Here is part 3 of our Firetower Studios interviews series. This time, we talked with Rich Lombardi, the artist on Werewolf DA. We discuss his influences, his love for character design, and how he almost quit being a comic artist before he'd even begun.
CBotMP: What is your comics origin story?
RL: Well, I'd feel pretty confident in saying that I've been into comics my whole life. My siblings and I, all grew up drawing. Each of us focused on different things though. For me, if a pencil was in my hand, I was drawing superheroes. We had a decent sized comic shop one town over from my childhood home. 'The Upper-Deck' in Peekskill, NY. We used to buy all our books, figures, and trading cards there.
The place was like a walk-up dungeon. A poorly lit, dusty secret. They didn't advertise or anything like that. You either knew about it, or you didn't. To a middle schooler, it felt exclusive. The shop owner fit the classic NY small business owner archetype, old & unapproachable. He had a bulldog face and was always wearing some kind of military hat. To a child, it was like Mecca. If I saw it today, I'd probably feel same way. I'll never forget that place.
RL: Every year in Raleigh, they do this big downtown festival called SparkCON. It's a few summer days of art & entertainment featuring local businesses and vendors. Two years ago, my wife & I are wandering around down there, looking at chalk drawings.
CBotMP: Looking at chalk drawings?
RL: Yes! Since the event takes place outdoors in the middle of our city, they section off a couple of blocks for chalk drawing. I guess the way it works is you buy a square of street space & go crazy. Everyone's on their hands and knees like kids in a driveway, toiling away with huge hunks of chalk. You inevitably see some fantastic stuff.
Anyway, That's what we were doing when we stumbled across the Firetower Studios table. That's where I met Jeremy & Jason. We got to talking about comics, drawing, and childhood dreams. They had this group that met on Mondays to draw, write, & drink coffee. I thought to myself "I like all of those things, I should meet up with these cats". And by the next SparkCON, I was at the table with them.
CBotMP: Did you always plan on having a career in comics, or was it a kind of "hell, if these guys can do it, SO CAN I!" kind of moment?
RL: Actually, drawing comics has always been a lifelong dream of mine, but I had given up on it at an early age and I'll never forget why. My mother was taking us to the comic shop a few towns over, because there was going to be a REAL, LIVE comic artist signing books there! I was so young and wanted to pick his brain about my undoubted future profession. Anyhow, upon getting this guys autograph, I asked him if he had any advice for a young aspiring illustrator. He told me to find something else to do. Now, I never gave up on drawing, but a dream died that day. Or so I thought.
CBotMP: Who would you say are your biggest influences as an illustrator?
RL: Mark Texeira, specifically Wolverine 61 - 68. I just thought it was the most visceral thing I'd ever seen. I went back to those issues the other day and still can't believe my eyes. I got to see a bunch of his original pages at one of the last conventions we did. Super intense. His uncommonly aggressive line work is something I'll poorly imitate for the rest of my life.
CBotMP: I can see that Texeira influence now that you mention it.
RL: I think It's important to strike a balance between what comes natural & what you've been influenced by. I think, if done right, you end up with something pretty original.
CBotMP: I can also see that Wolverine has left a mark on your psyche.
RL: Back then there weren't a lot of characters like that! He was a short, ugly shade of grey. A bad guy doing bad things to people that just happen to be ethically worse than him. He may be overexposed and a bit toned down now, but he was the end-all-be-all of my childhood.
CBotMP: What is your favorite part of the comic creation process?
RL: Character design, hands down. When I was a kid I'd build these stacks of computer paper as thick as phone books, all full of original characters With elaborate outfits. (organized by team affiliation of course) Even if I was drawing a pre-existing character, I'd revise their duds or re-design them completely. It's still my favorite thing to do.
CBotMP: Character design seems like a lost art in comics. More often than not, the characters seem incredibly generic or rip-offs of things that have come before. Very happy to hear that it's a major focus for you.
RL: Oh absolutely. I've always felt that unless I can capture a complete visual representation of a character, I can't do anything else with him or her.
CBotMP: Your art has a strong sense of eye-flow. It’s next to impossible to look at the wrong part of a page. The anatomy is often odd, but as with Kirby, it seems to control the reader’s focus. Does this discipline come naturally, or did it take you a while to develop?
RL: Wow, what a huge compliment! Thank you. The reality is that Werewolf DA has been my first foray into sequential art. So as far as eye-flow and controlling the readers focus, it's natural for me. As far as my sense of anatomy goes, I'd say its a result of nature and nurture working in collusion. I think that there was a certain anatomical recklessness that existed in comics when I was a child. Impossible proportions & muscles that don't exist. As someone that draws completely from there head, that's always been appealing to me. The less true to life it looks, the more it makes sense to me.
CBotMP: You render the hell out of facial hair, and just hair in general, it’s a bit of a stretch, but have you given any thought about drawing a medieval Viking comic?
RL: I'd love to do that! I've always had a fascination with history and warfare.
CBOTMP: On average, how long does it take you to draw each strip?
RL: If I don't take any breaks I can do a whole strip in 3 or 4 hours.
CBOTMP: Is there anyone’s work that you are reading right now that you really enjoy?
CBOTMP: The Walking Dead is definitely on everyone's must-read list these days.
RL: For me, it's all about dangerous storytelling. I don't want to feel safe as I turn the page. That's what The Walking Dead has. So many characters you love, and none of them are guaranteed to make it out alive. The show works on that level too.
CBotMP: Especially the last couple episodes! Thank you for your time, Rich. And we can't wait to see all the twists and turns, and kinetic pencil work on Werewolf DA as it continues.
Be sure to check out new pages of Werewolf DA every Wednesday at firetowerstudios.com. We have two more interviews lined up in this series, we are just waiting on their responses. The Very Near Mint episode is in the can, and being edited as we speak. Should be up a little later than anticipated, but it is worth the wait!
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