MARC SILVESTRI ANSWERS 15 QUESTIONS WITH JULINDA MORROW
In Canada, there is a collective of respected artists known as the Group of Seven. In America, another respected group of seven artists – comic book artists – turned the industry on its head when, in 1992, they abandoned their cushy, high paying jobs drawing for Marvel and formed Image Comics, thus taking control of their lives and the properties they create. Today, Image is one of the most influential publishers in the market, providing shelter (and muscle) for many creative individuals who want the freedom to publish their work, their way.
Marc Silvestri is one of Image’s founding fathers. He has built his career on detailed art and dedication to his craft. While some sequentialists have chosen to travel from title to title, Marc has stayed focused on his creations, namely Witchblade and The Darkness. Aspiring professionals could do worse than to take a page from Marc’s book. Dependability is the name of the game.
A gallery of Marc’s moody art follows this interview.
Julinda Morrow: What path led you to comics and sequential art
Marc Silvestri: The path was odd and not exactly straight. I grew up a sci-fi, horror, and fantasy fan, not necessarily a superhero fan so comics weren’t blipping too hard on my radar. My cousin was – is – a huge collector and that was my first exposure to fandom as a kid. Years later, in 1981, DC ran a “new talent search” promotion gimmick that they hyped at comicons around the country.
I kind of had a knack for drawing (and was a pretty decent slacker) so if you combine that with the illusion that comics are an easy gig I was ready to go. Six months before DC’s stop at the Chicago Comicon I put together a portfolio and went to the show with my brother by my side. We then proceeded to miss my chance to present my stuff, which led us to pretend to be room service and knock on DC editor Joe Orlando’s hotel room. The rest is pretty much history.
JM: What schooling or training did you receive?
MS: Umm, define schooling…and training for that matter. Well, I did have a good eye for art and knew who to rip off…I mean…be influenced… so that helped me early on. I got my fundamentals from looking at some of the best artists in comics and fantasy. Guys like Frazetta, Buscema, Kirby, Wrightson, Toth, Simonson, etc. If there are aspiring artist reading this, look beneath the impressive line count and make sure you’re looking at the right guys (and this is coming from a guy that puts down a crap-ton of lines).
That being said, school isn’t a bad idea. One of the things Top Cow has been known for is the training artists get in the studio environment. That’s pretty rare these days, though.
JM: Who, in your opinion, are the pioneers of sequential art?
MS: I’d have to go back to guys like Will Eisner and Jack Kirby for sure. There have been many others but for me those guys were the S@& 3 – Eisner for emotional impact and Kirby for sheer kinetic energy. Kirby, in fact, invented what superhero comics should look like.
JM: How do you define sequential art?
MS: Telling a story by giving the reader verbal and visual cues that let their minds fill in the gaps.
JM: Do you find that sequential art provides you with near-limitless possibilities for storytelling or do you experience it as constraining?
MS: Sequential art is a hybrid medium that gives some, but not all, of the information to the reader; it’s an active form of entertainment compared to, let’s say, film, which is passive. Because of this, comic books are limited only by the reader’s imagination, which is, of course, unlimited.
JM: What qualities or resources do you believe are most important for a sequential storyteller to have?
MS: A good storyteller must be able to set mood and capture those frozen moments that propel the story forward dramatically while never taking the reader out of the world on the page. Comic artists need to pick one frame out of a possible hundred and draw it in a way that’s compelling but doesn’t unintentionally play with the pacing. The content of panels and the way they are arranged on a page can play with time to help tell a great story, and the best know how to do that. Mike Mignola is a master of the frozen moment.
JM: How do you approach your work process?
MS: With fingers crossed!
I always make notes in the margins of the script I’m working on. I write out in longhand a description of what I’m going to draw in each panel. After I’ve gone through about ten pages of script like this I move on to thumbnailing each page. My thumbnails fit into a grid of four pages on a standard 81/2 x11 sheet of paper. Not too big, not to small. Pretty much all the info I’m going to need when I hit the actual 11×17 board is right there in the thumbnail – minus little details.
