One Artist's Tale of Breaking In and Staying In

As the comic industry has become increasingly writer-centric in the last decade, the voices and perceived contributions of artists have been minimized. It's not a welcome development, as far as this writer is concerned. Art is half the equation in comics (and frankly, more than half). If the media is not spending at least half the time talking about the art, talking to artists, and reviewing the art, it's not doing its job.

I'm a writer. It's what I know how to do, it's how I've made my living my entire adult life. So this column has spent more time on writing advice and process. But writing and art in comics are inextricably linked. I've told more than a few prospective writers than no one wants to read their scripts, it's all about the story is told through the art. I've written about and interviewed artists in this space before, and I intend to continue doing it, probably more often.

Ariel Medel is an artist from Mexico whose work I first encountered when I was editing a series called "Legends of Aveon 9" for Rovolt Entertainment in India. The lead artist was Abhishek Malsuni, who would later draw my "John Carter: Warlord of Mars" series at Dynamite. When Abhishek needed to be spelled on "Aveon" art duties, Ariel filled in. It was early in his career; the work was raw, but showed promise, and he accepted editorial input wonderfully well.

Flash forward to 2014, when I was a guest at the terrific La Mole Comic Con in Mexico City. Ariel was set up at the show, and came over to introduce himself in person, and show off his latest work. I was impressed, so much so that Ariel was my first choice when "John Carter: Warlord of Mars" was in need of a new artist. Ironically, he was again following Abhishek.

Now Ariel has moved on to Dynamite's new "Xena" comic, as well as a creator-owned venture with writer Gerardo Preciado called "Godheads." We talked about his journey to comics.

Ron Marz: Tell me about your background. When did you start drawing, who are your artistic influences?

Ariel Medel: Well, I've been drawing since I was a child. I've been an illustrator for advertising agencies, magazines, and newspapers, so I've had many artistic influences. As a child, Disney movies and the styles of cartoons like "Jonny Quest" and "Flash Gordon." As for comic books artists, I'd say the most influential to me first were John Byrne, John Buscema, John Romita and Arthur Adams. Then came Jim Lee, Marc Silvestri and Adam and Andy Kubert. And now I take a close look at the work of Olivier Coipel, Leinil Yu, Greg Capullo, Sean Gordon Murphy, Ivan Reis, Dave Finch, Steve McNiven and Stuart Immonen. Jorge Jimenez and Ryan Ottley are recent additions, but there are many more.

The fans in Mexico City were amazing at La Mole Comic Con. What's the overall comic scene in Mexico like?

You know, I live in the northern part of Mexico, almost at the border, and it's very, very different from Mexico City. Here it's mainly a manga and anime scene. There are small cons, and just a few people, comparatively, feel strongly about comics. In Mexico City, there's a much bigger fan base. People have a bigger interest in the value of the art, they ask for commissions and buy original art.

What kind of projects did you do before breaking into U.S. comics?

Like I said before, I've done different kinds of illustration work, I even did comic strips for a short time. But my first formal comic book work was "Aveon 9." I had been away from comics, after trying to break in for a long time. In the late '90s, I was going to conventions, mainly [Comic-Con International in] San Diego. An editor at DC liked my work, and it seemed like he was about to give me an assignment. He told me to work on more samples, but life got in the way, and it never happened. Then in early 2012, I went to a course by Marvel artist Carlo Barberi just for the fun of it, and he encouraged me to try again.

The first time we worked together was on "Aveon 9," when you pinch hit for Abhishek. How did that come about? Your art certainly has come a long way since then.

Thank you. I had been doing new samples, and putting them on social media, when suddenly Ashutosh Joshi from Rovolt Entertainment contacted me about doing "Aveon 9." That was my very first real comic book gig.

It seems like so much fell into place because you came over to say hi to me at La Mole. That's often how things work in comics, one thing leading to another. Tell me about that whole experience.

Well, I couldn't get my visa, so I turned to La Mole as an option to throw myself out there, meet fans and other professionals. The first time I went, there was a Marvel portfolio review to take place. The second time, I had done some work for Zenescope, so I thought I'd get a table. That's when I met you. It was great, because I admire your work and I could finally meet you in person.

Thanks, it was great to connect face to face. I was really impressed by how much your art had matured since I'd last seen it. Was it a steady progression, or did the improvements come in leaps and bounds?

Maybe both. Being a little older gives you a different perspective. You know it takes hard work to achieve things, so this time when I was trying to break in, I knew I had to do things the right way. I put myself through the discipline of drawing things I didn't know how to draw, or didn't like to draw. I knew I had an ability, but I knew I had never really been the student I needed to be. There are video game artists who know how to draw every single thing in the universe, and that motivated me to learn. I'm still learning.

Did you always want to break into the U.S. market? And is the experience what you thought it would be?

I grew up loving Marvel and DC characters, so yes, definitively. About the experience, I try to not picture how things will happen, because they never happen how one envisions them. But there were some things I expected and some I didn't. I certainly learned a lot about all the factors that come into play these days. The first time I tried to break in, I'd get letters back saying "Thank you, but no" or "Thanks, we'll keep you on file." Some even had a few comments pointing in the right direction. Now, with the internet, the volume of submissions is bigger than ever, and editors just don't have the time to do that, and understandably so. I'd say it's harder to break in now.

Penciling and inking 22 pages a month is an impressive feat. Are you working digitally or traditionally?

Both. I love holding a pencil in my hand, but times have changed. Sadly, the position of inker is being absorbed by the penciler. So one has to adapt. I try to draw as much as I can traditionally, and add some touches on the computer. But often I need to use as many tools as I can, including 3D, in order to get the pages done on time. I do enjoy doing digital work, too. I actually got into doing digital caricatures for a while.

You were just a deadline machine on "John Carter," no matter what I threw at you in the scripts. I always tell artists, especially artists who are breaking in with a publisher, that deadlines are paramount. Was that tough for you to keep up?

Yes, it was. [Laughs] But it was fun.

The "John Carter" material seemed like a really good fit for you. Were you familiar with the Barsoom stories when I recommended you to Dynamite to take over the book?

I was familiar with it, but I had never read the books. I mean to someday. But it's part of the material that captivated me as a child. I'd see TV programs where it was mentioned, I saw the Frazetta illustrations, which blew me away, and yes, I liked the movie. So I was very happy, grateful and honored to be part of it, to be working with you and Ian Edginton. I fell in love with the characters, it's a very rich and great mythology.

Now you've moved on to the "Xena" series. Is that a good fit for you?

When I got the news, I thought about that, if it was a good fit for me. And I thought there were actually things I could do for the book. I looked at some of the art from before, from the previous series. Great art, but I thought it could be more comic book-y this time around. And I've had a lot of fun. It has certainly impacted my style, and so far it seems like it works.

Ron Marz has been writing comics for two decades, and thinks it's pretty much the best job ever. His current work includes "John Carter: Warlord of Mars" for Dynamite, "Skylanders" for IDW, "The Protectors" for Athlitacomics on Madefire, and Sunday-style strips "The Mucker" and "Korak" for Edgar Rice Burroughs, Inc. Follow him on Twitter (@ronmarz) and his website, www.ronmarz.com.

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