REFLECTIONS: Talking with Artist Aaron Lopresti

Reflections Volume 3 Number 16

I'll freely admit that I was a tried and true Crossgen junkie. I have every single issue they ever published, some black and whites that they didn't have a chance to before they went bankrupt, and forced myself into the life of more than one creator, many of which I now count as friends.

One of those people is Aaron Lopresti.

I had never heard of the guy when he began work on "Mystic," but by the time he finished his run on the book (with Tony Bedard writing) it was perhaps the best book they had ever published with the possible exception of "Ruse." He blossomed as an artist, and I found myself promising to follow Lopresti wherever he went next. He landed at Marvel after CrossGen imploded, and now is taking over the penciling duties on "Miss Marvel." I spoke with Lopresti on all that and more.

Robert Taylor: Hey Aaron, what's shaking, dude?

Aaron Lopresti: Too many parts that shouldn't be.

RT: How's life been treating you of late?

AL: That's a dangerous question to ask someone, especially if you don't really want to know the truth. So I will answer with the standard. Great! Couldn't be better!

RT: Well, uh, that's good? Let's start the interview at the very beginning. Why did you want to become an artist and, more specifically, why a comic artist?

AL: I guess you are looking for more than just "because I was/am an idiot" answer?

RT: Yeah.

AL: I have been literally drawing since I was old enough to hold a pencil. I used to want to be a cartoonist or animator until I discovered comics when I was ten. I fell in love with the medium and started drawing my own comics and my fate was sealed. Being a sci-fi and fantasy fan, due in large part to the works of Frank Frazetta, I never really could figure out another creative artistic outlet that allowed me to draw that type of stuff other than comics.

RT: But didn't you read scripts for Tri-Star Pictures for awhile? Tell me more about that and any other crazy odd jobs you've had before you became a serious comic artist.

AL: I went to film school at USC instead of going to art school. I had a period of time in my life where I gave up art and considered film the best outlet for my "talents." After getting out of school I got a job as a "script analyst" for Tri-Star pictures because the girl that hired me was a USC grad.

RT: Ooh, did you approve any classics like "The Monster Squad?"

AL: I read a lot of crappy scripts, but did recommend two that actually got made. One was an age/body switching comedy with George Burns and that guy from "Grey's Anatomy." It was a pretty funny script, the movie, not so much. Also a movie called "Curiosity Kills." It ended up a TV movie on the USA network starring C. Thomas Howell. Great script, but I have no idea how the film turned out.

RT: Any funny stories from the lot before we get back to comics?

AL: I once saw Robin Wright in the Tri-Star parking structure. It was right after she had done "Princess Bride." I just said "hi" in passing. We were the only two in the structure at the time and I was afraid if I got too close she might think I was going to attack her or something.

RT: And we certainly wouldn't want that. Allright, let's move on to comics - were you more of a DC guy or a Marvel guy?

AL: I have always been a Marvel Zombie. I just thought the covers were always cooler and more exciting looking. Except for Wrightson's "Swamp Thing."

RT: Tell us about your first big break.

AL: I guess you would have to define big break. I got my first job by completing a 22-page Spider-Man sample story (overkill) and showing to Terry Kavanaugh at San Diego Comic Con. Six months and two trips to New York later Terry gave me an assignment in "Marvel Comics Presents."

My first important break, however, came at Dragon Con in 1992. Dave Olbrich found me and talked to me about big things that Malibu had coming up. A couple of months later I got a call from him, or maybe I called him, about their Ultraverse line. They wanted me to draw "Hardcase," but after seeing the Sludge character design by Kevin Nowlan, I knew that was the book for me.

"Sludge" was the first book that really got my name out there, but now after two years at Marvel, I am starting an ongoing series, "Ms. Marvel," that I'm hopeful will really define who I have become as an artist. I think this book plays to my strengths, much like "Hulk" did, with dynamic visuals, complex characters and wild Marvel villains. I can't overstate the importance of a strong beautiful lead character, as well.

You can only define a big break or career making or changing event after the fact. I feel as though I am still clawing my way up, so "Ms. Marvel" coupled with my recent "Hulk" work may eventually be defined as my "big break" or perhaps more accurately "breakthrough."

RT: Okay, I've never seen the book or heard anything about it, but "Sludge?" Seriously?

AL: I still have a soft spot for the big blue lug. Too bad I couldn't keep the momentum going. Once again, oh well….

