Simone Bianchi began his career in Italy writing and drawing the award-winning “Ego Sum” before he made a splash in the U.S. with DC Comics’ “Seven Soldiers: Shining Knight” written by Grant Morrison. Bianchi then jumped to Marvel Comics where he’s drawn countless covers over the last eight years in addition to multiple miniseries and story arcs. Among his many credits are two runs on “Wolverine” with writer Jeph Loeb, “Astonishing X-Men: Ghost Box” written by Warren Ellis, and “Thor: For Asgard” from writer Robert Rodi. Much of his work can be seen in varying stages on his frequently updated Facebook page.
More recently, Bianchi drew “Thanos Rising,” the 2013 miniseries written by Jason Aaron and a story arc in Jonathan Hickman’s “New Avengers.” His current project finds him back in Asgard for an “Original Sin” companion series, “Thor and Loki: The Tenth Realm.” The miniseries co-written by Aaron and Al Ewing finds the titular brothers incorporate Angela into Marvel’s version of Norse mythology and the introduction of a mysterious Tenth Realm.
Bianchi took time out of his schedule to speak with CBR News about his process and how it’s changed in recent years, his thoughts on Angela in the Marvel Universe and what he wants to do going forward.
CBR News: “Thor and Loki: The Tenth Realm” is drawn by you and Lee Garbett. For people who haven’t been reading it, can you explain why the series is being drawn by two artists and what the breakdown is like?
Simone Bianchi: It’s very simple. Basically since we’ve started working on the project I’ve known that I was going to draw everything that happens in the Tenth Realm and everything else is Lee. So I’m about to start the last issue and then finally get some rest, because it’s been a crazy year, but it’s been a lot of fun. Thor and Loki are among my favorite characters to draw. Also I got to draw Angela and I know a lot of folks at Marvel wanted me to draw her. She’s purely a fantasy character so it’s been fun. It’s been a lot of work and I’m almost finished.
Maybe we should explain exactly what the Tenth Realm is…
Oh my god. I don’t even know how to start. We all know that there were nine realms so far and this new one is we’re going to find out about the existence of this brand new realm in this miniseries. I don’t know how to explain this. [Laughs] It’s where Odin conceived Angela? Ask Al Ewing and Jason Aaron, the writers.
When it was decided that you would draw the parts of the stories set in the Tenth Realm, did you have conversations about how things should look?
No. I’m going to be honest, the best thing about working at Marvel since Day 1 — and I’ve been exclusive at Marvel for eight years now, since 2006 — is I always have 100% total creative freedom and this is no exception. I had a couple of jpegs that my editors sent me for a vague idea of how the Tenth Realm should look. That’s where I started from. I of course wanted to try to give my own perspective to the buildings and how the Tenth Realm feels like. One thing I tried to do — and I don’t know if I’ve managed to do it — is I’ve been reading a lot of Moebius comics lately so that style is something that I’ve tried to mix with my own style as much as I could. That’s the first thing that came to my mind. I reread a lot of those Moebius books like “Arzach” and “The Incal.” I’m a huge Moebius fan. He’s one of my top five if not three artists ever.
So they gave you a few cues about the feel, but the look of it was up to you?
As far as drawing Angela, did you know the character?
I knew the character and the look of the character. Again the Marvel guys sent me these new character designs that Joe Q [Quesada] did and that’s where I started from. She’s a beautiful character and she’s extremely complicated to draw — all those stripes and all those details in her armor. It’s tough but at the same time it’s extremely fulfilling because when it’s done and finished she tends to look really regal. I’m definitely looking forward to drawing more of her. Maybe some covers. I knew it was going to be tough because of how complicated her costume and armor is but I totally enjoyed drawing her from page one.
Talk a little about your process and how you’ve been working?
My process has changed over the past three-four years. When I started working with Grant Morrison and DC on “Shining Knight,” and after that with Marvel, I used to have a very complicated process. I started with very loose thumbnails with the basic layout of the page. Once I was done with that I was going to move into taking pictures for every single panel which is a colossal pain in the ass. [Laughs] It was extremely time consuming as you can imagine. When it comes to a cover you can do that, but when you have to draw twenty, twenty-two pages in five weeks, it’s a lot of work but I used to do that. With “Wolverine,” “Astonishing X-Men,” “Thor: For Asgard,” “X-Force” and my second “Wolverine” run I used to take a shitload of pictures. I have so many pictures in my computer you can barely count them.
