Fourth Wall Interviews: Nick Pitarra

16 12 2011

At this year’s Wizard World Austin, Freddie got the chance to interview artist Nick Pitarra (Astonishing Tales, The Red Wing, S.H.I.E.L.D.) and ask him a few questions about his latest project and about what he has coming up in the near future.


Freddie: For people who haven’t heard, how did your collaboration with writer Jonathan Hickman come about?
Nick Pitarra: Jonathan discovered me in an art contest that Comic Book Resources hosts called Comic Book Idol. I came in 5th one year, and from entering the contest Jonathan saw my work. By the time I lost the contest, Jonathan had already forwarded my portfolio on to John Barber at Marvel Comics. The day I lost the contest, I got an E-Mail from Marvel asking me if I’d like to work with Jonathan on an anthology. It was a story about Mojoworld in Astonishing Tales. That’s how me and Jonathan first got started.
Freddie: So, he choose you, rather than an established artist after seeing your work?
Nick: Yeah, that’s the really interesting and very cool thing about Jonathan, he really marches to the beat of his own drum when it comes to creating stuff. The Astonishing Tales stuff was some of his first work at Marvel as well. Instead of, like any other writer that was trying to break in — who would always daydream about who they’d want to work with, usually a bad ass professional — he picked me online. I’d never met him, never talked to him, never said anything to him before. I was unpublished, I didn’t even know of his work, and unbeknownst to me, he had sent my stuff to Marvel and asked if he could work with me. So with S.H.I.E.L.D. and the things he takes risks on, it shows that’s his mentality with creation. So, he took that chance with me, which was awesome.
F: So when you were offered your first job working with Jonathan Hickman, did you go back and research all of his previous books, like his early work at Image?
N: I did. I went to my local comic shop and picked up The Nightly News and the first thing I thought was “Why the hell does this guy want to work with me?!”, because we don’t draw alike at all. He doesn’t really do classic sequentials, he just kinda does text and graphs and silhouettes… I was like, “What the fuck am I getting into working with this guy?” And then, once I got the scripts, it just showed how well-rounded he was. It was a completely funny, zany, sequential story. He just let me be myself. He encouraged me to be myself. I was kinda blown away by how well rounded he was.
F: Working with another artist like that, what was the collaboration like? Did he have a lot of artistic input as far as how the panels were laid out and things like that?
N: On the Marvel stuff that I’ve done with him, no – I worked on two things: the S.H.I.E.L.D. Anthology and Marvel Astonishing Tales Anthology. I just did what I wanted on those. With Red Wing, for sure. He acts as an Art Director with that and Manhattan Projects. I get all my roughs approved through Jonathan. He comes back with suggestions and stuff. If anything, he’ll tell me to use less detail because I’m very detail-oriented. And he wants stuff to look clean, obviously– Like his idea for the covers was to keep it on white, all the time. He acts like an art director in that sense, he helps me out with design all the time. I’m really focused on clarity of storytelling and the details, and sometimes I don’t see the design on the page and he helps me out a lot in that regard.
F: You’ve previously stated that you told him to leave dialogue out of the scripts so you didn’t get bogged down with illustrating words. What was the experience like of reading the fourth and final issue and seeing the story form before your eyes?
N: Yeah, that’s actually really interesting. I read it just like you guys. I didn’t get to see the PDF lettered up until I got the comic in the mail. Jonathan, if you’ve read his stuff, you know sometimes he gets wordy and heady. For me, as an illustrator, I like to be super clear so I’ll try to illustrate everything. So for this, just creatively, he knew what we needed for the scenes and I would tell him, “Don’t do the dialogue yet, just let me work.”, to give him time to work the dialogue after, plus it would help with what the characters were saying and acting out… if he tweaked the dialogue towards my expressions.
Going back to issue four of The Red Wing; Reading the story, I was trying to figure it out as I was drawing it– I didn’t know the dialogue on the last page. So when I went back to read it, I was like, “Oh, okay.”, but yeah, as I working on it and I had to draw the picture frame last sequence… I didn’t have the text. Jonathan is funny in that he will assume I know stuff inherently, especially Sci-Fi and history references. I always feel like a jack-ass when I have to ask him what the hell he’s talking about.
F: In Red Wing, is there a specific panel or page you’re most proud of?
N: It has to be in issue one, about five or six pages in, when the first pilot gets shot down.
Basically with our concept, if you get shot down and you’re time traveling, you age as fast as you were time traveling and then you die. That was one page where Jonathan helped me out on the layout. I turned in a page that was very sequential, it was 12 panels of this guy progressively dying and falling apart. But Jonathan told me to make it one image, and it wound up coming out really cool. When he originally pitched the series, he’s like, “Man, you get to draw these guys disintegrating, skulls and everything.” He made sure to pitch that to me first. So I was like, “That’s something I want to work on!” I was really happy with the way that came out, overall.
I think it shows what we’re going do as collaborators: like I’m very detailed and form driven, and he’s very driven toward visually striking imagery, and when you mix the two, I think we do really cool stuff.
F: So in the trade paperback that’s coming out, will we see a lot of behind-the-scenes extras: his scripts, your sketches, things like that?
N: I asked him if we could put the whole process of that one page I just mentioned. The guys at Multiversity did a break down of that sequence… how we brought it to life on their website, but it’ll be a surprise to me because Hickman puts all that stuff together.
F: Your art work style is very detailed and has been compared to Frank Quitely. How did you develop this certain style; was it over time or was it initially what you started drawing like?
N: It wasn’t really a development; basically Frank Quitely was the reason why I starting drawing comics.
When I was seventeen years old, I got kicked out of an Honors level English class in High School. I got sent to a lower level class with my soon to be best friend Issac Mardis. He was like the art guy in high school, and I had never taken art. I was blown away that he could draw from his head. So I started hanging out with him and we went to the comics shop – I wasn’t drawing comics at the time or anything really– and in going there, I picked up The Authority and that was the first time I looked at comic work that wasn’t like, gradients of fades and feathering and hatching and all that stuff. It was very organic, full of life, strong dudes were fat and big, like real guys working out at the gym– Everything looked so honest, like the visuals… the environments… it all lived in three dimensional space and everything was fully realized. So then I started wanting to draw after that and then I eventually found guys like Geof Darrow, Seth Fisher, and Moebius – I fell in love with all their work. Moebius kind of inspired all their work in some sense. I bought some original pages, I own original art from all of them. From there, you know, drawing-wise for me it’s just, you understand the forms so then you’re just moving the characters around like they’re action figures on the page.
So yeah, I wouldn’t be drawing without Frank Quitely. Love that guy.