It was really some of Steve Gerber's finest work. Not to mention I wrote several issues because Steve was late a lot with the scripts. Working for Malibu on "Sludge" was one of the greatest times of my life. I was treated with respect and they all trusted me because they realized I really did know what I was doing.

RT: Tell me a little more about those artists that influenced your work. I know you already mentioned Wrightson…

AL: Frazetta, for the same reasons, he is everyone else's biggest influence. I discovered Wrightson's "Swamp Thing" after the fact, probably around 1974 or '75. I fell in love with stuff and then started buying everything that he had already done and continued to do. And I do mean everything. I had a complete Wrightson collection up to about 1982. When I realized at age 18 that stylistically I was looking too much like Wrightson, I sold my entire collection so I would stop using him as a crutch. Little did I know that the fastest way to be successful in comics is copy someone more successful than yourself. Oh, well…

I loved Wrightson's ability to spot blacks and create volume. I also loved the detail and the monsters.

Neal Adams and Steranko were big influences as well. Adams draftsmanship was incredible and both he and Steranko were innovative storytellers.

In multiple and continuing attempts to make my style contemporary and viable I have looked at Jim Lee, Dale Keown, Travis Charest and the incomparable Adam Hughes.

Michael Golden, Mike Ploog and William Stout became major influences on me because of my personal relationships with them and the knowledge they imparted on me. Golden showed me how to make my work more contemporary and dynamic. Stout educated me in the business of self publication and promotion. And Ploog is just a great guy!

RT: What were some of your favorite characters to work on as your career progressed?

AL: Unfortunately, my career is littered with jobs I had to take to get by, but there are a few gems in there. I will mention "Sludge" again, because it was the first real professional looking work I ever did and I wrote and/or co-wrote several of those issues. I loved working on "Lord Pumpkin" and revisiting my Wrightson roots. My "Forbush Man" stuff was fun for Marvel, though my art stinks in those, mainly because I got to write those stories. My two-part story for "Gen 13: Bootleg" I co-wrote, pencilled, and inked and it is still one of the best projects I have ever done. I enjoyed working on "Xena" for Topps because I got to write my own stories.

Noticing a pattern here?

I really liked working on my "Plastic Man" story for DC that I also inked. I did the lead story for the now-infamous Elseworlds 80-page giant that got recalled and destroyed before it got distributed in the US. Drawing the "Ultimate X-Men" #1/2 was awesome.

I really enjoyed working on "Hulk" recently for Marvel as well as the "Avengers Disassembled What If."

I also have to mention my run on "Mystic" for CrossGen. A tremendous synergy of writing, penciling inking, and coloring. I am really proud of my run on that series.

I am probably forgetting some characters, but since they are not real, I don't think they will be hurt by their omission.

RT: What were some of your least favorite gigs?

AL: I will answer that question when I am either as powerful as Frank Miller or completely out of comics.

RT: Awww…shucks. Well, how about something else controversial - the inevitable question, tell us about your time at CrossGen.

AL: 95% of my work experience there was positive. I was treated really well there and got out without being owed any money. The opportunity there restarted my career and has led to where I am at now. As I previously stated, "Mystic" is probably the best work of my career on a continuing series. Although, now that I am finally reunited with Matt Ryan on "Ms. Marvel," look out!

The CrossGen model was an unbelievably creative environment, but a completely flawed business model. There was just too much money going out and not enough coming in. I am a bit resentful of all of the lies that were being told to creators, both staff and freelancers, when the company was going under. Continuing to farm out work when you know you can't pay the people who are doing it, is really rotten.

Fortunately, I was being fed accurate information my whole time there so nothing took me by surprise.

RT: So why'd you pick Marvel as your homestead once CrossGen imploded?

AL: David Bogart spoke with me at Wizard's Chicago Con and had a lot of positive things to say about my work. When things started going south at CrossGen, I sent him some of my "Mystic" work and before I knew it, I was working on "Captain Marvel."

RT: What have been your favorite books to draw at Marvel?

AL: I really enjoyed "Captain Marvel" because of Peter David's writing. "Hulk" has been my favorite by far. Good writing by Greg Pak and I feel like I was born to draw a character like the Hulk.

RT: And now you are working on "Ms. Marvel." How'd you get the gig?

AL: It was one of two things offered to me when I finished the Hulk. I felt and still feel the character has great untapped potential. Bill Rosemann, you'll remember him from CrossGen…

RT: Bill's your editor, right? I'm doing an interview with him next month.