Starting with “Thanos Rising,” for whatever reason — without even thinking about it too much — I completely quit the photographing process. Not only that I completely quit doing thumbnails as well. I started doing my breakdowns straight on the art boards. The time that was needed for me to redraw the thumbnails on a bigger scale with a lightbox on the final page, even that part of the process was so extremely time-consuming. It was just too much work. With “Thanos Rising,” I started reading the script and got the art board and started sketching out the breakdowns straight on the paper. When I had all twenty-two pages done I went through them, changed some little things and then I started to tighten the pencils. This helped me speed up my process so much. I was once able to do no more than fifteen pages a month. Maybe even less than that. Now I can handle twenty pages a month easily. All this was possible just because the process itself changed. It happens naturally. I didn’t have to think about it it just happened.
We made a work in progress video that we shot with a professional crew and that shows all the process for a cover, which is different. I usually do two or three thumbnails and we go through those with editors. We pick the one we like the most and then I enlarge it, print it, redraw the whole thing and do tight pencils. I paint over the tight pencils. That is still quite time-consuming, but it makes for a much better final result. As a matter of fact if you see those two videos, they’re divided in two parts of purpose. In the first part it’s just me doing this thumbnail sketch, doing the tight pencils. The second one is me redrawing the whole thing on a bigger piece of paper and then painting over the pencils with acrylic and ink wash. It was worth all the effort. Covers are still a long process. Between the thumbnails and pencils I do, I still take a lot of pictures for the covers. I use models. I use my wife. I use myself. When it comes time to draw Wolverine, it’s always me. When I draw Wolverine, every single time, he’s going to have my features. He may not be as beautiful as some expect, but it’s the way I like to draw the character. [Laughs] When it comes down to covers, it’s still a long process but it’s a lot of fun. I’ve got to be honest, right now I would rather focus myself 100% on covers and not on interiors.
Is that because with covers you can spend the time and have control over the final image in a way you don’t on interiors?
Yes, it’s all about that. As you just said when I’m working on interiors there’s no time for all that. I’m lucky because my new colorist [Adriano Dall’alpi] also happens to be my best friend he lives like twenty minutes away, so once the pages from every issue of “Thor and Loki” are done I drive there, we sit down and spend a day just fixing every single panel, the light and shadows. We try everything in our humble — or not humble opinion — to try to improve it every way we think we can. With the covers it’s different because it’s me. I love the feeling of getting my own hands dirty with colors. I love it when I’m done working I go downstairs for dinner and my hands are covered with colors. I love that feeling. My dad has been a painter his whole life so I grew up among brushes and colors and that’s something I always need to come back to after I work a few weeks or months on interior pages of a book.
On the interiors, obviously someone will color it but when you send the pages out are you thinking of them in your mind as “finished” in a sense?
This has changed through the years. Honestly when I first started working for American companies, first at DC and then with Marvel, I used not to think about it at all. All that mattered for me back then was how the final black-and-white and ink-washed page would look. Now that I’m working with my new colorist Adriano, I know exactly what he’s going to do. When I think of a panel or a background, I know how he’s going to treat that panel or background and that makes my life so much easier. He helps me to think about black-and-white in a different way. That’s something that I’ve been doing for the past year and a half, two years, since we started working together on “New Avengers” with Jonathan Hickman. I can see myself thinking, “Hey, you don’t need to go that crazy on this because Adriano still has to do his job and he can make it look beautiful. I have this tendency to overwork. Trusting him the way I trust him and his coloring I know that I can let him do his own work.
I remember seeing some of your early work and some of the uncolored pages you did, the coloring or production didn’t make it look better, quite frankly. I’m sure there’s a tension sometimes between how you want a page to look when you finish and how it will reproduce.
That’s something that you learn along the way. You have to work on that. You have to keep working with different colorists. You have to work with production guys to realize what you can and what you cannot put on a page. That takes time. I’m glad because it’s all about taking out things. It’s not always about adding. Sometimes simpler and cleaner works better than overcomplicated, but it’s something that I had to go through and I’m glad and I still go through that. If I want to do something extremely complicated, that’s when I work on covers. When I work on covers I can do that because I have everything under my own control. With somebody else working with you, inkers or colorists, you have to find the right way to balancing your penciling with their work and respect their own work.
