Artist Tomas Giorello discusses working from pencil to printed page and the pitfalls of working internationally
- Hello, and welcome to comic culture.
I'm Terence Dollard, a professor in the Department of Mass
Communication, at the University of North Carolina, at Pembroke.
My guest today is Tomas Giorello.
He is an artist, and he's coming to us
all the way from Argentina.
Tomas, how are you today?
- How are you, Terence?
Thanks a lot for having me.
- Tomas, you are known for working
on some important comics in the United States.
You've had a run on Star Wars.
You've had a run on Conan.
And I was just wondering if you could
talk a little bit about how you broke into the American comics
- Well, actually, I started in 1996.
I started doing small illustrations--
erotic illustrations actually, for a very small
independent company in New Jersey.
And I started traveling, going to New York.
But the thing is that it was taking
too long because conventions were not
what they are today, actually, so it was harder
to get interviews, appointments, and opportunities
to show my stuff.
So I had to spend like three months, moving from one place
to another, trying to get a job actually.
And I slowly started to publish stuff with SQP productions.
I did a lot of advertising too in New York.
And I worked for heavy metal.
But it actually started to work faster and after,
started to work harder, once I went to San Diego
in early 2000.
- San Diego-- I guess you went to the big Comic Con there.
And I'm assuming that having a portfolio of published books
is a great way to get publishers interested
because they know that you're trustworthy and can
hit that deadline.
When you're working on a property like Star Wars
for Dark Horse, how do you--
first off, working internationally
from the United States--
how were they communicating with you?
And how were you getting your artwork back to them?
- Back in those days, we had the internet.
But that it wasn't like it is today.
So all the artwork, all the originals,
had to be delivered to the company.
It was a slow process.
So I had to work faster because actually I
had to wait like four days for the material to get there.
So that was on my time.
So I had four less days to work.
And yeah, but the thing is that everything
was done on the phone, fax, a little bit online.
But most of all, it was, yeah, I mean, just
receiving the script on my email box
and trying to work as fast as possible, producing 22 pages.
And FedExing them to the company.
And like a month later, I was receiving all the material
That worked also for all the reference work
or any other kind of help that I might receive from the company.
- I'm imagining now, it's a different workflow, where
you were able to scan and just maybe email or put it
onto a drive, a cloud server, and have
people get the artwork.
So when you're working on a comic now,
you have a reputation.
You have an art style that's certainly in demand.
So when you move from Star Wars to another property
that might be a different style or a different genre.
Conan the Barbarian is certainly different than the science
fiction world of Star Wars.
So, as an artist, how do you go from one set of designs
to another set and make it feel that you understand it and are
comfortable in that new universe?
- Well, the thing is that a style
is like somebody's personality.
Every artist has his own style.
And it's something that comes with studies.
But also something that comes naturally to you.
But the thing is that when I did Star Wars, the curious thing
that I noticed, and Dark Horse, was
that there were some particular styles that
didn't last in the companies.
For example, European styles were something unique.
But they were like the trend there.
You know what I mean?
There was a particular style that was very popular.
And all the artists doing that had a lot of work.
And in that course, the Star Wars was a team.
It wasn't actually one guy or one writer.
We were like a team of artists.
So we had to have a common language, which
was hard to achieve for me in the beginning.
So I had to adjust my style, which
was in the process of becoming my own style.
I had to adjust it to be more--
let's say optimistic if you like, more clear.
And it was hard.
It was very hard because I wanted the job.
Because I wanted to stay working on that title.
So it was complicated.
And making the transition from that to Conan
was even harder because, at the beginning,
I was supposed to make my style somehow
similar to Cary Nord's, which was the artist who was doing
that before I was there.
And Cary's I mean, he's an amazing artist.
But we are very, very, very different.
So again, the style suffered that because I
had to be somehow like him and start
doing like a slow process, where I was becoming more me
and less that.
That took a while, like several issues.
Eventually, when we were almost done with Conan the Cimmerian,
the editor approached me and said,
you know what, now we're going to do King Conan.
And now it's all yours.
I mean, of course, you always had the freedom
to do whatever you like.
But we had like certain requests.
But now it's all you.
You can do whatever you like.
However, it is that you ever felt Conan should be,
now it's your time to do it.
And I was finally able to do what I wanted to do,
which was like a little bit darker style, a little bit
And it became natural.
