It’s not every day that we get to enjoy seeing illustrator Raffaele Ienco chime in on MECHANISM, SYMMETRY, and all things indie comics, so let’s do this, with relish.
Q: MECHANISM drops this month. We’re stoked! What can you tell us about this tale, without giving too much away?
RI: MECHANISM is a science-fiction tale that combines the wonder of the Iron Giant with the intensity of The Walking Dead. Picture a future world ravaged by constant rain and the spread of an alien race called “The Geckos”, the first of many alien breeds. People outside the walled cities scavenge for food and necessities why those inside the walls try to live as normal a life as they can. The country is littered with old mech robots that failed to combat the invaders over a decade ago. Now, with the chaos reaching a pinnacle, an advanced artificial intelligence has formulated a plan to free itself from its confines and then make the ultimate decision—help mankind destroy the aliens or usher in a new age for the Earth and humanity.
The theme centers around the question “is the world better off without human beings?” And who better than an A.I. to make that decision?
Q: The storytelling idea of “machine as protagonist” has been done before, but never quite like this. What have some of your inspirations been, for the MECHANISM tale?
RI: Probably the biggest influence on me was the movie “DemonSeed” which was based on a novel by Dean Koontz. The A.I. in that movie is called Proteus and has one of the best creepiest computer voices ever. Proteus, even though it is the “villain” of the story, still comes off as very wise and practical. I can totally understand its motives. I saw DemonSeed on TV when I was like 10 or 11, and I loved it. And, what a great ending! Ever since then I’ve loved movies with A.I., but I hated the (Spielberg) movie A.I. Some favorites are Terminator, War Games, 2001: A Space Odyssey, Colossus: The Forbin Project and The Matrix.
So, in Mechanism, I also wanted an A.I. that was NOT EVIL, makes decisions that are both wise and practical, and yet not everyone would agree (that the decisions) are in their own best self-interest.
Q: SYMMETRY starts again this month too. We’re stoked for this one as well. What was it like working together with Matt Hawkins (Top Cow) on this tale?
RI: It’s been a great collaboration. Matt is a great writer and does not micro-manage his artists, which means I have a lot of freedom to decide on the scene specifics. For example, Matt will indicate that “the group” needs to get from “A” to “B”, and then leave it to me for the rest. In this particular case, I wanted to try a down shot of a big spiral stone staircase that spun counter-clockwise around the page with the characters walking the staircase in a circular direction; tricky because comics are read left to right and top to bottom, normally. I tested the finished page with a friend and he said it was totally intuitive to follow the characters through the six panels. So it worked, and I was confident in proceeding with the experiment because of Matt. Things like this keep the artist very interested in contributing and pushing the envelope. Matt Hawkins makes it easy. He’s is also very open to story direction and ideas that I occasionally put forth.
Q: Tell us more about the SYMMETRY storyline, in your own words?
RI: Imagine the future where a society of white people don’t even have a clue that any other race exists. They have never seen a person with skin color that isn’t white. Now imagine a black society in the same way, as they’ve never seen a white person in a thousand years. Somewhere in the past, a race war must have erupted that caused the United States to split down the middle, and both races never mixed again afterwards. Across the world, there are only four races now. Symmetry picks up the story where an accident causes the revelation that other races exist, and then two young people of black and white persuasion must go on the run or be separated and made to forget the truth of the real world.
Q: Image Comics continues to grow and capture the imaginations of open-minded readers everywhere. What is the secret to their success?
RI: What a rarity Image Comics is, and I’m so glad they’re successful with 20-plus years in publishing. A lot of it is due to their hands-off approach, I think. Creators bring the effort and heart to their books, trying to craft the best reading experience they can, because they benefit directly from their success rather than a big corporation. And it doesn’t end there, as creators will market and ‘pimp’ their product at conventions and the internet with gusto. Often to the extent that they break even on the excursion instead of profiting. That’s because of their love for comics, and for what they have created and own. A company whose contributors put their soul into the product can only ever be successful. Image Comics also gets to pick-and-choose projects to publish which are diverse and different than what the Big Two are publishing. They’re able to capture a part of the marketplace that may have drifted away from the Big Two, or have never found Big Two offerings of interest. Creators who have never been published before stand the best chance at Image Comics IF your work is really top notch stuff.
Q: What’s on your bucket list, as an illustrator? And, as a writer?
RI: Currently, I’m rummaging through my mind for a project with dinosaurs that would be really original and different.
As far as other companies’ books are concerned, I have always wanted to do THE epic iconic story of — Aliens vs Predator, and a Daredevil/Punisher/Elektra saga. Avatar by James Cameron might be fun, but that would be a lot of work to get all the details right on his world. I’m drifting towards creating original projects more and more, as there are plenty of creators hot to work on company-owned characters.
Q: When you mention “THE epic iconic story of Aliens vs Predator,” are you referring to the original Dark Horse Comics tale, the full-length feature films, or something else entirely?
RI: There are a lot of good Aliens vs Predator stories out there and I love them all but I don’t think we’ve yet seen the best that the characters and the premise have to offer. Maybe there’s a writer out there working on it right this second.
Q: Which of the current crop of indie comics are you most curious to read?
