Italian born artist Luca Pizzari has recently been producing a number of comics for Marvel USA, notably The Black Knight, a character that holds a special place in British fans hearts. Prior to him attending the convention for this year’s Birmingham Comics Festival tomorrow (Saturday 23rd April), Paul H Birch was able to catch up and ask him about his career thus far.
downthetubes: Luca, I gather you’ve moved around the world, before being based in the United States. So what’s your background, where did you grow up, and more to the point how did that influence the kind of comics you began reading?
Luca Pizzari: I was born and raised in Rome, Italy, where I first fell in love with comics and started drawing in my spare time in my room at a very early age. My mum works for the Italian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, so she has been transferred to a few Italian consulates around Europe. That’s how I ended up living with her in Paris for five years, and more recently in London for another five.
On the last trip, I made the decision to pursue drawing comics as a living, so when it was time for her to go back to Italy, I decided to stay back in London and started heavily hitting the convention scene.
The US thing is much more recent: simply put, myself and my wife are both freelancers and always been fascinated by New York, so last year we decided to pack up and live in there for as long as the tourist visa allows, which is three months. Needless to say, we loved every minute of it, and are currently looking into how to move there permanently.
Comic-wise, it’s funny because every time I mention my Italian origins, people just assume I must be more or less influenced by the (wonderful, of course) European scene, by beautiful stuff like Italian or French book/authors. While I agree that being exposed to such different influences in my life definitely influenced my style/aesthetic vision, in terms of storytelling I have always been attracted by the colourful and dynamic US superhero stuff. I’ve read Marvel books in at least five languages!
downthetubes: What made you decide to seek a career in a dubious profession like comics?
Lucca: The best answer I’ve heard to this question – which I am totally gonna steal – is, I didn’t really decide: 10-year-old Luca actually did. I’ve always been drawing my own stuff, making up stories since I was a child really, and it’s simply the only thing that throughout my life always made me happy, or satisfied. I remember my first Marvel book ever (an Italian edition of Spirits of Vengeance #1, gorgeously drawn by Adam Kubert) was the first instance in which I noticed the credit box, and the first time the thought occurred to me that there were people actually doing this for a living…
As alluring as that sounded, I ended up taking media studies in university, having fallen under the self-fulfilling cycle of “What’s the point of even trying, it’s never going to be my job,” until I moved to London, and actually met a lot of people who were more or less successfully making a living of comics. So I quit my job and sat down trying to draw more, better and faster for four-five years before things started to happen for me.
downthetubes: You’ve produced work for a number of small press independent publishers, I understand, including Granuaile: Queen of Storms for Ireland-based The O’Brien Press. Were you hoping to create an independent hit or did you treat this as a training ground?
Luca: I find it’s very important, especially at such an early stage of your career, not to focus on immediate success or overnight recognition (it’s simply not going to happen), but on producing a good volume of work instead.
The first part of your career should be quantity over quality – which doesn’t mean half-assing stuff, simply not worrying too much about getting it perfect, just to get a feeling of what it actually takes to make a comic, and draw pages consistently for several issues in a row.
Of course, if the product is also well-received (and I was lucky enough with my first couple of projects in Ireland) that’s a huge plus, but the biggest satisfaction was to look back and see all the pages I had done, day in and day out. With enough time, you will get better and hopefully faster!
downthetubes: Did you suffer many creative knockbacks early on, and were there any people who’ve given you particularly good advice along the way?
Luca: The main knockback, which still haunts me to this day, is self-doubt, that terrible sensation of not being as good as you’d like to be.
I remember reading early on a definition of the Artist as someone who could get as close as possible on the paper to the ideal, perfect image that he’s got in his head. Right or wrong as that definition might have been, it influenced forever the way I approach my art, and I still find it hard to stop bumping my head against the wall when some stuff is coming out perfectly well, but still not quite how I can clearly see it in my head. I guess that’s a gap that only a lot of practice will eventually start to cover, and I’m actively trying to be more forgiving with myself lately and remember to give myself a pat in the back from time to time.
Throughout this artistic journey, the beautiful thing was how supportive and friendly the whole comic scene has been to me: pretty much every professional I ever met, at any level of fame/recognition, has always walked the extra mile to help and offer tips and words of advice. Off of the top of my head, people like Declan Shalvey, Simon Spurrier, Fraser Irving, John McCrea or Gary Erskine have helped me more than I could ever imagine, with one of them being pretty instrumental in starting my career.
downthetubes: How did your break at Marvel come about, and was the work they began offering you on characters that you already had an interest in?
Luca: The funny thing about this story is that, as much as we’ve all heard how the Internet has changed the game for everybody and how now it’s easier than ever to show your work around and get to meet people on the industry, I don’t think it’s a coincidence that my first job at Marvel came a week or so after for the first time I had met a Marvel editor in person, a couple of years ago at the New York ComiCon. Man, face-to-face networking – when available, of course – is still so important. It puts a face and a character – hopefully a likeable one – to your work, and the chances of editors remembering you are much higher in my experience.
