In the Garage: Rodriguez talks "Maintenance"

Robbi Rodriguez is one of the most promising up and coming artists in the industry.   His grasp of pencil and ink is making him an in-demand creator.   With projects for Image Comics both behind him and in his future, and a current gig doing the art chores on Oni Press's"Maintenance" with writer Jim Massey, he's only going up from here. With "Maintenance" #1 now in shops, CBR News caught up with Rodriguez to learn more about his work on the series and what's next.

CBR News : I first met you online through writer friends of ours, back in early 2005 when you were still working on "Hero Camp" for Image.   Were the "Hero Camp" mini-comics your first comic work, or did you do some smaller stuff before that?

Robbi Rodriguez : I did a few little comics for my amusement, But I would just get a chuckle out of them and then toss it. But as for as Joe Q-public seeing...yeah.

CBR : What did you read growing up that made you want to make comics?   What were some of the books that influenced you?

Rodriguez : My Dad was a big comic guy and still is and I read a ton of his old comics. Stuff like the EC books, Alan Moore's "Swamp Thing," "Brave and the Bold," the Neal Adams "Batman" run because my Dad was a huge fan of his, "Daredevil," and I think "Deadman," and the Jack Kirby 4th world stuff. Then "Watchmen" and "Dark Knight Returns" were just coming out then, too, so I was into that. I remember punching a kid when we played superheroes after reading "Dark Knight" one time.

But the comic that made me want to create comics was "Miracle Man/Marvel Man." That shit blew my mind growing up.

CBR : The Alan Moore "Miracle Man" or the "Neil Gaiman" stuff? There were several artists attached to that series, so was it more the story that inspired you or a particular artist?

Rodriguez : It was the stories. I never really paid attention to who created comics back then (I still don't in some ways), but what got me was that you don't have to have a traditional superhero story. You can go on these wild rides that really get you to think and linger on them long after you're done with the issue. My dad still has those, too. I bet I could get a mint for them.

CBR : I bet!   Every review I've read with you ends up with a Mike Allred comparison.   Are you a fan of his?   How do you feel about that comparison?

Rodriguez : With the "Hero Camp" stuff, yeah they did. I didn't really mind it. I'm not the biggest fan of his stuff, but there are parts of his work that I have taken in as an influence - like his inking and those circle panels he uses for talking scenes. I think Mark A. Smith said he met him [Allred] at a show once and he liked the work I did on that mini. But I would rather be compared with Allred then say the director Robert Rodriguez which I get more just due to my name, let alone being a storyteller also.

CBR : When looking at your work on "Maintenance," it's obvious you've changed up your style a bit compared to previous projects.   What prompted the changes?

Rodriguez : I feel it's more of a progression than a change. When I was first trying to break in, I was drawing very realistic. I was doing work like Bradstreet and Greg Land without using photo reference. But I feel like the hand cuffs were always on with that style and I wasn't having fun with it at all. You could see a slight example in "Night Club" [from Image Comics, of which Rodriguez illustrated issues #3 & 4]. But I was trying to do more of a mainstream style on that one. So, when I was offered the gig for "Maintenance," I wanted to play around more. So, I stepped back and started the style I'm working on now and I'm just having a ball with it and it increased my production. I can exaggerate and play up things that you just couldn't do in a realistic style. A simple thing like a punch, if you draw a punch from real life with no real exaggeration, it just comes off as dull. But in this style, I can really play it up and have it come off as someone getting the shit knocked out of them - so, yeah I'm happy with the results.

CBR : Is extensive photo reference something that bothers you? It seems to be the trend in art coming from the major 2 publishers, but some argue that too much realism in comic art negates the escapism many people enjoy about comics.

Rodriguez : It's more the taste of the crowd they're marketing to. They're dealing in the bottom line. A lot of the fans grew up with the early Image stuff and watch the movies and like the realistic look, which works on some aspects, but has gotten away from what makes comic books work. But it's not too realistic, though. Hell, the guys are still hung like Ken dolls and the women's breasts still defy gravity.  

Now I need to step out for a sec to get a match to finish off this bridge. But there are guys that can still pull it off like Frank Quitely and Tommy Lee Edwards.

CBR : I don't think you're burning any bridges. I think it's a feeling many creators have that are working outside the mainstream. Since you mentioned your new style speeds up your production time, can you tell us what a normal day is like; do you still work an outside job?

Rodriguez : I did have a job lined up in Austin, TX where I would have gotten a nice fat paycheck. But my girl couldn't find a job there and wanted to come back to LA and I followed her and got a job at a Staples. That was a year ago and I'm still there while working on my books. A normal day would be getting up around 5am, drawing till 4pm, head to work. Come back around midnight and draw again till 2am. There's a lot of coffee and cigarettes in that time frame, and as far as pay goes, I don't get a page rate, but just a flat payment.

CBR : How is it working in black & white now as opposed to working with Russ Lowery, your colorist on "Hero Camp," "Night Club" and the book we're working on together, "Villains?"   He brings a lot to the table - do you find yourself spotting more blacks now and making a conscious decision to work differently?

Rodriguez : It made me bring my game up. I am doing much more that I would normally rely on Russ to take care of. But it's helped me more with my storytelling and aspects of my work that would have taken me more time to reach.

CBR: Talk about working with James Lucas Jones, your editor at Oni.   And is it hard to get jazzed up when doing a book that you didn't create?

Rodriguez : James and all of the Oni crew are great to work with and are always open to my ideas. But it's not hard at all to get jazzed for this book.   I have a lot of input in the book. Issue #3 is a great example of that.

CBR: Is that Captain Caveman issue? Sorry, that's probably copyrighted, the crazy Caveman issue?

Rodriguez : No, but that's another example. James or Jim [Massey, writer of "Maintenance") didn't ask for that, but I asked if could throw that in and they were all amped for it.

CBR : So, "Maintenance" #1 just hit store shelves, and you are already penciling #4.   How many issues will you be on and is there anything else you can talk about right now?

Rodriguez : I'm on this till they kick me off. I'm having such a blast doing this thing.

As far as other projects, I have one with Mark Sable we're kicking around and then of course "Hero Camp 2," which is being re-worked. I'm also finally working on my creator-owned project "Yokohama" which I'll be shopping around. 2007 is shaping up to a busy year for little old Robbi.

View more of Robbi's Art at http://robbi462.deviantart.com/ and be on the lookout for "Maintenance" #1 from Oni Press, in stores now.

Ryan Cody is the artist and co-creator of "Villains" for Viper Comics. More of his work can be seen at http://ryancody.blogspot.com/ .

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