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José Villarrubia By Zack Smith
José Villarrubia is the man behind the art gracing many of the books you see on the shelves today, including doing the painted colors over artists as varied as Bill Sienkiewicz, Jae Lee, and JH Williams III. Along with his current work on such titles as Captain America and Superman: Metropolis, Villarrubia is busy working on two new books with comic book legend Alan Moore.
Slush was lucky enough to catch up with the artist to discuss his present and future projects. We've got a ton of exclusive art from both Moore books sprinkled throughout, so remember to click on the images to see them in their full glory (square images are from The Mirror of Love, the rectangular ones are from Voice of the Fire).
Zack Smith: [Alan Moore's] THE MIRROR OF LOVE and VOICE OF THE FIRE: When are they coming out, and from which publisher?
JV: Both books should be out sometime this summer, definitely by San Diego, in August, and both will be published by the friendly folks at Top Shelf Productions.
ZS: Could you provide some basic details as to what each is about?
JV: The Mirror of Love is an epic poem in prose written by Alan Moore that narrates the history of homosexuality. It was written about a decade ago to fight a homophobic law in England. This new, expanded version of the piece contains over forty full-page color illustrations. Alan considers this one of his best pieces, and is very happy to have presented in this format.
Voice of the Fire is Alan’s first novel, which has never been published in the United States. It is divided into twelve chapters, each from a different character’s point of view, narrating stories that took place in Northampton, the city in England where Alan was born and lives. I did twelve color illustrations for this as well as a frontispiece. It has a new introduction by Neil Gaiman and the Jacket is designed by Chip Kidd, so it should be a very classy book!
ZS: Having found the script to THE MIRROR OF LOVE online, I have to say the thing nearly made me go Oedipus on my eyeballs. How do you work from something that dense?
JV: What you read was the script for the comic book version that Rick Veitch and Stephen Bissete illustrated. I did not want to duplicate what they did, since they followed very closely what Alan envisioned as the images that went with the text as a comic. The forthcoming edition of TMOL is not a comic per se. It is an abundantly illustrated edition of the text. Parts of it work sequentially, but there’s a different dialog between images and pictures than in the original version. Basically I studied very carefully the images that Alan envisioned and then I took a much less literal approach about making the new ones, reinterpreting many of the concepts contained in t the text, in a manner that relates more to fine art imagery than to comic book one.
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ZS: You've adapted THE MIRROR OF LOVE to the stage. How was interpreting the piece to a live-action medium different from interpreting it in comics format?
JV: The adaptation was performed by me, but adapted by David Drake. We had never seen the comic version; we knew the text from the magazine RAPID EYE and David had complete freedom to stage it in any way that he saw fit. He took his considerable experience in the stage and applied it to the piece, making it very stark and minimalist, but very beautiful and lyrical at the same time. When we finally saw the comic, we were surprised that the bottom of each page had two angels talking to each other, very much the way that David had staged the entire piece. They were no wings though, it was all illusion.
ZS: How has the production been received?
JV: Very well. It ran for two weeks and audiences were very surprised. My friends were also surprised, not just from seeing me in the stage for the first time, but because for most of it I was totally nude. Some of the most emotional reactions were from straight couples that came to see it. They we very affected by the content of the story. The reviews were generally favorable, which was very flattering. The main paper, the Baltimore Sun, had some positive things to say, but it deemed that it was “not theater,” since it did not depict a naturalistic story! Well, call it theater, call it performance art, call it whatever you want! David and I were totally uninterested in that.
ZS: Has Moore seen it himself?
JV: I sent him a tape, and he was very, very gracious about it, telling me that we had done a “splendid” job. Melinda Gebbie, his girlfriend, commented that I had a cute butt, which made me happy, since the piece is very, very serious. Alan is very interested in live representations, having done so many of them himself. He has also done at lest one reading at some point of the text for this piece, since he considers it one of the best pieces that he has written.
ZS: Do you have any plans to perform in any of Moore's other pieces?
