Ramon Villalobos is an artist you should know, and if you don’t, you should get familiar. Charming and sharp as he is talented, Villalobos agreed to sit down with the Gucci Mane of Comics Bulletin, Rafael Gaitan, to discuss, art, being Latino, and of course- fire kicks.
Ramon Villalobos: You know how I’m buzzing right now? [makes a buzzing noise] I’m buzzing, dude. [buzzes] You hear that? That ain’t me. That’s just a buzz around me. Huge buzz, dude.
Rafael Gaitan for Comics Bulletin: It’s electric. Be careful. Wear gloves. Wanted to start by saying your success started through your Tumblr. Your international world famous Tumblr. I actually knew about you through Tumblr before I ever knew you drew comics. Did you explore any other sites and mediums before Tumblr? What drew you to Tumblr to begin with?
Villalobos: Deviant Art and Twitter and everything else. I was there. My buddy Craig had started on Tumblr and I was like ‘What’s the point of that?’ But I like the microblogging side at that point. It seemed like that was where everybody was at. I never wanted to get a website because I never wanted to people have to find me. I was always trying to be at places where people were already at. Even now, I try to do Snapchat, Instagram, Periscope… whatever! Things are evolving. My Tumblr, I feel bad because that does get left to the wayside a lot, but it’s about being where the people are at.
CB: In this day and age, social media seems to be a bigger trap than it is an aid, depending on how reckless you are. How do you think it affects the comics world?
Villalobos: I feel like it’s a help because it bypasses a lot of the traditional means of getting in touch with people that read comics and make comics. I know there’s controversy where people get harassed and that sucks. For me, it’s been pretty positive though, at least for my experience. There’s a lot of movements about diversity and representation that would not have happened if not for creators being allowed to speak out and fans being allowed to speak out to companies to where they can see them.
CB: Your redesigns of old characters are always sharp. What draws you to do those? How’d you get started on them?
Villalobos: When I was younger, I had a real anal attention towards how comic book characters were designed and I wanted to draw them exactly the way how I saw them. I just got bored of it. I did that a lot and then I would look at [Rafael] Grampa who would do a Daredevil cover and it would be like 100% his. Then I was like ‘Fuck, I wanna do things that are 100% me.’ and have fun with it and not be so strictly ‘Here’s what it is. This is what it has to be.’ Get more of my personality into it. So it’s not just a drawing of Batman, it’s my drawing of Batman.
CB: Have you ever been officially approached for one of your redesigns or is there any room for them now that you’re working at Marvel?
Villalobos: I redesigned Nighthawk, the new X-Men, and my first book I got to redesign my own characters. My own version of Spider-Man, Wolverine, Hulk, Ghost Rider. Ghost Rider had Yeezys in my first Marvel book. Marvel’s pretty free about that kind of stuff. The bigger books I get on, the more opportunities I’ll have to design cool characters like that. Right now, other artists have approached me about… shoes. What kind of shoes should certain characters be wearing and asking for my advice and feedback on that kind of shit.
CB: You started doing pinups on Tumblr, then you started doing short stories, now you’re doing monthly series. Did you find any challenges or find anything surprising for your process, for better or worse, in that transition to doing more work on a regular basis?
Villalobos: Of course. I’m lazy. [laughs] and I’m slow. With more work always takes longer and makes it harder to stay focused. It’s part of the process. I’m slowly making a healthier lifestyle and getting more work done. But it hasn’t happened yet. A lot of the time it’s all-nighters.
CB: What is your process, do you do pen and paper then scan? Do you do all digital?
Villalobos: I do all pen and paper then I scan it. It’s pretty straightforward. I don’t do a whole lot of digital stuff. I’ll clean things up digitally. If I have to stack stuff, I’ll do it digitally. All my borders are digital. Other than that, it’s just ink on paper.
CB: Do you find that gives you any advantage or disadvantage?
Villalobos: It’s nice because I can sell all my original art on felixcomicart.com. That’s where all my original art’s available.
CB: Now that you’re working with David Walker on Nighthawk and Chris Burnham on E for Extinction, what kind of input do you like from collaborators? Do you like to go back to them or they leave you on your own? I’m curious, especially for someone like Chris Burnham, who is making the transition from artist to writer.
Villalobos: On that book, it wasn’t just Chris Burnham. It was my buddy Dennis Culver, who I was friends with for a long time before that, who’s good friends with Chris Burnham. So there was more of a discussion about it. But I tend to trust the writers. My job at Marvel is to draw the scripts they give me to draw. Sometimes in particular, like my first book with Joe Keatinge, he asked me what I wanted to draw specifically and I kind of told him ‘Whatever you want me to draw.’ [laughs] Because it was my first book. Now I do like having a little bit more input. I’ve written stuff and want to have more of a say in the way the stories are being told. I like working differently with different people. There’s no one set way at all.
