I don't buy everything he does as a shitty inker or colours really break my heart and I can't look at it. He's an artist who an inker can make or break and has had the good fortune to be inked by P Craig Russell, Al Williamson, Terry Austin, Kent Williams and Jesse Delpergang. He's had other good inkers like Dan Green and Mark Pennington but I feel the above really complimented his style to perfection, building on the bones that he laid out. The shitty inkers I won't mention as it's not good form! He's also been coloured by Dave Stewart which is a sign of quality and Jason Wright's subtle colours on Batgirl were also particularly well suited!
He spent years kicking around Marvel doing fill-in issues and had a great couple of moments at DC with Jesse Delpergang inking him to perfection on Batgirl and Nightwing.
He's just finished a short run on Superman which was nice but more notably a five issue JLA story arc with Sean Phillips inking which was a joy to behold and reminicent of Kent Williams' great sloppy, stainy inks on Uncanny X-Men #252 (though the afore mentioned shitty colours come into play a bit but not enough to ruin it).
I've taken the liberty of translating an interview from Dolmen magazine with Rick Leonardi. It's gonna be clunky because it was conducted in English, translated to Spanish and I've translated it back. My motivation is the seeming lack of interest from the American market in recognising the man's abilities while most of my friends recognise him as a modern great. He came onto the scene around the same time as Mignola and Art Adams but never achieved their level of commercial or critical success. The interview is pretty candid in regards to the writers he's worked with and the projects he's worked on and I think shows him as a cool guy!
Published in Spanish in Dolmen #109, Feb 2005. Originally conducted by Koldo Azpitarte (with thanks to Yavhe Mediavilla for their help). Translated back to the English by me. Part one of two maybe three.
Note: I don't have any of the early ropey stuff to scan and I've holes in my colection where the production made all comics look ugly in the nineties. Thus all the scans are of good stuff rather than images relevant to the text. But that's okay, right...?
Dolmen: We like to begin our interviews with a question that's become a tradition over the years. When did you begin to read comics?
Leonardi: I think the first comic that I read was Enemy Ace by Joe Kubert. I must have been about six or seven years old. Shortly after, I read Deadman by Neal Adams. Not a bad start, right? Joe Kubert and Neal Adams.
Dolmen: The problem is that from there it's difficult to find better comics.
Leonardi: That's what happened to me. In fact from then on I began to focus on who it was that drew each story and bought comics for the art rather than the story. If an artist left a series I left too, as it was the only reason to buy the series.
Dolmen: Did you continue reading comics in your teenage years?
Leonardi: Yes, I remember that I read Spider-Man, for example. I read Amazing Spider-Man from #110 to #120 and really enjoyed Gil Kane's pencils, like John Romita's work, more than anything inking over Gil. It was then when they killed Gwen Stacy an I stopped reading the series; it was so frustrating that I didn't go back to reading Spider-Man for many, many years. I've always been interested in comics and never wanted to work as anything but a comic artist since my childhood.
Dolmen: Your first published work was Thor #303. What age were you when that happened?
Leonardi: I was still at University. It was January of 1980 Jim Shooter himself at Marvel that hired me. Number 303 was one of those archive stories, a fill in, a story out of the continuity of the regular series. I drew the issue in Spring 1980 and later moved to New York. I went to Marvel with the pages under my arm, they saw them and while they were looking at them they were saying "Look, this panel here isn't bad but change this one". It was horrible, I'd been drawing this issue for three months and had put everything into every panel but I was still young and needed to improve.
Dolmen: The inks didn't help much...
Leonardi: Chic Stone was a veteran inker, but I don't think anybody considered him a genius exactly...
Dolmen: You didn't have much luck with your subsequent work either, the mini series Vision and Scarlet Witch, where the inkers were Akin and Garvey. I remember when I read that series I thought: How can it be possible that not even between two guys are they capable of inking a comic? (laughs).
Leonardi: When an artist is starting outt they don't offer him the best inkers. In the case of Akin and Garvey, I think I remember that they were beginners like me, so it was all an experiment, a test to see if we had what it takes or not. I was surpised by the effect the story had and the fact that there are people who remeber it today. I don't think the inks were great: they were heavy handed and very busy, but my pencils weren't all that either.
Dolmen: It's interesting that you've commented that Kubert, Adams and Kane were among your early reading because, although from the start you've had a distinct and personal style, one can see the influence of these three artists in your work.
Leonardi: I would add that there are also other influences. Further to the three comics we've spoken about Prince Valient, Flash Gordon, Tarzan by Hogarth, Eisner's Spirit and Steve Canyon by Caniff also found their way into my hands. All of these individuals reinvented the language which we use daily and were a huge influence on my development as an artist. It's incredible to me, the amount of artists today who have no idea who those guys were.
Dolmen: From your beginnings until now, you've never tried to ink your own work. Why is that?
Leonardi:For me to ink is like doing a drawing twice. Inkings not the same as drawing. Its like the difference between speaking Spanish or German. They're two completely different languages, There are people who can speak both lanuages and I have a lot of respect for them...I settle for pencilling.
