Serbian artist Mirko Colak is a rising star in the comics world. After establishing a reputation for himself in France working on comics like Tempilers, he broke into the American market working for Marvel on comics like Secret Warriors and The Punisher. His most acclaimed work is Red Skull Incarnate with Greg Pak which dove deep into the history and psychology of one of comics greatest villains. He will be joining Brian Wood’s Conan the Barbarian: Queen of the Black Coast for issues #13-15 and is already being hailed as one of the great Conan artists.
Zack Davisson for ComicsBulletin: Thank you for the interview and the preview pages! I’m really looking forward to your run on Conan. Is this your first time working for Dark Horse?
Mirko Colak: Yes. The first, but not the last, I believe.
CB: In the U.S. you are mostly known for your work on Marvel superhero comics, but I believe you have done some fantasy comics in France. I don’t speak French, so I might get this wrong–but I believe you worked on a series about the Knights Templar? Have you drawn any other fantasy series?
Colak: Before I started working for Marvel and the US market as a whole, I worked for a couple of years exclusively for French publishers. In Serbia it's a normal sequence of events; first you work on illustrations for your home market, then you advance to working for French publishers.
It's true, I did an album called Tempilers or Templars for French publisher Soleil. It’s another take on the story about the search for the Holy Grail. To me, personally, that series brought a lot, including among other things a gig in Marvel. Even though I'm a fantasy fan, I haven't had the opportunity to do a lot in this genre.
CB: I think that Templar even had a character named Conan of Brittany. Was that any relation to Robert E. Howard’s Conan?
Colak: None whatsoever. The main character is called Conan, that much is true, but he has nothing to do with Howard's Conan. The French, especially those from Bretagne, claim that Conan is, in fact, from those parts, and that Robert E. Howard drew his inspiration from there.
I had a good laugh when the writer asked me to visually create a character who is not Conan, but who also is Conan. The only real difference is that the French Conan has god-blonde hair. Everything else, the clothes, the muscles, is the same as with the real Conan.
CB: I know Robert E. Howard and Conan are popular in the U.K., but how about the rest of Europe? Were you familiar with Conan before starting this series?
Colak: I don't know about the rest of the countries, but the character is very popular in the Balkans. I ate it all up, but I must say that John Buscema's Conan was (and still is) number one for me. I can freely say that the character of Conan is something that every single artist in the Balkans dreams about drawing. My dreams came true.
CB: You have done a lot of work stepping in for other artists; Alessandro Vitti on Secret Warriors, Marco Checcetto on The Punisher; and now you will be following several other artists on Conan. Do you try to match the style and look of other artists on a book? Or do you not worry about that?
Colak: No, never, although I have been asked to do just that. I'm not going to comment on Secret Warriors because each page was far below the stuff I was capable of doing then. It was a hard time in my personal life.
I enjoyed working on Punisher, I really did. Marco and I are friends, although we've never met. Greg Rucka is a great writer, and drawing from his script was more than a pleasure. I did two issues that were very well received, especially the second one. The key thing is to offer my own take on the atmosphere of the work.
Now, working on Conan, I've never thought about who has worked on the title before me, nor have I thought about what the fans will say. I simply wanted to give 110%, and if that earns a bad reaction from someone, who cares? I'm working on something I have dreamed about, and that's the only thing that matters. I'm sure that the issues that Brian and I work on will be remembered, because there is that certain something between us…
CB: When you did your character designs for Conan, is there any artist that you looked at? Anyone you used as a model?
Colak: Yes and no. It seems to me that my Conan is in fact a mixture of Buscema's Conan, young Arnold Schwarzenegger, and me. I'm in all my works, and that's a curse. As for the drawing itself, I tried to avoid looking up to anyone at all. Only time will tell if I have succeeded in that. For now, the critics are excellent, they even go as far as to place my name up there with John Buscema or Carry Nord…
CB: You describe your art as a blend of European and American styles. What do you see as the main difference between European and American comic book art?
Colak: The differences are so great I could go all day… First, about my style: I simply took the best out of both of these schools. I took the detail and the background from the French schools, I took the emotions and the feeling for the camera from US comics, I combined them and I produced a tasty meal.
The comments in US were strange at first: “Why does he put so much detail into his background, why are his panels so wide?” When they got used to it, they stopped asking such questions. Red Skull is a perfect example on mixing these two schools of comics, the differences between French and US school of comics. It is clearly visible that the French page has far more panels per page—that the action is slower, and there is simply not as much action. The panels have room to breathe…
There's also much more background, there's a far greater need for documentation, which results in much more time you have to spend on each page. In the US comics, the panels are much closer, the background is slightly neglected, but the human feelings, closeups on facial expressions and gestures, are brought to their maximum. The narration is filled with action and tension. Those would be basic differences, but we could go in deeper and say a few things about the drawing itself, as well as ink… And there's also the issue of color, which is completely different.
CB: I’m sorry to see that your run on Conan is so short. Will you be coming back for another story arc? Any plans to work on Conan in the future?
Colak: I'm also sorry, but that's how it is in this business. For now I do not have any hints about it from the editor, but I do hope we will work together again on Conan.
CB: Thanks Mirko! I hope to see more of your work as well!
Zack Davisson is a freelance writer and life-long comics fan. He owned a comic shop in Seattle during the '90s, during which time he had the glorious (and unpaid) gig as pop-culture expert for NPR. He has lived in three countries, has degrees in Fine Art and Japanese Studies, and has been a contributing writer to magazines like Japanzine and Kansai Time-Out. He currently lives in Seattle, WA with his wife Miyuki. You can catch more of Zack’s reviews on his blog Japan Reviewed or read his translations of Japanese ghost stories on Hyakumonogatari Kaidankai.