Long story short, what happened is basically that I went to Ed McGuinness’ table to say I was a fan and that me and my brother grew up reading his Deadpool stuff, and he was kind enough to ask me to show him my work, which apparently impressed him enough to call his editor, Nick Lowe, and urge him to come at the table to take a look at my portfolio. He came over, seemed to like what he saw and dropped me the best email of my life a week later.
As for the work I was offered, I really can’t complain: my first ever US job was a Spider-Man Special, and in my second I got to draw Wolverine.
downthetubes: I presume it became a learning curve, having to deal with rigid deadlines and building up the stamina to work wholeheartedly on such lengthy projects?
Luca: It’s definitely a learning curve, and one that needs constant planning and deliberate creative decisions, at least in my case, to balance out quality and speed.
Remember all the times you’ve heard how submitting pages on time is crucial in this job? Well it’s all true, and I can’t stress enough how you have to be able to deliver even before you even think of giving all of this a try. When editors look at your work, they might like what they see a lot, but they have no idea how long it took you to make those pages, and you have to show them you can be dependable and trustworthy.
It’s definitely not an easy task to master, and can be very stressful at times when you have deadlines looming and realise you can’t dedicate to a certain page as much time as you’d like, but with enough planning ahead it’s definitely doable and can become second nature.
downthetubes: In a case of be careful of what you wish for, has it been an enjoyable process turning professional with such a major company?
Luca: Wow, good question! I still can’t believe how lucky I’ve been. I had only done two or three projects in Europe before I was catapulted onto Spider-Man. Getting the first shipment of Marvel art boards via FedEx to my door was surreal, getting to write my name and “Spider-Man, Page One” on a piece of Bristol that said Marvel on the top was unbelievable… and scary as hell!
I hadn’t had a long life in the US market, and all of a sudden I felt like I had all eyes on me. It’s a process that turned enjoyable with more time and relaxation. Next thing you know, it feels like being a child again, drawing exciting stuff in your room, but, man, I can’t forget frantically redrawing pages, panels or faces on that first job, thinking “It’s not good enough!” or “They’re gonna hate this!”
downthetubes: Which comics have you enjoyed working on the most so far?
Luca: As I said, I’ve been Immensely lucky with pretty much every job, collaborating with amazing writers and hugely supportive editors but man, the Red Skull mini was so much fun. When Jon Moisan pitched it to me, it looked too good to be true: it was basically a cross between Escape From New York and Apocalypse Now, with supervillains and zombies. That was something!
downthetubes: Marvel has decided to end the Black Knight series you’ve been drawing. Always a difficult character to sell to the superhero fan, do you and writer Frank Tieri get to conclude your current storyline satisfactorily, and what do you think your collaboration has brought to the character’s mythos?
Luca: Talking about a cancelled book is always bittersweet, because very early on, Frank and Will Moss had mentioned what they had in mind for the book in the long run and it’s really a pity we couldn’t see that stuff happening. That said, I know for a fact everybody on board is still 100 per cent proud of that work.
Like you said, Black Knight is a tough sell and even though I was surprised to find out he’s got a pretty big and active hard-core fanbase on social media, but the larger public is still probably not familiar enough with him to carry the sales. I think what we did was really cool, taking advantage of the Weirdworld setting to finally put the character where he could flourish: a proper fantasy-like kingdom. I like to think Frank gave him an individual background, with his own sidekicks and cast, his own villains and set of challenges.
I think what the book was really successful in was in making him more than just “one of the Avengers” – and giving him a world that was truly his.
downthetubes: Can you reveal your future creative plans?
I’m currently working on something for another amazing US publisher, but I’m afraid I still can’t reveal anything, sorry! Probably soon, though…
downthetubes: Many thanks for your time.
• Lucca Pizzari will be appearing at The Birmingham Comics Festival’s convention tomorrow, Saturday 23rd April. For more information visit: www.thecomicfestival.com
• Black Knight: The Fall of Dane Whitman will be released on 21st June 2016
What do you do when it’s your destiny to be damned? For centuries, that is the grave question that has plagued each wielder of the Ebony Blade, and all of them ultimately succumbed to the sword’s curse. Now, as his own addiction to the weapon grows ever stronger, this shocking truth is laid bare to its current owner, the former Avenger Dane Whitman. Will this revelation be the reason he ends up in the strange and dangerous realm known as Weirdworld? Or is there something else? Collecting Black Knight #1 – 6, and the Black Knight story from Original Sins #2
• In Red Skull, one of the vilest villains of the Marvel Universe gets his very own twisted Secret Wars series! Red Skull should be dead but his legend grows, so a team that includes Winter Soldier, Magneto, Electro and Lady Deathstrike are sent on a dangerous odyssey to the Deadlands to prove it… but no one ever comes back alive from the Deadlands! Forced to overcome zombies, Ultron drones and the Annihilation Wave, the rag-tag team of villains will find that they may bitten off more than they can chew. The collection includes Red Skull and more.
In his time, Paul H Birch has been an editor and writer for assorted media, on rare occasions they are comics related