Interview with comic artist Gus Vazquez

1) You’ve been a very influential artist in the comic industry for many years. What was the first thing that introduced you to comics? Is there an issue or storyline that really influenced you? Is there a certain artist that you look up to?

I don’t know about influential, but I have my fans and people who enjoy my work. I’ve been doing this a long time. I hope that what I have done can be influential in some way, eventually.
I’m the youngest of five kids. All my siblings had some sort of influence on helping shape me as a comic artist. The brother nearest to me in age was the one who introduced me to comics. I used to go with him to the comic store to pick up the latest in superhero stories! As far as influences, I have many. The Brood story in X-Men was a favorite of mine, as well as the Elektra Saga in Daredevil.

As far as artists go, I have many, many. Arthur Adams, Mike Mignola, Michael Golden, Jeff Johnson, and especially Frank Frazetta, Barry Windsor-Smith and John Buscemi. I told you I have a lot!

2) Fans salivate over the projects you’ve worked on but how would YOU describe your art style? What makes it different and unique from everyone else?

I would say my work is a mixture of my artist influences, mixed with some European comic art, and maybe a some of the artwork featured in Anime. I’ve been told my art has an animation feel to it, so i guess it really depends on what style I’m using.

3) Who’s your FAVORITE character of all time? And is that the same character that you like draw the most?

No question. Spider-Man. He was an odd, smart kid who was kind go picked on, and he became someone who got powers and chose to help people instead of getting revenge. Spidey, he’s my guy. As far as who I like to draw the most, I think Spider-Man is up there. I don’t really have a preference of who I like to draw. More, I have characters I don’t like to draw!

4) Your first work for Marvel was Sunfire and the Big Hero 6 in 1998. A whopping SIXTEEN years before it became a box office hit for Marvel/Disney in 2014. Walk us through how Marvel first tapped you to draw them. Did you ever think it would balloon into something this big? What kind of recognition have you gotten from working on it?

Yeah, Big Hero 6. Talk about having something that already meant a lot to you becoming the monolith it became! I mean, it won an Oscar! Pretty cool to be connected to something like that. I like to think I earned an Oscar by proxy!

I was visiting the Marvel offices, and got a good response, but no job. On my way out, I ran into Michael Golden, who I had known from being an intern at DC comics, and was now the Art Director at Marvel. He asked about why I was there, and I told him I was showing my work around. He asked to see my work, and after reviewing it, he asked me to wait in his office while he took my portfolio to show to someone. After a few minutes, he said I had a gig, and that I’d better not mess it up.

I can say that I believe I owe my career to the great Michael Golden taking a chance on me. I didn’t mess up. Not the deadline, at least! It was a lot of pressure, but i managed to do a good enough job that people remember it, and even though it was a very different animal that ended up in the movie, it’s pretty special to be involved in the first ever appearance of the Six.
I never imagined it would become a huge movie hit, and am very proud that my first work ever for a big company is received so well. I don’t know if I get recognition from it, necessarily, but the guys from Man of Action, who created the characters, give me props in most of their interviews, which is awesome. They don’t have to do that, but they do, and I appreciate it greatly.

5) You’ve also done some work on the Flash for the New 52, Green Lantern, JLA and NOW you’re working on Green Arrow for Rebirth!! Tell us about the experience. Are some DC characters easier to draw than others?

Yeah. I’ve also worked on a few Suicide Squad issues. After all these years, it’s pretty cool to be working again for DC. There was a 14 year break! I’m having fun working at DC again, and they’ve told me they like what i’m doing and would like me to keep working for them as long as I’m happy working for them. So, I guess I’ll be working for awhile, if that’s the case! Time will tell.

When it comes to characters that are easier than others, not really, though there are ones I try to avoid, if only because it means I’m stuck at my table all day! Like Killer Croc. For both Suicide Squad issues I did, I hoped that they wouldn’t have Killer Croc on the Squad! I got lucky both times. Other than that, i’m pretty happy to just be drawing characters people enjoy. I’m quite happy to just be working in comics. It’s my favorite medium, besides movies, and I feel lucky to be able to be a part of the industry.

