Eduardo Risso certainly knows his way around the comics industry, having drawn a number of titles, most notably several for DC’s Vertigo line. His distinctive style is known all around the world — from the USA to Europe to his homeland Argentina. His best known works remain 100 Bullets and various Batman story arcs, including the critically acclaimed miniseries Flashpoint: Batman – Knight of Vengeance, undoubtedly one of the best stories of the past year. Recently, Risso reteamed with his longtime friend and collaborator Brian Azzarello for a new project, the Vertigo series Spaceman — a sci-fi noir thriller taking place in the near future.
Speaking to Michal Chudolinski at the International Festival of Comics and Games In Lodz, Poland, Risso shed some light on his beginnings as a comic book artist, his perspective on his craft and the nature of his collaboration with writers, including the special relationship he shares with Azzarello.
Michal Chudolinski: It has to feel good to realize you’re done with 100 Bullets.
Eduardo Risso: Yes, indeed. After nearly 10 years working [on the same book], it meant a release.
Chudolinski: How long has it been since you first started drawing comic books? What were your beginnings in the industry?
Risso: Thirty years? It’s a [long] time, right?
My beginnings were in an old, great editorial in Argentina. [It] closed a long time ago and was very similar to what the American [industry] is like today, where young people could find a way for our artistic training while we were working on what we liked — comics.
Chudolinski: Did you read comics when you were a kid? What appealed to you then?
Risso: Absolutely. I started looking at comics long before I learned to read. Then, the natural way was to want to do it by myself, watching and copying from the pros.
Chudolinski: What is the status of the comics industry in Argentina?
Risso: Much has changed in 20 years. Previously, [comics] used to be published in anthologies, now [they are mostly] in graphic novel form. [There’s] just one old-style magazine left — Fierro, [which is] very prestigious.
We´re a little market but still alive.
Chudolinski: Would you like to tell us something about your relationship with Carllos Trillo? He was a big comic book icon in Argentina who died recently.
Risso: He was one of the best writers, the only one I had the fortune to know who could write different stories at the same time — all of them of high quality.
Chudolinski: How did you get involved in the 100 Bullets project, and what attracted you to it in the beginning?
Risso: I think it was my lucky break. Azz had sold the story to Vertigo, and they needed an artist. The story is that the publisher [said] he had three good artists to pursue the story [and asked for art samples] via fax. He stopped the machine at the first page, picked up the phone and told him he had chosen [me].
Chudolinski: Did the series go through a long gestation period?
Risso: Not knowing if we could function as a team, our editor advised [us] to do a prior work. Thus was born Jonny Double [Risso and Azzarello’s Vertigo series based on the character created by Len Wein and Marv Wolfman].
Chudolinski: What is your working relationship with Azzarello like? I think most people tend to think the writer pens the script, hands it to the artist and that’s all. Nevertheless, I get the feeling that might not have been the case here. How did the two of you trade ideas back and forth while working on particular stories?
Risso: Building a team is not simple. That’s why, in my case, when I see that the relationship works I try to keep it. I believe that, over time, a good team can get wonderful products from which we all win — companies, readers and ourselves [the creators].
Now, my relationship with the writers has always been the same. I try to show that they can trust my graphic narrative [for everything] that they want to tell. That is, if the writer asks me [for] A and B, I give A, B, C and D, so that he can pay more attention to the dialogue and [trust me completely for] the task of graphic sequences.
Chudolinski: In 100 Bullets, were there stories that got cancelled and were never published? Did DC Comics ever censor your work?
Risso: There were no canceled or censored stories. We always had complete freedom on the part of the company.
Chudolinski: You’re one of the few artists working in superhero comics these days that has fans both within the mainstream DC/Marvel world and the European comics world, especially among the Italian and Spanish fan bases. If we can get you to speculate for a minute, what is it about your art that draws in readers from so many different geographical areas?
Risso: I can’t say that there is anything in particular [that I do] to attract readers. I would summarize in a few words — professionalism and respect.
Chudolinski: What are some of the movies and books that have had an influence on your work and your life?
Risso: [With] Spielberg’s ET, I remember there was a break in my way of thinking about comics. A book I read in my youth, Juan Salvador Gaviota, influenced my life. I guess many others have done [the same], but [these in particular] left an important mark on me.
Chudolinski: About how much time do you spend working per day?
Risso: About seven hours. Free weekends.
Chudolinski: Are there any tricks of the trade you’ve learned from doing comic books?
Risso: There always are. As one becomes more professional, one is [always] acquiring resources. For me, the best of all was to have learned to think more than draw.
Chudolinski: What is your process like when you sit down with your pencil? It appears that you spend a lot of time on panel and page design. Do you just start penciling, or do you outline the page first?
Risso: Since I decided to think more instead of just drawing, the results have been better. At first, I took a long time. Now, with an already established page [in m
y mind], I get the main panels quickly while I’m reading the script.
Chudolinski: You have a very distinctive style that can’t be mistaken with anyone else’s. What were your influences and how has your style evolved into what we’ve come to know from your current work?
Risso: My major influences come from the comic masters of Argentina. I humbly think that my style is not only defined by my line drawing but also by my way of narrating and composing.
Chudolinski: How much effort do you put into getting all the research references accurate in your work?
Risso: The greatest of them. I want readers [to be able to] quickly identify the places and things where the story takes place. More details [create a] better atmosphere.
Chudolinski: What has it been like working in the Batman world, and what is it about this section of the DC Universe that appeals to you as an artist? After all, you’ve done “Broken City”, Wednesday Comics and Knight of Vengeance.
Risso: The truth is that I do not like the world of superheroes too much, though I am aware that the largest market is within them. That means that every so often I must do something related to them. In that way, Batman is my favorite.
Chudolinski: As an artist, there’s a lot of dynamic to drawing Batman, between his cape and playing with the shadows. What about the character most appeals to you when drawing him? What is it about the Batsuit that is the biggest challenge as an artist, and what are the elements of Batman’s look and feel that you most enjoy?
Risso: Honestly, I’ve never paid attention to that. I don’t think [like] fans, I [think] as an artist. As I said before, I need to create an atmosphere for the story. If I pay attention to the character and his costume, that wouldn’t happen for sure.
Chudolinski: How about Gotham City itself? What part appeals to you while you drawing the city — the gritty realism or the definitive nature of the place?
Risso: Again, it all depends on the story. If [the story] needs something specific, it is good to give it.
Chudolinski: Can you tell us what techniques you use when illustrating a comic book and what tools you employ?
Risso: I think the secret is in the right conception of an idea and a good pencil. Then, you can use whatever you like or need.
Chudolinski: What are the things you actually do like to draw?
Risso: I consider myself a daring [person] who likes challenges. Therefore, I can say that there is nothing I do not like to draw.
Chudolinski: Do you have any thoughts or opinions about the future of comics in general?
Risso: I am not, nor [do I] pretend to be wise about it. I think the paper is running out [of time], so we need a different way if we want this art [form] to endure.
Chudolinski: What’s next for you? Do you foresee more Batman work in the near future? Or maybe horror or some noir?
Risso: Spaceman for now. There are plans for later but I won’t reveal [them] yet.
Michal Chudolinski is a freelance writer and editor of KZ, an online Polish magazine dedicated to comics.