And then, actually I feel proud of that part of the Conan--
of my own Conan history.
The last four years, when I was able to do 100% whatever
it is that I wanted to do.
- And one of the things I've noticed in your artwork,
it is incredibly rich, it is incredibly detailed.
There's a lot of shading in that work.
And it seems like you're spending a lot of time
on each page.
And yet, you're hitting your deadlines.
So how are you able to take that work,
and get it the way that you want it
and print it the way that it should be?
- It was hard in the beginning, because you know
coloring the pencils directly--
I mean, applying the colors directly on the pencils,
was something new.
I had trouble with that in the past
because whatever it is that I went to another company,
like DC for example, they were like, OK,
but who's supposed to ink you?
And then, I mean, it was hard to explain that those pencils were
And in these days, with technology,
it is very much easier to work directly on the pencils,
just coloring them.
So it was a struggle in the beginning.
But eventually, everyone understood that
and accepted that, and helped me a lot
to keep on moving forward, and getting more
work with different companies.
- And you know, it's interesting because you are from Argentina,
which is obviously much different than the United
States comic market, where it's perhaps more super heroics.
And we are I think a lot of people
think that that is the only form of comic books that there are,
even though there are obviously horror and autobiographical
comics in all different genres.
So I'm wondering if you can tell us
a little bit about what the comic scene is
like in Argentina, compared to the United States?
- Well, it used to be huge in the past.
In the '70s, the industry here was big.
We were exporting our work to all of South America.
So there was a lot of work.
There was a lot of artists and writers.
But eventually, it started to get more and more complicated
because of the financial situation of my country.
And also because it became somehow outdated.
When you are working in comics, and telling stories,
you have to, of course, use a lot of reference.
But you to try to portray whatever
is that you see in the street.
So the cars, the buildings, even the signals, everything
is constantly changing.
And you have to portray that.
Otherwise, the story would be like,
you know what, this thing is not working
for me because it looks funny.
It looks like it's not real somehow.
And it started to happen because the pay was not good.
Everything was falling apart.
And that was reflected on the comics.
So artists were like, you know what, the money is not enough.
I don't have enough time, because I've already
got something else to do.
Because otherwise, I wouldn't be making a living.
So we slowly started to fall apart.
And this day-- these days we don't have an industry anymore.
It's very small, very, very small.
It's like a niche.
So it's more like an author kind of thing, rather than a company
giving work to writers and artists at the same time.
It's not like that anymore, unfortunately.
- The visual language of American comics, I guess,
is defined by folks like Jack Kirby,
or Steve Ditko, Neal Adams.
I'm wondering if the visual language in Argentinean comics
is similar to, or do you tell a story differently
because it's a different country,
it's a different world?
- Yeah, I mean, we are somehow influenced by both Europe
and the US market.
So it's like-- it's complicated to explain.
Because it's kind of a unique thing,
I think that is what gives us the possibility of being
flexible and adjust our work for both markets.
But yeah, we have our own style, if you like,
which is, I believe, more European,
or we like to think so.
But when we go to France, for example, they say,
you know what is nothing like that.
But when we go to the States, they like,
you know what, you are too European.
So it's somewhere in the middle, which is not bad actually
because it looks different.
And different is good, depending on what you're doing.
But it's like a different voice, and it works.
It totally works.
Because it gives you the possibility of showing stuff--
the same stuff--
in a different way somehow.
So whatever it is that I'm doing, for example, Batman,
the way I did it like five or six years ago, of course,
it was Batman, of course, it was recognizable and everything.
But at the same time, it was kind of different.
And it was refreshing somehow.
And I think that's what editors look for.
- You mentioned working for DC Comics.
Is it a different world when you go
from a smaller publisher like IDW, or Dark Horse,
to DC, which is one of the big two in the American industry?
- It is.
It certainly is.
I believe it's because they have a huge volume of material
There's a lot of things at the same time.
So sometimes, when you are working on a title,
somebody else is doing a spinoff or something different
that came out from the same character,
and they want somehow to be synchronized
or something like that.
So somebody else is designing something,
and you have to wait for that because it
appears in your story.
And it slows down everything.
And you have to wait for that.
Of course, the clock's ticking, still going on.
And you have to figure out how to do that,
how to solve that problem.