CB: As a person of color, how do you aim or how do act to represent people of color in your work?
Villalobos: Well for a long time, there were a lot of Latinos working in comics. The representations of characters they drew were pretty straightforward because they were on a house style. I’m not on a house style.
CB: No you’re not.
Villalobos: I’m allowed to bring in what I think is cool and a lot of that is influenced by my culture. I didn’t grow up reading comics. I’m not from comics. I grew up just not having access to that shit. My mom was a single mother and we didn’t have the money to buy comics and she didn’t have time to take me to the library. I didn’t grow up with that shit. I feel a lot of comic book artists are influenced by other comics and I’m influenced by a wider culture… and comic books! I studied it heavily.
I have a pretty big well to draw from of different cultures and aesthetics. And I think that helped me and given me a voice. That voice, because I’m Mexican-American, that is a new voice for comics, kind of. This stuff’s been around, just now the mainstream has embraced it. Jaime Hernandez and Gilbert Hernandez, they’ve been here. That shit looks as Latino and modern in the 80’s as it does today.
CB: Your work gets a lot of comparisons to Chris Burnham, a little Frank Quitely. I’ve heard you talk Frank Quitely before…
Villalobos: The greatest of all time.
CB: Because you didn’t grow up with comics, as you previously mentioned those comparisons are made, what do you do that distinguishes yourself… because obviously the “you don’t think you’re not Frank Quitely quote?”
Villalobos: Yeah… Well Quitely’s so good and when I first started trying to draw like that but I was like ‘This is too good and too complex.’ So I’m like there are other artists too. So I’ve tried to mix in a little bit Raf Grampa, a little bit of Geof Darrow, a little bit of Andy Cooper and a little bit of Jaime Hernandez. My style is a bit of a mash-up of all the things that I like.
Well Quitely, I think is the greatest of all time, so a lot of that shows up. When I get stuck, I like to look at Quitely art and he’s my favorite guy to look at. So that probably shows. Me and Nick Pitarra and Chris Burnham, we all understand that we don’t draw like Frank Quitely except for very surface details. We’re all doing a distinct thing, but we’re all in the same family.
CB: As another fan of wrestling, anybody who follows your Twitter, Monday nights, I go back and read them on Tuesday because I don’t have cable. You’re obviously a fan of wrestling and it influences your work. What do you think drew you to wrestling and what kept you?
Villalobos: My grandpa watched wrestling when I was born. *laughs* He was in the hospital and he had it on. It has always been a part of my surroundings. When I didn’t like wrestling, when I was growing up and just wanted to watch cartoons, it was on TV. When I got old enough to realize this is amazing, it was there. When I thought I was too cool for it, it was still there. *laughs* So wrestling has always been part of my life.
I realized when I was doing cons and I would wear wrestling shirts just because I thought they were cool, there would be so many people at cons who would say ‘Oh, that’s a cool shirt!’ or ‘I love Daniel Bryan!’ or whatever and I be like ‘Yeah! Of course!’ *laughs* So I started incorporating that more into my shit because I realized the crossover of fans was huge. So it was always there and I was just capitalizing on that. A niche marketplace.
CB: Do you endeavor to have your art associated with professional wrestling?
Villalobos: What do you mean?
CB: In any manner, for example, Joe Keatinge has a wrestling comic. Do you envision the Villalobos brand stretching…
Villalobos: I feel like it already is, bro! I feel like everytime I draw those kneepads on characters for no reason, people assume that but… All of my books have wrestling holds in them. When there’s a script issue and I need to bust out an obscure wrestling hold, I’m the only one who knows that shit. I’ve designed trunks for Cody Rhodes.
Yeah, I’ve been going to independent wrestling shows for so long and all the guys that are breaking out right now on like Lucha Underground are dudes that I saw wrestle in Stockton. I saw Kalisto wrestle in Stockton.
CB: No way!
Villalobos: Yeah! That’s because that’s just how long I’ve been in this shit. So I feel like I already am a no brainer when they talk about comics and wrestling. I’m there. It’s not like I endeavor to, as I’ve said, it’s like water. It will always be there.
CB: This is from Chase Magnett. The original pitch to this was ‘Hey, you should talk to Ramon Villalobos about shoes.’ And I said, absolutely we should.
Villalobos: You know how much these shoes cost?
CB: How much do these shoes cost?
Villalobos: You don’t want to know how much these shoes cost. You see them? Fire, dude…
CB: They’re very dope.
