Art Schooled: Joe Infurnari talks "Borrowed Time"

Monday we brought you an interview with Neal Shaffer, the writer of Oni Press' upcoming "Borrowed Time." Today CBR brings you an interview with the series' artist, Joe Infurnari. He may be a newcomer to the comic book industry, but he's hoping to make a big splash with the original graphic novel "Borrowed Time," when it hit shelves this May. CBR News spoke with Infurnari by phone recently and the artist was happy to share his enthusiasm for the project.

Joe, thanks for joining us. Yesterday, Neal told us all about the book, so let's start by discussing your involvement with the book.

I was at San Diego Comic Con in 2005 and I had put together my work for Oni's Talent Search. I hooked up with "Borrowed Time's" editor, Randy Jarrell and he was really positive about the samples. He also took a copy of the "Caveman Robot" book I had just finished and he seemed to respond really positively to that as well! He talked about getting in touch with me after the con so things were really looking up! Now, because of the "Caveman Robot" book, I was spending most of my time at their table. My good friend Jason Robert Bell, who is basically "Caveman Robot," had already introduced me to Chip Mosher a few years ago. Chip, at that time, was working at Oni and I guess he had shown Neal my samples from the Talent Search. This is all behind the scenes to me, but I assume Neal really liked the samples and Chip introduced me to Neal. Later, we got a chance to hang out and get a beer and it was over that evening that we talked about Borrowed Time and planned to touch base after the con. Neal sent me the script. I thought it was great, right up my alley and we just set about putting things together from there.

So, the moral of the story is that it's easy to break into comics if you know Chip?

[laughs] Chip's a good guy to know! [laughs] It's like everything in this world, having what they needed at the right time made everything come together.

Now, how would you describe your style? What artists have influenced your work?

Well, I'm relatively new to the comic book thing, I've been trained as a fine artist all along, so you can see that in my style: I just try to be versatile and adapt to the story. As far as comicbook artists that I like, I'm a huge fan of Jim Woodring, Mike Allred, Mike Mignola, Frank Quitely and I've been looking a lot at Bruno Premiani from the old "Doom Patrol" comics. I have very diverse tastes as far as comics goes and I like a lot of artists for a lot of different reasons but I never set out to imitate any of them. I approached this book trying to best set its mood and tone while telling the story using the tools I have available to me.

You mentioned a wide breadth of artists, which makes me curious as to how long you've been a comic book fan. Were you one growing up?

It's kind of funny. When I was a kid growing up, I always read some comics, which is a common story for a lot of people working in comics. I got away from it in high school and pursued 'serious' art-

I thought you were going to say you discovered women.

[laughs] That, too. They're a bit mutually exclusive [laughs]. I pursued fine art seriously, made it to grad school and that's when I ran into some blocks that had me reevaluating what I was going to do in my art. Until that point, I never considered looking at the things I enjoyed as a kid and influenced me as a kid, so when I did, I got back into comics. I approached it differently than others: I looked at comics to see what I could bring to painting, what I could learn about time and such. If you're looking at a comic book page, you're looking at a span of time simultaneously, and that's different than it is in anything else. I read all the great comic books that I missed while I was away for so long. Doing that research, I got really excited by the medium, so when my friend Jason, again, told me he was going to put together a "Caveman Robot" anthology, I said I'd contribute to see how it goes. And I've never stopped since.

And so how would you describe the aesthetics of "Borrowed Time?" Is it more fine art or comic book style?

I tried to make the emotion palpable, frank, and honest as possible, through somber and spooky images. The tone comes from the toning of the pages and when you're in the first world, it's more of a traditional comic book world: more flat colors, a little more graphic. It's a better defined world in that things are cleaner, the edges crisper. I did try to pay attention to the light effects and how it falls on everything. In both worlds, I really tried to use light dramatically and in a way that helped bring the emotion to life. The second world, where Taylor becomes lost, is grainier and dirtier, an alternate perspective on the first world. The structures are softer with more melted lines instead of hard, straight lines. I really went for a "Twilight Zone" feel so you know everything isn't quite right.