Yeah, I mean, it's more ambitious somehow.
The rhythm is totally different.
And everything is for yesterday.
So you feel the pressure-- in a good way,
of course, because you're doing what you love.
But it's totally different.
The time runs differently if you like.
Whenever it is that I was doing Conan, for example.
The first four years, I was running
around the clock all day.
But once I got to do the King Conan title, for example,
since it was not something monthly,
I could work on it like--
I could spend like six weeks working on those pages.
So the rhythm changed dramatically on my favor.
So I was able to spend as much as I liked on the pages,
trying to do things my way, and trying
to work the best possible way in order
to really portray everything that I wanted
to to show in that story.
While you're working for bigger companies like DC or Marvel,
that is a problem because you have
to come up with solutions every single day, all the time.
You have to know your own work, your own rhythm.
But it's hard to produce 22 pages,
working on a character that is licensed.
So you have to follow a lot of rules.
And at the same time, trying to do as best as possible in order
to have those 22 pages the way the script says it should be,
And once you deliver that, everything starts again.
And you have a month ahead of you,
just trying to come up with solutions all the time again.
It's totally different.
But it's challenging in a good way.
- You talk about it being a challenge in a good way.
And I was going to ask you that, because six weeks
seems like you can relax a little bit on the speed
and work more on the detail and the finishing touches.
Whereas, with four weeks, it seems as if it's get the idea
on the page and hope that it looks as good as it should.
Do you find that short deadline is an extra motivation
to see if you can make all the detail appear
that you would normally have in a six-week deadline?
- Yes, in my case, what I do is I sacrifice other things.
Because whenever it is that I'm showing my stuff to an editor
and trying to convince him to hire me because I
wanted to do that character.
I wanted that job.
I want the job.
What I always say is that whatever
it is that you see in this portfolio,
never expect less than this.
It's always going to be better than this because this
is how I do things today.
But like any artist, you just keep on growing.
So whatever it is that you like, it's going to be better.
It's supposed to be better.
That's the challenge.
And that's what happens with every single artist.
So if I got the job, I'm supposed to do that
and to do it better.
Like I said, I wasn't lying.
But that's my goal as an artist.
So if I have less time, I would have to sacrifice other things
and just trying to achieve that same quality or better.
So there's other things that have to suffer that time.
But yes, otherwise, I would be just ripping them off.
And that's not the case.
I really want every single thing that I
do to be like a signature.
Because it's what it is, actually.
It's supposed to be speaking in my name.
Do you know what I mean?
So, I wouldn't feel comfortable delivering something that
doesn't have 100% my approval.
- That's a great answer and a great approach.
Because like you say, we all strive to do better each time.
And it seems as if you are looking
at those deadlines as less of an obstacle and still more
of that opportunity to keep improving.
So when you look at something that you worked on
maybe 10 or 15 years ago, compared
to what you're working on now.
What is the biggest difference?
I mean, it might be that you draw something better.
But in terms of telling a story, how do you
see that change from your earlier work
to your more contemporary work?
It could be reflected, of course,
the most obvious part is the style because it changed a lot.
It's, yeah, it's a tricky question
because I don't like my old stuff.
Actually, I don't want to see it.
It's hidden in a studio somewhere.
I don't even know where it is actually,
but yes, I mean, every single thing that you do, helps you.
In some way, teaches you something different.
And hopefully, that would be reflected on your work.
And yes, of course, these days, I'm
more focused on being more a tool,
at the service of a story.
While when I was younger, I was just
trying to get you this image because I'm sure
you want to see this.
And that's not the point.
The point is that there's a story.
And you have to be like, of course, the storyteller.
You have to be the tool.
You have to go to work and in that direction.
You have to be telling the story rather than just giving
cool images all the time panel from panel
because that's disconnected.
That's just aesthetics rather than a story
that takes you somewhere.
And that's what I'm trying to do.
I mean, every single time that I work on a story,
I work, I look a lot for reference.
I read it many, many times, trying to get used to it,
trying to get the whole point, trying to get
the character's point of view.
And hopefully, that would be reflected on the pages.
- I've spoken with a number of artists
who say that sometimes it's not what you put into the image.
It's what you leave out.
And sometimes, putting in less detail,
let's say in the background, draws the reader into something
that the characters are doing, whether it's
a physical gesture or a raised eyebrow or something.
