1) What was the FIRST comic you ever read and how did it influence you?
I honestly don’t remember the actual FIRST one but I remember the first specific issues I received of various titles in late 1976 and 1977 during my formative years. They were mostly Marvels and they were a childhood escape for me and by the age of nine I immediately knew what I wanted to do and never wavered from that goal of being a comic book artist.
2) Were there any artists in the industry that truly inspired you? What impact did they have on your work?
George Perez was the big one. My first Avengers comic was issue 155 and my first Fantastic Four was 177, both by “The Pacesetter”. Not only would Avengers become MY favorite series (and I’d collect every issue with them) but the power, the meticulous details in George’s work made me realize that I was seeing my generation’s Jack Kirby making his mark in the industry and he inspired me to dream of doing what he was doing. Other initial favorites were Jack Kirby, John Byrne, Jim Starlin, Neal Adams, John Romita, Michael Golden, the Buscema’s, Steranko, Bernie Wrightson, Frank Miller, Walt Simonson, Josef Rubinstein, Bob Layton, Jeff Jones, Klaus Janson, Terry Austin, Tom Palmer, Gene Day, Bill Sienkiewicz, Art Adams, Howard Chaykin, and more. Later on I added Adam Hughes, Kelley Jones, Tom Raney, Carlos Pacheco & Jesus Merino, Chris Bachalo, Mark Texeira, Leonardo Marco, Alex Ross, Mike Perkins and others.
3) You’ve worked as a comic inker for over 26 years working for Marvel, DC, IDW and Valiant Entertainment among others–was there a project that really stood out to you as your favorite. How has it changed you?
Marvel gigs tend to excite me most, especially the iconic characters, because I grew up as a Marvel Zombie. Black Panther is tops on that list of credits. I was allowed a lot of input by teammates Priest & Velluto which is why we were credited as Storytellers from issues 19-49. But my work on such iconic properties as Avengers, Vampirella, Freddy Krueger, Star Trek, JSA, Bloodshot, geez, even biblical characters for Kingstone, and many more has made me more secure and confident as a freelancer and made me proud and giddy beyond belief in regards to personal career achievements.
4) Do you have a favorite character that you LOVE to ink?
Pretty much any classic Avengers character. I’d love to have a crack at vintage Wonder Man & Beast. Adam Warlock & the Infinity Watch, Thanos, Magus, etc. was, as my first professional work, a dream come true for this young Starlin fanboy. Those first years at Marvel were simply intoxicating.
5) You’ve done Black Panther for Marvel that looks AWESOME! What was the BEST part about inking that character?
The freedom. Sal Velluto offered me a lot of latitude in the art and we both added a lot of fun Easter eggs throughout our run. I acted as unofficial continuity cop in regards to whether characters were still alive or available and helped Sal with location, costume and weaponry reference since I have a vast comic book collection and in numerous reference materials. And he let me choose some cover content ideas that he adapted. A lot of the artistic credit needs to go to Sal as my job was to simply enhance/add to his vision. Priest listened to all my suggestions and requests and approved of or honored quite a bit of those ideas into his Panther magnum opus. One of those elements was me lobbying for the return of some classic characters like Storm, Killmonger’s “Jungle Action” lieutenants, Klaw, M’Nabu the Man-ape & N’Gami, the Avengers, heck, Priest even admitted that I was the inspiration for “Happy Pants Panther”in our final year and the Kirbyesque art and characters from his ’70s Panther series. I even informed the office about, for then, the Black Panther’s approaching 35th anniversary which was celebrated as a 100 Page Marvel Monster Edition.
Priest wrote T’Challa as a first tier Marvel power player so we translated that in the art. He wanted capes that were Batman or even Spawn-like in their unreal length and dimension, more like a design element. We handled that and Sal did research on African culture art & designs and I helped translate that. I helped design what would’ve been the national flag of Wakanda which sadly was not brought into continuity because IMHO it hadn’t wound up on a cover as I had pushed for. And I kept T’Challa’s glove lines prominent on his outfit, something Sal rendered to be more subtle. That’s all that’s coming to me at the moment, but that Panther experience could be a sole interview in itself (and has been-LOL!).
6) LOTS of fans remember your work on Annihilation Conquest — Quasar. What were the trials and tribulations in making Quasar cool again?