F: So you mentioned earlier that you collaborated with Hickman on the S.H.I.E.L.D. Book at Marvel, how does the experience differ from working at Marvel to working at Image?
N: Overall, for me… a lot of editors at Marvel before this asked me to do try-outs and I would get passed up on gigs. So then when I finally do get to work with them, I’m super-stressed ’cause I’m always wondering what they want. And when I work with Jonathan on the creator-owned stuff, he tells me to do whatever I’d like to do. And he stresses for me to do that; He says, “Don’t try to draw like you want to work for them.” Meaning Marvel and DC. I think when I work with them… it’s a little more stressful, and I’m not sure if I’m a hundred percent as artistically driven as I should be, because I’m too worried about making mistakes. I’m still really proud of all the work, but the series of interactions with them from before, when you’re trying to get a good gig that pays well, and thinking “Oh my god, what if I land this gig they ask me to tryout for?” You start thinking, this could be my career, so then you get really stressed and stuff. So I mean, for me, the creative process with Jonathan is never stressful. Really, the reason why Marvel asked me to work with them at all was because of Jonathan, it wasn’t because they wanted me per-say, so it’s stressful. Creatively speaking, with The Manhattan Projects and Red Wing I’m able to do what I want, so it’s great.
F: Speaking of Manhattan Projects, what can you tell us about it for people who haven’t heard?
N: For people who don’t know the history of the Manhattan Project, basically the whole world was in an arms race to find the best scientists in the world to create a nuclear bomb.
In our story, The Manhattan Projects, when all these scientists got there, Feynman, Oppenheimer, Einstein, when all those guys got together, there’s all these rumors that they studied other things. This will be an extreme take on all the other science projects that they could’ve studied: portals, aliens, all that stuff.
It’s gonna be very Hellboy/Sci-Fi looking and it’s going to play to a lot of our strengths.
F: Artistically, how are you approaching this title differently than Red Wing?
N: With Red Wing, I really didn’t do the character sheets like I should’ve, but it was my first professional project and I really didn’t know better. I realized pretty much after the first issue, it’s really hard to keep drawing guys – not draw them, per-say – but to get their likenesses correct. So over the last month, after finishing The Red Wing, I just took the time to develop really fun and interesting looking characters. Everyone will be visually unique.
F: When can we look out for another book with your name on it to hit the stands?
N: There’s gonna be Manhattan Projects, that’s gonna be an ongoing in March at Image Comics, with me and Jonathan. That’ll be my next project. I also have a pin-up in the Officer Downe over-sized hardcover. The bigger Badder Bastard Edition. If you like my work or Darrow’s work or Quitely’s work, you should pick it up. Chris Burnham draws in the same mold and his work is pretty incredible, the story is fun as hell too!


If you liked what you saw and want more, be sure to head straight to the source:

And here’s something to look forward to in 2012:




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