Once I’m happy with the thumbs I move onto the big paper and hope that the energy I had on the thumbnail survives! I’m not one of those guys that will blow a thumbnail up to full size and then trace the image via a lightbox. There’s no way you’ll be able to transfer the same energy by tracing, so you might as well start fresh. Nine times out of ten you hit it or get even more by not tracing. Whatever your mindset was when you drew it the first time is gone so tracing ain’t the answer.
JM: How many hours a day do you work? Are you uniformly productive on any given day or more productive on some days than others?
MS: I’m an artist so as a rule I’m inconsistent. When new guys come into the studio, one of the first things I tell them is that they’ll be creative and in the zone about ten percent of the time if they’re lucky. But guess what? You’ve decided to become an artist for a living so you’d better figure a way to still work the other ninety percent. It’s the ability to produce decent work during that tough ninety percent that separates the men and women from the boys and girls.
I wear a few different hats these days so actual hours are hard to figure. If you ask my wife she’ll tell you that I work twenty-seven hours a day. That, of course, is an exaggeration; I only work twenty-three. To put the work ethic needed in comics into perspective, guys would sleep under their drawing tables all the time at Top Cow…Scared the hell out of the night cleaning crew.
JM: Was it a struggle, at the start of your career, to find work and make ends meet?
MS: I was pretty lucky in that I never had to beg for work. My biggest roadblock to making ends meet back in the day was always me. Or, to be more precise, my utter lack of speed.
JM: What has been your most valuable professional experience?
MS: Having been blessed with the opportunity to walk into a studio filled with talents like Jim Lee, Whilce Portacio, Scott Williams, J. Scott Campbell, Michael Turner, Dave Finch, Joe Benitez, Billy Tan, Brandon Peterson, Batt plus a whole bunch of other talents. The memories of seeing those guys sitting at their tables and drawing comics at two or three o’clock in the morning still blows my mind.
JM: What inspires or informs you creatively?
MS: I draw inspiration from everywhere, but primarily from the human condition and the epic drama of life itself. That sounds big and pompous but you’d be surprised at how everything around us expands when human emotion and empathy is thrown into the mix. That’s why my work has a lot of organic sensibilities to it; even the way I interpret technology is organic.
JM: What is your position on digital comics? Are they a good thing or a bad thing?
MS: It’s a very sharp double-edged sword, a thread-thin tightrope, a light switch sitting somewhere in a dark room. Put in other words, its scary shit. But it’s also inevitable. It would be short sighted (stupid, in fact) to ignore what’s coming – what’s already here – and tumble merrily down the “What, is there a problem?” rabbit hole. All that being said, I am an old school guy and love the feel of – trees, cover your ears – paper.
None of us will know for sure how this will all work out until we get the benefit of twenty-twenty hindsight a few years or so down the road. But in order for our genre to survive, publishers and creators need to be in tune with how the audience wants to get its entertainment. With that also being said, I believe there is room for both and we at Top Cow are hell-bent on embracing and pioneering the new while at the same time revering and respecting the old.
JM: If you were to make any changes to the industry or the market what changes would you make?
MS: We crazy Image kids pretty much did it twenty years ago. When we struck out on our own it changed not just the game but the players as well. Creativity was released like an ink and paper Kraken. As long as creators are free to create and get the fruits of their labors seen, I’ve got no complaints.
JM: If you could apprentice under any artist at any time in history and anywhere in the world who would it be?
MS: I’d have killed to share a studio with both Vincent van Gogh and Frank Frazetta…at the same time! Talk about intense. I’d make sure all the guns were locked away though. And I would have kept that ear on ice.
JM: What, in the future, would you like to accomplish creatively?
MS: I’m lucky enough to be creating in comics and just about all other media available, so I’m pretty much living my future right now. The great thing about creativity is that it’s timeless and, like empathy, is a strictly human endeavor. In other words, there is no endgame for an artist – only the next canvas.