So, as you tell your stories, are you focusing--
I mean, obviously, you will focus
on conveying the image clearly so that the reader
can follow it.
But what sort of approach do you take
when it's a story that's maybe something that's
very action-heavy, and you want to take
a more subtle approach with it.
Or maybe something where it's a quiet moment,
but you want to take another approach
to make it something in the background
more noticeable because it should be noticed.
- I believe details--
I mean, it's not that they tell the story,
but they help you somehow to put you in the right place.
To help you being submerged in that world easier,
you know what I mean?
Otherwise, it would be like an independent kind of theater
act, you know what I mean?
Where the actor is everything.
And it works sometimes.
Of course, that's good for that too.
But in the type of stories that I had to do,
there was like a balance between the acting, if you like,
action, and the environment.
Because it says a lot too, It helps a lot
to tell as much as possible about the world
where everything is happening.
Because it automatically just puts you inside that story.
But of course, there are many times
in the story where, of course, everything
is more about the dialogue.
Everything is more about one face telling you something.
And in order to achieve that attention, what I do
is I try to be as dramatic as possible
with the use of light and shadow.
Because it's another thing--
one of the most important things that I
like to capture while doing a story
is trying to really tell the drama,
try to understand, trying to make this story as
serious as possible.
So you can really feel, really be
interested about knowing what happened,
what's going to happen, you know I mean?
Trying to understand the characters and their reactions.
So whenever it is that I'm not focused
on doing the whole environmental thing, the scenarios,
and the mood of the story, I'm trying
to be focused on expressions and the use of the light
in order to achieve that perfect moment to get me
on that expression that says everything.
And so, you can understand the whole story
without reading the dialogues.
That's the goal, of course.
- It's simple when you say it, but for those of us
on the outside, looking in, there's always
that balance between, if I'm drawing something at home,
I might over render something.
I might put in more detail because I'm
thinking of just that black and white image.
But you're working on something that
will eventually be colored.
So when you are working and thinking
about the light and the shadow, when
do you say this is just enough and this is too much?
- I think it depends on who are you working with.
Because I had, for example, an issue
actually while I was working with Conan
when a very famous colorist came in
and colored one of the issues that I did.
And, of course, the colors were amazing
because this guy is very talented.
But not every artist is for every colorist.
There has to be some kind of understanding, if you like.
And the outcome was not good because he
was doing his own thing on top of my work,
rather than trying to find out a way both styles
and both works can adjust, you know what I mean?
So it totally depends on that.
I'm working with Diego Rodriguez these days.
I work with him when we were in Valiant,
and now that we were working for Bad Idea.
And we totally understand each other.
We know what are we--
weakest and strongest points.
And we are at the service of the other guy.
Do you know what I mean?
So whenever it is that I have, for example, like a huge space
or a sky that I'm compelled to draw and then
to start crosshatching like crazy
was, no, there's somebody else is going
to be working on this after me.
So I know his skills.
I know he likes to play with that.
I leave that part for him.
So now that we understand the way each other works,
And you leave room for the other as well.
Do you know what I mean?
We got that understanding because we've
been working together for like four or five years now.
But it's harder when you work in bigger companies when
you don't know who's going to follow your work.
And some editors give you the chance to choose the colorist.
But even then, I mean, you may like his work,
but that doesn't mean that you're
going to understand each other's work, you know what I mean?
One of the things that I like about working a long time,
a lot in terms of a title, is that you really know
the people you're working with.
And that can only be positive.
That can only help developing a better work, a better
story, a better art, a better color work, a better script.
And I believe that's--
King Conan-- the case, you know, with King Conan.
- Well, Tomas, they are telling me
that we are about out of time.
I was wondering if people watching wanted
to find more about you on the web,
is there a website or social media place that they can look?
- I'm on Instagram.
I'm on Twitter.
I'm working actually on an art book,
so I'm going to be all over the internet soon, promoting it,
and then, everybody, hopefully, will be easy--
will find my stuff easier than these days.
- Well, Tomas, I want to thank you
for taking time out of your day to talk with us today.
And I'd like to thank everyone at home
for watching Comic Culture.
We will see you again soon.
NARRATOR: Comic Culture is a production
of the Department of Mass Communication at the University
of North Carolina at Pembroke.