lived my entire childhood with this strange sense of dislocation.” (Matt Brooker, Comicdom Con Athens 2010)
Encouraged by his mother, however, through her introduction of comics, he determined he would follow the footsteps of Art when 11, and thereby validated the importance of decision-making by children—at least, for me—when he reasserted upon reflection the wisdom of childhood dreams and their value. (Sorry. No quote here. But he said something like, It was the right decision.)
Since then he has tackled—and been awarded for his efforts—the multiple steps in the development of comics.
D’Israeli has worked as artist, colorist, inker and writer, and produced in collaboration with other artists—especially writer Ian Edginton—a register of memorable characters and literature, stained with a darker and more wry sensibility than those of Marvel, perhaps, and extended into the graphic novel genre, as well, with the adaptation of HG Wells’ The War of the Worlds, again with Edginton in 2006, Dark Horse Publishing House, for example.
Influences and Development
D’Israeli cited Argentinian artist, Alberto Breccia, and Italian Massimo Bernardelli, as sources of inspiration in his development of an artist. While plenty of information is available on both 20th c. Alberto Breccia, and some on his prolific offspring, Enrique, scant information is available on Bernardelli, now deceased, at least in English.
He further said…
“The way that I draw does not lend itself to superheroes.” (D’Israeli, Comicdom Con Athens 2010)
At the end of the Q&A, I thanked him profusely for drawing characters depicted with all the shadows of humanity—double-chins, worry-lines, lacking in muscle tone, rarely pretty, especially his rendering of women characters, average-looking specimens, unlike the celluloid cuts of Hollywood!
Habits and Habitats
When that urge to produce is unabated, eventually one must devise ways and provide structure to harness that beast of biblical proportions, and therefore establish rituals to accommodate its wild urges. And each has his or her own methods. Deadlines, of course, are always beneficial. But in that vast space between beginning and end of any piece, the road in-between is often fraught with that existential angst of aloneness, where you are the only beast on the horizon.
Thus, you must not only be efficient but crafty as well, to quell that sense of isolation, and stimulate production. And so, you may consider things, like D’Israeli does, and take your tea at half-past 11, force yourself to arise earlier than usual when you see yourself slipping into lethargy, and work doggedly between consciousness and unconsciousness, to get where you need to go, and finally completely forget where you have gone, until a more auspicious hour emerges from its depths, and you say… I did that!?
And so the cycle continues…
With the exception of those few, who are fortunate enough to be on the payroll, the life of an artist is colored in rich tones of uncertainty. One relies on the random generosity of family and strangers, and is forced to assume sole responsibility for his or her kingdom. And experience almost always produces important lessons— So listen up, young artists, to what D’Israeli has to say.
You must be the CEO of your empire. And that requires a versatile nature and titles one may shrink from—Accountant—for example, and assume full responsibility for the collection of what is owed you.
D’Israeli found his association with DC pleasant and free from stress. “They paid very well,” he said. “And very promptly.” This, of course, reflects an ideal relationship between artist and corporation. Stress-free being the key of the equation. In other instances, you must gently prod your client, and remind them that the billing department of your corporation, expects prompt payment for services rendered.
British Artists and DC
He also referenced the DC approach to British talent…
“DC since the 1980s have had an active policy of looking for British writers,” he said. (D’Israeli, Comicdom Con Athens 2010)
“It’s a very small industry,” he added. This suggests then a highly competitive industry, as well, and because of its size, encroaching that territory may require much stamina and determination, in addition to talent.
And in closing offered the following note of appreciation—
“I’m just very happy to have what I’ve got.” (D’Israeli, Comicdom Con Athens 2010)
A highly decent chap!
The Other American
Better watch out, John Romita Jr, cause this dude is right behind you—
Formidable challenger in The Art of Comics and Biceps, Kyle Hotz, impeccable physique, handsome, brooding, versatile, savvy, somewhere in the middle of the 3rd decade of life, equally handsome wife and child beside him, and who as an artist prefers the contrast of Black & White to color.
And, a bit reserved, at least publicly.
Still, incredibly expressive when it comes to the rendering of humans and facial expressions, especially the eyes, as seen in DARK REIGN: THE HOOD—which, incidentally, is awash in deep and rich colors.
Education and Development
Educated in Ohio—can’t remember which school now!—Hotz majored in Art, and had this to say about his schooling (though he later backpedaled away from the remark, and qualified it somewhat, but it has, alas, escaped, gone, forever forgotten!) and worth quoting…
“They tried to make me not be me.” (Kyle Hotz, Comicdom Con 2010 Athens)
Such are the demands of Art! Be true to yourself above all others. And yet, not always the easiest task to accomplish. For Hotz, however, he seems firmly where he wants to be, and apparently successful, and with a list of impressive clients, as well as his “…creator owned MOSAIC…” (Comicdom Con Athens 2010 Catalogue) the key words there being creator-owned.
He has a reputation for being fast, he said, but assured the audience the secret of his success is… “It’s just that I can keep my butt in the chair.” And further, the standards of parenting he adheres to, leave him working (feverishly, I imagine) during those gaps in the day when his children are elsewhere, preferring to spend as much time as possible with them when they are around. Lucky kids!
Oh, Batman, Where Art Thou?
When asked which characters he would like to work with, he said…
“Everyone wants to do Batman.” (Kyle Hotz, Comicdom Con Athens 2010)
And judging by his work, he would probably add a new spin to that famous and brooding figure.
Given the opportunity to explore that psyche, he said…
“If I could get in Batman … I would absolutely love to do that!” (Kyle Hotz, Comicdom Con Athens 2010)
So maybe DC will wake up and take notice!
NEXT: The Independents!
(And somewhere around here there is a quotation mark—unintended—floating around and which I CANNOT deactivate because I cannot see it in Draft!)