But from what I've heard, you and Neal are right, even if this bizarre world isn't. What's it like to work with him?

Yeah, it's been great! I couldn't ask for a better collaborator on this. Being new to this, I really appreciated the opportunity and I wanted to put in the extra effort. Making myself available for more things and giving more like posting all of my work on my site for Neal and Oni to see, to get their support. I really tried to show my dedication to this project by giving as much of myself to it as I could spare. They've been great. I haven't seen Neal since 2005, so when I see him again this year, I'll have to give him a big manly…handshake [laughs].

I know Neal mentioned that the scheduling is fluid for now, so what do you think the release schedule will be?

I think we can expect a new book in under a year's time. It's the same frustration I had when I was trying to be a fine artist: you work this day job, that only pays the bills and that's it, but you come home and the only hours you have left in the day are where you're tired…and want to do the things you love most. I get home at 6pm and then I have to do everything before work the next day. I'm taking time off now to tie things up on this book, but it's a struggle, doing the thing you care about the most after you've spent a full day at work.

As a big fan of music, does it influence you a lot?

No, not with the art, and that makes more sense when you know I'm a big heavy metal fan. I'm also a fan of punk, some of which I'm not very proud of, but it is what it is. My music is something I have on when I am drawing, but it doesn't affect my art too much.

See, I pictured you as a Backstreet Boys fan.

[laughs] Yah, I'm a New Kids On The Block revivalist. They're retro now, so that makes them cool, right? [laughs]

While we're talking about fine art, do you see yourself going back to the world of fine art, doing other comics, or is "Borrowed Time" it for now?

Wheher it's comics or art, I'm always going to be creating stuff. That will never change. As far as comics go, "Borrowed Time" is currently my focus, but I'm always looking for new ways to create art based on comics and to create comics informed by my art. I really enjoy that freedom, whether it's a single drawing or a sequence of panels, of creating a world and visualizing a story. That was another great thing about Borrowed Time. I was able to imagine and build the look of not just one world, but two. Projects that allow me greater imaginative freedom to really explore their worlds and possibilities are the ones that I enjoy the most. I'd love to continue on with working in comics. Comics has given me such a positive reception. As far as a longer term goal, I'd like to be creating my own stories, but for now I'm happy where I am and look forward to what's coming up.

Coming from that professional schooling background, what's the professional world's view of comic books as a viable art form?

All through my training as an artist, professors told me that my work was very illustrational. Unfortunately, that was never a compliment. I guess I could never hide my attraction to illustration even when my success in art school depended on it. The only option was to find an interesting way to integrate it. This was where comics came into it for me but many successful artists can also claim comics as an influence. There's a lot of influence of comics and cartoons on art. Carroll Dunham is a very successful abstract painter whose most recent paintings have these wonderful, menacing, cartoony characters. Mike Kelley and Jim Shaw are other artists that have been very influenced by comics. When I graduated from grad school, there was a lot of legitimate investigation of comic books by fine artists.

Where do your sensibilities lie in all that? Are you more of a grounded in real life kinda guy, or are you into fantasy & sci-fi?

I'd say both. I read stuff like Adrian Tomine's "Optic Nerve," all three volumes of Grant Morrison's "New X-Men," so I could do either one. The nice thing about "Borrowed Time" is that it overlaps both worlds and the strange circumstances allow for some fun with the visuals.

Wrapping things up, what else should we look forward to from you in the future?

Right now it's "Borrowed Time." It's the only thing on the horizon right now. After checking out "Borrowed Time", readers should check out the "Caveman Robot Gigantic Mega Annual 2004," as well as the "Caveman Robot Vol. 1: Welcome to Monumenta" comic. I'm also going to whip up some fun stuff for San Diego this summer. I don't know exactly what that will be at this point, so if readers want more up to date information, they can always see what I'm up to at my website, JoeInfurnari.com.

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