RI: Off the top of my head, I’m looking forward to SEVEN TO ETERNITY by Rick Remender and Jerome Opena,, as well as VS by Ivan Brandon and Esad Ribic, both titles are from Image Comics. This proves my earlier point, as the creators look to have put their heart and soul into making these fantastic-looking books.
Q: What do you suppose brick-and-mortar comic book shops could do more of, to remain relevant in these digital times?
RI: Oh, that is a tough question but so very important. What gets a person out of their chair and out to the comic shop to get their comics instead of reading them digitally? If the comic shop can be a place for intelligent and fun discussion with other enthusiasts, then it will always be a place to hang out. A place for kids too, to get their love of reading started. Maybe a place to learn to make your own comics will attract those fans who have a yearning to create their own books. I’ve seen a lot of comic shops diversify with toys, video games and superhero-themed clothing. I wish I could magically make every comic book shop successful because I have fond memories of the shop in my town when I was growing up—The Silver Snail in Hamilton, Ontario—which closed a long time ago.
Q: Tell us a bit more about the Silver Snail? What are your fondest memories of that magical place?
RI: It had the most beautiful detailed ceiling for a comic book store, almost cathedral-like, and it was two stories high. The store was loaded with every comic book, magazine, and title imaginable. Clean, roomy, bright, inviting, friendly staff, contests with prizes. Prior to this store, I was buying my comics at a flea market on Sundays, so this was like a huge step up once the store was announced to open in the newspaper. Bill Sienkiewicz, Chris Claremont and Dave Sim were at the opening. Bill did a sketch of WARLOCK for one of the staff. Dave and Chris claimed the X-MEN where going to do a jam comic with CEREBUS—never happened, of course. I met a few friends there that I still have to this day.
Q: Having comic book shops also serve as a meeting place where kids can learn how to make comics is a great idea. How was it that you yourself learned to make comics?
RI: Oh I just started like everyone else, drawing panels in a three ring spiral notepad at age 12 or 13. Horrible stuff. Cringe-worthy. Hating myself because I wasn’t good enough and would never be good enough. But I just kept at it. Then one day when I was 14 or so, I actually drew something that looked alright. It was two male figures fighting, and like a light from the sun it dawned on me that I may have the ability somewhere if I just kept practicing. I went to art school after high school, and just kept drawing all the time. I won a contest in Wizard magazine, second place, for drawing Cable in the Cable cover contest and that got me enough attention. Entity Comics (long gone now) picked up a project of mine called STYGMATA (don’t even Google that). That was my first published book.
Q: “Practice makes perfect” is what they say. Wizard magazine, wow. For a while, it seemed like that magazine was going to be around forever. How the times have changed. Have you kept that drawing of Cable, by any chance? May we see it?
RI: I still have the original art somewhere buried deep but I found a pic on the inter-web-net thing (see below.) Incidentally, I also won first place in a Hero Illustrated contest drawing Dale Keown’s PITT—winning a hardcover of Death: The High Cost of Living which I never received. Seems someone decided to pocket the book instead of sending it to me because they had just learned the magazine was folding. I curse that person!
Q: With so many enjoyable indie and creator-owned comics to choose from, tell us a little about some of your favorites?
RI: One of my recent favorites was TRANSLUCID from Boom Comics. I thought the creative team did a wonderful job on their comic tale and the dialogue was wonderful. Currently, I’m really enjoying JUPITER’S LEGACY; the art and story are both top notch. And I’ve read every issue of THE AUTUMN LANDS so far and I’m still hanging in there too.
Q: Kurt Busiek (THE AUTUMN LANDS) sure can write a comic book. It seems like it was only just yesterday when we were discovering his ASTRO CITY for the first time. What do you find most interesting about THE AUTUMN LANDS?
RI: The art is awesome and I love all the creatures conjuring magic and talking magic like professional coders talking about programming would. It makes it more real. I love the main dog-boy character, he’s so sympathetic and likable too. The writer and artist have really created a World.
Q: Five dinner guests. Which five living illustrators (of indie comics or otherwise) would you invite to a dinner party?
RI: Frank Quitely, Bill Sienkiewicz, David Mazzachelli, Mike Mignola, Jae Lee
But I would be so greatly intimidated I probably wouldn’t have the nerve to speak a word!
Q: You could just lean back, relax, and enjoy the meal. Of those five you named, which of their works stand out in your mind as their best work?
RI: I am a huge Bill Sienkiewicz fan. My top three comic projects of all time are DARK KNIGHT RETURNS, ELEKTRA: ASSASSIN, and WATCHMEN. My original copy of ELEKTRA: ASSASSIN is so worn out the cover is held together with clear duct tape and all the pages have become unglued, so it’s like a folder of separate pages. I look at it every day, really, trying to decode Bill’s magic. Also David Mazzachelli’s DAREDEVIL: BORN AGAIN and BATMAN: YEAR ONE are wonderful too.
Q: What hasn’t happened yet, in indie comics, that you would love to see happen next?
RI: Marvel and DC allow some indie creators to take over on some of their characters with absolutely no editorial interference. And the book is a hit.
Q: What are your big plans for the summer?
RI: Just keeping my nose to the grindstone—finishing off SYMMETRY #7 and #8 with about 30 more pages to go and lettering MECHANISM #5. Maybe see a couple movies like STAR TREK: BEYOND. Work on some project development. Yeah, I’m Mister Excitement here.