When “Superboy” #1 burst onto the comic landscape last month, it not only proved to be the perfect showcase for indie creator Jeff Lemire to show what he can do with a traditional superhero book, but it also unleashed the wonderful work of Italian artist Pier Gallo on an unsuspecting North American audience.
Gallo’s previous work for DC Comics was drawing a three-part story written by Eric Trautmann for “Adventure Comics” #8-10 but now he’s sharing the masthead with one of the hottest writers working today.
A self-taught artist, Gallo worked in advertising (not unlike Darwyn Cooke) before transitioning to comics in the early 1990s. His first project was Graziano Origa’s “VideoMax,” published on Fumetti d’Italia. He worked on a series of other Italian books before landing his first primetime gig as the regular artist for the serial “Gaijin,” written by Luca Blengino and Luca Erbetta for Editions Delcourt in France from 2006 to 2009.
In his first major interview with a North American media outlet, Gallo shared which American and European artists he calls upon as influences and what he loves most about drawing Conner Kent, known to the fine folks of Smallville as Superboy.
CBR News: First off all, let me park my bias at the door. I absolutely loved “Superboy” #1. I really enjoyed the look and feel you created with Jeff.
Pier Gallo: Thanks man, I’m glad you enjoyed it. I can’t wait to have my copies. It’s a different, like magic, when you see it printed.
On your website, you describe yourself as self taught. Where did your passion for art originate and how did you teach yourself? Tracing and copying other artists?
My passion for art started with comics, of course. Since I was a kid, I used to draw sequential art, and yes, I started my ‘self-training’ stealing as much as I could, mainly from masters like Hugo Pratt, Jack Kirby and John Buscema.
And I’m still stealing.
Growing up in Turin, what was your first introduction to comics? “Asterix?” “Tintin?” And what about American comics?
The story that changed my life, when I was six, was “La Ballata del Mare Salato” (“The Ballad of the Salty Sea”) by Hugo Pratt; it was the first appearance of Corto Maltese, and I still think it’s one of best graphic novels ever.
I discovered American Comics shortly after, and I got stuck with the explosive, expressionist art, and the epic, “adult” mood of those stories. I still remember some “Shang-Chi” comics from the 1970s by Doug Moench and Paul Gulacy that were decades ahead of their times. I kept reading European comics as well, of course, masters like Toppi, Caza, Pazienza, Corben and many others, gave me great times and inspiration.
Are there any current artists that you look to for inspiration?
Eduardo Risso for his awesome visual culture, his powerful synthesis, and the brilliant storytelling.
And Tom Waits for being Tom Waits.
Were you familiar with Superboy before you landed this assignment? Of course, you knew Superman, right?
Of course I knew Superman, but, frankly, I had lost track of Conner since the “Reign of Supermen” times, when he first appeared after Superman’s death.
I’ve updated my personal Superboy database during the last few months, and I really like a lot this young man and the way the character evolved.
Can you describe the strengths of Conner in terms of what elements you like most about his character design because while he’s not Superman, Superboy’s a powerful being. How do you portray physical qualities like super strength and super speed when drawing Conner Kent?
Answering both questions is in order, because it’s about duality, one of the best features of Conner’s. It’s great fun not to draw Superboy’s strength when he’s Conner, and make his strength explode when he reveals himself.
And what about his foes? Is it a lot of fun drawing bad guys like Parasite and Poison Ivy each month?
Drawing bad guys is major fun, let’s face it. Poison Ivy was my favorite so far, but we’ve just begun.
Phantom Stranger plays a major role in the series, as well. Does he present an opportunity to do work some different muscles?
He’s charming, absolutely. I’ll do my best to deliver the old school elegance of this mighty character.
Smallville itself is almost a character in this series. Assuming you’ve never been to Kansas, how did you research the look and feel of America’s Midwest, because you can literally feel the warm afternoon sun splashing across the later pages of the first issue?
Thanks, man, I love those pages too, but I think big credit goes to [colorist] Jamie Grant for delivering the atmosphere big time.
As for me, I live in Sardinia, a sort of tiny, hilly Kansas. They actually shot a few Spaghetti Westerns on this beautiful island, back in the 1970s, so I’m very familiar with a rural environment. That helps a lot, along with a huge quantity of photo reference about the real Kansas, of course.
Loaded question here, but are you enjoying your collaboration with Jeff Lemire? He’s also an artist, so you have much discussion about designs and layouts?
To my shame, I didn’t know Jeff’s work when Matt Idelson, our editor, introduced me; after I read “Essex County,” “The Nobody” and “Sweet Tooth,” I couldn’t believe my luck.
Jeff is a great writer. His Superboy is going to be special, a beautiful story about real teenagers with superpowers, ok, but all teenagers have some [powers]. [Laughs] Working with him is fun; being an artist himself, he “sees” what he wants, and the script is so rich with those kind of details that makes it easy to visualize it. So yes, we get along quite well.
Finally, can you talk a bit about your process as an artist, in terms of actual steps you take to complete a page and what artistic tools do you use?
[I use] tons of photographic reference from the internet. And after various digital adventures, I’m going back to the good old manual penciling/inking process.