6) What do you think the most challenging thing is for artists today? What was the hardest obstacle you had to face and how did you overcome it?

Honestly, not to sound like a grumpy “get off my lawn” type, but I feel like a lot of artists today are not really versed in the art of storytelling. Comics are a relationship between words and pictures to tell a story, and each should compliment the other. It’s a happy marriage, and no one part should overtake the other.

I feel like a lot of artists today are trying to draw cool pictures. If you take away the text, sometimes you can’t tell what’s going on. Each part should be able to tell the story on it’s own. I think a lot of people just want to be flashy, but there’s an art to storytelling. Certain techniques that help convey emotion and mood.

I just feel like a lot of the younger guys could step their game up if they did some history lessons and learned the craft of storytelling as opposed to just drawing cool pictures. Not that there isn’t anyone telling good stories. I just think good storytelling is fading way.

7) Let’s talk about some of your own projects. First, we have Fang: The Weeping Reaver written by David Atchison which was a momentous Kickstarter campaign. What’s the story about and how did you guys come up with the characters, high-concept, etc.?

It’s a book I’ve been working on for a long time. It’s taken this long for a few reasons, but mainly because I’m a perfectionist, and want it to be the best thing I’ve put out there. Unfortunately, I don’t have unlimited resources, and can only work on it when I’m not working on something else, and when i do have down time, sometimes I just want to not be chained to any desk. It makes the process really slow.

Also, unfortunately, my Kickstarter campaign was not successful. It’s a job, in itself, to run a Kickstarter campaign, and I did it alone. Not an easy task. I learned a few lessons, though, and will hopefully be starting another campaign in the near future.

The concept, itself, was created by David, a good friend of mine, and we talked about having me be the visual part of the story. He’s left it in my hands, at this point, and all of the visuals were created by me with his input. Everything I did, I made sure to run by him and get his approval. He says I visualized everything he imagined and more, so I’m confident with where it is, at this point.

We have plans for it once it’s done, and hopefully it’s well received. I’ve worked hard on it over the years, and am close to finally getting it out in the world.
It’s not like we invented the wheel, here, but it’s definitely got a cool twist. Keep following, it’s gonna be cool.

8) What do you think the COOLEST thing is when it comes to vampire stories?

I think people are just interested in vampires because they are monsters in the basic sense of the old, but they can be good people. They can have morals and are not just evil. They’ve been cursed with immortality and powers, not always because they had a choice in it. I think they’re just fascinated with the mystique of vampires. Some of them have this sense of morality, but then they need blood to live, so they can have a moral dilemma. The need to survive vs the necessity to kill so they can keep living. What would you do if faced with that? It’s not an easy answer.

9) Then of course, we have “I’m Not Going to Bed”, a children’s book written by Orlando Santiago with some terrific interiors by you. Tell us about the story and what inspired it.

First of all, thank you. That means a lot. Orlando is my oldest friend. We’ve known each other since we were four years old, and we’ve never had a fight or an argument. It’s a rare relationship. We were the best man at each other’s wedding, and Godfather to each other’s first born, so we’re close. We’ve talked about working together for years, and we finally did it.
The book is based on a reality that many parents have to deal with; a kid who refuses to go to bed! Anyone who has had a kid, or has had to babysit can connect to that. It’s not easy!

10) Fun fact for those who don’t know: you’re also related to Rosario Dawson!! Have you ever visited her on set? And did you ever meet anyone famous that left you star-struck?

I am related to Rosario. She’s my sister’s kid. My niece. It’s interesting to have someone in my family who is famous on her level. It can be both a good thing and a bad thing. I get to do things and have experiences many don’t get to experience. It can be pretty surreal, at times. I appreciate all of it.