JV: I’d love to, but I am at the moment way too busy. Several other pieces by Alan have been staged in the past. In addition to his one adaptation of Brought to Light, Halo Jones and V for Vendetta have had theatrical lives.
ZS: What's working with Alan Moore like?
JV: Well, lovely. He has been a pure delight all along, like anyone who has worked with him can conform.
ZS: How much input has he had on these adaptations of his work?
JV: Very little direct input. After some initial discussion about each one of the projects, Alas has pretty much told me to go ahead and do what I think is best, since he trusts me with the material. He has seen the work in progress and has been enormously supportive, which has been very, very flattering.
ZS: With your coloring work -- how is coloring someone else's work different from coloring/creating your own work?
JV: Completely different in that when I am coloring, the will of the other artist comes first, I am just trying to complement their aesthetic. When I do my own work, it is 100% my vision.
ZS: Do you ever consult the writer or artist in how to go about coloring a particular aspect of a story (character, setting, etc)?
JV: Absolutely. I welcome as much direction as they can give me from the artists, writers and editors. I like everyone to be happy with what I do.
ZS: Does being an artist yourself affect how you go about coloring someone else's work?
JV: Most certainly, since I believe that to color work you have to be an artist. In terms of doing my own thing, I try to please the creative team, but I have my own color combinations that I am attracted to.
ZS: Is there a particular project/issue you worked on as a colorist that you are most proud of?
JV: Provably CAGE, with Richard Corben, who has been one of my artistic heroes for a long time, and is the best sequential artist when it comes to color. After we were done with the book, he said some incredibly complimentary things to me, and that meant the world to me.
ZS: You've frequently worked with Jae Lee as a colorist. What is your working relationship like?
JV: Jae is one of my very best friends and I have worked with him the longest. I know what he likes and he knows what I can do, so the relationship is very smooth. We are also honest with each other about the work!
ZS: Why do you feel your styles work together so well?
JV: Well he draws with me in mind. There are many elements that he leaves up to me to pain, and just leaves the are blank: clouds, water, steam, fire, anything not solid I prefer to paint from scratch.
ZS: How did you first come to work together?
JV: Almost ten years ago, I crated an exhibition of local comic book art for Maryland Art Place, a very prestigious art center here in Baltimore. I invited Jae and we became friends right after that.
ZS: When did you first decide to collaborate on a project? Was it his idea or yours?
JV: His. Up to that point I had no interest in coloring at all. I had bought the Bernie Wrightson Color the Creature book and colored most of it when I was a teen, since I loved his work, but when I picked up the Marvel Try-Out Book could not do more that one panel! I was bored stiff right away!
ZS: What was there about each other's work that made it seem like collaborating would be a good idea?
JV: Jae knew that I was a professional painter, with a Masters Degree in art, and had seen my work. He wanted his work to look more “artistic,” more Sienkiewicz of McKean, and knew that I could do it. So when he did Hellshock, he had me color it and we have been working together since!
ZS: Which other artists/writers would you most like to work with and why?
JV: Well, I would of course love to do something with Neil Gaiman if he’d like to. And Peter Milligan is an idol of mine. I would also love to do something with writers that don’t write comics, illustrated books and such.
In terms of artists, I have been very fortunate to work with many people that I admire, including two of my heroes: Richard Corben and Bill Sienkiewicz. It does not get much better than that.
ZS: Do you plan to do more digital stories in the near future?
JV: Not right away. There’s a possibility of doing something with the legendary Michael Moorcock, but it is too early to tell.
ZS: What books (monthly/graphic novel, etc.) are you currently enjoying?
JV: From Marvel, my favorite is X-Statix. From DC, the ABC titles (of course), and a lot of the independents when they come out, specially Optic Nerve, Acme Novelty Library, Eightball, Black Hole, and anything by Jaime Hernandez. These are the ones that come to mind right away, but I read a lot of everything!
ZS: Last Question: Why should people check out your work?
JV: If they are interested in photography, digital art and/or mixed media with a fine art edge, they should take a look. Or if they simply want to see Alan's work illustrated in a completely different style then anyone has done before, much closer to gallery work than to comic book pages.