Dan Mora is living a life that few of his countrymen could dream about. A native of the small Central American nation of Costa Rica, Mora comes from a place with almost no comic book tradition. But that lack of tradition hasn’t held Mora back in developing his career in American comics. With a detailed and expressive art style that feels thoroughly traditional and modern at the same time, the young artist is receiving raves for his work on BOOM! Studios’ Klaus from fans, critics, and – maybe most exciting of all – Grant Morrison.
Morrison is, of course, the writer on this modern-day reimagining of the classic tale of Santa Claus, as well as perhaps among the most popular creator in comics today. He’s also a fan of Mora’s art. In the recent Pen & Ink Klaus, Morrison calls Mora “brilliant” and praises the artist’s ability to bring settings and characters vividly to life. In fact, Mora makes Morrison’s work easier; as the writer declares in Pen & Ink, “reacting to the thoughtfulness of Dan’s work on this project has been a great pleasure.”
Not bad praise for an artist who is just wrapping up his second major assignment, with a sequel series just announced at Baltimore Comic-Con called Klaus: Witch of Winter set to begin this winter.
Mora felt lucky to be asked to work on the latest Morrison opus. When I asked how he was tapped to illustrate this series, the artist responded, “I don’t know. I was doing Hexed [with writer Michael Alan Nelson] and my editor wrote me and told me that I was going to do something with Grant Morrison. Just like that. And I was like, ‘Are you serious?’ The same Grant Morrison? He was like, ‘Yes, yes.’ I guess that they were talking what to do with BOOM! – with BOOM! Studios and Grant Morrison. They showed him some art. Grant picked my art. He thought that maybe my art would be perfect for Klaus.”
From there Mora jumped in on the project, though the adjustment from Nelson’s scripts to Morrison’s was jarring for the young artist: “It’s so different because Hexed scripts – I was so used to Hexed scripts. Then, Grant Morrison scripts – the way he speaks – he writes – it’s really different. And the words– it was really different. But it’s really cool and really good. He thinks in a different way. So that took me to a different place to grow as a professional.”
Added to that was the fact that Santa Claus isn’t a myth in Mora’s native Costa Rica: “No, Santa Claus is not a big deal in Costa Rica. So it was very weird to work on a book on Santa Claus. Because – in Costa Rica, it is very different. So it was so weird. I think we get Santa Claus and what he means to everyone. But people in Costa Rica don’t actually do a lot of stuff really with Santa Claus.”
Mora feels like a trail blazer for comics art among Costa Ricans. Only Mora and a handful of others (including John Timms of Harley Quinn fame) have emerged as American comics professionals from there. Nevertheless, Mora has always loved to draw: “I have been drawing since I was three years old. I used to work in a newspaper. Every day, after work, I’d get home and start to draw comic-stuff related. One of the editors at BOOM! saw one of my pieces of work on Wonder Woman. They wrote me that, ‘Hey, we think you can do comics.’ I was like, ‘Okay, let’s do comics.’ In Costa Rica, there are only three people who draw comics so it’s something really new for us.”
Perhaps the most essential way Mora sees himself pushing his countrymen into drawing comics is by example: “I feel a big responsibility for my people – and for the youngest people in Costa Rica. It’s really important for me. I feel that responsibility. Because a lot of people like comics in Costa Rica, but it wasn’t really a thing to think like a professional. So I am doing this for the youngest people in Costa Rica. It means a lot because they can now see that they can be professionals. There is something real. So – I don’t know. It’s like a really big responsibility to do my best – to explain to them how this all works with my own work.”
Mora continued, obviously fueled by his passion: “To be responsible with deadlines – that’s so important for me. I don’t like to be late with the pages. So I do always – I wake up, and I start drawing all day until I finish my goals for the day. It’s really important to me to meet all the deadlines – because there is a lot of so good people and so professional people. And I must be at the same – I need to work harder to be at the same level. I guess.”
Though motivated by deadlines, the drive to create comic art is as much a compulsion as anything: “I need to draw. If I don’t draw, I become a sad person. I need to draw for everything. My mom was always like, ‘Hey, do something else.’ I need to draw.” In fact, Mora is unflinching in his criticism of his own work: “When I have one of the books, I immediately open and see all the stuff that I did wrong. And it’s like – ‘Oh, man, why did I – oh, man, that face is so stupid.’ That’s something that I always do. I noticed that – I thought that maybe all the people would notice the wrong stuff. But not everyone noticed that. It’s like – I am really hard with myself. So, that’s why I think I notice all the wrong stuff.”
In that way, the great cartoonists are the same no matter what country they come from. And though Dan Mora may be hard on himself as part of his drive to be as good as possible, nearly everybody who see Mora’s work is impressed. Indeed, Grant Morrison (who knows such things) describes Mora’s work as being “nothing short of miraculous” in places.
Clearly this young Costa Rican will be a major name in the comics industry in a few years – if he isn’t already.