Black Ship Interviews Axel Medellin

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1. As an artist and visual story teller myself, I know many of us develop an interest in art at an early age. Was this the case for you? Was there a specific event or source of inspiration that lead you to becoming an artist?

AM: Well, I can’t remember a time without cartoons, movies or comic books at home… thirty something years ago, there were this wonderful (actually crappy printed, but cheap and weekly) mexican versions of the Marvel books, and maybe a hundred different comics every week. My grandfather always bought a bunch for me, mainly the superhero stuff. Then there’s the time when I saw the behind-the -camera documentary on The Dark Crystal, and I saw that drawing was the base for everything you wanted to create. So, it went from there.

2. You have a very unusual and engaging style. One can identify you as the artist just by looking at an artpiece. Can you tell us a bit more about your artistic influences?

AM: Well, thank you. My answer is really cliched: I can’t take Jack Kirby or John Buscema out of my system, those where my first heroes, when I didn’t even noticed the credits box yet. I’ve collected influences everywhere and anywhere, so, in no particular order I could say: Kevin Nowlan, Frank Cho, Frank Frazetta, Adam Hughes, Alex Ross, Walt Simonson, John Byrne, George Perez, and I can go on forever… I’m a great fan of Concept Design, so the other half of my influences come from geniuses like Syd Mead, Sparth, Giger, John Berkey, Stan Winston, you name them.

3. Your action scenes have always impressed me. They’re extremely dynamic. Are there any particular techniques you use to achieve this sense of dynamic movement?

AM: This interview is nice ego therapy! I have a lot to learn, and I’ll never finish doing it (hopefully)… mainly I try to study pages, layouts and books on action and design… there’s a WONDERFUL book named “Sequential Panels” which is my Bible on the subject.

4. How did you break into comics?

AM: I did stories for several fanzines, strips and advertisements here in Mexico during my college years… my first unofficial break was drawing a short story written by Alexandro Jodorowsky for Metal Hurlant. That may have been in 2003, I think. I say unofficial because the subject was so out of this world (alien caterpillar becomes the Messiah of a planet of living robots) that editors didn’t know what to make of it when I showed it to them. Some years ago, I was semifinalist in a contest run by Platinum studios. I didn’t win, but they did give me my first mini-series. And it went from there.

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5. Much of your work falls under the realm of sci fi. Is this coincidence or do you actively seek out sci fi themed projects?

AM: It’s my favorite subject to draw, and I have a background in Industrial Design, so I don’t cut corners when it comes to machines and perspective… I guess all that showing the portfolio full of robots and cities paid off in someone’s mind. But, yes, I do try to seek them, I like creating worlds.

6. What are some genres you have yet to tackle and would like to try?

AM: Well, I’ve done sci-fi, horror/ adventure, sexy/ scifi/ humor… I’d like to tackle again all of them, I know I can do better. And steampunk. Retro-tech fascinates me.

7. You have a gift for making the fantastical seem believable and immediate. What was it like working with such outlandish characters like Hipflask in Elephantmen? Did he present any difficulties for you as an artist?

AM: A lot of difficulties, since I had to play in someone else’s sandbox, and try to keep up with Ladronn, Moritat et al…it was really intimidating, and looking back at those early issues I see that I had a long learning curve. But, by trial, error and corrections, I’m getting the hang of the universe. It’s been four years, so, I feel more confident now. But there’s always something new and challenging on each issue.

8. Do you create character sheets to act as guides before you begin work on a new comic book series?

AM: Not too detailed, mostly head shots, probably a full figure.

9. Can you tell me a little more about your work in Heavy Metal? For example, is it challenging illustrating such a variety of races and alien environments?

AM: Challenging, of course, but it’s greatly rewarding. I drew about six or seven short stories, and every one of them had their own setting and characters… the great thing about that is that, if I came up with a busy city or a difficult creature, I knew I’d only have to draw it for eight pages, and then came a new world. Short, self-contained stories can be a lot of fun, I’m a child of the Twilight Zone.

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10. You’re a regular contributor to The Line it is Drawn. And you’re as adept at humor as you are at more serious comics. How do you come up with ideas for your humorous TLIID contributions? Does inspiration just strike or do you go through a process of elimination before you come up with them?

AM: Every week, we get up to three hundred suggestions from the readers. We get to choose from all of them, so I’m already thinking about which would make a funny scene. Mostly the dialogue is written until the eleventh hour. The nice thing about the Line is that it’s a little like school, when everyone showed their projects and they got criticized… sometimes you get an A, sometimes you fail, but its fun to be throwing stuff out there, and working unofficially with all those characters I love and I haven’t had a chance to work with. Well, not yet…

11. I really enjoy the layout of your comic book pages. You often break away from the typical rigid panel layout found in many comics. What’s your process for creating a comic book page? Do you start with basic thumbnails or follow a different process?

AM: I swear by the thumbnails. I made a format to draw four of them in a letter-sized sheet, so I print a bunch of them and fill them up. Or more often I draw in the margins of the printed script to move things around. Mostly I think about clarity, I hate it when I have to ask what is happening on the page.

12. You mentioned that you love using India ink (despite the fact it makes you sneeze.) Do you ink the majority of your work by hand or digitally?

AM: Oh, the irony, isn’t it? Actually, Elephantmen goes straight from pencils to color, no inking there. Hoax Hunters was heavy on inking, and I loved killing brushes on that one (man, I was sad to lose that series… I want to do something scary again some time, I know I can draw scarier). 50 Girls 50 was also traditionally inked. Due to time constraints, most of my Line pieces are done all digitally. I’m a little looser than with the physical page, which might be a good thing, I don’t know. I do like the feel of the brush and I’ve spent thousands of hours studying Gene Colan and Kevin Nowan, wondering how do they make their inks SING. I’ll crack the code, I will.

13. If you could redesign any mainstream comic character, who would it be and how would you redesign her/him?

AM: Superman. He’s not one of my favorites, but I’ll just keep the “unbeatable alien from space hidden on Earth”, and go from there… a chutulhian angle, maybe? Mmmh…

14. You mentioned in the description of one of your artworks that you’re generally against heroes hitting women. Do you think the level of violence towards women has risen in mainstream comics in the last few years?

AM: Yes, and that’s sick. Violence for violence’s sake in entertainment, specially against women, is, at best a lazy way, and at worst an offense to the human condition. I’m surrounded by strong, independent and smart women in my every day life. They make my life full, I wouldn’t want any harm to come to them. Why would I want to read about women being harmed? I respect authors who can make engaging stories using violence to make a point about the world, or to open the audience’s eyes, but I loathe the “women in refrigerators” approach. Alan Moore said something about how a story takes place before in the mind, which is sacred, but when you commit it to the page and release it to the world, you have to make it count, it has to speak to the audience, help them improve or enrich their lives in some way. You’d have to drag me in chains to watch a Friday the 13th film.

15. What is your dream project?

AM: I want to do creator-owned. I have several stories (mostly about strong, independent, smart women) dancing on my head which I’d love to get into the world. I believe my Watchmen is still ahead…

 You can see more of Axel Medellin’s stunning artwork on his DA page http://axelmedellin.deviantart.com/ and his Facebook page https://www.facebook.com/axel.medellin

LJ Phillips
About LJ Phillips (82 Articles)
LJ Phillips is an ex-bodyguard and professional artist who has had three solo exhibitions. He has also published numerous articles and pieces of short fiction. His interests include Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, over-analyzing pop culture and staring into the abyss. Currently he lives in SA and spends his free time working on his various creator-owned comics.

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