It’s part of the process. We’re not doing fine art. We’re doing something that has its own production process that has to be respected. It’s something you have to deal with. It’s something you can’t take for granted. You have to work and see the printed version of what you’re doing and little by little, every single day, trying to realize what you can keep on the page and what you can take out of the page.
You said that you changed your process with “Thanos Rising,” which was about two years ago. Was there something about the project or that time that you think sparked this change?
I don’t know how it happened. It was nothing to do with “Thanos.” I read the script and loved it. I knew it was going to be huge and it has been. I don’t know. I didn’t think about. I went straight to the final boards. It’s a good question. It was not because of that project or something about it that made me change my mind. It just happened. And it will change again, I’m sure. It’s important that when you do something creative you have to let random things happen by themselves. Sometimes what happens randomly is going to make your art look better. It’s something that somehow is out of your control and you have to let it go through yourself.
You’ve drawn a lot of covers and drawn a lot of characters. Do you have any favorites? Anyone you want to draw more?
Everybody at Marvel and everyone who knows me knows I’m a huge Inhumans fan. I would love to draw a whole miniseries. Now that the Inhumans are much, much bigger in the Marvel Universe, maybe sooner or later it will happen. Other than that, I love the Fantastic Four characters. I cannot wait to jump back on X-Men doing some cool covers with those characters — Beast, Emma Frost, Colossus. I’m a huge Nightcrawler fan. Among Marvel characters, my favorite is Wolverine. I must have painted more than thirty covers and I don’t know how many pages with him, but I still love Wolverine. Daredevil. Spider-Man. Give me Spider-Man any day of the week and I’ll be happy. Spider-man gives you a lot of creative freedom and things you can play around to make the character your own and infuse the character with your own style. And of course all the villains. I’m a huge Doctor Doom fan. Loki, Magneto, Green Goblin, the Sinister Six. Too many things to do and too little time.
You mentioned that some people at Marvel wanted you to draw Angela because she’s a fantasy character. Is that a genre you have an affinity for?
Yes, definitely. It’s not only about affinity. I’m really comfortable with those settings and backgrounds. Before drawing superheroes I used to be a fantasy illustrator. I think Grant Morrison wanted me to draw “Shining Knight” because he saw what I used to paint as a fantasy illustrator. I used to work a lot of a concept artist for a company here in Italy. I grew up with fantasy artists. I’m a huge fan of people like Frank Frazetta, Boris Vallejo, Julie Bell, Rick Berry, Brom, John Foster — too many to name them all. There are so many good fantasy artists and I think Moebius is one of those. Moebius is in his own league, but he did a lot of fantasy-related projects. My dad is a fantasy fine art painter so it’s something that was in my veins.
I know that you started out both writing and drawing. Are you interested in writing more comics in the future?
Yes! Oh my god yes! I keep telling those guys at Marvel to let me write something. I understand it would be extremely hard because English is my second language. All these years I’ve been working as an artist, I haven’t been writing and to be a good writer you need to read and write every single day. The guys at Marvel might be a little right because I don’t have the time to do that, but I would kill to do it again. It’s going to happen. I promise you, sooner or later you’ll see my name as both writer and artist. My writing may suck in English but at least let me try. To be completely honest I’d like to write the plot and have someone else do the dialogue. As far as telling the story and dividing it into panels and drawing it, I can do that. When it comes to dialogue, you have to have a perfect knowledge of the language and it’s even hard in Italian because I don’t have the time to write in Italian, but the answer is yes! Let me write again!
You received a Yellow Kid Award for your comic “Ego Sum,” which you wrote and drew, so you are already an award-winning writer.
Exactly! See, I’m supposed to be good! But I’ve never had the chance to show off in English yet.
I still have to write and draw the third and last chapter of “Ego Sum.” My contract didn’t allow me to finish it, but sooner or later, I will finish it and I will do a hell of a job.
What comes after “Thor and Loki” for you?
Covers. Some of them might be hand-painted on canvas.
Let me give you a hint of something I can’t talk about. It’s not at Marvel, it’s not comic books, but there will be an announcement soon. It’s something that I’ve wanted to do for such a long time and now I’ve had this opportunity. It will happen in New York. That’s all I can say about it.
“Original Sin: Thor & Loki – The Tenth Realm” #4 is on sale now.