I have always wanted to be part of the film industry as an actor, and I get to be on set sometimes and at least see it happen. Maybe one day I’ll get lucky and I’ll be able to love out that dream, too. I’m producing content for film and tv, so it may come sooner than later!

I’ve been very lucky to have been invited to visit her on set and get to know some of the people she’s worked with. It’s fun, for sure. Being star struck… hmmm. I don’t think I have, honestly. There were a few people I was a little intimidated by, or nervous around, but I warm up pretty quickly. They’re people, after all, and most of the time they just want to be treated like everyone else.

11) Do you have any future projects that will be debuting soon? And is there a dream project that you have yet to work on?

Besides working on Fang and the kids book, I’m drawing for DMC of Run/DMC on a graphic novel. I’m drawing part of it. It’s fun! Not sure when it releases, but keep an eye out for it. I also did some work for a book called “La Borinqeuña” created by Edgardo Miranda-Rodriguez. She’s a Puerto Rican superhero who fights for justice. She’s a great character, and very inspiring. I will be working for DC again very soon. I’m waiting on a script for something unnamed at this point.

On another note, I’m producing projects for film and tv, so there’s that, too.

12) Last but not least—What’s the BEST advice you can give aspiring artists, writers and creators that are looking to break into the industry today?

Honestly, I need to say that, if you’re looking to do something in the industry, be prepared to have something else to rely on for income. It’s possible to have comics as your primary job, but it’s not easy to do. I’m always doing something on the side. It’s very difficult, though not impossible, to get in independent project noticed, so if you’re thinking of going this to get famous and have a movie deal, be prepared to hear the word “no” a lot. Also, just because you don’t get a job right away, it’s not always because they think you’re not good. Sometimes, no matter how good you are, it just may not be the right fit for the project. There’s bunch of reasons people say no.

You need a thick skin, and you need to be persistent if it’s really what you want to do. As well, not everybody is meant for mainstream comics. You can do just as good a project for an independent company or to self publish, as you can with a major company. The name recognition always help, but unless you’re featured within that company, you can also get lost in the shuffle. Remember, a lot of comics are based on sales, and if you don’t meet the numbers, you may not get another issue out. I think people, a lot of the time, don’t have realistic goals when it comes to comics, or anything else in the entertainment industry. I’m not saying don’t follow your dreams, just understand that it’s really competitive out there, and there’s many reason why things don’t work out. Just be prepared to do it for the love, and not for the money. A friend once gave me the best anecdote I’ve ever heard. it goes like this; “What’s the best way to make a million dollars in comics? Start with ten million!” It’s not supposed to be a deterrent, but a realization that comics are a tough industry to make money in, and it’s really about the medium, and telling a good story. Like any other business, if you’re just doing it for the money, you may be in the wrong business.

Other than that, stay vigilant. Alway have copies of your work. Don’t show original content. Most companies won’t take it, mostly to avoid potential lawsuits. If you want to draw covers, just show covers. If you want to be a penciller, just show pencils. For inkers, show the pencils you inked over, as well as your inks. Writers, it’s a little harder for, because there no visual, but show writing samples. Always try to create your content for the company you want to work for. They want to know that you can handle their material, so it’s best to use characters they already own. If someone tells you you need to work on something, work on it. They’re telling you to help you get better, not to deter you. One thing people should learn to do is check their ego at the door when showing their work. Everyone is going to have a different opinion when viewing your work, and it’s not always going to be what you want to hear. Some people get lucky, and are accepted right away. Remember, just because you’re the best artist of anyone you know, that doesn’t mean you have the chops to work for a bog company. There’s a lot that goes into making comics, and it’s not always just about drawing cool pictures.

And lastly, do some research, and see what you should be showing at portfolio reviews. You want to be as professional as you can be. Stay away from loose pages in a binder, or looseleaf paper. Use professional grade (or as close to it as you can) products. They sell them everywhere. There is no excuse not to have something professional looking. I can guarantee you that presentation counts for at least 50% of your review. That being said, keep at it. It’s not easy, but it’s not impossible.

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