Well, it was an entirely different character and a lady this time so while we were carrying forward that legacy set by Wendall Vaughn and his past creators, especially Mark Gruenwald, it all felt new and fresh. But my art partner Mike Lilly and I had a ball working from Christos Gage’s script where we got to do a tribute for “Heavy Metal”, use the Super Adaptoid(!), the Brood, Moondragon, Adam Warlock, the Supreme Intelligence, and so many others…the full Marvel cosmic experience which was like going back to my roots from a decade earlier on inking Starlin’s Warlock & the Infinity Watch! So I don’t know if we succeeded in making her cool again, and (spoilers?) I believe that she died soon after while with the Guardians of the Galaxy so she only had a limited spotlight to shine in.
7) You’ve also inked the likes of the JSA, Aquaman, and Batman for DC–was it intimidating to ink such iconic characters or do you prefer inking lesser known heroes?
Jobs are jobs and I bring everything I have to each project. But, having said that, the classic, iconic characters do put a huge smile on your face while working on them. To think of the huge legacy that you are working on and passing down after several decades and a multitude of legendary creators. You do feel the pressure a bit of trying not to mess up and ruin anything. If you do you’ll wind up as fodder for a forum or Facebook group discussion and be on someone’s “Top Ten worst creators/artists of so & so”- LOL!
8) What is the hardest thing about being an inker today and how did you overcome it?
You have to accept that the artistic medium has changed in style and technology. The tech exists to skip the production step of inking for the sake of cutting budgetary corners. So we have to keep up on our quality work to further drive home the quality level we bring to the table in regards to the overall look of the art and being able to elaborate on storytelling. And stylistically you need to be more adaptable than ever because years ago the anime/manga look gained a firm foothold in American comic books and its effected how a lot of artists draw. But the hardest challenge inkers have is ignorance. Inking was created, for the most part, exclusively in our comic book industry as a necessary step to print the art since the paper and the printing was of such poor quality. It was essential to reproduce the art but also to expedite the deadlines allowing popular pencil artists to juggle more projects and make the publisher more profits. It’s now being substituted by Photoshop effects but not everybody is aboard with that budget-saving practice because most of the work suffers from an overall muddiness, sloppiness and lack of “punch”. Hopefully my official 501(c)(3) non-profit Inkwell Awards (www.inkwellawards.com) will be a positive tool in educating everybody about what we do and bring to the artistic table as we also recognize and reward our best artists from the present and the past through our ballot voting and live awards ceremonies where artists win awards. And the young artists of tomorrow are supported at the Kubert School with our annual Dave Simons Inkwell Memorial Scholarship Fun of $1000 to talented students in need.
9) What advice do you have for young artists looking to break into the industry?
Practice, patience and perseverance! Study and draw from life, not comics. Along the way, once the foundations are established one can take on stylistic cues from their favorite artists. There’s a wealth of ref material out there that we didn’t have in the ’70s or ’80s, whether we’re talking figure drawing, perspective, storytelling, etc. it’s out there. Be as good or better than what you seen today in print. Get critiques from an assortment of artists at major conventions where you can also have your portfolio reviewed by editors sometimes. Constantly update your portfolio with a diversity of elements and looks and only show your best work. If you need to explain something or apologize for it, it does not belong there. Network with as many pros as possible and you might find one that decides to inform, educate and share work product with you. It could lead to being a studio assistant and allow more leverage in accessing special events or an editors’ or writer’s attention. It means being active, doing your homework, and never being dissuaded. As the saying goes, anyone that is truly and seriously determined to break in will find a way eventually. And always be kind and professional. Don’t do all the talking but try listening and taking criticism well. If you find that the critique is too brutal you may be entering the wrong biz. You need to push down the sensitivity and develop a hard skin.
10) What NEW projects do you have coming out that we can look forward to?
The last decade of my career have been more low key and small scale in nature, which has allowed me more flexibility and freedom. While the Inkwell Awards keeps me busy, I do many commissions and I have a side project I’ve been doing with a private client for the past three years that was pitched around and may have a home now to publish it. I also do the occasional work for Kingstone Comics/Media which adapts Old Testament bible stories and covers for New England Comics’ recent Tick series with Mike Lilly. If you check out my personal website at www.almondink.com you can find info there on any new work and soon to be released reprint collections from earlier in my career.