Rene Arreola is the creator of the webcomic Asreeth Lion Warrior (reviewed by Black Ship Books here) and the comic Axe the Slayer, as well as a freelance artist. You can find his home on the Web at MyArtsCreative.com.
BSB: What was your path to our strange corner of the entertainment industry like? How did Rene Arreola get interested in comics?
RA: I was introduced to comic books in the 3rd or 4th grade. There was another kid who brought comic books to school. I vividly recall getting a hold of that sideways issue of the Fantastic Four, issue #252 by John Byrne. What was so unique looking back was the way this other kid used his comic books: he would place a piece of paper underneath one of the pages then trace on top of the page to reveal the faint impression of the character he traced. He would then go back onto the blank sheet of paper and finish the drawing. It’s kind of like one of those NCR multiple part forms that we’ve all filled out, you know, those white, yellow and pink forms that imprint a copy on the bottom sheets. Well, I basically learned to do this with comic books and what I did after was I would finish up the drawing adding the details. Back then, it was a neat way to learn to draw the comic book characters.
Since then, my love for comics has never waned. As a child, I remember eagerly going to the local grocery store to check out the comic book spinner rack. Years later while in high school I would discover my first comic book shop. And of course all of this interest in comic books made me interested in drawing. So, while being a comic book fan all this time, I was also student of art. From high school elective classes, junior college and university level courses on to the present, I never stopped learning the craft of making comics. And I still learn new things to this day.
BSB: How does creativity differ when you’re working in comics compared to a portrait or a landscape piece? Do you use comics as an opportunity to “cut loose” from a tighter style, or do you think of them as much the same?
RA: It’s only been in the last year and a half (since working on my webcomic Asreeth Lion Warrior), that I’ve learned to “cut loose” with my comic book art. I think most of that has been because I’ve had to be on a tighter deadline meaning I had to pump the work out faster and faster. And, as a creator who does it all (write, pencil, ink, color, letter, build and update my own websites), I need to be really fast!
Nowadays, I definitely think of my comic book art as a means to tell a story. Meaning I’m not consciously trying to make every single panel and every little detail in my sequentials be a masterpiece. I try not to be too fussy about details in my art. When working on a painting such as a portrait or landscape, it does feel like I have more time so I tend to be much more relaxed.
BSB: As a writer-artist, you obviously have a more direct, intimate control over your creations than most creators. Do you think that has a tangible effect on the finished product? To put it another way, how do you think a book like Asreeth or Axe the Slayer would have turned out differently if you had simply passed a script along to another artist?
RA: I believe collaborating with another artist would definitely have given those titles a different look and feel. Which in turn could have affected the way I plotted and scripted those characters. When there’s a synergy between a writer and artist, especially if it’s working quite well, then that can definitely up the ante for both creatives to put forth their best work. I think whenever you collaborate, there is the potential of the finished product being stronger than what only one pair of hands can create. I tend to be the type of personality when working with others to allow for people to take the ball and run with it. I don’t tell people what kind of pencils to use, how to hold the brush when inking, etc. With that said, I think Axe or Asreeth would be very different products than what I envisioned if I had handed a script to other artists to illustrate.
BSB: What’s your process like? Do you like to work from a tight script, or are you more inclined to make it up as you go?
RA: I have a certain structure I use in general and I think it’s the Marvel method. Keep in mind this is for my own self-published work. I have a plot outline that I draw and then I write the words after. I do use thumbnails, but I’m not beholden to them. Since I am currently working on my own webcomic as writer and artist, I like having the power to change my storyline right in the middle of things. I think that’s harder to do when there are other creatives involved and certainly most probably a b!tch if you have editorial to contend with (I’m guessing.) In my case, I can take a look at what I’ve plotted several weeks in advance then decide to change the pacing, storyline, add or remove characters at will. I have re-drawn pages and panels, shuffled sequences to achieve this. I very much like how webcomics tend to be able to allow for this, at least in my experience. So, I guess you can say I make it up as I go, but then the challenge is in trying to connect whatever I have written or drawn before to what I’m dreaming up in the present or for down the road. But, I kind of like that! It feels like it’s “improv” to me and it keeps me interested in my own work.
I’ll share very briefly here that I recently did just this with Asreeth (www.asreethlionwarrior.com). Some of my readers may have noticed I’ve been missing some of my weekly updates. Well, I made a tough decision to rework the current storyline because I feel it didn’t have enough ‘oomph’.And truthfully, the storyline I had floating around in my head for over a year kind of got stale. So, I plotted a different course if you will and now I’m really excited with what I’ve cooked up!
BSB: I think your readers are too! Have you ever considered partnering up with other artists (or even co-writers) for a project of yours?
RA: Honestly, I have not. I have worked with other writers on separate projects before, but this was before I took to creating my own webcomics. As we all know, making comic books is a lot of work so I have to absolutely be in love with the work I’m doing. I don’t take much offers to do other sequential comic book work because they do take a lot of time and they are a major commitment. I have learned my lesson in this, believe me. Don’t take the job unless you really love it. For me, it’s concept/idea/art first, and money second.
BSB: Is there a certain type of scene that’s harder for you than others, either writing or illustrating? Do those boring-but-necessary “talking heads” scenes grate on you?
RA: Not really. I like doing them all, as long as the writing or art serves to tell the story clearly and keep it moving along. Talking head scenes or quiet scenes don’t bore me. In fact, I think it’s something I tend to do a lot of in my own work. This is partly why I reworked my current project (Asreeth Lion Warrior) to include a little more action.
But I think it’s all good. With quiet scenes, there is a sort of art to being subtle, which is what I think can make talking head scenes really great. Nuances like eyes, eyebrows, facial expressions all make for helping to continue to tell a story even when there is no real action going on. While we are on the topic of talking head scenes, a pet peeve of mine is when I see artists drawing these types of scenes, but the character’s mouths are shut. I’ve kind of made it a point in my own work to try and show the mouths open in talking head scenes. It just makes sense to me.
BSB: Any new projects you’re working on? What’s coming soon?
RA: I have an idea to do short, comic book stories. One shots, if you will. Part of this is because I have so many different ideas for characters, environments and stories swirling around in my head. I have set up a website that’s still in the process of getting off the ground, www.oneshotcomix.com. With it, I intend to write and illustrate these one shots. There are currently 2 short, one shot stories. As time allows, I’ll be adding new ones
I’d also like to explore the concept of creating stories the Thrillbent way. Mark Waid has a cool website at Thrillbent.com that creates stories that take advantage of digital devices like tablet/phones and the way we “read” a comic book on them. There’s really cool stuff going on there.
Other than that, I have commission work I take on as well as my own oil/acrylic paintings that I am constantly working on. Right now, I’ve got four full blown paintings in my studio all going at the same time. I should mention I work full time as a graphic designer and also run a dance business with my wife. I think it helps that we don’t own a television and I haven’t played video games in about 15 years!
BSB: Maybe it’ll be interesting to wrap this up with one of those much-loathed job interview questions: Where do you see yourself in five years?
RA: I see myself getting more involved with digital comics and crafting more of my stories for digital. I will never abandon print, but the way digital is becoming more and more the preferred way to communicate ideas, socialize and monetize our ideas, the more I want to be versed in the different aspects of media creation. From website design, app creation and deployment, and marketing, I want to be able to be self-sustained.
BSB: Thanks for your time, Rene!