As we continue our week long look at the December debuting Image Comics mini-series "Bad Planet," today CBR News catches up with penciller Lewis LaRosa who's charged with bringing to life the story Thomas Jane and Steve Niles have crafted.
"Bad Planet" is a bigger than life science fiction story, filled with fantastic looking aliens and huge set pieces, which have presented a number of challenges for LaRosa, but he's certainly up to the task. LaRosa is a relative newcomer to comics and probably best known for his run on the Marvel MAX title "The Punisher" with Garth Ennis. LaRosa is joined on "Bad Planet" by Tim Bradstreet, who is not only responsible for bringing LaRosa onto the project, but will also be inking his work. And had it not been for Bradstreet, LaRosa might not be working in comics right now.
"I was actually going to quit comics and go back to school after my last Marvel book, but Tim and Tom convinced me otherwise," LaRosa told CBR News. "Tim's an art God and someone I'd badly been wanting to work with for a while and we were actually supposed to do a book together at Marvel, me penciling and Tim inking, so I was more than bummed when that didn't work out. I'd already heard about 'Bad Planet' from a press release or two from last year and was looking forward to it as a fan. The preview art looked beautiful, Steve Niles was writing, and it sounded like a labor of love for Tom. I love good action oriented sci-fi, and I'd actually been wanting to tackle that kind of material and draw subject matter outside of plain-clothes characters and old mobsters. So, when Tim told me that the original artist was no longer attached to the project and Tom and Steve wanted me on board to draw this book with Tim on board for inks and the incredible Grant Goleash on colors, I knew I'd have to be an asshole to pass up the opportunity to work with these guys, so school could wait a bit longer. Tim, Steve and Tom are all at the top of their fields and could not be nicer and more supportive. Plus, it's very challenging, but also very rewarding having a hand in creating something from the ground up."
Science fiction stories tend to include scenes not generally found in every day life, requiring the artist to rely heavily on their own imaginations to drive the visuals. And while a sense of the fantastic can be found in scifi stories, including "Bad Planet," Jane and Niles insisted the visual look of the series was rendered realistically so that it didn't come off cartoony. A tall order for any illustrator and LaRosa hopes to do justice to Jane and Niles' vision. "My work tends to be angular or hard edged, in terms of line work, with lots of spotted blacks," LaRosa explained. "I do my best to ground my work in reality by doing a lot of research and take a lot of reference photos. I want readers to be able to buy into the fantastic story and characters and hopefully make at least some kind of emotional connection with the characters.
"I've also been trying to, not necessarily emulate, but at least be aware of and work in the same vein as the incredible artists who helped inspire Tom to come up with this story. Guys like Wally Wood, Joe Orlando, Al Williamson, Frank Frazetta, Bernie Wrightson, Dave Stevens and Mark Schultz. All geniuses. I absolutely love them.
"Working with Tom, Steve and Tim, I feel the bar is set pretty high. They all have high standards, as do I, but I always worry about my own artistic inadequacy. I drive myself pretty crazy worrying about my drawing, which sometimes can be disastrous, but it also causes me to grow every now and then. Hopefully that growth will be evident on every page of this book."
As LaRosa's been handing in pages to Tim and Tom, he says the feedback he's received from them has been very flattering and constructive. "I've had to make a few minor changes here and there, but nothing too major. I usually send Tom thumbnails to look at before I rough the page out, and sometimes I'll send him that, too, before I finish it on the board. Even then, after I've drawn it on the board, little things can slip through the cracks that need to be changed. I feel that the more we move along, the more a sense I get of what these guys are looking for on the page, what they like and respond to best. It helps, though, that I think we all love the same kinds of artists. I think we're all pretty much on the same page."
Being joined by an industry veteran like Tim Bradstreet can only help make an artist grow creatively and LaRosa said he's received a lot of helpful feedback from Bradstreet, such as being encouraged to vary his layouts for "Bad Planet." "When I started 'The Punisher,' I was told by the editor to think 'widescreen' and look at Hitch's layout style, which half the industry was already trying to copy from," said LaRosa. "I hate feeling like I'm ripping anybody off, but this was actually good for me at the time and I think kind of fit the feel of the book. I didn't have to think much about panel arrangement, I kept them pretty stacked and symmetrical and it allowed me to really concentrate on what was happening inside the panels. My story telling improved, but Tim reminded me that these are comics, not movies on paper, and that I should take full advantage of the medium, shake my work up, and break out of the layout habits I'd settled into. It's really forced me to grow on this book and it's been fun stretching muscles I'd forgotten about and playing with the panel arrangements and using other tricks, such as breaking the borders where appropriate. On the other hand, I'm still not a guy to pull some crazy shit out on the page just to show off, it's all got to be in service of the story. Tim's also great at textures, so I've been really trying to incorporate more variety of textures into my work."
While he's making good progress on "Bad Planet" now, LaRosa admitted that initially things were slow going for him. "The intimidation factor of working with these guys, the fact that this is a labor of love for Tom and I want to help bring it to life as best I can and all of the challenges that come along with creating new characters and trying to come at this material with a different approach than I was used to held me back for a bit, especially because I'm anal retentive about this stuff," said LaRosa. "More than anything, though, my back's always been a huge problem for me and only seems to get worse as I get older and spend more and more time over the drawing table. I've always had scoliosis and it doesn't take long, after sitting down to draw, for my back to get to the point where I can barely stand or move."
So far LaRosa's seen a handful of inked pages from Bradstreet and loves what he sees. "I could not be happier with his work. When I think about it, I can hardly believe that he's taken on the job of inking me. Needless to say, I hold him in the highest regard. I've worked with some talented inkers in the past, but ultimately my work was never translated to the finished page like I had hoped and intended. But Tim respects my work enough to remain faithful to it, which he does beautifully with his precise linework, but expands on it where it will actually benefit, usually with textures or outer space backgrounds. Tim works with the pencil drawing, not against it. It's very satisfying to see the finished pages and still feel like they're mine, only better. I saw a page from Grant, too, and had the same feeling. He works with my drawing, enhancing it, and he beautifully renders exactly the form, contours, and volume that I want. He's a genius."
Now that you've learned a bit about what LaRosa is working on these days, we asked him to introduce himself to our audience and talk about some of the previous work he's done or, as we found out, almost was. "I think my first actual comic book, 'Citizen V' for Marvel, came out in 2002. I didn't know what the hell I was doing, so I wouldn't recommend anyone track that down just for the art," said LaRosa. "Then I did a few jobs for DC, including an aborted 'Firestorm' series with Mike Carey and Wade von Grawbadger, which would've been great just because of Mike and Wade alone. I did something for Crossgen, then, before getting to launch 'The Punisher' under the MAX label for Marvel. The character and Garth's brilliant scripts really connected with me and that's where I finally started to feel like my work wasn't total shit. I also worked on 'Incredible Hulk' with Bruce Jones, which would've been great, I love that character, but unfortunately that will never see the light of day because it was scrapped by editorial when I left for DC. I'd love to work with the Hulk and with Bruce again someday. More than anything, though, my dream is to someday be able to take a big chunk of time to work on dinosaurs. I've been completely obsessed with them since I can remember. I don't know what I'd want to do, paintings, drawings, or both, a children's book or general audience coffee table book."
Thursday we'll bring you our interview with inker Tim Bradstreet where you'll get your first chance to see the above pencils side-by-side with Tim's inks. Plus, this Friday we'll bring you additional pencils from Lewis, as well as a load of his production sketches, plus other artwork you'll want to check out.