Villalobos: Adidas Brand and three stripes and Japanese on the second calf/tab?
CB: Oh shit…
Villalobos: These are the all black NMDs… the New Japan… the finest…
CB: These are some fire shoes. Ramon, you have a killer shoe game, everybody knows that. I rolled my Dual Fusions for comfort.
Villalobos: What are thooooose? These are more comfortable than those. What size shoes do you wear?
Villalobos: I wear 12, sorry. [laughs]
CB: They look really nice. We know you throw a mean shoe game, your characters as well. You put Nighthawk in Yeezy Boost 350s right?
Villalobos: Nighthawk’s in the 350s. Angel from New X-Men was in the all black 750s before there were all black 750s. I just knew Kanye was going there so I put her in there. She was on that early release shit.
CB: I’ve heard in previous conversations you’re an Adidas character. A Stan Smith guy.What pulls you so much to that accessory, why shoes?
Villalobos: Shoes, if you look at people, they’re the most well designed article of clothing that we’re wearing. They’re like sculptures for your feet. When I would draw… when you draw superhero boots, when you first start out, you just draw a line. Like a sock. That’s boring as fuck. So I would start drawing the little heel like Quitely would do. Then I would be like, ‘Let me draw a little strap or something.’ Then I would add some laces. Wrestling boots, they have laces on them. Then I was like ‘Let me just try drawing sneakers.’
Once I started doing that, I needed to know more about sneakers so I knew which ones to draw. So I went deep down. I wasn’t always about sneakers. My cousin and my brothers were and they thought it was super weird that I was suddenly all about that shit. I always liked Adidas because I liked the simplicity of them but now I’ve realized they’re also the best designed shoes. That was pretty neat. Like I said, sculptures for your feet. If you have on fucked up shoes, your feet are probably fucked up. You see what I’m saying? It just makes the most sense if that’s the one thing you’re going to be into.
CB: Of course. I’m a big shoe guy myself. I know exactly what you’re…
Villalobos: Oh yeah? Explain that then. What are thoooooose?
CB: Oh my god! What are thooose? First of all, those are Gator colors, and that’s where I went to school. Secondly, they’re mad comfortable…
Villalobos: What are those, Nikes?
Villalobos: Get those out of my face.
CB: Alright, guess you’re not a Nike guy. I almost wore my Florida Lottery Nikes I was telling you about… I’m kind of a Nike guy.
Villalobos: It’s all good.
CB: That being said, I have the most fire pair of Adidas ZX-750s. They’re all the different colors of the rainbow. I should have worn them.
Villalobos: I’m probably going to buy one pair of Nike Air Max 90s because my boy, Nick Dragotta, he buys Air Max 90s every year for this con. He wasn’t here. If he would have been here, I was gonna have on me some Air Max 90s because we’re bros *laughs*. We’re in the shoe game together. I’m gonna have to get some for the next con that we do together because the DragLobos connection is real.
CB: I love that. Are Stan Smiths your all time favorite?
Villalobos: Maybe. I like the simplicity of them. I like how clean they are, but I also like the Ultra Boosts. The Ultra Boosts are crazy. Kanye wears the Ultra Boosts all day. I also like the EQT 93s.
CB: Yes. Those were the ones you were rocking the other day?
Villalobos: Yeah, I had EQT 93 16s that had the upper of EQ 93 and the bottom of Ultra Boosts. So it’s the perfect match of 90’s and now and technology. They’re rad.
CB:Those are dope. Last question on the subject, we could talk about shoes forever. What character do you think in comics needs the most with the Ramon Villalobos treatment?
Villalobos: Dang, that’s a good question. I don’t even know… I feel like if there was a character that was kind of street but was always wearing trash shoes… Uh…
Miles Morales. He always wears regular shoes. It’s kind of boring. Now he’s with Gwen Stacy, Gwen Stacy too. Why don’t they wear cool shoes? They’re always wearing slippers and shit. No offense to the people that made Spider-Gwen and Miles Morales. No kid in New York that’s cool is gonna go “I’m not gonna have tight shoes if I’m doing that shit.” That’s just me.
CB: What would you give them?
Villalobos: The [Jordan 12] Flu Games and I’ve done her in the [Jordan 12] Gamma Blues. So imagine that, they’re together now, one has the Flu Games and Gamma Blues. How fire would that be? I’m gonna draw that. Don’t worry about that Marvel, I got it under control.
CB: Anything else you wanna talk about? Anything you wanna announce or can talk about?
Villalobos: Just follow me on Twitter. I’m trying to get these numbers up. I’m trying to be a dial mover. I’m trying to do it for the 209s, you know?