Dolmen: Your characters' faces are extremely distinctive. You can tell that you've drawn a comic by any one face. In an industry like comics in which a lot of artists copy the way of drawing faces from one artist or another, has this ever been a problem for you?
Leonardi:No, I've never had any problems like that. I don't think it's so difficult to carve out a career if you meet certain minimum requirements. I remember speaking to John Romita Sr., which was during his many years as Art Director at Marvel, and he said to me that the secret of success in the world of comics (and he had a long and fruitful career) was that in every page of five or six panels is to have at least one panel which is something new or fresh. The rest of the panels can be standard, the kind you can draw in your sleep. It worked for John Romita and he's a genuine master of the form. I still don't see it so clearly; for me every panel is a battle, I can't draw a flat standard panel, the story dictates when I have to find a new solution. It takes a lot for me to find the rhythm of the story and it's rare that I can fall back on that advice.
Dolmen:Let's talk about Cloak and Dagger. Do you consider them your creation?
Leonardi: Well, their designer was Ed Hannigan who drew them for the first time in Peter Parker. I had to get involved in the project on the fly and did an important bit of redesign work. I reinterpreted the characters physically so that they seemed more like the fifteen year olds they were supposed to be, trying to make them move and appear more like they'd been described. Furthermore I made changes in Dagger's outfit and to Cloak's cape, moslty in the way it moves (more integrated to the character). I made contrast stronger between both charcters, the light in front of the darkness and all that. I can't say I created them but I believe they're also partly mine.
Dolmen: You drew the mini series and after began to draw the regular series. Do you think they were strong enough characters to maintain their own series or perhaps they'd have worked better as supporting characters y stars of the occasional mini series or special?
Leonardi: That's a good question. I think that Cloak and Dagger were a great concept, a really good idea, but I don't think they were characters capable of starring in a number of indefinite stories. They were created to fight against their own tragedy, drugs, and evidently this greatly limited the type of story they could tell. You could make them travel, change the environment and make them fight against drug trafficking, but in essence it was going back to telling the same story as the mini series, a story that in my opinion was really good but didn't need to be continued.
Bill Mantlo introduced a subplot in the series which was that Dagger wanted to leave the life of a super hero and return to a normal life. I think that was a subconcious reflection by Mantlo himself in that he wanted to say to the reader something like 'Don't think that this is going to last very long', a sign of how limited the possibilites were of the characters.
Dolmen: Di you have any kind of contribution to the plots of the series or did Bill write and you drew and that was it?
Leonardi: Our way of working was something strange. Normally I receive a writers plot and I try to draw what the writer asks of me in his text. Sometime I think that the writer is asking things of me that I can't draw for them or that there's a better way of doing it and in those case I try to correct them on the go, something which over the years has caused me problems. With Bill I never had any kind of problem and yes, you could say I contributed a little to the stories of the series although I was never going to be credited for it.
Dolmen: Speaking of Bill Mantlo, there's a question I always ask artists that worked with him and I've never found a definitive answer. What happened to him?
Leonard: It's a sad story. I suppose you know he was hit by a car, right? While he was writing Cloak and Dagger and some other series, he went to study Rights at University, he wanted to be a lawyer. When he was hit he'd left comics to make a career in Law. Bill went into a coma and I don't know more than that. I don't know if he woke from the coma or if he died.
Dolmen:I think that Mantlo is one of Marvel's best writers of the seventies and the fact that he'd left the industry (and his subsequent accident) have made it so that many young people don't know his work today.
Leonardi: I imagine that you've searched on the internet and all that, right?
Dolmen: Yes, of course, it was the first thing I did and the only one who gave definite information was Tony Isabella
Leonardi: The truth is you make me a little sad for not worrying more about the subject.
Dolmen: Continuing with Mantlo and retreading your collaboration with him...did you like the way he wrote?
Leonardi: I think he was an interesting one. A writer who could at the same time write a series like Vision and Scarlet Witch, wrapped up in a continuity in which gives little room creatively speaking, and have fun with it, who at the same time wrote a series like Cloak and Dagger in which the social elements played a fundamental part. He also wasn't one of these people that only lives in the world of comics, that had a life outside of comics. He didn't try to write superhero comics for thirty or forty years, rather one fine day decided to leaveit all (and probably because he earned very little). He was unique in more than one sense.
Dolmen: Changing the subject, based on a little sketch by Mike Zeck, you gave shape to the deign of Spider-Man's black costume.
Leonardi: Mike's sketch needed changes as it was a very preliminary work. It was Jim Shooter who gave me the task of developing it. Jim Shooter was a great editor but he had his favorites and I think that one of the reasons I survived at Marvel of that age was that Jim cared for the people that he'd hired and he took me under his protection. I was very sorry when Jim stopped being Editor in Chief at Marvel but it wasn't so bad because he was replaced by Tom DeFalco.