AL: He saw my Ms. Marvel rendition in the "What If," and felt I would be a good fit. So here I am finishing up the first issue!

RT: For those of us living under rocks, what's the book about and who is writing it?

AL: Brain Reed is writing and it's about "Ms. Marvel." (laughs)

RT: The book obviously has a big connection with "Civil War" right now. How are you liking the miniseries?

AL: I love it. I am getting impatient like everyone else waiting for it to wrap up. Marvel won't tell me anything so I am on the edge of my seat like everyone else.

RT: Tell us how you approach drawing the character and her world.

AL: I don't know that there is a certain approach. Things sort of evolve as you go and get more comfortable drawing a certain character. I had no idea what I was doing with "Excalibur," but after awhile I became comfortable with the characters and their environment.

RT: Tell us more about Matt Ryan and the rest of the art team.

AL: Matt is inking and I couldn't be happier. I have had a couple of really good inkers recently, but no one seems to be more perfect for my style than Matt Ryan. As I have often said, he inks me like I ink me, only with more control. Chris Sotomeyer is coloring. We keep ending up on the same projects at Marvel. He colored my "Captain Marvel" work, my "What If" and "Hulk." I really liked how he handled the superhero stuff in the "What If" so I am really looking forward to what he does on this series.

RT: Normally would you prefer to self-ink or work with an inker?

AL: I really don't have the patience to ink my own interiors. I enjoy inking my own covers so I can say that I did it! I also like working with guys who ink like I can't. Like Danny Miki and Tim Townsend. It really depends on my mood. [laughs]

RT: Why should fans want to run out and pick up the book?

AL: "Ms. Marvel" is becoming a much more important character in the Marvel Universe as I result of "Civil War" and I think people will want to keep up with what she is doing in her own book. Plus, there are some really cool villains, in a geeky Marvel kind of way, coming up.

RT: Anything else you have in the works?

AL: I have some "Red Sonja" covers coming up from Dynamic Forces that I penciled inked and colored and in some cases painted.

Also I am continuing to progress on my Creature Book for Watson Guptil publishing. I know it seems like I am taking forever but it is an amazing amount of work.

RT: Ready for the lightning round?

AL: What are you talking about?

RT: Just say yes.

AL: Yes?

RT: What was your first comic book?

AL: There were two that my mom bought for me at the same time. "Fantastic Four" #112 and "Amazing Adventures" #7. Both Marvel, big surprise!

RT: What comics can you never miss?

AL: "Civil War," "New Avengers," anything Alan Davis does and anything Adam Hughes does. You could put Kevin Nowlan in there as well.

RT: What is your favorite comic book of all time?

AL: "Killing Joke."

I will say that "Amazing Spider-Man" #121 and 122 come in a close second. I also loved "King Kull" #1…actually 1-9.

RT: Has there ever been a comic book that touched/changed your life? What was it?

AL: "The Life and Adventures of Santa Claus" by Mike Ploog. It didn't change my life, but it certainly inspired me and opened my eyes to other possibilities outside of mainstream comics.

Also, I would have to say the books "The Studio" and Wrightson's "A Look Back," although not comics, really shaped my vision for what I wanted to do with my career.

RT: If you could only draw one book for the rest of your career, what would it be?

AL: 20 years ago I would have said "Spider-Man." Now I don't really know. I know I would be writing it whatever it would be.

RT: What's the best comic book movie ever made?

AL: "Captain America…"

RT: Uhh …

AL: Joking. "Spider-Man 2."

RT: What is your weirdest convention experience?

AL: Until recently I have never had a good convention story. Last year at SuperCon in Oakland, I was sitting sketching in the hotel bar with Adam Hughes, Phil Noto and a bunch of guys waiting to get sketches from Adam. Some drunk guy sat down next to me and started gushing about how great he thought I was and how he always wanted to meet the great….Adam Hughes! Everyone started busting up laughing, I believe Adam buried his head in his sketch to hide his hysterical laughter. How someone could mistake me for Adam, especially when he was sitting right across from me drawing, was amazing.

I pointed out his mistake and he begged my forgiveness and asked who I was. When I told him he responded, "I'm really sorry but how am I supposed to know every new artist that breaks into comics". Of course, everyone started busting up laughing again. It was a very humbling and humiliating experience for a twelve plus year pro like me.

RT: If you were remembered for only one thing in your career, what would you want it to be?

AL: I really would like to be remembered as someone who did good work. Hopefully I will get there before it is all said and done.

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