Dolmen: You had worked with Defalco on Spider_man so you already knew him. What do you think of him as a writer?
Leonardi: He's a very traditional writer. That's to say he wrote in the traditional Marvel style consisting of a page to page description, leaving a lot of room for the artist. For example, it was typical in his stories to find 'Page 7 to 14: Fight. Spider-man wins' and with that you had to choreograph the complete fight.
Dolmen: Considering that you were pretty accepted by the public, following your work on Cloak and Dagger you haven't another regular series, rather you've done fill-ins. What was this down to?
Leonardi: Well, it was a financial consideration. I wasn't married and I didn't need to much money to survive. I could draw a comic book and and live for a month or to on the profit, goining from one place to the next and doing whatever I wanted. Then, when the money ran out I'd draw another issue and it was a good time.
At the time, Marvel were publishing fifteen issues a year of the X-Men and they were always looking for someone who wanted to do these three additional issues a year. I had no problem drawing them and it was as simple as drawing them and being paid. I never had any royalties (they came in the nineties) and you tried to do your job well and on time. Nothing more.
I've never had insurance of any kind. If I don't work I don't get paid and no-one'll pay me if I have an accident or illness that stops me doing it. I that time I was travelling the east coast of america, I did a lot of Skiing, hitch-hiking, hooked up with women (laughs)
Dolmen: You weren't as bothered about making a career rather enjoying life, right?
Leonardi: That's it. It wasn't until the nineties that I got married and began to replan my career in a more proffesional way. It was then that I did a regular series with Spider-Man 2099.
Dolmen: You also worked a lot with the mutants. Did you enjoy those characters or was is a way to get paid better?
Leonardi: It certainly wasn't for the royalties. When they began to pay royalities I'd already left the X-Men (or rather they made me leave). The best royalties I made were for Spider-Man en 1989 and it was because we were in the middle of a speculator bubble. It was the time when Image started.
Dolmen: What can you tell us about Claremont's scripts?
Leonardi: If you're going to draw a script for Claremont you have to be clear that you've been invited to another person's world and if you accept that, perfect, but you have to work according to the rules of that world. The problem with Chris is that he often comes into conflict with people that have their own ideas. It's got nothing to do with that some ideas are better than others rather 'different'. In those cases its the job of the artist to shut up and draw, especially if those stories are written by someone as capable as Chris.
Dolmen: They say his scripts often have more information than the artist is capable of putting on the page. How do you work it out to adapt the text to your needs?
Leonardi: It was very educational for me to work with those dense plots and it obliged me to reduce and stick two or three actions into just one panel. The problem a lot of artists have with Chris is that they read the plot saying 'this is one panel, this is another and then they realise they have ten panels per page and they go 'I can't draw this!', without realising that they don't have to do it if they're capable of condensing three actions into one panel. It's good training and I recommend it to any starting artist.
Dolmen: Let's talk a little about Spider-Man 2099. You designed the costume yourself, right?
Leonardi:Yes, this time yes. There were initially four series set in 2099. Spide-Man was one of them, the one that was supposed to be the first published. They wrote a 'bible' which showed all the details that a writer or artist should know about a series 2099, like the type of transport, technology, architecture and loads of other details. I believe that with Spider-Man 2099 we were serious with the atmosphere and we did a solid job respecting the premises the 'bible' had. The idea was that New York was so tall that the new buildings covered the old buildings, in a way that the old city still existed beneath the highways of the new and that it divided the society between the rich and the poor. Remember all of these technologcal advances had to be designed and I suppose a it was an important job to check that everything worked that every aspect was consistent.
The problem was that while we forced ourselves to make sure that our comic fit in the world they'd described to us, others didn't do it which made the slight consistency of the group redundant. For example, the vehicles moved through the air using jets or magnetic fields but not antigravity. Imagine my surprise when in Punisher 2099 I see that anti-gravity is even used in a theme park. I think the world of 2099 could have been more consistent and it would have been better.
Dolmen: How was your collaboration with Peter?
Leonardi: Good! I think Miguel O'Hara was a really memorable character. Peter David has his strength in his dialogue and conversations. The characters 'sound' good. His weak point is that it always the he always gives the role of the smartest guy in the room to the protagonist (regardless of whether he's writing Spider-Man or Hulk). Miguel is the hero but he's also the smartest, quickest, most together. I've asked myself many times if it could be that Peter David has a badly handled superiority complex and it's reflected in his comics. It's a shame because I believe that if anything is a little forced in the series it's the excessive perfection of the main character.
Dolmen: Another problem of the series is that it constantly opened plotlines without ever resolving any.
Leonardi: I think that the idea of the hero having adventures and ending up discovering that the villain is his father isn't too much of a new thing. Anyway, I believe that many of the stories being created didn't have a concrete objective, rather to simply try to entertain. Plus in any issue, you can see that structure isn't Peter David's strong point and he dedicates various pages to construct a gag, a joke that doesn't advance the storyline.
To be continued...